Protected: Perused with Pleasure in 2018: My Top 5 Books

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Protected: Perused with Pleasure in 2018: My Top 5 Books

Bernardo Bertolucci and The Conformist

Reputation-wise, Bernardo Bertolucci (1941-2018) missed a good bet by not dying a quarter-century ago, rather than lingering on for years of illness and diminishing fame. Orson Welles spent his lengthy dotage introducing himself to new generations as a pitchman for Gallo Wine, and that seemed pretty sad, but at least people knew who he was. When the equally talented Bertolucci died on November 26 he had almost no public profile at all.

“Director of Last Tango in Paris Dies at 77,” said the New York Times, damning him with his most memorably lurid, and memorably mediocre, film. Most obituaries and film columns remembered him for that, and his Oscar-sweep for The Last Emperor in 1987.

Twenty-five years ago Bertolucci was still front-and-center in popular consciousness.  If his latest, early-90s films were perverse and inaccessible (The Sheltering Sky, Little Buddha), that didn’t matter. The Last Emperor Oscars were a recent memory, and his signature works of the 1970s (The Conformist, Last Tango, 1900) still stood tall in the cultural landscape, even if critics regarded them as self-indulgent. The reputation of Tango will forever be tarred by the anal-rape-with-butter scene, as well as fatuous interviews that stars Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider gave during the movie’s opening in late 1972. 1900 came out in 1976 and is probably the longest feature production ever released. It starts out with a man screaming that Giuseppe Verdi has died, and goes downhill from there, wandering all over the place for over five hours of political passion and manure, along with the most coprophagy you’ll see outside of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Saló.

But then we come to The Conformist (1970)endlessly gorgeous and influential. For a film historian, the Bertolucci of this period is intriguing because of the cross-fertilization that went on between him and director Francis Ford Coppola. They became friends right around the time Bertolucci was making The Conformist and Coppola was doing preparatory work for The Godfather.

Visually and musically The Conformist is very similar to The Godfather (and Godfather Part II), for the very good reason that Coppola cribbed ideas from his friend. You have scenes in dim, dark-wood rooms; venetian-blind shadows; musical crescendoes behind shots of fallen, drifting leaves. People often think that Coppola gave his Godfather films a vague “Italian movie” look, but what he really did was copy The Conformist.

The two directors also shared some actors in those 70s films. Bertolucci and Coppola both use Brando (in The Godfather and Last Tango) and then Robert DeNiro (Godfather II and 1900) during DeNiro’s brief, glittering zenith as an bankable, international leading man. (The only other one at the time would probably be Gerard Depardieu, playing opposite DeNiro in 1900.) My favorite shared talent, though, is Gastone Moschin, the comic-relief thug who portrays Special Agent Manganiello in The Conformist, and then, a few years later, turns up in The Godfather Part II . . . playing a similar role as Fanucci, the Black Hand capo whom the young Don Corleone (DeNiro) kills.

Jean-Louis Trintignant, Gastone Moschin

Like most Italian and French auteurs, Bertolucci was a very character-driven director. He didn’t really do plot, in the sense of having some overarching quest or chase that holds our attention. His people don’t have much agency; they’re passive actors, victims of history and random events. The usual Bertolucci technique is to have characters discover each other, talk or kiss or fight; and let a story unfold from there. Some directors and screenwriters (e.g., David Mamet) consider this a wretched way to make a film; plot must be the priority.

For Bertolucci the technique worked pretty well, so long as he had a basic narrative to work from (a novel, say). But his fatalistic outlook meant that he sometimes ended up telling a very different story from the original text. This is what happens in The Conformist, based on a novel by Alberto Moravia. Moravia was part-Jewish with Fascist family connections, and his somewhat surreal, episodic novel was intended as a kind of apologia for his family’s politics. Bertolucci takes the broad outline of Moravia’s story but subverts the novel’s plot and intent.

Most thumbnail descriptions of the film are very bad; they really describe what the novel was supposed to be about. An example, from imdb-dot-com:

A weak-willed Italian man becomes a fascist flunky who goes abroad to arrange the assassination of his old teacher, now a political dissident

But that’s not really the plot of the film. The film’s anti-hero, Marcello (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a Roman civil servant, is devious but not particularly weak-willed. He wishes to call on his old philosophy professor, an anti-Fascist currently in exile in Paris. He uses the pretext of a honeymoon trip to visit Paris, and meantime alerts the Fascist intelligence services that he’s willing to report to back to them. He’s covering all his bases and saving his job, you see, in case someone gets suspicious. And then, when Marcello gets to Paris, the professor tries to test him by asking him to mail a confidential letter, but Marcello spots the ruse and refuses, thereby assuring his old teacher that he is not, in fact, a Fascist spy.

That’s all confusing enough for the core plot. But then Marcello forms a passionate interest in the professor’s young ballet-teacher wife (Dominque Sanda), though she seems more interested in Marcello’s new bride, Giulia (Stefania Sandrelli). The setting of the film is 1938, but the subdued kinkiness was put in for 1970-style spice.

And Marcello’s little spy mission is expanded. His handlers order him to kill the professor. This was never part of Marcello’s plan at all. When murder-time comes, after a long cross-country pursuit, Marcello won’t get out of the car. He watches impassively through the car window as some Fascist henchmen kill the professor and his wife in the snowy hills of Savoie. This cold-blooded set-piece doesn’t make an awful lot of sense; up until now Marcello has been a sympathetic figure. Bertolucci presumably added the scene to give Marcello one token instance of villainy.

The script is convoluted, and stuffed with flash-forwards and flashbacks, and even flashbacks-within-flashbacks. Then, on top of these other distractions you have the film’s architectural-travelogue beauty, shot in blue-greens like a 1930s Ektachrome slide. Nevertheless its narrative is tighter than the novel’s. The book strains to make some vague, didactic point about the attractions and pitfalls of Fascism. Marcello in the novel suffers from obsessive thoughts that make him seek the protective cover of utter normality. Hence,  a “conformist.”

But this is very abstract, a hard thing to get up on the screen. (Perhaps a Jacques Tati comedy?)  So instead of a cowardly conformist, Bertolucci gives us a priggish haute-bourgeois with an overwhelming disdain for degeneracy. Marcello’s mother is a rich junkie who gets morphine and sex from her Japanese chauffeur. His embarrassing father (a wife-and-child abuser in the novel) is an early Fascist Party supporter who’s gone insane. Marcello looks down his nose at the slimy Fascisti he has to work with, just as he has utter contempt for Italy’s new Nazi allies. The film’s Marcello isn’t a weak-willed worry-wart, he’s a snobbish Don Quixote, a foppish dude who wishes to clean up Dodge.

This elegant and influential motion picture did not get wide distribution in America, and is virtually unknown outside the art-house and film-critic communities. For many years there was neither a quality English-dubbed version, nor (preferably) a good subtitled edition. This has changed in recent years with the issue of a revised, “extended” cut.

Some of the bad translations in the original release were comical. For example, when Marcello tells his wife about his old professor, he recalls that the students thought him a divine fool: “We called him Smerdyakov,” says Marcello (in Italian).

The subtitle translators presumably had a working knowledge of Italian, and French, and English, and some German too; but they didn’t know their Dostoyevsky. And they must have really puzzled over this one, because in the end they came up with the English subtitle: “We called him shithead.”

 

Bernardo Bertolucci and The Conformist

SCHNEEWITTCHEN

Illustration, vermutlich von Theodor Hosemann (1852)Illustration, vermutlich von Theodor Hosemann (1852).

Es war einmal mitten im Winter, und die Schneeflocken fielen wie Federn vom Himmel herab, da saß eine Königin an einem Fenster, das einen Rahmen von schwarzem Ebenholz hatte, und nähte. Es geschah, dass sie sie sich mit der Nadel in den Finger stach, und es fielen drei Tropfen Blut in den Schnee. Und weil das Rote im weißen Schnee so schön aussah, dachte sie bei sich: „Hätte ich ein Kind so weiß wie Schnee, so rot wie Blut und so schwarz wie das Holz an dem Rahmen.“ Bald darauf bekam sie ein Töchterlein. Und da es so aussah, wie es die Königin gewünscht hatte, wurde es das Schneewittchen genannt. Und wie das Kind geboren war, starb die Königin.
Nach einem Jahr nahm sich der König eine andere Frau. Sie war eine schöne Frau, aber sie war stolz und konnte nicht leiden, dass sie an Schönheit von jemandem übertroffen werden sollte. Sie hatte einen wunderbaren Spiegel. Wenn sie vor den trat und sich darin beschaute, sprach sie:„Spieglein, Spieglein an der Wand,
wer ist die Schönste im ganzen Land?“

So antwortete der Spiegel:

„Frau Königin, Ihr seid die Schönste im Land.“

Da war sie zufrieden, denn sie wusste, dass der Spiegel die Wahrheit sagte. Schneewittchen aber wuchs heran und wurde immer schöner. Als es sieben Jahre alt war, war es so schön wie der klare Tag und schöner als die Königin selbst. Als diese einmal ihren Spiegel fragte:

„Spieglein, Spieglein an der Wand,
wer ist die Schönste im ganzen Land?“,

so antwortete er:

„Frau Königin, Ihr seid die Schönste hier,
aber Schneewittchen ist tausendmal schöner als Ihr.“

Da erschrak die Königin und wurde gelb und grün vor Neid. Da rief sie einen Jäger und sprach: „Bring das Kind hinaus in den Wald. Du sollst es töten und mir Lunge und Leber zum Wahrzeichen mitbringen.“ Als er Schneewittchens unschuldiges Herz durchbohren wollte, fing es an zu weinen und flehte um sein Leben. Der Jäger hatte Mitleid und ließ es laufen. Und ihm fiel ein Stein von seinem Herzen, weil er es nicht zu töten brauchte. Als gerade ein junges Wildschwein daher gesprungen kam, stach er es ab, nahm Lunge und Leber heraus und brachte sie als Wahrzeichen der Königin mit. Der Koch musste sie in Salz kochen, und das boshafte Weib aß sie auf und meinte, sie hätte Schneewittchens Lunge und Leber gegessen.

Nun war das arme Kind in dem großen Wald mutterseelenallein und lief umher. Am Abend sah es ein kleines Häuschen und ging hinein, um sich auszuruhen. In dem Häuschen war alles klein und sehr zierlich und reinlich. Da stand ein weißgedecktes Tischlein mit sieben kleinen Tellern, jedes Tellerlein mit seinem Löffelein, außerdem sieben Messerlein und Gäbelein und sieben Becherlein. Schneewittchen, weil es so hungrig und durstig war, aß von jedem Tellerlein ein wenig Gemüse und Brot und trank aus jedem Becherlein einen Tropfen Wein, denn es wollte nicht einem allein alles wegnehmen. Dann legte es sich in die Bettchen, aber keins passte: Das eine war zu lang, das andere zu kurz, bis endlich das siebente recht war. Und darin blieb es liegen und schlief ein.

Als es ganz dunkel geworden war, kamen die Herren von dem Häuslein, das waren die sieben Zwerge. Sie zündeten ihre sieben Lichtlein an und sahen, dass jemand im Häuslein gewesen war. Jeder der sieben Zwerge entdeckte, dass seine Sachen benutzt worden waren. Der siebente Zwerg aber, als er in sein Bett sah, erblickte Schneewittchen, das lag darin und schlief. „Ei, du mein Gott!“, riefen sie, „was ist das Kind so schön!“ Sie hatten so große Freude, dass sie es nicht aufweckten, sondern im Bettlein fortschlafen ließen. Der siebente Zwerg aber schlief bei seinen Freunden, bei jedem eine Stunde, da war die Nacht herum.

Als es Morgen war, erwachte Schneewittchen, und wie es die sieben Zwerge sah, erschrak es. Sie waren aber freundlich und fragten: „Wie heißt du?“ „Ich heiße Schneewittchen“, antwortete es. „Wie bist du in unser Haus gekommen?“, fragten die Zwerge. Da erzählte es ihnen alles, was passiert war. Die Zwerge hatten Mitleid und boten Schneewittchen an, bei ihnen zu bleiben, wenn es ihren Haushalt gut machen würde. So sollte es ihm an nichts fehlen. Schneewittchen willigte von Herzen gern ein, und blieb bei ihnen. Die Königin aber dachte nicht anders, als wäre sie wieder die Erste und Allerschönste, trat vor ihren Spiegel und sprach:

„Spieglein, Spieglein an der Wand,
wer ist die Schönste im ganzen Land?“

Da antwortete der Spiegel:

„Frau Königin, Ihr seid die Schönste hier,
aber Schneewittchen über den Bergen
bei den sieben Zwergen
ist noch tausendmal schöner als Ihr.“

Da erschrak sie, denn sie wusste, dass der Spiegel die Wahrheit sprach, und merkte, dass der Jäger sie betrogen hatte und Schneewittchen noch am Leben war. So färbte sie sich das Gesicht und kleidete sich wie eine alte Marktfrau und war nicht mehr zu erkennen. In dieser Gestalt ging sie über die sieben Berge zu den sieben Zwergen, klopfte an die Tür und rief: „Schöne Ware zu verkaufen!“ Schneewittchen guckte zum Fenster heraus und rief: „Guten Tag, liebe Frau, was habt Ihr zu verkaufen?“ „Schnürriemen in jeder Farbe“, antwortete sie und holte einen hervor, der aus bunter Seide geflochten war. „Die ehrliche Frau kann ich hereinlassen“, dachte Schneewittchen, riegelte die Türe auf und kaufte sich den hübschen Schnürriemen. Die Alte legte ihr den Schürriemen an. Schneewittchen ahnte nichts Böses, aber die Alte schnürte geschwind und schnürte so fest, dass dem Schneewittchen der Atem verging, und wie tot hinfiel. „Nun bist du die Schönste gewesen“, sprach sie und eilte hinaus.

Als die sieben Zwerge kurz danach nach Hause kamen, sahen sie ihr liebes Schneewittchen auf der Erde liegen, als wäre es tot. Sie hoben es in die Höhe, und weil sie sahen, dass es zu fest geschnürt war, schnitten sie den Schnürriemen entzwei: Da fing es an, ein wenig zu atmen, und wurde nach und nach wieder lebendig. Als die Zwerge hörten, was geschehen war, sprachen sie: „Die alte Marktfrau war niemand anderes als die gottlose Königin: Hüte dich und lass keinen Menschen herein, wenn wir nicht bei dir sind.“

Das böse Weib aber, als es nach Hause gekommen war, ging vor den Spiegel und fragte:

„Spieglein, Spieglein an der Wand,
wer ist die Schönste im ganzen Land?“

Da antwortete er wie sonst:

„Frau Königin, Ihr seid die Schönste hier,
aber Schneewittchen über den Bergen
bei den sieben Zwergen
ist noch tausendmal schöner als Ihr.“

Als sie das hörte, erschrak sie und machte mit Hexenkünsten einen giftigen Kamm, der Schneewittchen zugrunde richten sollte. Sie verkleidete sich erneut, so dass sie Schneewittchen überlisten konnte. Sie bot dem Kind den Kamm an, und da er ihm so gut gefiel, öffnete es die Tür. Die Alte kämmte ihm die Haare. Doch kaum hatte sie den Kamm in die Haare gesteckt, wirkte das Gift darin und das Mädchen fiel besinnungslos nieder. Als die sieben Zwerglein am Abend Schneewittchen wie tot auf der Erde liegen sahen, hatten sie gleich die Stiefmutter in Verdacht, suchten nach und fanden den giftigen Kamm. Kaum hatten sie ihn herausgezogen, so kam Schneewittchen wieder zu sich und erzählte, was vorgegangen war.

Die Königin stellte sich daheim vor den Spiegel und sprach:

„Spieglein, Spieglein an der Wand,
wer ist die Schönste im ganzen Land?“

Da antwortete er wie vorher „Frau Königin, Ihr seid die Schönste hier,
aber Schneewittchen über den Bergen
bei den sieben Zwergen
ist noch tausendmal schöner als Ihr.“

Als sie den Spiegel so reden hörte, zitterte und bebte sie vor Zorn. „Schneewittchen soll sterben“, rief sie. Darauf machte sie einen giftigen Apfel, der äußerlich schön aussah. Aber wer ein Stückchen davon aß, der musste sterben. Die Stiefmutter kam als Bauersfrau verkleidet wieder zu Schneewittchen, und da es sie nicht erkannte, öffnete sie die Tür, obwohl es die Zwerge ihr verboten hatten. Ihr gefiel der Apel sehr und als Schneewittchen sah, dass die Bäuerin die grüne Hälfte aß, konnte es nicht länger widerstehen und nahm die rote Hälfte. Der Apfel war aber so künstlich gemacht, dass die rote Hälfte allein vergiftet war, und kaum hatte es einen Bissen davon im Mund, so fiel es tot zur Erde nieder. Da lachte die Königin und sprach: „Diesmal können dich die Zwerge nicht wieder erwecken.“ Und als sie daheim den Spiegel befragte: „Spieglein, Spieglein an der Wand, wer ist die Schönste im ganzen Land?“

So antwortete er endlich: „Frau Königin, Ihr seid die Schönste im Land.“

Da hatte ihr neidisches Herz Ruhe.
Als die Zwerge abends nach Hause kamen, fanden sie Schneewittchen auf der Erde liegen, und es ging kein Atem mehr aus seinem Mund. Sie hoben es auf, suchten, ob sie was Giftiges fänden, schnürten es auf, kämmten ihm die Haare, wuschen es mit Wasser und Wein, aber es half alles nichts: Das liebe Kind war tot und blieb tot. Da es noch wie ein lebender Mensch aussah, sprachen sie: „Wir können es nicht in die schwarze Erde versenken“, und ließen einen durchsichtigen Sarg aus Glas machen, dass man es von allen Seiten sehen konnte, legten es hinein und schrieben mit goldenen Buchstaben seinen Namen darauf, und dass es eine Königstochter wäre. Dann setzten sie den Sarg hinaus auf den Berg, und einer von ihnen blieb immer dabei und bewachte ihn.

Nun lag Schneewittchen lange Zeit in dem Sarg und veränderte sich nicht, sondern sah aus, als wenn es schliefe. Es geschah aber, dass ein Königssohn in den Wald geriet und zu dem Zwergenhaus kam. Er sah auf dem Berg den Sarg und das schöne Schneewittchen darin. Da sprach er zu den Zwergen: „Lasst mir den Sarg, ich will euch geben, was ihr dafür haben wollt.“ Aber die Zwerge antworteten: „Wir geben ihn nicht um alles Gold in der Welt.“ Da sprach er: „So schenkt mir ihn, denn ich kann nicht leben, ohne Schneewittchen zu sehen, ich will es ehren und hochachten wie mein Liebstes.“ Da empfanden die guten Zwerglein Mitleid mit ihm und gaben ihm den Sarg. Als der Königssohn ihn nun von seinen Dienern auf den Schultern forttragen ließ, geschah es, dass sie über einen Strauch stolperten, und von der Erschütterung fuhr das giftige Apfelstück, das Schneewittchen abgebissen hatte, aus dem Hals. Und nicht lange, so öffnete es die Augen, hob den Deckel vom Sarg in die Höhe und richtete sich auf und war wieder lebendig. Der Königssohn war voll Freude und erzählte, was geschehen war, und sprach: „Ich habe dich lieber als alles auf der Welt: Komm mit mir in das Schloss meines Vaters. Du sollst meine Frau werden.“ Schneewittchen ging mit ihm und ihre Hochzeit wurde mit großer Pracht und Herrlichkeit angeordnet.

Zu dem Fest wurde aber auch Schneewittchens gottlose Stiefmutter eingeladen. Wie sie sich nun mit schönen Kleidern bekleidet hatte, trat sie vor den Spiegel und sprach:

„Spieglein, Spieglein an der Wand,
wer ist die Schönste im ganzen Land?“

Der Spiegel antwortete:

„Frau Königin, Ihr seid die Schönste hier,
aber die junge Königin ist tausendmal schöner als Ihr.“

Da stieß die böse Frau einen Fluch aus. Sie wollte zuerst gar nicht auf die Hochzeit gehen, doch sie musste die junge Königin sehen. Und als sie hineintrat, erkannte sie Schneewittchen, und vor Angst und Schrecken stand sie da und konnte sich nicht rühren. Aber es waren schon eiserne Pantoffeln über das Kohlenfeuer gestellt worden. Sie wurden mit Zangen hereingetragen und vor sie hingestellt. Da musste sie in die rotglühenden Schuhe treten und so lange tanzen, bis sie tot zur Erde fiel.

SCHNEEWITTCHEN

Protected: Revilo P. Oliver and F. P. Yockey: Some Aspects of Criticism

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On the Trail of the “Blue Boys” Hoax

In the late 1980s, some people I knew perpetrated a hoax in the Los Angeles local media. I believe LA Weekly was used, maybe LA Magazine as well.

Briefly, it was alleged that there was a roving gang of fag-bashers calling themselves the Blue Boys. Spokesmen for these Blue Boys gave out ludicrous quotes that any sane person should have recognized as a “troll.”

However, this was long before the days of web-media, and people simply didn’t expect hoaxes and fake news, the way they do now. Moreover, since there was no internet presence to speak of, the Blue Boys hoax left no easily discoverable footprints that would turn up today in search engines.

What one can find is very scanty, on the order of bibliographic listings and third-hand references in quasi-scholarly books. Here are some snippets of a book published by Oxford University Press in 1995, oddly titled Lesbian, Gay, And Bisexual Identities Over the Lifespan, by D’Augelli & Patterson. Scribd link here.

Further searching brings up the original article, from the issue of LA Weekly, 26 August 1988, reprinted in Hate Crimes: Confronting Violence Against Lesbians and Gay Men, by Gregory M. Herek (SAGE, 1992). This means I saw the article shortly afterwards. Since I searched this on Google, I have only a portion of the “preview” version, saved in screenshots.
The above citations and reprint are by no means exhaustive. I’ve also found a crazy book from Routledge in London, called In the Name of Hate, cribbing the same quotes used in the top book, with mock-scholarly citations.
A point or two of textual criticism: the original piece from LA Weekly introduces “Matt” as “a true low-life.” Now, anyone who’s ever done any journalism, even on the LA Weekly level (I have), knows that you don’t bring in your primary contact at the top of the story and characterize him with a generic insult. As a practical matter it’s risky and unremunerative. If “Matt” is really a scary guy, he and his pals could likely come after you.
And even if you do have contempt for “Matt,” it would be stupid to show it. You would want to treat him leniently, and even flatter him. After all, he’s your meal-ticket and a possible introduction to further articles and maybe more profitable endeavors. A book contract perhaps.
The purported author of the LA Weekly article, “Michael Collins,” is posing as an investigative journalist, yet in this article he does nothing to invite the trust of his quarry. One has to wonder why and how “Michael Collins” got to meet “Matt,” and won his limited trust, in the first place.
Therefore: not only is writer “Michael Collins” a fake or at least a pseud, but “Matt” and his whole gang are invented.
Of course, going into this I knew that the story was made up out of thin air, in order to make a few bucks on the theme of gay-bashing. But it’s still astonishing that LA Weekly fell for this nonsense, and that the lefty idiots who cited our “Michael Collins” didn’t perceive the fakery.
Well…maybe they didn’t care about it one way or another.
Anyway, I invite the reader to research this “Michael Collins” and tell me about his background and any further work.
On the Trail of the “Blue Boys” Hoax

Lothrop Stoddard’s Re-Forging America (1927)

June 29 is the birthday of T. (for Theodore) Lothrop Stoddard (1883-1950)—scholar, lecturer, journalist, polymath, and author of many, many books.

Stoddard is best known for 1920’s The Rising Tide of Color: The Threat Against White World Supremacy, discussed two years ago here. Along with Madison Grant (1865-1937), author of The Passing of the Great Race (1916), and Prescott F. Hall (1868-1921), eugenics crusader and founder of the Immigration Restriction League, Stoddard can rightly be considered a father of the sweeping Immigration Act of 1924 (aka Johnson-Reed Act).

This Act pegged annual immigration quotas to the American people’s national origins as of 1890. It was our basic immigration and naturalization law for over forty years, until those quotas were abolished by the disastrous Hart-Celler Act of 1965.

Passage of the 1924 Act was of course a great triumph for Lothrop Stoddard, and for the countless others who labored for the cause of racial sanity and national sovereignty. What is not widely known is that Stoddard wrote a follow-up book to celebrate the Act and detail its history. That is Re-Forging America: The Story of Our Nationhood, published in 1927 by Charles Scribner’s Sons.

This book soon went out of print and is nearly impossible to obtain today in its original edition. The single copy I found in a large research library is falling apart, its yellowing pages crumbling to the touch. Fortunately someone thought to digitize its tawny pages for posterity, and you may now read it online.

Stoddard explains its purpose in his Preface: “[H]ow the bright promise of our early days was darkened by the disaster of the Civil War and by the blight of alien factors… [W]e awoke to the peril and are to-day engaged in the inspiring task of fulfilling the early promise of American life.”

The problems of national reconstruction are many. The closing of the gates to mass-immigration is merely a first step. Alien elements in our population must be assimilated. Political and cultural dissensions should be harmonized.

Above all, our great negro problem must be realistically and constructively dealt with. The dilemma of color, at once the most chronic and the most acute of American issues, has long been regarded with despairing pessimism. In these pages we have suggested at least a tentative solution which we have termed Bi-Racialism: The Key to Social Peace. [1]

As you might guess, “Bi-Racialism” is his proposal for a form of apartheid, not dissimilar to that which then obtained in the South and elsewhere, but one codified more fully into national law, yet one providing fairness and dignity for the negro.

Altogether it’s a very sunny snapshot of 1920’s American optimism, in the immediate aftermath of the 1924 Act. Stoddard presumed that we would not be so foolish as to overturn the new Act a few decades down the road. He did not foresee that the history behind the Act would quickly be forgotten, along with this explanatory volume.

 *  *  *

The first section of Re-Forging America gives the familiar history of colonization and the nation’s founding, mainly by settlers from the British Isles, with a fair number of other participants from northwest Europe. From the time of the Revolution until about 1820 there was only minimal immigration to the new country. This was partly due to the almost incessant wars of the Napoleonic period, but it was mainly because of the difficulty of transporting oneself across the ocean.

The post-1820 story he breaks into two overlapping sagas, that of the Old Immigrants, consisting of “English, Scotch, Irish, German, Scandinavian, Dutch, and a few others of minor importance” (pp. 327-328)—essentially the same as the founding stock; and the New Immigrants, who began to arrive in great waves a couple of decades after the Civil War. While not necessarily “unassimilable” throughout, these newcomers had cultures, national origins, and patterns of arrival so different from the older groups that their alienation from the country at large was noticeable. For the first time, immigration, in both type and numbers, became a national concern.[2] And those numbers were huge:

It was in the period from 1890 to 1914 that immigration really inundated America. During those twenty-four years no less than 17,500,000 immigrants entered the United States! Furthermore, it was during just those years that immigration became most “alien” in character, since the bulk of these later millions were of South and East European or even of Asiatic origin; thereby bringing into America racial stocks, ideas, and attitudes toward life, which had previously been well-nigh unknown (p. 92).

Contrasting these the with the still-continuing Old Immigration, Stoddard makes the insightful observation that the “Anglo-Saxon” element (which he describes as English, Scots, Ulster Protestants, and English-speaking Canadians):

forms the most numerous and constant stream of immigration which has ever entered America… Its volume may be judged by the fact that the Anglo-Saxon “immigrant” stock constitutes between 11,000,000 and 12,000,000 of our population.

Why is there so little mention of the Anglo-Saxon element in immigration? For a very significant reason. The Anglo-Saxon immigrant usually fits into America so well and assimilates so rapidly that his great numbers pass almost unnoticed (p. 106).

Of course this is the same point made by Pat Buchanan in 1992, when he said it would be far easier for Virginia to take in a million Englishmen, rather than a million Zulus.

The next two largest Old Immigration streams in Stoddard’s scheme are the “Celtic Irish” and the Germans, both of whom are slightly smaller numerically than the “Anglo Saxons,” as of 1927. Although present in America from Colonial times, these groups’ immigration numbers famously surged during the 1840s. Stoddard falls back on the commonplace 20th century fallacy that this was due to a “potato blight” in the case of Ireland, and “political exiles” in the case of Germany. Utter nonsense. The great driver of immigration in the period was the growth of steam transport, by water and rail; which made the two main ports of embarkation, Liverpool and Hamburg, easily accessible from the hinterlands. Steam also cut the time of transatlantic crossings in half (for those who could afford the cost), and created a vast surplus of slower, obsolescent ships, thereby providing rock-bottom steerage fares (for those who couldn’t). Immigration from the United Kingdom as a whole accordingly surged during this period, as did that from northwest Continental Europe.

The next group Stoddard counts among the Old Immigration is the Scandinavian portion, who largely arrived after 1870 (4,000,000 in population as of 1927). Finally, the Dutch and Flemings, whom he numbers at about a half-million (pp. 110-111).

Preparing to dissect the “New Immigration,” Stoddard first makes a nod to the Chinese problem, which was almost entirely a Californian affair, from mid-century till the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The basic issue was not anti-Chinese prejudice, or even that the Chinese were taking jobs from whites. Rather, Chinese were rapidly colonizing, and threatening to transform, that section of the country beyond recognition, much as they colonized Malaysia and threatened to do to Australia. He avers that if the Chinese had come to the Atlantic coast rather than the sparsely populated Pacific, America would have awakened to the Chinese problem, and that of the New Immigration from Europe, much sooner (p. 117).

This threatened change of national character to something “Asiatic” is one of Stoddard’s main complaints against the New Immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe. His racial codex seems embarrassingly rote today, with its talk of Nordic—Alpine—Mediterranean types; much like the fustier passages in The Dispossessed Majority.[3]

“Eastern Europe is next door to Asia… Scratch a Russian and you’ll find a Tartar” (p. 121).”The South Italians are a complex mixture of Mediterraneans with Asiatic and North African strains (chiefly Arab and Berber), together with a slight dash of negro blood” (p. 123).

Then we come to the Jews, and Stoddard is careful to parse out the differences: Sephardic versus Ashkenazic; German Jews versus Eastern Europeans. The Sephardic and German Jews are basically “no ‘problem'” (pp. 128-129). As for the Easterners: “They are very prolific, and now number well over 3,500,000,” and are roundly disliked by the others (p. 131). Stoddard treats the Jewish matter gingerly because he does not wish to upset the august publishing house of Scribner’s, or so we may assume. But he’s also repeating a cliché of his era, one that he probably heard at Harvard, and which persuasive German Jews were fond of encouraging: that they were upright and civilized, while the boychiks from Minsk and Pinsk were lowlifes who made people “anti-Semitic.”

Racial deficiencies, however, are not Stoddard’s core theme. He wants to make it clear that the flood-tide of New Immigration was not a natural influx of people seeking a better life, or wishing to live in the Land of the Free.  Rather, it was a byproduct of concerted, profitable maneuvers by special interests, most of them foreign:

The most prominent of these interests are the great steamship companies, which made enormous profits from the immigrant traffic, and which, being virtually all foreign-owned had absolutely no interest in what the immigrants they transported might do to America. The “steamship lobby” was one of the many selfish interests which long blocked effective immigration-restriction laws (p. 156).

And where else have we heard this routine? It sounds so much like the Agribusiness Lobby and their Congressional myrmidons, doesn’t it? Instructing that us we won’t have beefsteak tomatoes or Mother’s Day carnations if we don’t bring in another million mestizo peons this year.

 *  *  *

Looking toward the future, with the 1924 Act behind him, Stoddard becomes endearingly naïve as he addresses the negro problem. He sees that negro and mulatto agitators, with help from Bolshevik Russia, are forming secret societies and hope to cause riots and conflagrations. But the bulk of the negro people are peaceable, he notes, and they will see that it is in their best interests to reach an productive modus vivendi with the white folks. As example, Stoddard quotes some of these peaceable negro thinkers (Booker Washington and Jerome Dowd, inter alia) on the advantages of racial segregation:

“Segregation enables the negro to find among his own people as many opportunities in the higher walks as are found among the white people. He may be a merchant, banker, doctor, lawyer…” (p. 294, quoting Dowd)

I don’t mean to mock Stoddard’s noble sentiments. He saw the situation clearly, and named the dangers. What he probably couldn’t comprehend was how thoroughly the rot had already set in, even as we were celebrating the passage of the Johnson-Reed Act.

Notes

1. Lothrop Stoddard, Re-Forging America, p. viii. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1927.)

2. The author skips over a legend beloved of today’s pro-immigration activists: the so-called “Nativist” and “Know-Nothing” movements that came and went in the 1840s and 50s, under the leadership of a Jewish gadfly named Lewis C. Levin. Stoddard merely notes in passing that as a political force the Know-Nothings were both misdirected and ineffectual.

3. Wilmot Robertson, The Dispossessed Majority. (Cape Canaveral Fl: Howard Allen Press, 1972.)  Robertson may have cribbed a lot from this book of Stoddard’s. Not only are the racial discussions similar, but there is even a curious, obtrusive mention of the Gracchi.

Lothrop Stoddard’s Re-Forging America (1927)