Upton Sinclair

I know that our liberties were not won without suffering, and may be lost again through our cowardice.

Upton Beall Sinclair, Jr. (September 20 1878November 25 1968) was a prolific American author who wrote in many genres, often advocating Socialist views, and achieved considerable popularity in the first half of the twentieth century.

See also: The Jungle (1906)

QuotesEdit

Let us redeem our great words from base uses. Let that no longer call itself Love, which knows that it is not free!
I say if Germany be allowed to win this war — then we in America shall have to drop every other activity and devote the next twenty or thirty years to preparing for a last-ditch defence of the democratic principle.
American capitalism is predatory, and American politics are corrupt: The same thing is true in England and the same in France; but in all these three countries the dominating fact is that whatever the people get ready to change the government, they can change it.
I intend to do what little one man can do to awaken the public conscience, and in the meantime I am not frightened by your menaces.
All art is propaganda. It is universally and inescapably propaganda; sometimes unconsciously, but often deliberately, propaganda.
  • What life means to me is to put the content of Shelley into the form of Zola. The proletarian writer is a writer with a purpose; he thinks no more of "art for art's sake" than a man on a sinking ship thinks of painting a beautiful picture in the cabin; he thinks of getting ashore — and then there will be time enough for art.
    • Cosmopolitan (October 1906)
  • Let us redeem our great words from base uses. Let that no longer call itself Love, which knows that it is not free!
    • Love's Pilgrimage (1911)
  • I know you are brave and unselfish people, making sacrifices for a great principle but I cannot join you. I believe in the present effort which the allies are making to suppress German militarism. I would approve of America going to their assistance. I would enlist to that end, if ever there be a situation where I believe I could do more with my hands than I could with my pen.
  • I have lived in Germany and know its language and literature, and the spirit and ideals of its rulers. Having given many years to a study of American capitalism, I am not blind to the defects of my own country; but, in spite of these defects, I assert that the difference between the ruling class of Germany and that of America is the difference between the seventeenth century and the twentieth.
    No question can be settled by force, my pacifist friends all say. And this in a country in which a civil war was fought and the question of slavery and secession settled! I can speak with especial certainty of this question, because all my ancestors were Southerners and fought on the rebel side; I myself am living testimony to the fact that force can and does settle questions — when it is used with intelligence.
    In the same way I say if Germany be allowed to win this war — then we in America shall have to drop every other activity and devote the next twenty or thirty years to preparing for a last-ditch defence of the democratic principle.
  • American capitalism is predatory, and American politics are corrupt: The same thing is true in England and the same in France; but in all these three countries the dominating fact is that whenever the people get ready to change the government, they can change it. The same thing is not true of Germany, and until it was made true in Germany, there could be no free political democracy anywhere else in the world — to say nothing of any free social democracy. My revolutionary friends who will not recognize this fact seem to me like a bunch of musicians sitting down to play a symphony concert in a forest where there is a man-eating tiger loose. For my part, much as I enjoy symphony concerts, I want to put my fiddle away in its case and get a rifle and go out and settle with the tiger.
  • I intend to do what little one man can do to awaken the public conscience, and in the meantime I am not frightened by your menaces. I am not a giant physically; I shrink from pain and filth and vermin and foul air, like any other man of refinement; also, I freely admit, when I see a line of a hundred policeman with drawn revolvers flung across a street to keep anyone from coming onto private property to hear my feeble voice, I am somewhat disturbed in my nerves. But I have a conscience and a religious faith, and I know that our liberties were not won without suffering, and may be lost again through our cowardice. I intend to do my duty to my country.
    • Letter to the Louis D. Oaks, Los Angeles Chief of Police (17 May 1923)
  • I am a person who has never used violence himself. My present opinion is that people who have obtained the ballot should use it and solve their problems in that way. In the case of peoples who have not obtained the ballot, and who cannot control their states, I again find in my own mind a division of opinion, which is not logical, but purely a rough practical judgment. My own forefathers got their political freedom by violence; that is to say, they overthrew the British crown and made themselves a free Republic. Also by violence they put an end to the enslavement of the black race on this continent.
    • Interview with Rene Fulop-Miller (24 March 1923)
  • All art is propaganda. It is universally and inescapably propaganda; sometimes unconsciously, but often deliberately, propaganda.
    • Mammonart - an Essay in Economic Interpretation Ch. 2 Who Owns the Artists? (1925)
  • I wrote with tears and anguish, pouring into the pages all that pain which life had meant to me. Externally the story had to do with a family of stockyard workers, but internally it was the story of my own family. Did I wish to know how the poor suffered in winter time in Chicago? I only had to recall the previous winter in the cabin, when we had only cotton blankets, and had rags on top of us. It was the same with hunger, with illness, with fear. Our little boy was down with pneumonia that winter, and nearly died, and the grief of that went into the book.
    • On his writing of The Jungle, in American Outpost: A Book of Reminiscences (1932)
  • I used to say to our audiences: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!"
    • I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked (1935), ISBN 0-520-08198-6; repr. University of California Press, 1994, p. 109.
  • The American People will take Socialism, but they won't take the label. I certainly proved it in the case of EPIC. Running on the Socialist ticket I got 60,000 votes, and running on the slogan to "End Poverty in California" I got 879,000. I think we simply have to recognize the fact that our enemies have succeeded in spreading the Big Lie. There is no use attacking it by a front attack, it is much better to out-flank them.
  • I just put on what the lady says. I've been married three times, so I've had lots of supervision.
    • Interview in The New York Times (7 September 1962)

Metropolis (1908)Edit

I'm going to stop squandering money for things I don't want. I'm going to stop accepting invitations, and meeting people I don't like and don't want to know.
  • He was burning with a sense of outrage. He had been tricked and made a fool of; he had been used and flung aside. And now there was nothing he could do — he was utterly helpless. What affected him most was his sense of the overwhelming magnitude of the powers which had made him their puppet; of the utter futility of the efforts that he or any other man could make against them. They were like elemental, cosmic forces; they held all the world in their grip, and a common man was as much at their mercy as a bit of chaff in a tempest.
  • A new burst of rage swept over him — What did it matter whether it was true or not — whether anything was true or not? What did it matter if anybody had done all the hideous and loathsome things that everybody else said they had done? It was what everybody was saying! It was what everybody believed — what everybody was interested in! It was the measure of a whole society — their ideals and their standards! It was the way they spent their time, repeating nasty scandals about each other; living in an atmosphere of suspicion and cynicism, with endless whispering and leering, and gossip of low intrigue.
  • I'm going to stop squandering money for things I don't want. I'm going to stop accepting invitations, and meeting people I don't like and don't want to know. I've tried your game — I've tried it hard, and I don't like it; and I'm going to get out before it's too late. I'm going to find some decent and simple place to live in; and I'm going down town to find out if there isn't some way in New York for a man to earn an honest living!

The Profits of Religion (1918)Edit

The Profits of Religion : An Essay in Economic Interpretation (1918)
If I had a hundred life-times I could not know all the creeds and ceremonies, the services and rituals, the litanies and liturgies, the hymns, anthems and offertories of Bootstrap-lifting.
The story of the hero who slays the devouring dragon was not merely a symbol of day and night, of summer and winter; it was a literal explanation of the phenomena, it was the science of early times.
In the most deeply significant of the legends concerning Jesus, we are told how the devil took him up into a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time
Jesus, as we know, answered and said "Get thee behind me, Satan!" And he really meant it; he would have nothing to do with worldly glory, with "temporal power;" he chose the career of a revolutionary agitator, and died the death of a disturber of the peace.
  • Over the vast plain I wander, observing a thousand strange and incredible and terrifying manifestations of the Bootstrap-lifting impulse. There is, I discover, a regular propaganda on foot; a long time ago — no man can recall how far back — the Wholesale Pickpockets made the discovery of the ease with which a man's pockets could be rifled while he was preoccupied with spiritual exercises, and they began offering prizes for the best essays in support of the practice. Now their propaganda is everywhere triumphant, and year by year we see an increase in the rewards and emoluments of the prophets and priests of the cult. The ground is covered with stately temples of various designs, all of which I am told are consecrated to Bootstrap-lifting.
    • Introductory, "Bootstrap-lifting"
  • I discover that hardly a week passes that some one does not start a new cult, or revive an old one; if I had a hundred life-times I could not know all the creeds and ceremonies, the services and rituals, the litanies and liturgies, the hymns, anthems and offertories of Bootstrap-lifting.
    • Introductory, "Bootstrap-lifting"
  • Man is an evasive beast, given to cultivating strange notions about himself. He is humiliated by his simian ancestry, and tries to deny his animal nature, to persuade himself that he is not limited by its weaknesses nor concerned in its fate. And this impulse may be harmless, when it is genuine. But what are we to say when we see the formulas of heroic self-deception made use of by unheroic self-indulgence? What are we to say when we see asceticism preached to the poor by fat and comfortable retainers of the rich? What are we to say when we see idealism become hypocrisy, and the moral and spiritual heritage of mankind twisted to the knavish purposes of class-cruelty and greed? What I say is — Bootstrap-lifting!
    • Introductory, "Bootstrap-lifting"
  • When the first savage saw his hut destroyed by a bolt of lightning, he fell down upon his face in terror. He had no conception of natural forces, of laws of electricity ; he saw this event as the act of an individual intelligence. To-day we read about fairies and demons, dryads and fauns and satyrs, Wotan and Thor and Vulcan, Freie and Flora and Ceres, and we think of all these as pretty fancies, play-products of the mind; losing sight of the fact that they were originally meant with entire seriousness—that not merely did ancient man believe in them, but was forced to believe in them, because the mind must have an explanation of things that happen, and an individual intelligence was the only explanation available. The story of the hero who slays the devouring dragon was not merely a symbol of day and night, of summer and winter; it was a literal explanation of the phenomena, it was the science of early times.
    • Book One : The Church of the Conquerors, "The Priestly Lie"
  • There would be dreamers of dreams and seers of visions and hearers of voices; readers of the entrails of beasts and interpreters of the flight of birds; there would be burning bushes and stone tablets on mountain-tops, and inspired words dictated to aged disciples on lonely islands. There would arise special castes of men and women, learned in these sacred matters; and these priestly castes would naturally emphasize the importance of their calling, would hold themselves aloof from the common herd, endowed with special powers and entitled to special privileges. They would interpret the oracles in ways favorable to themselves and their order; they would proclaim themselves friends and confidants of the god, walking with him in the night-time, receiving his messengers and angels, acting as his deputies in forgiving offenses, in dealing punishments and in receiving gifts. They would become makers of laws and moral codes. They would wear special costumes to distinguish them, they would go through elaborate ceremonies to impress their followers, employing all sensuous effects, architecture and sculpture and painting, music and poetry and dancing, candles and incense and bells and gongs.
    • Book One : The Church of the Conquerors, "The Priestly Lie"
  • The first thing brought forth by the study of any religion, ancient or modern, is that it is based upon Fear, born of it, fed by it — and that it cultivates the source from which its nourishment is derived.
    • Book One : The Church of the Conquerors, "The Great Fear"
  • The supreme crime of the church to-day is that everywhere and in all its operations and influences it is on the side of sloth of mind; that it banishes brains, it sanctifies stupidity, it canonizes incompetence.
    • Book Two : The Church of Good Society, "The Canonization of Incompetence"
  • In the most deeply significant of the legends concerning Jesus, we are told how the devil took him up into a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time; and the devil said unto him: "All this power will I give unto thee, and the glory of them, for that is delivered unto me, and to whomsoever I will, I give it. If thou, therefore, wilt worship me, all shall be thine." Jesus, as we know, answered and said "Get thee behind me, Satan!" And he really meant it; he would have nothing to do with worldly glory, with "temporal power;" he chose the career of a revolutionary agitator, and died the death of a disturber of the peace. And for two or three centuries his church followed in his footsteps, cherishing his proletarian gospel. The early Christians had "all things in common, except women;" they lived as social outcasts, hiding in deserted catacombs, and being thrown to lions and boiled in oil.
    But the devil is a subtle worm; he does not give up at one defeat, for he knows human nature, and the strength of the forces which battle for him. He failed to get Jesus, but he came again, to get Jesus' church. He came when, through the power of the new revolutionary idea, the Church had won a position of tremendous power in the decaying Roman Empire; and the subtle worm assumed the guise of no less a person than the Emperor himself, suggesting that he should become a convert to the new faith, so that the Church and he might work together for the greater glory of God. The bishops and fathers of the Church, ambitious for their organization, fell for this scheme, and Satan went off laughing to himself. He had got everything he had asked from Jesus three hundred years before; he had got the world's greatest religion.
    • Book Seven : The Church of the Social Revolution, "Christ and Caesar"

The Brass Check (1919)Edit

  • Journalism is one of the devices whereby industrial autocracy keeps its control over political democracy; it is the day-by-day, between-elections propaganda, whereby the minds of the people are kept in a state of acquiescence, so that when the crisis of an election comes, they go to the polls and cast their ballots for either one of the two candidates of their exploiters.
  • The methods by which the "Empire of Business" maintains its control over journalism are four: First, ownership of the papers; second, ownership of the owners; third, advertising subsidies; and fourth, direct bribery. By these methods there exists in America a control of news and of current comment more absolute than any monopoly in any other industry.
  • The reader will understand that I despise these "yellows"; they are utterly without honor, they are vulgar and cruel; and yet, in spite of all their vices, I count them less dangerous to society than the so-called "respectable" papers, which pretend to all the virtues, and set the smug and pious tone for good society — papers like the "New York Tribune" and the "Boston Evening Transcript" and the "Baltimore Sun," which are read by rich old gentlemen and maiden aunts, and can hardly ever be forced to admit to their columns any new or vital event or opinion. These are "kept" papers, in the strictest sense of the term, and do not have to hustle on the street for money. They serve the pocketbooks of the whole propertied class — which is the meaning of the term "respectability" in the bourgeois world. On the other hand the "yellow" journals, serving their own pocketbooks exclusively, will often print attacks on vested wealth, provided the attacks are startling and sensational, and provided the vested wealth in question is not a heavy advertiser.
  • In the course of my twenty years career as an assailant of special privilege, I have attacked pretty nearly every important interest in America. The statements I have made, if false, would have been enough to deprive me of a thousand times all the property I ever owned, and to have sent me to prison for a thousand times a normal man's life. I have been called a liar on many occasions, needless to say; but never once in all these twenty years has one of my enemies ventured to bring me into a court of law, and to submit the issue between us to a jury of American citizens.
  • When Mr. John P. Gavit, managing editor of the New York Evening Post, wrote to Mr. Melville E. Stone, general manager of the Associated Press, that I had a reputation "as an insatiable hunter of personal publicity," what Mr. Gavit meant was that I was accustomed to demand and obtain more space in newspapers than the amount of my worldly possessions entitled me to.

100%: the Story of a Patriot (1920)Edit

Now and then it occurs to one to reflect upon what slender threads of accident depend the most important circumstances of his life; to look back and shudder, realizing how close to the edge of nothingness his being has come.
An event of colossal and overwhelming significance may happen all at once, but the words which describe it have to come one by one in a long chain.
Full text online at the University of Virginia
  • Now and then it occurs to one to reflect upon what slender threads of accident depend the most important circumstances of his life; to look back and shudder, realizing how close to the edge of nothingness his being has come.
    • Section 1
  • An event of colossal and overwhelming significance may happen all at once, but the words which describe it have to come one by one in a long chain.
    • Section 2
  • Wherever there was a group of people, and a treasure to be administered, there Peter knew was backbiting and scandal and intriguing and spying, and a chance for somebody whose brains were "all there."
    • Section 2
  • It was cold and clammy in the stone cell; they called it the "cooler," and used it to reduce the temperature of the violent and intractable. It was a trouble-saving device; they just left the man there and forgot him, and his own tormented mind did the rest.
    • Section 4

Quotes about SinclairEdit

You protest, and with justice, each time Hitler jails an opponent; but you forget that Stalin and company have jailed and murdered a thousand times as many … compared to the Moscow brigands and assassins, Hitler is hardly more than a common Ku Kluxer and Mussolini almost a philanthropist. ~ H. L. Mencken (1936)
  • What Fielding was to the eighteenth century and Dickens to the nineteenth, Sinclair is to our own. The overwhelming knowledge and passionate expression of specific wrongs are more stirring, more interesting, and also more taxing than the cynical censure of Fielding and the sentimental lamentations of Dickens.
    • Review of Oil (1927) in The Nation (5 December 1927)
  • I look upon Upton Sinclair as one of the greatest novelists in the world, the Zola of America.
  • I did not want to say these unpleasant things, but you have written to me, asking my opinion, and I give it to you, flat. If you would get over two ideas — first that any one who criticizes you is an evil and capitalist-controlled spy, and second that you have only to spend a few weeks on any subject to become a master of it — you might yet regain your now totally lost position as the leader of American socialistic journalism.
    • Sinclair Lewis, in a letter to Sinclair on his book Money Writes! (3 January 1928)
  • You protest, and with justice, each time Hitler jails an opponent; but you forget that Stalin and company have jailed and murdered a thousand times as many. It seems to me, and indeed the evidence is plain, that compared to the Moscow brigands and assassins, Hitler is hardly more than a common Ku Kluxer and Mussolini almost a philanthropist.
    • H. L. Mencken, letter published in The American Mercury (June 1936)
  • I have regarded you, not as a novelist, but as an historian; for it is my considered opinion, unshaken at 85, that records of fact are not history. They are only annals, which cannot become historical until the artist-poet-philosopher rescues them from the unintelligible chaos of their actual occurrence and arranges them in works of art. When people ask me what has happened in my long lifetime I do not refer them to the newspaper files and to the authorities, but to your novels. They object that the people in your books never existed; that their deeds were never done and their sayings never uttered. I assure them that they were, except that Upton Sinclair individualized and expressed them better than they could have done, and arranged their experiences, which as they actually occurred were as unintelligible as pied type, in significant and intelligible order.
  • I have never known a novel that was good enough to be good in spite of its being adapted to the author’s political views.

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Last modified on 15 April 2014, at 17:24