“He who saith ‘Thou shalt’ to me is my mortal enemy.”
Mr. Vance Marshall, in an address on “Ragnar, Redbeard’s Gospel—Might Is Right,” at the Trades Hall on Sunday, asserted that it was characteristic of average human beings to refuse recognition to genius if it did not conform to generally accepted conventions.
Arthur Desmond—”Ragnar Redbeard”—was born at Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, in 1842. He had been described in “The Tocsin,” a now-defunct Labour paper in Melbourne as “poet, actuary, and revolutionary,” and Desmond was all three. Before coming across to Australia Desmond had contributed to the New Zealand press, and previously to a London paper.
For some time Desmond was a Christian Socialist, but his most notable literary production was his “Might Is Right,” in which he set out that, “He who saith ‘Thou shalt’ to me is my mortal enemy,” and “I break away from all conventions. I raise up the standard of the strong.”
Yet the earlier verse of this strange man had been full of Christian ideology. “Ragnar Redbeard” was in his prime when he reached Sydney, but he had already grown old in his fight for the underdog. His fighting spirit early began to assert itself in New South Wales, where for six years his finger was traceable in every decisive movement associated with the working class.
After the maritime strike, when the unions had burst up, trades unionism was looking around for a way out and resolved upon the scheme of political action. Desmond was selected for the Durham, one of the New South Wales “safe” seats, but this nomination he indignantly declined.
From The Australian Star, 7 December, 1893
It was from this motion that there was set up in the ranks of Labour the guillotine of expulsion for renegades and traitors. Joseph Cool: “William Arthur Holman and William Morris Hughes were among the earlier disciples of “Ragnar Redbeard.” (Laughter).
It was he who molded the “Active Service Brigade” of 1893, whose motto was,“The world has sustenance for all,”and whose members on occasion invaded the churches and ousted the clergy from their pulpits, and also invaded that sanctified holy of holies, Parliament House.
But though “Redbeard” was playing a prominent part in this mob revolt, he was alive to the financial signs of the times, and forcibly and confidently predicted the financial catastrophe that eventually overwhelmed Australia.
In his newspaper, “Hard Cash,” he persistently prophesied the impending collapse and calamity, and his prophecies proved true enough. “Hard Cash,” repeatedly drew the attention of the police authorities, and on sundry occasions, a warrant was issued for the arrest of the editor, but he was never to be found. “Redbeard” also conducted “Justice.” another militant paper that had a stormy career.
“Ragnar Redbeard” eventually left Australia a disillusioned man and none seemed to know definitely what had become of him. Some said he was still alive in Chicago, while others held that he had died fighting in Palestine. He undoubtedly left an indelible impress on the working class movement in Australia.
In the discussion on the lecture, a majority of the speakers made it clear that they wore by no means in accord with the gospel of force enunciated by “Ragnar Redbeard.” Some speakers expressed an opinion that, in view of the harm it had already done the working class movement in Australia and the harm, it was competent to do that movement in the future, every remaining copy of “Redbeard’s” work. “Might Is Right,” should be burned.
Daily Standard, Brisbane, Tuesday 20 December, 1921