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CHAPTER IV -- THE LURE OF THE PRIMITIVE

THE revolt against civilization goes deeper than we are
apt to suppose.  However elaborate and persuasive may
be the modem doctrines of revolt, they are merely con-
scious "rationalizings" of an instinctive urge which arises
from the emotional depths.  One of our hard, but salu-
tary, disillusionments is the knowledge that our fathers
were mistaken in their fond belief about automatic prog-
ress. We are now coming to realize that, besides progress,
there is "regress"; that going forward is no more "natu-
ral" than going backward; lastly, that both movements
are secondary phenomena, depending primarily upon the
character of human stocks.
  Now when we realize the inevitable discontent of indi-
viduals or groups placed at cultural levels above their
inborn capacities and their instinctive desire to revert
from these uncongenial surroundings to others lower but
more congenial, we can begin to appreciate the power of
the atavistic forces forever seeking to disrupt advanced
societies and drag them down to more primitive levels.
The success of such attempts means one of those cata-
clysms known as social revolution, and we have already
shown how profound is the regression and how great
the destruction of both social and racial values.  We 

                      126

must remember, however, that revolutions do not spring
casually out of nothing.  Behind the revolution itself
there usually lies a long formative period during which
the forces of chaos gather while the forces of order de-
cline.  Revolutions thus give plenty of waning of their
approach -- for those who have ears to hear. It is only
because hitherto men have not understood revolutionary
phenomena that the danger-signals have been disregarded
and society has been caught unawares.
  The symptoms of incipient revolution can be divided
into three stages: (1) Destructive criticism of the exist-
ing order; (2) revolutionary theorizing and agitation;
(3) revolutionary action.  The second and third stages
will be discussed in subsequent chapters. In the pres-
ent chapter let us consider the first stage: Destructive
Criticism.
  Strong, well-poised societies are not overthrown by
revolution.  Before the revolutionary onslaught can
have any chance of success, the social order must first
have been undermined and morally discredited.  This is
accomplished primarily by the process of destructive crit-
icism.  Destructive criticism must clearly be distinguished
from constructive criticism.  Between the two there is
all the difference between a toxin and a tonic.  Construc-
tive criticism aims at remedying defects and perfecting
the existing order by evolutionary methods.  Destructive
criticism, on the contrary, inveighs against current de-
fects in a bitter, carping, pessimistic spirit; tends to
despair of the existing social order, and either asserts or
implies that reform can come only through sweeping

                       127

changes of a revolutionary character.  Precisely what the
destined goal is to be is, at the start, seldom clearly de-
scribed.  That task belongs to the second stage -- the
stage of revolutionary theorizing and agitation.  Destruc-
tive criticism, in its initial aspect, is little more than a
voicing of hitherto inarticulate emotions -- a preliminary
crystallization of waxing dissatisfactions and discontents.
Its range is much wider than is commonly supposed, for
it usually assails not merely political and social matters
but also subjects like art and literature, even science
and learning.  Always there crops out the same spirit
of morose pessimism and incipient revolt against things
as they exist -- whatever these may be.
  A fundamental quality of destructive criticism is its
glorification of the primitive.  Long before it elaborates
specific revolutionary doctrines and methods, it blends
with its condemnation of the present an idealization of
what it conceives to have been the past.  Civilization is
assumed either to have begun wrong or to have taken a
wrong turning at some comparatively early stage of its
development.  Before that unfortunate event (the source
of present ills) the world was much better.  Hence, the
discontented mind turns hack with longing to those pris-
tine halcyon days when society was sound and simple,
and man happy and free.  The fact that such a Golden
Age never really existed is of small moment, because
this glorification of the primitive is an emotional reaction
of dissatisfied natures yearning for a return to more ele-
mental conditions in which they feel they would be more
at home.

                      128

  Such is the "Lure of the Primitive."  And its emo-
tional appeal is unquestionably strong. This is well
illustrated by the popularity of writers like Rousseau
and Tolstoy, who have condemned civilization and
preached a "return to nature."  Rousseau is, in fact,
the leading exponent of that wave of destructive criti-
cism which swept over Europe in the latter half of the
eighteenth century -- the forerunner of the French Revolu-
tion; while Tolstoy is one of the leading figures in the
similar nineteenth century movement that heralded the
revolutionary cataclysms of today.  In discussing
Rousseau and Tolstoy we will consider not merely their 
teachings but also their personalities and ancestry, be-
cause these latter vividly illustrate what we have already
observed -- that character and action are mainly deter-
mined by heredity.
  Take first the case of Rousseau.  Jean-Jacques, Rous-
seau is a striking example of the "tainted genius."  He
was born of unsound stock, his father being dissipated,
violent-tempered, flighty, and foolish.  Jean-Jacques
proved a "chip of the old block," for he was neurotic,
mentally unstable, morally weak, sexually perverted,
and during the latter part of his life was undoubtedly
insane.  Together with all this, however, he possessed
great literary talents, his style, persuasiveness, and
charm captivating and convincing multitudes. He ac-
cordingly exerted upon the world a profound -- and in the
main a baneful -- influence, which is working indirectly
but powerfully even today.
 Such was the champion of "noble savagery" against

                      129

civilization.(1)  Rousseau asserted that civilization was
fundamentally wrong and that the path of human sal-
vation lay in a "return to nature."  According to Rous-
seau, primitive man was a care-free and wholly admirable
creature, living in virtuous harmony with his fellows
till corrupted by the restraints and vices of civilization
-- especially the vice of private property, which had poi-
soned the souls of all men and had reduced most men
to ignoble servitude.  It is perhaps needless to add that
Rousseau was a passionate believer in "natural equality,"
all differences between men being in his opinion due
solely to the artificial conventions of civilization.  If
men would again be happy, free, and equal, asserted
Rousseau, the way was easy: let them demolish the
fabric of civilization, abolish private property, and re-
turn, to his communistic "state of nature."
  Put thus baldly, Rousseau's gospel may not sound
particularly alluring.  Clothed in his own persuasive
eloquence, however, it produced an enormous effect.
Said Voltaire: "When I read Rousseau, I want to run
about in the woods on all fours."
  Of course, Rousseau's teaching contains a kernel of
soundness -- that is true of all false doctrines, since if they
were wholly absurd they could make no converts outside
of bedlam, and could thus never become dangerous to
society.  In Rousseau's case the grain of truth was
his praise of the beauties of nature and simple living.
Preached to the oversophisticated, artificial "high so-
_________________________________________________________
(1) Of course, Rousseau is merely representative of a whole trend of 
thought and feeling. He was not a pioneer but a popularizer.

                      130

ciety" of the eighteenth century, his words undoubtedly
produced a refreshing effect; just as a jaded city man to-
day returns invigorated from a month's "roughing it"
in the wilds.  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, fresh air, and
exercise, but inoculated with a hatred for civilization
and consumed with a thirst for violent social experi-
ments.  The effect was about the same as though our
hypothetical city man should return from his month in
the wilds imbued with the resolve to burn down his
house and spend the rest of his life naked in a cave.  In
short: "Although Rousseau's injunction, 'Go back into
the woods and become men!' may he excellent advice
if interpreted as a temporary measure, Go back into the
woods and remain there' is a counsel for anthropoid
apes. (1)
  The effect of Rousseau's teaching upon revolutionary
thought and action will he discussed later.  Let us now
turn to the more recent champion of the primitive,
Tolstoy.  Count Leo Tolstoy came of a distinguished
but eccentric stock.   His mature philosophy of life,
particularly his dislike of civilization and fondness for
the primitive, is clearly accounted for by his heredity.
The ToIstoys seem to have been noted for a certain wild-
ness of temperament, and one of the family, Feodor
Ivanovich Tolstoy, was the famous "American," the
"Aleute" of Griboyedoff, who was so obsessed by Rous-
______________________________________________________
(1) N. H. Webster, World Revolution, p. 2 (London and Boston, 1921).

                      131

seau's teachings that he endeavored to put Rousseauism
into practice, had himself tattooed like a savage, and
tried to live absolutely in the "state of nature."  Leo
Tolstoy's life was characterized by violent extremes,
ranging from furious dissipation to ascetic frugality and
from complete scepticism to boundless religious devo-
tion.  Athwart all these shifts, however, we may discern
a growing distaste for civilized life as a morbid and un-
natural complication, a will to simplify, a metaphysical
urge backward toward the condition of primitive man.
He repudiates culture and approves all that is simp1e,
natural, elemental, wild.  In his writings Tolstoy de-
denounces culture as the enemy of happiness, and one of
his works, "The Cossacks," was written specifically to
prove the superiority of "the life of a beast of the field."
Like his ancestor the tattooed "Aleute," Leo Tolstoy
early fell under the spell of Rousseau, and was later
deeply influenced by Schopenhauer, the philosopher of
pessimism.  In his "Confessions" Tolstoy exclaims:
"How often have I not envied the unlettered peasant
his lack of learning. . . .  I say, let your affairs be as
two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand.  Instead
of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts
on your thumb nail . . .  Simplify, simplify, simplify!
Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but
one, instead of a hundred dishes, five; and reduce other
things in proportion."
  The celebrated Russian novelist and critic Dimitri
Merezhkovski thus analyzes Tolstoy's instinctive aver-
sion to civilization and of the primitive: "If a stone

                      132

lies on top of another in a desert, that is excellent.  If
the stone has been placed upon the other by the hand of
man, that is not so good.  But if stones have been
placed upon each other and fixed there with mortar or
iron, that is evil; that means construction, whether it
be a castle, a barracks, a prison, a customs-house, a
hospital, a slaughter-house, a church, a public build-
ing, or a school.  All that is built is bad, or at least
suspect.  The first wild impulse which Tolstoy felt
when he saw a building, or any complex whole, created
by the hand of man, was to simplify, to level, to crush,
to destroy, so that no stone might be left upon the other
and the place might again become wild and simple and
purified from the work of man's hand.  Nature is to
him the pure and simple; civilization and culture repre-
sent complication and impurity.  To return to nature
means to expel impurity, to simplify what is complex,
to destroy culture." (1)
  In analyzing Tolstoy we become aware of a biological
problem transcending mere family considerations; the
question of Russian folk nature comes into view.  The
Russian people is made up chiefly of primitive racial
strains, some of which (especially the Tartars and other
Asiatic nomad elements) are distinctly "wild" stocks
which have always shown an Instinctive hostility to
civilization.  Russian history reveals a series of volcanic
eruptions of congenital barbarism which have blown to
___________________________________________________________
(1) Dmitri Merezhkovski, "Tolstoy and Bolshevism," Deutche
Allgemeine Zeitung, 15-16 March, 1921. Quoted from the translation
in The Living Age, 7 May, 1921.

                      133

fragments the thin top-dressing of ordered civilization.
Viewed historically, the present Bolshevik upheaval
appears largely as an instinctive reaction against the
attempt to civilize Russia begun by Peter the Great
and continued by his successors.  Against this process
of "Westernization" the Russian spirit has continually
protested.  These protests have arisen from all classes
of Russian society.  Peasant sects like the "Old Be-
lievers condemning Peter as "Antichrist," or, like
the Skoptzi, mutilating themselves in furious fanati-
cism; wild peasant revolts like those of Pugachev and
Stenka Razine, reducing vast areas to blood and ashes;
high-born "Slavophiles," cursing the "Rotten West,"
glorifying Asia, and threatening Europe with a "cleans-
ing blood-bath" of conquest and destruction; Bolshevik
Commissars longing to engulf the whole world in a Red
tide surging out of Moscow -- the forms vary, but the
underlying spirit is the same.  Not by chance have
Russians been foremost in all the extreme forms of
revolutionary unrest: not by chance was "Nihilism" a
distinctively Russian development; Bakunin, the genius
of Anarchism; and Lenin, the brains of international
Bolshevism.
  Dmitri Merezhkovski thus admits the innate wildness
of the Russian soul:  "We fancied that Russia was a
house.  No, it is merely a tent.  The nomad set up his
tent for a brief period, then struck it, and is off again in
the steppes.  The naked, level steppes are the home of
the wandering Scythian.  Wherever in the steppes a
black point appears and grows larger in their vision, the

                      134

Scythian hordes sweep down upon it and level it to the
earth. They burn and ravage until they leave the wilder-
ness to resume its sway. The craving for unbroken dis-
tances, for a dead level, for naked nature, for physical
evenness and metaphysical uniformity -- the most ancient
ancestral impulse of the Scythian mind -- manifests itself
equally in Arakcheyev, Bakunin, Pugachev, Razin, Lenin,
and Tolstoy.  They have converted Russia into a va-
cant level plan.  They would make all Europe the same,
and the whole world the same." (1)
  Economists have expressed surprise that Bolshevism
should have established itself in Russia.  To the student
of race history, it was a perfectly natural event.  Further-
more, while the late war may have hastened the catas-
trophe, some such catastrophe was apparently inevitable,
because for years previous to the war it was clear that
the Russian social order was weakening, while the forces
of chaos were gathering strength.  The decade before
the war saw Russia suffering from a chronic "crime
wave," known collectively to Russian sociologists as
"Hooliganism," which seriously alarmed competent ob-
servers.  In the year 1912, the Russian minister of the
interior, Maklakov, stated: "Crime increases here. The
number of cases has grown.  A partial explanation is the
fact that the younger generation grew up in the years of
revolt, 1905-1906.  The fear of God and of laws disap-
pears even in the villages.  The city and rural population
is equally menaced by the 'Hooligans.'"  In the following
year (1913) a leading St. Petersburg newspaper wrote
___________________________________________________________
(1) From the article in the Deutch Allgemeine Zeitung previously quoted.

                      135

editorially: "Hooliganism, as a mass-phenomenon, is un-
known to western Europe.  The 'Apaches' who terrorize
the population of Paris or London are people with a dif-
ferent psychology from that of the Russian Hooligan."
Another St. Petersburg paper remarked about the same
time: "Nothing human or divine restrains the destruc-
tive frenzy of the untrammelled will of the Hooligan.
There are no moral laws for him.  He values nothing
and recognizes nothing.  In the bloody madness of his
acts there is always something deeply blasphemous, dis-
gusting, purely bestial."  And the well-known Russian
writer, Menshikov, drew this really striking picture of
social conditions in the pages of his organ, Novoye
Vremya: "All over Russia we see the same growth of
'Hooliganism,' and the terror in which the Hooligans
hold the population.  It is no secret that the army of
criminals increases constantly.  The Courts are literally
near exhaustion, crushed under the weight of a mountain
of cases. The police are agonizing in the struggle with
crime -- struggle which is beyond their strength.  The
prisons are congested to the breaking-point.  Is it pos-
sible that this terrible thing will not meet with some heroic
resistance?  A real civil war is going on in the depths of
the masses, which threatens a greater destruction than
an enemy's invasion.  Not 'Hooliganism,' but Anarchy:
this is the real name for that plague which has invaded
the villages and is invading the cities.  It is not only
degenerates who enter upon a life of debauch and crime;
already the average, normal masses join them, and only
exceptionally decent village youths still maintain as much

                      136

as possible a life of decent endeavor.  The younger people,
of wine, make a greater show than the elderly peasants
and the old men.  But the fact is that both the former
and the latter are degenerating into a state of savagery
and bestiality."
  Could there be a better description of that breakdown
of the social controls and upsurge of savage instincts
which, as we have already seen, characterizes the out-
break of social revolutions?  This was precisely what the
Russian Nihilists and Anarchists had been preaching for
generations.  This was what Bakunin had meant in his
favorite toast:  "To the destruction of all law and order,
and the unchaining of evil passions!"  For Bakunin,
"The People" were the social outcasts -- brigands,
thieves, drunkards, and vagabonds.  Criminals were
frankly his favorites. Said he: "Only the proletariat
in rags is inspired by the spirit and force of the coming
social revolution."
  Referring once more to the matter of Russian Hooli-
ganism prior to 1914, there is good ground for believing
that the "crime waves" which have afflicted western
Europe and America since the war are of a similar na-
ture.  Recently a leading American detective expressed
his conviction that the "gunmen," who to-day terrorize
American cities, are imbued with social revolutionary
feelings and have a more or less instinctive notion that
they are fighting the social order.  Mr. James M. Beck,
solicitor-general of the United States, has lately uttered
a similar warning against what he terms "the exceptional
revolt against the authority of law," which is taking

                      137

place to-day.  He sees this revolt exemplified not only
in an enormous increase of crime but in the current de-
moralization visible in music, art, poetry, commerce, and
social life.
  Mr. Beck's last assertion is one which has been made
for years by many keen-sighted critics in the literary
and artistic worlds.  Nothing is more extraordinary (and
more ominous) than the way in which the spirit of fever-
ish, and essentially planless, unrest has been bursting
forth for the past two decades in every field of art and
letters.  This unrest has taken many shapes -- "Futur-
ism,"  "Cubism,"  "Vorticism,"  "Expressionism," and
God knows what.  Its spirit, however, is always the same:
a fierce revolt against things as they exist, and a disin-
tegrative, degenerative reaction toward primitive chaos.
Our literary and artistic malcontents have no constru-
tive ideas to offer in place of that which they condemn.
What they seek is absolute "freedom."  Hence, every-
thing which trammels this anarchic "freedom" of theirs
-- form, style, tradition, reality itself -- is hated and de-
spised.  Accordingly, all these matters (sneered at as
"trite,"  "old-fashioned,"  "aristocratic,"  "bourgeois,"
or "stupid") are contemptuously cast aside, and the
"liberated" soul soars forth on the unfettered pinions of
his boundless fancy.
  Unfortunately, the flight seems to lead backward
toward the jungle past.  Certainly the products of the
"new" art bear a strange likeness to the crude efforts
of degenerate savages.  The distorted and tormented
shapes of "expressionist" sculpture, for example, resem-

                      138

ble (if they resemble anything) the idols of West African
negroes.  As for "expressionist" painting, it seems to
bear no normal relation to anything at all.  Those
crushed, mutilated forms, vaguely discerned amid a riot
of shrieking colors; surely this is not "real" -- unless 
bedlam be reality!  Most extraordinary of all is that
ultra-modern school of "painting," which has largely
discarded paint in favor of materials like newspaper clip-
pings, buttons, and fish-bones, pasted, sewn or tacked
on its canvases.
  Almost as extravagent is the "new" poetry.  Struc-
ture, grammer, metre, rhyme -- are defied.  Rational
meanings are carefully avoided, a senseless conglomer-
tion of words being apparently sought after as an end in
itself.  Here, obviously, the revolt against form is well-
nigh complete. The only step which seemingly now re-
mains to be taken is to abolish language, and have
"poems without words."
  Now what does all this mean?  It means simply one
more phase of the world-wide revolt against civilization
by the unadaptable, inferior, and degenerate elements,
seeking to smash the irksome framework of modem so-
ciety, and revert to the congenial levels of chaotic bar-
barism or savagery.  Normal persons may be inclined to
laugh at the vagaries of our artistic and literary rebels,
but the popular vogue they enjoy proves them to be really
no laughing matter.  Not long ago the English poet Al-
fred Noyes warned earnestly against the wide-spread
harm done by "Literary Bolsheviki."  "We are con-
fronted to-day," he said, "by the extraordinary spectacle
                  
                      139

of 10,000 literary rebels, each chained to his own solitary
height, and each chanting the same perennial song of
hate against everything that has been achieved by past
generations.  The worst of it is that the world applauds
them.  The real rebel to-day is the man who stands by
unpopular truth; but that man has a new name -- he is
called 'commonplace.'  The literary Bolshevism of the
past thirty years is more responsible for the present peril
of civilization than is realized.  One cannot treat all the
laws as if they were mere scraps of paper without a ter-
rible reckoning, and we are beginning to see it to-day.
  "It has led to an all-round lowering of standards.
Some of the modern writers who take upon themselves
to wipe out the best of ancient writers cannot write
grammatical English.  Their art and literature are in-
creasingly Bolshevist.  If we look at the columns of
the newspapers we see the unusual spectacle of the po-
litical editor desperately fighting that which the art and
literary portions of the paper uphold.  In the name of
'reality' many writers are indulging in shabby forms of
make-believe and are reducing all reality to ashes." (1)
 In similar vein, the well-known German art critic,
Johannes Volkelt, recently deplored the destructive ef-
fects of "expressionist" art and literature.  "The de-
moralization of our attitude and sentiment toward life
itself," he writes, "is even more portentous than our de-
clining recognition of artistic form. It is a mutilated,
deformed, moron humanity which glowers or drivels at
_______________________________________________________________
(1) From Mr. Noyes's lecture before the Royal Institute of London on
"Some aspects of Modern Poetry," February, 1920.
                   
                      140

us through expressionist pictures.  All they suggest is
profound morbidity.  Their jaded, unhealthy mood is
relieved only by absurdities, and where these cast a ray
of light into their rudimentary composition, it is only a
broken and joyless one.  Likewise, that which repels us
most in the poetry of our younger school is its scornful
stigmatizing of the past, without giving us anything
positive in its place; its pathetic groping in its own self-
wreckage; its confused, helpless seeking after some
steadfast ideal.  The soul is exhausted by its ceaseless
chasing after nothing.  Is life a shallow joke?  A crazy
dream?  A terrifying chaos?  Is there no longer sense
in talking of an ideal?  Is every ideal self-illusion?
These are the questions which drive the soul of to-day
aimlessly hither and thither.  Calm consciousness of
power and mastery, the unaffected glow of health,
threaten to become lost sensations.  Overalert self-
consciousness associated with a mysterious revival of
atavistic bestiality, and extreme overrefinement hand
in hand with slothful love of indolence, characterize the
discord which clouds the artistic mind of the period." (1)
  As might be expected, the spirit of revolt which at-
tacks simultaneously institutions, customs, ideals, art,
literature, and all the other phases of civilization does
not spare what stands behind, namely: individuality
and intelligence. To the levelling gospel of social revolu-
tion such things are anathema.  In its eyes it is the
mass, not the individual, which is precious; it is quantity,
not quality, which counts.  Superior intelligence is by
_________________________________________________________
(1) From the Vienna Neue Freie Presse,  19 April, 1921.
                    
                      141

its very nature suspect -- it is innately aristocratic, and
as such must be summarily dealt with.  For the past
two decades the whole trend of revolutionary doctrine
has been toward a glorification of brawn over brain, of
the hand over the head, of emotion over reason.  This
trend is so bound up with the development of revolu-
tionary theory and practice that we had best consider
it in the chapters devoted to those matters.  Suffice
it here to state that it is a normal part of proletarian
philosophy, and that it aims at nothing short of the en-
tire destruction of modem civilization and the substi-
tution of a self-directed "proletarian culture."  Above
all, the onward march of our hateful civilization must
be stayed.  On this point proletarian extremists and 
"moderates" appear to be agreed.  Cries the "Men-
shevik" Gregory Zilboorg: "Beyond all doubt the prog-
ress of Western European civilization has already made
life unbearable . . . .  We can achieve salvation to-day
only by stopping progress!" (1)
  Yes, yes: "civilization is unbearable,"  "progress must
be stopped,"  "equality must be established," and so
forth, and so forth.  The emotional urge behind the
revolution is quite clear.  Let us now examine precisely
what the revolution is, what it means, and how it is pro-
posed to bring it about.
________________________________________________________________
(1) Gregory Zilboorg, The Passing of the Old Order in Europe, pp. 225-226
(New York, 1920)


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