Publication information
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Source: Scottish Medical and Surgical Journal
Source type: journal
Document type: editorial
Document title: “The Treatment of Anarchists”
Author(s): anonymous
Date of publication: October 1901
Volume number: 9
Issue number: 4
Pagination: 349-51

“The Treatment of Anarchists.” Scottish Medical and Surgical Journal Oct. 1901 v9n4: pp. 349-51.
full text
anarchism (international response); freedom of speech (restrictions on); death penalty; anarchism (legal penalties).
Named persons


The Treatment of Anarchists

THE assassination of their President has rudely opened the eyes of Americans to the teaching of the Anarchists, and in this enlightenment the people of Britain may also claim a share. On both sides of the Atlantic there is the same strong belief in freedom of thought and speech, in toleration extended to all isms and doxies,—to all fanatics, whether their hallucinations [349][350] refer to tobacco, to alcohol, to therapeutics, or to experimental medicine; no doubt the toleration is more or less cynical or contemptuous, but no one suggests, or even dreams, that strong measures are to be taken to keep fanatics from their own follies. People are allowed to believe what they like, and very much to say what they like. This kind of toleration is now indigenous in the race. But it seems to us that this practice of toleration can be carried too far, and we are disposed to think that it has been so carried in connection with the Anarchists. A freedom which is questionably wise has hitherto been allowed to their teaching and to their literature. Immoral literature is suppressed, and we hold that any literature which prompts to personal violence ought in the same way to be suppressed, and the authors of it punished. We strongly believe in the deterrent influence of some kinds of punishment; and we do not believe that the death-penalty is such a powerful deterrent as some people think. To die is easy; and there are multitudes of people ready to die for their country, their families, or their principles if necessary. Such a creature as shot the President values his life no more than the Buffalo mob would have valued it; and its probable loss is not a matter of much concern when crime, prompted by ignorant fanaticism, is contemplated and decided on. Civilisation has so refined even the death-penalty that it shudders if death has not been instantaneous; it is not therefore painful to die by the hands of the executioner: we all know, and have seen, many more painful modes of dying than that. We therefore think the death-penalty quite inadequate. We have, on the other hand, a great respect for the influence exerted by the dread of physical suffering; we remember how the cat put down garrotting, and we have recollections of the ruffians who committed those crimes groaning aloud when the sentence was pronounced upon them. We quite agree that the cat was used too freely and for absurdly trivial offences in the past. It has gone out like blood-letting; but like blood-letting it has its own place, and a very useful place. The position we would submit as a reasonable one is that all deeds of unprovoked personal violence should be punished by flogging; that when the culprit is caught in the act there should be but little time lost before the punishment is administered. When unprovoked killing is attempted, or much personal injury done, we are strongly of opinion that punishment should be what is commonly called cruel, and that in the former case the death-penalty should also be exacted. We think it a misfortune that this American murderer could not have been so treated instead of leaving him in confinement to develop a stubborn, sulky silence. It might be in the interest of the State to unseal his lips, and we doubt not [350][351] the cat would open them. As law at present stands a ruffian like this can die defiant. Let it be understood that we are not advocating any return to the barbarous tortures of the past, and that we should confine severe flogging to such crimes as we have indicated. We have been surprised at the tone of hopelessness in the Spectator and some other papers, and are much more in sympathy with the Lancet, and agree that this viperous brood has to be crushed and stamped out as a pestilence is. Freedom of thought and speech are not lightly to be surrendered, but freedom is taken advantage of to advocate deeds which in their very nature interfere with and even tyrannically restrict freedom. We think that the new century promises to open the eyes of people to the perniciousness of some of the sentimentality with which at one time it almost looked as if we were to be overwhelmed.



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