“A BOGUS BOOK” – Australian journal The Tocsin reviews Redbeard’s book in 1899.


1845-1945, Ragnar Redbeard / Sunday, October 24th, 2021

Reviews of Ragnar Redbeard’s book vary in the extreme from the beginning. Arthur Desmond, who wrote as Ragnar Redbeard, first shows up in New Zealand around 1884, running as a political candidate on a “Liberal” platform(before the “Liberal Party,” actually existed in New Zealand!). He would be part of the antipodean radical milieu until he fled to the United States and settled in Chicago in 1896.

Desmond was a prolific poet and agitator, having his work published in numerous newspapers, editing and publishing a number of his own journals, and causing at least two national scandals.

His most famous work, Might is Right, has actually had two different titles and multiple subtitles from the first issuance in a truncated form circa 1896 under the title The Survival of the Fittest, until the fully fleshed out edition published the next year as Might is Right. Multiple sources state he began work on his opus while still in Australia.

While many of his comrades in Australia were aware that Arthur Desmond was Ragnar Redbeard, it didn’t become public knowledge there right away, and, in America, he was able to keep his authorship more or less veiled in secrecy for a century. If the editors of The Tocsin knew of Redbeard’s real identity, they didn’t tip their hand to it.

The Tocsin, where this review appeared on March 23rd 1899, was a radical socialist journal that was edited, for a time, by Desmond’s eccentric anarchist compatriot John Arthur Andrews after this review appeared. Andrews only edited the journal for a few months before his health failed. Between May and July 1900 he published a series of recollections titled On Active Service: Items in the History of the People’s Movement in Australia. Those writings have been collected and published as an issue of Stand Alone (2016).

As an aside, the Ernest Renan essay mentioned in the review that follows, titled “Intolerance in Scepticism,” can be found in the 1896 book The Poetry of the Celtic Races, and Other Essays. The essay is a critical review of the “post-Hegalian” philosopher Ludwig Andreas von Feuerbach and his book The Essence of Christianity. Feuerbach was part of the clique of writers that included Max Stirner. Stirner also criticized Feuerbach for his “inconsistent atheism,” in The Ego and His Own. It is curious that the review below asserts one essay about one left Hegelian’s work can debunk the entirety of Might is Right and the sources it drew from. The great breadth of sources was not detailed until the publication of Might is Right: The Authoritative Edition, which cites hundreds of sources and references among over a thousand footnotes and other material.

[Published in The Tocsin (Melbourne, Vic., Australia) March, 23rd 1899]

A BOGUS BOOK.

‘THE SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST OR THE PHILOSOPHY OF POWER. ‘

From Chicago. Addressed,
“The Editors,
“‘Tocsin,’
“Chief Justice Madden and others,”
has come along a book entitled as above by Ragnar Redbeard, L.L.D .which Tolstoi is reported to have stated, ‘ has positively filled him with alarm and dread.’ The Tocsin is sorry for Tolstoi.

The book is a wordy, windy exposition of Individualism. It is described as “No ordinary book. Nothing like it has ever been permitted to see the light since A.D. 300.” Which is tommyrot, as the volume is but a garish hotchpotch of many books issued since that date and before this precious work. For scientific criticism of them, nothing is more concise and comprehensive than Renan’s fine essay on “Intolerance in Scepticism,” published about fifty years ago.

The author, Gingerbeered Redrag, commences by proclaiming “Death to the weakling, wealth to the strong.” Wealth is his ideal, and in his advocacy of its pursuit he challenges “the wisdom of the world,” and “stands forth to interrogate the ‘laws’ of man and God.'” All of which he does on the principle that the weakest shall go to the wall and the fittest shall survive.

An illustration of the logical justification of his theory, he cites Darwin and his whole theory of physical and animal evolution. He overlooks the fact, however, that if the fittest individuality survives, so does the fittest idea. The very fact of its survival is proof of its fitness. So his condemnation of Socialism falls flat, for Socialism survives and flourishes, so does Christianity, in its Socialistic sense. Si monumentum requiris, circumspice.

The book, which is evidently a claptrap production sent forth to capture shekels, is about as incoherent a wail as has ever been sent up from the Individualistic Camp. It reminds you of Marshall-Hall at his worst, and the more so since its author confesses to having been inspired by Nietzsche, Dahn, Gutzkow, and other German scribblers whose logic-chopping capacity obviously transcends their knowledge of human nature. Anyhow civilization has become too complicated to permit of its many problems being solved by primitive methods and a resort to merely brutal principles.

This Ragnar Redbeard is not convincing in any sense. “If,” he says, “you would conquer wealth and honor, power and fame, you must be practical, grim, cool and merciless.” What a gospel to preach to a world of fifteen hundred million! As if each individual doing his or her best on the most approved and advanced principles “Made in Germany” could hope to achieve “wealth, honor, &c., &c.!” It is a much simpler and more practicable thing for each to seek Justice. If it is to be a fight between Individualists for Wealth, &c., and Socialists for Justice, we shall see who will prove fittest and who will therefore survive.