Classic Essays

The Revolt Against Civilization: The Menace of the Underman (Part 16)

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

CHAPTER V: THE GROUNDSWELL OF REVOLT

REVOLUTIONARY UNREST is not new. Every age has had its discontented dreamers preaching utopia, its fervid agitators urging the overthrow of the existing social order, and its restless rabble stirred by false hopes to ugly moods and violent action. Utopian literature is very extensive, going back to Plato; revolutionary agitators have run true to type since Spartacus; while “proletarian” risings have varied little in basic character from the servile revolts of antiquity and the “jacqueries” of the Middle Ages down to the mob upheavals of Paris and Petrograd.

In all these social revolutionary phenomena there is nothing essentially novel. There is always the same violent revolt of the unadaptable, inferior, and degenerate elements against civilized society, in atavistic reaction to lower planes; the same hatred of superiors and fierce desire for absolute equality; finally, the same tendency of revolutionary leaders to become tyrants and to transform anarchy into barbarous despotism.

As Harold Cox justly remarks:

Jack Cade, as described by Shakespeare, is the perfect type of revolutionary, and his ideas coincide closely with those of the modern school of Socialism. He tells his followers that ‘all the realm shall be in common,’ that ‘there shall be no money; all shall eat and drink on my score and I will apparel them all in one livery that they may agree like brothers. A little later a member of the bourgeoisie is brought before him — a clerk who confesses that he can read and write. Jack Cade orders him at once to be hanged ‘with his pen and inkhorn about his neck.’ Possibly the intellectual Socialists of Great Britain might hesitate at this point; the danger would be getting uncomfortably near to themselves. But the Russian Bolsheviks have followed Jack Cade’s example on a colossal scale. In another direction Jack Cade was a prototype of present-day revolutionists; for while preaching equality he practised autocracy. ‘Away,’ he cries to the mob. ‘Burn all the records of the realm. My mouth shall be the Parliament of England.’ [52]

Nevertheless, despite its lack of basic originality the revolutionary unrest of modern times is very different from, and infinitely more formidable than, the kindred movements of the past. There is to-day a close alliance between the theoretical and the practical elements, a clever fitting of means to ends, a consistent elaboration of plausible doctrines and persuasive propaganda, and a syndication of power, such as was never known before. In former times revolutionary theorists and men of action were unable or unwilling to get together. The early utopian philosophers did not write for the proletariat, which in turn quite ignored their existence. Furthermore, most of the utopians, however revolutionary in theory, were not revolutionary in practice. They seldom believed in violent methods. It is rather difficult to imagine Plato or Sir Thomas More planning the massacre of the bourgeoisie or heading a dictatorship of the proletariat. In fact, so convinced were these utopian idealists of the truth of their theories that they believed that if their theories were actually put in practice on even a small scale they would be a prodigious success and would thus lead to the rapid transformation of society without any necessity of violent coercion. Such was the temper of the “idealistic Socialists and Communists of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, like Robert Owen, who founded various “model communities” believing implicitly that these would soon convert the whole world by the mere force of their example.

Thus, down to comparatively recent times, the cause of violent social revolution lacked the support of leaders combining in themselves the qualities of moral earnestness, intelligence, and forcefulness — in other words persons most of whom belong to the type which I have previously described as the “misguided superior.” Deprived of such leadership, revolutionary unrest was mainly guided by unbalanced fanatics or designing scoundrels and it is obvious that such leaders, whatever their zeal or cleverness, were so lacking in intellectual poise or moral soundness that they invariably led their followers to speedy disaster.

The modern social revolutionary movement dates from about the middle of the eighteenth century. Ever since that time there has been flowing a continuous stream of subversive agitation, assuming many forms but essentially the same, and ever broadening and deepening until it has become the veritable flood which has submerged Russia and which threatens to engulf our entire civilization. Its most noteworthy achievement has been the working out of a revolutionary philosophy and propaganda so insidiously persuasive as to wield together many innately diverse elements into a common league of discontent inspired by a fierce resolve to overthrow by violence the existing social order and to construct a whole new “proletarian” order upon its ruins.

Let us trace the stream of social revolt from its eighteenth-century source to the present day. Its first notable spokesman was Rousseau, [53] with his denunciation of civilized society and his call for a reform to what he considered to be the communistic “state of nature.” The tide set flowing by Rousseau and his ilk presently foamed into the French Revolution. This cataclysmic event was, to be sure, by no means a simon-pure social revolt. At the start it was mainly a political struggle by an aspiring bourgeoisie to wrest power and privilege from the feeble hands of a decrepit monarchy and an effete aristocracy. But in the struggle the bourgeoisie called upon the proletariat, the flood-gates of anarchy were opened and there followed that blood-smeared debauch of atavistic savagery, “The Reign of Terror.” During the Terror all the symptoms of social revolution appeared in their most horrid form: up-surge of bestiality, senseless destruction, hatred of superiors, ruthless enforcement of levelling “equality,” etc. The most extravagant political and social doctrines were proclaimed. Brissot urged communism and announced that “property is theft.” Robespierre showed his hatred of genius and learning by sending the great chemist Lavoisier to the guillotine with the remark: “Science is aristocratic: the Republic has no need of savants.” As for Anarchists Clootz, Hebert, and other demagogues, they preached doctrines which would have reduced society to a cross between chaos and bedlam.

After a few years the Terror was broken. The French race was too fundamentally sound to tolerate for long such a hideous dictatorship of its worst elements. The destruction wrought by the Revolution was, however, appalling. Not merely was France dealt wounds from which she has never wholly recovered, but also spirits of unrest were liberated which have never since been laid. The “apostolic succession” of revolt has remained unbroken. Marat and Robespierre are to-day reincarnate in Trotsky and Lenin.

The final eruption of the waning Terror was the well-known conspiracy of Babeuf in the year 1796. This conspiracy, together with the personality of its leader and namesake, is of more than passing interest. Babeuf, like so many other revolutionary leaders of all periods, was a man whose undoubted talents of intellect and energy were perverted by a taint of insanity. His intermittent fits of frenzy were so acute that at times he was little better than a raving homicidal maniac. Nevertheless, his revolutionary activities were so striking and his doctrines so “advanced” that subsequent revolutionists have hailed him as a man “ahead of his times.” The Bolshevik “Third International,” for example, in its first manifesto, paid tribute to Babeuf as one of its spiritual fathers.

That this Bolshevik compliment was not undeserved is proved by a study of his famous conspiracy. Therein Babeuf planned nothing less than the entire destruction of the existing social order, a general massacre of the “possessing classes,” and the erection of a radically new “proletarian” order founded on the most rigid and levelling equality. Not merely were differences of wealth and social station to be prohibited, but even intellectual differences were to be discouraged, because it was feared that “men might devote themselves to sciences, and thereby grow vain and averse to manual labor.”

Babeuf’s incendiary spirit is well revealed in the following lines, taken from his organ, Le Tribun du Peuple:

Why does one speak of laws and property? Property is the share of usurpers and laws are the work of the strongest. The sun shines for every one, and the earth belongs to no one. Go, then, my friends, and disturb, overthrow, and upset this society which does not suit you. Take everywhere all that you like. Superfluity belongs by right to him who has nothing. This is not all, friends and brothers. If constitutional barriers are opposed to your generous efforts, overthrow without scruple barriers and constitutions. Butcher without mercy tyrants, patricians, and the gilded million, all those immoral beings who would oppose your common happiness. You are the people, the true people, the only people worthy to enjoy the good things of this world! The justice of the people is great and majestic as the people itself; all that it does is legitimate, all that it orders is sacred.

Babeuf’s plans can be judged by the following extracts from his “Manifesto of the Equals,” which he drew up on the eve of his projected insurrection:

People of France, for fifteen centuries you have lived in slavery and consequent unhappiness. For six years [54] you have hardly drawn breath, waiting for independence, happiness, and equality. Equality! the first desire of nature, the first need of man, the principal bond of all legal association!

Well! We intend henceforth to live and die equal as we were born; we wish for real equality or death; that is what we must have. And we will have this real equality no matter at what price. Woe to those who interpose themselves between it and us! . . .

The French Revolution is only the forerunner of another revolution, very much greater, very much more solemn, which will be the last. . . . Equality! We will consent to anything for that, to make a clean sweep so as to hold to that only. Perish, if necessary, all the arts, provided that real equality is left to us! . . . Community of Goods! No more private property in land, the land belongs to no one. We claim, we wish for the communal enjoyment of the fruits of the earth: the fruits of the earth belong to every one . . . .

Vanish at last, revolting distinctions of rich and poor, of great and small, of masters and servants, of governors and governed. Let there be no other difference between men than those of age and sex. Since all have the same needs and the same faculties, let there be only one education, one kind of food. They content themselves with one sun and air for all; why should not the same portion and the same quality of food suffice for each of them?

People of France, Open your eyes and hearts to the plenitude of happiness; recognize and proclaim with us the REPUBLIC OF EQUALS!

Such was the plot of Babeuf. The plot completely miscarried, for it was discovered before it was ripe, Babeuf and his lieutenants were arrested and executed, and his disorganized hoodlum followers were easily repressed. Nevertheless, though Babeuf was dead, “Babouvism” lived on, inspired the revolutionary conspiracies of the early nineteenth century, contributed to the growth of Anarchism, and is incorporated in the “Syndicalist” and Bolshevist movements of to-day — as we shall presently see. The modern literature of revolt is full of striking parallels to the lines penned by Babeuf nearly one hundred and thirty years ago.

Despite the existence of some extreme revolutionary factions, the first half of the nineteenth century saw comparatively little violent unrest. It was the period of the “idealistic” Socialists, already mentioned, when men like Robert Owen, Saint-Simon, Fourier, and others were elaborating their utopian philosophies and were founding “model communities” which were expected to convert the world peaceably by the mere contagion of their successful example. The speedy failure of all these Socialistic experiments discouraged the idealists and led the discontented to turn to “men of action” who promised speedier results by the use of force. At the same time the numbers of the discontented were rapidly increasing. The opening decades of the nineteenth century witnessed the triumph of machine industry and “capitalism.” As in all times of transition, these changes bore hard on multitudes of people. Economic abuses were rife, and precipitated into the social depths many persons who did not really belong there, thus swelling the “proletariat” to unprecedented proportions while also giving it new leaders of genuine ability.

The cumulation of all this was the revolutionary wave of 1848. To be sure, 1848, like the French Revolution, was not wholly a social revolutionary upheaval; it was largely due to political (especially nationalistic) causes with which this book is not concerned. But, as in 1789, so in 1848, the political malcontents welcomed the aid of the social malcontents, and gave the latter their opportunity. Furthermore, in 1848, as in 1789, Paris was the storm-centre. A galaxy of forceful demagogues like Blanqui, Louis Blanc, and Proudhon roused the Paris mob, attempted to establish a Communistic Republic, and were foiled only after a bloody struggle with the more conservative social elements.

Unlike 1789, however, the social revolutionary movement of 1848 was by no means confined to France. In 1848 organized social revolutionary forces existed in most European countries, and all over Europe these forces promptly drew together and attempted to effect a general social revolution. At this moment appears the notable figure of Karl Marx, chief author of the famous “Communist Manifesto,” with its ringing peroration:

Let the ruling classes tremble at a communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Working men of all countries, unite!

The rise of Karl Marx typifies a new influence which had appeared in the revolutionary movement — the influence of the Jews. Before the nineteenth century the Jews had been so segregated from the general population that they had exerted almost no influence upon popular thought or action. By the year 1848, however, the Jews of western Europe had been emancipated from most of their civil disabilities, had emerged from their ghettos, and were beginning to take an active part in community life. Many Jews promptly adopted revolutionary ideas and soon acquired great influence in the revolutionary movement. For this there were several reasons. In the first place, the Jewish mind, instinctively analytical, and sharpened by the dialectic subtleties of the Talmud, takes naturally to dissective criticism. Again, the Jews, feeling themselves more or less apart from the nations in which they live, tended to welcome the distinctly international spirit of social revolutionary doctrines. Lastly, the Jewish intellectuals, with their quick, clever intelligence, made excellent revolutionary leaders and could look forward to attaining high posts in the “officers’ corps” of the armies of revolt. For all these reasons, then, Jews have played an important part in all social revolutionary movements, from the time of Marx and Engels down to the largely Jewish Bolshevist regime in Soviet Russia to-day.

The revolutionary wave of 1848 soon broke in complete defeat. There followed a period during which radical ideas were generally discredited. Both idealistic and violent methods had been tried and had signally failed. Out of this period of eclipse there gradually emerged two schools of social revolutionary thought: one known as “State Socialism,” under the leadership of Marx and Engels; the other, “Anarchism,” dominated by Proudhon and Michael Bakunin. These two schools were animated by quite different ideas, drew increasingly apart, and became increasingly hostile to one another. Of course, both schools were opposed to the existing social order and proposed its overthrow, but they differed radically as to the new type of society which was to take its place. Marx and his followers believed in an organized Communism, where land, wealth, and property should be taken out of private hands and placed under the control of the state. The Anarchists, on the other hand, urged the complete abolition of the state, the spontaneous seizure of wealth by the masses, and the freedom of every one to do as he liked, unhampered by any organized social control.

In their actual development, likewise, the two movements followed divergent lines. Anarchism remained an essentially violent creed, relying chiefly upon force and terrorism [55]. Marxian Socialism, as time went on, tended to rely less upon revolutionary violence and more upon economic processes and parliamentary methods. This is shown by the career of Marx himself. Marx started out in life as a violent revolutionist. His “Communist Manifesto” (already cited) reads precisely like a Bolshevik pronunciamento of to-day; and it is, in fact, on Marx’s earlier writings that the Bolsheviks largely rely. But, as time passed, Marx modified his attitude. After the failure of ’48, he devoted himself to study, the chief fruit of his intellectual labors being his monumental work, Capital. Now, in his researches Marx became saturated with the utopian philosophers of the past, and he presently evolved a utopia of his own. Just as the “idealistic” Socialists of the early nineteenth century believed they had discovered truths which, if applied on even a small scale in “model communities,” would inevitably transform society, so Marx came to believe that modern society was bound to work itself out into the Socialist order of his dreams with little or no necessity for violent compulsion except, perhaps, in its last stages.

The core of Marx’s doctrine was that modern industrialism, by its very being, was bound rapidly to concentrate all wealth in a very few hands, wiping out the middle classes and reducing both bourgeois and working man to a poverty-stricken proletariat. In other words, he predicted a society of billionaires and beggars. This was to happen within a couple of generations. When it did happen the “wage-slaves” were to revolt, dispossess the capitalists, and establish the Socialist commonwealth. Thus would come to pass the social revolution. But note: this revolution, according to Marx, was (1) sure, (2) soon, (3) easy. In Marx’s last stage of capitalism the billionaires would be so few and the beggars so many that the “revolution” might be a mere holiday, perhaps effected without shedding a drop of blood. Indeed, it might conceivably be effected according to existing political procedure; for, once [they] have universal suffrage… the overwhelming majority of proletarian wage-earners could simply vote the whole new order in.

From all this it is quite obvious that Marxian Socialism, however revolutionary in theory, was largely evolutionary in practice. And this evolutionary trend, already visible in Marx, became even stronger with Marx’s successors. Marx himself, despite the sobering effect of his intellectual development, remained emotionally a revolutionist — as shown by his temporary relapse into youthful fervors at the time of the Paris Commune of 1871. This was less true of his colleague Engels, and still less true of later Socialist leaders — men like Lasalle and Kautsky of Germany, Hyndman of England, and Spargo of America. Such men were “reformist” rather than “revolutionary” Socialists; they were willing to bide their time, and were apt to pin their faith on ballots rather than on barricades. Furthermore, Reformist Socialism did not assail the whole idealistic and institutional fabric of our civilization. For example, it might preach the “class-war,” but, according to the Marxian hypothesis, the “working class” was, or soon would be, virtually the entire community. Only a few great capitalists and their hirelings were left without the pale. Again, the “revolution,” as seen by the Reformists, was more a taking-over than a tearing-down, since existing institutions, both state and private, were largely to be preserved. As a matter of fact, Reformist Socialism, as embodied in the “Social-Democratic” political parties of Continental Europe, showed itself everywhere a predominantly evolutionary movement, ready to achieve its objectives by instalments and becoming steadily more conservative. This was so not merely because of the influence of the leaders but also because of the changing complexion of their following. As Marxian Socialism became less revolutionary and more reformist, it attracted to its membership multitudes of “liberals” — persons who desired to reform rather than to destroy the existing social order, and who saw in the Social-Democratic parties the best political instruments for bringing reforms about.

In fact, Reformist Socialism might have entirely lost its revolutionary character and have become an evolutionary liberal movement, had it not been for two handicaps: the spiritual blight of its revolutionary origin and the numbing weight of Marx’s intellectual authority. Socialism had started out to smash modern society by a violent revolution. Its ethics were those of the “class war”; its goal was the “dictatorship of the proletariat”; and its philosophy was the narrow materialistic concept of “economic determinism” — the notion that men are moved solely by economic self-interest. All this had been laid down as fundamental truth by Marx in his Capital, which became the infallible bible of Socialism.

Now this was most unfortunate, because Marx had taken the special conditions of his day and had pictured them as the whole of world history. We now know that the middle decades of the nineteenth century were a very exceptional, transition period, in which society was only beginning to adjust itself to the sweeping economic and social changes which the “Industrial Revolution” had brought about. To-day, most of the abuses against which Marx inveighed have been distinctly ameliorated, while the short-sighted philosophy of immediate self- interest regardless of ultimate social or racial consequences which then prevailed has been profoundly modified by experience and deeper knowledge. We must not forget that when Marx sat down to write Capital, [56] modern sociology and biology were virtually unknown, so that Marx believed implicitly in fallacies like the omnipotence of environment and “natural equality” — which, of course, form the philosophic bases of his “economic determinism.”

Marx’s short-sightedness was soon revealed by the actual course of events, which quickly gave the lie to his confident prophecies. All wealth did not concentrate in a few hands; it remained widely distributed. The middle classes did not perish; they survived and prospered. Lastly, the working classes did not sink into a common hell of poverty and squalor; on the contrary, they be- came more differentiated, the skilled workers, especially, rising into a sort of aristocracy of labor, with wages and living standards about as high as those of the lesser middle classes — whom the skilled workers came more and more to resemble. In other words, the world showed no signs of getting into the mess which Marx had announced as the prologue to his revolution.

To all this, however, the Socialists were blind. Heedless of reality, they continued to see the world through Marx’s spectacles, to quote Capital, and to talk in terms of the “class war” and “economic determinism.” For the Reformist leaders this was not merely fatuous, it was dangerous as well. Sooner or later their dissatisfied followers would demand the fulfilment of Marx’s promises; if not by evolution, then by revolution. That was just what was to happen in the “Syndicalist” movement at the beginning of the present century. In fact, throughout the later decades of the nineteenth century, Marxian Socialism was a house divided against itself: its Reformist leaders and their liberal followers counselling time and patience; its revolutionary, “proletarian” elements growing increasingly restive and straining their eyes for the Red dawn…

Notes/References

52. H. Cox, Economic Liberty, pg. 191-192 (London, 1920).

53. As already remarked, Rousseau was only one of many writers and agitators. For the role of others, particularly those belonging to the revolutionary secret societies of the eighteenth century, such as the “Illuminati,” see N.H. Webster, World Revolution, Chapters I and II (London and Boston, 1921).

54. I.e., during the years of the French Revolution since 1789.

55.  Of course, there are the “philosophical” Anarchists like Prince Kropokin, who do not openly advocate violence. They have, however, remained isolated idealists, with little practical influence upon Anarchism as a movement, whose driving force has always come from apostles of violence and terrorism like Bakunin.

56. The first volume of Capital was published in 1867, after many years of research and composition.

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Source: Dissident Millennial

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