Source: Advocate of Peace
Source type: magazine
Document type: editorial
Document title: “Assassination and Anarchy”
Date of publication: October 1901
Volume number: 63
Issue number: 10
|“Assassination and Anarchy.” Advocate of Peace Oct. 1901 v63n10: pp. 193-94.|
|McKinley assassination; anarchism; anarchism (causes); anarchism (dealing with); governments (criticism); governments (impact on society).|
|Leon Czolgosz; William Lloyd Garrison, Jr.; Humbert I; William McKinley; Charles Eliot Norton; Leo Tolstoy.|
Assassination and Anarchy
At a time of intense feeling, like that provoked
by the assassination of President McKinley, few people can think rightly, many
cannot think at all. People are so occupied with their emotions, with sorrow
at the loss of the nation’s head, and indignation at the base and dastardly
deed, that serious, rational thinking seems out of the question. Men passionately
put forward as the cause of the deed that which satisfies best their outraged
feelings, and rashly fling off supposed remedies for the evil, which in their
cool moments they would be ashamed to suggest.
This was never more true than when President McKinley was shot down at Buffalo last month by Czolgosz. The nation was stricken to the earth with sorrow,—a sorrow deeper and wider than was ever experienced before, with one exception, in its history. Into this sorrow practically everybody entered, even those who had opposed most strenuously some of the President’s political policies, or courses of action into which he had allowed himself to be drawn. What had caused the deed? men began to ask in pain, in perplexity or in anger. This question was natural, nay, inevitable. It was, indeed, the duty of all of us to ask it, and to try to find the proper answer.
The answers given have been various, but most of them, we think, have failed almost wholly to go to the root of the matter. Some have declared that the assassin was emboldened to do the deed through the unrestrained criticism of public officials indulged in by the press and people. This seems to us to have had nothing appreciable to do with the matter. It would be just as rational to say that the invention of printing, or general education, which has enabled anarchists to read, was the cause.
More superficial still is the charge that the criticisms of the Administration by men like Professor Charles Eliot Norton, William Lloyd Garrison and others, were what instigated the assassination. Nothing could surpass in irrationality this accusation. Many of the men of this class are opposed to the use of violence for any purpose whatever, and are constantly preaching against it, as Tolstoy is in Russia. In that country, the great Nonresistant has never been thought to be the cause of assassination and riot. The government has allowed him to stay in the country, in spite of his severe criticisms, because his presence and teachings are held to be a restraint of violence. To charge such men as those mentioned above with being the cause of the assassination is to call white black, and to invert the whole moral order of things.
Most have assigned anarchy as the cause, and have stopped there. This assumption is true in measure, but it does not go far enough to show any real insight into the situation. Why should anarchy—the violent kind we mean, for there is another kind which holds and teaches the highest regard for human life—have sought the life of our President at this time, while formerly it has distinctly declared that it had no quarrel with a government chosen directly by the people? There must be a deeper cause for this sudden and unexpected outburst, beyond the mere effect of ordinary anarchistic teachings.
It is just possible, of course, that Czolgosz’s determination to kill the President may have been due altogether to personal idiosyncrasies, to the sudden promptings of a nature blinded and depraved by inheritance, and that anarchistic beliefs were only the cloak under which this masqueraded. But this is not likely. Such natures, even when they act unconsciously, are usually stirred up by definite surroundings.
The cause which seems to us in the main most rationally to account for this shocking crime, as it accounts for similar deeds which have occurred in other countries, is the prevailing spirit of brutalism and violence on the part of the nations. When this  spirit is awakened and cherished by the governments on a comprehensive scale, as has been the case in recent years, it is sure to manifest itself in the most unexpected places and ways, especially on persons whose natures are coarse, brutal and undisciplined. If the nations fill their belts with revolvers, their hip pockets with Krupp guns, and their pouches with dynamite; if they pitilessly crush out human lives by the thousands, and trample down whole peoples, in order to accomplish their purposes,—why should it be thought strange that to individuals of the type of which we are speaking, affected as they must be by the prevailing spirit, the taking of any life should seem entirely justifiable for the accomplishment of a definite end?
Evidences of the degrading and dehumanizing effects of the prevailing brutalism are found in many directions. Lynching, one of the remnants of the Civil War, has spread from the South into the North, where it has probably as yet only just begun its ravages. One of the most painful manifestations of it was the spirit of savagery and vengeance manifested in the press, in the pulpit and among the people when the President was assassinated. It is a spirit which breaks down all respect for law and order, takes away regard for human life and human rights, introduces a general spirit of intolerance, and proceeds to accomplish its ends in the speediest and most brutal way. This is what the civilized world is acutely suffering from at the present time.
The great period of assassination of rulers has been the last twenty years. This has been the period of the development and spread of anarchy, which has just recently begun to pour itself in its worst forms from Europe into America. But this has also been the period of the recrudescence of force, of the introduction of the new slavery of material power, of the development of great armaments, of the crushing and exasperating of the masses of the people by the consequent burdens, and of the aggressions of the “great anarchists” upon the weak and uncivilized peoples. Anarchism is only one of the little eddies of the great swirl.
To prevent such deeds as that which has shocked and broken down the nation and the whole civilized world, we must go to the root of the matter. To give up our dearly bought and highly prized freedom of speech would only be to increase the tyranny of force and make matters worse, to deepen the soil on which we should have a still ranker growth of anarchy and assassination. To shut our presidents off from the public and surround them with glittering steel would make them still more liable to be shot or dynamited, as European experience amply shows. Severer laws against anarchistic teachings and methods will do absolutely nothing for us. In those countries where such laws exist in greatest rigor, and anarchism is driven to whispers in the most secret corners, as in Russia, the teachings get printed and circulated by millions of sheets, and violent anarchists multiply right under the lynx-eyes of government. To exclude known anarchists from the country would in all probability result only in multiplying native ones fourfold. Lynching, recommended by some statesmen and preachers even, would be only to substitute one phase of the disease for another. Violence never cures violence.
What we said when King Humbert of Italy was assassinated we repeat in substance now. So long as the causes of anarchy continue—deep seated, widespread, upheld and promoted by governments, excused and lauded in the press and the pulpit, tolerated and trifled with by the people—anarchists will continue to appear. For every one hung, or electrocuted, or beheaded, or lynched, two will arise.
The governments must cease to make brute force their prime law. They must begin to do away with their great armaments. They must take the ruinous burdens from the people. They must spend the vast sums of money now wasted on preparations for war in improving the social and economic conditions of the struggling masses. They must cease to worship and bow down to material wealth and power. They must abandon utterly and forever the policy of overrunning, slaughtering and reducing to political subjection weak and ill-civilized races. In other words, they must cease to be anarchists themselves. They must submit themselves to the laws of love and brotherhood, of universal justice and right. They must conscript themselves into the service of their peoples, rather than conscript these into food for cannon and pestilence. Our own country cannot take another step in the development of militarism without increased danger of the loss of its presidents and other high officials at the hands of anarchists.
This is the only method by which the anarchy which shoots down rulers and dynamites public buildings can ever be extinguished. The lesson has been brought very close home to us all by the sad event which has hurled us into the dust, covered with grief and shame. It is no credit to our intelligence that we have understood it so poorly. Instead of giving ourselves to pitiful and unworthy ravings over the base and heartless deed of a blinded and brutalized man,—in part the creature of our own false ideas and barbarous systems,—let us humble ourselves, get “nearer to God,” as our lamented President prayed that he might, confess our errors and hardness of heart, and begin in all social, national and international affairs to follow the supreme law of love and service and self-sacrifice revealed to us so perfectly in his Son. If the nations where anarchy has sprung up and grown will only do this, the cursed, deadly tree will wither and die in a very brief time. Satan can never cast out Satan, and the sooner we practically accept this great truth, the better it will be for us—and for presidents and kings.