“[W]hat I used to respect was not really aristocracy, but a set of personal qualities which aristocracy then developed better than any other system . . . a set of qualities, however, whose merit lay only in a psychology of non-calculative, non-competitive disinterestedness, truthfulness, courage, and generosity fostered by good education, minimum economic stress, and assumed position, AND JUST AS ACHIEVABLE THROUGH SOCIALISM AS THROUGH ARISTOCRACY.”–H.P. Lovecraft, in a letter to C.L. Moore. (Italics and Capitals his.)
The political journey of H.P. Lovecraft is a fascinating one. He was, as most readers know, a racist, even by the standards of the 1920s and ’30s. His economic views during the Depression were what people call “left-wing”, but which are more accurately described as simply “socialist” or perhaps even better “anti-capitalist”. Joined with his racism, this made his political outlook–and know that I don’t make this comparison lightly–basically fascistic. (You can read about his views in more detail here.)
But the central point here is that Lovecraft believed in replacing the capitalistic, market-driven society with one more like an aristocracy in which–and I’m paraphrasing and condensing a lot here–tended to value aesthetic and intellectual qualities more.
So, as I understand it, his idea was to replace the security an aristocracy provided by means of inheritance with the security socialism provided by means of a social safety net, redistributionary measures and public control of the factors of production.
Compare this with the views of Ayn Rand mentioned in my previous post. She saw control of the material market as being abhorrent, and opposed just as she opposed control of people’s minds. (Judging by the stories of her “Objectivists” group, she waived the latter opposition where she was doing the control.) but Rand favored a competitive market economy in which, she believed, the best would rise to the top.
The flaw in Rand’s concept, as I said, is that in a market economy there is little time for intellectual and artistic endeavors, and what there is, if also subjected to the market, is designed to satisfy the minds and the tastes of the “lowest common denominator”, as they say.
Lovecraft’s idea is much more consistent with the socially engineered Utopianism so popular in his time, but the irony is that, if his feelings on race are any indication, Lovecraft didn’t just want the benefits of classical aristocracy to be achieved through socialism, he wanted an honest-to-God classical aristocracy back. Since aristocracy is usually a hierarchy based on heredity, and since racism amounts to a system of dividing into hierarchies based on heredity, a racist and socialist society would be, practically, a hereditary aristocracy, only a little more crude and obvious about it.
My point in contrasting these two philosophies is to point out the flaws they suffered from: Rand’s philosophy could not be the basis for an intelligent society because it allows all non-moneymaking pursuits to be subverted to the behavior of capital flows. Lovecraft’s vision could not because it was effectively reinventing
what had already been done, and the flaws of which were already known.
So, why should anyone care? The political ideas of two deceased writers, one of whom wrote mediocre romance novels for millionaires and the other who wrote about flying space octopi don’t seem terribly important.
Well, I care because Rand and Lovecraft–unpleasant, deluded, cruel and arrogant though they may have been–were also very intelligent people, and this is demonstrated by the fact that they successfully articulated philosophies which may be seen in action even today. That these philosophies do not appear to be capable of creating a functional society might be what is most important, but also interesting is that intelligent people thought that they could.
- While researching this, I found a site that makes an interesting point-by-point comparison of Rand and Lovecraft that may be of interest.
- There is a lot more interesting information to be found on Lovecraft’s politics in the books of his letters compiled by S.T. Joshi. Sadly, I no longer have my copies, and so cannot quote certain passages verbatim.