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A man is murdered, and it is not our business.

For he was foreign, not fully vested in this country, though he lived and worked here and three of his children are U.S. citizens. He is not full enough American, and "the world is a dangerous place!"

Some of you think it is right that we accept this sort of thing, for what can we do? America first. Do not come at us with your Tolstoy and Christ; we have to hunker down in this dangerous place and sell our armaments. What those strange keffiyeh-wearing people do among themselves is none of our concern.

The prince says he was an enemy of the state. A snooper. Someone who might disrupt the smooth running. That is the way they do things over there, and maybe we ought to take a lesson. His people stay in line, don't they?

There are things that are unsayable, but nonetheless true. Power is what matters, and anyone who does anything but for money is a fool. We sometimes have to say the pretty words and pretend that there is something to the mumbo-jumbo, the mystery, but we know deep down it's just bone and guts. Rough men at the ready and all that--a few fools who have fallen for the myth of honor might keep the rest of us comfortable, fat and drunk on our good opinion of ourselves.

Might is right is the idea. That's John Bolton, Mike Pompeo. Paul Ryan too, though he dresses it up. Actually none of them would say it in mixed company. But, hey, Social Darwinism. Might is right.

It might make sense to you. Make sense to some twittering Arkansas politicians. Made sense to Anton LaVey, though he was probably joking when he made it a central tenet of The Satanic Bible. Maybe it's an idea you feel in your bones, for no one has ever given you a thing. Go be a truck driver, become a millionaire. The world is but an arena where we all compete and that "a man's opportunities are never exhausted so long as other men ... possess millions of acres and thousands of tons of gold."

You know where that last bit comes from, right? An old book called Might is Right or The Survival of the Fittest, first published in 1890. Its author was Ragnar Redbeard, widely assumed to be a pseudonym for Arthur Desmond, a mysterious New Zealand poet and political figure about whom almost nothing can be said with certainty.

One thing that's probably true about him is that his real name probably wasn't Arthur Desmond.

The first time he appears in the historical record in 1883, he is standing for a seat in the New Zealand parliament and the local newspaper doesn't know anything about him other than he's a cattle-drover, and that he has some radical tendencies having to do with the rights of the Maori and the working poor. This Desmond is a leftist, a social justice warrior who made populist appeals to farm workers. He wanted "one law for both races," to give women the vote and was opposed to those who would "like to turn Hawke's Bay into one big sheep run, where the serfs could go shearing during the summer and work in a-boiling during the the winter ...

"I have seen men living in a hut where no fire was allowed. Going to bed on a wet, cold day to keep themselves warm. I have seen the wind and the rain coming in through the cracked roof and the winter storm whistling through the rafters, as it does through the rigging of a ship. And I have also known of the owners ... gallivanting in some London ballroom upon the profits of these slaves' labour."

Desmond doesn't win the election, coming in third in a field of three. He does better in 1887, finishing second, but he manages to alienate his political patron and farm workers by supporting Te Kooti, a former Maori guerrilla fighter turned founder of Ringatu, a gentle form of adapted Christianity that advocates faith healing. Combined with his reluctance to settle outstanding campaign debts, this drives him from Hawke's Bay. He takes a job as a union organizer in the country's north, then becomes a writer for a pro-union Auckland newspaper.

But he screws up. He forges a letter in an effort to impugn a politician's reputation and is involved in two plagiarism scandals. Turns out his most popular essay, 1890's "Christ as Social Reformer," is lifted from a piece in an American magazine. His poem "The King that is to Come" is an awful lot like James Whitcomb Riley's "The Poet of the Future."

He flees to Australia in 1892, where he improbably connects with prominent members of that country's Labour Party, including two future prime ministers. But once again he sabotages himself by founding a muckraking newspaper called Hard Cash that the government quickly declares seditious. In 1895, he leaves Australia for the United States, having allegedly already made his way through several drafts of the pamphlet that would become Might is Right.

(Desmond is merely the most likely author. Others have offered Jack London, who would have had to written the earliest iterations of the manuscript before he turned 14. Or a slumming Ambrose Bierce.)

Might is Right is one of those books, like Mein Kampf or Atlas Shrugged, that is best considered in context. It is highly seductive to some minds. It is not politically correct. Norwegian black metal fanatics like it. Neo-Nazis like it. It says things like:

"Women and children BELONG to man; who must hunt for them as well as for himself. He is their lord and master, in theory and in fact."

"If we lived as Christ lived, there would be none of us left to live. He begat no children; he labored not for his bread; he possessed neither house nor home; he merely talked."

"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."

It might seem odd to you that a guy who started out on the far left might have written something like Might as Right, and some people think it's a satire--that Desmond wrote it and put it out to discredit Social Darwinism. Maybe he did, maybe he didn't.

If you look at Desmond's work, you can see how it fits together. He sees himself as a realist; he admires the strongman Te Kooti, not the prophet. His best version of Christ is as armed revolutionary; the guy on the cross an incompetent weakling.

Because he's nuts. Like our foreign policy.


Editorial on 11/25/2018

Print Headline: PHILIP MARTIN: Ragnar Redbeard in America

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  • Lifelonglearner
    November 25, 2018 at 8:31 a.m.

    Another well researched and written piece. We are a CHRISTIAN NATION, when it comes to the "Right to Birth" and homosexuality, but fear, power and might make right when it comes to taxation, healthcare, immigration and the rights of breathing people vs corporations.

  • mrcharles
    November 25, 2018 at 2:52 p.m.

    Yes, treatment of native Americans and to save the black people from tigers and komoda dragons, deity people sing hymms to our founders.

    The judeo part of our heritage we can proudly say our repression of them was not near as bad as Christian Germany.

    But take heart, while once anyone said negative about USA [ unless southern heritage ILKS] they were told by true Americans to love it or leave it , then the IT who sucks up to putin told us we are not so innocent & his supporters said yes, We b hypocrites & since Obama didn't say it, gleefully agreed. But being true mericans, loving the Confederate flag, they get upset with those awful negoes who kneel [ feetball players, not those children trying to go to LR Cental].

    No wonder children are confused.

    My confusion is what specifically non innocent things did "we" do? Will consider it the mark of a true merican to point out the transgression so "we" can agree.