…Racism may wear a new dress, buy a new pair of boots, but neither it nor its succubus twin Fascism is new or can make anything new.—Toni Morrison, novelist and scholar (1995)
You start out in 1954 by saying, “N—–, n—–, n—–.” By 1968 you can’t say “n—–” – that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N—–, n—–.”—Lee Atwater, GOP campaign operative (1981)
In 2018, the video essayist Harry Brewis put forward the idea that certain works of media are usefully illuminating because they are bad art. That is, because their creators are so artless, the works insufficiently seduce and distract from what message the authors are really saying.
Thus a film like The Room, written, directed by, and starring the incompetent Tommy Wiseau, is far more useful to understanding how abusive men make movies about their failed relationships than, say, a gifted screenwriter like Charlie Kaufman who can hide it much better.
Similarly, in 2015, the Baltimore-based video essayist Natalie Wynn had an insight in the wake of protests about the death of Freddie Gray in police custody: the sort of violent, virulently racist statements people were making anonymously online in response to the coverage wasn’t separate from the rest of their lives.
“I thought that if people are leaving these comments, they’re thinking these thoughts all the time,” she told Vice. She realized they would go on to vote and march and kill according to those same thoughts. Washington Post columnist George Will is less important to understanding what motivates conservatives than is SSJ4Teen88_Pepe.
The memes, the “jokes”, the irony and exaggerations are, in fact, heightened expressions of their ideology and need to be reckoned with, not laughed off. People are more than capable of being deadly serious about what others would assume to be absurd, and the amateurs may be more awkward than the professionals, but they’re all playing the same game.
It’s with that utility in mind that I recommend the turn of the 20th Century proto-Fascist work Might Is Right by the pseudonymous Ragnar Redbeard.
It is as boorish as it is pretentious; it is as boring as its structure is difficult to follow. The author hates all art that isn’t Shakespeare, but to call the poetry he writes “doggerel” is to heap undue praise on it. It’s also grotesquely and unapologetically bigoted in virtually every way at every turn.
This book’s value comes from its terribleness in craft as well as substance.
Despite being written 125 years ago, Might Is Right makes plain how old and pervasive the roots of fascism are in our own country. In the process, it shows – without meaning to – why ideas like white supremacy, patriarchy, conservativism, and capitalism have such intrinsic harmony even today.
That’s the thing about dog-whistles: just because you can’t hear the frequency doesn’t mean they aren’t still just as loud.
Might is Right was published in 1896 in Chicago under the original title “Survival of the Fittest: Philosophy of Power”. Its author was Arthur Desmond, an Australian/New Zealander white supremacist who’d been a journalist and failed also-ran local politician before being forced to flee both countries. But “Ragnar Redbeard” fit the writing itself better than “Arthur.”
Perhaps not surprisingly for a person clearly obsessed with wealth, success, and force, Desmond was poor, had little success himself, and accomplished nothing by force. He’s such a minor figure in history, many aspects of his biography including his death aren’t pinned down. We’re not sure of his birth name because he is of so little consequence as a historical figure outside of this one book.
Yet, Desmond was convinced his book was something laudably special. With supreme confidence he sent a copy to Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, who apparently did read it, including Desmond’s shots at him.
Tolstoy mentioned it in his own book “What Is Art?“, but Tolstoy says nothing complimentary. He uses Desmond’s book as an easy example of what’s fundamentally wrong with the artists of his own time.
Tolstoy summarizes the book’s message thus:
Right is not the offspring of doctrine but of power. All laws, commandments, or doctrines as to not doing to another what you do not wish done to you, have no inherent authority whatever, but receive it only from the club, the gallows, and the sword. A man truly free is under no obligation to obey any injunction, human or divine. Obedience is the sign of the degenerate.
“The author has evidently by himself, independently of Nietzsche, come to the same conclusions which are professed by the new artists,” Tolstoy goes on to conclude, perhaps uncharitably toward the other artists.
Otherwise, Might Is Right mostly languished after its initial publication, riding on the coattails of Nietzsche as others described it as the same philosophy as Nietzsche but with an “American expression.” That may just be a euphemistic way to say it enthusiastically hated Jews and non-whites. Its Social Darwinism was popular but not exceptional and certainly not revolutionary.
The book likely would have been forgotten completely if the ethnically Jewish Howard Levey hadn’t picked it up, seen the need to launder it of its most odious antisemitism and slurs, then re-packaged sections of it as his own under the name “Anton Szandor LaVey” to become the first section of The Satanic Bible.
We’ll return to this, but LaVey rescued from the dustbin of history a 19th century book that had essentially said “take what you want by whatever force necessary because you’re an individual and you’re free” — but he excised the explicit basis on which you base that freedom to merely imply it.
The ideas remained the same, but LaVey had moved them from literally using the n-word into “forced busing” territory.
After his appropriation of Might Is Right was recognized in 1987, LaVey continued to praise the book publicly.
What I saw should not have been in print. It was more than inflammatory. It was sheer blasphemy. As I turned the pages, more blasphemy met my eyes. Crazy as it was, I found myself charged at the words. People just didn’t write that way.Forward to “Might Is Right”, Anton Szandor LaVey (October 1996)
Between the underlying ideas and that sort of endorsement, it’s no surprise that flocks of rugged individualists would want to read for themselves the same pure work that had inspired their hero. Since it had been long enough to fall out of copyright, multiple small publishers were able to reprint the book and it’s disseminated widely on the Internet now.
In commenting on it, Might Is Right‘s boosters will often describe the book and its prose as “outrageous”, “radical”, or “electrifying”, but it really is the laziest form of reactionary politics in every way, down to “there are too many divorces these days.” It is a defense of the structures and hierarchies of the status quo, defending inequalities as they are because, by existing, they prove they’re the natural ones that should exist.
It worships violence as not just a legitimate source of authority but the only source of authority.
Human rights and wrongs are not determined by Justice, but by Might. Disguise it as you may, the naked sword is still king-maker and king-breaker, as of yore. All other theories are lies and – lures.
The science fiction author Robert Heinlein wrote something similar in his 1959 novel Starship Troopers; he put it in the mouth of an author-surrogate high school teacher and intended it to be taken as serious wisdom. When adapted for a movie, Dutch-born director Paul Verhoeven, whose formative years were under the Nazi occupation, decided to utilize the same speech but within the context of a satire of fascist propaganda. Heinlein’s political writing needed no modification to work as self-parody.
This is interesting because, at the time, reviewers had to wonder whether a name so over-the-top as “Ragnar Redbeard” with content so obviously absurd wasn’t intended as reductio ad absurdum. “We have been a little puzzled, it must be confessed, to know whether Dr. Redbeard’s work is to be taken quite seriously,” The Humane Review wondered in 1900, an example of Poe’s Law nearly a century before the Internet. But Desmond was deadly serious, and more importantly, multiple generations of angry young men have taken him deadly seriously as they take their inspiration from it.
If you’re a liberal who understands that the best way to fight bad ideas is to provide greater exposure to them, this should be good news, especially given how poorly written and obviously grotesque the work is. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, robust debate in the marketplace of ideas, and so on.
A year ago this month, a 19-year-old mass shooter attacked the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California, killing three as well as himself, and injuring 17 more while streaming it.
As he did, he told his audience to read Might Is Right.
Fascist myths of history
Our popular history education, from public school curriculum to entertainment, is not going to be fully accurate on any subject, but fascism is a particularly difficult myth for us to handle in the United States.
History classes are linear and often don’t get much past the Second World War before it’s time for all the funding-determining testing to take place. Students get left with an understanding of “America good, Nazis (and Soviets) bad.”
Our common knowledge reduces fascism to be entirely equivalent to Nazi Germany, embodied wholly and personally in Adolf Hitler. We’ve come to let him represent transcendent, inhuman evil as completely as European Christianity let Jesus Christ do the same for the concept of goodness.
Though intending criticism, serious people today still unintentionally elevate the propaganda of Leni Riefenstahl’s images and Joseph Goebbels’ rhetoric with the result that we view the Third Reich as more technologically advanced than all other governments of their day, uber-efficient in industry, and supremely capable in war rather than the corrupt, incoherent, and self-sabotaging kleptocracy it was. There is a tendency, for some reason, for many to believe that morals and empathy are artificial constraints holding humans back from their full, awful potential, and they are drawn to that concept as like a forbidden spell.
Hitler and the Nazis thus become an almost supernatural aberration, outside of and a break from all human history before and since. They are meant to be scary but to have nothing to do with us beyond being frightening antagonists.
For that reason, to take events contemporary to us or take actions of our own ancestors and compare them with Hitler, the Nazis, and fascism risks the immediate response that you’ve engaged in an insulting hyperbole. The phrase “concentration camp” has already been swept into one, tiny corner of all history and equated with “extermination camp” at the expense of all similar versions, before and after.
But the Holocaust was an end, not the beginning, and the Nazis do not stand as the only fascists in history, or even the first.
Benito Mussolini took a common sort of Italian organization and turned it into something else, giving us the lasting name for a common kind of political movement: Fascism. Many similar movements existed throughout Europe before and after the Second World War. When the Nazis rolled their tanks into Austria, they pushed out the Catholic nationalist “Fatherland Front” to replace Austro-Fascism with their own pan-German Fascism. Romania had the National Christian Party as well as the Iron Guard. Hungary and Yugoslavia had their Fascist political fronts, but so also did France, Great Britain, and yes, the United States.
Umberto Eco’s 1995 essay “Ur-Fascism” famously tries to make a coherent bundle of all these disparate groups, starting from his own experience as a boy in Italy during the war and knowing nothing but fascism. Eco comes up with fourteen features that function as something of a cluster for genre, like selective populism and cult of tradition.
“Fascism became an all-purpose term because one can eliminate from a fascist regime one or more features, and it will still be recognizable as fascist.”
It turns out, one can even eliminate regimes and a popular following to find examples of it.
Basic principles stated clearly
In Might Is Right, the author asserts that those who have things deserve them; those without deserve nothing. Earlier, I said that Anton LaVey only hinted at the justification for egoism and mistreatment of others in his adaption for The Satanic Bible; in the original, the explicit reason others deserve nothing is that they are subhuman.
In fact, whole classes of people are found fundamentally wanting; the book is quite transparent about this. Some are this way from birth such as all women, all Black, East Asian, South Asian, and Jewish people. People can be degraded further, such as women getting divorced, but the taint can claim even Anglo-Saxon white men if they believe in encouraging equality or empathy in politics or religion; or they become overly learned; or they seek solutions on a basis other than naked force.
With the possible exception of white teenage boys and their equivalents of emotional intelligence, a modern person will immediately notice the absolute disdain the author has for anyone who is not a rich, white, non-Jewish man.
“Are all men really brethren? — Negro and Indian, Blackfellow, Kalmuck, and Coolie?” asks the author of Might Is Right. This is ultimately more honest than what we got out of the Declaration of Independence or out of the philosophy that is foundational to the Enlightenment but elided now.
In writing, “He who is without wealth amidst unlimited quantities of it, is either a coward, a born slave or a lunatic,” the author provides direct justification for settler colonialism as well as contemporary capitalism. “If you have seized it and no one can seize it back, it is yours.” The rich certainly believe it’s their virtue that justifies their hoard, and they finance an unbelievable amount of media to convince us to ignore our lying eyes, rotting teeth, and depression.
“A woman is two-thirds womb. The other third is a network of nerves and sentimentality,” the author declares elsewhere. Contemporary “gender essentialism” and opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment are fully summarized with concision in those two sentences.
In Might Is Right, our author has a clear audience; his “you” only applies to white male readers, just as his use of “man” and male pronouns are not artifacts of an older grammar but mean exactly what they say. The book probably is not written for people who actually are wealthy but certainly for people who imagine they one day might be and whose class interests align according to their future fantasies rather than their present circumstances.
Now, because Liberals and Leftists share a deep desire to be correct, because we have a deep need to be intellectually coherent often at the expense of more useful material results, we therefore can be distracted into thinking this is an effective line of attack against conservatives, Republicans, and the Right.
It is not.
In part this is because they’re valuing natural instinct and common sense; that is, “gut players” in the George W. Bush mold. Or “Let established sophisms be dethroned, rooted out, burnt and destroyed, for they are a standing menace to all true nobility of thought and action,” as the author of Might Is Right says. “A cult of action for action’s sake,” as Umberto Eco would diagnose.
But mainly it’s because people with conservative politics aren’t really practicing any hypocrisy; you can take them at their word once you decode their meaning by getting away from the euphemisms back to the roots.
Their worldview is wholly coherent so long as you realize only some of us count as people; the rest are subhuman.
At first glance, this can sound overly harsh as if this is an explanation unfairly demonizing a group of people you sincerely disagree with on some fundamental issues but have other areas of agreement, too. “My conservative friend just has a different view on foreign policy than I do”; “my libertarian coworker has a different idea on fiscal responsibility”; “my evangelical neighbor has a good heart, we just can’t see eye-to-eye on religious issues.” And to be clear, not every person on the right is a fascist.
But when you talk to such people and probe for the contradictions in their rhetoric, often stemming from their use of euphemism, what you’ll find is that at some point, they set aside whole groups of people as not counting fully as people.
You will be confused about why armed, maskless white men and women screaming at cops over haircuts was OK, but that people choked to death on the street, or shot in the head with maiming rounds protesting people being choked to death on the street, had it coming. You will find it curious Ruby Ridge and Waco are bywords for government overreach among so-called patriots but not the assassination of Fred Hampton by Chicago police and MOVE bombing in Philadelphia.
It is not hypocrisy; they are just counting people and injuries done to them differently from those they don’t consider people.
This is why Patrick Henry, a slaver who trafficked children in chains, felt no shame in saying, “Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?”
Those children did not count as people. Henry was aware of them, supposedly agonized over them in private moments, but they did not count in the equation of liberty.
They were, however, a reminder of what the Founding slavers feared the most.
The eternal hierarchy
Though not from the United States, the author of Might Is Right is obsessed with slavery; he blends the poetic hyperbole into the literal antebellum experience so often it’s not clear if that distinction actually holds any meaning for him. He is obsessed with hierarchy. The world exists to him only in terms of people who can abuse others without consequences and those who are helpless to stop abuse, so in a very sincere way, if you ain’t first, you’re last.
In the video essay, “There’s Always A Bigger Fish” from Ian Danskin’s “Alt-Right Playbook” series, Danskin lands on the core distinguishing issue of the Right that makes otherwise centrist conservatives so willing to hold their nose and work with fascists over even anodyne Social Democrats.
When you view society as a pyramid, improvements for those at the bottom is terrifying because you can only see it happening by another group—yours—replacing them there. As the title of Danskin’s essay alludes, their fundamental belief is that no improvement in inequality is possible, just a replacement of who is the bigger fish and benefits more.
“Whatever the Marxists, the Socialists, the Black Lives Matter activists, or Democrats say when they talk about greater equality, they mean they will be masters and you the slave.” This is how people on the right hear such messages. It’s the same reason why the United States was able to work with Franco’s Spain and South Korea’s Japanese collaborators after the Second World War, or push Pinochet to remove Salvador Allende from elected office in a coup.
And this why seeing a Black president deeply frightened so many white Americans, and why most could support Trump in 2016.
The author of Might Is Right says:
Socialism, Christianism, Democratism, Equalityism, are really the whining yelpings of base-bred mongrel-multitudes. They howl aloud for State intervention – “protection for suffering humanity”
Anything that mixes up the, as they see it, inherent, natural hierarchy of people is anathema. For a fascist, force is paramount but simultaneously ideas have the potential to upset the natural order and must be stamped out.
Note that word “mongrel”: the most dangerous challenge is around breeding, purity of stock, sanctity of blood. White fragility isn’t just about individuals responding to problems, it’s also the concept of whiteness, which in Louisiana at the time Might Is Right was published, all the way until 1983, defined a person as Black if their ancestry was 1/32nd so. Homer Plessy of the famous 1896 Supreme Court segregation case had only one non-white great-grandparent. Yet this was enough.
The author reduces womanhood to breeding potential, and the danger of letting a person who can become pregnant choose their own partner is that they might choose wrong and give birth to offspring with bad, non-white genes.
The Nazis picked up their eugenics program from extant ones in the United States, particularly California. We forcibly sterilized those who were institutionalized and otherwise “undesirable”, which in the United States meant targeting nonwhite people who could become pregnant.
Today, white supremacists have a 14-word slogan based entirely around this obsession with breeding and purity, and for that, those they view as women have a central role. Usually, it’s dressed up in kinder language of distinct but equal spheres of influence and the like.
Might Is Right does not even attempt such pleasantries at any moment.
It has such simple views on gender that suggest the author had few conversations with women that involved him listening to them. But his writing demonstrates how patriarchy is inextricably wound around white supremacy, even as subordinate white women are integral to supporting white supremacy.
For the welfare of the breed, and the security of descent, [women] must be held in thorough subjection. … Woe unto him, woe unto them, and woe unto our Race, if ever these lovable creatures should break loose from mastership, and become the rulers or equals of Man. (But that is impossible.)
The best fighters are the best race-producers. This is the verdict of Biology and the instinctive belief of the whole Feminine world in general.
The author specifically references French women in 1871 throwing themselves at what he describes as the clearly physically superior, less culturally-effete specimens of conquering Germans. This is indistinguishable from similar rants today by Canadian Neo-Nazi Felix Lace claiming that French women in the Second World War threw themselves at conquering Germans.
So the ideology will simultaneously argue that women are drawn toward the naturally superior traits of strong white men but also the purity of blood is in constantly in danger from too much race-mixing. Ideologies of “free love” and reproductive autonomy for women endanger the future security of the white race.
This mixing up of hierarchy is as much an anxiety in Might Is Right as with Lace. However, more respectable white supremacists like Stefan Molyneaux or more distant fascist-launderers like Jordan Peterson will make the same arguments about “enforced monogamy” so that liberal institutions like The New York Times will hear them out.
The basis of the incel (“involuntarily celibate”) reactionary culture and its resulting terroristic violence is not that these men are upset they cannot have sex. It’s not even that they’re upset they’re unable to have sex with the women who meet their standard of attractiveness.
They will in fact go out of their way to sabotage sex workers who could provide that for them. They do this because they are not frustrated by their own lack of sexual gratification; they’re frustrated by the self-mastery of women.
More than a century before, Might Is Right expressed the exact same impulse but more pretentiously:
Prostitution (for hire) is also the direct outcome of unnatural conditions… If our modern Sodoms were all razed to the ground, how Nature in all her perennial purity would rejoice exultantly?
Incels are upset that women are not forced to have sex with them because, for them, that is what the natural hierarchy is supposed to be. The contradiction between what their ideology tells them they should expect and what the world actually is can only be resolved by violence and destruction, not introspection.
The eternal danger
Might Is Right is willing to come right out and say that it doesn’t think all people count as people, which resolves the seeming contradictions of ideologies that are more mealy-mouthed about it but ultimately feel the same way.
But an important contradiction for incels and their cousin fascists does remain, even for those as open-eyed as Might Is Right‘s author. Should a believer start to think about it too much, the central paradox of the fascist would then become inescapable:
1) everything thought unfair by people unlike the fascist is a result of the immutable natural hierarchy of the world, which is good;
2) the fascist is motivated by a deep intuition that the world is unfair to the fascist and must be fixed.
In Might Is Right, there is supposedly no morality beyond taking whatever you’re able to take, and still the author can’t help but complain some people have gone about their theft the wrong way, by convincing people instead of forcing them.
The proximate enemy, then and now, can be many things: liberal Christianity, communism, anarchism, feminism, anti-racism—even the bankers in capitalism supposedly ruining it.
But if you listen to fascists long enough, they’ll reveal that the ultimate enemy is the Jews. It is always the Jews.
It’s not obvious why antisemitism should have this relationship to fascism. Italian Fascism was not built on it, though as associations with the German strain became stronger, Mussolini’s Fascism came to target Jews more explicitly as well.
In R.G. Price’s essay, Understanding Fascism and Antisemitism, Price writes:
The charges are that Jews promote liberalism, equality, communism, socialism, secularism, are anti-patriotic, greedy, liars, and thieves, who control banking and finance and have corrupted capitalism.
Price observes that these are all the things fascists oppose, so it might seem to be a natural development. But antisemitism goes back at least to the Greeks of Alexander, and even before, according to the Hebrew Bible’s own stories. In the story of Esther, it’s enough that Mordecai doesn’t bow to Haman and that Mordecai is of a people set apart who can be targeted.
By virtue of being different in some way, the idea of “the Jew” can be picked out and loaded up with every negative attribute as needed.
That seems to be why the United States’ most notable antisemite Henry Ford was obsessed with Jewish people. In the 1920s, Ford popularized the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as a conspiracy and published his 18-month series “The International Jew: The World’s Problem”, which ultimately would also influence the Nazis. Ford decided to blame Jewish people for the First World War and for the degeneracy of his own country. They were the Bolsheviks as well as bankers.
As Umberto Eco observes, the utility of Jews is that the fascist can portray them as a threat both inside and outside of society. That means any domestic or international issue can be connected as part of a grand plot, a conspiracy that must be rooted out at home and fought aggressively abroad. Communism, in particular, fulfills this same role by being international and is directly counter to fascism by describing history as a struggle of classes rather than immutable biological groups. New terms like “Social Justice Warriors” (SJWs) or “Postmodern Neo-Marxism” will work, too, of course, and if you listen long enough, you’ll hear it’s someone like George Soros funding all those college protesters.
Jews are the enemy not just because they exist but because the ideologies supposedly emanating from them have the power of turning strength against itself, infecting our good white children. To the fascist, everything is the way it is supposed to be and could be no other way, but it is in constant danger of all falling apart, and the reason for that is ultimately the Jews.
For Might Is Right, this extends even to Christianity.
An American religion
I said earlier that Might Is Right does not ever end up saying anything brave, says nothing really surprising, and goes along siding with the powerful at every turn.
There is one exception to this, or at least it would seem so at first. That apparent exception is the author’s hatred of religion, which for the author is indistinguishable from a hatred of Christianity. For the author, Christianity, too, is indistinguishable from his hatred of Jews and their conquest of Roman strength with Jewish ideas.
Why it is as childplay to the hysteric Idolatry of to-day — the deification of a Jew. The ‘Divine Democrat’ was executed upon a government gibbet, because the Rulers of Imperial Rome were more powerful men than he was. His strength, and that of his followers, was not equal to theirs.
He died an abysmal failure — a Redeemer who did not redeem — a Saviour who did not save — a Messiah whipped like a calf — a slave-agitator deservedly destroyed for preaching a Falsehood — the monstrous gospel of Love, Brotherhood, Equality.
Elsewhere, the author says:
Both ancient and modern Christianism and all that has its root therein, is the negation of everything grand, noble, generous, heroic, and the glorification of everything feeble, atrocious, dishonorable, dastardly. The cross is now, and ever has been, an escutcheon of shame. It represents a gallows, and a Semite slave swinging thereon.
You don’t really hear this sort of mockery of Christianity in American society, but note the sort of Christianity being mocked. The author of Might Is Right is only bothered by the version of Christianity he views as weak, democratic, overly concerned with charity and equity.
He’s not talking about the Christianity of Martin Luther who encouraged German princes to strike down rebellious peasants or Christians to burn, loot, and murder all Jews. This isn’t the Christianity of John Calvin that ruled Geneva by brutal force and justified success as being a sign of God that person was of the elect. Certainly today, the “Prosperity Gospel” that celebrates the rich for the existence of their wealth, the white evangelicals who worship power to justify their support of venal men, and the dominionists such as Washington State’s own Matt Shea would not be mistaken for those who turn the other cheek or fail to ground their claims of authority in temporal power as well.
The directly violent white supremacist Christianity Identity movement, strongest in rural Idaho, and the respectable political governance of Washingon, D.C.’s The Family on C-Street, share a similar fetishization power and hierarchy despite pursuing different means to achieve it. The latter organization, behind the National Prayer Breakfast, actually started with businessmen in Seattle horrified by the West Coast General Strike of 1934. What they saw they needed was “totalitarianism for Christ.”
More generally, Pacific Northwest journalist David Neiwert identified in 2003 the relationship between fundamentalism and pseudo-fascism as one of George W. Bush’s core constituencies, and in a revision of the same material in 2005, Neiwert concluded:
The conservative movement’s straightforward appeal to a dualist and apocalyptic mindset is, in fact, the cornerstone of its drive to create a one-party state – because nurturing such a mindset among the masses is absolutely essential to establishing that kind of totalitarian political control.
That flavor of Christianity has never been the only one extant in America, but perhaps if Might Is Right‘s author had been from the United States, he may have recognized that his own love of slavery paired well with a belief that claimed morality came from God while still allowing the powerful to intuit who God cared most about.
It’s not clear if this other, unnamed and more muscular strain of Christianity was ever noticed by Anton LaVey when he cribbed so heavily from Might Is Right to make it the partial basis of The Satanic Bible. The mockery of Christianity by name seems to have been attractive enough to him to call it blasphemy.
With some mysticism and his own flavor of pretension, sometimes jokingly summarized as “Ayn Rand with candles“, LaVey created the Church of Satan, which can be said to be the wellspring of all modern Satanism. Overt references to Jewish conspiracies and Negro savages are gone, but he liked the parts about smashing your enemies instead of loving them and he talks about “religion” with a confident universalism despite it not being especially recognizable to a Reconstructionist Jew or Quaker, let alone a Buddhist or Shinto follower.
LaVey, for his part, does not seem to have been a person for whom anti-racism was ever important. He cultivated relationships with Neo-Nazi occultists like James Madole whose work grew into strains of contemporary terrorism like the Order of the Nine Angels (O9A), and LaVey raised Boyd Rice to a position of leadership within the Church of Satan despite, or maybe because of, Boyd Rice’s fondness for Mein Kampf and American Nazis.
Again, LaVey was born “Levey”, but he grew up in San Francisco. His idea of rebellion and blasphemy had a blind spot for what sort of forces were still most powerful in the United States, religious and otherwise.
Writing in the late 1960s, LaVey mused:
A black mass, today, would consist of the blaspheming of such “sacred” topics as Eastern mysticism, psychiatry, the psychedelic movement, ultra-liberalism, etc. Patriotism would be championed, drugs and their gurus would be defiled, acultural militants would be deified, and the decadence of ecclesiastical theologies might even be given a Satanic boost.
In other words, LaVey’s conception of rebellion was to make the same appeals that Richard Nixon’s campaign would successfully use to gain the presidency two times. This orientation of pseudo-rebellion has continued into the present day.
The Church of Satan’s present leader, Peter H. Gilmore, provided a forward to the 2019 “Authoritative Edition” of Might Is Right, and elsewhere explained the political position of the Church of Satan was open to all, meaning fascists, too.
It is up to each member to apply Satanism and determine what political means will reach his/her ends, and they are each solely responsible for this decision.
While this is supposedly apolitical, LaVey had and his church still has a strict “no drug use” policy, so it’s not as if they had no limits. But when you say, “We’re OK with fascists,” the result is that lots of fascists will start to show up in droves anywhere they’re tolerated, making their targets uncomfortable enough to leave until only fascists are left. The persistent lack of Satanists who are Black in the past half-century may not be so surprising, then.
This idea that “Satanism is rebellion and rebellion is being willing to embrace even fascism” ties back in to progressive Satanist strains as well. Although it didn’t end up using The Satanic Bible or Might Is Right as a foundational text, The Satanic Temple founded in 2013 and made famous by the 2019 documentary Hail Satan? ties back more directly to Might Is Right by two of its formative figures: Shane Bugbee and Doug Misicko.
The filmmaker Bugbee did his own reprint of the book with original illustrations by Misicko, then going by the pseudonym Doug Mesner. Misicko is most famous now as The Satanic Temple spokesperson Lucien Greaves, and has made the public orientation of the organization opposing white supremacy, as in the August 2017 op-ed for the Washington Post, “I’m a founder of The Satanic Temple. Don’t blame Satan for white supremacy.” But as part of their collaboration on the 2003 re-printing, the two men and Bugbee’s wife Amy Stocky engaged in a 24-hour live-stream talking about their appreciation for Might Is Right‘s message, as well as more recent politics like where they differed on the merits of white supremacist Timothy McVeigh’s Oklahoma City Bombing and whether killing children hurt McVeigh’s cause or they were just “cop kids.”
About three hours and twenty-eight minutes in, Bugbee lists off how his previous edition included contributions by white supremacist terrorist David Lane of The Order, George Eric Hawthorne of the band “Racial Holy War (RaHoWa)”, and LaVey, and how that led to opposition from some Satanists against Nazis.
This transitions into a discussion between a caller and Bugbee about how Social Darwinism was ruined by its association to Nazis, which the caller extends to eugenics also, prompting Misicko to chime in.
“Threw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak,” Misicko says. “It’s just like, ‘antisemitic’ to me isn’t a bad word. It just depends. Like, I think it’s OK to hate Jews if you hate them because they’re Jewish and they wear a stupid fucking frisbee on their head and walk around thinking they’re God’s chosen people.”
Misicko clarifies that it’s not OK to hate non-practicing Jews, however, leading to Bugbee and Stocky to disagree while making increasingly aggressive claims about not liking anyone with a drop of Jewish blood as well as arguing about who actually died in the Holocaust. When asked if he’s Jewish himself, Misicko’s retort is, “I’m an Aryan king!”
As late as 2015, Misicko was using freedom of speech to justify publicly stepping away from a speaking panel in solidarity with the neo-Nazi August Sol Invictus, and in January 2017, Misicko overrode a local chapter in California to tell the hate-site Breitbart that The Satanic Temple opposed counter-protesting Milo Yiannopoulus, at least prior to Yiannopoulus’s pro-child rape comments coming out a month later.
This is not to say that Misicko is himself a fascist or The Satanic Temple is a crypto-fascist organization, any more than The Church of Satan was. Bugbee left The Satanic Temple early on and the other founder and co-owner is Cevin Soling, or “Malcolm Jarry”, a self-described “secular Jew.”
And yet, hearing someone is opposed to religious tyranny sounds a bit different when they’ve admitted they included people who wear yarmulkes as being worthy of their ire, just as “free speech” ends up being little more than a euphemism when it’s used to defend white supremacists rather than fight non-disclosure agreements or protect union organizing.
When, prior to founding The Satanic Temple, Soling went on Russia Today to bemoan how public schools are more authoritarian now and function more like detention centers than education facilities, a lot of left-leaning people would agree with that. But when Soling’s explanation is that schools now have to enforce order on a heterogeneous population rather than a homogenous group of students, your ears ought to perk up a little.
Often we don’t hear anything because white liberals are by some measures more likely to justify their support policies resulting in school segregation than conservatives when it involves their own children.
It is easy to see the racism in black and white photographs of those “gap-toothed racists” Mississippi, but it’s much harder to recognize it in ourselves when we’re paying for private schools, tutors, or moving to school districts with neighborhoods that were historically unattainable for minorities while we vote to keep them that way in the name of protecting tree coverage or “neighborhood character.”
Whether someone uses a grotesquely racist slur to justify not wanting to send their child to school with Black kids or dresses it up in the nice pair of shoes of “giving my child the best opportunity”, it doesn’t much matter when the result is the same.
Already here, already inside
It would be nice if there were some unifying shorthand for fascism and its succubus twin racism, but there isn’t. We must pay close attention.
The book’s ideas are not immediately identifiable by any single aesthetic because as much as Satanism is central to Might Is Right’s history persisting as a specific work, Satanism has no real power in the world. The preacher who tells his congregation to support their “Wolf-King” in the White House is exhibiting the same ideas championed by Might Is Right despite the preacher appealing often to God and labeling all his enemies the tools of Satan.
Again, the best thing that can be said of Might Is Right is that is badly written. There is no dressing up of anything, just sheer bigotry shouted in the most odious, pretentious, and artless way possible.
Once a person has seen the ur-fascism of a mediocre late-19th-century white supremacist, misogynist, antisemite and ardent capitalist saying literal and figurative “n—— n—–“s for several hundred pages, it becomes much easier to recognize when the same arguments are being made with more abstractness or apparent kindness. Might Is Right would argue Ariel Castro—who kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and impregnated three women for a decade in Cleveland before one of his victims escaped in 2013—did nothing wrong except be found out, just as the author argued that slavers were right to take their kidnapped women as they would. Reading Might Is Right, you should find it much harder to perform apologism for the United States’ own prominent slavers and slave-catchers seeing where that same logic springs from and how far it goes.
If you ever attempt to read Might Is Right, its highest virtue is that it is so unappealing it makes obvious what sort of society it’s advocating for: the rule of rich white men to do exactly as they please and the forcible subjugation of all other people in service to them.
It would be nice if that meant it had no appeal to anyone, but history has shown time and again that it does, particularly to young white men.
In that sense, it is dangerous. However, the book is largely dangerous because it’s not received in a vacuum; it’s received in the context of a world already shaped by its ideas in their subtler, quieter, politer forms. This is fertile ground each time the ideas of hierarchy and control renew themselves in their true forms within private conversations, neglected subcultures, and anonymous Internet forums.
A year ago at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, 80 miles south of San Francisco, a 19-year-old man engaged in a mass shooting, wounding seventeen people, killing three, and resulting in his own death. One of the last messages he posted encouraged people to read this awful book while decrying the “hordes of mestizos” and “Silicon Valley white twats” that were moving to the area.
We have to understand the message is just as serious when it doesn’t include rude words, when it’s Tucker Carlson decrying “diversity” and “wokeness” to his millions of viewers while wearing a tie.
We have to pay close attention, and the gift of Might Is Right is that it says what it does so badly we have no reason to be confused by anyone else saying it even if they manage to do it more politely, artfully, or abstractly.
Correction: A previous version of this article mistakenly referred to Amy Stocky and Shane Bugbee’s relationship at the time of the Might Is Right podcast.