The Long View: President H. P. Lovecraft

Since I just watched Amazon's pilot episode of the Man in the High Castle, I'm in an alternative history mood.

Why vote for the lesser evil?

 Don't blame me, I voted for Cthulu.


I would like to thank the many kind people from several continents who have e-mailed me to say that the author of 'The Iron Dream' is Norman Spinrad. The response I have received shows how knowledgeable and helpful Internet users are. (Either that, or you are all a bunch of Neo-Nazis!)

The Life and Times of President H.P. Lovecraft

Some years ago, I read a novel with the title, The Iron Dream, which purported to be science fiction written by Adolf Hitler in an alternative history (who the actual author was I do not remember). In this history, there was a Communist coup in Germany in the early 1920s, and Hitler became just another exile. (His brief involvement in reactionary politics was not worth mentioning.) He settled in the United States, where he became a commercial illustrator for pulp magazines. He took to writing for the pulps as his English improved, eventually attracting a small literary cult. He charming Viennese manners made him the star of science fiction conventions. His major novel, The Iron Dream, dealt with a political movement in a post-apocalyptic world. The movement was dedicated to cleansing the gene-pool of mutations and destroying the great mutant empire in the East. While some people detected anti-Semitic undertones in the book, Hitler's defenders noted that many of his best friends were Jewish. After his death, his stories were frequently reprinted in paperback editions, often using his own illustrations.

Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937) has a biography one might expect of a failed Hitler. Lovecraft has suffered from more than his share of posthumous Freudian analysis, but it is true that his family history (father dying while Lovecraft was young, over- protective mother) is similar to Hitler's. Both their childhoods' were prologues to some some similar life-long characteristics. Lovecraft, like Hitler, was a marginal artist. He was a better writer than Hitler was a painter, though that is not saying much. Both were very briefly married, Hitler for just a few hours, Lovecraft for a few months. Both were interested in the occult to some degree. Certainly both Nazism and Lovecraft's fiction owe a great deal to Theosophy. (Lovecraft claimed to be a sceptic. Hitler was affected by ideas of this type, though he was not a believer to the extent that Himmler and Hess were.) Both were racist Social Darwinists of the sort who viewed history as primarily determined by racial factors. Both were hypochondriacs who repeatedly forecast their early deaths. Lovecraft, whose neurasthenia kept him out of the First World War, turned out to be right. In person, both were rather shy and formal, not hard to like. Hitler loved dogs, Lovecraft loved cats.

Imagine an alternative history in which Lovecraft's ideas did not remain the stuff of pulp fiction. Suppose his father had lived, or he had been orphaned, or his family finances changed so that he had to go to work early in life. He becomes, let us say, a journalist in Boston or New York. He might then have fought in the First World War and returned with a distinguished record. He becomes a nationally syndicated columnist, famous for his warnings against the threat of immigrants, Communists, and unbridled finance capitalism, particularly as associated with the Jews. Like many practical people, life experience could have changed his reading about the occult from entertainment to belief. (It happens. Look at W.B. Yeats. For that matter, look at Hitler.) In the social catastrophe of the Great Depression, he would have had a unique opportunity to implement his ideas for revolutionary reform.

Lovecraft in politics would not have been a "conservative" in any serious sense of the word, though he would certainly have had little use for socialism or democracy. Sinclair Lewis, in his 1935 novel "It Can't Happen Here," tried to give some notion of what an American fascism might be like. It would be more puritanical than its European counterparts, he suggested. It would be less a case of a party imposing a political orthodoxy on the whole country than of radical right groups, such as the Klan, being empowered by the government to act at the local level. When Lewis thought of fascism, however, he seems to have been thinking of Italy. There was no particular place in his fascist America, as there was in Germany and would certainly have been in Lovecraft's America, for a national eugenics program. For that matter, Lewis did not understand, at least in 1935, how central anti-Semitism was to Nazism. If, as some writers have suggested, Hitler's Jewish policy was a necessary feature of his model of history (See Paul Wistrich's Hitler's Apocalypse), then one would expect similar notions to occur to Lovecraft, whose intellectual frame of reference was not so different from those of the leading Nazis.

America did not lack for proto-fascists in the 1930s, but they were regional personalities with little hope of forming an important national movement. Huey Long of Louisiana was very smart, of course, but he was, well, too "colorful" to be much appreciated outside his home state. Father Coughlin, the Radio Priest, would not himself have been a serious candidate for political office. His movement was too closely linked with Rome, at least in the public mind, to be anything but a faction in a larger right-wing coalition.

Lovecraft, or someone like him, might have been able to form such a coalition. A Northerner, nominally Protestant, he could have preached economic populism for the South and Midwest and anti-Communism for the Catholic Northeast. His background was such that he would have been more likely to have entered politics as a Republican than as a Democrat. In his native New England, the Democrats were the party of the hated immigrants. Of course, he might have taken the posture of a man above politics before the Depression. Like Perot in 1992 or Powell today, he could have had his pick of the nomination of either party. In terms of party platform, there was not much to choose between Roosevelt and Hoover in 1932. Roosevelt's chief qualification was that he was not Hoover. Lovecraft, who was in real life of a somewhat philosophical cast of mind, would have been not just a new face, but a man with a plan.

Any government elected in 1932 would have had to do much the same sort of thing on taking office that Roosevelt did. It was necessary to immediately reconstruct the banking system, to distribute disaster relief to the unemployed, and to try to cajole the country's businessmen into maintaining employment and making some investments. The Roosevelt Administration did this minimum, supplemented a little later with "make-work" projects, from new roads to the vaguely Stalinist murals you can still find in some older Post Offices. Some of these initiatives helped. Some, such as the government's price-fixing schemes, were catastrophes. In any event, though the economy improved in the 1930s, punctuated by various declines, the Depression was not finally ended until the United States began to mobilize for the Second World War. In this the US was in sharpest contrast to Nazi Germany. Hitler came to office about the same time Roosevelt did, and the economy was humming again within two years. The reason for this was simple enough: Hitler took office with the intention of fighting several major wars in about five to ten years, so rearmament began immediately. President Lovecraft, one suspects, would have done likewise.

Lovecraft's America would not have lacked for plausible enemies. There were, after all, the ubiquitous Communists, who would probably have favored Lovecraft's candidacy, as the German Communists favored Hitler's. (The idea was that Hitler's regime would soon collapse, thus leading to a red revolution.) Naturally, all the domestic ones would have to be arrested, and a military buildup begun in preparation for a final showdown with the USSR. The more immediate enemy, however, would have been the Yellow Peril, as manifest in Imperial Japan. It has always been difficult to explain to Americans why it was necessary to worry about threats from Europe. Arming against a possible war with Japan, in contrast, has always been an easy idea to sell. Actually, in the context of early Depression America, any kind of remilitarization program would have been easy to sell, since it would have been the one thing the government could have done to decrease unemployment quickly. (Young men not needed for the factories, of course, could have been drafted.)

Indeed, such a policy would have been self-sustaining, since possible enemies would have multiplied. The Roosevelt government was economically nationalist in terms of tariff policy, but it was content to let the international market economy continue to exist. It did not, at least to my knowledge, impose foreign exchange restrictions, or make it nearly impossible for foreigners to own property in America. Fascist governments, however, generally did do things like this. Such measures would have been serious blows to England and the Netherlands, whose people have always invested heavily in America. England would soon have perceived more than a financial threat, since an invasion of Canada would certainly have suggested itself to Lovecraft's government, both for strategic reasons and as an exercise. An Anglo-American naval war might have been the prelude to the western half of the Second World War.

That there would be a Second World War is hard to doubt, but the alliances would have been different. Britain, bereft of its overseas assets and a large part of its fleet (assuming the US won), could have had a revolution in the 1930s. If it was to the right, then the country would have been neutral in the event of a Nazi invasion of France. Fascist Britain might also have maintained its alliance with Japan through the 1930s, which would have meant the US could still have faced a two-ocean war when the fight with Japan started. Indeed, the US might have been faced with a Anglo-German alliance in the west. This would have made attacks on the continental United States plausible, particularly from the air. On the other hand, if Britain's revolution was to the left, then the British Empire would have disintegrated catastrophically. Red Britain might then have supported France in 1940, or whenever the German invasion came, but would probably have lacked the naval and air strength to resist invasion itself. Without Britain as a conduit, it is unlikely America would have become involved in Europe in the 1940s.

In the Pacific, hostilities might have begun as they did in the real world, but would have ended differently. For instance, since the United State would not have been cooperating with Great Britain on secret projects, and since America would not have been an attractive haven for refugee scientists, the atomic bomb would not have been invented. Despite what the revisionists say, an appalling invasion of Japan would almost certainly have been necessary. Lovecraft's government might then have been less interested in reforming the country than in depopulating it. Australia, one suspects, would have been annexed as Canada was annexed. The US might even have joined in the German war against the Soviet Union. (If the Nazis came to power in Germany, such an invasion would been inevitable). US aid would probably have taken the form of strategic bombing. It would also have been possible that the US would have gotten involved in a land war in China to finally defeat the Communists there.

Let us assume that Lovecraft dies about the time Roosevelt did, eight years later than Lovecraft did in fact. The world would then have been divided into two great spheres of influence, much as it was after the Second World War. However, they would have been far more evenly matched, since Europe would not have been laid in ruins by the Anglo- American and Russian invasions that occurred in the real world. The two empires would have had some ideological affinities, since both would have ruled by mystically-minded Aryan chauvinists. Some of their leaders would at least consider a union between the two empires. In contrast, popular opinion would have it, as did Hitler himself, that the great war between the eastern and western hemispheres would occur in the next generation. What a time for President Lovecraft to die! The only consolation would have been that the nation was be led by his brilliant young Vice President, L. Ron Hubbard.

But that's another story.

Copyright © 1996 by John J. Reilly

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