Ed Driscoll

Lovecraft, Mencken, Friedman: The Totalitarian Impulse, Then And Now

Reading the Gormogons’ profile of “H.P. Lovecraft, Fascist”, it reminds me more than a little bit of Fred Siegel’s 2006 profile of Mencken the Teuton” in the Weekly Standard.

The Gormogons include a telling quote from an earlier profile of Lovecraft:

Although a life-long Anglophile he opposed the First World War, basically because it was a brother’s war. As he explained:

“That the maintenance of civilisation today rests with that magnificent Teutonic stock which is represented alike by the two hotly contending rivals, England and Germany… is as undeniably true as it is vigorously disputed. The Teuton is the summit of evolution. That we may consider intelligently his place in history we must cast aside the popular nomenclature which would confuse the names “Teuton” and “German”, and view him not nationally but racially. Tracing the career of the Teuton through medieval and modern history, we can find no possible excuse for denying his actual biological supremacy. In widely separated localities and under widely diverse conditions, his innate racial qualities have raised him to preeminence. There is no branch of modern civilisation that is not his making.”

Which dovetails remarkably well with Siegel’s discription of Mencken’s writings during the Great War:

During the course of the war he was censored by the Sunpapers, but wrote three revealing articles for the Atlantic. The first, “The Mailed Fist and Its Prophet,” celebrated Nietzsche as the inspiration for the new Germany, which was “contemptuous of weakness.” Germany, as he admired it, was a “hard” nation with no patience for politics because it was governed by the superior men of its “superbly efficient ruling caste.” “Germany,” he concluded, “becomes Nietzsche; Nietzsche becomes Germany.” Mencken approvingly quotes Nietzsche to the effect that “the weak and the botched must perish. . . . I tell you that a good war hallows every cause.”

The second Atlantic article, based on Mencken’s own reporting from the Eastern front in 1917, was a piece of hero worship that exalted General Erich Ludendorff as Germany’s “national messiah.” Mencken treasured the kaiser, but he thought Ludendorff was worth “40 Kaisers,” and was the man to lead German Kultur in its total war against Anglo-Saxon civilization. According to Mencken, the general’s greatness was to be found in the way that he had stamped out people’s individuality so that “the whole energy of the German people [could] be concentrated on the war.”

The third, and most intriguing, essay–“After Germany’s Conquest of the United States”–talked about the benefits to America of being ruled by the hard men of a superior Kultur. Known only because of the exchange of letters between Mencken and the editor of the Atlantic, the article was withdrawn and never published. Interestingly, despite Mencken’s extraordinary efforts to document his own life, the manuscript, according to Vincent Fitzpatrick, curator of the Mencken collection, cannot be found. Mencken’s reputation, it seems, was saved by wartime self-censorship–in Boston, home of the Atlantic.

Mencken had genuine cause for bitterness during World War I, when the excesses of zealous Americanism left him fearful for the safety of his family. But neither Rodgers nor his other biographers have noted the context of that hostility. While Mencken was touting the genius of Teutonic militarism, German saboteurs blew up the munitions depot at Black Tom Island off Manhattan. That strike, until 9/11 the most violent action by a hostile force in the history of the city of New York, caused $40 million of damage, sinking the island and its contents into the sea. The Kaiser’s plans to invade America might never have come off, but Germany plotted to bring Mexico into the war against the United States.

The Sage of Baltimore needs to be placed in a broader intellectual context. The man who is still selectively celebrated by people like Rodgers, as if he were nothing more or less than an American iconoclast, was one of a number of anti democratic thinkers on both sides of the Atlantic. Some of them, like D.H. Lawrence, were proto-fascists; others, like H.G. Wells, were apologists for Stalin. But they all denounced democracy in the name of vitalism, eugenics, and a caste system run by an elite of superior men.

Eugenics was (one hopes) thoroughly discredited by World War II. But the desire among anti-democratic American elites for “a caste system run by an elite of superior men”?

Good thing we don’t see that anymore today.