might makes wrong

When it comes to moral and political struggles, the use of ‘might makes right’ as a characterization of the opponent’s view is often used.

The claim that might does not make right sounds like a Christian-inspired one. Nietzsche would probably have scoffed at it, as he seems to in his book Thus Spake Zarathustra. The Romans certainly did believe might makes right, holding up the capacity to vanquish our enemies as the greatest virtue we can aspire towards. Many more cultures were prone to a form of fatalism, in which the victor was supposed to be the good, i.e. favoured by God.

Even within Christian cultures where the meek are supposedly revered, parables and images like Saint George and the Dragon tell us that good will prevail over evil, which amounts to effectively saying might makes right. Portrayals of George on his horse make him appear strong, while the serpent at his lance is feeble and dies, impaled by the good. Many religious adherents are of the belief that God is literally more powerful than the devil, and that evil resents good mainly because the latter is more powerful. Still, the good does not celebrate his might, and is restrained in applying it.

What of situations in the real world, where evil is clearly the more powerful actor? Are not all the states in the world founded foremost on military power, including those states who profess to love the meek? When we see a statesman like the US President announce that he does not believe might makes right, we should wonder why he reserves any right to lecture the world of morality. And from what source does his power to do thus come, if not from the tip of his atomic warheads?

Only sometimes, might does make right…

‘Might makes right’ as a derisive claim about an opponent’s belief in their moral superiority is often misplaced. In some contexts, might does in fact make right. For instance, when it comes to putting safeguards against tyranny, merely writing laws and constitutions alone may be insufficient. A sword is also needed, in addition to the pen.

The US founding fathers were aware of this, ensuring that “hard” constitutional safeguards, i.e. armed citizen militias, would be available to threaten any possibly tyrant with revolt. Today, “cypherpunk” leaders including Julian Assange similarly argue for brute force over law as a way of ensuring people’s privacy online is protected from government snooping. “The laws of physics” is one expression used, to refer to building physical means or ‘might’ as a way of repelling tyrants and other violators of freedom.

Antistatists like Kevin Carson at the Center for a Stateless Society believes the law is worthless when it comes to online privacy. The only way to really blot out the government’s spying on people’s lives is for the engineers to team up and make it physically impossible for them. In that sense, mere morals and laws are not enough to pressure a good outcome. One needs to force an outcome that is better for the broad masses of the people, if necessary by breaking the law.

Some forces are right because of their might. The laws of physics are infallible and that infallibility is tied their might. The technium, which is the ecosystem of modern technologies including the Internet, is right because of its might. A decision to side with the way technology is liberating and empowering the common people with means of connection and solidarity is based on us witnessing the might of modernity, and it is right.

Might does not make right, but might establishes responsibility, and ‘might makes wrong’ is certainly true in many cases. As Epicurus said, the God who will not destroy evil is malevolent. Might does not make right, but it can be wielded rightly, and refusal to do so is malevolent.

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