Might is Right or The Survival of the Fittest was first published in 1890. Publication history shows us that it originated in Chicago, U.S.A.
I’m sure that you have already assumed the writer’s name “Ragnar Redbeard” is a pseudonym. For whom we have never really been sure.
Many have speculated over the true identity of this mysterious wordsmith. The fierce warrior tone of the text has led some to suspect that the author was a military figure, although possible, this idea goes no further than suspicion.
Many literary figures and philosophers have been thought to be Redbeard, but these theories are easily dismissed because of their lack evidence. Few are worth mentioning.
One name that crops up more than others is that of the American novelist Jack London (1876-1916). This claim does not take into account the fact that London would have been in his early teens at the time of the book’s publication.
Considered to be the most likely candidate for authorship is a man called Arthur Desmond (1859-1926), a poet with a taste for radicalism.
His extreme political pursuits made him a rather infamous figure in both New Zealand and Australia. Throughout his life Desmond wrote a number of articles and publications under false names and although his work is out of print a few samples of his poetry can be found online. When looking at such poems we see that Desmond’s writing style is incredibly similar to that of Ragnar Redbeard.
Desmond eventually ended up in Chicago, U.S.A and became an active member of the Dil Pickle Club, which attracted a diverse crowd of scientists, anarchists, activists and egoists. It was through this club that Desmond published some of his own work.
In 1927 the Dil Pickle Press published its own edition of Might is Right. The similarities in writing style, the use of pseudonyms and shared publisher has lead many to believe that Arthur Desmond was Ragnar Redbeard.
Regardless of who Redbeard really was, we can certainly pick up on a few elements of the writer’s personality while reading his work. The in-depth knowledge of history, especially military history indicates a strong interest in the topic. Although Redbeard was most certainly an atheist, his comments on religion show that he was somewhat knowledgeable of both Abrahamic and pagan mythologies. He appears to be even more knowledgeable of Darwinist theory and the rising eugenic sciences of his time.
It is rather hard to tell who Redbeard takes philosophical influence from although we can clearly see which philosophers he’s opposed to. He viciously lays into Marx on several occasions as well as a few other socialistic and egalitarian thinkers. The American founding fathers also find themselves in the firing line, not just for the belief that all are born equal, but for their belief in the concept of natural rights, which Redbeard harshly rejects. His rejection of natural rights, morality, religion and authority suggests that he very well may have been influenced by the the German egoist thinker Max Stirner, popular among Anarchists at the time. Perhaps Redbeard encountered Stirner’s ideas at the Dil Pickle Club. Upon reading Might is Right one may assume that perhaps Redbeard taken influence from Friedrich Nietzsche. At the time the work of Nietzsche was not well known outside of a few intellectual circles, making the idea of Redbeard reading Nietzsche unlikely.
Finally, I must mention poetry. Like all true poets, Redbeard must have been knowledgeable on the topic of literature. I myself cannot help but wonder what grand writers inspired him. Perhaps Goethe, perhaps Lord Byron.
Now that I have spoken on the books origin and writer I shall move on. As you will be able to export its content yourself when you read the main text, I will now speak on the legacy of Might is Right.
As a result of this books controversial content it has been forced into obscurity, but despite being condemned to the deepest, darkest corners of Philosophy it has had some impact.
As a result of the strong negative stigma surrounding it, we often have difficulty understanding its true influence as a few will be willing to credit such a controversial work as a source of inspiration, which is not surprising when you think of how much unnecessary hassle you would face from plebeian moralists after saying such nice things about such a nasty book.
It has on occasion been said that Might is Right has influenced multiple modern tyrants and ruthless generals, but these claims are likely nothing more than sensationalism, completely lacking source or evidence. Despite not being able to tell you the origin of these rumours I can tell you that while researching this book a few years ago I came across a website advertising the 2005 edition, in which several of these claims were made without a single sources being given. This leads me to think that they were either made up purely for the purposes of advertising or were already drifting around for years prior and then utilized by the publisher, again, for the use of advertising.
Interestingly, the book managed to drift to the far corners of the Earth and even into the hands of Leo Tolstoy, one of Russia’s most famous writers. Although he did not take influence from Might is Right, he does speak about it in his essay “What is Art?” (Originally published in 1897). He gave a brief summary of Redbeard’s philosophy and compared it to that of Friedrich Nietzsche, saying: “The author has evidently by himself, independently of Nietzsche, come to the same conclusions which are professed by the new artists.”
In 1969 the founder of the Church of Satan, Anton Szandor LaVey published his defining work, “The Satanic Bible,” in which he presents his religious philosophy.
In LaVey’s introduction to the Satanic Bible a multitude of figures are credited as the inspiration of his new religion. Redbeard was one of them.
Unfortunately LaVey’s own insightful introduction was not included in the latter editions of his own book, but can be easily found online.
Redbeard was quoted rather heavily by LaVey, who copied whole sections of Might is Right into the first few pages of the Satanic Bible. This did not just result in moral controversy, but also accusations of plagiarism. These lifted sections have drawn much attention toward Ragnar Redbeard, whose name was well known among Satanists.
In 1996 a centennial edition of Might is Right was released. This time it came with an introduction by Anton LaVey who yet again attracted Satanists and curious minds towards the book. In this introduction LaVey tells readers of the impact Might is Right had on his own work and puts forward his views on the identity of the anonymous author. Neglecting to mention any dates, LaVey tell us that the mysterious writer was Jack London and makes the claim to have been shown London’s original hand written manuscript in a secret collection at the University of California’s Bancroft library.
A former associate and critic of LaVey, Dr. Michael Aquino, wrote to the Bancroft Library on the topic of LaVey’s visit and tells us that they refuted the Satanist’s claims, saying they had neither a manuscript of Might is Right or of London’s.
After LaVey, the most notable Satanist influenced by Redbeard is the experimental musician Boyd Rice (1956-) who in the 1980’s and 90’s was a high ranking member and spokesperson of the Church of Satan.
During his time as a spokesperson, he appeared as a guest on many television and radio shows, where he talked about, and advocated for, the more Social Darwinist elements of Satanism.
Under his stage name “NON,” Rice released an album titled Might! (1995) in which he recites the poetry of Ragnar Redbeard over looped noise and manipulated frequencies.
A rather obscure figure but I must mention is Sidney E. Parker (1929-2012), who in his youth, was an anarchist, active in various small political organisations in the U.K, but then latter rejected Anarchism and embraced philosophical egoism. Throughout his life he wrote for and edited several publications such as “Minus One” and “Ego.” Only a rather moderate amount of influence was taken from Redbeard, his thinking was more influenced by other individualists such as Stirner. The 1984 edition of Might is Right features an introduction by Parker in which he says that Desmond was most likely to be the author and describes the book as flawed, saying it has major contradictions but concluded with: “it is sustained by a crude vigour that at its most coherent can help to clear away not a few of the religious, moral and political superstitions bequeathed to us by our ancestors.”
The contemporary meta-ethical philosopher James T. Stillwell III found Redbeard’s work to be of much influence. In his book “Power-Nihilism: A case for moral & political nihilism” he tells us that he adopts a way of thinking that he calls “Redbeardian scepticism.” He describes this way of thinking for us by telling the reader that he is sceptical of claims to moral knowledge, moral facts and moral objectivity.
In his essay “On Power-Nihilism as Political Nihilismus,” Stillwell applies his meta-ethical views to the field of politics, creating a political view inspired not just by Ragnar Redbeard but also Max Stirner and Friedrich Nietzsche.
Of course, these are just the few individuals (and in some cases groups) that we know of. I have no doubt that there have been many others influenced by this fiery philosopher that we are unaware of. I am highly confident that in the future there will be many more whose hearts and minds are set alight by this inferno of radical thinking.
– A Philosophical Foot-Solder in the War of Ideas
– November 4th 2016 Durham, England
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