Might makes right., it turns out, was never a phrase used in the prescriptive sense, to argue that the strongest is by definition the most righteous. A classier (and more classical) term is Vae Victis. (Woe to the conquered.) The Gaul chieftain Brennus had taken most of Rome in the 4th century BCE, and was seiging the last of it when the Romans offered to ransom back their eternal city. Brennus demanded a thousand pounds of gold and even provided the scales by which to weigh the sum. During the accounting, though, the Romans began to suspect the scale was rigged. When they challenged Brennus, he shouted Vae Victus! and threw his sword on the scale. The Romans paid the thousand pounds (according to the scale) plus the weight of the sword. (It was an ordinary weapon, only a pound or so, not an eight-pound Conan-the-barbarian sword.)
Both phrases are actually descriptive, not prescriptive, that the victor owes neither mercy nor justice to the conquered. While there may be future consequences for a victor’s mercy (or cruelty), that’s irrelevant to the moment. This is also known as the law of the jungle (The tiger eats what he wants) or in modern parlance frontier justice.
Of course, some people do believe that might makes right. Usually those who benefit by holding power. The wealthy have much to benefit from law that lets them keep their property, and much to lose when the needs of the masses are held in greater esteem. Hence we have the Divine Right of Kings that has been the philosophical cornerstone of feudal monarchy, the notion that those in charge were placed there deliberately by God. (And so it is written in the bible. It turns out the New Testament is pro-dictatorship.)
Trial by combat is the tradition of might = right in the most direct practice. In which it was believed God would decide who prevailed. (e.g. large, angry, aggressive guys were favored over smaller, meeker guys.) A similar process was trial by ordeal by which you were subject to a severe hardship (e.g. drowning) and if you survived the ordeal you were innocent (or regarded cleansed of your liability). Essentially it was capital punishment in which the punishment served as the trial.
Introspective: My brain is fading. I’ve had a tiring day with moving furniture and computer tech support and grocery shopping. I had a point regarding police shooting innocent people (or murdering them by strong-arm methods) and police testifying falsely in courts, and police robbing people via asset forfeiture and poliice essentially becoming a privileged caste who gets to fuck with or fuck over or in some cases just fuck whoever they want. But too many of the dots are now missing from my head and I can’t connect them. And yet I feel bad about writing nothing today because I didn’t write yesterday.
The Texas police and the New York police made the news today. Both of them are obstructing oversight and further extending the ways they can steal from or wreck the lives of unconvicted citizens. And while those news things weren’t about California or San Francisco, we’ve had incidents way too close to home. And they all make me sad because this wasn’t the just and fair, equal-rights equal-opportunity society that I was raised to believe we were in.
Maybe I’ll be able to come back to this.