Might Is Not Right After All

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

It is not might that makes anything right—in theory. But it is might that is decreed right—in practice. Because at the end of a long debate or conflict of opinions, even when the written law is unable to assert theory (often called principle) over reality, the force of superior force is the final arbiter.

Most often, however, superior force need not come into play. Just the thought of it being there favoring one side over another (favoring the side called authority or position) is usually enough to put an end to an argument. I am hesitant to say the law is what decides because the hundreds of thousands of legal cases only show the law is interpreted hundreds of thousands of ways. And if a final decision is not reached and implemented with superior force, actual or virtual, it is not justice delayed-justice denied, it will be might over right meanwhile.

Might comes in many ways, depending on the level of societal consciousness. Its most primal form is physical, and we all understand this. In a society with established order, physical might is restrained but its application is ceded to position and authority. And, yes, that position and authority would have the law blessing them, of course, even if position and authority, with superior force behind them, create the laws. The situation is then referred back to the debate between philosophers Thrasymachus and Plato, with Thrasymachus claiming that justice (the law) is advantageous to the stronger.

Might, in a society with little propensity for physical violence, is represented by the wealthy, by the better educated, and not so surprisingly, by religious authorities. The elite of the world, now and throughout history, have journeyed from the very physical to the more subtle forms of might, from mighty warriors and conquerors to leaders of churches and states, and then the proverbial 1 percent richest of the world. Where we are today will show in many ways how refined or primitive the elite are.

The primitive elite are, of course, the most rapacious and greedy. Looting, plunder and rape have been the natural consequences of victory in war. If modern times in countries claiming to be democratic have refined the expressions of looting, plunder and rape, the spirit remains intact. From the battlefields of yore where not only leadership was determined but ownership as well, the arenas today are now known as politics, business and religion. Victory remains the ultimate motivation and goal however it is disguised by more diplomatic terminology (I think they call it “politically correct” today).

So, if the reality that might-is-right is wrong, then mankind has been born wrong. Many Christian views have always maintained this through statements like “Man is born in sin” or “Sin is the nature of man.” I do not know enough about the great faiths, Islam and Hinduism, which, together with Christianity, would comprise the majority of the world’s belief systems. Buddhism, though, does not seem to follow this line of thinking, and so, too, the other estimated 1 billion people who are not associated with any religion.

If the major religions equate life to some sort of journey from sin to salvation, from hell on earth to heaven, then we can look to the evolution of governance in a parallel manner. Belief systems, or their absence, cannot but impact on the daily lives of people in all societies. We find that might is right also in religion, with each faith’s notion of God immediately includes his being the mightiest of all, the Almighty. The highest power is centrally placed in God, and the same goes to the central power of societies.

Until democracy, that is, or its concept. Democracy decentralizes power and dissipates obedience to a personal representation of power. Democracy, too, popularizes responsibility and accountability, withdrawing from the history where authority was concentrated—and so was responsibility and accountability. Democracy remains a youthful experiment, its principles intuitively appealing and its heaven-on-earth direction (instead of heaven somewhere else) attractive to many who had come from being of little value in traditional authoritarian societies.

Thank goodness that Jesus Christ broke the old mold in a big way, choosing the least to be first and claiming all were sons and daughters of one creator, equal in worth and dignity. It is no surprise that the concept of democracy may have been ideated and articulated by Greek philosophers but its initiation and experimentation came from Christian countries in Europe. For those studying geopolitics, this perspective may come in handy when trying to understand the conflict of nations with contrasting religions.

Democracy being what it is, from theory to applied governance, those who are citizens of nations attempting to be democratic would better understand the contradictions of life and law, of principles and reality, of the deep culture of might-is-right in a society’s attempt to reverse a historical perspective and behavioral pattern.

The two greatest challenges, then, are those that face the elite and the citizenry. The elite who have power and wealth are invited in the same one journey of the Filipino nation to appreciate the value of the vast majority who are socially and economically placed lower than them. The appreciation of the value of the ordinary individual by the elite will diffuse the propensity to exploit and abuse them. That appreciation of the human value leads to the acceptance of human rights and the evolution of an egalitarian society.

And to all other citizens of our democratic republic, most of whom are ordinary and maybe even poor, there is a challenge no less greater. There is no political savior except ourselves, and in a common manner towards a common goal. The responsibility of leadership is not an excuse for our abdication of personal responsibility and accountability. And even if we have been dependent too long, too much, on the elite, democracy will work in our favor only if we do our share.

It is democracy’s only way. If not, might will forever be right.

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