The Passing of the Great Race

The Passing of the Great Race: Or, The Racial Basis of European History is a 1916 book by American eugenicist, lawyer, and amateur anthropologist Madison Grant. Though influential, the book was largely ignored when it first appeared; it went through several revisions and editions, but was never a best seller.[1] Grant expounds a theory of Nordic superiority and argues for a strong eugenics program.

Grant's proposal to create a strong eugenics program for the Nordic population to survive was repudiated by Americans in the 1930s and Europeans after 1945. It is considered one of the main works in the 20th century tradition of scientific racism.[2]

Title Page of the The Passing of the Great Race
Title page of the first 1916 edition of The Passing of the Great Race.


The book is organized into two sections:

First section

The Passing of the Great Race book cover
Cover of the 1st edition (1916)

The first section deals with the basis of race as well as Grant's own stances on political issues of the day (eugenics). These center around the growing numbers of immigrants from non-Nordic Europe. Grant claims that the members of contemporary American Protestant society who could trace their ancestry back to Colonial times were being out-bred by immigrant and "inferior" racial stocks. Grant reasons that the United States has always been a Nordic country, consisting of Nordic immigrants from England, Scotland, and the Netherlands in Colonial times and of Nordic immigrants from Ireland and Germany in later times. Grant feels that certain parts of Europe were underdeveloped and a source of racial stocks unqualified for the Nordic political structure of the U.S. Grant is also interested in the impact of the expansion of U.S. Black population into the urban areas of the North.

Grant reasons that the new immigrants were of different races and were creating separate societies within America including ethnic lobby groups, criminal syndicates, and political machines which were undermining the socio-political structure of the country and in turn the traditional Anglo-Saxon colonial stocks, as well as all Nordic stocks. His analysis of population studies, economic utility factors, labor supply, etc. purports to show that the consequence of this subversion was evident in the decreasing quality of life, lower birth rates, and corruption of the contemporary American society. He reasons that the Nordic races would become extinct and the United States as it was known would cease to exist, being replaced by a fragmented country, or a corrupted caricature of itself.

Second section

The second part of the book deals with the history of the three European races: Nordic, Alpine, and Mediterranean, as well as their physical and mental characteristics. This part of the book ties together strands of thinking regarding Aryan migration theory, ethnology, anthropology, and history into a broad survey of the historical rise and fall, and expansion and retraction, of the European races from their homelands. It similarly connects the history of America with that of Europe, especially its Nordic nations.

Nordic theory

Passing of the Great Race - Map 1
"Maximum Expansion of Alpines" — Map from The Passing of the Great Race showing the "essentially peasant" (p. 228) Alpine migrations into Europe.
Passing of the Great Race - Map 2
"Expansion of the Pre-Teutonic Nordics" — Early Nordic influence spreading over the continent.

Grant's book is an elaborate work of racial hygiene detailing the racial history of the world. He draws on the scientific theories of genetics and Darwinian evolution, as well as the writings of previous eugenicists and racialist authors, to create a clearly written synthesis aimed at the general reader.[3]

In summary the book elaborates Grant's interpretation of contemporary anthropology and history, which he sees as revolving chiefly around the idea of race rather than environment. He specifically promotes the idea of the Nordic race as a key social group responsible for human development; thus the subtitle of the book is The Racial Basis of European History. Grant also supports eugenics, advocating the sterilization of "undesirables", a treatment possibly to be extended to "types which may be called weaklings" and "perhaps ultimately to worthless race types":

A rigid system of selection through the elimination of those who are weak or unfit—in other words social failures—would solve the whole question in one hundred years, as well as enable us to get rid of the undesirables who crowd our jails, hospitals, and insane asylums. The individual himself can be nourished, educated and protected by the community during his lifetime, but the state through sterilization must see to it that his line stops with him, or else future generations will be cursed with an ever increasing load of misguided sentimentalism. This is a practical, merciful, and inevitable solution of the whole problem, and can be applied to an ever widening circle of social discards, beginning always with the criminal, the diseased, and the insane, and extending gradually to types which may be called weaklings rather than defectives, and perhaps ultimately to worthless race types.

Passing of the Great Race - Map 3
"Expansion of the Teutonic Nordics and Slavic Alpines"—Further Nordic expansion, as well as the Alpines.

Other messages in his work include recommendations to install civil organizations through the public health system to establish quasi-dictatorships in their particular fields with the administrative powers to segregate unfavorable races in ghettos. He also mentions that the expansion of non-Nordic race types in the Nordic system of freedom would actually mean a slavery to desires, passions, and base behaviors. In turn, this corruption of society would lead to the subjection of the Nordic community to "inferior" races who would in turn long to be dominated and instructed by "superior" ones utilizing authoritarian powers. The result would be the submergence of the indigenous Nordic races under a corrupt and enfeebled system dominated by inferior races.

Grant's view of Nordic theory

Nordic theory, in Grant's formulation, was largely copied from the work of Arthur de Gobineau that appeared in the 1850s, except that Gobineau used the study of language while Grant used physical anthropology to define races. Both divided mankind into primarily three distinct races: Caucasoids (based in Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia), Negroids (based in Sub-Saharan Africa), and Mongoloids (based in Central and Eastern Asia). Nordic theory, however, further subdivided Caucasoids into three groups: Nordics (who inhabited Scandinavia, northern Germany, Austria-Hungary, parts of England, Scotland and Ireland, Holland, Flanders, parts of northern France, parts of Russia, and northern Poland, and parts of Central Europe), Alpines (whose territory stretched from central Europe, parts of northern Italy, southern Poland to the Balkans/Southeastern Europe, central/southern Russia, Turkey and even into Central Asia), and Mediterraneans (who inhabited southern France, the Iberian peninsula, southern Italy, Greece, Wales, parts of England and Scotland, North Africa, and parts of the Middle East and Central and South Asia).

Passing of the Great Race - Map 4
"Present Distribution of the European Races"—Grant's vision of the status quo, with the Nordics in red, the Alpines in green, and the Mediterraneans in yellow.

In Grant's view, Nordics probably evolved in a climate which "must have been such as to impose a rigid elimination of defectives through the agency of hard winters and the necessity of industry and foresight in providing the year's food, clothing, and shelter during the short summer. Such demands on energy, if long continued, would produce a strong, virile, and self-contained race which would inevitably overwhelm in battle nations whose weaker elements had not been purged by the conditions of an equally severe environment" (p. 170). The "Proto-Nordic" human, Grant reasoned, probably evolved in "forests and plains of eastern Germany, Poland and Russia" (p. 170).

The Nordic, in his hypothesis, was "Homo europaeus, the white man par excellence. It is everywhere characterized by certain unique specializations, namely, wavy brown or blond hair and blue, gray or light brown eyes, fair skin, high, narrow and straight nose, which are associated with great stature, and a long skull, as well as with abundant head and body hair."[4] Grant categorized the Alpines as being the lowest of the three European races, with the Nordics as the pinnacle of civilization.

The Nordics are, all over the world, a race of soldiers, sailors, adventurers, and explorers, but above all, of rulers, organizers, and aristocrats in sharp contrast to the essentially peasant character of the Alpines. Chivalry and knighthood, and their still surviving but greatly impaired counterparts, are peculiarly Nordic traits, and feudalism, class distinctions, and race pride among Europeans are traceable for the most part to the north.

Grant, while aware of the "Nordic Migration Theory" into the Mediterranean, appears to reject this theory as an explanation for the high civilization features of the Greco-Roman world.

The mental characteristics of the Mediterranean race are well known, and this race, while inferior in bodily stamina to both the Nordic and the Alpine, is probably the superior of both, certainly of the Alpines, in intellectual attainments. In the field of art its superiority to both the other European races is unquestioned.

Yet, while Grant allowed Mediterraneans to have abilities in art, as quoted above, later in the text in a sop to Nordic Migration Theorists, he remarked that true Mediterranean achievements were only through admixture with Nordics:

This is the race that gave the world the great civilizations of Egypt, of Crete, of Phoenicia including Carthage, of Etruria and of Mycenean Greece. It gave us, when mixed and invigorated with Nordic elements, the most splendid of all civilizations, that of ancient Hellas, and the most enduring of political organizations, the Roman State. To what extent the Mediterranean race entered into the blood and civilization of Rome, it is now difficult to say, but the traditions of the Eternal City, its love of organization, of law and military efficiency, as well as the Roman ideals of family life, loyalty, and truth, point clearly to a Nordic rather than to a Mediterranean origin.

In this manner, Grant appeared to be studiously following scientific theory. Critics warned that Grant used uncritical circular reasoning.[5] His desirable characteristics of a people — "family life, loyalty, and truth" — were claimed to be exclusive products of the "Nordic race".[6] Thus, whenever such traits were found in a non-Nordic culture, Grant said that they were evidence of a Nordic influence or admixture, rather than casting doubt on their supposed exclusive Nordic origin.

Reception and influence

By 1937, the book is said to have sold 17,000 copies in the U.S. The book received positive reviews in the 1920s, but Grant's popularity declined in the 1930s. Among those who embraced the book and its message was Adolf Hitler, who wrote to Grant to personally thank him for writing it, referring to the book as "my Bible."[7]

Spiro (2009) explains its modest sales by five factors:

  • The book appeared when the anti-German propaganda machine was shifting into high gear, with images of raping nuns and bombing cathedrals.
  • The message was anti-democratic and anti-Christian, which did not sit well with the patriotic public.
  • Hereditarianism ran counter to the belief in education, hard work, and "pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps."
  • Immigration during the First World War declined because ships were allocated to the war effort.
  • The work was categorised by the publisher as "science" and so never had a chance at mass popularity.[8]

Grant researched the published scientific literature, especially in anthropology, to support his notions of Nordic racialism.

According to Grant, Nordics were in a dire state in the modern world, where their abandonment of cultural values rooted in religious or superstitious proto-racialism, they were close to committing "race suicide" by miscegenation and being outbred by inferior stock, which was taking advantage of the transition. Nordic theory was strongly embraced by the racial hygiene movement in Germany in the early 1920s and 1930s; however, they typically used the term "Aryan" instead of "Nordic", though the principal Nazi ideologist, Alfred Rosenberg, preferred "Aryo-Nordic" or "Nordic-Atlantean". Stephen Jay Gould described The Passing of the Great Race as " …the most influential tract of American scientific racism … "[9]

Grant was involved in many debates on the discipline of anthropology against the anthropologist Franz Boas, who advocated cultural anthropology in contrast to Grant's "hereditarian" branch of physical anthropology. Boas and his students were strongly opposed to racialist notions, holding that any perceived racial inequality was from social rather than biological factors.[10] Versions of their debates on the relative influence of biological and social factors persist in contemporary anthropology.[11]

Grant advocated restricted immigration to the United States through limiting immigration from East Asia and Southern Europe; he also advocated efforts to purify the American population though selective breeding. He served as the vice president of the Immigration Restriction League from 1922 to his death. Acting as an expert on world racial data, Grant also provided statistics for the Immigration Act of 1924 to set the quotas on immigrants from certain European countries. Even after the statute was passed, Grant continued to be irked that even a smattering of non-Nordics were allowed to immigrate to the country each year. He also assisted in the passing and prosecution of several anti-miscegenation laws, notably the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 in the state of Virginia, where he sought to codify his particular version of the "one-drop rule" into law.

Grant became a part of popular culture in 1920s America. Author F. Scott Fitzgerald made a lightly disguised reference to Grant in The Great Gatsby. Tom Buchanan was reading a book called The Rise of the Colored Empires by "this man Goddard", a combination of Grant and his colleague Lothrop Stoddard. (Grant wrote the introduction to Stoddard's book The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy.) "Everybody ought to read it", the character explained. "The idea is if we don't look out the white race will be — will be utterly submerged. It's all scientific stuff; it's been proved."

Ernest Hemingway might also have alluded to The Passing of the Great Race in the subtitle of his book The Torrents of Spring; A Romantic Novel in Honor of the Passing of a Great Race. The book was a parody of contemporary writers and would thus be referring to them sarcastically as a "great race".

Americans turned against Grant's ideas in the 1930s; his book was no longer sold, and his supporters fell away.[2] In Europe, however, Nordic theory was adopted during the 1930s by the Nazis and others. Grant's book and the genre in general was read in Germany, but eugenicists increasingly turned to Nazi Germany for leadership. Heinrich Himmler's Lebensborn Society was formed to preserve typical Nordic genes, such as blond hair and blue eyes, by sheltering blonde, blue-eyed women.[12]

The book was also the earliest emergence of the white genocide conspiracy theory as The Passing of the Great Race specfically focuses on an aforementioned supposed "race suicide" of Nordics by non-Nordics.[13]


  1. ^ Spiro (2009) p 167
  2. ^ a b Spiro (2009) p 347
  3. ^ Spiro (2009) pp. 157–158
  4. ^ Grant, Madison (1921). The Passing of the Great Race (4 ed.). C. Scribner's sons. p. 167.
  5. ^ Spiro, Jonathan P. (2009). Defending the Master Race: Conservation, Eugenics, and the Legacy of Madison Grant. University of Vermont Press. ISBN 978-1-58465-715-6. Lay summary (29 September 2010).
  6. ^ Madison Grant, The Passing of the Great Race: Or, The Racial Basis of European History (New York, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1916), p. 139.
  7. ^ Stefan Kühl. 2002. Nazi Connection: Eugenics, American Racism, and German National Socialism. Oxford University Press, p. 85
  8. ^ Spiro (2009) p 161
  9. ^ Stephen Jay Gould, Bully for Brontosaurus: Reflections in Natural History (New York, New York: W. W. Norton, 1991), p. 162.
  10. ^ Baker (1998), 104-107
  11. ^ Wade, Nicholas. "A New Look at Old Data May Discredit a Theory on Race". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 March 2018.
  12. ^ Spiro (2009) p 363-64
  13. ^ Serwer, Adam (April 2019). "Adam Serwer: White Nationalism's Deep American Roots". The Atlantic. Retrieved June 11, 2019.

Further reading

  • Baker, Lee D. (1998). From Savage to Negro: Anthropology and the Construction of Race. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-21168-5.
  • Guterl, Matthew Press (2001). The Color of Race in America, 1900–1940. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-00615-1.
  • Jackson, John P. (2005). Science for Segregation: Race, Law, and the Case against Brown v. Board of Education. NYU Press. ISBN 978-0-8147-4271-6. Lay summary (30 August 2010).
  • Tucker, William H. (2007). The funding of scientific racism: Wickliffe Draper and the Pioneer Fund. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0-252-07463-9. Lay summary (4 September 2010).

External links

Alpine race

The Alpine race is a historical race concept defined by some late 19th-century and early 20th-century anthropologists as one of the sub-races of the Caucasian race. The origin of the Alpine race was variously identified. Ripley argued that it migrated from Central Asia during the Neolithic revolution, splitting the Nordic and Mediterranean populations. It was also identified as descending from the Celts residing in Central Europe in Neolithic times. The Alpine race is mainly distinguished by its cranial measurements, such as high cephalic index.

Arabid race

The Arabid race (also known as the Orientalid race) is a historical term for a morphological subtype of the Caucasoid race, as used in traditional physical anthropology.

Atlantid race

The Atlantid race or North-Atlantid is a term historically used as one of the sub-races of the Caucasoid race. The term was popular in the early 20th century.

Caspian race

Caspian race is a term used in racial anthropology by some authors to describe a sub-race of the greater Caucasian race.

The term is used by M. G. Abdushelishvili (1979) as constituting a branch of the Mediterranean race or Irano-Afghan race.

In Soviet-era anthropology, the term was used to include Tats and Azerbaijanis.The phenotype has been said to be prevalent among the Azerbaijanis, Kumyks and Tsakhurs.

Genrietta Leonidovna Khit states that as a form of racial admixture the Caspian subtype is represented among Turkmens and Talyshs.

Ethiopid race

Ethiopid (also spelled Aethiopid, Erythriote) is a historical racial classification of humans. It was equivalent with the Eastern Hamite division of the Caucasian race.

Greaser (derogatory)

Greaser was a derogatory term for a Mexican in what is now the U.S. Southwest in the 19th century. The slur likely derived from what was considered one of the lowliest occupations typically held by Mexicans, the greasing of the axles of wagons; they also greased animal hides that were taken to California where Mexicans loaded them onto clipper ships (a greaser). It was in common usage among U.S. troops during the Mexican–American War.The term was actually incorporated into an early California statute, the Greaser Act (1855), an expression of a virulent form of anti-Mexican sentiment among many Anglo Californians.

Greaser persisted in use through the silent movie era, as evidenced by movies such as Ah Sing and the Greasers (1910), The Greaser's Gauntlet (1908),Tony, the Greaser (1911), The Greaser and the Weakling (1912), The Girl and the Greaser (1913), The Greaser's Revenge (1914), and Bronco Billy and the Greaser (1914). Subsequently, however, Hollywood began to cut its usage of this particular derogatory term to improve its distribution in Mexican and Latin American markets.The eugenicist Madison Grant made mention of the term with respect to Mexicans of mixed ancestry in his 1916 work of scientific racism The Passing of the Great Race.

Irano-Afghan race

The Irano-Afghan race (also known as the Iranid race) is an obsolete term for a physical type most common among populations native to the Iranian plateau. The Irano-Afghan type was classified as belonging to the greater Caucasian race. It was usually associated with the Mediterranean subtype, depending on the authority consulted.

Madison Grant

Madison Grant (November 19, 1865 – May 30, 1937) was an American lawyer, writer, and zoologist known primarily for his work as a eugenicist and conservationist. As a eugenicist, Grant was responsible for one of the most notorious works of scientific racism, and played an active role in crafting strong immigration restriction and anti-miscegenation laws in the United States.

As a conservationist, Grant is credited with the saving of many different species of animals, founding many different environmental and philanthropic organizations and developing much of the discipline of wildlife management.

May Day (short story)

"May Day" is a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald published in Smart Set in 1920.

National Socialist Bloc

National Socialist Bloc (in Swedish: Nationalsocialistiska Blocket) was a Swedish national socialist political party formed in the end of 1933 by the merger of Nationalsocialistiska Samlingspartiet, Nationalsocialistiska Förbundet and local National Socialist units connected to the advocate Sven Hallström in Umeå. Later Svensk Nationalsocialistisk Samling merged into NSB.

The leader of the party was Colonel Martin Ekström. The party maintained several publications, Landet Fritt (Gothenburg), Vår Kamp (Gothenburg), Vår Front (Umeå), Nasisten (Malmö) and Riksposten.

NSB differentiated itself from other Swedish National Socialist groups due to its liaisons with the Swedish upper class. NSB was clearly smaller than the two main National Socialist parties in Sweden at the time, SNSP and NSAP. Gradually the party vanished.

National Socialist League

The National Socialist League was a short-lived Nazi political movement in the United Kingdom immediately before the Second World War.

Nordic race

The Nordic race was one of the putative sub-races into which some late-19th to mid-20th century anthropologists divided the Caucasian race. People of the Nordic type were mostly found in Scandinavia, Northwestern Europe, and countries surrounding the Baltic Sea, such as Germans and Finnic peoples. The psychological traits of Nordics were described as truthful, equitable, competitive, naïve, reserved and individualistic. Other supposed sub-races were the Alpine race, Dinaric race, Iranid race,

East Baltic race, and the Mediterranean race.

Nordicism is an ideology of racial separatism which views Nordics as an endangered and superior racial group, most notably outlined in Madison Grant's book The Passing of the Great Race, Arthur de Gobineau's An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races, and Houston Stewart Chamberlain's The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century. This ideology was popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Northwestern, Central, and Northern European countries as well as in North America and Australia. The idea of the Nordic phenotype being superior to others was originally embraced as "Teutonicism" in Germany, "Anglo-Saxonism" in England and the United States, and "Gallicism" in France. The notion of the superiority of the "Nordic race" and the Northwestern European nations that were associated with this supposed race influenced the United States' Immigration Act of 1924 (which effectively banned or severely limited the immigration of Italians, Jews, and other Southern and Eastern Europeans) and the later Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 and it was also present in other countries outside Northwestern Europe such as Australia, Canada, and South Africa. By the 1930s, the Nazis claimed that the Nordic race was the most superior branch of the "Aryan race" and constituted a master race (Herrenvolk).

Northcaucasian race

Northcaucasian race (also Caucasionic race) is a term

for a proposed sub-race of the larger Caucasian race prosed by Carleton S. Coon (1930).

It comprises the native populations of the North Caucasus, the Balkars, Karachays and Vainakh (Chechens and Ingushs).

Race of the future

The race of the future is a theoretical composite race which will result from ongoing racial admixture.Richard von Coudenhove-Kalergi in 1925 in Practical Idealism predicted: "The man of the future will be of mixed race. Today's races and classes will gradually disappear owing to the vanishing of space, time, and prejudice. The Eurasian-Negroid race of the future will replace the diversity of peoples with a diversity of individuals." The same scenario had been envisaged, with rather less enthusiasm, by Madison Grant in his 1916 The Passing of the Great Race, calling for a eugenics program to prevent this development, and in a similar ideological context in Lothrop Stoddard's The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy in 1920.

Robert E. Kuttner

Robert E. Kuttner (March 10, 1927 - February 19, 1987) was an American biologist and white supremacist.

The Myth of the Twentieth Century

The Myth of the Twentieth Century (German: Der Mythus des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts) is a 1930 book by Alfred Rosenberg, one of the principal ideologues of the Nazi Party and editor of the Nazi paper Völkischer Beobachter. The titular "myth" (in the special Sorelian sense) is "the myth of blood, which under the sign of the swastika unchains the racial world-revolution. It is the awakening of the race-soul, which after long sleep victoriously ends the race chaos."The book has been described as "one of the two great unread bestsellers of the Third Reich" (the other being Mein Kampf). In private Adolf Hitler said: "I must insist that Rosenberg's The Myth of the Twentieth Century is not to be regarded as an expression of the official doctrine of the party." Hitler objected to Rosenberg's paganism.Hitler awarded the first State Prize for Art and Science to the author of The Myth of the Twentieth Century. The official document accompanying the prize "expressly praises Rosenberg as a 'person who has, in a scientific and penetrating manner, laid the firm foundation for an understanding of the ideological bases of National Socialism.'"

The Races of Europe (Coon)

The Races of Europe is a popular work of physical anthropology by Carleton S. Coon. It was first published in 1939 by Macmillan.

The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy

The Rising Tide of Color: The Threat Against White World-Supremacy (1920), later republished in other titles, like The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy, is a book about geopolitics and racialism by Lothrop Stoddard. The book describes the collapse of white supremacy and colonialism due to population growth among non-white people, rising nationalism in colonized nations, and industrialization in China and Japan. Stoddard advocated restricting non-white migration into white nations, restricting Asian migration to Africa and Latin America and slowly giving Middle Eastern and Asian colonies independence. A noted eugenicist, Stoddard supports a separation of the "primary races" of the world and warns against miscegenation.

White supremacy

White supremacy or white supremacism is the racist belief that white people are superior to people of other races and therefore should be dominant over them. White supremacy has roots in scientific racism, and it often relies on pseudoscientific arguments. Like most similar movements such as neo-Nazism, white supremacists typically oppose members of other races as well as Jews.

The term is also typically used to describe a political ideology that perpetuates and maintains the social, political, historical, or institutional domination by white people (as evidenced by historical and contemporary sociopolitical structures such as the Atlantic slave trade, Jim Crow laws in the United States, and apartheid in South Africa). Different forms of white supremacism put forth different conceptions of who is considered white, and different groups of white supremacists identify various racial and cultural groups as their primary enemy.In academic usage, particularly in usage which draws on critical race theory or intersectionality, the term "white supremacy" can also refer to a political or socioeconomic system, in which white people enjoy a structural advantage (privilege) over other ethnic groups, on both a collective and individual level.

Color terminology
Sub-types (anthropological)
Diachronic (Archaeogenetics)

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