Classic Essays

The Revolt Against Civilization: The Menace of the Underman (Part 21)

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


THE WORLD IS TO-DAY the battleground of a titanic struggle. This struggle has long been gathering. It is now upon us and must be fought out. No land is immune. Bolshevik Russia is merely the standard-bearer of a revolt against civilization which girdles the globe. That revolt was precipitated by the late war and has been intensified by war’s aftermath, but it was latent before 1914 and would have ultimately burst forth even if Armageddon had been averted.

In the present revolt against civilization there is nothing basically new. Viewed historically, it is merely one of a series of similar destructive, retrograde movements. What is new, however, is the elaboration of a revolutionary philosophy which has fired and welded the rebellious elements as never before. As Le Bon justly remarks:

The Bolshevik mentality is as old as history. Cain, in the Old Testament, had the mind of a Bolshevik. But it is only in our days that this ancient mentality has met with a political doctrine to justify it. This is the reason of its rapid propagation, which has been undermining the old social scaffolding. [85]

The modern philosophy of the Under-Man is at bottom a mere “rationalizing” of the emotions of the unadaptable, inferior, and degenerate elements, rebellious against the civilization which irks them and longing to revert to more primitive levels. We have already seen how the revolutionary spirit assails every phase of our civilization, the climax being the Bolshevik attempt to substitute a “proletarian culture.” Most significant of all are the attacks launched upon science, particularly the science of biology. Revolutionists are coming to realize that science, with its stern love of truth, is their most dangerous enemy, and that the discoveries of biology are relentlessly exposing their cleverest sophistries. Accordingly, the champions of the Under-Man, extremists and “moderates” alike, cling desperately to the exploded doctrines of environmentalism and “natural equality,” and dub modern biology mere class snobbery or capitalist propaganda [86].

In fact, attempts have been made to invent a “new” biology, more in accordance with proletarian maxims. For example, some Socialist writers [87] have evolved the theory that social and intellectual evolution is the cause of physical evolution; in other words, that it is his customs and tools which have made man, and not man his tools and customs. Other writers have gone even farther and maintain that “cell intelligence” (which they assume to be present in all protoplasm) is the cause of all forms of evolution [88]. The logical conclusion of this amazing hypothesis should apparently be that intelligence is not confined to the brain but is diffused over the whole body. Here is good proletarian biology, quite in accord with the Bolshevik doctrine that so-called “superior” individuals are merely expressions of the mass intelligence. It is surprising that, so far as can be learned, the theory of cell intelligence is not yet taught in the Soviet schools. This is a serious omission — but it can be remedied.

Naturally, these grotesque perversions of science, with their resultant paradoxes worthy of Mr. Chesterton, are easily disposed of by genuine biologists and the underlying animus is clearly explained. Regarding proletarian biology, Professor Conklin remarks:

Such a conception not only confuses the different lines of evolution and their causes, but it really denies all the facts and evidences in the case by putting the highest and latest product of the process into its earliest and most elemental stages. It is not a theory of evolution but rather one of involution or creation; it is not now a new conception of life and its origin but the oldest known conception. . . Such essays evidently owe their origin to emotion rather than to reason, to sentiment rather than science; they are based upon desire rather than evidence, and they appeal especially to those who are able to believe what they desire to believe. [89]

Proletarian “science” having shown no signs of ability to meet real science in intellectual combat, we may expect to see the proletarian movement fall back upon its natural weapons — passion and violence. What seems certain is that science will become increasingly anathema in social revolutionary eyes. The lists are in fact already set for a battle royal between biology and Bolshevism. We have already remarked that the more the Under-Man realizes the significance of the new biological revelation, the uglier grows his mood. Science having stripped away its sentimental camouflage, the social revolution will depend more and more upon brute force, relying upon the materialism of numbers and racial impoverishment to achieve final victory. More and more the revolutionary watchword will be that of the French Communist, Henri Barbusse: “Le Couteau entre les Dents!” — “With Your Knife in Your Teeth!” [90].

How shall civilization meet the revolutionary onset? By a combination of two methods: one palliative and temporary; the other constructive and permanent. Discussion of the second method will be deferred till the next chapter. Suffice it here to say that it centres about certain deep-going reforms, particularly the improvement of the race itself. Forward-looking minds are coming to realize that social revolutions are really social breakdowns, caused (in the last analysis) by a dual process of racial impoverishment — the elimination of superior strains and the multiplication of degenerates and inferiors. Inexorably the decay of racial values corrodes the proudest civilization, which engenders within itself those forces of chaos that will one day work its ruin. Said shrewd old Rivarol, viewing the French Revolution:

The most civilized empires are as close to barbarism as the most polished steel is to rust; nations, like metals, shine only on the surface.

More and more we are coming to see that hatred of civilization is mainly a matter of heredity; that Bolsheviks are mostly born and not made. How can we expect a man to support a social order which he instinctively detests or which he is congenitally unable to achieve? And how can society expect peaceful progress so long as it spawns social rebels and laggards, and at the same time sterilizes those creative superiors who are at once its builders and preservers?

The fact is that construction and destruction, progress and regress, evolution and revolution, are alike the work of dynamic minorities. We have already seen how numerically small are the talented elites which create and advance civilizations; while Jacobin France and Bolshevik Russia prove how a small but ruthless revolutionary faction can wreck a social order and tyrannize over a great population. Of course, these dynamic groups are composed primarily of leaders — they are the officer’s corps of much larger armies which mobilize instinctively when crises arise. Take the present world crisis. In every country the champions of the existing order can count upon the resolute support of all those who appreciate our civilization and wish to preserve it from disruption. On the other hand, the revolutionary leaders can count with equal confidence upon the unadaptable, inferior, and degenerate elements, who naturally dislike our civilization and welcome a summons to its overthrow.

Such are the distinctively “superior” and “inferior” groups — the standing armies of civilization and of chaos. But, even when fully mobilized, these armies are minorities. Between them stands an intermediate mass of mediocrity, which, even in the most civilized countries, probably constitutes a majority of the whole people. In the United States, for example, this intermediate mass is typified by the various “C” grades of the Army Intelligence Tests — the men with mental ages of from twelve to fifteen years, whom the tests indicated comprised 61 1/2 per cent of the total population. These people are incapable of either creating or maintaining a high civilization. For that they are dependent upon the superiors; just as in the army they depend upon the “A” and “B” grades of the officer’s corps, without whom they would be as sheep without a shepherd. However, these mediocres are not “inferiors” in the technical sense; they are capable of adapting themselves to the ordinary requirements of civilization, and of profiting by the superior’s creative achievements — profiting often so successfully that they attain great wealth and influence.

In some respects the mediocre have their social value. Their very lack of initiative renders them natural conservers of whatever they adopt, and they thus act as social ballast and as a brake to prevent the elite from going too fast and getting out of touch with reality. They also usually support the existing social order, and thus tend to oppose revolution.

However, the mediocre have the defects of their qualities. Their very conservatism is apt to be harmful, and is frequently disastrous. This is because it is unintelligent — a mere clinging to things as they are, with no discrimination between what is sound and what is unsound or outworn; a mere blind aversion to change just because it is change. This is sheer bourbonism. And bourbonism is dangerous because it blocks progress, prevents reform, perpetuates social evils, breeds discontent, and thus engenders revolution.

The chief danger of bourbonism is that it is so powerful. If society were really guided by its creative elite, mediocrity might be useful as a sort of “constitutional opposition” stabilizing and regulating progress. Unfortunately, society is ruled largely by mediocrity. The most cursory survey of our world is enough to show that in politics, finance, business, and most other fields of human activity, a large proportion of the most influential figures are persons of decidedly mediocre intelligence and character. The number of stupid reactionaries in high places is depressing, and their stupidity is amazing when we consider their opportunities. In fact, these opportunities are the best proof of their inherent stupidity, because the mere fact that so little has been brought out shows that there was very little there to bring.

At first sight all this may seem to conflict with what we have previously discovered: that superiors tend to rise in the social scale, and that in advanced modern societies there has been a marked concentration of superiority in the middle and upper classes. But when we look more closely, we see that there is no real discrepancy. In the first place, the concentration of ability in the upper social strata is not absolute, but relative. Relatively, the upper and middle classes of society undoubtedly contain a higher percentage of superiority than do the lower classes. But this most emphatically does not mean that the upper and middle classes are made up wholly of superior persons while the lower social strata are composed wholly of inferiors. On the contrary, the lower social strata unquestionably contain multitudes of valuable strains which have not yet displayed themselves by rising in the social scale. This is particularly true where the “social ladder” and assortative mating have not drained the lower classes and sharply stratified the population. For example, in the American Army Intelligence Tests some of the best scores were made by illiterate, ignorant Southern mountaineers who had never before been outside their native valleys. In other words, primitive conditions had held back a high-grade Anglo-Saxon stock; but the intelligence was there, passed on from generation to generation, and only awaiting a favorable opportunity to display itself.

We thus see that superior intelligence is not a monopoly of the upper and middle social classes, albeit they do possess a distinct relative advantage in this respect.

The next question which naturally arises is: What are the proportions of superiors to mediocres and inferiors within these classes? The question of inferiority need not long detain us. The demands of modern life are sufficiently great, and the social ladder works sufficiently well to weed out most of the distinctly inferior individuals who arise in the upper and middle strata of society by socially sterilizing them as economic failures or by forcing them down to lower social levels.

With mediocrity, however, it is quite otherwise. A glance at social statistics is enough to prove that a large proportion of both the upper and middle classes must consist of mediocrities. Consider the relative size of social groups. In most Western nations from 5 to 10 per cent of the population should certainly be counted as belonging to the upper social classes, while the middle classes (urban and rural) probably run between 20 and 40 per cent. Now compare these figures with the matter of intelligence. We have already seen that biological, sociological, and psychological researches have alike revealed the fact that high intelligence is rare. The American Army Intelligence Tests indicate that only 4 1/2 per cent of the American population are of “very superior intelligence” (Grade “A”), while only 9 per cent are of “superior intelligence” (Grade “B”). We have also seen that superior intelligence is by no means exclusively confined to the upper and middle social strata. Yet, even if superior intelligence were so confined, we have every reason to believe that these strata would still consist largely of mediocrities, for the very simple reason that there would not be enough genuine superiors to go around.

This raises a third question: Within the upper social strata, what is the relative status of superiors and mediocres, measured by recognized standards of achievement and a direct influence in the community? This is a matter of great importance. If high intelligence be so rare, it is vital to social progress, and even to social security, that it should function with the greatest possible efficiency and should exert the greatest possible effect. Now no unbiased student of modern life can doubt that this is very far from being the case. The melancholy truth is that our stock of high creative intelligence (all too meagre at best) is in the main imperfectly utilized. To be sure, those pessimists who assert that it is nearly all wasted are wrong. In advanced modern societies the genuine superior can usually rise, and in many fields, like science, art, literature, and certain of the professions, he may reasonably hope to rise to the very top.

In other fields, however, particularly in politics, finance, and business, this is not the case. Here, too, creative intelligence does tend to rise, and sometimes rises to the top. But more frequently the highest posts are filled by essentially mediocre personalities — shrewd, aggressive, acquisitive, yet lacking that constructive vision which is the birthmark of true greatness.

Now this is a serious matter, because it is precisely these fields wherein constructive leadership is supremely important for social progress and social stability. History proves conclusively that revolutions are precipitated mainly by inefficient government and unwise finance. Here more than anywhere else the guidance of superior intelligence is a vital necessity. Were our political and economic life to-day guided by our best minds, we should have little to fear from social revolution. A series of constructive reforms would safeguard the future, while the present revolutionary onslaught would be summarily repelled. High intelligence is nearly always well poised, and can be depended upon in a crisis to keep cool and do the right thing. Mediocrity, on the other hand, lacks poise and vision. Yet governments are to-day everywhere mainly in mediocre hands. Governments should govern; should have faith in themselves and the principles they stand for; and should meet the challenge of aggressive minorities with intelligent foresight, instant action, and unflinching courage. The mere fact that the revolutionists are a minority is no safeguard, because it is determined minorities, not passive majorities, that get their way. The lesson of past revolutions, particularly the Russian Bolshevik Revolution, is that a small but resolute faction possesses the same decisive tactical advantage as a small but highly disciplined and enthusiastic army attacking a huge but ill-organized and spiritless foe. In such cases the assailants have the inestimable advantage of knowing what they want and exactly where they mean to make their attack. The defenders, on the contrary, not only do not know their own minds, but also usually fail to see precisely where, when and how the attack is coming. They stand, fearful and irresolute, waiting to be hit — beaten before they are struck.

To avert this danger we need intelligent action. For one thing, public opinion should be carefully informed about the basic issues involved. When people appreciate the true nature of social revolution, the irreparable cultural and racial losses, the terrible setback to progress, they will realize that all sections of the population except the inferior and degenerate elements would be the losers, and they will resolve determinedly to preserve civilization from disruption.

By “information,” however, I most emphatically do not mean “propaganda.” The truth about social revolution is enough to open the eyes of all who believe in orderly progress; while neither argument nor entreaty can convert those temperamentally predisposed to violent subversive action. We must clearly recognize that there exists an irreconcilable minority of congenital revolutionists — born rebels against civilization, who can be restrained only by superior force. This rebel minority has, however, evolved a philosophy peculiarly enticing in these troubled transition times when discontent is rife, old beliefs shattered, and the new goals not yet plainly in sight. Under these circumstances the philosophy of revolt has attracted multitudes of persons impatient of present ills and grasping at the hope of violent short cuts to progress. This is particularly true of certain types of emotional liberals, who play in with the revolutionists — and are used as catspaws. Here we have the chief reasons for that idealization of revolution which has such a vogue in many quarters. However, these unwitting dupes are not at heart irreconcilable enemies of society. They simply do not realize that they are on a path which leads to chaos. If they came to realize social revolution’s inevitable consequences, most of them would stop aiding the revolutionists in their attacks on society, and would join forces with those who are striving for constructive progress by evolutionary methods. The real revolutionists would thus be deprived of much of their present strength, and could be more easily dealt with.

Now this may be accomplished by instructive information. It cannot be accomplished by “propaganda.” Hysterical denunciations of Bolshevism, specializing in atrocity stories and yarns like the “nationalization of women,” defeat their own object. They divert attention from fundamentals to details, generate heat without light, spread panic rather than resolution, and invite blind reaction instead of discriminating action. Such propaganda stirs up a multitude of silly people who run around looking for Communists under the bed and calling everybody a “Bolshevik” who happens to disagree with them. This modern witch-finding is not only fatuous; it is harmful as well. Many of those denounced as “Bolsheviks” are not genuine social rebels at all, but people so harassed by social ills or personal misfortunes that they blindly take Bolshevism’s false promises at their face value. These people need education, not persecution. To dragoon and insult them simply drives them into the Bolshevik’s arms. The thing to do is to understand exactly who the real Bolsheviks are, attend to them thoroughly, and then give suspects the benefit of the doubt.

The real social rebels should, of course, be given short shrift. No misguided sentimentality should shield those who plot the disruption of civilization and the degradation of the race. Boasting, as they do, that they have declared war upon the social order, let them be taken at their word. These irreconcilables should be carefully watched, strictly punished when they offend, and where anything like revolution is attempted — hunted down and extirpated. They who take the sword against society must perish by society’s sword.

Yet we should not forget that repression, of itself, solves nothing. Knowing, as we do, that Bolsheviks are mostly born and not made, we must realize that new social rebels will arise until their recruiting grounds are eliminated. When society takes in hand the betterment of the race, when degenerates and inferiors are no longer permitted to breed like lice, the floods of chaos will soon dry up.

Until then repression must go on. But we must know exactly what we are about. Repression is a dangerous weapon, which should be used only within strictly defined limits — and even then with regret.

Now what are the limits of repression? They are the limits of action. Revolutionary action should be instantly, inexorably repressed. There the dead-line should be drawn, so clear and plain that all would know what trespass means. But beyond that forbidden zone — freedom! No tampering with freedom of thought under any circumstances, and no curtailment of free speech except where it incites to violence and thus practically crosses the dead-line.

Society should say to its discontented: “You may think what you please. You may discuss what you please. You may advocate what you please, except it involve violence, express or implied. If you preach or insinuate violence, you will be punished. If you throw bombs, you will be individually executed. If you try revolutions, you will be collectively wiped out. But so long as you avoid doing these forbidden things, you may be watched, but you will not be interfered with.”

At this point the timid or stupid reactionary may exclaim: “But this is giving Bolshevism a chance to hide behind legal technicalities!” Granted. “This will allow revolutionists to conduct a camouflaged propaganda!” Granted. “The results may be dangerous!” Granted; all granted. And yet we cannot do otherwise, because all the harm the Bolsheviks might do by clever abuse of their freedom to think and speak, would be as nothing to the harm done by denying them that freedom.

This harm would be manifold. In the first place, such action would tend to defeat its own object and to encourage rather than suppress revolutionary unrest, because for every camouflaged Bolshevik who might be smoked out and laid by the heels ten free spirits would be impelled to become revolutionists, since in their eyes (singular paradox!) Bolshevism would be associated with liberty. In the second place, any serious curtailment of free speech would render impossible the formation of that intelligent public opinion which we have already seen to be so necessary for comprehending difficulties and conceiving effective remedies. Lastly, such a policy would paralyze intellectual activity, enthrone reaction, and block progress. To protect society from disruption, however necessary, is merely part of a larger whole. Social order must be preserved, because that is the vital prerequisite of constructive progress. But — constructive progress must take place. Things cannot be left as they are, because under present conditions we are headed toward racial impoverishment and cultural decline. Our chief hope is the scientific spirit. But that spirit thrives only on unfettered knowledge and truth. Lacking this sustenance, it withers and decays. One of Bolshevism’s deadly sins is its brutal crushing of intellectual freedom. Shall we be guilty of the very crime we so abhor in our enemies? What a wretched outcome: to escape the destructive tyranny of Bolshevism only to fall under the petrifying tyranny of bourbonism!

Heaven be praised, humanity is not restricted to so poor a choice. Another path lies open — the path of race-betterment. And science points the way. We already know enough to make a sure start, and increasing knowledge will guide our footsteps as we move on. That is the hopeful aspect of the situation. We do not have to guess. We know. All we need to do is to apply what we have already learned and keep on using our brains. The result will be such a combined increase of knowledge and creative intelligence that many problems, to-day insuperable, will solve themselves.

Furthermore, science, which points the path to the future, gives us hope for the present as well. Materially the forces of chaos may still be growing, especially through racial impoverishment; but morally they are being undermined. Science, especially biology, is cutting the ground from under their feet. Even a decade ago, when errors like environmentalism and “natural equality” were generally accepted, the Under-Man was able to make out a plausible case. To-day the basic importance of heredity and the real nature of inferiority are becoming more and more widely understood and appreciated.

Indeed, it is this very spread of scientific truth which accounts largely for the growing violence of social unrest. Consciously or instinctively the revolutionary leaders feel that the “moral imponderables” have deserted them, and that they must therefore rely more and more upon force. Does not Bolshevism admit that it cannot peacefully convert the world, but can triumph only by the dictatorship of a ruthless minority, destroying whole classes, and then forcibly transforming the
remaining population by a long process of intensive propaganda extending perhaps for generations? What a monstrous doctrine? But, also, what a monumental confession of moral bankruptcy! This is the counsel of desperation, not the assurance of victory.

That which maddens Bolshevism is, however, our inspiration. To us science speaks. And her words are: “Sursum corda! Lift up your hearts! Have faith in yourselves; in your civilization; in your race. Tread confidently the path I have revealed to you. Ye know the truth, and the truth shall make you free!”


85. Gustave Le Bon, The World in Revolt, pg. 179 (New York, 1921 — English translation).

86. For instances of this sort of criticism, see the articles by Doctor Robert H. Lowie in the Radical weekly, The Freeman (New York), during 1920.

87. See especially Samuel Butler, Erewhon (London, 1908); A.D. Darbishire, Introduction to a Biology (New York, 1917).

88. See especially N. Quevli, Cell Intelligence the Cause of Evolution, (Minneapolis, 1916).

89. E.G. Conklin, The Direction of Human Evolution, pg. 73-74 (New York, 1921).

90. This is the title to Barbusse’s latest book — a fiery call to instant and relentless class warfare.

* * *

Source: Dissident Millennial

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