H.P. Lovecraft on the negro, with reference to the distinction between race and culture

H.P. Lovecraft’s views on race have long earned him notoriety as a bigot in politically correct circles. In fact they were rather nuanced, and seem to escape the refutation of “anti-racists” even today. Like most well informed men of his time, Lovecraft acknowledged differences in racial abilities, in particular with regard to the negro. These differences, he argued, justify segregation as a means of cultural self-defence:

The whole U.S. negro question is very simple. (1) Certainly the negro is vastly the biological inferior of the Caucasian. (2) Therefore if racial amalgamation were to occur, the net level of American civilisation would perceptibly fall, as in such mongrel nations as Mexico–& several South American near-republics. (3) Amalgamation would undoubtedly take place if prejudice were eradicated, beginning with the lowest grades of Jews & Italians & eventually working upward until the whole country would be poisoned, & its culture & progress stunted. (4) Therefore the much-abused “colour line” is a self-protective measure of the white American people to keep the blood of their descendants pure, & the institutions & greatness of their country unimpaired. The colour line must be maintained in spite of the ranting & preaching of fanatical & ill-informed philanthropists. ––from a letter written January 18, 1919.

Of course Lovecraft knows that there are intelligent negroes, but he knows that the exception is no guide to sound policy.

The genius of a few individuals is never an index of collective racial capacity. In spite of all the Booker Washingtons & Dunbars we can see that the negro as a whole has never made any progress or founded any culture. We cannot judge a man sociologically by his own individual qualities; we have the future to think of. Two persons of different races, though equal mentally & physically, may have a vitally different sociological value, because one will certainly produce an incalculably better type of descendants than the other. We must see that the best retain social & political supremacy, in order that our best traditions may be preserved. Therefore, to me, racial prejudice is not irrational or unexplainable; nor in any way unjustifiable. It has awkward phases, but its benefits immeasurably outweigh its disadvantages. ––ibid.

But Lovecraft went beyond race realism to embrace cultural preservationism as well. Our people may sometimes be superior objectively, but even when they are not they should be favored simply because they are ours, just as parents favor their own children regardless of ability.

Now the trickiest catch in the negro problem is that it is really twofold. The black is vastly inferior. There can be no question of this among contemporary and unsentimental biologists—eminent Europeans for whom the prejudice-problem does not exist. But, it is also a fact that there would be a very grave and very legitimate problem even if the negro were the white man’s equal. For the simple fact is, that two widely dissimilar races, whether equal or not, cannot peaceably coexist in the same territory until they are either uniformly mongrelised or cast in folkways of permanent and traditional personal aloofness. No normal being feels at ease amidst a population having vast elements radically different from himself in physical aspect and emotional responses. A normal Yankee feels like a fish out of water in a crowd of cultivated Japanese, even though they may be his mental and aesthetic superiors; and the normal Jap feels the same way in a crowd of Yankees. This, of course, implies permanent association. We can all visit exotic scenes and like it—and when we are young and unsophisticated we usually think we might continue to like it as a regular thing. But as years pass, the need of old things and usual influences—home faces and home voices—grows stronger and stronger; and we come to see that mongrelism won’t work. ––from a letter written in January, 1931.

Lovecraft makes two distinctions. The first is between superior and inferior races, and closely resembles Darwin’s distinction between higher and lower, or civilized and savage, races. The second is between us and them, between what is our culture and way of life and what is not, between those who can be members of our communities and those who cannot. This second distinction, Lovecraft freely admits, is not a purely racial classification, but race does underlie it.

Immigration policy, Lovecraft maintains, must be guided by both distinctions. Allowing the lesser races into your country is an own goal of spectacular proportions, but other superior races must also be treated carefully. If too many of them are allowed into the country, they will disrupt its harmonious functioning and destroy its culture:

What we mean by Nordic “superiority” is simply conformity to those character-expectations which are natural and ineradicable among us. We are not so naïve as to confuse this relative “superiority” (we ought to call it conformity or suitability instead) with the absolute biological superiority which we recognise in the higher races as a whole as distinguished from the negro, australoid, neanderthal, rhodesian, and other primitive human and humanoid types both living and extinct. We know perfectly well that the Italians excel us in the capacity to savour life and beauty—that their centres of taste are better developed than ours—but they annoy us and fail to fit into our group because their gland-functionings and nerve reactions do not correspond to what our own heritage has made us expect. We do not call them inferior, but simply admit that they are different beyond the limits of easy mutual understanding and cultural compatibility. If we wisely kept vast masses of such foreigners out, we could regard them with a more impersonal appreciation. It would be wholly possible, too, to assimilate a few to our own fabric. But when we get so damn many of them that a wholesale test of strength betwixt their ideals and ours starts up on our soil—well, forget your idealism for a second, use your horse-sense, and guess what will happen! ––from a letter written January 18, 1931.

Lovecraft was perfectly able to make this distinction in practise, even when his own sentiments were involved, His famous dislike for Jewish influence did not, as the rationalization theory of “racism” would predict, lead him to claim that Jews were unintelligent:

In 1903-4 I had private tutors, but in the autumn of 1904 I mingled with the world once more—to the extent of entering Hope St. High School. Here I was confronted for the first time with cosmopolitanism. Slater Avenue school is public, but it is rather a neighborhood affair, with most of its pupils drawn from the old families. But Hope Street is near enough to the “North End” to have a considerable Jewish attendance. It was there that I formed my ineradicable aversion to the Semitic race. The Jews were brilliant in their classes—calculatingly & schemingly brilliant—but their ideals were sordid & their manners course. I became rather well known as anti-Semitic before I had been at Hope Street many days. ––from a letter written November 16, 1915.

His dislike for Jewish culture did not stop him from marrying a well assimilated Jew, and from opposing from the first the National Socialist regime:

By the way—it’s hardly accurate to compare the Jewish with the negro problem. The trouble with the Jew is not his blood—which can mix with ours without disastrous results—but his persistent & antagonistic culture-tradition. On the other hand, the negro represents a vastly inferior biological variant which must under no circumstances taint our Aryan stock. The absolute colour-line as applied to negroes is both necessary & sensible, whereas a similar deadline against Jews (though attempted by Hitler) is ridiculous. ––from a letter written May 29, 1933.

His rejection of the ideology of racial purity did not cause him to announce that there were only social constructions which could be modified arbitrarily. On the contrary, he always maintained his preservationist impulse:

While of course the demand for more than 0.75 Aryan blood in full citizens is an excessive one except where the diluting blood is biologically inferior—as with Negroes and Australoids—it remains a fact that many modern nations need to take steps to preserve the integrity of their own native cultures against shrewd and pushing alien influences. One must view such problems realistically—without patriotic sentimentality like Hitler’s on one hand, and without idealistic sentimentality on the other hand. Certainly, a dash of alien blood of a superior race (among which a large section of Jews as well as Mongols must be included) does not harm another superior stock so long as the culture is unimpaired. But that’s where the rub comes. When the alien element is strong or shrewd enough to menace the purity of the culture amidst which it parasitically lodges, it is time to do something. ––from a letter written June 12, 1933.

(all quotations cribbed from greatmindsonrace)

About Pechorin

A Hero of Our Time
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to H.P. Lovecraft on the negro, with reference to the distinction between race and culture

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s