By Jason Ray Carney
In a letter to H.P. Lovecraft on March 2nd, 1932, Robert E. Howard discussed the impending German Presidential Election. In accordance with the Weimar Constitution that governed Germany in 1932, true power was entrusted to the office: in addition to a seven-year-term, the President of the Weimar Republic appointed the Chancellor, the leader the Reichstag (the National Parliament), and he could dissolve and reconstitute the legislature.
1932 in Germany was a tense year. Economic and political tensions were simmering due to the rising Nazi and the Communist parties. Both parties, it was widely assumed, were frustrated by the constitution and sought power not to maintain the government but to replace it with a new one that harmonized with their non-democratic ideological visions.
In March of 1932, there were three candidates on the ballot. Paul von Hindenberg (1925-1934), the defender of the troubled Weimer constitution. A political and military mainstay, Hindenberg was running for a second term; 84-years-old at the time, he was a former general who led the German Imperial Army during the Great War. There was Ernst Thälmann, a member of Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands, a committed Stalinist. Finally, there was Adolf Hitler, the candidate of the Nazi party, who was only recently (February 25th, 1932) granted German citizenship. Germany, like most of the Western world during this interwar period, was in crisis, not just due to post-War reparations but also economic depression.
Howard viewed the election of either Hitler or Thälmann as a threat to world peace and so supported Hindenberg. He wrote this Lovecraft, who supported Hitler:
I hope Von Hindenburg carries the election. During war days I would cheerfully have lighted a torch to burn him at the stake, but now I think he is one of the strongest stabilizing factors in Europe, and that his re-election would be to the advantage of not only Germany, but the entire world. He was doubtless the ablest general of any nationality in the Great War, and now seems to be about the most level-headed statesman on the Continent.
It is curious to see Howard, naively viewed by many as partisan to anti-sociality (i.e. barbarism) and rebellion, on the side of social stability and cohesion. Considering the possibility of a fascist or soviet regime in Germany, Howard speculates about a dystopic future, one dominated by quasi-feudalistic autocrats:
It seems we must choose between a strong soviet government, and a strong dictatorship on the fascist style. Just as in the feudal days, men chose a strong baron or count to serve, for mutual protection. Personal liberty, it would seem, is to be a thing of the past. Individualistic independence must be sacrificed for national security.
Here Howard compares both soviet- and fascist-style governments to pre-modern feudalism and monarchy, to rule by a “strong baron or count.”
Howard was prescient: the interwar period became the era of dictators who curtailed civil liberties, murdered millions, and plunged the world into violent chaos. Howard’s political ideal, “individualistic independence,” seems to be projected onto the “level-headed statesman," the 84-year-old president of a troubled Weimar republic regime, a political insider.
Was Howard optimistic about Hindenberg’s prospects? Not quite. He expressed his pessimism in a sonnet published this same month in Weird Tales, titled “The Last Day.” It depicts a demon who allegorizes autocracy who grips a global orb in his “brutish fist.” What does the demon do with the world?
His skull-mouth gaped and icy shone his eye.
Down crashed the crystal globe—a fireshot mist.
Masked the dark lands, which sank below the sea--
A painted sun hung in a starless sky.
In Howard’s understanding, "level-headed statesmen" were opposed by brutish and diabolical forces. Tired Victorians like Paul von Hindenberg, Woodrow Wilson, and Neville Chamberlain sought to stabilize the West against demons who grasped at the globe with their brutish fists.
Blogger bio: Jason Ray Carney teaches popular literature and creative writing at Christopher Newport University. He is the co-editor of The Dark Man, the area chair of the "Pulp Studies" section of the Popular Culture Association, and the editor of Whetstone: Amateur Magazine of Sword and Sorcery.
The Pavilion Blog is the companion blog of The Dark Man: Journal of Robert E. Howard and Pulp Studies. It features brief, conversational reflections related to Robert E. Howard at around 500-600 words. Interested in contributing? E-mail the editors at firstname.lastname@example.org
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