Provided by the Question Mark Collective as part of a forthcoming anthology on Australian Troublemakers to be published by Melbourne based Scam Publications.
Ragnar Redbeard was the pseudonym of Arthur Desmond, the author of 'Might Is Right', an ultra-individualistic screed of the 1890s. A bizarre mixture of Stirner's anarcho-individualism, Nietzsche's "Triumph of the Will" and Darwin's evolutionary ideologies, "Might Is Right" was seized upon by leftists of the time and published in numerous countries. Today the book is enjoying a revival amongst the American marginal crowd as well as with pseudo satanists (industrial band Non have recorded an aural version) and right wing libertarians (Loompanics Books have reprinted it). Unfortunately many of those now enjoying the book have a tendency (as with the SCUM manifesto) to take it at face value ignoring its satirical content and interpreting its ranting as authentic radicalism.
Desmond himself obscured his background and in doing so added much to his own mystique. He had spent a number of years living in Australia (during which he wrote the book) and was heavily involved in socialist and anarchist scenes acting as a regular source of agitation against banks, politicians and conservatives. Whether he later became poisoned against all humanity or just decided to lampoon it we will never know, but the following article by Geo G. Reeve (which originally appeared in Ross's Monthly in 1921) sheds some light on this reclusive titan of Australian literature.
Arthur Desmond, for that was the real name of Ragnar Redbeard was a native of Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, where he was born about 1842 of Irish ancestry. He died during the year of 1918 in Palestine, while on service with General Allenby's troops. Desmond during the "nineties" was a well known journalist and writer in Australia, and taken all round was one of the most remarkable men the Southern Hemisphere ever produced, being the author of one of the most famous books ever written, "Might is Right", from which the foreword verses are quoted.
Desmond left Australia two years after moving "the undying hostility" resolution at the 1893 Political Labour Conference in Sydney, taking with him the typewritten manuscript of "Might is Right" as no publisher could be found hereabouts to take the risk of printing it, so vitriolic and vehement therein was his denunciation of women and glorification of the doctrine of Force, going much further than his teachers, Nietzsche and Stirner. "Might is Right" contains in all, some seven chapters, in two parts, divided into the following form-
The publishing house in Chicago who circulate the Literary Index makes the claim that Redbeard's teachings were mainly responsible for the great European war. It claims that the former Emperor William of Germany, Roosevelt, D'Annunzio and William Hughes had all read the typewritten manuscript and absorbed the strenuousness and ruthlessness displayed by those individuals and others of lesser notoriety.
Of this remarkable man little is known since he left these shores, other than that a periodical was conducted by him in London under the title of Redbeard's Review which ran for about four years. After leaving Great Britain he conducted The Eagle and the Serpent and The Lions Paw, as the necessary adjuncts to a wholesale publishing house in Chicago, USA, the same being used as advertising mediums for the books sold by the firm. Desmond subsequently had a large tract of land (a ranch), which was stocked with deer, moose and venison giving animals, in the vicinity of the large copper district of Kalispell, Montana. A couple of freelance journalists who knew him in Sydney were entertained by Desmond right royally for a few weeks going out on hunting and shooting parties. To many another person seeking his acquaintance Desmond held aloof, and to a great extent surrounded himself "behind the veil" as it were, by a "mystery halo" and a sacrosanctness hard to penetrate.
Desmond Redbeard was an all round man in the business sense of the term, as is proved by reference to copies of Hard Cash, a journal of finance and politics, published in Sydney in the early nineties. Desmond was clever as an accountant and his articles on "How Money Rules the World" were well watched by business men. This little journal had as a subtitle "The Standard Bearer" and was printed during 1893-94 and came out each week for forty issues or so. Up to No. 23 it was privately circulated and the price was 6d a copy. Hard Cash later became the organ of the Active Service Brigade, with which was connected the late William McNamara, secretary of the first Socialist organisation formed in Australia as well as the late John A. Andrews, afterwards of the Tocsin.
Hard Cash was printed at a secret press located in a cave near West's Bush at Paddington, and during the latter part of its existence the then NSW Minister for Justice (Slattery) had the myrmidons of the law eagerly, but vainly trying find Desmond as it was well known that he was the editor. However some of the prominent men of the time stood trial in connection with the newsletter. They were charged with two offences- libelling the Minister, and for selling the copies from newsagencies they owned. Thomas Routley (of the Board of Trade, NSW), William McNamara, and SA Rosa (of Truth newspaper) were then conducting newsagencies. They all received sentence and were later similarly charged over the little newsletter Justice for which they were awarded and served six month's sentence.
Much interest will be the lot of those who have the facilities to look through the files at the Mitchell Library and look at The Bulletin, The New Order, Hard Cash, Justice and The Socialist. One would there see the vast amount of prose and verse contributed to literature during Desmond's stay in Sydney. William Hughes (later Prime Minister of Australia), William Holman (later Premier of NSW), Arthur Yewn, Tom Batho, Monte Scott (the artist) and Desmond were all associated on The New Order and Hughes, in an article in Copy in 1912 refers to Desmond as the "Poet of Revolution". Desmond was also a contributor to Reynolds Newspaper in 1889.
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