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Source: Liberty Review
Source type: magazine
Document type: article
Document title: “Anarchy and Assassination”
Author(s): Robertson, Edward Stanley
Date of publication: 15 October 1901
Volume number: 10
Issue number: 10
Series: new series
Pagination: 230

Robertson, Edward Stanley. “Anarchy and Assassination.” Liberty Review 15 Oct. 1901 v10n10 (new series): p. 230.
full text
Errico Malatesta; anarchism (criticism); anarchism (dealing with).
Named persons
Errico Malatesta [first name wrong below]; William McKinley.


Anarchy and Assassination

     SO far as the Anarchist assassin ever undertakes to defend or explain his crime, his defence and explanation always take the form of an accusation against Society, and against Rulers as representing Society. The wretch who shot President McKinley did not offer any defence or explanation. But we do know the sentiments of another Anarchist leader, Enrico Malatesta. This man denounced Mr. McKinley as “an oppressor, who had allowed the trusts to grow in America, until the poor man had to work for what the rich would pay him, not for what he was worth.” Here we have the expected indictment of Society, and of the President as its head. The President was “an oppressor” because he had allowed trusts to grow up—that is, he had not exercised power to veto them, the exercise of power being the very thing Anarchists rebel against. Then we have the old tag about the “rich” and the “poor.” Now, any levelling up or levelling down so as to abolish or minimise this distinction implies the exercise of authority, which to the Anarchist is abomination. Finally, Malatesta says “the Anarchists do not love blood.” “He himself would never kill, but there were some among their number who could not see oppression around them without doing something for the cause.” In other words, “there ought to be no such thing as authority; then everyone would be prosperous; but now, if anything goes wrong, some of our people are sure to kill someone who has authority.” Thus briefly stated, the nonsense is apparent on the surface; nevertheless, there may be some who draw the inference that Governments ought to bestir themselves more and more to “improve the condition of the people,” and thereby cut the ground from under the feet of the Anarchists. Thus, at least, do I read a passage in the Saturday Review of September 14th: “At a time when, throughout Europe and America, every current of political thought tends more and more towards the idea of strengthening State action, in order to carry out more effectively beneficent changes in the condition of the poorer classes of society, Anarchism raises its head as the ghastly reductio ad absurdum of individualism and the antithesis of every form of socialism.” The latter it certainly is; but that it is a reductio ad absurdum of individualism I take the liberty to deny. Antithetic as are Anarchism and Socialism, they have their common root in the belief that the constitution of society can somehow level up poverty and level down riches. Individualism, on the other hand, accepts Government and authority as things which human nature must submit to, but claims that Government and authority have provinces of their own, in which the improvement of the condition of the people is not included; that improvement can only result from the people’s own exertions. All that Government can do is to preserve the peace, so that no man may be hindered by violence from seeking his own welfare; and to administer justice in such wise that none be deprived by fraud of anything which is lawfully his. We Individualists believe that, if these things be done, private enterprise and free associated enterprise will do all the rest. This at least we hold to be certain, that if Governments outstep their primary functions they will be very likely to neglect those functions. If they do this, they will certainly find that improving the condition of the people is beyond the power of authority, and that by neglecting primary functions they are actually hindering improvement. In this way, they will actually play into the hands of Anarchists who aim at levelling. They will be assuming responsibility for the condition of the people, and since there are some (as Malatesta says) who cannot behold what they call oppression without “doing something for the cause,” it is fair to infer that “improving” rulers have themselves mainly to blame if the knife or bullet of the Anarchist be directed against them as “oppressors.” Such utterances as that of Malatesta prove that something like this underlies the reasoning of the “thinker” and the motive of the murderer. You have no right to possess authority at all, but, since you have usurped it, use it in the way we approve—or take the consequences. Some such vague subconscious feeling may have animated the murderer; all the more, in that President McKinley was the elect of the people, and was, therefore, all the more responsible (the “philosopher” would argue) for the people’s well-being.
     My inference is that it would be wise, especially for democratic and constitutional Governments, to restrict themselves to their primary functions; and that those “currents of political thought” which, we are told, “tend more and more towards the idea of strengthening State action” for philanthropic purposes are currents leading in a wrong direction. State action, however strengthened, will fail to carry out the philanthropic purposes, or will carry some of them out on one side, at the cost of causing injury on some other side. Meantime the Anarchist will always be able to say: “You have usurped authority on the pretext of an intended philanthropy; you have failed, therefore you are an oppressor, and deserve whatever you may get at our hands.” I do not claim that the restriction of State action will cure Anarchy, but I do say that State philanthropy plays into the hands of the Anarchist. Finally, I am afraid that for Anarchist assassination there is no infallible remedy. When all reasonable precaution shall have been taken, and all penalties consistent with humanity shall be in readiness, then all that is left to those in high places is to make their wills and do their duty.



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