Lovecraft on Hitler

One of my cousins is a Trump voter. We don’t talk much in normal life, but we recently had what I would call a cordial debate via email. Here are some of his comments on Trump:

Yes, Trump bothers me with some erratic comments and an inflated ego, but I feel fairly certain the good of the Country is where his heart is seated. Much is at stake in this next election. Perhaps the most important election of our lives.


Trump is the result of politics as usual. Trump is not a politician, he is a business man. He was duly elected in 2016. The Electoral College was set up by our founding Fathers to give voice to entire nation, not just the cities and towns. Both parties are afraid of Trump, he is owned by no one. Special interest groups and lobbyists have little or no control over him. What a refreshing concept! Trump is not a polished speaker, though highly educated. His message is from the heart not necessarily through careful thought. He is abrasive and has trouble winning over new followers because of his comments and style.

(Here end the quotes from my cousin. Everything below is quoting other people about other things.)

During our exchange I ran across a Reddit post containing an excerpt from the prodigious correspondence of H.P. Lovecraft (1890–1937), which snippet struck me as having a weirdly familiar tone. Unfortunately, that Reddit post omitted an entire line of text from the middle of (what is here) the first sentence, and had a few other typos besides… so I ordered a copy of Lovecraft’s collected letters (Amazon) and re-transcribed it fresh. The following snippet comes from a letter to J. Vernon Shea dated November 8–22, 1933; this specific section is dated November 11.

[…] When I say I like Hitler I do not imply that he is a personally winning or temperately rational individual, but simply that he is an honest, ignorant man fighting bravely & blindly against the disintegrative forces which more educated & sophisticated people accept without adequate evidence as inevitable. His neurotic fanaticism, scientific addle-patedness, & crude gaucheries & extravagances are admitted & deplored — & of course it is quite possible that he actually may do more harm than good. One can scarcely prophesy the future. But the fact remains that he is the sole remaining rallying-point for German morale, & that virtually all of the best & most cultivated Germans accept him temporarily for what he is — a lesser evil at a special & exacting crisis of history. Objections to Hitler — that is, the violent & hysterical objections which one sees outside Germany — seem to be based largely on a soft idealism or “humanitarianism” which is out of place in an emergency. This sentimentalism may be a pleasing ornament in normal times, but it must be kept out of the way when the survival of a great nation hangs in the balance. The preservation of Germany as a coherent cultural & political fabric is of infinitely greater importance than the comfort of those who have been incommoded by Nazism — & of course the number of sufferers is negligible as compared with that of bolshevism’s victims. If what you say were true — that others could save Germany better than Hitler — then I’d be in favour of giving them a chance. But unfortunately the others had their chance & didn’t prove themselves equal to it. […]

The editors (S.T. Joshi and David E. Schultz) note in their introduction to this collection that “Lovecraft’s muted and conflicted praise of Hitler has not done Lovecraft’s reputation any favors, but […]”

there is some reason to hope that Lovecraft came to regret his early praise (which, it cannot be emphasized too strongly, was always mixed with a liberal dose of disapproval over many of the methods Hitler was then using to enforce his policies) of the German dictator. And we should always remember that Lovecraft [who died in 1937 —AO] did not live through World War II and the revelations of the Holocaust. Had he done so, there is little doubt that his views on race would have been significantly revised.

I tend to disagree with the editors’ assessment. It’s tempting to look at Lovecraft’s lukewarm endorsement of Hitler and think, “Ah, well, he’s not saying the guy is great. He volunteers that the man’s got massive flaws.” Or, “Ah, he values honesty and patriotism in a leader; I, also, value these things. We’re not so different!” It’d take just a little jolt — a Nuremberg law, a Kristallnacht, an invasion of Czechoslovakia, a Holocaust — to turn his lukewarm endorsement ice-cold… right?

This notion is appealing, but misguided. If the best you can say for someone is that they’re “not very keen on Hitler”: well, that’s weak common ground. If they identify Hitler as an “honest, ignorant man”: they may not be all that good at identifying honest men. If the main flaws they identify in the man are his “scientific addle-patedness & crude gaucheries,” as opposed to the content of his speech and the content of his actions: well, they mightn’t be as fazed by “the revelations of the Holocaust” as you might hope.

So, in Lovecraft’s case, it’s important not just to read the stuff that makes him sound like a reasonable, middle-of-the-road, Hitler-had-his-flaws kind of guy — but also the stuff like this, on the American melting-pot. From a letter to J. Vernon Shea dated May 29, 1933:

Altogether too much is made by radical theorists of the foreign immigrant influence. It is true that hordes of persons of non-English heritage have entered the country — but that has nothing to do with the seated culture of the region. These foreigners did not make the nation. They merely flocked in later to enjoy what others had made. Our own civilisation was irrevocably seated here long before they came, & it would be silly to suppose that we shall allow these crumb-snatchers to disturb the foundations which we laid for our descendants. They can either conform to the native culture which they find, or get the hell out of here. We made this nation, & if any of the skulking Jews or Dagoes who crawl after us to eat the fruit we laboriously planted think they can dictate to us, they’ll soon learn better by means of a heavy-shod boot applied to their rear ends. Most of them are only the scum & dregs of their own countries, anyhow — the weaklings who couldn’t keep on top among their own people. We welcome any biologically & culturally assimilable newcomers who are willing to abide by our institutions; but if any crawling peasants & ghetto bastards expect to troop in here & mould us in their own direction, we’ll shew them in short order where they get off!

The phrasing in this snippet reminds me of Lovecraft’s short story “The Street”, published thirteen years earlier, in 1920, of which “The Shadow Over Usenet” wrote:

Synopsis: This is the story of a street, from its humble beginnings in colonial times to its final self-destruction in Lovecraft’s era. At first populated by good English men, the Street is later taken over by a band of anarchists who would like to destroy the U. S. A. The Street takes supernatural revenge upon them before they can do so, however.

Comments: This is really awful. If someone came up to me and said, “Hey Daniel, I think H. P. Lovecraft was a wordy, overly sentimental bigot whose stories don’t make much sense,” this would be the last story I would hand to him to convince him otherwise. The story is a statement of Lovecraft’s nostalgia, xenophobia, and fear of the future, but Lovecraft forgot that it was supposed to be a story as well. Besides, how scary can a story be when it includes a cesspool of human degradation called the “Rifkin School of Modern Economics”?

I have noticed a common theme between “The Temple”, “The Doom…Sarnath”, “The Terrible Old Man”, “The Cats of Ulthar”, “The Tree”, and this particular tale. To follow Monty Python, I’ll call this horror convention “the Hand of God.” The basic outline of a story using this convention is as follows. You have a really nasty person, with whom neither the author or the reader are given any reason to sympathize. As the tale progresses, you slowly get the feeling that something really nasty is going to happen. Then— zot! The Hand of God strikes, and this slimeball is wasted by some supernatural force! End of story.

[“Like a miracle.” —AO]

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Posted 2020-06-09