Classic Essays

The Revolt Against Civilization: The Menace of the Underman (Part 10)

As part of our commitment to the celebration of forgotten classics—i.e., great works of the past which have been intentionally flushed down the memory hole by our Orwellian overlords—National Vanguard is proud to present a condensed edition of Lothrop Stoddard’s pioneering treatise The Revolt Against Civilization: The Menace of the Underman, originally published in 1922.

To appreciate the significance of this work, one must understand that in his day Stoddard was a certified member of America’s (now-former) WASP establishment. An old-stock Yankee from Brookline, Massachusetts, Stoddard held a Ph.D. in History from Harvard University and was one of the most prominent intellectuals in the country prior to the Second World War. It is only because of the triumph of Jewish propaganda from that war that racialists like Stoddard have since been relegated to obscurity.

By Lothrop Stoddard

NOW WHAT DO WE know about superior individuals? We know that they exist and that they are due to heredity. That is a good beginning, but it would not get us very far unless we knew more along the same lines. Fortunately, we not only know that superiors tend to produce superior offspring, but that they produce such offspring according to natural laws which can be determined statistically with a high degree of accuracy. (And, of course, the same is true of the production of inferiors.)

The production of superior persons has been studied by modern biologists from Galton down to the present day, and a mass of authoritative data has been accumulated. Let us examine a few of these instructive investigations. To cite the earliest of them, Galton’s study on “Hereditary Genius” (1869), Galton discovered that in English history success in life was a strikingly “family affair.” From careful statistical investigation of a great number of notable Englishmen Galton found that a distinguished father was infinitely more likely to have a distinguished son than was an undistinguished father. To cite one case out of many, Galton found that the son of a distinguished judge had about one chance in four of becoming himself distinguished, while the son of a man picked out at random from the general population had only about one chance in 4,000 of becoming similarly distinguished.

Of course, the objection at once suggested itself that environmental influences like social opportunity might be predominant; that the son of a distinguished man is pushed forward regardless of his innate abilities, while the son of an obscure man never gets a chance. To test this, Galton turned to the history of the Papacy. For centuries it was the custom for a Pope to adopt one of his nephews as a son, and advance him in every way.

Now if opportunity is all that is necessary to advance a man, these adopted sons ought to have reached eminence in the same proportion as the real sons of eminent men. As a matter of fact, however, they reached eminence only as often as the statistical expectation for nephews of great men — whose chance of eminence has been discovered to be much less than that of the sons of great men. Nevertheless, despite different ratios of heritability, superiority still remains a family affair; Galton found that nearly half of the great men of England had distinguished close relatives.

Galton’s studies of English greatness have been criticised as applying to a country where caste lines are sharply drawn. To test these objections the American biologist Woods transferred the inquiry to the United States — a land where opportunities have been much more equal and rigid caste lines virtually absent. How was it with the great men of America? If they were found to have fewer distinguished relatives than the great men of England, it would be a great feather in the environmentalists’ cap, since it would tend to show that, given equal opportunity, success does not depend on family stock. On the other hand, if what was true of England should hold good also of America, the theory of hereditary superiority would be much more firmly established.

The result of Woods’s study [8] was a striking confirmation of Galton’s researches. Woods took two groups of distinguished Americans; a large group of 3,500 listed as eminent in the standard dictionaries of biography; and a small group of the 46 very eminent Americans admitted to the “Hall of Fame.” Now how were these eminent persons related to each other? If superiority did not “run in families,” it is evident that their chances of relationship would be no greater than that of the rest of the population — which ratio Woods found to be statistically 1 in 500. However, as a matter of fact, the 3,500 eminent Americans were found to be related to each other, not as 1 to 500 but as 1 to 5. Furthermore, by picking out the more eminent among the 3,500 and forming a new group, this group was found to be related to each other as 1 to 3. Most striking of all were the results obtained by considering the very superior group listed in the Hall of Fame. Here the ratio of relationship rose to 1 in 2, while if all their eminent relations were counted in, they averaged more than one apiece. Thus, distinguished Americans are discovered to be from 500 to 1,000 times as much related to other distinguished persons as is the ordinary American. Or, to put it in another way, something like 1 per cent of the population of the United States is as likely to produce a genius as is all the rest of the country put together — the other 99 cent.

It might, to be sure, be objected that even in America the early environment of eminent men might be on the average more favorable than that of the mass of the population. This objection is met by another of Woods’s investigation — a very able and elaborate study of the royal families of Europe. [9] Here is a class of persons where no one can doubt that the environment is uniformly favorable. If opportunity rather than inherited capacity be the cause of success, then most of the members of this class ought to have succeeded, and succeeded in about the same degree, because to every one of royal blood the door of opportunity stands open. Yet the result of Woods’s study was just the reverse of this. Despite the good environment almost uniformly present, superiority in royalty, as in other classes, is found to be a distinctly “family matter.” Royal geniuses are not scattered haphazard over the genealogical chart; they are concentrated in isolated chains of closely related individuals. One chain centers in Frederick the Great, another in Queen Isabella of Spain, a third in William the Silent, and a fourth in Gustavus Adolphus. And, be it also noted, inferiority in royalty is equally segregated, royal dullards and degenerates also running by families.

But how about superior individuals who rise from apparently mediocre stocks? Environmentalist writers are forever compiling lists of great men who “came from nothing.” These cases have, however, been carefully investigated, and the more they are studied the more convincing grows the evidence that greatness never arises out of “nothing.” Take Abraham Lincoln. He was long a shining example for the environmentalist thesis. Lincoln is popularly supposed to have come from “poor white trash” of a very inferior order. But careful investigation proves that this is emphatically not so. As one of the investigators remarks: “So far from his later career being unaccounted for in his origin and early history, it is as fully accounted for as is the case of any man.” [10] And a recent authority goes on to state: “The Lincoln family was one of the best in America, and while Abraham’s own father was an eccentric person, he was yet a man of considerable force of character, by no means the ‘poor white trash,’ which he is often represented to have been. The Hanks family, to which the Emancipator’s mother belonged, had also maintained a high level of ability in every generation. [11] Furthermore, Thomas Lincoln and Nancy Hanks, the parents of Abraham lincoln, were first cousins.” [12]

Of course, there are a considerable number of distinguished individuals whose greatness genealogy cannot as yet explain. But in most cases this is because very little is discoverable about their ancestors. Furthermore, as Holmes justly remarks: “It should be borne in mind that greatness involves a peculiar complex of qualities the lack of any one of which may prevent an individual from achieving an eminent position. A great man has to do more than simply exist; he must accomplish labors of a particularly noteworthy kind before he is crowned with fame, and many a man of splendid natural endowments has fallen short of achieving greatness through some inherent weakness of character or the lack of sufficient inspiration or driving force. Great men not only have to be born great; they also have to achieve greatness, and if they receive their proper recognition in the eyes of the world, greatness has to be thrust upon them besides. Great men, it is true, seem to rise higher than their source. Generally they come from an ancestry considerably above mediocrity. And I venture to express the opinion that a great man has never been produced from parents of subnormal mentality. A great man is more apt to arise if both parents are of very superior ability than if only one parent is above mediocrity. Where the great man appears to stand far above the level of his immediate ancestors it is due in large part, I believe, to the fact that each parent supplied peculiar qualities lacking in the other, assisted also by qualities from more remote ancestors which may have conspired to furnish the necessary complement of hereditary factors ….. One thing is certain, and that is that you cannot make greatness out of mediocrity or good ability out of inborn dullness by all the aids which environment and education or anything else can possibly offer.” [13]

Indeed, even if we admit that great men may occasionally arise from stocks which had never shown any signs of superiority, this ought to strengthen rather than weaken our belief in the force of heredity. As Woods well says, when it is considered how rarely such an ancestry produces a great man, it must be evident that his greatness is due to an accidental conjunction of favorable traits converging through his parents and meeting in himself.

Finally, how except by heredity can we explain the enormous differences in achievement between great numbers of persons exposed to the same environment and enjoying similar opportunities? “In terms of environment, the opportunity to become a great physicist was open to every one of the thousands of university students who were the contemporaries of Lord Kelvin; the opportunity to become a great musician has been open to all the pupils in all the conservatories of music which have flourished since Johann Sebastian Bach was a choir-boy at Luneburg; the opportunity to become a multi-millionaire has been open to every clerk who has wielded a pen since John D. Rockefeller was a bookkeeper in a Cleveland store; the opportunity to become a great merchant has been open to every boy who has attended an American public school since the time when John Wanamaker, at fourteen years of age, was an errand boy in a Philadelphia book store.” [14]

Such are the investigations of biology concerning human inequalities. They are certainly striking, and they all point to the same conclusions, namely: that such inequalities are inborn; that they are predetermined by heredity; and that they are not inherently modified by either environment or opportunity.

But this is only half the story. Within the past twenty years the problem of human inequality has been approached along a wholly new line, by a different branch of science — psychology. And the findings of these psychological investigations have not only tallied with those of biology in further revealing the inherited nature of human capacities, but have also proved it in even more striking fashion and with far greater possibilities of practical application…


8. Frederick Adams Woods, “Heredity and the Hall of Fame,” Popular Science Monthly, May, 1913.

9. Frederick Adams Woods, Mental and Moral Heredity in Royalty, New York, 1906. See also his book, The Influence of Monarchs, New York, 1913, and his article, “Sovereigns and the Supposed Influence of Opportunity,” Science, 19 June, 1914, where Doctor Woods answers some criticisms of his work.

10. Ida M. Tarbell, The Early Life of Abraham Lincoln, New York, 1896.

11. For a study of Lincoln’s maternal line, see C.H. Hitchcock, Nancy Hanks, New York, 1899.

12. Popenoe and Johnson, op. cit., pg. 333.13. S.J. Holmes, The Trend of the Race, pg. 115-116 (New York, 1921).

13. S.J. Holmes, The Trend of the Race, pg. 115-116 (New York, 1921).

14. Alleyne Ireland, Democracy and the Human Equation, pg. 153 (New York, 1921)

 * * *

Source: Dissident Millennial

Previous post

New Audio Book: The American Mercury on Leo Frank - Frank's Trial, Week Four

Next post

League of the South: The Real Story of Charlottesville

Notify of
Inline Feedback
View all comments