Classic Essays

The Revolt Against Civilization: The Menace of the Underman (Part 13)

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

INFERIORITY IS MOST plainly manifest in what are known as the “defective classes” — the feeble-minded, the insane, and certain categories of the deformed and the diseased. Most of these “defectives” suffer from hereditary defects — in other words, from defects which are passed on in the germ-plasm from generation to generation. The “defective classes” are not really sundered by any natural line of demarcation from the rest of the population. They are merely terms used to denote those groups of persons who are so obviously afflicted that they can be classified as such. Besides these acute de- fectives, however, there are vast numbers of persons who show only slight taints, while still others reveal no out- ward trace whatever, yet carry the defect in their germ- plasm as a latent or “recessive” quality which may come out in their children, especially if they marry persons similarly tainted.

Defectiveness (or, as it is frequently termed, “degeneracy”) is thus seen to be a problem as complex and far-reaching as it is serious. Defective persons are more or less unfit for holding useful places in the social order and tend to sink into the social depths, where they form those pauper, vagabond, and criminal elements which are alike the burden and the menace of society. Few persons who have not studied the problem of degeneracy have any idea how serious it is. Let us consider these “defective classes.”

First of all, the feeble-minded. Feeble-mindedness is a condition characterized by such traits as dull intelligence, low moral sense, lack of self-control, shiftlessness, improvidence, etc. It is highly hereditary, and unfortunately it is frequently associated with great physical strength and vitality, so that feeble-minded persons usually breed rapidly, with no regard for consequences. In former times the numbers of the feeble-minded were kept down by the stern processes of natural selection, but modem charity and philanthropy have protected them and have thus favored their rapid multiplication. The feeble-minded are becoming an increasingly serious problem in every civilized country to-day. The number of obviously feebleminded persons in the United States is estimated to be at least 300,000. During the last few decades, to be sure, many of the worst cases have been segregated in institutions, where they are of course kept from breeding; but even to-day the number of the segregated is only about 10 or 15 per cent of those who should clearly be under institutional care — the balance, meanwhile, causing endless trouble for both the present and future generations.

The rapidity with which feeble-minded stocks spread, and the damage they do, are vividly illustrated by numerous scientific studies which have been compiled. Both in Europe and America these studies tell the same story: feebleminded individuals segregating in “clans,” spreading like cancerous growths, disturbing the social life and infecting the blood of whole communities, and thriving on misguided efforts to “better their condition,” by charity and other forms of “social service” [26].

A typical case is that of the “Juke family,” which was first investigated in the year 1877, and re-investigated in 1915. To quote from the original study:

From one lazy vagabond nicknamed ‘Juke,’ born in rural New York in 1720, whose two sons married five degenerate sisters, six generations numbering about 1,200 persons of every grade of idleness, viciousness, lewdness, pauperism, disease, idiocy, insanity, and criminality were traced. Of the total seven generations, 300 died in infancy; 310 were professional paupers, kept in alms- houses a total of 2,300 years; 440 were physically wrecked by their own ‘diseased wickedness’; more than half the woman fell into prostitution; 130 were convicted criminals; 60 were thieves; 7 were murderers; only 20 learned a trade, 10 of these in state prison, and all at a state cost of over $1,250,000. [27]

By the year 1915, the clan had reached its ninth generation, and had greatly lengthened Its evil record. It then numbered 2,820 individuals, half of whom were alive. About the year 1880 the Jukes had left their original home and had scattered widely over the country, but change of environment had made no material change in their natures, for they still showed “the same feeble-mindedness, indolence licentiousness, and dishonesty, even when not handicapped by the associations of their bad family name and despite the fact of their being surrounded by better social conditions.” [28]  The cost to the state had now risen to about $2,500,000. As the investigator remarks, all this evil might have been averted by preventing the reproduction of the first Jukes. As it is, the Jukes problem is still with us in growing severity, for in 1915, “out of approximately 600 living feeble-minded and epileptic Jukes, them are only three now in custodial care” [29].

A striking illustration of how superiority and degeneracy are alike rigidly determined by heredity is afforded by the “Kallikak Family,” of New Jersey [30]. During the Revolutionary war, one Martin “Kallikak,” a young soldier of good stock, had an illicit affair with a feeble minded servant-girl, by whom he had a son. Some years later, Martin married a woman of good family by whom he had several legitimate children. Now this is what happened: Martin’s legitimate children by the woman of good stock all turned out well and founded one of the most distinguished families in New Jersey.

In this family and its collateral branches we find nothing but good representative citizenship. There are doctors, lawyers, judges, educators, traders, landholders, in short, respectable citizens, men and women prominent in every phase of social life. They have scattered over the United States and are prominent in their communities wherever they have gone. . . . There have been no feebleminded among them; no illegitimate children; no immoral women; only one man was sexually loose. [31]

In sharp contrast to this branch of the family stand the descendants of the feebleminded girl. Of those 480 have been traced. Their record is: 143 clearly feebleminded, 36 illegitimate, 33 grossly immoral (mostly prostitutes), 24 confirmed alcoholics, 3 epileptics, 82 died in infancy, 3 criminals, 8 kept houses of ill fame. Here are two family lines, with the same paternal ancestor, living on the same soil, in the same atmosphere, and under the same general environment; “yet the bar sinister has marked every generation of one and has been unknown in the other” [32].

Melancholy genealogies like these might be cited almost indefinitely. And, be it noted, they represent only direct and obvious damage. The indirect and less obvious damage done by feeblemindedness, though harder to trace, is far more wide-spread and is unquestionably even more serious, as we shall presently show. Before discussing this point, however, let us consider some of the other acutely defective classes.

The insane, though differing in character from the feebleminded, present an even graver problem in many respects. Insanity is, of course, a term embracing all sorts of abnormal mental states, some of which are transient, while others, though incurable, are not inheritable, and, therefore, have no racial significance. But many forms of insanity are clearly hereditary, [33] and the harm done by these unsound strains, spreading through the race and tainting sound stocks, is simply incalculable.

Unlike feeblemindedness, insanity is often associated with very superior qualities, [34] which may render the affected individuals an acute menace to society. The feeble-minded never overturned a state. An essentially negative element, they may drag a civilization down toward sodden degeneracy, but they have not the wit to disrupt it. The insane, on the other hand, are apt to be intensely dynamic and to misuse their powers for destructive ends. We shall presently see how many apostles of anarchic violence and furious discontent have been persons of ill-balanced mind. Such persons are, of course, rarely “insane” in the technical sense of being clearly “committable” to an asylum. They represent merely one aspect of that vast “outer fringe” of mental unsoundness which is scattered so widely through the general population. But even the acute “asylum cases” are lamentably numerous. In the United States, for example, the asylum population numbers over 200,000, and it is well known that besides those actually in institutions there are multitudes of equally afflicted persons in private custody or even at large.

Another class of pronounced defectives are the epileptics. Epilepsy is clearly hereditary, being probably due, like feeble-mindedness and hereditary insanity, to some factor in the germ-plasm which causes abnormal development. Like insanity, it is often associated with superior mental qualities, but it is even more often associated with feeble-mindedness, and its victims tend to be dangerously antisocial, epilepsy being frequently connected with the worst crimes of violence. The spreading of epileptic strains among sound stocks is unquestionably disastrous, causing grave social dangers and lamentable racial losses.

Besides these outstanding cases of degeneracy there are some other forms of defect which, though individually not so serious, represent in the aggregate a distinct bur- den to society and drain upon the race. Among these may be classed congenital deafness and blindness, some types of deformity, and certain crippling diseases like Huntington’s chorea. All such defects, being hereditary, inflict repeated damage from generation to generation, and tend to spread into sound stocks.

So ends our melancholy survey of the “defective classes.” In every civilized country their aggregate numbers are enormous, and, under present social conditions, they are rapidly increasing. In the United States, for example, the total number of the patently feebleminded, insane, and epileptic is estimated to be fully 1,000,000. And, as already stated, even this alarming total represents merely those persons suffering from the more extreme forms of taints which extend broadcast through the general population. The extent of such contamination is revealed by several estimates made independently by competent investigators who all consider that over 30 per cent of the entire population of the United States carries some form of mental defect [35]. In great part, to be sure, defect is latent in the germ-plasm and does the bearers no harm. Yet the taints are there, and are apt to come out in their children, especially if they marry persons carrying a similar defect in their inheritance.

And, even if we exclude from consideration all purely latent defects, the problem presented by those actually suffering from less acute forms of defect than those previously described is one of almost incalculable gravity for both society and the race. There can be no question that inefficiency, stupidity, pauperism, crime, and other forms of antisocial conduct are largely (perhaps mainly) due to inborn degeneracy. The careful scientific investigations conducted in many countries on paupers, tramps, criminals, prostitutes, chronic inebriates, drug fiends, etc., have all revealed a high percentage of mental defect [36]. When to these out-and-out social failures we add the numberless semi-failures, grading all the way from the “unemployable” casual laborer to the “erratic genius” wasting or perverting his talents, we begin to realize the truly terrible action of inherited degeneracy, working generation after generation, tainting and spoiling good stocks, imposing heavier social burdens, and threatening the future of civilization.

For degeneracy does threaten civilization. The presence of vast hordes of congenital inferiors — incapable, unadaptable, discontented, and unruly — menaces the social order with both dissolution and disruption.

The biologist Humphrey well describes the perils of the situation. “So,” he writes:

[T]he army of the poorly endowed grows in every civilized land, by addition as new incompetency is revealed, and by its own rapid multiplication; and to this level the human precipitate from every degenerative influence in civilization eventually settles. It is a menace already of huge proportions, but we succeed well in America in covering the extent and rapidity of its growth with soothing drafts of charity. And most of us rather like to remain blind to the increasing proportion of poor human material. Human interest centres upon vigor, strength, achievement. Its back is toward those who fail to achieve — until, perhaps, their sheer force of numbers brings them into unpleasant view.

As one reviews the latter days of the Roman Empire and reads of the many devices in the way of public entertainments for amusing and controlling the hordes of the unsocial who had accumulated most grievously, the ques- tion arises: How soon will we arrive at the time when our unsocial masses shall have become unwieldy? One thing is certain: our more humanitarian methods are bringing the fateful day upon us at a more rapid rate. And our boasted Americanism is not a cure for mental incompetency. The police blotters of our cities will show that the mobs which spring up from nowhere at the slightest let-up in police control are mostly American-born, with scarcely an illiterate among them; yet they revert to the sway of their animal instincts quite as spontaneously as benighted Russians.

It is folly to keep up the delusion that more democracy and more education will make over these all-born into good citizens. Democracy was never intended for degenerates, and a nation breeding freely of the sort that must continually be repressed is not headed toward an extension of democratic liberties. Rather, it is inevitable that class lines shall harden as a protection against the growing numbers of the underbred, just as in all previous cultures. However remote a cataclysm may be, our present racial trend is toward social chaos or a dictatorship.

Meanwhile, we invite social turmoil by advancing muddled notions of equality. Democracy, as we loosely idealize it nowadays, is an overdrawn picture of earthly bliss; it stirs the little-brained to hope for an impossible levelling of human beings. The most we can honestly expect to achieve is a fair levelling of opportunity; but every step toward that end brings out more distinctly those basic inequalities of inheritance which no environmental effort can improve. So discontent is loudest in those least capable of grasping opportunity when it is offered. [37]

In this connection we must never forget that it is the “high-grade” defectives who are most dangerous to the social order. It is the “near-genius,” the man with the fatal taint which perverts his talents, who oftenest rouses and leads the mob. The levelling social revolutionary doctrines of our own day, like Syndicalism, Anarchism, and Bolshevism, superficially alluring yet basically false and destructive, are essentially the product of unsound thinking — by unsound brains. The sociologist Nordau ably analyzes the enormous harm done by such persons and doctrines, not only by rousing the degenerate elements, but also by leading astray vast numbers of average people, biologically normal enough yet with intelligence not high enough to protect them against clever fallacies clothed in fervid emotional appeals.

Says Nordau:

Besides the extreme forms of degeneracy there are milder forms, more or less inconspicuous, not to be diagnosed at a first glance. These, however, are the most dangerous for the community, because their destructive influence only gradually makes itself felt; we are not on our guard against it; indeed, in many cases, we do not recognize it as the real cause of the evils it conjures up — evils whose serious importance no one can doubt.

A mattoid or half-fool, who is full of organic feelings of dislike, generalizes his subjective state into a system of pessimism, of ‘Weltschmertz’ — weariness of life. Another, in whom a loveless egoism dominates all thought and feeling, so that the whole exterior world seems to him hostile, organizes his antisocial instincts into the theory of anarchism. A third, who suffers from moral insensibility, so that no bond of sympathy links him with his fellow man or with any living thing, and who is obsessed by vanity amounting to megalomania, preaches a doctrine of the Superman, who is to know no consideration and no compassion, be bound by no moral principle, but ‘live his own life’ without regard for others. When these half-fools, as often happens, speak an excited language — when their imagination, unbridled by logic or understanding, supplies them with odd, startling fancies and surprising associations and images — their writings make a strong impression on unwary readers, and readily gain a decisive influence on thought in the cultivated circles of their time.

Of course, well-balanced persons are not thereby changed into practising disciples of these morbid cults. But the preachings of these mattoids are favorable to the development of similar dispositions in others; serve to polarize, in their own sense, tendencies of hitherto uncertain drift, and give thousands the courage openly, impudently, boastfully, to confess and act in accordance with convictions which, but for these theorists with their noise and the flash of their tinsel language, they would have felt to be absurd or infamous, which they would have concealed with shame; which in any case would have remained monsters known only to themselves and imprisoned in the lowest depths of their consciousness.

So, through the influence of the teachings of degenerate half-fools, conditions arise which do not, like the cases of insanity and crime, admit of expression in figures, but can nevertheless in the end be defined through their political and social effects. We gradually observe a general loosening of morality, a disappearance of logic from thought and action, a morbid irritability and vacillation of public opinion, a relaxation of character. Offenses are treated with a frivolous or sentimental indulgence which encourages rascals of all kinds. People lose the power of moral indignation, and accustom themselves to despise it as something banal, unadvanced, inelegant, and unintelligent. Deeds that would formerly have disqualified a man forever from public life are no longer an obstacle in his career, so that suspicious and tainted personalities make it possible to rise to responsible positions, sometimes to the control of national business. Sound common sense becomes more rarely and less worthily appreciated, more and more meanly rated. Nobody is shocked by the most absurd proposals, measures and fashions, and folly rules in legislation, administration, domestic and foreign politics. Every demagogue finds a following, every fool collects adherents, every event makes an impression beyond all measure, kindles ridiculous enthusiasm, spreads morbid consternation, leads to violent manifestations in one sense or the other and to official proceedings that are at least useless, often deplorable and dangerous. Everybody harps upon his ‘rights’ and rebels against every limitation of his arbitrary desires by law or custom. Everybody tries to escape from the compulsion of discipline and to shake off the burden of duty. [38]

Such is the destructive action of degeneracy, spreading like a cancerous blight and threatening to corrode society to the very marrow of its being. Against these assaults of inferiority; against the cleverly led legions of the degenerate and the backward; where can civilization look for its champions? Where but in the slender ranks of the racially superior — those “A” and “B” stocks which, in America for example, we know to-day constitute barely 13 1/2 per cent of the population? It is this “thin red line” of rich, untainted blood which stands between us and barbarism or chaos. Them alone lies our hope. Let us not deceive ourselves by prating about government,” “education,” “democracy”: our laws, our constitutions, our very sacred books, are in the last analysis mere paper barriers, which will hold only so long as there stand behind them men and women with the intelligence to understand and the character to maintain them.

Yet this life-line of civilization is not only thin but is wearing thinner with a rapidity which appalls those fully aware of the facts. We have already stated that probably never before in human history have social conditions been so destructive of racial values as to-day, because of both the elimination of superior stocks and the multiplication of inferiors…


26. Summaries of several of the best-known of these studies may be found in Holmes, pp. 27-40; Popenoe and Johnson, pg. 159-161.

27. Quoted by Popenoe and Johnson, pg. 159.

28. Ibid., pg. 159-160

29. Ibid.

30. This is of course, not the real name of the family. It is a scientific nickname, compounded from the Greek words “good” and “bad” — in short, “The Good-Bad Family,” to characterize the strongly divergent character of its two branches.

31. Holmes, pg. 31

32. Popenoe and Johnson, pg. 160

33. For a discussion of the forms of insanity, see Holmes, pg. 27-72; Popenoe and Johnson, pg. 157-160; 176-183.

34. An extraordinary idea used to he widely held that genius was a form of insanity. Careful scientific investigation has clearly disproved this notion. For one thing, elaborate statistical studies of eminent persons have shown them to be less liable to insanity than is the general population. Of course, a considerable number of eminent men can be listed who unquestionably suffered from various neuropathic traits. But it was not those traits that made then eminent; on the contrary, these were handicaps. Somewhere back in their ancestry a taint was introduced into a sound superior strain, and produced this disharmonic combination of qualities.

35. Such is the opinion of some of the members of the Eugenics Record Office, the leading American scientific investigation centre on these problems. The well-known psychiatrists Rosanoff and Orr believe that over 31 per cent of apparently normal people are carriers of neuropathic defect.

36. For summaries of several of these investigations, both American and European, see Popenoe and Johnson, pg. 157-160; 176-183; Holmes, pg. 73-97.

37. Humphrey, pg. 77-80

38. Max Nordau, “The Degeneration of Classes and Peoples,” Hibbert Journal, July, 1912.

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Source: Dissident Millennial

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