Life is a paradox…

LIFE is a paradox. Every truth has its counterpart which contradicts it; and every philosopher supplies the logic for his own undoing.

I plead for mercy, unselfishness, service, and the love that suffereth long and is kind, and yet I know that over against this, enthroned on his pedestal of gold, sits the Great God Might, and smiles at our mushy talk about altruism, abnegation and self-sacrifice.

It is all a paradox.

The Social Kioodle has been chasing his tail too long in one direction. So now I’ll start him going the other way.

The refinements of civilization are quite as dangerous as the frank brutalities of savagery; it is a substitution of the serpent for the prowling man-eater; the spirit of an insidious night corruption for a ceaseless and sinew-girding battle in the daylight.

In a state of nature, the weakest go to the wall; in a state of over-refinement, both the weak and the strong go to the gutter.

Civilization is the last word in the herding instinct. All weakness is bunched. Strength stands alone. The “Social Instinct” is a phase of fear, and the “Social Contract” is a plan [151] for perpetuating it.

As Nietzsche has pointed out, our “rights” are our mights; that is, the thing we have the power to do—if there go along with it the power to immunize oneself from penalties—we do: in fact, must do.

Government imposes penalties on those who transgress its ordinances; that is, it opposes power with power, escapes a pain by prescribing one. The excuse made is that “the welfare of the whole race” is at stake; that is, organized society must forever make war on minorities.

And yet, if our view takes in a great space of time, we see these minorities becoming majorities and the majorities passing into minorities.

When the latter are ensconced in power, they, forgetting their former “rights” as minorities, use exactly the same methods to perpetuate themselves as did their enemies, now their prey. “To the victors belong the spoils.”

The law of gravitation is the only discoverable moral law in the universe. Gravitation is involved in every “right.” Without gravitation the words good and evil could not exist; we could have no attractions and repulsions. The things to which I am attracted and which are attracted to me, those things I have a “right” to; they are my veiled destinies, my veritable selves. A “right” springs from a need, and [152] need is the ethical equivalent of the physical law of gravitation.

The obstacles that stand in the path of my inexorable attractions must die—or else slay me. It is merely a question of which is the stronger, not whose is the trespass. Strength and strength’s will are the supreme ethic. All else are dreams from hospital beds, the sly, crawling goodness of sneaking souls.

It is the weak man who urges compromise—never the strong man. A weak man is one who has not the courage of his gravitations; a strong man is the converse of this. Power knows no evil but the threatened destruction of itself.

The essence of willing is self-destruction and aggression; self-exploitation can not be conceived of except as aggression. A society prospers materially in so far as each individual aggresses on the other. It is called “Business.” The problem is how to subtilize it. “Immorality” is the essence of “progress.” There is, it is true, a commonsense that “holds a fretful realm in awe.” But it is no more “moral” than gravitation or the centrifugal and centripetal forces that preserve the orbit of the planet. It is a mechanical law with social implications. All progress begins with a crime.

This element of warfare is so deeply rooted in [153] the nature of things—it is so absolutely a necessity if the universe is to continue to exist—that Nature, in order to perpetuate herself everlastingly, invents opposites to attain her ends. Thus love, affection, is one of the World-Spirit’s devices for more effectually carrying on her war of part against part. It is a minor device in the Great Method.

Woman is the strong man’s recreation, or, in cosmic language, after depletion, replenishment.

Supreme happiness engenders not only the feeling of exalted well-being in ourselves, but an overmastering desire to make others suffer by either forcibly imposing our happiness upon them or tantalizingly parading it before their eyes. Or the supremely happy may show the masked cruelty of this state by patronizing those in pain—by creating obligations, to be collected in the form of charity-kisses when their own painful season comes on. To prey, to prey—that is our essence. If we can not be powerful and happy and prey on others, we invent conscience and prey on ourselves.

Have you divined the secret thoughts of those who privily pride themselves on their life of self-sacrifice—how, finding none to pat them on the back, they fabricate in their own souls [154] a greater than they who tells them each night, “Well done, my servant!”? Ah! the compliments this paid flatterer pays them! In spite of their smug, dutiful countenances, they, too, have their bloated ego for companionship. They must find a reward somewhere for their self-slaughter. So intoxicated do they become in their self-adulations, so hysterically happy are these beings with the flagellant rites, that they seek to impose their beatification on others. So they invented a mushy pay-as-you-go god, a cosmic tickle-rib.

Humanity can not escape its origins; it admires force more than “goodness.” It will applaud power unallied to moral principles, but never moral principles unallied to power. It loves the bold, tho the bold be “bad.”

Only in the fury of excess does one catch glimpses of the immortal truths. Ah! the divine excess in great things—the excess that shot Mont Blanc toward the stars, the excess of life-force that sent Byron flaming thru Europe, the excess that flung Verlaine into the gutter! They who keep the balances live long—and see nothing.

No two men’s environments are the same, because no two men’s mental states are the same. Environment is a series of mental states [155] superimposed on a hypothetical world. Environment is not “the sum of the forces which surround you,” but the sum of the illusions which fire your brain.

Be not the slave of law; be the law. Do not identify yourself with your impulses; be the identifying principle of your impulses. Behind Caprice there is Reality—Reality that touches all things, but is not touched itself.

All suffering is caused by an obstacle in the path of a force. See that you are not your own obstacle.

All wiling is not necessarily a willing into fuller life, but it is invariably a willing away from death. Man gives little thought to his destination so long as he can remain out of reach of his Pursuer.

The right to live has never been proved except by the murderer and the thief.

There are countless reasons, no doubt, why we should not be evil, but it is impossible to think of a single rational reason why we should be “good.” “Goodness” does not necessarily bring health, wealth, wisdom or peace of mind. Rather it is a smiling martyrdom.

The joy of the savage who has slain his enemies, the joy of the ascetic-saint who has slain his instinctive nature, are both derived from the [156] same source, the pleasure of putting something to death.

If all Christians were like Christ, there would be no necessity for Christianity; for when once we have achieved absolutely and in every particular our object, our passion, our dream, the motives that urged us on to the consummation disappear, and we are left in exactly the same predicament from which we wiggled. There is no Utopia that would be worth living in for a single month. Unless you are prepared for pain, prepared to kill, skirt precipices and be killed, you will always remain a decadent, that is, an idealist, a sick man.

In the theological “Kingdom of God,” where the weak, the stunted, the misbegotten, the underfed and the outcasts shall riot and roister and gorge and swill and blapheme at the strong earth-man singing his deathless war-chant in the hell-pits of strife—that is the vengeance of the mollycoddle!

There is no rising from lower to higher in social systems—there is only a constant redistribution of mediocrity, a thinning or a thickening of the crust beneath which glows the passion for liberty.

When society no longer exists for the welfare of the individual, both must go; but the [157] individual will be the last to disappear because he was the first to come. Hence to live for others to the exclusion of self tends to the annihilation of both. But to live for self to the exclusion of others does not necessarily tend to the annihilation of both the individual and society, for it is easier to conceive of the existence of a single individual without society than it is to conceive of society without a single individual.

Wherever “justice” has righted a wrong it has wronged a right. The needle in the compass points to the North; but if you stand at the tip of the needle it points to the South also.

The social system is maintained by opposing one vice to another; it is a balance maintained by bogus weights. The aggressive instincts of the individual are held in check by the threatened aggression of many individuals. It is well to remember that, after all, Satan was the first Reformer, the first being with a fighting Idea! He wore not only a red necktie, but an entire suit of red, and always signed himself, “Yours for the Revolution!”


Source: The Philistine, Oct. 1910, Vol. 31 No. 5, pp. 150-158



This essay was originally written by De Casseres and first published in The Philistine.

In Art & Glory: The Story of Elbert Hubbard (Kent State University Press, Nov. 1983), Freeman Champney tells the following story of this essay, along with several others, being wrongfully included in a volume of Hubbard’s Selected Writings:

Ad for Hubbard's The Olympians in the 1921 issue of The Roycroft

Ad for Hubbard’s “The Olympians” in the 1921 issue of The Roycroft.

Occasionally, unexpected complications also came forth, such as Benjamin De Casseres and his attorneys. One volume of Selected Writings was titled Olympians (subtitle: “Tall, sun-crowned men”). It contained thirteen essays. Ten of them, said De Casseres, were entirely written by him, and he had the records to prove it. After two years of negotiation, he received a cash settlement and assignment of the copyrights. Olympians was withdrawn. (Later, the Roycroft-William H. Wise Company team that was handling the posthumous publishing brought out a new edition of Selected Writings. To make things easy for bibliographers, they substituted a new collection titled Olympians.) 

De Casseres was a New York City bohemian and a disciple of Nietzsche. At one time he had been a Hubbard follower, and wrote that Hubbard was having a “greater influence than Emerson, Thoreau or Whitman…writes English fluently but Americanese brilliantly.” He also wrote that the Philistine—along with such works as Ghosts, Zarathustra, and Timon of Athens—was the fruit “of a sublime rage, a perfect frenzy of contempt, hatred and militant spite.” This characterization sounded more like De Casseres’s own writing. One of his essays in Olympians was on “Diabolistic Idealists” and the phrase was typical. For about twelve years, he had sent occasional essays to Hubbard, and Hubbard had occasionally sent back a small check and tossed the manuscript into the Roycroft hopper. Eventually it would appear in the Philistine or the Fra, usually unsigned. And when the Selected Writings were being selected, how was anyone to know? Obviously, there was no way to tell—except to read the material. De Casseres’s prose was full of Gothic extravagance and frenzy, and most of his literary reference points were contemporary European. In any extended passage, De Casseres resembled Hubbard about the way Gabriele D’Annunzio resembled Oscar Ameringer. (pp. 200-201)

While Champney paints De Casseres rather unfavorably here, and posits the inclusion of ten of his essays in Olympians as a mistake by Hubbard’s friends, it seems clear that De Casseres had enough evidence to prove his point.

In any case, Champney seems to get several facts wrong in this story.

  • Two distinct volumes were published in consecutive years, The Olympians: A Tribute to Tall Sun-Crowned Men in 1921 and Olympians (Vol. 2 of The Selected Writings of Elbert Hubbard) in 1922.
    • The Olympians (1921) contained 13 essays about various men “Compiled from THE FRA magazine,” as noted on the copyright page.
    • Olympians (1922) included 39 essays on various men.
    • There was no overlap in essays between the two volumes.
  • Diabolistic Idealists” was included in Vol. 9 of Hubbards’s Selected Writings, titled Philistia (pp. 294-299)
    • This essay was not included in either The Olympians (1921) or Olympians (1922).
    • It was first published in The International in April 1914 (Vol. VIII, No. 4, pp. 129-130) with Benjamin De Casseres in the byline
    • It was subsequently published in The Philistine in Dec. 1914 (Vol. 40, No. 1)

Elsewhere in his book, Champney specifically attributes this piece to De Casseres’ authorship, while suggesting that Hubbard wrote the opening paragraphs:

“Life is a paradox. Every truth…” is a risky quotation to use because it is part of a long disquisition in the Phil for October 1910 that was not written by Hubbard, but by Benjamin De Casseres. The quotation, however, is from the first two paragraphs of the article, which, with the third paragraph (which has Hubbard’s style well branded on it), seems to me almost certainly a Hubbard introductory note taking the curse off the Nietzschean harangue that followed. (p. 228)

Two pages from the Table of Contents for Philistia (Vol. 9 of Selected Writings of Elbert Hubbard)

Two pages from the Table of Contents for Philistia (Vol. 9 of Selected Writings of Elbert Hubbard) showing both “Diabolistic Idealists” and “Life a Paradox.”

As with “Diabolistic Idealists,” this essay was included in Vol. 9 of Hubbard’s Selected Writings, under the title “Life a Paradox” (pp. 408-412).

While it’s possible that Hubbard wrote the opening paragraphs – he was known as a heavy-handed editor – there’s nothing particularly stylistic that indicates De Casseres did not write it. De Casseres was certainly interested in the idea of paradox, and he liked to use words such as altruism and abnegation, especially in combination with grandiose, epigrammatic statements.

In any case, bulk of this essay certainly originated from De Casseres’ hand.