Source: Maryland Law Review
Source type: journal
Document type: public address
Document title: “Anarchism and Its Remedy”
Author(s): Bonaparte, Charles J.
Date of publication: December 1901
Volume number: 1
Issue number: 1
|Bonaparte, Charles J. “Anarchism and Its Remedy.” Maryland Law Review Dec. 1901 v1n1: pp. 6-9.
|Charles J. Bonaparte (public addresses); presidential assassinations (comparison); anarchism (personal response); anarchism (dealing with); anarchism (laws against, impracticality of); freedom of speech (restrictions on); anarchism (criticism); anarchism (causes); anarchism (compared with socialism); anarchism (laws against); anarchism (legal penalties).
|Adam; Louis Blanc; Leon Czolgosz; Eve; James A. Garfield; Thomas Henry Huxley; Abraham Lincoln; William McKinley; John Milton; Molière; Theodore Roosevelt; James Fitzjames Stephen [middle name wrong below].
The illustration referred to below as appearing in Life can be viewed by clicking here.
“A paper read before the National Civil Service Reform League at Boston, December 11, 1901” (p. 6).
Anarchism and Its Remedy
When the American people heard last September
that their President was an assassin’s victim, there mingled with the universal
amazement, grief and indignation a feeling of peculiar horror aroused by the
apparent absence of any provocation or even intelligible motive for the crime.
Lincoln was slain when a whole people, exasperated by four bloody years of civil
war, were desperate in the certainty of hopeless and overwhelming defeat inflicted
most of all by him: that a wicked and reckless man should have conceived and
carried out at such a moment a scheme for his murder, however deplorable, was
not, after all, surprising. The wretch who murdered Garfield combined such intellectual
frailty with such moral depravity as to seem rather a hideous lusus naturæ
than a fair type of any class of men. But Czolgosz was at once recognized to
be probably no worse than some thousands of men and women in our midst, and
many more scattered throughout the civilized world, men and women who accept
the name and share the opinions he avowed; so far as could be seen, his reasons
for killing President McKinley would lead any one of them to kill President
Roosevelt, should opportunity offer, and with this practical application of
their theories, their existence became a source of real peril, not only to Presidents,
but to all public officers and to all eminent men. And, to the alarm they caused
there was added a hearty and practically universal detestation for their doctrines,
their language and their lives. The Anarchists were, in short, instinctively
recognized as dangerous, odious and disgusting public enemies; and during the
early autumn we were favored with many and varied suggestions as to how we might
be rid of them.
“In a multitude of counselors there is wisdom,” largely because their multitude prevents the acceptance of much of their counsel: most of the plans put forward to rid the world in general and the United States in particular of Anarchists and Anarchism were soon shown by the discussion they provoked to be either wholly or in great part useless, mischievous or impracticable; and there seems to me some danger lest, perceiving the undoubted difficulties of the problem and questioning, with much reason, the possibility of its prompt and complete solution, public opinion may tolerate the indefinite postponement of the whole matter, and we may drift along, as we have drifted in the past, until another great crime shall call forth another outburst of popular wrath and dismay. It may be well therefore to consider briefly what merit, if any, can be found in some of the remedies heretofore proposed for this evil, and also what is its real nature and origin; and this seems to me the more timely because, to my mind, no little ignorance of the facts and consequent confusion of thought have been displayed in the discussion.
It was, first of all, suggested that Anarchism be eradicated through a “Concert of the Powers,” which should recognize the crimes it inspired as always covered by treaties of extradition; the result hoped for was depicted in Life by showing the typical Anarchist lifted completely off our planet through a vigorous and combined kick of Uncle Sam (patriotically placed in the foreground), John Bull, the Czar, the Kaiser and sundry others. That murders and attempts or conspiracies to murder should be held “political” offences, and those guilty of such crimes should enjoy a “right of asylum” in any country to which they may escape, because the actual or intended victims happen to be sovereigns or public officers, is undoubtedly a monstrous and disastrous folly. It is based on the mischievous delusion, of which the world cannot be too soon rid, that persons seeking to violently overthrow existing conditions of government and society are necessarily or presumptively reformers, mistaken, perhaps, as to means, but whose ends merit commendation and sympathy from good men; whereas no fact has been better established by the experience of mankind than that the immense majority of conspirators and revolutionists are mere fishers in troubled waters, hoping to find the chance for individual gain in public misfortunes, and a grave hindrance to rational and orderly improvement, whether in customs, institutions or laws. By all means, then, let us give up any assassins, or would-be assassins, of foreign rulers who reach our shores, whether these call themselves “Anarchists” or not, and whether the country which reclaims them is or is not willing to do the like for us; this will be a good riddance of bad rubbish for America, whatever it may be for the other country, and no preliminary “Concert of the Powers” is needed to justify us in thus advancing our own interests, although such a “Concert” on this subject would be a very sensible proceeding.
But we must not imagine that the extradition of Anarchists will rid us of Anarchism. Czolgosz had committed no previous crime in a foreign land for which we refused to let him suffer, and he fled to no country which sheltered him from our justice. In fact, none of the successful Anarchists who have slain princes or chief rulers in recent years have escaped at all; but their punishment, however merited and however salutary it may have been, has not rooted out their pernicious doctrines or prevented similar crimes. A “Concert of the Powers” will not suffice to destroy Anarchism, any more than the like “Concert,” existing now for many years, has sufficed to destroy theft. Doubtless Anarchists will be, in some measure, less bold, and therefore less dangerous, if they know that, wherever they flee, they may be reached by the arm of justice; just as defaulters and forgers and thieves in general are now less bold, and therefore less dangerous, for the like reason; but, in both cases, the root of the evil lies too deep to be killed by such surface treatment.
The next proposal to be noted is that the dissemination of Anarchistic literature and the publication of Anarchistic doctrines, whether by speech or writing, be created and punished as a crime. This suggestion is of far less obvious merit. In the first place, the facts that Anarchists court notoriety and are readily tempted to publicly avow their opinions is, to my mind, a source, not of strength, but of weakness to them; not of peril, but of safety to the community; if counterfeiters, or bank robbers, or any other class of outlaws held meetings, published papers and otherwise proclaimed themselves what they are, this would be surely a godsend to the police. But there is a far more serious reason to question the wisdom of muzzling this particular class of criminals; to make sewerage harmless it should be exposed to the sun and air; prisoned and left to ferment in darkness, it poisons us unawares. So with the foul and foolish teachings of weak, wicked, unhealthy minds. Its antidotes are freedom of speech and of the press; it is cured, not by suppression, but by discussion. In Russia an Anarchist speaks or writes with the road to Siberia before him if discovered; yet there are many more Anarchists in Russia than in America, and they are far more dangerous.
In some quarters the same plan of repressing unseemly language as a safeguard against violence of this character has been advocated in a form yet more open to question. A few well-known men and some newspapers have advised that all harsh criticism of any President be, if not forbidden by law, at least strongly discouraged by public opinion, on the ground that such censure, whether justified or not by the facts, may lead some crack-brained visionary or dangerous fanatic to imagine that the President’s murder would  advance the Nation’s welfare. Of course, precisely the same argument applies to prevent severe criticism of any public official whatever, and the proposition is, in brief, that the old offence of scandalum magnatum, obsolete for centuries in England, be revived in the United States and recognized, if not as a crime, at least as a grave sin against good citizenship.
This proposal hardly merits serious discussion. If our country is to continue free, we must and will continue to talk and write as freely as we and our fathers have always talked and written about public acts of our public servants; and if this freedom of speech exposes them to violence, and we cannot or will not protect them, then we do not deserve to live in a free country. Doubtless much that is said of them, from the President down, is, always has been and always will be, unjust, uncharitable and foolish; but the American people can judge soberly as to this. With us intemperate criticism is never effective; indeed, a little of it often spoils the effect of much sound and timely censure: although nine-tenths of our blame may be fully merited, the public will not overlook that tenth part of prejudice or overstatement which disfigures it.
In any event, to discourage, or even forbid, a free expression of public opinion as to public men would certainly not destroy, or even check, Anarchism. In Germany, one who speaks slightingly of the sovereign, is, even now, in danger of fine and imprisonment. It is not many years since a man who had lived in America and grown accustomed to our license of speech, was gravely prosecuted for lèse-majesté because he was accused of calling the Emperor “a mutton-head.” This condition of affairs may or may not seem desirable to those shocked by our want of reverence for high station, but it in no wise diminishes the number or disarms the hostility of Anarchists; these are far better known and far more feared in Germany than they have ever been in America.
Indeed, we may safely say more: the statement may seem paradoxical, but criticism, even abuse, of a ruler probably tends to protect him from this danger. The miserable man who stabbed the Empress of Austria, when asked why he had killed a helpless and inoffensive woman, noted only for her virtues and her misfortunes, is said to have answered that, for an Anarchist, there was greater reason to kill a good than a bad sovereign, for a good ruler made governments popular, and the business of an Anarchist was to discredit, and thus to destroy, them all. Whether he actually said this or not, there is much reason to believe that these, or closely akin to these, were his thoughts. President Roosevelt has recently said that “at the time of President McKinley’s death he was the most widely loved man in all the United States.” For an Anarchist this was a reason to kill him, and probably nothing could have been more effectual to nerve Czolgosz to his awful deed than the display of popular enthusiasm which greeted his victim at Buffalo.
There is much more to be fairly said in favor of restrictions on immigration, which may, wholly or partially, shut out foreign Anarchists from our shores; and it may be well to arm the Federal Executive with wider powers to deport or otherwise rid the country of disloyal or turbulent aliens, whether these call themselves Anarchists or not. The fewer of such people we have in our midst the better, and, although I do not believe it will prove practicable to slam the door in the faces of anything like all of them, all that we can bar out will be so much gain. But, while we may thus reduce the number of our Anarchists, it is sadly certain that we cannot thus get rid of Anarchism: we have now a home-made brand of the article, and, although the original “plant” of this “infant industry” was undoubtedly imported, the domestic product is large enough to gravely trouble us. Czolgosz was a native American citizen; no form of test as to fitness for citizenship imposed on immigrants would have excluded him from the United States, and a law under which he might have been summarily banished would have authorized the like arbitrary treatment for anyone of us whose opinions might not be deemed orthodox at the White House. The proposed measures I have last mentioned would, in fact, work practically very much as does the promiscuous slaughter which usually follows a “mad-dog” scare. The destruction of many vagrant dogs diminishes the raw material for hydrophobia, and, with it, to some slight extent, the danger to the community; but the man who is afterwards bitten by the very pet for which he bought a license is not much consoled if he thinks that a multitude of homeless curs have been given the happy dispatch.
So, when we refuse to let in a crowd of strangers of unsavory antecedents or unpromising aspect, we may perhaps keep out a potential assassin of our first public servant, and, so far, we have done well; but there may be here already a boy, born on American soil, taught the three R’s in a school over which the Stars and Stripes float daily, who will grow up to be just as much of a dangerous wild beast, just as little of a worthy citizen, for a free country, as the worst of our would-be invaders. To do our full duty, at once to our Magistrates and to ourselves and our children, we must lay aside such haphazard methods and study this moral pestilence, as we might yellow fever or the bubonic plague, as the first step towards stamping it out, thoroughly and forever.
Anarchism is the product of two conditions which prevail, to a greater or less extent, everywhere among the less enlightened classes of modern civilized society, namely, the decay of religious faith, and a measure of superficial, and therefore unsound, popular education. The first, when coupled with a sound and serious intellectual training, leads naturally to the agnosticism or universal scepticism which found expression in the prayer attributed to the dying German soldier of 1870 “O God (if there be a God), save my soul (if I have a soul)!” Joined, however, to the presumptuous ignorance of one who has been taught so little of many things that he thinks he knows much of everything, its fruits are an intolerant atheism and an arrogant materialism. And a mind debauched by the same disastrous “little learning” is the well-nigh assured prey of certain dangerous political sophisms which, throughout Continental Europe, and from the outbreak of the French Revolution until now, have, more than aught else, hindered the growth of an orderly freedom and poisoned the happiness of mankind.
I do not intend to discuss problems of theology or metaphysics. If, for any one among my readers all belief in a God or a hereafter, in a life for men beyond that of sense and in ends for man wherein time and space and material things have no portion, are mere empty dreams, I have no quarrel with him for my present purpose. I pause only to say that, if he is right and such beliefs belong to dreamland, then, for me, in the words of a well-known writer, “it is only for the sake of the dreams that visit it that the world of reality has any certain value.” But he and all of us must, and in the end we will, whatever our wishes, accept the consequences of our real beliefs: if God and immortality are possibilities for us, as they were for the soldier, they are possibilities of such prodigious import, that they may well avail to mold our thoughts and lives, at least in semblance, as though they had been facts; but if they are pure fictions, if a man has really and finally turned his back on them, not in pretence and vainglory, but in very truth, then he becomes what man is without them. For him—
“That which befalleth the sons of men befalleth the beasts, even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth so dieth the other, yea they have all one breath: so that man hath no pre-eminence above a beast; for all is vanity.”
If then, for such a man, he is himself a beast, he will logically and inevitably feel like a beast, act like a beast, in short, be a beast in everything but mere outward show. And he will be a peculiarly noxious and repulsive beast, for he is sure to largely develop at least one exceptionally odious passion which, according to the results of my very limited opportunities for observation and thought, brutes do not share: I mean the passion of envy. Animals often show jealousy; a dog may become very angry if his master caresses another dog, but not unless he wishes and hopes to be caressed himself, just as any brute may covet the mate or food of his brother and will drive the latter from them if he be the stronger, but only for his own benefit. The ill will, however, arising from the mere fact that another is plainly stronger, wiser, braver or happier than ourselves, seems to be, like leprosy, something distinctively human. We share it, not as Professor Huxley thought we shared all our evil propensities, with “the ape and the  tiger,” but with Milton’s Satan, as, looking on the innocence and happiness of Adam and Eve, he
“Eyed them askance and to himself thus plained:”
“‘Sight hateful! Sight tormenting!’”
Now of Anarchism envy is the very soul: nothing, in human experience, more invariably
“——withers at another’s joy”
“And hates that excellence it cannot reach.”
Were it possible to reasonably suppose such a
thing as an Anarchistic community, this would closely resemble Fitz James Stephen’s
conception of a society of the “Ur Affen,” our supposed simian parents,
endowed with just sense enough to pick out any one of their own number having
traits which foreshadowed humanity, and, instead of making him their king, to
stone him to death. An Anarchist hates every man who excels himself in gifts
of nature or of fortune, in personal merit or popular esteem, and this means
well-nigh every one except a fellow-Anarchist.
The bitterness, the depth of this hatred can be conceived only when we realize the sullen gloom of his existence; for him this life is everything; to the brief span of “anxious being” accorded him by nature he must look to satisfy that passionate craving for happiness implanted in man by inherited belief in immortality. He expects nothing better, even nothing unknown; in fact, nothing at all, beyond the grave; nay, he does not own there can or may be aught of good or ill which this world does not give. And with this belief he sees and feels and knows too well that he is among those hopelessly distanced in this life’s race, among those defeated in the world’s battle, that the prizes of the only existence he holds real are for others, that his few days are and will be days of penury, of obscurity, of privation.
Had either philosophy or wide experience taught him the profound vanity of earthly pleasures and earthly grandeur, his loss of any better object for desire and hope might leave him a dull tranquality [sic] of mind, aping contentment, though partaking of the stupor of despair. But he has neither learned through wisdom nor through satiety to despise the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes or the pride of life; he esteems these things all he has to live for, and he sees them grasped by others and lost to him with all the torments of the Fiend gazing into Eden.
It is sometimes said that Anarchism and Socialism as systems are mutually antipodal and destructive. I should be sorry to diminish whatever hostility the adherents of either “system” may feel for the other, for the old adage as to the consequences “when thieves fall out” embodies no small measure of truth; but, to my mind, this view of their relations is altogether superficial. They are two divergent stems growing from the same root: that root is the doctrine that all men of right ought to be, and should therefore be made and kept, precisely equal. This doctrine is really a wholly arbitrary dogma, a pure assumption, justified neither by reason nor by history, and, in fact, contradicted by the daily experience of all mankind; but it was so earnestly and so widely preached by the precursors and apostles of the French Revolution, and has so gravely affected legislation, custom and public opinion wherever the influence of that Revolution extends that to question its truth even now, seems to a certain class of thinkers and teachers, little short of blasphemy. In its original and salutary form the cry, as it found echo in our Declaration of Independence, for “equality,” was coupled with one for “liberty” and, in this company, it amounted to a protest against arbitrary and oppressive privileges, against distinctions justified by no material differences, to a demand that the law give every man a fair field and no favor. But it was quickly seen that to make men more free would make them less nearly equal, that the fairer their start the more quickly and surely some would come to the front and others fall behind; that, in short, if “equality” had the meaning which leaders in Revolutionary thought were more and more inclined to give it, “equality” was inconsistent with “liberty,” and they must choose between them; they recognized, in fact, though not in words, this necessity and gave up freedom.
Now when the Roman Jurisconsults declared Omnes homines natura æquales sunt, they asserted this, not as a statement of fact, but as a maxim of jurisprudence, just as our Courts of Chancery say now: “Equity considers that done which ought to have been done.” Were this true, there would be no need for Courts of Equity or for Courts of any kind. French publicists and politicians, however, accepted this old maxim of Roman Equity as substantially an article of religious faith, and, since, understood literally, it is transparently false, for men are by nature notoriously unequal in strength, courage, energy, foresight and self-restraint, and as from these inequalities naturally flow inequalities in their wealth, eminence, and happiness, the more extreme among these writers were led to declare it the State’s duty to redress the inequalities of nature; an idea expressed by Louis Blanc when he said that, if a man were so strong and so industrious that he could and would do as much work as four others, such a man should be held a public enemy.
A Socialist is essentially, although not always avowedly, or even consciously, one who sees that the equality demanded by this doctrine can be fully, or even approximately, secured only among slaves. A Southern plantation before the war constituted, so far as the negroes were concerned, very nearly a socialistic community; and they were probably as nearly equal inter sese as human beings can be permanently made. In this community a Socialist merely substitutes for the omnipotent, omniscient master an omnipotent and omniscient corporation made up of the slaves themselves, enslaves each one of them as an individual, to all, in their corporate capacity, and names this corporation “The State.” An Anarchist differs from him by seeing that he has, in fact, introduced a new source of inequality; for this corporation can exercise its authority only through agents, and these agents must be ex necessitate armed with powers which make them no longer the equals of their fellows; just as if the master of the plantation made one of his slaves his overseer. The Anarchist therefore demands that there be no such agents, or, in other words, no government at all. If the Socialist should remind him that, were this done, their sacrosanct “equality” would inevitably and promptly disappear, since all history shows that in times of chaos the weak, timid and simple become first the prey and then the vassals or serfs of the strong, brave and wise, he might retort with justice that such conclusions are founded only on common sense and the known facts of human nature, matters equally disregarded by both schools of thought, from which alike, as from the house depicted by Molière,
“ * * * le raisonnement bannit la raison.”
From our present purpose, the doctrine I have
just discussed is important mainly because it furnishes the Anarchist with a
moral anodyne to lull whatever of conscience he may have left to revolt against
the savage promptings of his envy. “All men ought to be equal,” therefore the
man who possesses any kind of superiority over another wrongs the other by the
mere fact of having it, therefore that other may rightfully redress this wrong
by dragging down the usurper from his eminence of excellence or honor, and may
slay him, if needful, to this end. True such acts bear harsh names in the teachings
of priestcraft and the edicts of tyrants, but respect for these an Anarchist
has long since outgrown. This pernicious sophistry steels him against all thoughts
that might soften his malice; it is nothing to him that his victim is honored,
beloved, virtuous; nay, it is worse than nothing, for this respect, this affection,
even this merit are just so many features of the hateful, the unpardonable inequality
between them. It was a sin against equality that any one should be President
while Czolgosz wasn’t and knew he never would be; it but added bitterness to
this wrong that all around him should deem the President worthy of his great
office, while the few who knew Czolgosz at all, knew him as an obscure, unattractive
So much of the evil: how can it be cured? If we mean cured  in a day, a month, a year, a decade, I answer unhesitatingly,—Not at all. Anarchism will not be removed within a given time, or through a special measure or set of measures; perhaps it will not be wholly removed in any time or by any means. It will be for years, perhaps for generations, a source of some peril to our public men, a source of some annoyance and anxiety, possibly, at times of some alarm to the American people. It is the product of causes which cannot be eradicated by legislation, however drastic, of causes which lie deep in the scheme of modern civilization. But because I have no panacea to recommend, it must not be supposed that I would have nothing done: I believe that Anarchism can be made much less dangerous, much less harmful, if it is dealt with seriously and rationally; if, in other words, we and our public servants are in earnest and willing to be guided by common sense and experience in seeking a remedy, without regard to a little doctrinaire prejudice and a little pseudo-humanitarian clap-trap.
In the first place, the unlawful acts prompted by Anarchism should be made crimes, in so far as they are not, strictly speaking, crimes already, and, as crimes, they should be visited with such penalties as are particularly distasteful to the criminals and therefore the most effective deterrents to crime. In dealing with a convicted Anarchist two facts may well be remembered: the chances of his real reformation are so small that they may be safely neglected, and we can appeal, for practical purposes, to but one motive on his part to discourage a repetition of his offence, namely, the fear of physical pain and death. To keep him for years in a penitentiary merely burdens the community with the support of an irreconcilable enemy, with the constant risk of his escape or pardon and the certainty that, whenever he leaves, he will be, if possible, a worse man than when he entered.
On Anarchists the death penalty should be inflexibly imposed whenever the prisoner has sought, directly or indirectly, to take life, and, for offences of less gravity, a comparatively brief, but very rigorous, imprisonment, characterized by complete seclusion, deprivation of all comforts and denial of any form of distraction, and supplemented by a severe, but not a public, whipping: the lash, of all punishments, most clearly shows the culprit that he suffers for what his fellow-men hold odious and disgraceful, and not merely for reasons of public policy.
As I have already said, any abridgment from fear of the Anarchists of that freedom of speech and of the press guaranteed us by our State and Federal Constitutions would be neither a wise nor a worthy policy; but these privileges in no wise shield counsellors [sic] of crime or instigators of disorder and rebellion. Any changes, however sweeping or absurd, in our laws and government, may be urged, and any arguments, however wild or grotesque, advanced to justify them, provided the method of change be orderly and lawful; but a published writing recommending the murder of the Chief Magistrate and the violent overthrow of the Government is a seditious libel at Common Law, and there is no good reason why the public utterance of spoken words of the same purport should not be made the like offence by statute. It is already a crime to advise a felony or grave misdemeanor if the advice leads to the crime suggested, and there is again no good reason why this should not become a substantive offence, without regard to its consequences, as is a criminal conspiracy.
I have long thought the law should permit, in the discretion of the Trial Court, the infliction of the same punishment on one who unsuccessfully attempts a serious crime as if he had accomplished it, especially if the offence attempted be capital. So far as I can see, mere failure to do all the mischief he had in mind lessens neither his moral guilt nor the danger to the community involved in his continued life. But, however this may be as to crimes in general, an attempt or conspiracy to do violence to the Chief Magistrate of the State or Nation or to any other officer whose death or disability may gravely affect the public interests or endanger the public peace, should certainly be capital. In most countries such an act would constitute treason, and, although not comprised within the definition of that crime in the Federal Constitution, it has all of its moral obliquity and nearly or quite all of its peril to the people.
The final condition of success in ridding our country of Anarchism in practice is that American public opinion should recognize the utter emptiness, the inherent folly of its theory and of all the kindred ready-made, furnished-while-you-wait schemes for the social regeneration of mankind. Civilized society, as it exists today, if it be nothing more, is the outcome of all the strivings for justice and happiness of the human race during thousands of years. What monstrous presumption, what preposterous conceit for any man, were he the wisest, the most learned, the most justly famous of his own age or of all ages, to imagine that, with but the dim, flickering lights of his own feeble mind, with but the few imperfect lessons of his own short life to guide his hand, he could cast down and build up again this incredibly vast, this infinitely complex fabric, and improve on its structure!