"The State of The World" Number 36
Complete Index Of All Issues
The Origin Of 'Might Makes Right'
The English-language saying "Might makes right" is only a few centuries old - because the English language itself is only a few centuries old. But the origin of the term, in principle and in more ancient languages, is thousands of years old. No doubt, as old as man itself.
The ancient Greeks, along with originating "democracy" (see What Did A Father Of Democracy Predict About It?), created other political terms for forms of government. One of them was "kratocracy" (as rendered from Greek) which meant power rule i.e. the rulers, who came to power by power, were therefore right because they were strong.
Most empires throughout human history based their imperialism on "might makes right," regardless of how unjust and hypocritical they were in reality. They regarded their own borders and sovereignty as religiously and nationalistically sacred, while at the same time having no regard or respect for the borders and sovereignty of those that they wantonly invaded and ruled (much like a cancer - an impenetrable tumor that is at the same time spreading its presence everywhere else).
The Caesars of Rome were a prime example of that kind of "might makes right." Nevertheless, their Roman Empire eventually fell - not defeated militarily, but by collapsing from within due to moral and intellectual weakness. They ignorantly (a word that means to ignore) made themselves "the world" in which they themselves "were all that anyone needs know."
The demented fiend, but extremely skillful politician, Adolf Hitler was also a believer in "might makes right." Some examples that he used while campaigning for election (translated from German):
"Always before God and the world, the stronger has the right to carry through what he wills"
"Only force rules. Force is the first law"
"Success is the sole earthly judge of right and wrong"
"The victor will never be asked if he told the truth"
Sometimes, the term is reversed - in words, but not in principle. But notice the profound difference in what is being expressed.
First, consider this quote by U.S. pacifist and abolitionist Adin Ballou in 1846. He used the term in its most-familiar way:
"But now, instead of discussion and argument, brute force rises up to the rescue of discomfited error, and crushes truth and right into the dust. 'Might makes right,' and hoary folly totters on in her mad career escorted by armies and navies."
But consider another quote, by Abraham Lincoln in his Cooper Union speech in 1860. Mr. Lincoln reversed the key words, but not the principle (which he later used and believed in during the U.S. Civil War) in his belief that the morally right, regardless of how much power they had to begin with, would be made mighty.
"Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it."
Lincoln understood the good way of the term. Unfortunately, but so typically in the world, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by someone who believed that might, in that case the assassin's gun, made the murderer right.