Classic Essays

The Revolt Against Civilization: The Menace of the Underman (Part 9)

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

LET US NOW CONSIDER the rise of the new biology, which has already exerted so powerful an influence upon our philosophy of life and which promises to affect profoundly the destinies of mankind. Modern biology can be said to date from the publication of Darwin’s work On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, in the year 1859. This epoch-making book was fiercely challenged and was not generally accepted even by the scientific world until the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Its acceptance, however, marked nothing short of a revolution in the realm of ideas. Darwin established the principle of evolution and showed that evolution proceeded by heredity. A second great step was soon taken by Francis Galton, the founder of the science of “Eugenics” or “Race Betterment.” Darwin had centered his attention on animals. Galton applied Darwin’s teaching to man, and went on to break new ground by pointing out not merely the inborn differences between men, but the fact that these differences could be controlled; that the human stock could be surely and lastingly improved by increasing the number of individuals endowed with superior qualities and decreasing the number of inferiors. In other words, Galton grapsed fully the momentous implications of heredity (which Darwin had not done), and announced clearly that heredity rather than environment was the basic factor in life and the prime lever of human progress.

Like most intellectual pioneers, Galton had to wait long for adequate recognition. Although his first eugenic writings appeared as early as 1865, they did not attract a tithe of the attention excited by Darwin’s work, and it was not until the very close of the nineteenth century that his theory gained wide acceptance even in scientific circles, while the educated public did not become really aware of it until the opening years of the present century. Once fairly started, however, the idea made rapid progress. In every part of the civilized world scientists took up the work, and soon a series of remarkable discoveries by biologists like Weismann, DeVries, and others put the new science on a sure and authoritative foundation. [4]

We have already indicated how momentous has been the change in outlook wrought by the new biological revelation, not merely in the field of abstract science, but also in every phase of practical human existence. The discovery of the true nature of the life process, the certainty that the vast inequalities among men are due primarily to heredity rather than environment, and the discovery of a scientific method of race improvement, are matters of transcendent importance. Let us examine some of their practical aspects.

One of the most striking features of the life process is the tremendous power of heredity. The marvellous potency of the germ-plasm is increasingly revealed by each fresh biological discovery. Carefully isolated and protected against external influences, the germ-plasm persistently follows its predetermined course, and even when actually interfered with it tends to overcome the difficulty and resume its normal evolution.

This persistency of the germ-plasm is seen at every stage of its development, from the isolated germ-cell to the mature individual. Consider it first at its earliest stage. Ten years ago biologists generally believed that the germ-plasm was permanently injured — and permanently modified — by certain chemical substances and disease toxins like lead, alcohol, syphilis, etc. These noxious influences were termed “racial poisons,” and were believed to be prime causes of racial degeneracy. In other words, here was a field where biologists used to admit that environment directly [5] modified heredity in profound and lasting fashion. To-day the weight of evidence is clearly the other way. While it is still generally admitted that injury to the germ-plasm does occur, most biologists now think that such injury is a temporary “induction,” that is, a change in the germ-cells which does not permanently alter the nature of the inherited traits and which will disappear in a few generations if the injury be not repeated.

To quote from an authoritative source: “We are thus in a position to state that, from the eugenist’s point of view, the origination of degeneracy, by some direct action on the germ-plasm, is a contingency that hardly needs to be reckoned with. . . . The germ-plasm is so carefully isolated and guarded that it is almost impossible to injure it, except by treatment so severe as to kill it altogether; and the degeneracy with which the eugenists are called on to deal is a degeneracy which is running along from generation to generation and which, when once stopped by the cessation of reproduction, is in little danger of being originated anew through some racial poison.” [6]

Consider now the life process at its next stage — the stage between conception and birth. It used to be thought that the germ-plasm of the growing embryo could be injured and permanently altered, not merely by the “racial poisons” above mentioned but also by certain “prenatal” influences, such as the mother’s undernourishment, chronic exhaustion, fright, worry, or shock. To-day such ideas are utterly discredited. There is not a shred of evidence that the mother’s circumstances or feelings can affect in any way the germ-plasm of her unborn child. Of course, the mother’s condition may profoundly affect the embryo’s body-plasm, so that the child may be born stunted or diseased. But the child will not pass on those handicaps by heredity to its off-spring. Conversely, it is equally certain that nothing the mother can do to improve her unborn child will better its germ-plasm. She may give her child a sounder body, but its heredity was fixed irrevocably the instant it was conceived. Here, then, is another field where the theory of direct action of environment on heredity has been definitely disproved.

Let us pass to the next stage. Birth has taken place. The individual is out in the world and is exposed to environmental influences vastly greater than those which acted upon him during his embryonic stage. But these environmental influences fall upon his body-plasm; his germ-plasm is as carefully isolated and protected as was his parents’, so that the same laws which we have already discussed will apply to him as well as to them.

Furthermore, the effect of the environment even upon the body-plasm will depend largely upon what sort of a creature the particular individual may be. Biology has recently discovered that the effect of environment decreases as we ascend the life scale; in other words, the simpler types are most affected, while man, the highest biological type, seems to be affected least of all. This is a point of great importance. Certain environmentalist writers have maintained that, even though the germ-plasm were unaltered, man is so moulded by his environment that with each generation the hereditary tendencies are overcome by circumstances and are thus rendered practically of secondary importance. Such writers base their arguements largely upon scientific experiments made upon primitive forms of animal life, where striking bodily changes have been brought about. As applied to man, however, these arguments are misleading, because the same influences which profoundly affect lower forms have relatively little effect upon the higher animals and still less upon man himself. Man is, therefore, least affected by, and most independent of, environmental influences.

This matter has been ably summed up by the American biologist Woods, who has formulated it as “The Law of Diminshing Environmental Influences.” [7]  Woods shows not only that environmental influence diminishes according to the individual’s rank in the biological scale, but also that, even within the body of the particular individual, environmental influence diminishes with the evolutionary rank of the tissue affected and in proportion to its age. This is important in connection with possible environmental influence upon the human brain. Says Woods: “It must be remembered that the brain-cells, even of a child, are, of all tissues, farthest removed from any of these primordial states. The cells of the brain ceased subdivision long before birth. Therefore, a priori, we must expect relatively little modification of brain function. Finally, Woods shows that environmental influence diminishes with the organism’s power of choice. This is, of course, of the utmost importance regarding man. For, as Woods says: “This may be the chief reason why human beings, who of all creatures have the greatest power to choose the surroundings congenial to their special needs and natures, are so little affected by outward conditions. The occasional able, ambitious, and determined member of an obscure or degenerate family can get free from his uncongenial associates. So can the weak or lazy or vicious (even if a black sheep from the finest fold) easily find his natural haunts.”

From all this Woods concludes: “Experimentally and statistically, there is not a grain of proof that ordinary environment can alter the salient mental and moral traits in any measurable degree from what they were predetermined to be through innate influences.”

We thus see that man is moulded more by heredity and less by environment than any other living creature, and that the vast differences observable between human beings are mainly predetermined at the instant of conception, with relatively little regard to what happens afterward.

Let us now observe some of the actual workings of heredity in man, both in the good and bad sense. In the present chapter we will devote our attention mainly to the superior types, leaving our consideration of the inferior for the next chapter…


4. The mass of modern biological literature is very great, and in a general work like mine elaborate reference footnotes would be out of place. I will, therefore, merely refer the reader to two excellent manuals on this field, with special reference to its eugenics side: Popenoe and Johnson, Applied Eugenics (New York, 1920), and S.J. Holmes, The Trend of the Race (New York, 1921). The latter work contains good and fairly full bibliograhies at the end of each chapter. From these two manuals the reader who desires to go deeper into the field can find the necessary clews.

5. The distinction between direct and indirect effects should be kept clearly in mind. Of course it is perfectly evident that environment does indirectly affect all forms of life — notably by favoring certain types and handicapping others and so resulting in the increase of the former and the decrease of the latter.

6. Popenoe and Johnson, op. cit. pg.63-64.

7. Frederick Adams Woods, “Laws of Dimishing Environmental Influences,” Popular Science Monthly, April, 1910.

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Source: Dissident Millennial

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