The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

The Poison Fruit of Radical Seeds

Posted on | August 3, 2019 | No Comments


Last weekend a gunman opened fire on the annual Garlic Festival in Gilroy, California, killing three and injuring 12. The shooter was soon identified as Santino Legan, 19, and as to his motive, there was a cryptic Instagram reference to Might Is Right by Ragnar Redbeard.

We cannot ask the killer what he intended by this reference, because he committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. However, the text of the 1896 edition of Might Is Right is available online and its author, “Ragnar Redbeard,” has been identified as Arthur Desmond (1859-1929). A native of England, Desmond emigrated to New Zealand as a young man and became involved in radical politics there, before moving in 1892 to Australia, where he published a radical journal called Hard Cash. This made him a target of government investigation, and by 1895, Desmond had emigrated to the United States, taking up residence in Chicago. There, under a pseudonym — which also included the false claim of having a law degree from the University of Chicago — Desmond published Might Is Right, or The Survival of the Fittest.

To summarize its contents as briefly as possible, Desmond’s book combines the nihilistic atheism of Nietzsche with the “scientific” theory of Darwin in an attack on Christianity, particularly criticizing the themes of the Sermon on the Mount. Desmond mocks the dignity of labor: “All hireling labor is corroding, corrupting, degrading, devilish. . . . Labor performed for oneself is passable — when performed for others, it is utterly debasing — ruinous to brain and body” (pp. 163-164).

That is, as it was intended, antithetical to Christian belief — and to common sense, as well. Nothing is more conducive to health and happiness than hard work; the worker who commits himself wholeheartedly to his task, seeking to become more efficient and productive, has entered into a worthy competition: “Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men” (Proverbs 22:29 KJV). For all the political attacks on the alleged unfairness of a free economy — the demonization of the 1% and so forth — any honest and intelligent young man willing to work hard can still begin as a teenager in “hireling labor” and, by being “diligent in his business,” rise to wealth and influence in America.

Yet we need not indulge in the errors of the “prosperity gospel” to defend the dignity of labor. A man’s lot in life may be poverty and obscurity, a constant struggle to make ends meet, yet the diligent laborer has no cause for shame. However little he may have, he has earned it by hard work, and in supporting himself and his family he has accomplished a more noble task than anything done by the so-called “intellectual elite.”

Given the clear influence of Nietzsche on Desmond’s work — we can only Might Is Right as a crackpot exegesis of The Will to Power — we are not surprised to find him expressing a theory of racial supremacy, which was by no means unusual in that era:

“Purity of blood has played, (and is yet to play), a leading role in the drama of racial evolution. Races held in bondage are necessarily mongrelized, degraded, ‘equalized.’ . . .
“Our race cannot hope to maintain its predominance, if it goes on diluting its blood with Chinamen, Negros, Japanese, or debased Europeans. . . . The Latin race is hopelessly effete in both the old world and the new” (pp. 156-157).

There are innumerable treatises from the 19th and early 20th centuries that express a similar viewpoint, but what makes Might Is Right distinctive is the way Desmond merges an anarchist sentiment — a celebration of power expressed through violence — with racialist theory. It is as if Desmond had read Hobbes’s description of society without law as the “war of all against all” (Bellum omnium contra omnes) and said, “Isn’t that awesome?” The point that Hobbes intended to make, however, was that government and law are necessary for human beings to enjoy any sort of civilized existence, guaranteeing the security of our lives and property. That the wealthy and powerful have an interest in preserving the established order is obvious enough, but what recent history has shown is that the destructive forces of radicalism generally make life worse for the “masses” in whose name revolutionaries claim to act. From the French Revolution to modern-day Venezuela, radical promises of “liberation” for the oppressed have invariably produced nightmares of bloodshed and misery. However much any Third World peasant might have resented the yoke of European colonialism, was it worse than the terroristic dictatorships of Mao, Mengistu or Mugabe?

When the teenage killer Santino Legan’s endorsement of “Ragnar Redbeard” was reported, the media rushed to label him a “white supremacist,” and thus someone linked to the “far right” which, by the prestidigitation of journalistic smear tactics, might make it possible to blame President Trump and conservatives generally. Yet it is dishonest to suggest that any conservative, who as a basic premise is committed to upholding the constitutional order, would endorse random violence inspired by the work of a 19th-century anarchist crackpot.

A mature and responsible adult can study any piece of radical literature — The Communist Manifesto or whatever — without being drawn into a vortex of deadly madness. The danger of such literature is always its appeal to alienated and emotionally vulnerable young people. If you’ve never studied logic and rhetoric, if you are unfamiliar with history and have few years of experience upon which to base your judgment, it is easy to be seduced by the arguments of radical crackpots, whether they are as famous as Bernie Sanders or as obscure as Arthur Desmond.