_H. P. Lovecraft: The Decline of the West_, published in 1990 by Wildside Press, written by literary critic and Lovecraft scholar S. T. Joshi is an interesting account of the philosophical and political views of H. P. Lovecraft as expressed in his letters, philosophical writings, journals, and weird tales. Joshi notes at the beginning that this book is really an expansion of his chapter "H. P. Lovecraft: The Decline of the West" at the end of his 1990 book _The Weird Tale_. Joshi's essential thesis is that Lovecraft was significantly influenced by materialistic philosophies but also notions of cultural decline. In particular, Joshi ends this book with an entire section detailing the complicated relationship between Lovecraft's evolving philosophical and political views and the writings of the German historical theorist Oswald Spengler, who first wrote _Der Untergang des Abendlandes_ (_The Decline of the West_), a two volume historical tome which details his theory of cultural decline and cultures as organisms. H. P. Lovecraft (1890 - 1937) was an eccentric individual who was born in Providence, Rhode Island and with a brief interlude living in New York, lived there for most of his life. Lovecraft is perhaps best known as the writer of weird and macabre stories (as well as some poetry) emphasizing bizarre cults, superstition, and obscure alien races. Lovecraft's philosophical views (views which underlie all his stories) were also highly eccentric. Lovecraft was a staunch materialist, rationalist, and opponent of religion. His materialism and cosmism was endowed with pessimistic overtones (likely borrowed from his readings of Schopenhauer). Lovecraft suffered from a lifelong homesickness and favored the lost world of the eighteenth century gentleman. As such, he also inherited many of the prejudices of such a time period. Politically, Lovecraft began as a staunch conservative and proponent of capitalism and racialism (as well as elitism and opposition to immigrants), though with time he tempered this conservativism with socialism. This book is divided into three sections: "The Philosophy", "The Fiction", and "The Decline of the West", each dealing with a separate aspect of Lovecraft's unique philosophical development. Joshi also notes at the beginning how his method of interpretation differs from certain other commonplace modes of interpretation; post-structuralist, deconstructionist, and Marxist.
The first section of this book is entitled "The Philosophy". Joshi begins by tracing Lovecraft's philosophical development, including reference to his early unbelief and reading of such atheistic thinkers as Nietzsche, Russell, and Santayana. Joshi also mentions Haeckel, Huxley, and Darwinism in this context. Lovecraft was heavily influenced by recent discoveries in natural science and regarded his thinking as a form of materialism being in line with the Greek atomists, the Epicureans, Hobbes, Voltaire, Diderot, Hume, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Huxley, and Haeckel. Joshi subsequently devotes a section to the metaphysics (i.e. materialism) of Lovecraft, emphasizing his pessimism, his writings and letters, his defense of materialism, and his views on science and religion. Following this, Joshi turns to Lovecraft's understanding of ethics. Lovecraft's ethical system (largely borrowed from his readings of the Epicureans and Schopenhauer) emphasized pessimism and the need to alleviate the suffering of the "fellow sufferer". Following this, Joshi devotes a section to Lovecraft's views on aesthetics. Here, Joshi emphasizes two distinct periods through which Lovecraft passed: the classicist and the decadent. Lovecraft remained a lifelong antiquarian with a particular relish for the past and the preservation of the past through tradition and "folkways". Some have maintained that Lovecraft was in fact a decadent, but Joshi finds such views somewhat problematic. Joshi also emphasizes the influence of others such as Dunsany's fantasies or Machen's antiquarianism on Lovecraft and his writings. Following this, Joshi turns to Lovecraft's views on politics. Joshi notes that Lovecraft's views emphasized both aristocracy and socialism. Lovecraft maintained a lifelong distrust of the world of commerce and money, which may have led to his turn from capitalism to what he termed "fascistic socialism" and eventual support of F.D.R.'s New Deal. Lovecraft had a particularly low view of the masses and he also held other races in an unfavorable light. Lovecraft's views were largely those of Anglo-Saxon supremacy and in his writings and stories he expresses his dislike of other races, ethnics, and immigrants. The politically correct are likely to castigate him for such views; however, it should be noted that Lovecraft maintained friendly relations with individuals of other races throughout his life. In many ways, his views were a subtle pose.
The second section of this book is entitled "The Fiction". Here, Joshi traces Lovecraft's views on metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, and politics as they enter into his works of fiction, his weird tales. Joshi examines some of the underlying basis for Lovecraft's horror and his apparent neuroticism. In particular, in certain stories, the brute harshness of reality maintains a horror too terrible for mankind to face, and thus his terrors may be understood in this manner. Other monstrosities conjured up by Lovecraft may be understood as his fear of crowds or ethnics. (In particular, during Lovecraft's time in New York he developed a pronounced abhorrence for large groups of people and this is reflected in some of his stories from this time.) Lovecraft's stories also emphasize his antiquarianism and a hankering for a lost way of life. Throughout his life Lovecraft was influenced particularly by writers such as Dunsany and Machen, and their names enter his stories in several places, though he also tries to distance himself from them somewhat later to pursue a more independent course. Lovecraft's stories also emphasize his interest in the natural sciences, and his elder beings may be understood to be naturalistic or extra-terrestrial but beyond the comprehension of mankind as much as godlike or supernaturalistic beings. Joshi goes into great detail showing how Lovecraft's philosophical development and views are mirrored in his stories.
The final section of this book is entitled "The Decline of the West". Here, Joshi explains how Lovecraft's views coincide with those of Oswald Spengler (whose work Lovecraft did read) concerning cultural decline. Spengler made a distinction between Kultur and Zivilization as well as maintaining that cultures were indeed organisms which went through periods of birth, development, growth, decline, old age, and death. Joshi also notes how Lovecraft's aesthetics may be interpreted in terms of decline. Joshi explains in particular how such notions enter into Lovecraft's fiction and racialistic views. For example, regarding Lovecraft's views, Joshi posits the following oppositions:
capitalism feudalism or aristocracy (later socialism)
immigration racial homogeneity
mechanization agriculture-based civilization.
As such, Joshi traces Lovecraft's philosophy as it developed through his fiction and in concert with Spengler's thesis of decline.
This book is an excellent account of Lovecraft's philosophy. Lovecraft remains an unique and eccentric writer, whose stories live on as masterpieces of the weird. For those who are interested in studying the underlying philosophical views behind such stories, this book remains an important read.