The Magazine

American Nietzsche (part II)


(Continued from part I) Like The French Revolution in San Domingo, Stoddard's next bestseller, The Rising Tide of Color against White World Supremacy (1920), would owe its popularity to the author's knack for conveying a sense of disaster, either historical, as in the case of San Domingo, or on the temporal horizon -- a looming severe change in the order of existence that bodes ill for the intended audience. In The Rising Tide, however, the intimation of threat finds melioration in a utopian vision of averted disaster. And in his utopianism, Stoddard definitely appealed to the progressive segment of the American audience of the day.


Stoddard's ideal, left unspecified in its details, is a pacifistic, transnational arrangement bringing Western Europe and North America into greater intimacy and prosperity as they renew the bond of their "common civilization." The Great War counts for Stoddard as the "Peloponnesian War" of the European peoples, who, in their fractiousness have rendered themselves vulnerable to a teeming non-European world that regards them without sentiment. "More than a decade ago," Stoddard writes in his preface,

I became convinced that the key-note of twentieth-century world-politics would be the relations between the primary races of mankind. Momentous modifications of existing race-relations were evidently impending and nothing could be more vital to the course of human evolution than the character of these modifications, since upon the quality of human life all else depends.

Stoddard warns, as Oswald Spengler would in The Hour of Decision (1934), about non-replacement birthrates in the Western nations; like Spengler, he was prescient about trends whether one endorses his evaluation of them or not. Stoddard recommends, not only policies to encourage childbearing, but also, like his contemporary H. G. Wells, eugenics programs to refine the human type. Like Nietzsche, Stoddard despises the nostrum of natural equality. He counsels the abandonment of empires; he advocates a kind of Northern Hemisphere isolationism. Again, what is he?

The Revolt against Civilization: The Menace of the Underman (1922) picks up from The Rising Tide the race theme and the eugenics theme while subordinating them to an analysis of anti-civilized resentment that anticipates in many points the exposition in José Ortega y Gasset's Revolt of the Masses (1930). That both Stoddard and Ortega drew on Nietzsche likely explains the prolepsis, adding that Ortega displays the traits of a subtler and deeper thinker than Stoddard. That Stoddard drew as much on Darwin as he did on Nietzsche distinguishes him, on the other hand, from Ortega, and accounts for some of his crudity.

Whether one might fully dissociate the purely cultural and historical argument of The Revolt from its eugenics argument is an important question in assessing Stoddard. Perhaps the answer is no, but one can nevertheless distinguish the book's cultural and historical strand from its eugenics strand. Consider the chapter on "The Burden of Civilization."

Stoddard inquires rhetorically why history seems to reveal "The Law of Civilization and Decay," which he quickly characterizes as a "fatalistic" error. A high civilization like the modern Western civilization should therefore see before it an indefinite future -- so why then do civilizations fail? Stoddard cites three "grim Nemeses that have dogged the footsteps of the most promising peoples":

  1. The "tendency to structural overloading,"
  2. The "tendency to biological regression," and
  3. The "tendency to atavistic revolt."

As for the middle term: Stoddard never ceased to believe that, by an "iron law" of natural demographics, the mentally less capable would always outbreed the mentally more capable, until the mass could no longer sustain the refined achievements of the creators and the civilized fabric collapsed. Another of Stoddard's terms for "biological regression" is the even less elegant "racial impoverishment." The other two "Nemeses" have a relation to the middle one but without necessarily requiring it. Leaving out the first, about which Stoddard says little, let us consider the third, "the tendency to atavistic revolt" in which is implicated the phenomenon of "the Underman."

According to Stoddard, "as civilization advances, it leaves behind multitudes of human beings who have not the capacity to keep pace." Among these Stoddard includes "congenital savages or barbarians," who have been "carried over into a social environment in which they do not belong"; "true degenerates"; and "border-liners," or those "who just fail to achieve a social order, which they can comprehend but in which they somehow cannot succeed." These together constitute "the Underman," an obvious trope of Nietzsche's Übermensch.

Stoddard poses: "How does the Underman look at civilization?" The Underman dimly intuits that "civilization's prizes are not for him" even though he can hardly escape civilization's onus. "The very discipline of the social order oppresses the Underman... thwarts and chastises him." Other resentment-driven types are the "disinherited," he who falls through the social cracks by bad luck, and the "misguided superior," who, "exasperated by ... slow progress," tends to "dream shortcuts" and views the Underman as his instrument. The "misguided superior" often exhibits a taste for violent transformation, in which phase he feels "the lure of the primitive."

Stoddard divides the path to social revolution into three stages:

  1. "Destructive criticism of the existing order,
  2. "Revolutionary theorizing and agitation," and
  3. "Revolutionary action."

To "destructive criticism" belongs "the lure of the primitive," as exemplified in Jean-Jacques Rousseau's aggressive claim that civilization had "begun wrong or [took] a wrong turning at some comparatively early stage of its development." Stoddard concedes to Rousseau one or two valid insights. "The trouble was that Rousseau's grain of truth was hidden in a bushel of noxious chaff, so that people were apt to rise from a reading of Rousseau, not inspired by a sane love for simple living ... but ... with a hatred for civilization and ... a thirst for violent social experiments."

We recall Stoddard's quotation from a pamphlet by Sonthonax, the Jacobin siren of revolution in San Domingo, which put forward noticeably Rousseauvian theses. In The Revolt, Stoddard treats speculatively in macrocosm what he treated historically in microcosm in The French Revolution in San Domingo. "The spirit of revolt which attacks simultaneously institutions, customs, ideals, art, literature, and all the other phases of civilization does not spare what stands behind, namely: individuality and intelligence." Stoddard believes that "the emotional urge behind revolution is perfectly clear."


In one of Ezra Pound's wartime propaganda broadcasts (28 May 1942) on behalf of Italian Fascism, the expatriate American poet, speaking about race and economics, said,

We may have been ALL of us wrong, except Lothrop Stoddard, and a half dozen writers: better known abroad than in either England or in America.

In The Revolt, taking a cue from Max Nordau's Degeneration (1892), Stoddard had denounced "the current demoralization visible in music, art, poetry, commerce, and social life," as belonging to destructive primitivism. "Literary and artistic malcontents," Stoddard opines, have expressed their malaise in the moral disequilibrium of "'Futurism,' 'Cubism,' 'Vorticism,' 'Expressionism,' and God knows what." The labels one could ignore; the underlying tendency of "disintegrative, degenerative reaction toward primitive chaos" one could not.

Pound, like Stoddard, is a political anomaly. What likely endeared Stoddard to Pound, despite Stoddard's hostility to modern poetry, was Stoddard's intense anti-Communism, which Pound shared. In The Revolt, Stoddard writes,

We must recognize once and for all that Bolshevism is not a peculiar Russian phenomenon, but that it is merely a Muscovite manifestation of a movement which had formulated its philosophy and infected the whole civilized world before the beginning of the late war.

Stoddard resumes: "Bolshevism's so-called 'constructive' aims have failed for the simple reason that Bolshevism is essentially a destructive, retrogressive movement," fundamental to which is "violence." We recall the "Gospel of violent measures" from the examination of events leading to Haiti. Stoddard quotes Arthur Ransome, who conveyed from interviews with Lenin and his cronies that they foresaw a 50-year "period of torment" during which "class wars would rage in Western Europe and America ... infinitely worse than Russia [which] would annihilate whole populations, and would probably imply the destruction of all culture."

Without remarking it explicitly, Stoddard, surveying the course of events in Russia, sees obvious parallels with the course of events in San Domingo:

The atrocities perpetrated by some of the Bolshevik Commissars... are so revolting that they seem explicable only by mental aberrations like homicidal mania or the sexual perversion known as sadism.

Once the insurrection had placed itself firmly in power, it restrained itself somewhat, but "the spirit... remained the same -- a spirit of wild revolt, of measureless violence, of frenzied hatred of the old order in every form."

All the revolutions since 1789 prove to Stoddard that, "a small but ruthless ... faction can wreck a social order and tyrannize over a population." The proletariat always succumbs to radical allurement and makes itself the ready press-gang of the radicals. Why does not the massive middle-segment of modern Western society, through its shear inertia, stand in the way of programmatic radicalism? After all, "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."

Unfortunately, the socially acculturated middle-class "is unintelligent... clinging to things as they are, with no discrimination between what is sound and what is unsound or outworn." It is interesting to note that for Stoddard the term conservative is one of dismissal, if not of outright opprobrium.

With only a little distancing from the Nietzschean position, Stoddard foresees as salvation from the triumphant Underman a new, aggressive aristocracy, bred in accord with eugenics.

True it is that "for the past half-century the democratic idea has gained an unparalleled ascendancy in the world, while the aristocratic idea has been correspondingly discredited." Stoddard links democracy to "natural equality," which he has taken pains to debunk; thus, "as a fetich, democracy has no more virtue than Mumbo-Jumbo or a West African ju-ju." Existing elites, writes Stoddard, certainly would never qualify as an aristocracy, "being loaded down with mediocrities and peppered with degenerates and inferiors."

As in The Rising Tide, Stoddard offers in conclusion a vague prospect rather than a detailed program. He comes close to dissolving into mysticism:

The attainment of Neo-Aristocracy [his term] implies a long political evolution, the exact course of which is probably unpredictable... For may we not believe that those majestic laws of life which now stand revealed will no more pass utterly from human ken than have other great discoveries like the sowing of grain and the control of fire? And then, therefore, may we not hope that, if not today, then in some better time, the race will insure its own regeneration.

Such glamour of the "germ-plasm" would later make Stoddard susceptible to exploitation by unsavory parties whose atavistic tendencies he might have recognized had he not himself already succumbed to the obtuseness inherent in biological literalism.

One cannot read Stoddard's last book, Into the Darkness (1940), on the subject of Nazi Germany, without frequently squirming. Propaganda Minister Goebbels strikes Stoddard during his interview as "this lithe, brunet Rhinelander, with his agile mind." Visiting a "eugenics court," Stoddard records: "The first case I saw looked like an excellent candidate for sterilization." Stoddard remarks that the prevailing attitude of political Germans toward the Jews reminds him of "the attitude toward the Christian Greeks and Armenians in Turkey when I was there shortly after the World War," but he avoids the conclusion, which the historical parallelism ought to suggest, that the Nazi method of "elimination" would be homicidal.

Into the Darkness makes no brief for the Third Reich, but Stoddard regrettably accepts at their word people whom he knows to be ideologues and totalitarians. Into the Darkness came back to bite Stoddard when the war forced reassessment of its naivety and made of Stoddard an un-publishable embarrassment for the remaining decade of his life. Perhaps this was unfair, but it is understandable. ... On the other hand, the New YorkTimes's Walter Duranty garnered a Pulitzer journalism prize for what amounted to knowing collaboration with his Soviet handlers while "reporting" from Russia during the period of the Ukraine Famine and the Great Purge.

Much of what, in Stoddard, strikes acute readers today as trespassing beyond propriety nevertheless finds perfectly homey ensconcement in discourse of the Left. White Anglo-Saxon Protestants no longer regard ethnic self-interest as polite, but whole organizations -- like La Raza -- do; and they look on WASPs and their equivalents without sentiment. Leftwing bureaucracies and non-government-organizations use race, as a matter of course, to bludgeon and disconcert ordinary people in just about every country of Western Europe and North America, quite as Stoddard predicted that an Underman insurgency would. Stoddard remains an ambiguous and yet positively provocative figure.