Publication information
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Source: Independent
Source type: magazine
Document type: editorial
Document title: “Anarchism and the Law”
Author(s): anonymous
Date of publication: 12 September 1901
Volume number: 53
Issue number: 2754
Pagination: 2187-89

“Anarchism and the Law.” Independent 12 Sept. 1901 v53n2754: pp. 2187-89.
full text
anarchism (dealing with).
Named persons
Marie François Sadi Carnot; Elizabeth; Joseph E. Gary; Humbert I; William McKinley; Leo Tolstoy.


Anarchism and the Law

THE people of the United States have shown a great reluctance to deal severely with anarchism. The tradition that America is an asylum for the oppressed, and the belief that perfect freedom of political discussion is essential to liberty, have great vitality. European nations have often reproached us for failing to distinguish between a liberty of utterance that is expedient, and a criminal raving that is known to be closely associated with conspiracy and assassination. More than once our relations with Great Britain have been strained by our toleration of dynamiters. Italy, if not formulating a legal complaint, is undoubtedly cherishing a moral grievance against us for our easy-going indifference to the Paterson gang that plotted and have gloried in the murder of a generous and high-minded king. Even when our own domestic peace has been threatened we have still held strongly to the policy of letting anarchism alone until overt violence could be proven. The hanging of the Haymarket anarchists at Chicago was strongly disapproved by a large and influential class of theorists, and by not a few minds of a more practical turn. Lawyers especially have held that Judge Gary’s rulings strained the fundamental principles of constitutional law. “So [2187][2188] long as the anarchist only talks, and until he does something, he cannot be molested.” This has been our creed.
     Whether the assassination of President McKinley by an avowed anarchist, following so closely upon the taking off of Carnot, the Empress Elizabeth and King Humbert, will bring the American people and their legislative bodies to a severer view it is not easy to predict; but there are indications, in the attitude of the press, and in the utterances of public men, that give some hope of broader and more courageous thinking. The first wave of indignation will expend itself in threats of “extermination,” and similar violent language, and that is on all accounts to be desired. We are already quite prone enough in this country to substitute irregular punishments for due process of law. What the situation calls for is a sober, thoughtful reconsideration of the whole problem of the relation of anarchism to a republican government, an exhaustive discussion of all its possibilities by clear-headed leaders of public opinion, and the adoption of a policy that shall be at once lawful, rigorous, prompt and efficient.
     The first step in such a policy is to make clear to the people the difference, which is not generally recognized even by the better newspapers, between a creed of peaceful anarchism and the propaganda of criminal anarchism. There are men against whom no breath of reproach has ever been uttered who believe as an article of philosophy that all government of man by man is morally wrong. The Society of Friends, while not going quite to this length, holds doctrines that very closely approach the denial of the rightfulness of human government. Count Tolstoi, we suppose, while not calling himself an anarchist, is almost or quite an anarchist in philosophical conviction. But philosophical anarchism, when combined with a literal interpretation of the injunction to “resist not evil,” is harmless to the community. There can be no possible objection to allowing men to argue that all employment of force in the relations of man to man is morally indefensible; and, if they derive from this principle the conclusion that governments, making use of guns and bayonets and policemen’s clubs are wrong, they can harm nobody so long as they also teach that forcible resistance to government likewise is wrong.
     Absolutely different is the anarchism that is essentially criminal, and that often develops into actual crime. When one-half of the creed of philosophical anarchism—that, namely, which denies the rightfulness of government—is adopted by fanatics, neurotics, and instinctive criminals, while the other half—namely, the gospel of non-resistance—is ignored or discarded, the result is an exceedingly dangerous product which, by its very nature, is bound to assume a criminal character, and, unless watched and restrained by the community, to grow into murder and revolution.
     The second step in a sound policy toward anarchism must be a clear recognition that certain forms of insanity cannot be dealt with on the easy-going plan of laisser faire. Criminal anarchism has received much aid and comfort from well meaning men, some of a scientific and some of a sentimental turn, who have protested that the anarchist who counsels violence is prima facie an unbalanced and irresponsible person. On this whole subject of a right relation of the law to irresponsible characters there is endless confusion in the public mind. Irresponsibility is a sufficient reason for withholding those punishments which imply a judgment of guilt, and which contain an element of vengeance, or retribution. It is no reason whatever for allowing the irresponsible person, or faction, to go at large, to the deadly peril of useful and law-abiding men, and a continuing menace to the social order. Let it then be granted that anarchists of the blood-thirsty sort are irresponsible creatures, if science so declares. A way must be found within the forms of law to prevent them from putting their creed of violence into practice.
     And this brings us to the third step which must be taken in any rational policy of dealing with criminal anarchism. We have had quite enough of the nonsense of waiting until the criminal anarchist murders somebody before taking him in hand. Too many valuable lives have been sacrificed already, and our constitutional liberty has been subjected to an altogether unnecessary peril. Criminal insanity is a medico-legal [2188][2189] phenomenon that has long been recognized in the statutes and by the decisions of the courts of all civilized countries. The criminally insane may be and are deprived of liberty upon proof of criminal conduct, altho their acts have proceeded from irresponsible impulses, or from delusion. It is for the law-making power to say what acts shall be construed as criminal, and what evidence shall be deemed sufficient to establish the fact of criminal insanity. Is it necessary, then, to wait until the criminal anarchist has shot some one, or thrown a bomb, before placing him safely behind the bars? We think that it is time to recognize and to define by law as criminal all advocacy of assassination as a political method, all participation in meetings in which violence is approved, and all expressions of satisfaction in deeds of violence already committed. Proof of such expressions, or advocacy, or participation, in connection with a plea of irresponsibility by the defense, should then be declared sufficient evidence of criminal insanity, and restraint in a safe place of detention should be provided for those found guilty.
     In the policy here suggested there would be no violation of any rational principle of liberty. It is a policy demanded by common sense to meet a serious and growing evil. The alternative is a frequent recurrence of assassination.
     Let us, then, have a legal recognition of the criminality of murderous anarchism, and a law providing restraint for life for all who preach or glory in assassination, whether they plead insanity or not.



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