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Leave it to Lovecraft to Explain America
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What is the United States of America?
Since the republic we all pledged allegiance to - though I must admit that I never took the “under God” thing seriously - as lads and lasses in homeroom now crumbles into disruption, this question is more important than ever.
Many politicians from both sides of the aisle will say our country is not built around any common language or culture, but rather a broad set of universal values. Therefore, it is adaptable to anyone and everyone who should seek ‘liberty,’ ‘equality,’ and whatever other dreamy bromides were in those textbooks that bored us to near sleep.
Since the definition of Americanism we grew up with is not exactly holding water in our day and age, I prefer to share an alternative and substantive explanation for our - at least once upon a time - great land.
“It is easy to sentimentalise on the subject of ‘the American spirit’ - what it is, may be, or should be,” the late, great H.P. Lovecraft wrote in 1919. “Exponents of various novel political and social theories are particularly given to this practice, nearly always concluding that ‘true Americanism’ is nothing more or less than a national application of their respective individual doctrines.”
Interesting how time changes much, yet nothing at all.
“’Americanism’ is expanded Anglo-Saxonism,” Lovecraft indicated. “It is the spirit of England, transplanted to a soil of vast extent and diversity, and nourished for a time under pioneer conditions calculated to increase its democratic aspects without impairing its fundamental virtues.
“It is the spirit of truth, honour, justice, morality, moderation, individualism, conservative liberty, magnanimity, toleration, enterprise, industriousness, and progress - which is England - plus the element of equality and opportunity caused by pioneer settlement .... Those who endeavour to belittle the importance of our British ancestry, are invited to consider the other nations of this continent.
“All these are equally ‘American’ in every particular, differing only in .... heritage; yet of them all, none save British Canada will even bear comparison with us. We are great because we are a part of the great Anglo-Saxon cultural sphere; a section detached only after a century and a half of heavy colonisation and English rule, which gave to our land the ineradicable stamp of British civilisation.
“Most dangerous and fallacious of the several misconceptions of Americanism is that of the so-called ‘melting-pot’ of races and traditions. It is true that this country has received a vast influx of non-English immigrants who come hither to enjoy without hardship the liberties which our British ancestors carved out in toil and bloodshed .... Immigration cannot, perhaps, be cut off altogether, but it should be understood that aliens who choose America as their residence must accept the prevailing language and culture as their own; and neither try to modify our institutions, nor to keep alive their own in our midst.
“We must not, as the greatest man of our age declared, suffer this nation to become a ‘polyglot boarding house.’”
Is that ever the truth!
“The main struggle which awaits Americanism is not with reaction, but with radicalism,” Lovecraft pointed out. “Our age is one of restless and unintelligent iconoclasm, and abounds with shrewd sophists who use the name ‘Americanism’ to cover attacks on that institution itself. Such familiar terms and phrases as ‘democracy,’ ‘liberty,’ or ‘freedom of speech’ are being distorted to cover the wildest forms of anarchy, whilst our old representative institutions are being attacked as ‘un-American’ by foreign immigrants who are incapable both of understanding them or of devising anything better.”
I have nothing to add. Lovecraft put it all so succinctly - so beautifully - that his words cannot, from my perspective, be surpassed. While I do not agree with his Euro-racialism, references to which were excised from this article, his focus on culture and its relation to the American Way is spot-on.
Like it or not, this is an Anglocentric country. The farther we roam from our foundational English macro-culture, the worse off we become. Immigrants who dislike Anglo society ought not be given citizenship. ‘Americans’ who feel the same should consider living somewhere more agreeable for them.
End of story.
Joseph Ford Cotto is the editor-in-chief of The San Francisco Review of Books. Email him at