The Legacy of H. P. Lovecraft from an Identitarian Perspective: Part Two
by Andrej Sekulović
Andrej Sekulović explores the intersection of H. P. Lovecraft’s personal beliefs with his literary creations, revealing how his views on race, society, and political systems profoundly influenced his iconic works of horror and cosmic dread.
Also read part one.
H. P. Lovecraft remains a problematic literary figure for today’s liberal establishment. While he is still celebrated as the master of horror and cosmic dread, his personal views on race and society would place him on the “far right” of the currently accepted social and political opinions. To reiterate what was emphasized in the first part of this essay, his views on the above-mentioned subjects may be much scarier to his more left-leaning readers than any of his fiction. In the second part of this essay, we will briefly examine a few instances of how his controversial opinions and views influenced — and were reflected within — his stories and tales.
If we begin with Lovecraft’s criticism of liberal democracy and free market capitalism, which led him to explore other alternatives, such as socialism or fascism, we should focus particularly on the two following works. One is At the Mountains of Madness, a novella written in 1931, and the other is The Shadow Out of Time, written in 1934/35. In both stories, the main protagonists discover the remnants of ancient prehistorical extraterrestrial societies that thrived on Earth millions of years ago. The beings from At the Mountains of Madness, called the Elder Things, were in fact the ones who created life on Earth. Their government is defined as “probably socialistic.” Throughout both novellas, we can notice Lovecraft’s appreciation of the high culture and refined art. In both of the mentioned works, his descriptions of the civilizations and societies of these strange beings somehow echo the first part of the following quote from one of his letters, written on February 101923: “We advocate the preservation of conditions favourable to the growth of beautiful things — imposing palaces, beautiful cities, elegant literature, reposeful art and music, and a physically select human type such as only luxury and a pure racial strain can produce. Thus we oppose democracy, if only because it would retard the development of a handsome Nordic breed.” In both cases, the alien societies are highly technologically advanced and populated with evolved beings of superior intelligence who are highly concerned with preserving the knowledge of their history, as well as their traditions and culture.
Shoggots, the Heroes of the Left?
In At The Mountains of Madness, where the protagonists discover the ruins of the city of the Elder Things under the ice in Antarctica, the alien creatures are first encountered as the main antagonists and threat to the human characters. However, in the end, they are viewed in a more sympathetic light as their tragic destiny is revealed. The main cause for the downfall of their civilization, which is characterized by supremely aesthetic architecture and art, is the revolt of their slaves and servants, a race of shapeshifting beings known as shoggoths, which were created by the Elder Things for heavy labor. Coupled with climate change and with the wars that the Elder Things fought with other extraterrestrial races that inhabited the Earth millions, if not billions, of years ago, the rebellions of the shoggoths caused the gradual collapse of their society. At some point, the Elder things were forced to retreat to their underwater dwellings, leaving behind their magnificent city. We can imagine that in the eyes of the leftist crowd, the shoggoths would be the true heroes of this story as they rise against the civilization of colonizers and stand up to their masters and oppressors. But this is not the case with Lovecraft. The shoggoths are not portrayed as freedom fighters yearning for liberty and justice. They are primitive and even vulgar creatures, much more horrific and frightening to the human eye than their masters. They not only attack and kill the Elder Things in gruesome ways but also destroy their artistic carvings that depict their history and way of life, and mock their art with vulgar imitations. Some parallels may come to mind with the current Western societies, such as the riots and violent protests of the immigrant, racially foreign, and violent mobs, the denigration of the beauty standards through modern art, the mocking of our culture and history, and the destruction and removal of statutes and plaques that supposedly offend racial or sexual minorities.
The main character and narrator of the story, Professor William Dyer, also sees a parallel between his kind and the Elder Things. Towards the end of the book, he stumbles upon the corpses of the aliens that were found frozen in ice by his colleagues. These creatures killed his colleagues and brought havoc on their camp, only to be murdered by shoggoths later on. As Dyer sees their corpses, he feels an unlikely kinship towards the strange creatures from the unknown depths of space. It seems that this feeling reflects the Faustian spirit of the European man, which is also shared by the Elder Things, a race of explorers that yearned for knowledge and attached great importance to the preservation of their history. Dyer sees in them fellow builders of civilization, exclaiming upon seeing their dead bodies, “Poor devils! After all, they were not evil things of their kind. They were the men of another age and another order of being.” Remembering his dead colleagues who were, in fact, massacred by the Elder Things, he also feels sorry for the aliens, “… and poor Old Ones! Scientists to the last — what had they done that we would not have done in their place? God, what intelligence and persistence!”
Glimpse into an Evolved Society
In The Shadow Out of Time, we can notice a few more glimpses of what an ideal society may have looked like for H. P. Lovecraft. Of course, we have to keep in mind that the inhabitants of such societies are always highly evolved beings, whose mental and physical abilities are much higher than those of humans.
The remnants of the society of the Great Race of Yith are found in the Australian desert. Like the Elder Things, they lived on Earth millions of years ago. Their society is described as “a sort of fascistic socialism,” which reflects the fact that the tale was written in the mid-thirties of the previous century when fascism was on the rise in Italy and, to some extent, in quite a few other European countries as well. Lovecraft, who thought that democracy was a false idol, a “mere catchword and an illusion of inferior classes, visionaries, and dying civilisations,” followed such developments across the Atlantic with great interest. In the above-mentioned letter from February 10, 1923, a year after fascism gained power in Italy and a decade before National Socialism would rule in Germany, he also wrote, “We regard the rise of democratic ideas as a sign of cultural old age and decay, and deem it a compliment to such men as Mussolini when they are said to be ‘XVth century types’. We are proud to be definitely reactionary, since only by a bold repudiation of the word ‘liberal’ and the progress illusion can we get the sort of authoritative social and political control which alone produces things which make life worth living.” It was noted in the first part of this essay that while the later Lovecraft distanced himself from the term “reactionary,” it was also outlined that his views on race stayed more or less the same throughout his life and that his contempt for liberal democracy and especially plutocratic capitalism only increased. It seems that he also used the term “fascism” in some of his later letters in a derogatory way, connecting it to his criticism of plutocracy. He was also critical of Hitler’s “extremes of pure racialism,” which he thought were “absurd and grotesque.” Notwithstanding possible shifts in his attitudes, his earlier quotes remain important, since the opinions plainly expressed in them are reflected within his fictional writings. And the following quote, from a letter dated February 13, 1934, shows us that if anything, he may have only softened the more “chauvinistic” aspects of his racial views towards Eastern and Southern European peoples: “Various race-stocks differ in inclinations and aptitudes, but of all of them I consider only the negro and australoid biologically inferior.”
To return to the subject at hand, the Great Race of Yith formed a single loosely connected “nation” that had major institutions in common. Their industry was “highly mechanized,” and it “demanded but little time from each citizen.” This meant that the members of the Great Race had plenty of free time, but, unlike the modern mediocre human masses, they did not spend it on trivial and essentially useless short-term pleasures. Instead, they focused on cultivating themselves through “intellectual and aesthetic activities of various sorts.” Furthermore, “the sciences were carried to an unbelievable height of development, and art was a vital part of life.” Apart from holding art in high regard, another “traditional” aspect of their society was the respect towards the dead, who were “incinerated with dignified ceremonies.” Finally, their “fascistic socialistic” system of government was democratic to some extent but was nothing like mass democracy, since the election of the leaders was not left to the general masses. Only those who were “able to pass certain educational and psychological tests” were allowed to participate in voting, which somewhat echoes the view that Lovecraft expressed in a letter from October 27, 1932: “Therefore (deeming both democracy and communism fallacious for Western civilisation) I favour a kind of fascism which may, whilst helping the dangerous masses at the expense of the needlessly rich, nevertheless preserve the essentials of traditional civilisation and leave political power in the hands of a small and cultivated (though not over-rich) governing class largely hereditary but subject to gradual increase as other individuals rise to its cultural level.” As far as it seems, there was no hereditary ruling class in the case of the Great Race of Yith. Nonetheless, it was an example of a society led by the cultivated governing class, elected by the individuals who achieved a certain “cultural level.”