Publication information

Scottish Medical and Surgical Journal
Source type: journal
Document type: article
Document title: “Anarchism: The Insanity of Delusive Expedient”
Author(s): Wilson, George R.
Date of publication: March 1902
Volume number: 10
Issue number: 3
Pagination: 206-08

Wilson, George R. “Anarchism: The Insanity of Delusive Expedient.” Scottish Medical and Surgical Journal Mar. 1902 v10n3: pp. 206-08.
full text
Leon Czolgosz (medical condition); Leon Czolgosz (mental health); Leon Czolgosz (public statements); anarchism (psychology of).
Named persons
Leon Czolgosz; Carlos F. MacDonald [misspelled below]; William McKinley; Edward A. Spitzka.
From page 206: By George R. Wilson, M.D.

Anarchism: The Insanity of Delusive Expedient


A Note on the Case of Leon F. Czolgosz

IN the Medical Record (New York) of 4th January 1902, Dr Macdonald presents an admirable account of the assassin of President McKinley—his trial, execution, and mental status; and Mr Spitzka contributes a very complete report on the autopsy.
     Dr Macdonald and those who acted with him found no evidence of insanity in Czolgosz, and Mr Spitzka came to the conclusion that, so far as naked eye appearances were concerned, this murderer was in sound health and of normal cerebral structure.
     Czolgosz was twenty-eight years of age, five feet seven and a half inches in height, about 140 lbs. in weight, “rather good-looking,” and with regular features. Absolutely no stigmata of degeneration could be discovered. The pulse, temperature and skin were normal, as also were the special senses, knee-reflexes, co-ordinating power, and the sensory and motor functions. On his own statement he had never suffered any serious illness nor been the subject of any nervous complaint, and knew of no insanity in his family. Mr Spitzka’s report confirms the view that this was an exceptionally healthy young man of good, normal development. The brain weighed, when stripped and drained, a trifle less than 50 oz.
     Five experts were employed and they were unanimous in their opinion. The prisoner was frequently interviewed, and the report which is in effect a series of detailed negations, is very convincing. There was no sort of delusion, no morbid vanity or suspicion or idea of a special mission; in short, “not the slightest evidence of mental disease, defect, or degeneracy.”
     “On the contrary, everything in his history as shown by his conduct and declaration, points to the existence in him of the social disease, anarchy, of which he was a victim.”
     Czolgosz had renounced Romanism because he had ceased to derive benefit from the Church, and no longer believed in it. At the trial he pleaded “guilty,” and would not answer questions, as he did not believe in government or law. “I done my duty,” said he; “I don’t believe in voting; it is against my principles. I am an Anarchist.” And again, “I don’t believe in the Republican form of government, and I don’t believe we should have any rulers. I had that idea when I shot the President, and that [206][207] is why I was there.” Lastly, “I am not afraid to die; we all have to die some time.”
     Notwithstanding the peculiarity of these views there is no doubt that, on the evidence obtained, any jury of experts would concur with Dr Macdonald and his colleagues in the view that Czolgosz was sane and responsible. It may, however, be instructive to consider what is the psychological significance of “this social disease, Anarchy,” and whether we are quite justified in still regarding it as consistent with sanity. Anarchists are responsible, as a rule; they act deliberately and as the conscious result of their beliefs, and they are capable of an intelligent appreciation of society’s necessary reprisals; no one is likely to propose that the State should provide for them and shield them. It would, however, be salutary and sound for our profession and the public to realise that the anarchist type of mind is diseased.
     It is impossible to enlarge here upon the normal features of the anarchist intelligence; it is in most respects probably above the average of those of its class in society. Let us note its characteristic defects. Of these, the fundamental infirmity is a sense of injustice and oppression; civilised institutions, the anarchist says, are wrong and tyrannical and unfair; they do not give us a good chance. That is obviously the weakling’s point of view; anarchism is the creed and practice of those who find the conditions of life too hard for them, and who have not courage enough to accept the situation nor the patience to redeem it. We might work out this primary conception with profit, but it is sufficient to say that the mind whose outlook on the world in general is such as to regard accepted opinions and procedure and institutions as systematised engines of cruelty and partiality, is of a nature very nearly allied to that of the lunatic who develops a delusion of persecution. We must note also an excessive tenacity of belief in the anarchist; the creed which he professes takes possession of him; argument is useless, he is not open to correction. This is the kind of credibility which has been claimed by some for what are called self-evident truths; and the doctrine that some truths require no evidence, but carry with them their own and immediate proof, is a striking comment upon the mind which accepts them—a mind which jumps at a proposition, swallows it, and is incapable of disgorging it. That factor is also conspicuous in insane delusion—a tenacity of belief to be explained by the incapacity of the mind for real controversy. It would seem to be due to physical conditions in the mechanisms of opinion comparable to what is implied in impulsive acts. And this morbid process is epidemic in a certain sense—not that the [207][208] tendency to epileptiform belief is contagious, but that the malcontent minds which anarchism selects do not usually arrive at the idea by independent thinking, but find it satisfying when someone presents it to them. It is, however, in the practical aspect of anarchism that disease is most obvious. The anarchist’s malady makes the idea of an evolution impossible; the condemned institutions cannot be improved, they must be overthrown. There are two alternatives—either that the ninety-nine who believe in those institutions will suddenly be converted and agree to make an end of them, or that the one will overpower the ninety-nine; and it is hard to say which of the two miracles it is more insane to look for. Most of all is it important to observe that this aberration cannot exist without eventually finding expression in futile expedients of a criminal nature. Anarchism has both a logical and an organic relation with violence, and must be expected to transgress moral laws as well as the laws of states. The destructive cruelty of the dynamitard or the assassin is inevitable so long as bodies of men and women hold anarchist doctrine. Its insanity is obvious in its irrelevance—the ineptitude of the act in relation to the end desired. But it is a vice and a disease in act which is shared in feeling and in thinking by those who approve such deeds, and by those who, even when they overtly disapprove of violence, admit the suggestion that the world is all wrong. Anarchism, then, is a disease which besets a mind too weak to overcome difficulties, unduly amenable to suggestion, and prone to futile expedients; and it depends for its existence upon intercourse with like minds. In all probability if it were recognised as a disease it would materially diminish.