Lothrop Stoddard in Geopolitics

stoddard-duotoneJune 29 is the birthday of T. (for Theodore) Lothrop Stoddard (1883-1950)—scholar, lecturer, geopolitical and racial theorist, and author of perhaps eighteen books.

For a century now, anyone with an interest in geopolitical and racial matters was bound, sooner or later, to come across Stoddard’s name and work. Although he held three degrees, including a doctorate from Harvard, in his career he was always foremost a journalist and popular lecturer rather than an academic scholar.

His first book was his PhD thesis, an authoritative but gruesome account of the early history of Haiti (The French Revolution in San Domingo, 1914). With the publication of the bestseller The Rising Tide of Color: The Threat Against White World Supremacy in 1920, Dr. Stoddard was soon a household word, a favored commencement speaker, and expert commentator in the press.

The success of this book made it possible for Stoddard and his publisher, Scribner’s, to build a kind of Rising Tide franchise: The New World of Islam (1921), The Revolt Against Civilization (1922), Racial Realities in Europe (1924), and Clashing Tides of Color (1935) are some books in this vein. Stoddard also turned his hand to biography on occasion, as well as travel, sociology, and international finance. For a while, Scribner’s were publishing a new Stoddard volume almost every year. 

The lecture circuit, and making new, arcane theories popular and accessible, came naturally to Stoddard. Raised mainly in Italy and widely traveled in Europe, he grew up the son of another popular lecturer and travel writer, John Lawson Stoddard (1850-1931).[1] Father Stoddard was a prolific author of books and articles, and died in Italy. Young Lothrop, however, seems to have spent most of his adult life in and around his family’s ancestral glebe of Brookline, Massachusetts.

The_Rising_Tide_of_Color_retouchedBecause so many of his early books touched upon racial matters and eugenics, Lothrop Stoddard today is often misunderstood as a faddish, sensationalist scaremonger, known mainly for spreading alarm about the “yellow peril” and the threat of the “brown races.” Of course he did turn his hand to subjects of “human biodiversity” (as we would call it in a later era), but a lot of this is due mainly to the times in which he wrote.

Through most of the 1920s, matters of race and eugenics were very much to the fore. This was the time the Johnson-Reed Act (aka Immigration Act of 1924) was passed, severely limiting national quotas of immigration, and when compulsory sterilization for the feeble-minded and disabled was the law in 30 states [2]; the time when Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. upheld one of these laws (Buck v. Bell, 1927) by declaring, “Three generations of imbecliles is enough.” And of course the racy titles that Scribner’s affixed to so many of those bestselling books may well raise eyebrows today. 

It has been Stoddard’s misfortune, moreover, to be forever confused with other contemporary writers on race and history, primarily Madison Grant whose The Passing of the Great Race (1916) presented a simple and forceful argument for the “Nordic theory” of history: essentially the idea that there are three large subgroups of Europeans—Nordic, Alpine, and Mediterranean,—with the Nordics at the top of the heap.[3] This basic theory itself was not new; its rough outline had been promoted in the 1800s by such writers as Comte de Gobineau and Houston Stewart Chamberlain. It was not a central interest of Stoddard’s, although he readily acknowledged differences in races and cultures. 

Nevertheless, in Madison Grant’s introduction to The Rising Tide of Color, Grant seems to be endorsing Stoddard’s book as an amplification of his own theories. All this is highly misleading, and causes one to wonder whether Grant ever got around to reading what Stoddard’s actually wrote.  Anyone picking up The Rising Tide of Color and reading only the introduction will get a very mistaken idea of what the book is really about, which is the dislocations and aftershocks of the Great War, and the effect of that disaster’s massive (40,000,000) slaughter within the white world. The continuing rise of Japan is predicted, but Stoddard’s attitude is that of concern, not contempt. Nevertheless, Stoddard afterwards bore a reputation as the “yellow peril” man, and this is almost certainly due to Madison Grant’s introduction.[4.] 

But if he was something more than merely a race-theory popularizer like Grant, what was Stoddard really? Where do we put him? Probably Stoddard is best defined as a geopolitical theorist, moving in the same philosophical space as such cartographically oriented thinkers as Karl Haushofer and Halford Mackinder. This is the school of thought that regards the literal shapes of countries, and their geographical location vis-a-vis the rest of the world—as well as their people’s ability to exploit seacoasts and other natural features—as the main determinants of national ascendancy.

Some of this worldview informs The Rising Tide of Color and The New World of Islam. But Stoddard fortifies it all with a missing factor that does not show up on a classroom map. A basic human element: fecundity, a people’s ability to breed; against which any theories of superior race or civilization pale into insignificance.

Of course brute fecundity by itself is not enough.There is another relentless dynamic at play in an evolving civilization: the ability to breed the kind of human beings who can keep up with the culture. 

The truth is that as a civilization advances it leaves behind multitudes of human beings who have not the capacity to keep pace…. Some are congenital savages or barbarians; men who could not fit into any civilization, and who consequently fall behind from the start.  They are not degenerates; they are “primitives,” carried over into a social environment in which they do not belong…

And how does the Under-Man look at civilization? This civilization offers him few benefits and fewer hope. It usually affords him little beyond a meagre subsistence.

This is from The Revolt Against Civilization. Its thesis, in brief, is that Increased rates of degeneracy are the natural outcome of an advancing civilization, continually spreading, Malthus-like, as the civilization advances; till finally the mass of degenerates the whole structure down in violence and revolt: 

For degeneracy does threaten civilization.The presence of vast hordes of congenital inferiors—incapable, unadaptable, discontented, and unruly—menaces the social order with both dissolution and disruption.[5]

Somewhat facilely, Stoddard tries to illustrate his point by citing revolutions from the Jacobins to the Bolsheviks: a wobbly point, since those were clearly insurrections managed from above, and not long-term end-products of misfit degenerates.

Much of the volume is a brief for eugenic breeding (to counteract the drift to degeneracy), while the cover of the original edition bears the Soviet hammer-and-sickle device. Thus—Bolshevism is the result of Bad Breeding. It seems forced and frivolous today, but it was likely the result of marketing pressures and publishing deadlines.

Meantime, Stoddard gets to drive home his basic point home, however confused and muddied it may be.  A nation’s breeding policy is at least as essential a factor in geopolitical strategy as trade policy or defense. 

Notes

1. Chicago Sunday Tribune, Sept. 26, 1943.

2. See http://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/ . Also Brunius, Harry. Better for All the World: The Secret History of Forced Sterilization and America’s Quest for Racial Purity, 2007. 

3. There is a line in Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925) in which the narrator’s friend Tom Buchanan announces he’s been reading a book by “this man Goddard”—“Goddard” being an apparent conflation of Grant and Stoddard, along with the eugenicist H. H. Goddard (1866-1957), who is remembered mainly for his study of hereditary degeneration in the pseudonymous Kallikak family.

4. As late as 1940, Time magazine was publishing a squib that began, “Dr. Lothrop Stoddard, Brookline, Mass. political lecturer and author, whose racial theories (he used to frighten the U. S. with the yellow peril) make him persona grata to Nazis, went recently to Germany as correspondent for the North American Newspaper Alliance.”

5. Lothrop Stoddard, The Revolt Against Civilization, 1922)

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Lothrop Stoddard in Geopolitics