Power: Is Might Right? (guest article)

[EDITORS NOTE: This is a guessed article and was not written by me (James T. Stilwell III). I constantly endeavor to present my readers with only the crème de la crème and this article certainly meets that expectation.

This article is certainly a brilliant masterpiece in my opinion and thus I contacted the author (who is a friend of mine) and asked him if I could feature it here on my site. I truly believe that “Matts Approach” is destined for literary greatness. I hope you will join me in following Matt’s work. Please do checkout some of his other writings located on his blog linked here. ]

“Every one who would be free must show his power. … He who exalteth himself shall be exalted, and he who humbleth himself shall be righteously trodden beneath the hoofs of the herd. “The humble” are only fit for dogs’ meat. Bravery includes every virtue, humility, every crime. He who is afraid to risk his life must never be permitted to win anything. Human rights and wrongs are not determined by Justice, but by Might. Disguise it as you may, the naked sword is still king-maker and king-breaker, as of yore. All other theories are lies and — lures. Therefore! If you would conquer wealth and honor, power and fame, you must be practical, grim, cool and merciless. You must ride to success (by preference) over the necks of your foemen. Their defeat is your strength. Their downfall is your uplifting. Only the powerful can be free, and Power is non-moral. Life is real, life is earnest, and neither heaven nor hell its final goal. And love, and joy, and birth, and death, and fate, and strife, shall be forever.”


Ragnar Redbeard’s “Might is Right” is unforgettable. It is both poetic and jarring. Redbeard’s relentless attacks are not confined to “safe” topics like the government or religion, but extend to ideas like the Golden Rule, egalitarianism, and secular notions of “goodness”. But despite Redbeard’s various tirades, his message is clear: “the only binding contract upon man’s conduct is the natural law of “might”. Do with that, what you will…”

”It is might against might, remember, by land and sea, man against man, money against money, brains against brains, and — everything to the winner. “


While the phrase “might is right” only appears three times in the book, it has become synonymous with Redbeard’s racism, sexism, anti-theism, misanthropy, misogyny, anarchism, brutality, and gore-filled anecdotes. But what does the phrase “might is right” really mean? Can we sift gold from Redbeard’s book? Aside from being an exhilarating (if not exhausting) work, there are truths contained within. 

While the phrase “might is right” can be interpreted in a few different ways, it is most valid as the observation: “that which did, could.” Asked another way:

Is “might” a law of nature?

According to this first interpretation, “might” is a method of nature. Just as gravity describes (to a certain level of precision) how mass attracts, “might” describes how social and even metaphysical entities compete.

“Love in sexual relationships, power in social adjustments, polarity and magnetism [in] physics[, …] gravitation in astronomy, and might in ethics, are exact synonyms; – correlated phases of one primary assertive – ‘the persistence of force.’”

Unfortunately, “might” is hopelessly abstract. What exactly is it? Unless we get specific, it is a useless high-level analysis of nature, devoid of specific mechanisms.

Yes, superior armies defeat smaller, untrained, uncommitted forces, 
and it is their combination of fire-power, skill, cunning, maneuverability, persistence, and raw numbers that secure their victory. But how is this insightful? Does it even need stating? In other words, victors win because they have the ability to. That which did, could.

To admit “might” is a method of nature, is not a commendation or condemnation. It is simply an objective observation, a description of how things are. It is as unremarkable as stating two is greater than one.

”Clearly therefore, in every department of life, the lesser force must be overthrown by the greater; which (being interpreted) meaneth: — MIGHT IS RIGHT, absolutely, unreservedly.”

Another side of the same coin is to state what “might” does. Rather than say that “might is right“, we might say “might is left” because “might” has determined what is leftover. This defines the mightier as those that overpower, succeed, persist, assert and establish themselves in contrast to the defeated, destroyed, or overcome. This too is just an observation, neither a commendation nor condemnation.

”Power and Justice are synonyms; for Might is mighty and DOES prevail. “

Does “might” justify actions taken? Does the victim deserve their fate?

What are (in popular parlance) called “rights,” are really “spoil” — the prerogatives of formerly exerted Might: but a “right” lapses immediately, when those who are enjoying it, become incapable of further maintaining it.”

At times, Redbeard seems to claim “might justifies actions”. For example:

”When not thwarted by artificial contrivances, whatever argument Nature promulgates is— RIGHT.”

To justify something is to measure it against a standard. For example, to legally justify is to measure something by the laws of the land; to justify text is to align it against a margin; to culturally justify something is to measure it by a cultural norm. 

In this last example, the questions then become 1) should we measure Xby a cultural standard, and 2) which culture should we use? Likewise we can ask generally 1) should we attempt to justify human action or preferences by some standard, and 2) which standard should we choose?

Unless Redbeard is expressing a personal preference for nature as a standard for measuring acts/events, his claim is false. Justification is a man-made concept, it does not exist outside of the human mind. So if Redbeard were claiming that nature objectively justifies actions, he would be wrong. Actions cannot be justified objectively.

The natural world is a world of war; the natural man is a warrior; the natural law is tooth and claw. All else is error.”

But Redbeard would be the first to point out that it is “might” –not ideas– that are the only binding contract upon action. Justification is not required. We do not need to justify actions or preferences, and there is no imperative to choose any particular standard if we did. Even rational justification is a man-chosen standard — and there is no imperative to rationally justify actions or preferences. 

So, “might is right” should not be interpreted to mean that “might” justifies, or that the weak deserve their fate, or the mighty deserve their rewards.

“You have just put your “right” (your desire to live) over the intruder’s “right” (their desire for you to die) via your might (the gun). This is the meaning of “might is right”.


Is “might” obligatory?

In the following quote Redbeard implies that the strong ought to get “the delights of life” because it is natural and moral:

Why should the delights of life go to failures and cowards? Why should the spoils of battle belong to the unwarlike? That would be insanity, utterly unnatural and immoral.”

But when Redbeard claims “oughts” or obligations without stating a conditional premise, he attempts to derive what ought to be from what is. This is the well known “is/ought gap”. The only way Redbeard could claim obligations exist is to propose a condition, for example: “If we want to act according to natural principles… then the delights of life ought to go to the strong”. But this condition is merely a preference, and we are not forced to hold it.

”The further man gets away from Nature, the further he departs from right. To be right is to be natural, and to be natural is to be right. The sun shines, therefore it is right that it should shine — the rain falls, therefore it is right that it should fall — the tides ebb and flow, therefore it is right that they should ebb and flow.”

Even though Redbeard is not comparable to Shakespeare or Dante,  
Might is Right is largely a work of poetry. Redbeard favours bombastic language and cathartic self-expression over clarity and consistency. As such, we can salvage a favourable (and reasonable) interpretation that “might is right” is a description of nature rather than an imperative derived from nature.

Does “Might is right” mean a rejection of man-made doctrines?

By identifying Redbeard’s fallacies we can maintain a clear perspective of his valid points. It is in moments where Redbeard critiques established doctrines that he is most consistent and clear:

“All ethics, politics and philosophies are pure assumptions, built upon assumptions. They rest on no sure basis. They are but shadowy castles-in-the-air erected by day-dreamers, or by rogues, upon nursery fables.

Equality can only exist amongst equals. Civilization implies division of labor and division of labor implies subordination and subordination implies injustice and inequality. Woe to me if I speak not truth!”

Broadly speaking, meta-ethical writers like Redbeard, do two things: they negate and affirm. Redbeard rejects much of his society’s ideology. In its place, Redbeard espouses values of aristocracy, Western civilisation, Aryan race, patriarchy, etc.. 

The phrase “might is right” might symbolise Redbeard’s values, but then almost any set of values could be asserted under a Redbeardian meta-ethical perspective. As long as someone understands their values are preferences, then there is no layer of deception between desire and reality. 

Too often people project their desires onto the universe and claim their preferences are objectively “good”. Redbeard would say: have your preferences –if you can take them– but don’t delude yourself that they are externally “good”. 

Taken as a practical lesson, this is one of empowerment. You can believe what you want, if you can, you can attain your goals. There is nothing hypocritical about rejecting man-made ideas like “good”, egalitarianism, or God, in order to assert your own. Make your life what you want can.

[Our ancestors] did not … [speak of] … ‘Liberty,’ ‘Justice,’ and ‘Equality of Opportunity,’ or ‘Rights of Man,’ when they knew full well that not only their lives, but everything they nominally possessed was ‘by leave’ of their conquerors and proprietors.”

Does “Might make right”?

This final interpretation says “might” is intrinsically “good”, i.e. that “might” is an end-in-itself rather than a means-to-an-end. However this interpretation has it backwards. “Might” is a means, not an end. 

Subjectively, “good” is that which is desired or that which completes its purpose well. In the first case, a “good” car is a desirable car, at least to someone who desires it. In the second case, a “good” gun is one that shoots well, or one that looks “good”, depending on who gives the object a purpose. 

Since every person desires differently, and assigns different purposes to things, there is nothing objectively “good”. There is nothing in the world that is objectively “good” unless there is something that is universally desired, or has a universal purpose. And even if there was something that everyone desired, and had been prescribed the same purpose, a newborn baby would not be obliged to share this sentiment. There is no imperative to desire anything, and there is no necessary purpose for anything.

“Might” facilitates the attainment of desired goals, so it is inaccurate to say that “might” is itself desirable. To illustrate my point, consider the phrase “life is good“. It is inaccurate to claim “life is good” because “good” is what we desire, and without life, nothing can be desired. More accurately, life facilitates desiring, and that which we desire we call “good“. All subjective “goods” require life so there is no use in stating this prerequisite. Since “might” is a prerequisite for the attainment of goals, the statement “might is good” is just as useless as stating “life is instrumentally desirable”.

The interpretation that “might” is “good” is fundamentally confused. It confuses what is desired with how it is attained. “Might” is not intrinsically “good” or “bad” (nor moral/immoral or any other moralistic terms). It is the means to attain a desired goal –a natural mechanism for attaining “ends”. “Might” is a means, not an end.

So, is might right?

At its worst, Might is Right is an inconsistent work, and can be interpreted myopically. At its best, it is a rejection of false doctrines and an incitement to embrace natural law.

I can hear Redbeard from the grave: “Don’t believe lies that others fall for. Feel-good ideologies like egalitarianism are designed to castrate you and keep you from asserting yourself. Only your natural ability limits you. Take what you can from life. Revere the successful! Struggle and succeed, or die trying!”

”But we are taught ‘all men are created equal’?
You are taught many a diplomatic Lie. 
But for one man to reign over another is wrong?
What is ‘wrong’? The Strong can do as they please.
Who are the ‘Strong’?
They who conquer. They who take the spoil and camp on the battlefield. All life is a battlefield.
But that is a harsh philosophy?
Nature is harsh, cruel, merciless to all unlovely things. Her smile is only for the Courageous, the Strong, the Beautiful and the All-Daring.
You praise the Strong, you glorify the Mighty ones?
I do. They are Natures noblemen. In them she delights: the All-Vanquishers! the Dauntless Ones!”

2 thoughts on “Power: Is Might Right? (guest article)

  1. Very good article by him. I also discuss this at great length in my book, on the true meaning of “Might is Right.” This piece however is a great and succinct summation of Might and Power.

  2. I’m also reminded of Clint Eastwood’s famous quote from the film “Unforgiven.” He has overpowered his foe, Gene Hackman’s character says “I don’t deserve this…” Right before he kills him, Eastwood’s character says “deserves got nothin’ to do with it…..”

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