Classic Essays

The Revolt Against Civilization: The Menace of the Underman (Part 22)

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


STRESSFUL TRANSITION is the key-note of our time. Unless all signs be at fault, we stand at one of those momentous crises in history when mankind moves from one well-marked epoch into another of widely different character. Such crucial periods are of supreme importance, because their outcome may determine man’s course for many generations — perhaps for many centuries.

Transition spells struggle. And this is pre-eminently true of to-day. Historians of the distant future, appraising our times, may conclude that the Great War was merely a symptom — an episode in a much vaster struggle of ideas and elemental forces which began long before the war, and lasted long after its close. Certainly such a conflict of ideas is to-day raging. Perhaps never in human annals have principles so dissimilar striven so fiercely for mastery of the coming age.

Now in this conflict the ultimate antagonists appear to be biology and Bolshevism: Bolshevism, the incarnation of the atavistic past; biology, the hope of a progressive future. To call Bolshevism the incarnation of the past may sound paradoxical if we heed its claims to being ultramodern. But we have weighted those claims and have found them mere camouflage. What we have found is that Bolshevism, instead of being very new, is very old, that it is the last of a long series of revolts by the unadaptable, inferior, and degenerate elements against civilizations which have irked them and which they have therefore wished to destroy. The only new thing about Bolshevism is its “rationalizing” of rebellious emotions into an exceedingly insidious and persuasive philosophy of revolt which has not merely welded all the real social rebels, but has also deluded many misguided dupes, blind to what Bolshevism implies. Such is the champion of the old, primitive past: intrenched behind ancient errors like environmentalism and “natural equality,” favored by the unrest of transition times, and reinforced by ever-multiplying swarms of degenerates and inferiors.

Against this formidable adversary stands biology, the champion of the new. Biology is one of the finest fruits of the modern scientific spirit. Ripened by the patient labors of earnest seekers after truth, biology has now attained a splendid maturity. Forth from a thousand quiet laboratories and silent library alcoves have emerged discoveries which may completely alter human destiny. These discoveries constitute the new biological revelation — the mightiest transformation of ideas that the world has ever seen. Here, indeed, is something new: the unveiling of the mysterious life process, the discovery of the true path of progress, the placing in man’s hands of the possibility of his own perfection by methods at once safe and sure. Such is the young science of applied biology; or, as it is more generally termed, “Eugenics’ — the science of race betterment. Eugenics is, in fact, evolving into a higher synthesis, drawing freely from other fields of knowledge like psychology and the social sciences, and thus fitting itself ever more completely for its exalted task.

The fundamental change of both ideas and methods involved in the eugenic programme is at once apparent. Hitherto all political and social philosophies, however much they might differ among themselves have been agreed on certain principles: they have all believed that environment was of basic importance, and they have all proposed to improve mankind from without, by changing existing individuals through the action of various political and social agencies. Eugenics, on the other hand, believes that heredity is the basic factor, and plans to improve the race from within, by determining which existing individuals shall, and shall not, produce succeeding generations. This means the establishment of an improved social selection based upon biological considerations instead of, as hitherto, upon envirornmental considerations. Of course, this new selection would operate mainly through the old social and political agencies; but these would no longer be regarded as having specific virtue in themselves, and would be applied only in so far as they tended to better the race. Eugenics does not deny the effect of environment: on the contrary, it is precisely because of environment’s bad effects upon the race that the science of eugenics has become such a vital necessity. What eugenics does say, however, is that environment, however powerful, is an indirect, secondary factor; the direct, primary factor being heredity. Therefore, all environmental influences should be considered with reference to heredity, which should always be the fundamental consideration. Thus a new criterion of policy and action is set up for every field of human activity, thereby involving a general revaluation of all values.

The eugenic programme may be thus succinctly stated:

The problem of eugenics is to make such legal, social, and economic adjustments that (1) a larger proportion of superior persons will have children than at present; (2) that the average number of offspring of each superior person will be greater than at present; (3) that the most inferior persons will have no children; and (4) that other inferior persons will have fewer children than now. [91]

Of course, eugenics does not propose to attain its objective in a day or at a stroke. Inspired as it is by the scientific spirit, it believes in evolution, not revolution, and is thus committed to strictly evolutionary methods. Eugenics advocates no sudden leap into an untried Utopia; it desires to take no steps which have not been scientifically tested, and even then only when these have gained the approval of intelligent public opinion. Eugenics does claim, however, that the momentous scientific discoveries of the past half century enable mankind to make a sound start in the process of race betterment. It further claims that such a start is imperative, because racial impoverishment is today going on so fast, and the forces of social disruption are growing so ominously, that delay threatens speedy disaster.

The truth is that our race is facing the most acute crisis in its history. The very progress of science, which affords our best hope for the future, has thus far rather intensified the peril. Not only are all the traditional factors of race decadence operative, but new factors which may become powerful agents of race betterment are at present working mainly in the direction of racial decay, by speeding up both the social sterilization of superior stocks and the multiplication of inferiors. The result is a process of racial impoverishment, extremely rapid and ever accelerating.

As the English biologist Whetham justly remarks:

The sense of social responsibility, the growth of moral consciousness, have matched a certain point among us — a point that the student of sociology may well call a danger-point. If, accepting the burden of moulding the destinies of the race, we relieve nature of her office of discriminating between the fit and the unfit; if we undertake the protection of the weaker members of the community; if we assume a corporate responsibility for the existence of all sorts and conditions of men; then, unless we are prepared to cast away the labors of our forefathers and to vanish with the empires of the past, we must accept the office of deciding who are the fittest to prosper and to leave offspring, who are the persons whose moral and intellectual worth make it right that they and their descendants should be placed in a position of prominence in our midst and which are the families on whose upbringing the time and money of society are best bestowed. We must acquiesce in the principle that the man who has made his five talents into ten shall profit by the skill and energy he has shown, and that the man who has repeatedly failed to use his one talent shall have no further chance of wasting the corporate resources on himself and his descendants. [92]

The effect of eugenic measures in permanently lightening social burdens should appeal strongly to a world staggering under difficulties. This does not mean that established methods of reform should be neglected. But it must be remembered that such methods, affecting as most of them do merely the environment, require a constant (if not increasing) expenditure to be kept up.

To quote Whetham again:

We must recognize an essential difference between the two methods. To put it briefly, it seems as though work done by heredity was work done once for all. The destruction of a tainted stock will leave a race eternally the better for its removal, the breeding-out of a good strain causes an irreparable loss; whereas improvements due to environment alone require a constant expenditure of energy to maintain them in existence. The one may be compared to an actual gain of capital as far as the human race is concerned; the other involves a constant expenditure of income, perfectly justified as long as the increase in capital is maintained, but unjustifiable when capital must be drawn upon. . . .

Looking at our problem in this light, we see that there must be some relation between the average innate capacity of a nation and the effect likely to be produced by the expenditure of a given amount of energy on improving the environment. If a race falls back in its inborn qualities; if, owing to the efforts of philanthropists and the burdens of unsound taxation, more of the failures of civilization reach maturity and parenthood, and fewer competent persons are brought into existence to support them, not only has the nation less energy to use for the maintenance and improvement of its social conditions, but such energy as is available will produce a correspondingly smaller effect. The old standard can be maintained, if at all, only by a policy of overspending leading to bankruptcy. We have, in fact, conditions in which retrogression set in and the environment will follow the heredity downhill. [93]

Another point to be emphasized is the necessity for seeing how environmental measures affect racial interests. One of the gravest objections to environmentalism is its tendency to look at social and political reforms as ends in themselves. Scrutinized from the racial view-point, many of these reforms reveal racially harmful consequences, which more than offset their beneficial aspects and so require their modification in order to be desirable in the long run. Take the matter of poor relief, for example. Its necessity and desirability are generally acknowledged. Yet, however pathetic may be the objects of public charity, the interests of society and the race alike require that poor relief carry with it one imperative obligation: habitual paupers should be prevented from having children. Otherwise charity will merely mean more paupers — a result harmful and unfair both to the thrifty and capable members of society who pay the taxes and to society itself which ought to expend its taxes as far as possible for productive purposes.

Again, take the question of the “social ladder.” We have already observed how the ability of superior individuals to rise easily in the social scale is characteristic of a progressive civilization. This is something which no well-informed and right-thinking man can deny. Accordingly, the furtherance of the “career open to talent” is the constant solicitude of social reformers. And yet, here too, the racial view-point is needed. Suppose the “social ladder” were so perfected that virtually all ability could be detected and raised to its proper social level. The immediate result would be a tremendous display of talent and genius. But if this problem were considered merely by itself, if no measures were devised to counteract the age-old tendency toward the social sterilization and elimination of successful superiors, that display of talent would be but the prelude to utter racial impoverishment and irreparable racial and cultural decline. As things now stand, it is the very imperfections of the “social ladder” which retard racial impoverishment and minimize its disastrous consequences.

Remembering the necessity for viewing all political and social projects in the light of racial consequences, let us now consider the eugenic programme itself. The problem of race betterment consists of two distinct phases: the multiplication of superior individuals and the elimination of inferiors — in other words, the exact reverse of what is to-day taking place. These two phases of race betterment clearly require totally different methods. The multiplication of superiors is a process of race building; the elimination of inferiors is a process of race cleansing. These processes are termed “Positive” and “Negative” eugenics, respectively.

Although race building is naturally of more transcendent interest than race cleansing, it is the latter that we will first consider. Race cleansing is the obvious starting-point for race betterment. Here scientific knowledge is most advanced, the need for action most apparent, and public opinion best informed. In fact, a beginning has already been made. The segregation of the insane and feebleminded in public institutions is the first step in a campaign against degeneracy which should extend rapidly as society awakens to the full gravity of the situation. We have already seen how much graver is the problem than has ordinarily been supposed. We now know that the so-called “degenerate classes” are not sharply marked off from the rest of the community, but are merely the most afflicted sufferers from taints which extend broadcast through the general population. The “degenerate classes” are, in fact, merely the nucleus of that vast “outer fringe” of mental and physical unsoundness visible all the way from the unemployable “casual laborer” right up to the “tainted genius.”

Degeneracy is thus a cancerous blight, constantly spreading, tainting and spoiling sound stocks, destroying race values, and increasing social burdens. In fact, degeneracy not only handicaps society but threatens its very existence. Congenitally incapable of adjusting themselves to an advanced social order, the degenerate inevitably become its enemies — particularly those “high-grade defectives” who are the natural fomenters of social unrest. Of course, the environmentalist argues that social unrest is due to bad social conditions, but when we go into the matter more deeply we find that bad conditions are due largely to bad people. The mere presence of hordes of low-grade men and woman condemned by their very natures to incompetency and failure automatically engender poverty, invite exploitation, and drag down others just above them in the social scale.

We thus see that our social ills are largely the product of degeneracy, and that the elimination of degeneracy would do more than anything else to solve them. But degeneracy can be eliminated only by eliminating the degenerate. And this is a racial, not a social matter. No merely social measures can ever touch the heart of the problem. In fact, they tend to increase its gravity; because, aiming as they do to improve existing individuals, they carry along multitudes of the unfit and enable them to propagate more largely of their kind.

If, then, society is ever to rid itself of its worst burdens, social reform must be increasingly supplemented by racial reform. Unfit individuals as well as unjust social conditions must be eliminated. To make a better world we must have better men and women. No reform of laws or institutions or economic systems will bring that better world unless it produces better men and women too.

Society must, therefore, grapple resolutely with the problem of degeneracy. The first step should be the prevention of all obvious degenerates from having children. This would mean, in practice, segregating most of them in institutions. Of course, that, in turn, would mean a great immediate expense [94]. But in the long run such outlays would be the truest economy. We have already seen how expensive degenerates are to society. A single degenerate family like the Jukes may cost the state millions of dollars. And to these direct costs there must be added indirect costs which probably run to far larger figures. Think of the loss to the national wealth, measured in mere dollars and cents, of a sound, energetic stock ruined by an infusion of Jukes blood. Think of the immeasurably greater loss represented by a “tainted genius,” his talents perverted from a potential social blessing into actual social curse by the destructive action of a degenerate strain in his heredity.

However, even if we leave all indirect damage out of consideration, the direct costs of degeneracy are so obvious and so computable that, as a cold financial proposition, the flotation of public bond issues to defray the expenses of immediate, wholesale segregation would be amply justified. The consequent diminution in the numbers of paupers, vagabonds, criminals, etc., would unquestionably enable the State to get all its money back with a handsome profit besides [95].

Of course, even the rigorous segregation of all clearly defective individuals now alive would not extinguish degeneracy. The vast “outer fringe” would for generations produce large quotas of institutional recruits. But these quotas would get steadily smaller, because the centres of pollution would have been removed. And, this once done, the racial stream would gradually purify itself. Remember that race cleansing, once done, is done for good and all. The whole weight of scientific evidence shows that degeneracy is caused, not by environment, but by heredity; that the degeneracy with which we have to deal is an old degeneracy due to taints which have been carried along in the germ-plasm for generations. If, then, this mass of degeneracy, the accumulation of centuries, could be once got rid of, it would never again recur. Sporadic degenerates might now and then be born but these isolated cases, leaving no offspring, would be of negligible importance.

We thus see that a general and consistent application of those methods which even now are approved by public opinion, [96] and are already practiced on a small scale would suffice to cleanse the race of its worst impurities. Of course, if no further methods were adopted, the process would be a slow one. The unsound “fringe” is so wide, the numbers of less obvious defectives above the present “committable” line are so large, and their birth-rate tends to be so high that unless many of these grades also were debarred from having children, by either segregation or sterilization, [97] at least two or three generations would probably elapse before the recurrent quotas of defectives would be markedly reduced. Meanwhile, society would continue to suffer from the burdens and dangers which widespread degeneracy involves. Whether these risks are to be run is for public opinion to decide. Public opinion is to-day probably not ready to take more than the “first step” suggested above: the wholesale segregation of our obvious defectives. This makes some advocates of race betterment impatient or pessimistic. But it should not. Such persons should remember that the great thing is to take a real start in the right direction. When that first step is once taken, the good results will be so obvious that public opinion will soon be ready for further advances along the same line.

One point which should hasten the conversion of public opinion to the eugenic programme is its profound humaneness. Eugenics is stern toward bad stocks, but toward the individual it is always kind. When eugenics says “the degenerate must be eliminated,” it refers, not to existing degenerates, but to their potential offspring. Those potential children, if eugenics has its way, will never be. This supreme object once accomplished, however, there is every reason why the defective individual should be treated with all possible consideration. In fact, in a society animated by eugenic principles, degenerates, and inferiors generally, would he treated far better than they are to-day; because such a society would not have to fear that more charity would spell more inferiors. It would also be more inclined to a kindly attitude because it would realize that defects are due to heredity and that bad germ-plasm can be neither punished nor reformed.

Furthermore, the very conversion of public opinion to the eugenic view-point would itself tend powerfully to purify the race by voluntary action. Legal measures like segregation and sterilization would apply in practice only to the most inferior elements, whose lack of intelligence and self-control render them incapable of appreciating the interests of society and thus make legal compulsion necessary. The higher grades of unsoundness would not be directly affected. Right here, however, the pressure of enlightened public opinion would come into play. Later on we shall consider the full implications of the development in the general population of a true racial consciousness — what may be termed a “eugenic conscience.” Suffice it here to say that the existence of such an attitude would eliminate the higher grades of mental defect by voluntary action as rapidly as the acuter grades were being eliminated by legal action. In a society animated by a eugenic conscience the begetting of unsound children would be regarded with horror, and public opinion would instinctively set up strong social taboos which would effectively restrain all except reckless and anti-social individuals — who, of course, would be restrained by law.

Such social taboos would not, however, mean wholesale celibacy. In the first place, a large proportion of those persons who carry hereditary taints in their germ-plasm carry them in latent form. These latent or “recessive” taints do their bearers personally no harm, and in most cases will not appear in their children unless the bearers marry persons carrying like taints. By avoiding unions with these particular people, not only will sound children be reasonably assured by wise matings, but the taints themselves will ordinarily be bred out of the stock in a couple of generations, and the germ-plasm will thus be purified. Furthermore, even those persons who carry taints which make parenthood inadvisable need not be debarred from marriage. The sole limitation would be that they should have no children. And this will be perfectly feasible, because, when public opinion acquires the racial view-point, the present silly and vicious attitude toward birth control will be abandoned, and undesirable children will not be conceived.

By the combination of legal, social, and individual action above described, the problems of degeneracy and inferiority, attacked both from above and from below, would steadily diminish, and the racial stream would be as steadily purified. The point to be emphasized is that this can be effected almost wholly by a broader and more intelligent application of processes already operating and already widely sanctioned by public opinion. Segregation of defectives, appreciation of racial principles, wise marriage selection, birth control: these are the main items in the programme of race purification. This programme is thus seen to be strictly evolutionary and essentially conservative. The first steps are so simple and so obvious that they can be taken without any notable change in our social or legal standards, and without any real offence to intelligent public opinion. Further steps can safely be left to the future, and there is good reason to believe that those steps will be taken far sooner than is generally imagined, because the good results of the first steps will be so apparent and so convincing.


91. Popenoe and Johnson, Applied Eugenics, pg. v (Preface).

92. Whethan, “Decadence and Civilization,” Hibbert Journal, October, 1911.

93. Whetham, op. cit.

94. Even in the civilized countries only a small fraction of those who should be clearly segregated are to-day under institutional care and thus debarred from all possibility of reproduction. In the United States, for example, which ranks rather high in this respect, only 10 or 15 per cent of the obviously feeble-minded are in institutions. The reader will recall that, in the year 1915, out of approximately 600 living feeble-minded and epileptic Jukes, only three were in custodial care. To house and care for the vast hosts of defectives now at large would require from five to ten times the present number of institutions.

95. The cost of such institutions would not be as great as many persons imagine. The old idea of huge barracks where the inmates were kept confined is giving way to the “farm-colony” idea. Here the patients lead a healthful out-of-door life, where they are not only contented but earn much of their keep. It must be remembered that many defectives possess great physical strength and enjoy hard, muscular exertion.

96. Public opinion today generally approves the segregation of defectives. The principal difficulty thoroughgoing segregation is the matter of expense.

97. Sterilization must not be confounded with castration. The method of male sterilization now employed (vasectomy) is a trivial operation producing no functional disturbances of any sort, and leaving sexual vigor absolutely unimpaired — except, of course, that reproduction does not ensue. Female sterilization as now as practiced involves a fairly serious operation. Other improved methods of sterilization are, however, in sight (the X-ray, etc.).

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Source: Dissident Millennial

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