"All men are not created equal. All men are created unequal. No two men are created with the same equality." —Ragnar Redbeard.

The Philosophy of Power

Ragnar Redbeard orates at The Chicago Commons, April 21, 1896, as "Mr. Smith." Might is Right: or The Philosophy of Power.


Many Men of Many Minds Discuss the Doctrine of Power.

Principal Speaker of the Evening Denounces All Reformers.

Sighs for the Good Old Times When Barons Held Their Sway.

Place Where Heterogeneous Debates Add Much Spice to Life.

A Thousand Books of Fame

Out Milwaukee avenue way, where the streets run slantwise, and the English language, when spoken at all, has a smack of countries afar off, the intersection of the great, till smelling thoroughfare called Union makes four corners. On three of these are saloons, where all day and late into the night plain men in clothes glossed by wear of rough usage stand before unassuming bars and carefully plan out the salvation of the laboring classes.

Near the remaining corner, a little back from the street, stands a two-story house which seems to shrink modestly from the rude gaze of unsympathetic public.

This is the Chicago Commons—a small city in itself—whose socialistic ideas and utter freedom from any sort of conventionality make it such a settlement as, magnified many thousand diameters, would realize the dreams of Bellamy or of Carl Marx. If by chance you should call the inmates socialists they would perhaps correct you by substituting the term “sociologists,” but as the central idea of the community is “the sharing of what each has equally with all, and all with each, of what belongs to no one and no class, but to every every one of the whole body,” you would not perhaps feel that you had made an inexcusable error.

In the basement of this building at the rear is a rude room, dignified by the pretentious title of “auditorium,” where the unplaned rafters hang so low as to cause the visitor to involuntarily stoop as he enters, and the naked brick walls, seamed with protruding mortar, appear to bear out the principles of the settlement in a protest against aristocracy. Here every Thuesday night odd discussions are held—discussions to which are invited all men of all minds and where every religion is at liberty to have its say, and even those who have neither principles nor religion are allowed to give their views.

Ragnar Redbeard The Philosophy of Power 1896

Such a debate was in progress last Tuesday night when a reporter and an artist for THE CHRONICLE entered and took seats on one of the old-fashioned wooden benches, which looked as if they had been newly snatched from the middle ages. A tall man with a red beard, who was the principal speaker of the occasion, was declaiming on the subject “Might is Right.” He was endeavoring to prove in an argument which had much of sophistry in it and something of sound sense that the proposition which he discussed was true. He wanted war and blood and the survival of the fittest. With his mental hammer he rapped the heads of all reformers, and told his audience they were all slaves and cowards and always would be to the end of time.


“Why,” he exclaimed, dramatically beating a warlike tattoo on the table nearby with one hand, while the other was out-stretched as if in a threat, “you are all servile villains and sneaking knaves. You have no rights. The weak will never have any rights. To the victor belongs the spoils. Your declaration of independence is a swindle; your religious fakes and humbugs; socialism a will-of-the-wisp, anarchy just soft foolishness and God himself a myth. We have churches on every corner and eloquent liars in every pulpit, who tell the slaves and the old women: ‘Oh, be peaceful; if you want to go to heaven when you die. Humble yourselves and be good.’

Ragnar Redbeard  The Philosophy of Power. 1896

“I, for my part, refuse to humble myself to any power in heaven or earth or hell; to any ghostly idea denominated as a Creator or any pitchforked Satan with his tale between his legs. As for the different kinds of reforms, they are all lies and delusions. The single taxer will tell you that God made the land for all, but how can that be when God did not make the land at all, for God himself does not exist? If he does, who shall we say made him? If you say a superior being made God, then who made the superior being and where does it all end?”

Here a small bespectacled young man, who sat on a back seat, arose and inquired warmly:

“Don’t you think there is something supreme in nature; that there is some force which made the universe, and do you believe any nation could exist long without the belief in this force?”

“Yeas, I think everything is ruled by force. That is my contention. And I do not think a nation will ever exist without the belief in a supreme power, simply because the great majority of all nations is composed of cringing, abject slaves and they must have something to worship, or they will not be happy. If they were not slaves, they would come and whine at your feet and beg to be made bondsmen. As to the power behind nature, what man can describe it? I admit that my intellect is too weak to grasp it.”

“May I beg to ask,” timidly said and oldish man, with side whiskers and a decidedly clerical air, “what is the name of your philosophy?”

“I haven’t named it,” said the orator. “It is the philosophy of power.”

Then he returned to the socialists.

“Henry George is an idiot,” he declared. “Whoever says the land belongs to all the people is a fool. The land belongs to those who among the people who have the energy and the courage to take it, and to none other. Every inch of land in this, or any other country, has been won at the edge of the sword and the history of it all is written in blood. Any man who tells you “you” are entitled to forty acres and a cow, or three acres and a horse, or whatever he has figured out is yours by divine right, is a jackass. In the old feudal days, the owner of the lands would occasionally swoop down from his castle and take all the horses and sheep and cattle in sight, besides all the grain raised that year, and the poor slaves would submit to it and raise more.

Now it is just the same. The castle today is mammon, and the slaves are the workingmen.”


“If the American workingman were reduced to the point of starvation, would he fight?” queried an individual in a blue blouse.

“No, I don’t think he would. He is too big a coward,” replied the speaker, and everybody laughed, for they were nearly all of the laboring class who were present.

“What is your advice, then?”

“My advice is to take what is yours by right of might; take all if you can get it, just as the old warriors did in the olden days. You have but a limited time to live on this earth, and you might just as well live well while you are about it. Get money at any cost; get is honestly if you can—but get it.”

The man with the ruddy whiskers smiled significantly as he gave this advice. The he emulated one Silas Wegg by dropping into poetry. This is what he brought forth:

Might was right when Caesar bled upon the stones of Rom;

Might was right when Joshua led the troops o’er Jordan’s foam.

Might was right when German hosts rolled into Paris gay;

It’s the Gospel of the ancient world and the logic of today.

This effort, which Mr. Smith, as the lecturer was known to the assemblage, though that is not his name, pronounced his own, was received with profound silence. Whether the members of the audience were allowing its beauties to sink deep into their minds or whether it had found them all unprepared, and caused a certain kind of a stunning sensation, nobody volunteered to say.

A man with red flannel bandage around his neck said he would not have the bandage on if Mr. Smith’s philosophy were true. God had given him a sore throat, and if there were no God how could he have a sore throat, as in that case there would be no one to give it to him?

This weighty argument, illy disguised under the form of a question, was plainly unanswerable. Nobody tackled it, not even the man with the red beard, who simply sat and glowered. Thus, encouraged he of the neckcloth continued:

“If there was not no force behind the making of the earth; if there was not nobody to make it, then how did it get made? That’s what I want to get at.”

Still nobody replied, and after repeating “That’s what I want to get at” fiercely, as they do in congress when they are uncommonly short on facts and long on theories, he sat down.

But more trouble was in store for Mr. Smith.

A husky person without a collar inquired in a strong foreign accent:

“Meester Chairman, I would like to usk the speaker one question. Eeef he do not in the reformers believe, why does he come here to preach to us?”

“I don’t preach to you. I am not advocating any particular sort of reform. I don’t believe anybody should work if he can help it. I would not work if I didn’t have to.”

Then Mr. Smith launched into a drawn out wall of hard times and trouble in store in the future that would have made McKinley and Schopenhauer feel ashamed of themselves.

“The newspapers tell you that this country is progressing. It is progressing, but it is progressing downward. Where are the empires of ancient times—the glory of Rome or the grandeur of Egypt? America’s going the same way, and it has not got very far to go, either. The Americans are the biggest fools in the world. Slaves elect slaves to rule them—servile villains, eloquent scoundrels, who go to congress and obey their masters, the corporations. Why, the declaration of independence starts out with a lie. All men are not created equal. All men are created unequal. No two men are created with the same equality. What are these inalienable rights mentioned in the declaration? Only an assumption. They never existed. The weak have no rights. The old tribunal system was the best of all. Then the chiefs massed their forces and whichever was the strongest got the land and everything else in sight. Originally there were only two men, and these probably fought and one made the other his slave. From the descendants of the strong men came the rulers of the world, and from those of the weak ones the slaves. Slaves they were born and slaves they always will be.”

Mr. Smith had by this time about run out of epithets, but he managed to dig up a few more choice ones, and those he applied to the democratic and republican parties, giving them also the benefit of the old ones. Then he paid his respects to the anarchists.

“The anarchists,” declared he, for a starter, “are jackasses. They prate about no government. No such thing as no government is possible. In the case of the two men I spoke of, the one who was victorious was the governor and the other the governed. And the socialists are not much better. It is impossible to divide up this earth’s goods. The strongest will always have the bulk of it and the weak ones scraps from their table.”

Here a conclusion was made in the recital of another original poem. This told all about a baron who owned a big castle called the castle of Mammon. This baron feasted and had a lovely time generally, until one day his servants, who were mistreated sorely, took him and dropped him out of a tenth-story window. The fall so discommoded him that the servants had a chance to go into his coffers and abstract therefrom large horny handfuls of coin of the realm, likewise, jewels of rare price and gold and silver fixings, which they were enabled to pawn at the nearest shop for other coin. The speaker allowed the audience to draw its own inference as to the moral of this tragedy.

After him came more speakers, who debated on the subject of the evening, each being allowed five minutes. A venerable old doctor, with long white beard and a passionate way, denounced the tenets of the man with the russet growth on his face, and declared his belief in a future state. He was rather incoherent at times and not always logical, but the violence of his gestures and the earnestness of his manner made up for any deficiency in his argument, so far as his hearers were concerned, for they applauded him lustily.

Others spoke in pretty much the same strain, and one man who wore glasses and had a scholarly air resented the attack on socialism and made mysterious references to various authorities, which he intimated by his manner he could quote if he would.


The Chicago Commons, although it allows these heterogenous debates to be conducted before it, is a Christian organization. The second clause of the articles of incorporation under the laws of Illinois gives its object:

The object for which it is formed is to provide a center for a higher civic and social life, to initiate and maintain religious, educational and philanthropic enterprises and to investigate and improve conditions in the industrial districts of Chicago.

At the present three family groups, including five young children, dwell at the Commons. These groups include nine men and nine women, and at the head of them are Professor Graham Taylor. Rev. B. F. Boller and John P. Gravit. A kindergarten school is taught in the community, as is also music.

Among the recent speakers and their topics have been Clarence S. Darrow on “The Social Outlook,” Dr. C. A. F. Lindorme on “The Scientific Basis of Equality,” O. A. Bishop on “Socialism,” Mrs. Catherine Waugh McCulloch on “Social Purity,” William Howard, president of the Longshore men’s union, on “Duties of Labor Leaders,” F. M. Wilkes on “Relation of Socialism to the Single Tax,” Stoughton Cooley on “Proportional Representation,” and John Lloyd on “The Church and Social Reform.” Topics in prospect are “Single Tax in Its Relation to Socialism,” “Heredity” and Intermarriage.”

The Chicago Chronicle, 26 April, 1896.


Chicago Commons March 1899


History and Description of the Open Forum Which Draws All

Classes to Frank Discussion and Mutual Understanding.

—A Characteristic Anecdote Concerning

the Religious Question.

IN THE saloons ofthe poorer districts, as in the clubs of the more prosperous, men gather in groups to discuss the topics and interests of the day. These discussions are characterized by absolute freedom or speech and democracy of personnel. Every shade of belief, social, political, religious, from laissez faire individualism back to force-anarchism, from communist socialism to survival of the fittest, from ultra conservative Catholicism to “free-thought,” find expression in those hand-to-hand disputes of neighbourhood opinion. It was the most obvious opportunity of the settlement, as regards the men of the community, to offer place and occasion for just such a free discussion, apart from the environment and temptations of the saloon.

Out of precisely this need and this opportunity has grown to notable and all but famous success “the Chicago Commons Tuesday Meeting.” It is at once a most useful, a most far-reaching, and the least understood feature of the settlement’s work. Those who characterize it as a “nest of anarchists,” those who think of, and visit it as some sort of a social circus, and those who regard it as a weak-kneed apology for a religious meeting, alike fail to discern its purpose and its value, alike misunderstand and misrepresent it.

The “Tuesday Meeting” is none of these things. It is the settlement’s deliberate proposition that all classes of men, all shades of thought, all degrees of prosperity and of culture, shall for once come face to face and “have it out.” It calls men out of their corners where they nurse their grievances and brood social distrust and potential disorder, to bring their discontent and their theory of social salvation into the light of day, for full examination and frank discussion. Assuming the good faith and good intentions of the average man, it offers one of the few oases of self-conscious democracy in the wilderness of social confusion and industrial chaos, where distinctions of class and caste may be ignored, and mere human manhood may be the title to free speech and frank opinion.

“Ethics and Competition,” “The Labor Movement,” “The Money Question,” “The Church and the Labor Movement,” “Socialism,” “The Single Tax,” “The Situation in the Philippines,” “The Problem of the Unemployed,” “The Department Store,” “Municipal Ownership,” “Woman Suffrage,” “Anarchism,” “Slavery, Ancient and Modern,” “Child Labor,” “The Survival of the Fittest,” “The American Federation of Labor,” “Patriotism and Politics,” “Walt Whitman,” “Joseph Mazzini,” “Robert Burns,” “Tolstoy and the Russian Peasant,” “Parental Schools,” “Labor and Law,” “The Evolution of the Trade Unionist,” “Social Purity,” “Labor Copartnership,” “Trusts and Monopolies.” “Some Fallacies About Corporations,” “The Future of the Middleman”—these are some of the subjects concerning which discussion has sought to find the truth.

It is unfair, however, to characterize the settlement by this meeting. The entire work can no more be judged by it than the character of a church should be judged by one Bible-class. It occupies but two hours out of a tremendously busy week. Nor is it permissible to ask for tabulated results. If the question of religious teachings be raised—the most intense interest and feeling always attaches to the deepest ethical and religious questions, which will not down. The discussion of the historicity of the life of Jesus lasted till past midnight, and nearly every meeting elicits some aspect of the ethical problem. The first meetings generated tremendous heat and personal bitterness; that is now a thing of the long past. Mutual toleration and respect, and no small modification of opinion has taken place.

Let one anecdote serve as illustration. It is taken from an article by Professor Taylor in THE COMMONS:*(Mr. Smith (Ragnar Redbeard) speaking of “The Philosophy of Power.”)

*FromThe Commons, March, 1897.

Chicago Commons

A monthly Record of Social Settlement of Life and Work.

March 1897

Labor Studies.




Characteristic Scene Exemplifying the Extremes

of Individualism and Socialism. Brutalism

Gone Mad, vs. the Socialists’ Vision

of Brotherhood.

To any intelligent consideration of the ethical effects of the competitive system, a preliminary survey of the question at issue is necessary. For, on the one hand, it has been long and widely denied that, from a scientific point of view, there can be any valid or vital relation between so fundamental a principle of economics and the dicta of ethics or of religion. And, on the other hand, it has been very tardily admitted by those occupying the religious point of view, that the postulates of political economy can be brought to the bar of ethical and religious judgments, because they have been so universally conceded to lie within the domain of “natural law,” as to exempt the standard of man’s economic life, alone, from the jurisdiction of his conscience and his faith. To submit this dispute to the reader’s judgment, and to bring the chief elements of the problem into plainest view, the description of a concrete discussion of the issues involved may best serve our purpose.


It was one of those rare but most significant gatherings of workingmen, where, with the least exercise of authority consistent with order, and with a freedom of speech greater than is dreamed of almost anywhere else, the economics and ethics of industry are being intelligently, earnestly and practically discussed. The battle was on between socialism and individualism. An eminent socialist leader, from the workingmen’s own ranks, had presented his argument, when a stranger to the men (not a “workingman”) arose and thus took up the gauntlet that had been thrown down before all comers:

“I am tired of hearing this ‘brotherhood’ talk among workingmen, and this appeal to the stronger to help the weaker. By Force all things that exist are evolved, maintained, perpetuated. In nature, only the fit survive. Everywhere and always the debilitated perish. Everywhere and always the mightiest have won. Black, furious and tragic are the bloody annals of Man’s evolution. In business and in industry competition must be to the death. The strongest beast gets the biggest bone. Might is master it ought to be for progress depends upon its triumph. With the normal man, it is a pleasure to struggle, a pastime to fight, and nothing is sweeter to him than to confiscate his confiscator and surpass his surpasser; to smite his enemy, hip and thigh, and to spoil him of that of which he has despoiled others. The normal man prefers to eat others, rather than to be eaten. Only with the abnormal man is it otherwise. He is of the mob. He sheepishly obeys public opinion. He is one of a ‘flock.’ Might is right, absolutely, unreservedly. The chief intent of false religions and false moralisms is to arrest competition halfway, in order to safeguard degenerates in possessing that which they could neither seize nor defend, if competition were unlimited.

“The Golden Rule,” he continued, “never has been, is not, and never will be practicable. It is a lying dream. Grim and harsh all this may appear to nervous souls, but it is true to nature.”

It is not within the province of our present purpose to describe the effect upon our own or other minds of this inhuman declaration of what the speaker was pleased to call the “Philosophy of Power.” But it does subserve the object for which this incident has been cited to note the fact that for the first time in the writer’s long observation, this particular group of radically disagreeing men was instantly by the shock to common human instinct, welded into unanimity, expressing itself first in startled silence, then in awestruck murmurs of disavowal, finally in the common consent of indignant protest.


The socialist arose to say his final word and close the discussion.

“There is in nature,” said he, “as Drummond teaches us, a struggle for the life of others, as surely as for the life of self. This mother instinct prevails in every realm of life. The hyena type of animal shows it least. “And, pointing his finger at the stranger, he exclaimed,” That man’s evolution seems to have been arrested at the hyena stage!

“This is not the power impelling human progress! Have the best things of the world been prompted by selfishness and achieved by competition? Are the highest things that man possesses in art, literature and music, through discovery and invention, either the product or the possession of this brute force? No, no, no! The struggle for the life of others, not selfishness, the co-operation of brothers, not the competition of beasts, have given the world its best things. Our common possessions only have proven fittest to survive.”

And with tears in his tone he concluded, “It was to get out of all of us the beast which we see in that man yonder that He who gave us the Golden Rule, died on the cross, and it makes a fellow’s heart full to think of it!”


This tragic, workaday putting of the extremes of the problem did but raise to a sensational interrogation-point the fundamental issues really at stake in the calmest and most scientific discussion of economic competition. For did not this “stranger” only attempt to carry out, in nature and industry, this competitive theory to its extremest, logical conclusion? Is there not involved the question of fact whether “the economic man” as depicted either by science or by this screed, is the “normal” and actual man? Do not both force upon us the query whether unrestricted competition is the law of nature or can be the law of progress? What was it that made this whole group of radical hearers, who were familiar with the extremes to which heated discussion may be carried, stop short of and stand back from the abyss into which the logic of this man pitilessly led him and in the very depths of which, with a heartlessness nothing less than demoniacal, he coldly and calmly made his final stand? Was it not the recoil of life from mere logic? Was it not the reason’s challenge to the assertion that un-restricted competition is, or could be, a fact? Did not the human in us all utter a common protest against such blasphemy of the “normal man? Had any of us ever known any such man as he described—or even such as political economy itself has persistently postulated? Was it not the rebellion of the will against such a concept of “natural law” and of the abjectly helpless human subserviency to it? Did not the conscience gather its resentments to repudiate the preposterous idea of the right of mere might? Was not the innate religious sense of human relationship awed by this abrogation of Brotherhood in the name of Progress? Must not anyone with a memory or any knowledge of history ask himself whether counteracting forces, ameliorating concessions and illogical mental reservations have not always been operative to restrict “free competition”? And is it unscientific to inquire whether these forces are not ethical and religious which are seen and felt and known to be not only the very constituent elements of natural relationship but also to be the saving clauses which make civilization possible under the so-called “competitive system?”


No one can deny from the ethical and religious point of view, that the socialist voiced in part at least the common sense, the common faith and the common fellowship of men. But on the other hand, did he not go too far in the entire elimination of the competitive principle from human life? If we grant, as perhaps we must, that the best and highest things are not the product of the struggle for self, must we not also admit that the average man needs the necessity of that struggle to spur him to make the most of himself? Can we with Arnold Toynbee, “recognize competition to be a thing neither good nor bad,” and “look upon it as resembling a great physical force which cannot be destroyed but may be controlled and modified”? In any event, whether we seek to restrict its operation short of the extreme destructiveness to common interests to which the individualist carried it, or strive to protect the individual from being again merged in the mass under some socialistic extreme, or search for the middle ground on which may be conserved the interest of both the individual and society, we are bound to acknowledge the re-entrance of ethics and religion into the economic domain of human relationship.

This concrete test of the competive system brings our study of its ethical effects upon labor out of theory into the sphere of fact and personal life where it belongs, for there the brunt of the moral struggle is being borne. If, by simply raising the question of the validity of the ethical and religious aspects of competition, we have secured from our readers recognition of the right to discuss them, the purpose of this paper will have been fulfilled and the way opened for the study of the ethics of competition in our next issue.

 Ragnar Redbeard orates at The Chicago Commons The Philosophy of Power.

A Knotty Question. Group of the Discussers Remain in the Old Basement to Solve a Problem of the Universe—Snap Shot in the “Tuesday Meeting.”