Browsing through some old radical periodicals, I saw advertised in an 1898 issue of "The Eagle and the Serpent" an advertisement of a book titled "Might Is Right". In subsequent issues it was variously commented upon by Alfred Wallace, Bernard Shaw, Thomas Common (Translator of Nietzsche into English), Benjamin Kidd, Benjamin R. Tucker, and a number of others. The journal was edited by John Basil Barnhill whose pseudonym was Erwin McCall. As a connoisseur of radical literature I became curious, but I didn´t find any copy until years later.
About 1946, a friend in Detroit to whom I had lent the book told me that he had seen a sun faded copy in a second-hand bookshop, priced 50¢, and when he purchased it the dealer went into the rear and brought out a new copy. The original issue was published probably in 1897, but this issue, printed with the same plates, was dated 1927. Asked, the dealer said that he had five copies. A few days later I purchased these remaining copies, intending to present them to friends, with whom had great chuckles over it.
I had asked the dealer where he got the books and was told that he bought them from an agent who came around once a month. I asked him to enquire if there were any more, and when his postcard was forwarded to Lane´s End where I was visiting at the time, saying that there were two small cartons of them in a warehouse in Chicago, I wrote to another friend who had enjoyed the book, who thereupon went and dickered for them, which I think he got for 30 or 39¢ each.
This strange book is anti-Christ, anti-capitalist,anti-communist, anti-anarchist, anti-Semite-negro-oriental, and anti-just-about-everything-else except naked force. It was enjoyable to see such a great job of cudgelling, the blows one received being bearable as long as everyone else was getting it. The book is uncomfortably convincing in spots, and the author seems well read about the horrors committed by men upon men. Whether the book was written with tongue in cheek is rather dubious.
Reading the book again with the intent of writing my impression of it, I began to realize that if I gave any of the copies my friend had given me (on his visit to Suffern), I might be identified with some of the lunacies it contained, particularly its race prejudice. Few people, especially radicals, are able to read a book of this nature with objective humor, and it became a quandary what I might do with them. Radicals are almost invariable very serious people and touchy about their ideals. I know I am.
On page 316 Ralph Chaplin´s book "Wobbly" he mentions "Might Is Right" and claims that the wobblies had nothing to do with it, although its publication address 4 Tocker Place was the headquarters of the wobblies at that time. Chaplin describes the author as a "diminutive, repressed Near North Side philosopher with delusions of grandeur".
I think that the book is a good argument that in the final analysis it is power that decides human affairs --- good, that is, if common sense and the empathy which may be educed from self-interest be left out of the reckoning. It seems to me that the proposition that you can go your way, and I mine, even though we disagree vehemently on which was is better, we may learn from each other´s experience and perhaps discover that the philosophy of liberty and non-violence is a solid foundation for human relations. Otherwise, especially in the modern world, the alternative is mutual annihilation.
August 27, 1966