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Source: Proceedings of the American Medico-Psychological Association
Source type: book
Document type: public address
Document title: “The Psychology of Anarchism”
Author(s): Russell, James
Publisher: American Medico-Psychological Association
Place of publication: none given
Year of publication: 1902
Pagination: 178-93 (excerpt below includes only pages 178-82)

Russell, James. “The Psychology of Anarchism.” Proceedings of the American Medico-Psychological Association. [n.p.]: American Medico-Psychological Association, 1902: pp. 178-93.
James Russell (public addresses); anarchism (psychology of); McKinley assassination (personal response); Leon Czolgosz (mental health); assassins (mental health); anarchism (personal response).
Named persons
Leon Czolgosz; Carlos F. MacDonald; William McKinley; Edward A. Spitzka.
The address (below) was given 18 June 1902 during the first session.

From title page: Proceedings of the American Medico-Psychological Association at the Fifty-Eighth Annual Meeting Held in Montreal, Que., June 17-20, 1902.

About the author (p. 178): By James Russell, M. D., Medical Superintendent Asylum for the Insane, Hamilton, Ont.


The Psychology of Anarchism [excerpt]

     The “Psychology of Anarchism” is a subject so momentous in its significance, and so far-reaching in its causes and results, that it at once suggests the writing of a treatise instead of a paper, in order to intelligently and conclusively grapple with it. It involves a review of the evolution of the human race and its ever-changing relations to social and economical development. It also involves a history of the world’s civilization from the earliest primitive conditions up to the present complex organization of society and the various struggles it has undergone for the inauguration and perpetuation of freedom and the establishment of law and order.
     The subject is of intense interest to the psychologist because it brings him face to face with a world-wide problem which demands an interpretation on psychological as well as political and social lines. It is also of importance because no nation in modern times is exempt from its destructive ravages, and ever and anon the whole world is shocked by the tragic death of a beloved and constitutional ruler in order to appease the vengeance of this revolutionary movement, whose avowed purpose is to reverse the law of progress and uproot the whole fabric of civilization. It is of special interest to us at the present moment, in view of the fact that within the short period of thirty-seven years three of the presidents of a mighty republic have been cut down in the heyday of their popularity and usefulness by the hand of the assassin.
     The recent assassination of the great and good President McKinley has brought the subject so near to the hearts of his fellow-countrymen and to his admirers throughout the world, that [178][179] it requires no apology for giving the subject a most thorough investigation, with a view to searching out the causes which provoke the incentive to such diabolic deeds and, if possible, suggest a remedy for its suppression.

     Dr. Spitzka (a son of the eminent alienist and neurologist from New York) who made the necropsy on the body of Czolgosz, summed up his verdict in the following statement, “Socially diseased and perverted, but not mentally diseased.” It is fair then to deduce from this statement that anarchism is a “social disease.” As physicians and alienists we interpret disease to mean a pathological condition in organic life resulting in disturbed, altered or destroyed function in the organ or organs so affected, and which may be acute or chronic in proportion to the virulence of the exciting cause. If the brain is the organ of mind, the centre of thought, will and action, then every manifestation of mind must have its co-relative in a certain physical process in the brain. It is a well understood law in mental science that man expresses himself to his environment, either rationally or irrationally, in direct ratio to the normal or abnormal integrity of his brain matter. If the physical process which produces thought, will and action, is diseased, then the mental manifestation is also diseased and, therefore, Czolgosz was “socially diseased” because he was mentally diseased.
     I simply wish to point out that Dr. Spitzka was unfortunate in the use of terms, which are contradictory and not in accordance with scientific truth.
     Dr. Carlos F. MacDonald, another able expert who examined Czolgosz before the trial, took particular pains to guard himself on this point in his published report, as follows: “It may be said that Czolgosz’s belief which he expressed as he went to his death, that the President ‘was an enemy of the good working people’ was a delusion. And such it undoubtedly was in the broadest sense of the term, that is, it was a false belief, but it was in no sense an insane delusion or false belief due to disease of the brain. On the contrary, it was a political delusion, so to speak—a false belief founded on ignorance, faulty education, and warped, not diseased, reason and judgment.” [179][180]
     I shall endeavor to show by a further expansion of the subject that the crime was the outcome of a defective reasoning sense added to a brutal, ferocious nature, and that he belonged to a mental type which permeates society everywhere, and who are born into the world with an insane, congenital passion to kill.
     The deed was a national calamity which outraged every principle of law and order, and public opinion called aloud for vengeance, and it was not the time for discussing legal points of mental responsibility. It was sufficient to know that he was caught redhanded in the act, and he was already condemned at the tribunal of public opinion. Had he slain a less prominent and less beloved personage than the great and good President, the question of defending him on the plea of irresponsibility might have received a judicial hearing, and, doubtless, experts could have been found to defend him on that plea, and perhaps successfully. This is especially true had he occupied a higher social position and been surrounded by wealthy and influential friends.


     The regicide is recognized in mental science as belonging to a distinct type of mental defection, but is not necessarily a professed anarchist. He is usually descended from a weak family ancestry with an inherited disposition to insanity. He may be fairly intelligent, but is weak and unstable, and even mystical in character. He is quite incapable of addressing himself successfully to any kind of employment and drifts about from place to place—is always impecunious and down on his luck, and believes the whole world is conspiring against him. On account of the air of mysticism in which he moves, he naturally becomes an intense egoist, and is easily attracted by the teaching of any new cult, whether religious, political or social. He falls an easy prey to the agitator or demagogue, and is early enrolled as an enthusiastic follower. His devotion to the cause he has espoused is only equalled [sic] by the intensity of his purpose to pursue it to an ultimate end. He early becomes possessed of an hallucination that he has a mission to perform in redressing some great wrong, and under the influence of this mental obsession he sets about its accomplishment with all the zeal and determination of the full-fledged devotee. The homicidal impulse has now pos- [180][181] session of him and he becomes convinced that the life of some high personage must be sacrificed in order to clear the way for the success of his mission. Along with this, the vain egoism of his ill-balanced mind manifests itself, and he sees the opportunity of offering up his own life as a hero and martyr, and thus leave behind him undying testimony of his heroism and devotion to the cause which he has espoused.


     This class of mental weaklings are easily attracted by anarchistic teaching, for within its fold they find a congenial field for gratifying the homicidal passion which, for the time being, may be dormant within them.
     It is said that when an assassination is decided upon in secret conclave, that lots are cast as to who shall perform the cowardly deed, and it invariably falls to one of those miserable social outcasts who has failed to adjust himself to his environment in the struggle of life. Many of the leaders and agitators of the anarchistic propaganda are educated men who publish books and edit papers, and it is difficult to understand why they countenance assassination, for they must know that it hinders, rather than promotes, the success of their cult. The inflammatory teaching of the agitator finds a ready response in the weak but receptive mind of a Czolgosz (which he admitted himself), and he is soon worked into a frenzy of excitement which nothing will satisfy short of homicide. He starts out on his hellish mission from Cleveland to Buffalo like a bloodhound on the scent, and prowls around the exhibition grounds for days like a lion in the jungle searching for prey. The deed done, a glow of satisfaction creeps over him because he has satiated his insane, brutal propensity to kill.
     The assassinators of the President of France, the Prime Minister of Spain, the Empress of Austria, and the King of Italy, were all men of the same type, and in each case the deed was the outcome of a mental obsession excited into action by anarchistic teaching.
     A mental peculiarity in the anarchistic assassin is his utter disregard for the consequences of his act. The ordinary murderer commits the deed by stealth and seeks to cover up his tracks to prevent detection. It is not so with the assassin—he [181][182] makes no attempt at concealment, but prefers to commit the deed in the presence of a multitude and, if possible, on some state occasion. He knows that his capture is inevitable and that in taking the life of his victim he is practically yielding up his own life at the same time. The occasion affords him an opportunity of not only gratifying his propensity to kill but for gratifying his morbid vanity as well. He yields up his life in the hope that the act will hasten the downfall of all rulers, all governments, and all law and order throughout the world. His reasoning sense is so defective that he doesn’t see that his act is execrated everywhere and only tends to strengthen and consolidate constitutional government on a more enduring basis. It is simply evidence of mental imbecility, wholly incompatible with the most elementary moral sense.
     Then let us examine the apology he offers for committing the deed, “That the President was the enemy of the good working people.” As a matter of fact he was the friend of everyone, his heart overflowed with love and kindness for every rank and condition of men, without distinction of race, color or creed. Such an apology only furnishes the most conclusive evidence of the utter imbecility of his reasoning sense and a cloak for his real motive, which was an insane passion to kill. What effect would the assassination of the gentle and innocent Queen of Austria have upon the fortunes of anarchy except to draw down the bitter hostility and execration of the whole civilized world?
     If anarchism confined its operation to the breaking down of political despotism and military absolutism where the voice of the common people is not heard in the counsels of the nation, and where oppressive taxation is crushing the life-blood out of the dependent masses, then a measure of sympathy might be evoked in any constitutional, or, if need be, revolutionary effort for emancipation and freedom. But to import from Europe a secret propaganda of political assassination and social annihilation to the free democratic soil of America, where the poorest man in the land has the same voice as the richest in electing the rulers of the people, is an anachronism wholly inexplicable upon any other hypothesis than that of the gravest mental deficiency and unbridled passion.



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