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The Revolt Against Civilization (

PREFACE THE revolutionary unrest which to-day afflicts the entire world goes far deeper than is generally supposed. Its root-cause is not Russian Bolshevik propaganda, not the late war, not the French Revolution, but a process of racial impoverishment, which destroyed the great civilizations of the past and which threatens to destroy our own. This grim blight of civilized society has been correctly diagnosed only in recent years. The momentous biological discoveries of the past generation have revealed the true workings of those hitherto mysterious laws of life on which, in the last analysis, all human activity depends. In the light of these biological discoveries, confirmed and amplified by investigations in other fields of science, especially psychology, all political and social problems need to be re-examined. Such a re-examination of one of these problems -- the problem of social revolution -- has been attempted in the present book.


LOTHROP STODDARD BROOKLINE, MASSACHUSETTS, March 30, 1922  This public-domain book has been placed into e-text by Martin Lindstedt, Route 2 Box 2008, Granby, Missouri, 64844, Telephone (417) 472-6901.  The first four chapters have been serialized in Kurt Saxon's " U.S. Militia " magazine. For a copy, write to Atlan Formularies, P.O. Box 95, Alpena, Arkansas 72611. (501) 437-2999. 

CHAPTER I -- THE BURDEN OF CIVILIZATION CIVILIZATION is the flowering of the human species. It is both a recent and a fragile thing. The first glimmering of genuine civilization appeared only eight or ten thousand years ago. This might seem a long time. It does not seem so long when we remember that behind civilization's dawn lies a vast night of barbarism, of savagery, of bestiality, estimated at half a million years, since the ape-man shambled forth from the steaming murk of tropical forests, and, scowling and blinking, raised his eyes to the stars.  Civilization is complex. It involves the existence of human communities characterized by political and social organization; dominating and utilizing natural forces; adapting themselves to the new man-made environment thereby created; possessing knowledge, refinement, arts, and sciences; and (last, but emphatically not least) composed of individuals capable of sustaining this elaborate complex and of handing it on to a capable posterity.  


This last consideration is, in fact, the crux of the whole matter; the secret of success, the secret, likewise, of those tragic failures which perplex and sadden the student of history. Man's march athwart the ages has been, not a steady advance, but rather a slow wandering, now breasting sunlit heights, yet anon plunging into dank swamps and gloomy valleys. Of the countless tribes of men, many have perished utterly while others have stopped by the wayside, apparently incapable of going forward, and have either vegetated or sunk into decadence. Man's trail is littered with the wrecks of dead civilizations and dotted with the graves of promising peoples stricken by an untimely end.  Sharp and insistent comes the query: Why? Civilization seems so good a thing! It means relative protection from the blind and cruel forces of nature; abolition of the struggle against savage beasts and amelioration of the struggle between men; opportunity for comfort, leisure, and the development of the higher faculties. Why, then, do we find so many branches of the human species never attaining -- never really striving after -- these eminently desirable boons? Also (yet more noteworthy!) why do we find still other stocks, after having attained civilization, losing it and falling back to the lower levels of barbarism or even of savagery?  Mysterious though this may at first sight appear, thereis, nevertheless, an answer: Those stagnant or decadent peoples could not bear the burden of civilization. For civilization is a burden as well as a benefit. This is inevitable in a universe governed by laws which decree that something may not come out of nothing. Civilization is not a cause but an effect -- the effect of sustained human energy; and this energy, in turn, springs from the creative urge of superior germ-plasm.

Civilization is thus fundamentally conditioned by race. In any particular people, civilization will progress just so far as that people has the capacity to further it and the ability to bear the correlative burden which it entails. When this crucial point is reached, the civilization of that people either stagnates or retrogrades. Exactly how the process works becomes clear by a glance at human history.  When the ape-man emerged from utter animality, he emerged with empty hands and an almost empty head. Ever since that far-off day, man has been filling both hands and head -- his hands with tools, his head with ideas. But the filling has proceeded most unequally, because capacity has varied greatly among the different branches of mankind. Whether all human varieties spring from a single original stock we do not know. What we do know is that the human species early appears divided into a number of different varieties contrasting markedly both in physical features and mental capacities. Thus differentiated and ever further differentiating, mankind plodded the long, long trail leading from bestiality to savagery, from savagery to barbarism, and from barbarism to civilization. Slowly the empty hands and heads began to fill. The hands grasped chance sticks and stones, then trimmed clubs and chipped flints, then a combination of the twain. These same hands presently fashioned the skins of beasts to clothe the body's nakedness against the cold, kindled fires for warmth and roasted food, modeled clay for pottery, tamed wild creatures into domestic animals. And behind the hand was the brain, not merely making these purely material inventions but also discovering others of a higher order, like speech or even non-material concepts from which sprang the rudiments of social and political existence. All this occurred while man was still a savage. With the next stage -- barbarism -- came fresh discoveries, like agriculture and the smelting of metals, together with a variety of new ideas (especially the momentous art of writing), which brought mankind to the threshold of civilization. 


Now it is obvious that at this stage of his development man was a vastly different creature from the bestial being of earlier times. Starting from naked destitution and brutish ignorance, man had gradually gathered to himself an increasing mass of tools, possessions, and ideas. This made life much more comfortable and agreeable. But it also made life much more complex. Such a life required vastly more effort, intelligence, and character than had the instinctive, animal existence of primeval days. In other words, long before the dawn of true civilization, the burden of progress had begun to weigh upon mankind.  Indeed, even the first light burdens had in some cases proved too heavy to be borne. Not all branches of the human species attained the threshold of civilization. Some, indeed, never reached even the limits of savagery.• Existing survivals of low-type savage man, such as the Bushmen of South Africa and the Australian "Black-fellows," have vegetated for countless ages in primeval squalor and seem incapable of rising even to the level of barbarism, much less to that of civilization.  

It is fortunate for the future of mankind that most of these survivals from the remote past are to-day on the verge of extinction. Their persistence and possible incorporation into higher stocks would produce the most depressive and retrogressive results.  Much more serious is the problem presented by those far more numerous stocks, which, while transcending the plane of mere savagery, have stopped at some level of barbarism. Not only have these stocks never originated a civilization themselves, but they seem constitutionally incapable of assimilating the civilization of others. Deceptive veneers of civilization may be acquired, but reversion to congenital barbarism ultimately takes place. To such barbarian stocks belong many of the peoples of Asia, the American Indians, and the African negroes. These congenital barbarians have always been dangerous foes of progress. Many a promising civilization has been ravaged and ruined by barbarians without the wit to rebuild what they had destroyed. To-day, the progress of science may have freed our own civilization from the peril of armed conquest by barbarian hordes; nevertheless, these peoples still threaten us with the subtler menace of "pacific penetration." Usually highly prolific, often endowed with extraordinary physical vigor, and able to migrate easily, owing to modern facilities of transportation, the more backward peoples of the earth tend increasingly to seek the centres of civilization, attracted thither by the high wages and easier living conditions which there prevail. The influx of such lower elements into civilized societies is an unmitigated disaster. It upsets living standards, socially sterilizes the higher native stocks, and if (as usually happens in the long run) interbreeding occurs, the racial foundations of civilization are undermined, and the mongrelized population, unable to bear the burden, sinks to a lower plane.  So much for savagery and barbarism. Now what about civilization?


For the last eight or ten thousand years civilizations have been appearing all the way from Eastern Asia to Europe and North Africa. At first these civilizations were local -- mere points of light in a vast night of barbarism and savagery. They were also isolated; the civilizations of Egypt, Chaldea, India, and China developing separately, with slight influence upon each other. But gradually civilizations spread, met, interacted, synthesized. Finally, in Europe, a great civilizing tide set in, first displaying itself in the "Classic" civilization of Greece and Rome, and persisting down to the "Western Civilization" of our days.  A remarkable fact about civilization is its intensification of features already observed on the savage and barbarian planes. The civilized man has vastly more security, power, opportunity, comfort, leisure, than has the barbarian or savage; he has amassed a wealth of instruments, possessions, and ideas infinitely transcending the paltry hoards of earlier days; he lives in a "man-made" environment astoundingly different from the "state of nature." This is especially true of modern Western civilization. Our civilization may be inferior to others in some respects. It may lack the beauty of  7 the Greek, the durability of the Chinese, the spirituality of the Mediaeval.


But in dynamic energy, in mastery over the forces of nature, and in all-round efficiency it far transcends anything the world has ever seen.  In fact, within the past century we have broken the age-old tempo of material progress and have leaped clear over into a new self-made world. Down to a trifle over a century ago man's material progress had been a gradual -- a very gradual -- evolution. His tools, though more numerous, were mainly elaborations of those discovered by his remote ancestors. A few instruments like the printing press and the mariner's compass were about the only notable innovations. Man's control over natural resources had likewise not greatly expanded. With the exception of gunpowder, he had tapped no new sources of material energy since very ancient times. His chief source of power was muscle, animal and human (do we not still reckon in "horse-power"?), and, for the rest, he filled his sails with the breeze and turned clumsy waterwheels by using brooks and streams. But the ancients had done all these things. As for methods of communication, they had, if anything, deteriorated.


In the year 1800, there was no system of highways which equaled the Roman roads, no posting-service as quick as Caesar's, no method of signaling which could compare with the semaphore "telegraphy" of the Persians, and probably no ship which could not have been overhauled by a Phoenician galley in a moderate sea. 

Suddenly, astoundingly, all was changed. The hidden forces of nature yielded themselves wholesale, as though  8 at the wave of a magician's wand. Steam, electricity, petrol, and a whole series of mysterious "rays" and "waves" gave man powers of which he had not even dreamed. These powers were promptly harnessed to innumerable machines which soon transformed every phase of human existence. Production and transportation were alike revolutionized, distance was well-nigh abolished, and the very planet shrunk to the measure of human hands. In other words, man suddenly entered a new material world, differing not merely in degree but in kind from that of his grandfathers.  Now all of this inspired modern man with that spirit of confidence and optimistic hope in an illimitably glorious future which characterized the greater part of the nineteenth century. And yet, a little reflection and a modicum of historical knowledge should have made intelligent persons do some hard thinking. Modern civilization was not the first civilization. It was merely the last of a long series of civilizations which had bloomed gloriously -- and had then stagnated, decayed, or utterly perished. Furthermore, save for a few exceptional cases where civilizations were uprooted in their prime by a blast of foreign conquest, the basic cause of disaster was always a decline or breakdown from within. Here, obviously, was food for thought. And, as a matter of fact, a large number of thoughtful persons gave the matter their earnest consideration. Was our glorious modern civilization ultimately destined to be "one with Nineveh or Tyre"? So it might seem: unless, perchance, ours turned out to be the "exception  9 which proves the rule." But what, then, was this "rule" which foredoomed all civilizations to eventual decline? Despite much theorizing, the answers are not convincing.


Certain thinkers elaborated "The Law of Civilization and Decay." This fatalistic theory asserted that civilizations, like individuals, have their cycle of youth, maturity, senescence, and death. But what was the cycle? Some civilizations, like those of Egypt and China, endured for thousands of years, others for centuries; still others for a few brief generations. Obviously, no statistical curve could be plotted, and the idea was discredited. Of course, other theories were elaborated. The ruin of civilizations was variously ascribed to luxury, vice, town life, irreligion, and much more besides. Yet all these theories somehow failed to satisfy. They might be shown to have been contributing causes in particular cases, but they could not account universally for the phenomena of declining civilization.  Within the past two decades, however, the rapid progress of biological knowledge has thrown a flood of light on this vexed question, and has enabled us to frame a theory so in accordance with known facts that is seems to offer substantially the correct answer.  And this answer is that, in the last analysis, civilization always depends upon the qualities of the people who are the bearers of it. All these vast accumulations of instruments and ideas, massed and welded into marvelous structures rising harmoniously in glittering majesty, rest upon living foundations -- upon the men and women who create and sustain them. So long as those men and  10 women are able to support it, the structure rises, broad based and serene; but let the living foundations prove unequal to the task, and the mightiest civilization sags, cracks, and at last crashes down into chaotic ruin. 


Civilization thus depends absolutely upon the quality of its human supporters. Mere numbers mean nothing. The most brilliant civilization the world has ever seen arose in Athens -- a tiny community where the number of free-men (i.e., genuine Athenians) numbered perhaps 50,000 all told. We therefore see that, for civilization to arise at all, a superior human stock is first necessary; while to perfect, or even to maintain that civilization, the human stock must be kept superior. And these are requirements more exacting than might be imagined. Surveying human history, we find that superior stocks are the exception rather than the rule. We have already seen how many races of men have never risen above the planes of savagery or barbarism, while relatively few races have shown the ability to create high and enduring civilizations. 


Furthermore, even inside the superior racial groups there exists a similar differentiation. When we speak of a "superior race" we do not imply that all the members of that race stand on the same lofty plane. Of course, the average level runs higher than do the averages of less favored races. But besides this statistical consideration there is the even more important fact that within the higher group itself there exist a relatively large number of very superior individuals, characterized by unusual energy, ability, talent, or genius. It is this elite which leavens the group and initiates progress. Here, again, we  11 see the supreme importance of quality. In no human society has the percentage of really superior individuals even been large -- in fact, their percentage has been always statistically negligible. Their influence, however, has been incalculable. Athens was not made up of Platos or Xenophons: it had its quota of dullards, knaves, and fools -- as is vividly shown in the immortal satires of Aristophanes. Yet the dynamic power of its elite made Athens the glory of the world, and only when the Athenian stock ceased to produce superiors did Athens sink into insignificance.  Thus we see that civilization depends absolutely upon quality, while quality, in turn, depends upon inheritance. Environment may bring out all there is in a man, but heredity predetermines what there is to bring. We now begin to see the fallacy of such fatalistic notions as "The Law of Civilization and Decay."

Civilizations, unlike living organisms, have no appointed cycle of life and death. Given a high-type stock producing an adequate quota of superior individuals, and a civilization might be immortal.  Why, then, has this never occurred? It has not occurred mainly because of three destructive tendencies which have always, sooner or later, brought civilizations to decline and ruin. These tendencies are: (1) the tendency to structural overloading; (2) the tendency to biological regression; (3) the tendency to atavistic revolt. Here are the three grim Nemeses that have dogged the footsteps of the most promising peoples. Let us consider them in turn.  We have observed how civilizations, as they progress, inevitably become more complex. Each succeeding generation elaborates the social environment of the past, makes fresh additions, and passes on to the next generation, which repeats the process in turn. This ability to transmit social acquirements, both material and mental, is one of the chief points marking man off from the animals. It has, in fact, been happily termed "social heredity." Because of "social heredity" each human generation is able to start at a higher environment level, and is not forced, like the animals, to depend upon instinct and blind experience. Indeed, "social heredity" forms the basis of all those theories which assert that environment is the chief factor in human progress and which minimize true (i.e., biological) heredity as a minor or even negligible factor.  These "environmentalist" arguments, however, omit one essential fact which vitiates their conclusions. This fact is that, while hereditary qualities are implanted in the individual with no action on his part, social acquirements are taken over only at the cost of distinct effort. How great this effort may become is easily seen by the long years of strenuous mental labor required in modern youth to assimilate the knowledge already gained by adults. That old saying, "There is no royal road to learning," illustrates the hard fact that each successive generation must tread the same thorny path if the acquirements of the past are to be retained. 

Of course, it is obvious that the more acquirements increase, the longer and steeper the path must be. And this raises the query: May there not come a point where the youthful traveler will be unable to scale the height -- where the effort required will be beyond his powers?  Well, this is precisely what has happened numberless times in the past. It is happening to multitudes of individuals about us every day. When it occurs on a sufficiently grand scale we witness those social regressions of entire communities which we call a "decline in civilization." A "decline in civilization" means that the social environment has outrun inherited capacity. Furthermore, the grim frequency of such declines throughout history seems to show that in every highly developed society the increasingly massive, complex superstructure of civilization tends to overload the human foundations.  Now why does this overloading in high civilizations always tend to take place? For the very simple reason that the complexity (and, therefore, the burden) of a civilization may increase with tremendous rapidity to an inconceivable degree; whereas the capacity of its human bearers remains virtually constant or positively declines.  The sobering truth was until recently obscured by the wide-spread belief (first elaborated about a century ago by the French scientist Lamarck) that acquired characteristics were inherited. In other words, it used to be thought that the acquirements of one generation could be passed on by actual inheritance to the next. Lamarcks's theory excited enthusiastic hopes, and young men contemplating matrimony used to go in for "high thinking" in order to have brainy sons, while expectant mothers inspired their months of gestation by reading  the classics, confident that their offspring would be born with a marked taste for good literature. To-day this amiable doctrine is exploded, virtually all biologists now agreeing that acquired characteristics are not inherited.  An abundant weight of evidence proves that, during the entire historic period at any rate, mankind has made no racial progress in either physical power or brain capacity. The skeletal remains of the ancients show them to have possessed brains and bodies fully equal to our own. And these anatomical observations are confirmed by the teachings of history. The earliest civilized peoples of whom we have any knowledge displayed capacities, initiative, and imagination quite comparable to ours. Of course, their stock of social experience was very much less than ours, but their inherent qualities cannot be deemed inferior. Certainly these ancient peoples produced their full share of great men. Can we show greater philosophers than Plato or Aristotle, greater scientists than Archimedes or Ptolemy, greater generals than Caesar or Alexander, greater poets than Homer or Hesiod, greater spiritual guides than Buddha or Jesus? Surely, the peoples who produced such immortal personalities ranked not beneath us in the biological scale.  But if this is not so; if even the highest human types have made no perceptible biological advance during the last ten thousand years; what does this mean? It means that all the increasingly vast superstructures of civilization which have arisen during those millennia have been raised on similar human foundations. It means that men have been called upon to carry heavier loads  with no correlative increase of strength to bear them. The glitter of civilization has so blinded us to the inner truth of things that we have long believed that, as a civilization progressed, the quality of the human stock concerned in building it progressed too. In other words, we have imagined that we saw an improving race, whereas all we actually saw was a race expressing itself under improving conditions.  A dangerous delusion this! Especially for us, whose civilization is the most complex the world has ever seen, and whose burden is, therefore, the heaviest ever borne. If past civilizations have crushed men beneath the load, what may happen to our civilization, and ourselves?  Our analysis has thus far shown that civilizations tend toward structural overloading, both from their own increasing complexity and also from the influence of other civilizations, which add sudden strains and stresses hitherto unknown.

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