T. Lothrop Stoddard: From the French Revolution in San Domingo to the Menace of the Underman

Stoddard 01

T. Lothrop Stoddard

Insofar as people today remember Massachusetts-born T. Lothrop Stoddard (1883 – 1950) at all, they remember him vaguely as a once-popular writer-journalist who had the bad taste to address forthrightly matters of race and immigration, as those topics concerned American national policy, in the decades before the Great Depression.  People over forty who read the footnotes while studying English might recall that F. Scott Fitzgerald alludes to Stoddard obliquely in The Great Gatsby conflating his name with that of his contemporary Madison Grant.  A few people might further connect Stoddard with the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act of 1924.  Stoddard lobbied for it, another black mark against his name by contemporary standards.  The wispy image of Stoddard will therefore suggest to most people, should it improbably appear to them, that the man belongs on the distinctly politically incorrect side of right attitudes and behaviors; they will adjust their emotions accordingly.  Yet Stoddard contributed his considerable cachet to such causes as Pacifism and Eugenics, having been allied in the latter project with that darling of the Twenty-First Century Left, Margaret Sanger; he saw himself, in part, as an American Friedrich Nietzsche, rather as Fitzgerald saw himself as an American Oswald Spengler.  Stoddard presents a fascinating case precisely because of his anomalousness when measured against early Twenty-First Century political templates.  The regime of Multiculturalism must see in him only a scandal; on the other hand, he seems to be an ideological forerunner of the Democrat-Party abortion constituency.  Stoddard’s case, discomfiting to all sides, suggests the limitations and rigidity of contemporary politics, from which candor has been banished.  An excellent writer, he appears to have argued his brief honestly and without malice; much of what he says about race – take for example his contention that multi-racial societies are dubious propositions that diminish social trust – finds support in recent studies, such as those of Robert Putnam.  How to square it?

French Revolition in Saint Domingue

Contemporary Reprint

I. From the beginning of his writerly career to its end, Stoddard, who earned his Harvard doctorate in history, maintained intense curiosity about revolutionary disruptions of normative political order and their attendant ideologically driven violence. The remarkable episode of the Transatlantic Jacobin outburst in the jewel-colony of the French West Indies, which saw born from its bloody chaos the New World’s most corrupt and impoverished nation, formed the topic of Stoddard’s first book, the one whose perhaps unlikely commercial success guaranteed him to his publisher as a good risk. Issued by Scribner’s, The French Revolution in San Domingo (1914) focused on the insular race-war that erupted out of long-simmering class-hatreds after the abrupt political discontinuity of 1789.  I call this colonial rebellion and its terrific sequelae “remarkable,” but I do not mean that the details, or even so much as the plain fact of the event, have any lodgment in current knowledge.  That we know little today about Haiti other than that the Federal Government of the United States has frequently sent in troops to pacify Port-au-Prince is linked to our knowing little today about Stoddard, the main English-language historian of black nationalism on the island.  Whereas the prevailing civic regime fulsomely encourages celebration of “minority” achievement, it actively censures accounts of non-European wickedness, even in remote places more than two centuries ago.  In describing one of the most ferocious instances of ethnic cleansing ever perpetrated, Stoddard preemptively violated a standing injunction.

One might justifiably see in Stoddard’s book an early study of the metastatic character of insurrectionist fervor.  This alone recommends its pages to critical attention.  When Stoddard ascribes to Revolutionary France an “imperious will which was to cause the Vendée at home, and the ruin of San Domingo overseas,” he means to say also that militant Jacobin righteousness would conjure intransigence equal to its own in places like Cap Français and Port-au-Prince and indeed would inspire fierce imitation of its own bloodthirsty aversion to being gainsaid.  Stoddard coins the phrase, “the Gospel of violent measures,” to convey the demonic polarization that radical homiletic aims to foster, as the necessary precursor-phase to its utopia-generating débordement du sang.  Add to the toxic situation what a zealous Jacobin commissionaire, Leger Félix Sonthonax, would celebrate as “the holy law of equality” and the formula was complete for a descent into genocidal massacre.  In Stoddard’s judgment, the orgiastic bloodletting, when its demon got loose, fulfilled the logic of French Dominican foundations, as they entered into dialectic with revolutionary republicanism.  As the first sentence of Chapter V sets down: “African slavery was the curse of San Domingo.”

Considering the geographical smallness of la partie française de Saint Domingue, the events there following 1789 display surprising complexity and fluidity, always reflecting the political turbulence in France.  Stoddard helpfully keeps the details in their order, assigning cause and effect with notable clarity.  Race and caste largely propelled the fifteen-year internecine conflict: Island society was divided into a massive slave population, a slave-holding planter population one tenth as large, and a bourgeoisie of about the same size.  The racial arrangement was not duplex, however, but triplex: black, mulatto, and white.  Each of these racial groups showed further social subdivisions.  There were a few “free blacks” and a few chattel mulattoes; there were also “poor whites” although none enslaved.  Planter and bourgeois alike feared and loathed the slaves, but they managed at the same time to despise the mulattoes; the mulattoes despised the slaves and deeply resented the whites.  The jigsaw of racial tensions found enshrinement in law, which deprived mulattoes of the franchise, forbade intermarriage, and otherwise insured humiliating subordination.  A small populace of slave-refugees living in the inland mountains and occasionally raiding the North indicated the mute but sullen attitude of black thralldom.  When categories such as Républicain and Royaliste imposed themselves on the existing pattern each faction tended to split inwardly in bewildering ways until in convulsive response the simplification of militant black exclusivity prevailed.


Leger Felix Sonthonax

With the first intelligence of insurgent success in the home country, San Domingo’s whites felt embroiled in the action, but ambiguously.  For decades the colonists had chafed at Le pacte colonial, by which, as the planters in particular saw things, France took from the island’s economy more than it gave back.  The whites of the planter hegemony saw a chance, through electing a provincial Committée of their own after the pattern of the Paris Committée, to bypass the frustrations of royal governance.  On the other hand, the radicalism of the insurgents – especially the new fanaticism for égalité – worried many whites.  Would new legal instructions from Paris abolish the “color line” or, worse, enfranchise the mulattoes and liberate the slaves?  Mulattoes hoped for part of what whites feared and immediately appealed to Paris to abolish exclusion.  The perceived reluctance of Paris to act on that appeal inclined mulattoes into the pro-royalist camp, as allies of the king’s by now harassed representatives.  In the Decree of 15 May 1791, the Assemblée Nationale undertook to leave questions of the “color line” and slavery to the Assemblée Provinciale, while equalizing a small number of mulattoes under special qualifications and condemning slavery in principle.  Within days, in reaction, the blacks of the North and the mulattoes of the West had, in Stoddard’s words, “lighted a conflagration never to be put out.”

Stoddard writes: “The horror of the race war in the West now almost surpassed that of the North.  The mulatto Confederates, in hideous token of their Royalist sentiments, fashioned white cockades from the ears of their dead enemies.  The atrocities perpetrated upon white women and children are past belief.”  The “conflagration” in Port-au-Prince, capital of the West, was not metaphorical.  For the first of four or five times in the ensuing decade, arsonists fired the main streets and burned down a good part of the town; the troubles would see all the towns of the island – North and West and South – burned out repeatedly.  So, too, in the North, risen slaves set fire to the plantations, murdered, and raped, taking a toll of twelve hundred families; white refugees corralled themselves in camps, where marauders all the more easily slaughtered them, or fled for the asylum of Le Cap.  A second Decree from Paris, which appeared to rescind the first, imparted renewed impetus to mulatto militancy.  The arrival of a Civil Commission in November 1791 temporarily calmed the situation until, in the Law of 4 April 1792, the Assemblée Nationale mandated mulatto and “free negro” enfranchisement.  The whites now made a volte-face of allegiance and opposed the Revolution; of course, events elsewhere had obviated the idea that such opposition was meaningfully Royaliste even though a Governor of the King still nominally held office.[i]

Into this mess stepped the Second Civil Commission, sent out under instruction to impose the Law of 4 April by force, and backed up by French troops.  Stoddard describes the dominant Commissioner of three, Citizen Sonthonax, as “a sinister figure,” in whom “all the worst traits of the Jacobin type stood revealed.”  Stoddard quotes from an article that Sonthonax had contributed to “one of the ultra radical sheets”: “The ownership of land both at San Domingo and the other colonies… belongs in reality to the negroes.  It is they who have earned it by the sweat of their brows, and only by usurpation do others now enjoy it.”  More than anyone else, Sonthonax tilted San Domingue in the direction of an all-out conflict of color, which would draw its thick line between blacks and everyone else.  Toussaint Louverture and his collaborator-betrayer-successor Jean-Jacques Dessalines might be said to have sprung forth from the very forehead of Sonthonax.

Louverture 02

Toussaint Louverture

II. In rehearsing the story of San Domingo’s protracted agony, Stoddard editorializes minimally and with noticeable restraint. In terse lines here and there, however, he asserts the judgment that what happened in the stricken colony happened consistently with the Jacobin penchant for seeing in apocalyptic destruction the necessary means of revolutionary transformation. The yearned-for “universal triumph of the French Revolution and… regeneration of the world” required, in the minds of radicals like Sonthonax, the aforementioned “Gospel of violent measures.”  Given control of the North, Sonthonax immediately demonstrated his ideological zealousness by prosecuting an army officer of good reputation, Sieur Théron, not for any hindrance of law, but for harboring “prejudice” intolerable to Jacobin sensibility.  Théron had quarreled privately with Monsieur Candy, a mulatto appointed by Sonthonax to the farcical Commission Intermédiaire.  This Candy had previously insinuated his services as an organizer in the Northern slave-revolt, whose ferocity he increased by his sadistic license.  Candy made public the private quarrel with the officer.  Sonthonax charged Théron with having “increased race hostility” by “incivism.”  Théron argued that penalties of law could not be applied to “feelings of the heart,” which he sustained for understandable reasons.  The prosecutor of hate crimes had preordained the conviction.  Stoddard adds: “When we remember that this same Candy had [during the first black uprising] torn out the eyes of his wretched prisoners with a corkscrew and had been guilty of unspeakable outrages upon white women, it is easy to understand the wild despair that settled down upon white San Domingo.”  Jacobin law did, in fact, “command the feelings of the heart.”

Late in December 1792 Sonthonax used a newly recruited mulatto battalion to terrorize both the white shopkeeper-class and the poor whites of Le Cap, whom the commissioner condemned as Aristocrates de la Peau.”  Stoddard writes, “The violence of Sonthonax seemed but to increase with time.”  He wrote up proscription lists and bundled off to France hundreds of “suspects” for trial under the Convention, now in power.  When Sonthonax declared emancipation, even the slaves of the South, hitherto inactive, broke into open revolt.  By 1798, San Domingo had descended into perpetual fluctuating combat with regular massacres.  The usual victims by this time were the remaining whites, always fewer, and the mulattos.  The British intervened, occupying the coastal towns.  The Directoire dispatched military forces to drive out the British and pacify the island.  Charismatic black leaders emerged, chief among them Toussaint, who quickly became the main military force on the island and the de facto political power.  Toussaint, having seen the British withdraw, marched against Spain, to become the sole ruler of the island domain.  Only Bonaparte’s much belated expedition under General Leclerc in 1802 and 1803 reversed Toussaint, ending in Toussaint’s heavily suborned agreement to an armistice, followed by his arrest, by ruse, and next by his deportation to France, where he died a prisoner.  When persistent acute yellow fever killed off sixth-tenths of the French expedition in a few months, Dessalines saw his chance.  He reassembled the black army that Leclerc had checked in the field but never disarmed.

Jean-Jacques Dessalines 01

Jean-Jacques Dessalines

It was Dessalines and not – as some casually suppose – Toussaint who became the founder of Haiti.  “Frankly a race war,” writes Stoddard, “the struggle which now ensued acquired a most ferocious character.”  Leclerc, just before his death, had written to Bonaparte that only a campaign of pitiless extermination, “frightful but necessary,” would return San Domingo to France, a sentiment with which Leclerc’s successor General Rochambeau fully agreed.  Rochambeau’s sanguine tactics so cowed the blacks that he believed he would regain control.  At that moment, war between France and England resumed; the English blockaded, and bereft of supply and replacement Rochambeau retreated to Le Cap.  He surrendered on 10 November 1803.  In Stoddard’s words, “the destruction of French authority was but the prelude to the complete extermination of the white race in ‘la partie française de Saint-Domingue.’”  Dessalines made a show of encouraging exiled whites to come home and resume life, which many did.  In December 1803 Dessalines promulgated the independence of Haiti, whereupon, “the orders went forth to massacre the white population.”

Stoddard quotes from the letter of a French officer who escaped to Jamaica at this time: “The murder of the whites in detail… began at Port-au-Prince in the first days of January, but on the 17th and 18th March they were finished off en masse.  All, without exception, have been massacred down to the very women and children.”  The letter-writer describes one agent of the holocaust who “ranged the town like a madman searching the houses to kill the little children.”  He describes victims “disemboweled” and “stuck like pigs.”  What the savagery accomplished in Port-au-Prince it accomplished likewise in the North and South, until, in Stoddard’s coda, “the white race had perished utterly out of the land.”[ii]  Yet The French Revolution in San Domingo never spares the whites.  In an early chapter describing the planter-class, Stoddard paints the unflattering picture of recklessness, frivolity, and passion “often cruel,” and elsewhere of “languorous apathy” – qualities that he derives from “two main causes… climate and slavery.”  Slavery is the “evil institution” that from the beginning portended nothing but sorrow for the island.  The mulattoes, who suffered from “discriminations… many and severe,” nevertheless appear in Stoddard’s account as no more sympathetic than the planter-whites.  In summary, writes Stoddard, “the mulatto’s character was not of a high order”; the mixed-race people lacked “striking talents [and] eminent ability.”  In a laconic assessment: “There is no mulatto Toussaint Louverture.”[iii]

III. One struggles to pin down Stoddard using contemporary political designations.  It is not so much that in rehearsing the facts he chooses what, in today’s terms, would be unmentionable; it is that he steadfastly refuses to choose sides, telling a story in which angels and devils play no role, but merely men of every hue prone to wickedness.  Political correctness mandates angels and devils.  But even to call Stoddard “politically incorrect” on the grounds of his analytical neutrality falls short of adequacy because, in some matters, such as his Pacifism and advocacy of birth control, he pioneered liberal principles.  In searching for a label to typify Stoddard, it strikes me that the designation of reactionary progressive might fit despite or rather because of its internal contradiction.  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 epiphany of averted disaster.  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?

Revolt against the Underman

Contemporary Reprint

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.[iv]  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 out-breed 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.”

IV. 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 fifty-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 positive 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 that: “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 direct 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.[v]  Much of what, in Stoddard, must strike acute readers today as trespassing beyond propriety nevertheless finds perfectly homey ensconcement in the 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.


[i] The crisis in San Domingo was, as Stoddard makes clear, mishandled in every possible way by every imaginable party; Paris bears much responsibility, issuing in revolutionary fervor one incoherent decree after another, the latest always contradicting the last.  The English seem to have acted as though their plan entailed doing the least advised thing at any particular moment.
[ii] By a twist of irony, the edition of The French Revolution in San Domingo that I have consulted is a reprint issued in 1970 by the Negro Universities Press, Westport, Connecticut.  It is difficult to imagine Stoddard’s book figuring in any current “Black Studies” curriculum precisely because it so unsparingly, yet with impressive documentation, records what Stoddard calls “the final phase.”  The image of a black polity based euphemistically on “white exclusion” is certainly entertained by some contemporary individuals but it can have no acknowledged place in the smiling discourse of multiculturalism and diversity.
[iii] I trace my own ancestry to the mulattoes of Saint Domingue, specifically to those who fled the island in the last genocidal phase that culminated in Dessalines’ proclamation of Haiti.  The Bertonneau refugees along with many others settled in what was, at the time, the French territory that would become New Orleans.  They were already there – competently ensconced as the bourgeois or mercantile class – when Colonel (later General and later President) Andrew Jackson arrived to fight the British in 1814.  The creoles, as they then called themselves, materially aided him, in gratitude for which he signed letters pledging that when Louisiana came into the Union “Jackson’s Whites” would enjoy full Constitutional rights – a promise never kept.  By the 1830s, the creoles had become, in New Orleans, where the “French Quarter” was their domicile, Les gens de couleur libres, or Free People of Color.  They maintained their status as merchants.
My great-grandfather, Albert Bertonneau (1838 – 1914) and his elder brother Arnold Bertonneau (1832 – 1912) had the distinction to serve as officers in the Second Louisiana Native Guards, Confederate “colored infantry,” during the defense of New Orleans in 1862; General Butler, who took the city, made a unique offer to the Native Guards, permitting them to re-enlist with rank as Federal troops in the Corps d’Afrique.   This was the first “colored” regiment in the Union Army, before Colonel Shaw’s Boston Regulars.  After the Civil War, Arnold Bertonneau served as a tax collector for the State of Louisiana and continued in various businesses, most successfully as a haberdasher.  Arnold was active in politics, as a Republican, urging universal franchise directly to president Lincoln and suing the School Board of New Orleans for the right of his children to attend school nearby rather than in a segregated academy several neighborhoods away.  He lost his case, but Bertonneau v. School Board is one of the citations in both Plessy v. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education.  The text of Arnold Bertonneau’s eloquent 1864 speech to the Massachusetts Legislature, “All Men Should Stand Equal Under the Law,” may be read here.
In the 1890s, about half of the Orleans-Parish Bertonneaus moved to Southern California, where they again became shopkeepers and businessmen, prominent in their community, Pasadena, where they “passed” as white.  The famous cross-town football game associated with Pasadena’s annual Rose Pageant was an innovation of my great-uncle Arnold-Louis, son of Arnold Bertonneau.  My great-grandfather Albert’s widow spent several decades suing the Federal Government and the Department of the Army for pension money owed from Albert’s service in the Corps d’Afrique, a dispute not resolved until shortly before her death.
[iv] Stoddard’s arguments curiously resemble those of the proto-tyrant Callicles in Plato’s dialogue Gorgias.  Callicles, too, believed that existence entailed a struggle between the capable or strong and the incapable or weak and that natural morality favored strength, in and of itself, over weakness; the position of Callicles foreshadows many features of Darwinism.
[v] On the other hand, the New York Times’ 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.

10 thoughts on “T. Lothrop Stoddard: From the French Revolution in San Domingo to the Menace of the Underman

  1. Pingback: T. Lothrop Stoddard: From the French Revolution in San Domingo to the Menace of the Underman | Reaction Times

  2. I would guess that most Americans have no idea what happened on Santo Domingo, and thus no inkling of how knowledge of these events might have shaped the thinking of Whites in the Southern states. As you make clear, and know as part of your own family history, most of those who survived the massacres went to New Orleans, where they no doubt shared their experience of a slave revolt. I remember my surprise when I first read the actual history of the founding of Haiti, and later my lack of surprise at modern efforts to whitewash the massacre.

    I don’t think eugenics was a partisan position in the early twentieth century. By my reading, it was equally popular on the left and the right. Educated people understood that developed societies had already modified their biological reproduction through medicine and social welfare, that these modifications were dysgenic, and that eugenic corrections were desirable. There was considerable disagreement over the acceptable methods of correction, but everyone who thought about the question was a eugenicist. The idea that eugenics is right-wing is entirely a product of the propaganda of the Second World War, and then the revival of blank-slate psychology in the post-war period (i.e. “educational romanticism”).

    I see Stoddard as part of the modernist revolt against the nineteenth century. His realism is a reaction to their sentimentalism, his materialism a reaction to their idealism, and his racism a reaction to their universalism. On that last term, racism, he was very far from the hate-filled racist of SJW imagination. His book on the Arabs is a good place to see this. He simply believed that there were incorrigible differences between groups of humanity, that these differences had explanatory power, and that no good policy could arise if these incorrigible differences were ignored. I don’t have the sense that he hates the under-man. He just views the under-man as someone who must be kept in his place if you don’t want all hell to break loose.

  3. Realism is the salient virtue of Stoddard’s authorship. The man wrote without malice, as you say, but he also wrote with absolute candor. That makes him guilty retroactively of the contemporary crime of noticing things and drawing reasonable conclusions from the mass of facts. I haven’t read his book on the Arabs, but on your recommendation I’ll take a look at it.

    The origins of Haiti were indeed well known to Southern whites. The campaigns of Louverture and Dessalines provided the model for John Brown’s insane project, which was to stir up an apocalyptic race-war by arming the slaves, inciting them to revolt, and organizing them in a slaughter of whites. About fourteen per cent of Southern whites were slave owners, but Brown would have made no distinctions. Like the contemporary SJW, he could only think in Manichaean categories.

    A good companion-work to The Revolt against Civilization is Jose Ortega’s Revolt of the Masses.

    Thank you for your comment.

    • I’m sure you could find it, but his book on the Arabs is, The New World of Islam (1921). One striking thing is that Stoddard, the realist, is quite hopeful about the Middle East. It’s something one finds in contemporary writing about Africa and South America. I found his analysis of Islam excellent.

      I was going to digress about John Brown in my first comment, but was already late getting out of the house. When John Brown set out to arm the slaves, the Santo Domingo massacres were closer in time than World War II is to us. It was very far from being a distant memory.

      Envy is at the bottom of revolt, and since this is a supremely envious age, we never talk about this sin. We talk a lot about the greed of the “haves,” but never about the greed of the “have nots.” I suppose it is not surprising. The greed of the “haves” can be harnessed and put to work growing the economy, as writers since Mandeville have observed, but the greed of the “have nots” can be harnessed and put to work growing the state. But it is ultimately destructive because it resents and hates everything superior to itself.

      • This is a plea, JM. I hope that you will take a look at my Moeran essay. Moeran belongs to a category of serious composers whose work I would call topographical. Topography is affiliated wit geography — so it might be that in my interest in topographical composers and in your learnedness in geography, including cultural geography, we find an intellectual convergence. Hippolyte Taine argued that landscape influenced literature . I would argue, after Taine, that landscape influences music. Perhaps this constitutes a topic that we could discuss. I adjudge that it would be a worthwhile discussion. Sincerely, Tom.

      • I’m afraid much of your musicological erudition goes over my head, but I do agree that many composers have been very sensitive to landscape, and that landscape and music share a connection to the sublime. I think that it was Burke who said that the sublime is a feeling of wonder spiked with fear–a sense of being in the presence of something magnificent and not altogether safe. I enjoy classical music at an unintellectual level; but I would say that it often gives me the feeling of standing a little too close to the edge of a cliff. One doesn’t need a precipitous landscape to give one the same feeling. There is something lovely and yet unloving about the earth, like a woman who is stunningly beautiful but utterly cold.

        Marshlands have their own ambiance. We humans can enter them only in a small boat, and from this there is no way to see over the sedges and reeds. Being lost in a salt marsh is very different than being lost in a forest or a desert, or a large city for that matter. I speak as one with experience in all four places! It does not surprise me that Moeran found in the Norfolk marshes a metaphor for the world that had been rendered ominous by the Great War. I’m listening to Ford Madox Ford’s “No More Parades” trilogy in the car right now, so I have the making of the Wasteland very much on my mind just now.

        We certainly might do something together on topography, although I don’t especially like the idea of theorizing the subject. I’m most interested in description of an actual place that suggests larger matters. After all these years in the academy, I’ve come to believe a little philosophy goes a very long way, and it is best when the author merely points to some things that the reader might like to think more deeply about.

  4. It seems to me, if you’ll forgive the reductionism, that Fr. Seraphim Rose offers a very apt category for Stoddard when he speaks of “Vitalistic” nihilism. Far from a reaction against the 19th century, Stoddard seems the logical WASP progression from those ideas which were most prevalent among the Anglo-Yankee upper classes on both sides of the fin-de-siècle.

    Purely out of curiosity, and implying nothing conspiratorial, I wonder if Stoddard was a Scottish Rite Mason. If not, I wonder if we have any indication of his attitudes towards the organisation; as an international order dedicated in theory to the same progress he seeks and in practice the same egalitarianism he holds in contempt.

    • Stoddard is a mixed bag. If we only remarked his Nietzschean contrariety and his materialism, we might be tempted to call him, using Father Seraphim Rose’s label, a nihilist of the vital or active type. On the other hand, he is an anti-Jacobin and an anti-Bolshevist who feels a stake in civilization and would like to preserve it. He diligently points out the sources of disintegration and condemns them. In the Venn diagram of me and Stoddard, there would be considerable overlap.

      Concerning Stoddard’s status in respect of Freemasonry, I know nothing about it. It would not surprise me to discover that he maintained a connection with Freemasonry. It did surprise when, a few months ago in researching and writing about Joseph de Maistre, that that great apologist of the Church and its Rites and critic extraordinaire of the French Revolution was also a lifelong Freemason!

      • Is the anti -Jacobin/Bolshevik type necessarily found opposite the Vitalist? It seems to me there would be significant overlap, since both clearly influenced 20th century mass politics and can perhaps account for Stoddard’s (as well as a number of other Americans of similar cultural extraction) optimism regarding the National Socialist and Fascist regimes.

        That tidbit about de Maistre is flabbergasting. Can you refer me to the source where you discovered it?

        I also want to add that I thought this whole piece was phenomenal, and I agree that Stoddard is an unfairly ignored luminary of his time period – really one of your best essays to date.

  5. Pingback: Cantandum in Ezkhaton 06/02/19 | Liberae Sunt Nostrae Cogitatiores


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