The critic Northop Fye wrote of Oswald Spengler’s magnum opus, “If _The Decline of the West_ were nothing else, it would still be one of the world’s great Romantic poems.” Much the same could be said Madison Grant’s Conquest of the Continent, or rather that it is, all at once, a great history and a great poem. The book is exhaustively researched, with some four years of preparatory work, and it announces itself, modestly and scholarly, as “an effort to make an estimate of the various elements, national and racial, existing in the present population of the United States and to trace their arrival and subsequent spread.” At the same time, Conquest is a grand vision of bio-cultural struggle and evolution, in which demography comes alive.
The critic Northop Frye wrote of Oswald Spengler’s magnum opus, “If The Decline of the West were nothing else, it would still be one of the world’s great Romantic poems.” Much the same could be said Madison Grant’s Conquest of the Continent, or rather that it is, all at once, a great history and a great poem. The book is exhaustively researched, with some four years of preparatory work, and it announces itself, modestly and scholarly, as “an effort to make an estimate of the various elements, national and racial, existing in the present population of the United States and to trace their arrival and subsequent spread.” At the same time, Conquest is a grand vision of bio-cultural struggle and evolution, in which demography comes alive.
Personages and historical actors are few and far between; personalities are entirely absent. With Conquest, as with his earlier Passing of the Great Race (1916), Grant creates a genre of his own—racial history. The 19th century had witnessed the flowering of biography—in-depth portraits of men and their individual minds. Grant writes “bio-graphy” in a new sense of the word—the story of the movements and developments of peoples across great swaths of earth. Much like the French Annales School, Grant gives the reader a vision of the longe durée: time ticks away in decades and centuries; familiar tropes like leaders, events, and intrigues, if they appear at all, are subordinated to the flow of peoples; geography becomes a kind of character in that it forges race through natural selection.
As Henry Fairfield Osborn, the President of the American Museum of Natural History, notes in the first sentence of his preface, “The character of a country depends upon the racial character of the men and women who dominate it.” Thus, Grant turns historiography on its head (almost in a way comparable to Marx): History is no longer to be understood merely in terms of the actions of “Great Men” or the “culture” bestowed on peoples by king, artists, and churches; to the contrary, what is called culture, morality, and society are the outward effects of millennia of evolution.
As demography is destiny, Conquest is the story of how America became, not just the White Man’s Country, but a Nordic country. Grant writes of his historical subject, circa 8,000 B.C.:
There is was, through the fogs and long winters of the north, that they developed in complete isolation their great stature and musculature, their fair or flaxen hair, and their blue eyes.
The race survived the Ice Age by means of its peculiar Geist, whose modern manifestations include individualism, Protestantism, uprightness, and the pioneer spirt. It was these hearty souls who crossed the Atlantic to the New World and, unlike Whites in South America, resisted intermixing with the natives. In Grant’s words, “It is probably accurate to say that there never has been a nation which was so completely and definitely Protestant as well as Nordic as was the United State just after the American Revolution.”
Conquest is certainly an act of patriotism, in a broad sense; however, it is important to remember that Grant was never enthralled with what is often called the “American Experiment” or “American Exceptionalism”—that is, the idea that the country traces its political tradition back to the Age of Enlightenment and that it is nation rooted on values, not blood. In Grant’s mind, the Nordic race made America. Ideals like “equality” might reflect Nordic self-regard; however, left free-floating and all-encompassing, they are temptations to race suicide and pointless crusades, for which Grant gives ample evidence in Conquest.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Grant’s demographic history is that it is so compelling and readable. Reacting, no doubt, to its propagandistic value more than anything, the Anti-Defamation League labelled the book “even more destructive than Mein Kampf” and urged U.S. and British not to review the volume, or even mention it.
Madison Grant in 1920
While the text of Conquest speaks for itself, Madison Grant the man—who he was, what he accomplished, and what his ideals were—remains more elusive. This is only partly due to the passage of time. The Second World War, the dominance Boasian anthropology, the decline of Grant’s class, and the postwar “Conservative Movement” each in its way cloud our understanding of this colossus of prewar conservationism, eugenics, and the scientific study of race.
Madison Grant (1865–1937) was “to the manor born” (as the modern doggerel goes); he hailed from an aristocratic family in what was still Anglo-Dutch Manhattan. Through his mother, Grant was descended from Walloon Huguenots who settled “New Netherlands” in the 1620s. His father’s side included a signer of the Declaration of Independence, recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor for valor on the battlefield, and various prominent and wealthy professionals. Grant was graduate of Yale and held a law degree from Columbia (though he never practiced with any seriousness.)
One cannot understand Grant, and The Conquest of a Continent, without understanding his place in this pre-war, East Coast, Protestant—simply put, “WASP”—Establishment. Grant was a “conservative” in the most basic and concrete sense of the word—he sought to defend and conserve his people, his class, and his way of life. He defended Nordic America because it was his own.
Grant’s life and work were animated, first and foremost, by naturalism—put simply, his love of the wild and what he viewed as the most excellent expressions of the human species. This awe led him to abandon his law training and dedicate himself to the new sciences of conservationism and eugenics.
One could say that Grant is an avatar of two great “Old Americas” (both of which are ceasing to exist). The first of these is the aforementioned WASP Establishment, increasingly displaced or absorbed by a global elite. While the contemporary “Conservative Movement” is comprised of a strange coalition of free-market apologists, advocates for military hegemony, and Biblical fundamentalists, Grant’s sensibilities were aristocratic and European in character, his pessimistic historical outlook closely resembling that of his analogues Henry and Brooks Adams.
The second “America” that Grant represents is that of the frontier and the “undiscovered country” of the West. This was the America of big-game hunting beneath Rockies and Tetons—a world where man’s existence hung in the balance, threatened by savages and the elements. One of Grant’s most emblematic accomplishments was not only to help preserve the dwindling American Bison but to bring a herd of them to the Bronx Zoo, not too far away from his redoubt in the hoity-toity Upper East Side. The act stands as an almost comical conflation of the two worlds he straddled.
Grant was a compulsive “joiner” and “founder,” and he was involved in the creation of a host organizations and entities with social purposes, many of which remain prominent today, such as the Save the Redwoods League and Glacier National Park. Through his membership in the Boone and Crocket Club—dedicated to “promoting manly sport with the rifle” and protecting the endangered Bison—Grant broke bread with future presidents, senators, explorers, diplomats, and writers; he counted Rudyard Kipling and Theodor Roosevelt among his circle of friends and acquaintances.
Fresh out of law school, the young Grant acted an eminence grise in the creation of the municipal New York Zoological Society, whose crown jewel was the Bronz Zoo, which first realized the then-quite novel conception of broad enclosures, which allowed Bison, and even at one point an African Congolese Pygmy named Ota Benga, to roam in great refuges within urban modernity. Through his involvement with the American Bison Society, Grant helped preserve the majestic creature that had, shocking, dwindled from some 30 million to less than 100 in the first decade of the 20th century.
Ota Benga in the Bronx Zoo in 1906
On top of this, Grant was one of the premier advocates of eugenics in the Western world, acting as President of the Galton Society (named after Charles Darwin’s cousin and eugenic’s progenitor). Most all of Grant’s societies were interlocking in nature, as he would recruit his naturalist colleagues to collaborate with him on his political efforts and eugenic research, tasks which were seen as deeply related.
Grant’s naturalism—what might be termed his “green,” “environmentalist,” or even “tree-hugging” inclinations—inflected his racialist writings. The title Conquest of the Continent might lead one to believe that it is a brutalist, “Might Makes Right” history of expansion. In fact, Grant’s admiration for the “the most vigorous race in history” is always tempered with an abiding concern for the natural world. As he writes, in the period between the Colonial era and the Civil War, “A continent was occupied and the territory of the Union was swept westward to the Pacific.”
The forests were cut down and the wild life destroyed. The Indians were evicted. The mineral wealth of the western mountains was ransacked. The coal was exploited, and the once fertile soil of the Southern States greatly depleted through the reckless growing of tobacco and cotton. Waste was the order of the day in America.
All this was perhaps inevitable, but never since Caesar plundered Gaul has so large a territory been sacked in so short a time. Probably no more destructive human being has ever appeared on the world stage than the American pioneer with his axe and his rifle.
One major reason for the neglect of Grant today, especially by self-styled conservatives, is that he does not “fit in” with the current Left-Right dialectic nor the portraits the mainstream Right and Left like to paint of themselves. Grant comes down to us at a time when environmentalism has never been more popular and White racialism, never more reviled. And yet, as Grant’s recent critical biographer, Jonathan Peter Spiro, writes,
There was no duality to Madison Grant’s life, no basic conflict between his espousal of conservation and his preaching on behalf of Eugenics and immigration restriction.”
The Conquest of the Continent is inseparable from Grant’s greatest achievement as a political activist—the 1924 Johnson-Reed Immigration Act and 1929 National Origins Act (which superseded the former). Indeed, both pieces of legislation inform the structure of the book and reveal many of Grant’s motivations in writing it.
Today, the Johnson-Reed Act enjoys scarce support among mainstream commentators; and in truth, it was quite unlike any piece of immigration legislation being proposed today, even by avowed restrictionists. The ’24 and ’29 Acts were not merely attempts to “control the borders” or “shut the gates” (though they were that), and they were decidedly not efforts to “keep America the same,” in the sense of pulling an emergency break on the Second Great Wave of immigration. From a Grantian perspective, they were Acts of racial reconstruction: they marked abrupt reversals of the immigration trends that had predominated for the previous 75 years and were aimed at recreating a specifically Nordic America. Not all of the Acts’ supporters, including legislators and the Presidents who signed them into law, would use such terminology; yet all were well aware of the Acts’ overarching goals. Moreover, the Act was conceived by Grant and his colleagues as a eugenic project. Indeed, much as the Communist “Third International” (1919–1943) looked to Moscow, the Second International Eugenics Congress (which met in 1921 at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City) looked to America as the premiere homeland of the Nordic race.
Though Grant founded so many organizations, he joined the one that would play a determined, behind-the-scenes role in passing immigration restriction—the Immigration Restriction League (IRL), created by friends from the Harvard class of 1889.
The IRL’s first political effort was to advance a Literacy Test for entry, which it promoted over the course of the William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson administrations. Restricting immigration on the basis of literacy (a test could be taken in a variety of languages) certainly gave restriction a neutral, non-racialist patina; however, when Grant was lobbying politicians, he explained his motivations in no-uncertain terms. Writing to President Taft,
[T]he old theological views in regard to the unity of the human race and its relatively recent origin (some six thousand years ago), is giving away to the knowledge that man as such dates back two or three hundred thousand year, and that consequently the line of cleavage between the so called races of mankind is fundamental and cannot be modified by any change in environment in the life time of a nation.
In turn, Grant later lobbied Woodrow Wilson by explaining that his advocacy for restriction was based “solely in blood.” Both Presidents were not persuaded.
The IRL had better luck with congressmen, who avidly passed a series of Literacy Test Acts by broad margins—only to have them consistently vetoed by Taft and Wilson. Success finally came in February 1917, when yet one more Literacy Test Act was vetoed by Wilson—who was then overruled by two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate.
A decisive influence on Congress was the pressure of the American Federation of Labor, led by Samuel Gompers (himself an immigrant Jew), who recognized the simple arithmetic that, all things being equal, more laborers equals lower wages. The bill thus marked an interesting point in time at which elitist racialists were in a functional coalition with “big labor.” On the other hand, those who opposed the bill—and would oppose future restrictionist acts, including Reed-Johnson—are recognizably the same cohorts who push for “open borders” today: the industrialists who seek cheap labor and (in Grant’s words) the “wishy-washy sentimentalists” of either Christian or liberal persuasion.
Bolstered by the enactment of the Literacy Test, the Grantians felt the time was ripe for substantial immigration reform made on a racialist foundation. The subsequent political victories of the 1920s included three connected pieces of legislation: the Emergency Quota Act of 1921, the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act of 1924, and the National Origins Act of 1929 (which replaced the former bill). The “Emergency” bill was justified on the fears of mass European immigration following the Great War, and in particular “radical” and “anarchist” immigrants from Eastern Europe. The Acts of ‘24 and ’29, however, were meant as lasting, principled expressions of America’s character; Representative Albert Johnson, indeed, called the piece of legislation that bears his name “a second Declaration of Independence.”
Each of these Acts regulated immigration not simply on the raw number but on each immigrant’s ethnic and national origins and, in turn, the place of this ethnicity within the American nation. The 1924 Act established an immigration quota of two percent of the foreign-born presence in the country, as enumerated by the 1890 census. The choice of the base year 1890 was key, for, as mentioned above, the Act did not seek to “keep things the same”; it instead sought to re-constitute the American nation that existed before the Second Great Wave of Southern and Eastern European immigration. The National Origins Act (which originated in the Senate’s version of the ‘24 restriction) capped total annual immigration at just over 150,000—a dramatic reduction considering that more than a million immigrants per annum obtained permanent-resident status during the first decade of the 20th century. It also regulated immigration based on the national origins of the existing population (as of 1920), which was, of course, soundly Northern and Western European. As Grant writes in Conquest, the purpose of both the ’24 and ’29 Acts was, “frankly, to encourage new arrivals from the countries of the old immigration”—
the countries of northern and western Europe who had contributed most to the American population and whose people were, therefore, most easily assimilable in the United States; and, conversely, to discourage immigration from the countries of souther and eastern Europe most of whose nationals had come here since 1890.
The law reduced the total possible immigration under quota to 167,750 as against 357,800 permitted by the act it supplanted, and favored the European Nordic whose people made the United States what it is, as against the European Alpine and the Mediterranean who were late comers and intrusive elements.
A full understanding of the racial constitution of the United States—so as to aid in administration of the National Origins Act—was, as Grant puts it in Conquest, “the reason for the existence of this present book.”
Though the Grantians were effective activists behind the scenes, it is wrong to think that the ’24 and ’29 Acts were passed in a stealthy fashion, without any meaningful debate or popular support, or that the Acts appealed only to the educated classes interested in Darwinism. Representative William Vaile of Colorado certainly spoke for million of majority Americans when he said plainly that Czechs, Jews, Italians, et al. immigrated to a country that was “already made as an Anglo-Saxon commonwealth.”
They added to it, they often enriched it, but they did not make it, and have not yet greatly changed it. We are determined that they shall not. It is a good country. It suits us. And what we assert is that we are not going to surrender it to somebody else or allow other people, no matter what their merits, to make it something different.
While immigration restriction appealed to the common sense of the common man, Grant saw the Act in more lofty terms: “one of the most decisive events in the racial history of America.” Perhaps he might call the Reed-Johnson and National Origins Acts the final chapter of The Conquest of the Continent.
President Coolidge signs the Johnson–Reed Act on the White House Lawn on May 26, 1924.
In 1933, Conquest appeared at an equivocal, and, in many ways, doleful, moment in Grant’s life. Grant could look back on major successes, most prominently the ’24 and ’29 Acts and the success of his first book,The Passing of the Great Race. On the other hand, Conquest amounted to Grant’s Last Stand: he would die some four years after its publication and the eugenics and racialist movement he led was in the process of losing legitimacy and its ability to affect politics and culture.
The critical reception and popularity of Grant’s two magna opera is, in fact, a lesson in the changing winds of social mood. Though The Passing of the Great Race might never have been a “bestseller,” it achieved something more powerful—the formation of elite opinion. The book, published by Charles Scribner’s Sons, was endorsed by university presidents and Pulitzer Prize winners; it was used as a textbook in college classrooms. Its powerful status was, ironically, confirmed by the fact that F. Scott Fitzgerald deemed it worthy of being parodied in The Great Gatsby (1925); the author expected his audience would readily recognize the fictional Nordicist known as “this man Goddard”—a conflation of Grant and his disciple Lothrop Stoddard— whom Tom Buchanan bombastically paraphrases in a famous scene.
An even more telling sign of racialist hegemony in the ‘20s was that Grant’s ideas were appearing in William Randolph Hearst ladies magazine Good Housekeeping. Take, for instance, this Grantian editorial on immigration from February 1921.
Biological laws tell us that certain divergent people will not mix or blend. The Nordics propagate themselves successfully. With other races, the outcome shows deterioration on both sides. Quality of mind and body suggests that observance of ethnic law is as great a necessity to a nation as immigration law.
The writer mentions some economic arguments for restriction, which “respectable” restrictionists today might favor, but he leaves no doubt as to the true character of his injunction: “Our country must cease to be regarded as a dumping ground.”
The author of the passage was President Calvin Coolidge
By 1933, so much had changed. The Conquest of the Continent was published with little fanfare or public interest. By 1940, only 3,000 copies had been sold, and apparently not believing that the book had a future, Charles Scribner’s Sons melted down the plates.
In Conquest, Grant observes that “American public sentiment regarding the admission of aliens has undergone recently a profound change”:
At the end of the nineteenth century a fatuous humanitarianism prevailed and immigrants of all kinds were welcomed to “The Refuge of the Oppressed,” regardless of whether they were needed in our industrial development or whether they tended to debase our racial unity.
The “Myth of the Melting Pot” was, at that time, deemed by the unthinking to be a part of our national creed.
But ultimately Grant was wrong. The tremendous shift in public sentiment that had occurred in the 1920s was fleeting, and by the time of Conquest, things were trending in the opposite direction. The “Melting Pot Myth”—however hokey and seemingly outmoded—would get a second life (despite that actual immigration in the Depression era was virtually nil).
Grant went from making public opinion to being unmade by it; the reasons why are worth enumerating, for many of the dynamics involved are very much still in play 70 years later.
Certainly, “Reductio ad Hitlerum”—the spoiling of anything that can be associated, however tangentially, with the Third Reich—played a decisive factor in this regard; indeed, the Second World War would utilized by egalitarians of every stripe. Moreover, Grant laments many times in Conquest the tendency towards sentimentality over Ellis Island and the “unity of mankind,” which seems to be part an permanent part of the American national psyche.
Another important factor was the Great Depression. The popularity of Grantian racialism and eugenics came in the 1920s, at a point when majority Americans were, generally speaking, proud of their race and culture and had a forward-looking outlook. With the onset of the Great Depression, Darwinism in the social sphere became associated with advocates of “survival of the fittest” qua dog-eat-dog capitalism. The Grantians were mostly uninterested in economics, outside vague warnings of the implications of importing low-quality immigrants; they were certainly not concerned with weeding out those who lacked business acumen. Nevertheless, the Depression made it easy for egalitarians to smear eugenics as an expression of haughty, even sadistic “class privilege.”
This new stance towards the Grantians was taken by the paper of record (then and now), the New York Times. which had actually endorsed immigration restriction in 1924. Reporting on the Third International Eugenics Conference of 1932, the Times declared that for the participants,
[eugenics] seems to have become a disguise for race prejudice, ancestor worship and caste snobbery… . Such were the views of the promoters of the now discredited doctrine that social salvation lies with the supposedly pure Nordics.”
The Grantians also failed to control academia. As racialism gained hegemony in the ‘20s, it was inevitable that it would spur some kind of strong left-wing reaction. This came in the person of German-born Jew Franz Boas (1858–1942) and his disciples, who across two decades produced a library of Anthropology, so much of which was directed polemically against the Grantians. The Boasian shift from race to “culture”—in the form of tribal customs, primitive rituals, and, most famously, “coming of age in Samoa”—was, in itself, neutral. However, all of Boasian writing was undergirded by an egalitarian faith in “the psychic unity of mankind.”
Franz Boas in 1940
On a more pragmatic level, the Boasians were quite astute at professionalizing their movement and co-ordinating mutual promotion. And the fact that they were successful in academia gave them a decisive advantage over the Grantians, who as a class were gentlemen amateurs.
Jonathan Spiro writes,
On a theoretical level the debate between the Grantian and the Boasians pitted the defenders of heredity against the proponents of environment. Intellectually, the split was a disagreement between adherents of polygenesis, who were obsessed [sic] with the classification of races, and adherents of monogenesis, who were fairly certain that races were socially constructed myths. And professionally, it was a conflict between an older generation of physical anthropologists (often gentlemen amateurs with no academic affiliation or perhaps an association with a museum) and the newer generation of cultural anthropologists (usually trained professionals with full-time positions in academia).
But for all that, it was difficult not to notice that at heart it was a confrontation between the ethos of native Protestants and immigrant Jews.
The older generation of amateurs were aristocratic WASPs with the money and leisure time to ponder fossils as an avocation, whereas the younger generation of professionals were immigrant Jews who saw higher education as a route to social respectability…
Though evolutionism (if not racialism) is paradigmatic in the biological sciences, the Boasians have not lessened their grip on Anthropology departments. For better and for worse, a revival of racial thinking will have to emerge, at least at first, outside the walls of the academy.
Happy Days! A eugenics exhibit at the Kansas State Fair, Topeka, Kansas, 1920.
What made The Conquest of the Continent anathema to the Boasians—and what makes it notorious to this day—is not its demographic history per se so much as the eugenic spirit that underlies it.
In the popular imagination, the word “eugenics” conjures up images of death panels, concentration camps, and piles of bodies … or a faustian “super villain” who seeks to wipe out humanity and breed a Master Race in space (a scheme that was thwarted by James Bond in the campy adventure Moonraker (1979).) For those who love to hate it, eugenics amounts to little more than rhetorical bogeyman or scarecrow—something to point at in horror.
Interestingly, in these depictions, eugenics alternates between being, on the one hand, a “pseudo-science”—that is, ineffective, ungrounded, fraudulent, and bizarre—and, on the other, all-too scientific—that is, marking the point at which religious or governmental authorities must intervene to prevent science from “going too far.”
But ultimately, the “totalitarian” connection to eugenics has never held much water. For instance, the eugenics programs in Nazi Germany were, historically speaking, quite unremarkable: they were begun during the Weimar Republic and were no more advanced than those of Sweden or the State of California.
Furthermore, the Nazis’ brutally against Jews, in what has come to be known the Holocaust, and Slavs, during campaigns on the Eastern Front, were not eugenic in any real sense of the word and should be criticized in other contexts.
It is worth pointing out that state science during the other reviled totalitarian regimes of the 20th century was based on the very opposite of Darwinism. The head of Soviet Biology during Stalin’s regime (and beyond), Trofim Denisovich Lysenko (1898–1976), believed, quite literally, that a plant could be genetically altered by its pot—and that these acquired characteristics would be passed down to its offspring. “Lysenkoism” was applied as both agricultural policy during collectivization as well as “political science,” with equally disastrous results. The philosophy of “environmentalism”—the ideal of the “Blank Slate” that can be written upon by progressive leaders—justifies, much more so than Darwinism, the treatment of people as “material,” whose nature can be altered at will, with the “reactionary” parts simply cut off and discarded.
Madison Grant never sought to create a “New Man.” He sought, instead, to conserve the results of natural selection, as he sought to conserve the natural world. Moreover, eugenic thinking is a logical implication of the Darwinian and the Mendelian (i.e., genetic) scientific revolutions. The first chapter of Charles Darwin’s (1809–1882) On the Origin of Species (1859), “Variation under Domestication,” is an extended analogy between evolution through natural selection, Darwin’s thesis, and evolution through artificial selection, which was well known to his readers as the breeding and domestication of birds, dogs, livestock, and the like. As Darwin notes, “the great power of this principle of selection is not hypothetical.” Francis Galton (1822–1911), Darwin’s cousin and originator of the theory of eugenics, was likely thinking of that passage when he quipped, “If a twentieth part of the cost and pains were spent in measures for the improvement of the human race that is spent on the improvement of the breed of horses and cattle, what a galaxy of genius might we not create!”
Whatever the case, it is eugenics, and Darwinism generally, that is forever associated with mass-murder, whereas the Blank Slate is let off scott free. (For instance, whenever a public figure denies the reality of race, he rarely get scolded by journalists—“What are you saying!? We know where that kind of thinking leads!”)
Franz Boas—whose scraggly visage appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1936 announcing the triumph of “environmentalism”—actually theorized that as Italian immigrants entered the United States, their head shapes would mutate according to environment, with the second generation having a shape closer to that of the American majority than their parents. This marked Boas’s frontal assault on Grant, in particular, his distinction between Dolichocephalic (long-headed) Nordics and Brachycephalic (round-headed) Eastern and Southern Europeans (i.e., Second Great Wave immigrants.)
And as it turns out, Boas’s study was bunk. He “fudged” his data for a good cause (in this case, the myth of the American “Melting Pot,” where democracy dissolves heredity). More importantly, Boas’s thesis is preposterous and risible on its face from the standpoint of Darwinian evolution, that is, from the standpoint of accepted biological science in the 21st century. Boasianism is, at its core, little different than Lysencoism or various other experiments in Marxian biology. Madison Grant’s oeuvre, on the other hand—however we might want to revise Nordicism—remains scientifically and rationally defensible.
Indeed, one of the primaries lessons that racial idealists can draw from studying Grant’s career is that, as trite as it may sound, science matters—and it is likely no coincidence that the most successful effort in racial idealism in modern American history was grounded in Darwinism.
Of course, as good science, Darwinism can be revised, expanded upon, and, potentially, falsified. Also, as good science, Darwinism does not favor or justify any one group or desired outcome. Indeed, as the 2005 science-fiction comedy Idiocracy painfully points out, natural selection does not even favor what one might call the strongest, most beautiful, and most intelligent.
That said, Darwinism offers a compelling and rational justification for Whites to act on behalf of their ancestors and progeny and feel a shared since of destiny with their extended kin group. As Kevin MacDonald correctly points out, “rational, scientific discourse” is granted pride of place in advanced Western societies; and one shouldn’t underestimate the “emotional commitment” that Darwinism can instill in Whites—as it raises politics to the level of collective survival, above claims to fairness that dominate the language of liberalism. Darwinism is seemingly more “effective in rallying Whites, especially elite Whites, than religious feelings.” Indeed, “the story of religious feeling in the modern age has been to either sink into irrelevance for secular Whites (who are likely to be more educated) or be diverted into causes that are suicidal for religious Whites.”
Viewed from another angle, Madison Grant had become relevant for contemporary racial idealists due to the increasing irrelevancy of what might be called “respectable” or “patriotic” immigration reform, that is, restriction on the basis of legality or concerns about assimilation (which are the only restrictionist arguments that are granted a hearing in the mainstream media).
According to the U.S. Census Department, by the summer of 2011, the majority of births in the United States were non-White infants. This means that if all immigration, legal and illegal, were (quite miraculously) halted immediately, nothing of significance demographically would change. The proverbial 2050 “tipping point”—when America reaches “majority-minority” status, with no single racial or ethnic groups defining the national character—will merely be delayed by a decade or two. Moreover, “assimilation” has become a deceptive and misleading term, as it begs the question “To What?” Hispanic immigrants have been assimilating downward across generations towards the culture and behavior of African-Americans. Indeed, one possible outcome of the ongoing demographic transformation is a thoroughly miscegenated, and thus homogenous and “assimilated,” nation, which would have little resemblance to the White America that came before it.
Put simply, the discourse that has predominated for the past 60 years on the Immigration and National Questions is increasingly disconnected from reality; for the racial idealist, it has become useless. To even understand the phenomenon of mass immigration—and the globalized world that underlies it—one must, following Grant, think racially. And for the racial idealist, the point is not just to understand…
This essay was first published in 2012.
- Northrop Frye. “The Decline of the West by Oswald Spengler,” Daedalus, Vol. 103, No. 1, Winter 1974. ↩︎
- Grant’s chief research assistant, who compiled the bibliography, was Paul Popenoe. ↩︎
- The Annales School is associated with academic journal by that name, founded in Strasbourg by Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre in 1929 and later relocated to Paris. The School sought to examine long-term evolution of societies, geographies, and economies. ↩︎
- The name Madison Grant does not appear anywhere in the two official chronicles of the American conservative movement, George Nash’s The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America and Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind. Grant is a non-person as well as The Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s putatively exhaustive 1,000-page American Conservatism—An Encyclopedia. In the face of all this, one can be forgiven for thinking that Grant was simply an artifact of a benighted, bigoted age, perhaps best treated like the “haters” one reads about in the bulletins of the Southern Poverty Law Center. (The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot, 7th edition (Regnery Publishing, 2001); George H. Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945, 2nd Edition (Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2006); Bruce Frohnen, Jeremy Beer, Jeffery O. Nelson (Eds.), American Conservatism—An Encylopedia (Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2006).) ↩︎
- A useful, though often hostile, introduction to such thinkers is Arthur Herman, The Idea of Decline in Western History (The Free Press, 1997). ↩︎
- The Zoological society was later transformed into the Wildlife Conservation Society, which currently manages some 200 million acres worldwide. ↩︎
- Jonathan Peter Spiro, Defending the Master Race: Conservation, Eugenics, and the Legacy of Madison Grant (Vermont University Press, 2009), 136. ↩︎
- Quoted in Spiro, 201. ↩︎
- In the U.S. political system, the power to legislate is vested in Congress. The President can only has veto bills he deems unsatisfactory. Congress has the additional authority to override a presidential veto with two-thirds majorities in both Houses. ↩︎
- In his books, Grant rarely dilates on the Jewish Question; however, his correspondence reveals that he was quite prickly about Jews in positions of power, such as Congressmen Isaac Siegel and Adolph Sabath and Rabbi Stephen S. Wise of the American Jewish Congress, whom he considered the most aggressively and effective opponents of immigration restriction. ↩︎
- The Act also extended the restriction on the Chinese to include the Japanese. ↩︎
- Accessible and accurate histories of American immigration can be found in Peter Brimelow, Alien Nation (HarperCollins, 1995), Byron Roth, The Perils of Diversity (Washington Summit Publishers, 2010); and Otis L. Graham, Unguarded Gates: A History of America’s Immigration Policy (Rowen and Littlefield, 2006). ↩︎
- Worth noting, the 1924 and ’29 Acts did nothing to address immigration from South America, which was not politically significant at the time. Quite prophetically, Grant laments this oversight in Conquest. ↩︎
- Quoted in Roth, 294 ↩︎
- Good Housekeeping, volume 72 number 2, February 1921. ↩︎
- Spiro, 346. ↩︎
- “The Melting Pot,” for instance, has returned as self-styled conservatives’ answer to multiculturalism. ↩︎
- Notably, “survival of the fittest” was coined by Herbert Spencer, not Darwin; the former attempted to associate his economic theories with evolution through natural selection. ↩︎
- “Genes and Eugenics,” New York Times, August 24, 1932; quoted in Spiro, 231. ↩︎
- See, for instance, Franz Boas, The Mind of Primitive Man (MacMillan, 1911) and “This Nordic Nonsense,” The Forum, October 1925. ↩︎
- Margaret Meade, Coming of Age in Samoa (William Morrow & Co., 1928). ↩︎
- This term was coined, not by Boas, but by German ethnologist Adolf Bastian (1826–1905), whom Boas worked for briefly at the Museum of Folkart in Berlin. ↩︎
- Spiro, 302. This conflict also brought to the fore some of the painful ambivalences of assimilation for immigrant Jews, something best expressed by the Polish immigrant Moses Israel Ehrenberg, who as an academic and public intellectual—the man who would write UNESCO’s statement rejecting the existence of race—refashioned himself with the absurdly WASPy name “Ashley Montagu.” ↩︎
- For a discussion of this issue, see John Glad, Future Human Evolution: Eugenics in the Twenty-First Century (Schuylkill Haven, PA: Hermitage Publishers). ↩︎
- See Steve Pinker, The Blank Slate (Viking, 2002). ↩︎
- Galton, “Hereditary Talent and Character.” ↩︎
- Time, May 11, 1936. ↩︎
- Franz Boas and Helene M. Boas, “The Head-Forms of the Italians as Influenced by Heredity and Environment,” American Anthropologist, April-June 1913. ↩︎
- Corey S. Sparks and Richard L. Jantz, “A Reassessment of human Cranial Plasticity: Boas Revisited,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, October 8, 2002. See also, Nicholas Wade, “A New Look at Old Data May Discredit a Theory on Race”, New York Times, October 8, 2002. ↩︎
- In film’s opening scenes, a stereotypical high-IQ WASP and Jewish couple is depicted as a continually forego child-rearing (“Not now, not with the market as it is…”), while a stereotypical low-IQ redneck family breeds with passionate intensity. The ultimate outcome, by 2050, is a collapsing, exceedingly vulgar world in which the average IQ of the population is at retardation levels. ↩︎
- Kevin MacDonald, “The Dispossessed Elite,” in Richard B. Spencer (ed.), The Great Erasure (Washington Summit Publishers, 2012). ↩︎
- As Byron Roth observes, the “debate” on immigration in the Western world throughout the 2000s was over whether Third World immigrants should or should not assimilate to the dominate culture, not whether this is possible or desirable. Roth, The Perils of Diversity, Chapter 1. ↩︎
- See Richard Spencer, “Who’s Taking Over?” American Renaissance, Vol. 21, no. 4, April 2010. ↩︎