Originally published in 1886; 2005 edition edited by Darrell W. Conder; available from Occidental Press.
Reviewed by Anthony Hilton
September 29, 2009
Note: In biology, “adaptive” means (very precisely) promoting the survival and reproduction of an organism’s genes. “Natural selection” is the logical and empirical process whereby forces of nature affect the survival and reproduction of some genes over others. The terms, “natural selection” and “selection pressures” (particular causes of selection) help one think clearly.
Many of us remember getting the message about Social Darwinism during the Franz Boas-dominated second half of the 20th Century. According to Boasians, the behavior of humans is remarkably exempt from biological forces and is instead governed mainly by social constructs. Thus humans can achieve utopian peacefulness and universal altruism by developing the appropriate cultural mores. In contrast, Social Darwinism was the idea that nature was “red in tooth and claw,” so that we might as well go along with it, along with all the other animals, and be as ruthless as we like: kill, kill, kill!! Ruthlessness would be a natural, thoroughly acceptable lifestyle since it is part of what we inherit rather than learn, and it would be unnatural to keep trying to override such built-in tendencies. If we inherited them, they must be adaptive and therefore good.
But the social learning advocates explained to us that just because, say, a tornado, was natural didn’t mean we had to like it. That would be the flawed logic of confounding the empirical with the moral — confusing “what is” with “what should be.” It was also pointed out that much of Darwinian evolution occurs not through bloody battles but via such non-violent processes as mutations for, say, better digestion of milk in adulthood and better immune systems. No “red in tooth and claw” there. “Survival of the fittest” was declared a tautology, meaning only that those organisms that ended up having the most surviving and reproducing offspring were, in modern biology’s jargon, the “fittest” — but only because “fittest” no longer meant that the “fittest” somehow deserved to survive, or might be expected to survive, but only that they in fact did survive.
The book under review, Might Is Right…, (MIR), would certainly be considered by many to be the reductio ad absurdum of 19th-century Social Darwinism. “Ragnar Redbeard” (RR) was evidently greatly enamored of Darwin’s theory of natural selection including sexual selection (in which choice of mate by both males and females influences which genes are propagated) despite the fact that he, like Darwin, could not have known about genes or modern molecular biology. Nevertheless he manifested an intuitive understanding of one important modern term, “inclusive fitness”: “A man’s family is … part of himself. Therefore his natural business is to defend it, as he would his own life” (p. 49).
“Ragnar Redbeard” was a pen name, but whoever he was, he was an extremely well-informed, erudite person, albeit with a rather florid literary style which might be off-putting for some readers. I came to find both style and content quite amusing. In fact, it occurred to me more than once that I was reading a satire, one suitably embellished by esoteric Biblical references and Victorian phraseology: a worthy companion to Mark Twain and H. L. Mencken.
On the other hand, suppose MIR was not a satire. Then why would anyone in the 21st century look twice at such a book? One reason would be the emergence today of a rethinking of conventional wisdoms: in economics (OK, communism is out, but aren’t there big problems with unregulated market economies, Wall Street, the Federal Reserve, and fractional reserve banking?), in politics (what happened to the Republican Party and “true conservatives”?), human nature (we don’t all have the same IQ?), or race relations (diversity is not a utopia?). Much of this rethinking is taking place on the internet, of course.
Some have even concluded late in their lives that they’ve been the butt of a big ideological con game. They eventually realize that humans, either individually or in groups, cannot possibly be at all “equal” except in the restricted sense of each person theoretically having one vote (“one idiot, one vote”). And is “democracy” really all that sacred? Instead of living under a dictatorship of one man, we have a dictatorship of a majority manipulated by Hollywood, the mainstream media, and obscure elites. But many of us have given up on utopias and now simply want to obtain or defend a half-decent way of life which we are awake enough now to see is severely threatened if not already lost — given the ubiquity of muggings, rapes, and car-jackings in US cities, the Wall Street shakedowns, the dumbing down of schools. So, having had so many of our assumptions about what is “right” or “good” turned up-side-down, maybe we should re-examine “Social Darwinism” too.
So consider several issues raised in MIR.
Much of MIR focuses, albeit a bit repetitively, on what RR perceives as an unending history of horrible treatment meted out by humans on their enemies and the logical and empirical imperative of relying on “might” in the normal course of human affairs. He probably commits one empirical excess in an especially misanthropic diatribe in Chapter IV: While stating that the story of Jews stealing and murdering Christian infants in order to use their blood for Passover rituals is a myth, he accepts as fact an exceedingly high estimate of the frequency of human cannibalism — perhaps understandably given the dearth of reliable anthropological evidence 100 years ago.
Now, the anti-Social Darwinists complain that evolution and natural selection are not always so horribly bloody. Quite right. However, that does not mean that violence is never adaptive. Consider Genghis Khan whose Y chromosome has been found by geneticists to be so widespread across Asia due to the fact that the leaders of the Mongol armies controlled the women in the areas they conquered.
Actually, RR may be advocating “power” more than bloody battles, thus helpfully broadening the concept of might. No one has to tell us that power is extremely important to human lives, but again, we should pay attention. This issue is at the heart of a recent debate between Eric P. Kaufman and Kevin MacDonald concerning the precipitous decline of the West and of WAS(P) and Northern European dominance of the United States.
RR is quite successful in demonstrating the ubiquity of power relations, and then is surprisingly convincing in his argument that striving for power is not only an essential and inevitable feature of life but is highly desirable as a course of action for any man wanting to make a success of his life (RR seems to be addressing primarily males.)
About equality: one of RR’s main messages is that there is no such thing, in any practical sense, and never will be; the idea of “equal rights” is nonsensical. Instead, people vary in their abilities and other characteristics all over the lot. People have always been and always will be in a state of competition; so that the only thing to do, really, is to strive to compete as well as one can and forget about ever being treated equally. The only way to be treated as one would like is to have the power to enforce such treatment.
An obvious implication for Whites in the West is that anyone happily waiting for other races and ethnies to treat us “equally” or even well, once they take over (very soon) as majorities in the US and Europe, is an illusion. With the votes they will simply run our countries as they see fit and to hell with us.
STOP!! Devout Christians will find the next paragraphs offensive! Read at your own risk!
RR provides an extraordinarily articulate, and to me hilarious, critique of Jesus Christ and Christianity. Might-makes-right being his number one rule, he has nothing but contempt for Christ’s Sermon on the Mount and celebration of the weak, the poor, the miserable. RR values the courageous, the powerful, the ruthless. Why in the world would any sane person value, desire, or want to emulate what Christ recommended?
[W]e must either abandon our reason or abandon Christ…All that is enervating and destructive of manhood, he glorifies — all that is self-reliant and heroic, he denounces.… He praises “the humble” and he curses the proud. He blesses the failures and damns the successful. All that is noble he perverts — all that is atrocious he upholds. He inverts all the natural instincts of mankind and urges us to live artificial lives… he advises his admirers to submit in quietness to every insult, contumely [outrage], indignity; to be slaves, de-facto. … this preacher of all eunuch-virtues — of self-abasement, of passive suffering. (p. 7)
Anyone who wonders if Christianity is fundamentally a malevolent Jewish stratagem for emasculating goyim will find this treatise exhilarating. Everything within the Christian church seems designed simply to fleece the flock:
The bliss of a sheep! How superlatively delightful? How divinely glorious? And a Jew as the Good Shepard, who leadeth his lambs ‘to green pastures, and quiet resting places, the pleasant waters by.’ … For two thousand years or so, his fleecy flocks have been fattening themselves up with commendable diligence — for the shearing-shed and the butchers-block.” (p. 14)
With RR, not even the “golden rule” goes unscathed — on the grounds that it makes no sense to follow it given that no one else does. Shades of the alternative “Golden Rule”: “He who has the gold, makes the rules.”
The theme extends to practical politics where “deceitful Ideals are cunningly woven by dexterous political spiders, to capture and exploit swarms of human flies” (p. 18). He follows with a searing analysis of America’s “Declaration of Independence” which he says begins with “an unctuous falsehood, a black, degrading, self-evident lie — a lie which no one could possibly believe but a born fool. With insolent effrontery it brazenly proclaims as ‘a self-evident truth’ that ‘all men are created equal’ and that they are ‘endowed by their Creator’ with certain inalienable rights’” (p. 19). The subsequent… “democracy” as practiced by Americans is viewed as an elaborate con game, a view that should strike a chord after the recent bank bailouts and the Iraq war.
We must then ask ourselves: Is the extreme altruism advocated by Christianity at all responsible for the West “giving away the farm”? Think about Teddy Kennedy and his Jewish associates who opened up America to immigration from the whole world.
RR’s attack on Christianity and “equality” of course begs the question of alternatives. As a friend recently remarked,
While many people (in our movement and without) sneer at what they see as an emotional crutch for weaklings, the fact remains that the birthrate is closely correlated with a hopeful, optimistic view of life. No society has ever been able to function without a religion. And it is most unlikely that anyone will be able to create a religionless society in the future.
If that is true, and this writer agrees, a major contribution to the survival of our people, the indigenous people of the British Isles and Europe including those who migrated to the Western Hemisphere, would be to develop a religious alternative to Christianity. Such a religion would regard the survival of our people as its primary sacred goal and hopefully would be more consistent with scientific knowledge. It would establish communities of the like-minded of common ethny (as Jews have done). It would develop either new rituals or utilize those imagined as originating in pagan or Druidic times. Perhaps, as a friend suggests, some existing Christian communities, especially those whose main goal is “community,” could be gradually “retro-fitted” along these lines. Keep the harmless features of Christianity, especially the European cultural details, but throw out or simply ignore everything that RR is making fun of.
What then do we now make of the main issue raised by MIR, the relationship between “what is and what ought”? RR seems to be saying that “what is” (e.g., human ruthlessness) determines directly “what ought.”
First, we should note that evolutionary biologists/psychologists have in recent years argued strongly that our values and morals do originate in aspects of human nature (what is) that evolved biologically. Actually, David Hume pretty much figured this out back in the 18th century. This would be the first “link” — between brain mechanisms (emotions, motives) that are adaptive and what a person feels is the right thing to do even if the feeling of right is logically distinguishable from what “really” is right.
That distinction is the basis for the “naturalistic fallacy” critique of Social Darwinism. Oliver Curry has well reviewed why this fallacy is, itself, a fallacy: The logical distinction between “is” and “ought” does not detract from the empirical relationship between what is adaptive and what a person normally values.
We must ask, then, if there is anything more important to us than our own survival and that of our close relatives. If there isn’t, then how could we do anything more ethical or morally correct than doing whatever is adaptive for us and ours? For us, whatever is adaptive should be morally correct, no?
But wait! Morally correct for whom? Isn’t there a flaw here in the anti-Social Darwinists’ reasoning? They have in mind a morality that not only applies to everyone on the planet but a morality of which the consequences are beneficial to all of humanity, not just ourselves and relatively close kin. Sounds like a corollary of Christianity! (Unless Jesus intended that his principles apply only to relations among fellow Jews.)
Such a moral principle necessarily stands outside of human evolution in the sense that, according to all the widely accepted theory in evolutionary biology, such a moral principle could not have evolved as an adaptive trait of individuals. A moral principle is certainly not a measurable physical force like gravity, permeating everything. It exists only within a person’s brain.
This does not mean that people could not act according to such principles. But it would mean that doing so would not automatically “feel good” in the same way that helping oneself or helping one’s family feels good. With enough propaganda, of course, nearly anything is possible. But that’s what it is: Propaganda.
This is probably what’s behind the controversy over government-run health care in the US: For most Whites, it doesn’t feel good to support a program where they would pay disproportionately for medical care for the hordes of non-Whites who now populate the country — even if they could be convinced it was good for the country as a whole.
A universal principle of doing what’s best for humanity also runs into problems because of individual differences:
1) Sociopaths/psychopaths apparently lack normal moral feelings/values. They feel no guilt, so nothing like a universal moral imperative to help humanity there.
2) The fact that, say, the desire for revenge is found throughout the world as a human universal, would be consistent with it being adaptive. But individuals will still vary in the strength of that desire which is subject to the natural selection common to all biological variables.
Finally, a universal principle of doing what’s best for humanity fails to deal adequately with conflicts of interest. Individuals are often in competition because of different interests: Hunters feel morally justified in shooting a deer to eat. The deer, were he capable of such thought, would feel differently about being shot. No common morality there. Same logic within our species. What seems morally justified to the Hatfields will not be to the McCoys.
So there would not seem to be a universal moral code by which everyone would agree on the same ethical course of action in a particular circumstance. Bye, bye Christianity.
So RR may have been onto something in taking his strongly Social Darwinist position. His book’s heuristic value lies in the hard-nosed, un-blinking acknowledgement that life is tough; one had better get used to it, get prepared for it early in life, appreciate the warriors among us and never go “soft” (except, as RR says, around close family members and close friends!) If you cease being prepared, you’ll get run over by those who are tougher and more ruthless.
MIR is not advocating indiscriminate homicide, since the real focus of the game, evident by the end of the book, is simply “power”, which can be obtained in myriad ways. A further caution would be that what has been adaptive in the past may not be so in the future since relevant selection pressures may change. What is adaptive in one situation may not be so in another.
Long term, the unanticipated consequences may be the most important. Biologically, it might seem adaptive to simply slaughter your enemy. But as Daly and Wilson once suggested, whether one adheres to a policy of “an eye for an eye” or a “massacre” should depend on whether an attempted massacre of one’s enemy seems likely to be total. If they don’t all get killed, the survivors may have a long memory and your own survival and reproduction may suffer.
Here one might reflect on the Nazis’ “final solution” that ended well before completion: The surviving Jews have displayed great energy in obtaining reparations and hunting down escaped Nazis. The “Empire Strikes Back” is the situation facing the British, as descendents of once conquered peoples have non-violently emigrated to the U.K. Similarly, Mexicans are subjecting the American Southwest to a “reconquista” by presenting themselves as a useful labor force and congenial nannies.
There is a lesson in MIR, then, for anyone attempting to protect his family or his nation or a collection of allied nations, depending on which level one’s adversary is targeting. For example, Whites in America and Europe today are generally under threat. The lesson would be to gain power, economic as well as territorial, establish enclaves wherever convenient but eventually, as the late Sam Francis declared, re-conquer the whole of one’s country. A few Christians may balk at this, but encourage them to be hypocrites.
A slogan recently seen on a T-shirt, “Fighting Solves Everything”, may be an oversimplification. But the attitude is a good one. Inculcate it in your children.
MIR is available for only $10.00 from the Occidental Press. Get it for your friends and relatives.
Anthony Hilton (email him) is Assoc. Prof. (retired) in the Psychology Department, Concordia University, Montreal.