On Might is Right
Below are a series of quotes from a wide spectrum of sources remarking on Redbeard’s book. Note what was said, who said it, and when it was said:
“The substance of this book, as it is expressed in the editor’s preface, is that to measure ‘right’ by the false philosophy of the Hebrew prophets and ‘weepful’ Messiahs is madness. Right is not the offspring of doctrine, but of power. All laws, commandments, or doctrines as to not doing to another what you do not wish done to you, have no inherent authority whatever, but receive it only from the club, the gallows, and the sword. A man truly free is under no obligation to obey any injunction, human or divine. Obedience is the sign of the degenerate. Disobedience is the stamp of the hero.
Expressed in the form of a doctrine these positions startle us. In reality they are implied in the ideal of art serving beauty. The art of our upper classes has educated people in this ideal of the over-man, — which is in reality the old ideal of Nero, Stenka Razin, Genghis Khan, Robert Macaire or Napoleon and all their accomplices, assistants, and adulators — and it supports this ideal with all its might.
It is this supplanting of the ideal of what is right by the ideal of what is beautiful, i.e. of what is pleasant, that is the fourth consequence, and a terrible one, of the perversion of art in our society. It is fearful to think of what would befall humanity were such art to spread among the masses of the people. And it already begins to spread.”
—Leo Tolstoy, “What Is Art?” 1897
“We must take account of the wonderful book by ‘Ragnard Redbeard,’ which sets forth ideas analogous to those of Nietzsche.”
—Thomas Common, Notes for Good Europeans 1904
“The doctrine that might gives right has covered the earth with misery for thousands of years, and has never benefited anybody or any country. While it crushes the weak, it also destroys the strong.”
—John Peter Altgeld* The Cost Of Something For Nothing 1904
*Altgeld was Governor of Illinois from 1893 until 1897, the year Redbeard published his book. He famously pardoned two “Haymarket bombers”. His condemnation of “might gives right” in his book is no coincidence.
“In America Nietzsche’s philosophy is represented by a book of Ragnar Redbeard, entitled Might is Right…”
—Paul Carus, Nietzsche and Other Exponents of Individualism 1914
“Might is Right—a book that all rebels will want to read, especially in these days that ‘try mens souls,’ but with the philosophy of which, in full, no social revolutionist will agree. But the book will force you to think and it will show you in naked words how the mighty rule.”
—The Voice of the People (Industrial Workers of the World) 1914
“Propagandists are advised to read the following books:— The classics of Marx and Engels and Lenin and Trotsky; Might is Right, by Ragnar Redbeard; War—What for? by G. Kirkpatrick; Red Europe, by Frank Anstey; Increased Production, by George Dagger; Money Power, by Frank Anstey; The Coming War with America, by John McLean; and all other leading books of a like character.”
—The Communist, 17 June 1921
“Might is Right, by Ragnar Redbeard and published by Ross’s Book Service, is a remarkable book. Originally published in 1896, it has run through five editions, and has had an extraordinary influence on the minds of its readers. The audacity, candour and brutality of the author right through his work alternately attracts and repels the reader. Copies of this amazing exposition can be obtained at our Book shop, Ross’s Book Service.”
— The Socialist 12 August 1921
“Might is Right is a remarkable book. It is unorthodox, unprecedented, and extraordinary. It stamps Redbeard as a man of wonderful virility and rugged primeval force, who shatters many popular ideals hitherto believed sacred and impregnable.
If, as Redbeard asserts, a false and depressing philosophy has held sway in the world for two thousand years, his Might is Right is a veritable religious and political earthquake, stabbing the twenty century-old philosophy.
Might Is Right has made a profound impression on some of the world’s greatest protagonists of Force, who have found in its pages the necessary excuse for their “blood-and-iron” policy. It supplements the theories of Darwin, of Gibbon, and Spencer and its splendid epigrams are more Machiavellian than the writings of the original fifteenth-century Nick!
Three years ago, ex-President Woodrow Wilson thundered: ‘Force, force to the utmost — force without stint or limit.’ Redbeard sets out to justify this theory of the ‘Survival of the Fittest’ in a series of arguments that, to say the least, are as brutal as they are formidable.
But whether you agree with his theory that ‘the ideal animal is a destructive warrior and not a crucified Carpenter,’ this remarkable book is well worth reading.”
— Australian Worker 8 September 1921
“A Sydney writer named Desmond produced Might is Right, under the nom de plume of ‘Ragnar Redbeard.’ The I.W.W. seized upon this vitriolic volume as its bible, and misrepresented Redbeard as a Montana rancher, claiming this great man alive as seven cities claimed Homer dead. The book probably is still appearing in new editions.
From the moral and ethical points of view, it compares with Machiavelli’s Prince, but it is questionable if any writer has equaled Redbeard in sustained invective. For nearly two hundred pages phrase after phrase descends like a club, bent upon smashing to flinders the church and state at which it is aimed.
‘All men are created equal is an Infernal lie,’ Redbeard declares. He quotes Bismarck:
‘Not by speechifying and majority votes can the great questions of to-day be settled, but by iron and blood!’
It is to be feared that the commercial censorship of publicity in Australia has the effect of not permitting the pillars of the State to realize what some of our most influential, if rather impoverished, fellow-citizens are thinking. Of religion, Redbeard has much to say that defies reproduction under our laws, so the reader who is just sitting up and taking notice must be content to remain in ignorance of the great iconoclast’s loftiest phrases.”
— Liberty Vol.1 No. 18. 19 October 1933
“Ragnar Redbeard LL.D., that Nietzsche of Chicago, the Max Stirner of Evanston…his attack upon this civilization of, by and for ‘mental geldings’, should be a part of every Fortean’s literary heritage. ”
—Tiffany Thayer, Doubt Vol. 15, 16 FS = 1947
“RAGNAR REDBEARD COME HOME; MIGHT IS RIGHT”
—Anonymous classified ad, Berkeley Barb in 1969
“It is surely one of the most incendiary works ever to be published anywhere… Redbeard surely undermined the largest part of the rationale to which conventional society appeared to be anchored.”
—James J. Martin, Laurance Labadie 1978
“Undoubtedly the most bizarre product of the American Nietzsche vogue… a barbaric yawp that reduced Whitman to a whisper.”
—Robert C. Bannister, Social Darwinism 1979
“Erratic, inspiring, infuriating, a mixture of individualistic sense and collective nonsense, it outlines a case for ‘social darwinism’ that is one of the frankest and most powerful I have ever seen.”
—Sidney E. Parker The Storm Winter 1982–’83
“An egoist classic, Might is Right is a tireless, juicy rant against both political and moral rights. The world is governed by force, not by genteel political or religious creeds, and the rule of Power is just., natural, and will never be changed by ideologues. Those who have enjoyed Nietzsche and Stirner will not went to miss this exciting work. which includes an introduction by S.E. Parker.”
—Mike Hoy, Loompanics Unlimited Catalog 1991
“Redbeard is the ultimate Social Darwinist, or else his parody. Himself a scribbling intellectual—what else did he ever do but write this book?—he must have dreamed he was a freebooter, a warrior chieftain mighty of thew, swearing great oaths whilst quaffing from his mead-horn. Might Is Right is Thus Spake Zarathustra had it been penned by Walter Mitty. Redbeard made an effort, far from successful, to rid himself of moralism at gut level, by summoning it to a song-duel, and not just to refute it in the abstract. Yet he remained a slave to several of the tawdriest prejudices of his time.”
Bob Black, Beneath the Underground, 1994
“What I saw (upon discovering Might is Right in 1957) should not have been in print. It was more than inflammatory. It was sheer blasphemy.”
—Anton Szandor LaVey, 1996