The assault upon President McKinley
by an assassin who avows himself an anarchist, and proclaims that
his murderous act was a duty, once more directs attention to the
subject of anarchism.
Of anarchists there are various schools
or parties. They differ all the way from conspirators and revolutionists
to men of Quaker-like principles and practices. To suspect all anarchists,
therefore, of complicity in assassination because one has committed
the crime, is like suspecting every Christian of believing in transsubstantiation
[sic] because Catholics do, or in immersive baptism because
Baptists do, or in predestination because Presbyterians do, or in
the non-existence of disease because Christian Scientists do.
One school of anarchists is simply
what the name implies—extreme individualists. They believe that
government is bad, because it interferes with equal freedom. But
to abolish government by assassinating rulers is as far from their
thoughts as the abolition of war by assassinating generals would
be to a Quaker. They depend upon education in their philosophy,
and upon the development of thought, for the triumph of their theories.
The distinguishing characteristic of this school is its absolute
reliance upon the efficiency, for the maintenance of order and the
equitable adjustment of social relations, of the natural law of
Another school is that of the communist-anarchist.
All the schools except that mentioned above, might be classed as
sub-groups of this one, the classification depending less upon di-
 versity as to principle
than upon disagreement as to practical methods. Communist-anarchists
resemble socialists in rejecting or proposing to abolish the law
of competition, but they are repelled from socialism by its governmentalism.
They would have government, but not coercive government. Their system
is, as its name implies, individualism modified by communism. Prince
Krapotkin, whose views we considered last spring (p. 36), is a famous
apostle of communist-anarchism.
That there are adherents of this school
who advocate physical force, including assassination, is doubtless
true. But that policy is no more a characteristic of the school
than it is of the Republican party, some of whose members in Kentucky
murdered Goebel, and whose governor of Indiana made an asylum for
one of the indicted persons.
It is a policy, however, which subjects
anarchists of the peaceable sort to serious misconception and grave
danger. Not only are they liable to be prosecuted as accomplices
of revolutionary anarchists, with whom they are in agreement upon
philosophical principles but whose practical methods they reject;
they are in even greater danger of being victimized by detectives
masquerading as anarchists. It is an old detective trick to join
suspected conspirators and urge violence with a view to disclosing
their lawless character and fixing guilt upon individual members.
With shrewd men, or men of clear convictions and strong individuality
who oppose violence, the trick fails. But weak or enthusiastic men,
though they have no sympathy with violence, are easily led into
good-naturedly assenting to almost any abstract proposition made
by a “comrade,” even if he be a man they wish in future to avoid.
Very much of the police information about anarchists has, we suspect,
been obtained in this way.
We believe the truth to be that
there are very few anarchists in this country who expect to resort
to violence against American public servants, or who either directly
or indirectly advocate such violence. There may be more who believe
that a violent revolution will come in time, even here; but this
is not a programme with them, it is a prophecy. There are many who
talk loosely, but their speeches would attract no more attention
than the speeches of any other stump speaker, if their ideas were
not already labeled “dangerous.” But with that label the Lord’s
prayer or the declaration of independence, repeated by them, has
a sanguinary sound to the ignorant.
There are also some weak-minded characters
in the anarchist movement who think that these speeches inspire
them to commit murder. Mr. McKinley’s assailant appears to be one
of that kind. He traces his murderous impulse to a speech by Emma
Goldman. But the speech he refers to appears, as now published,
to furnish no reason for suspecting Miss Goldman of being his instigator.
So far from advocating violence in this speech, she expressly declared
against it. She did refuse to condemn those who resort to violence,
and she expressed sympathy with several who had done so; but our
criminal law would have to be badly twisted to make her responsible,
on the basis of those utterances, for the attack, four months later,
upon President McKinley. According to a special dispatch from Cleveland
to the Chicago Tribune, published on the 8th, Miss Goldman could
not have said much to incite to assassination; for, as that dispatch
read, “during Miss Goldman’s address a strong detail of police was
in the hall to keep her from uttering sentiments which were regarded
as too radical.” This intrusion of arbitrary power in police uniform
at a lecture might very much more easily have incited a man like
Czolgosz to commit his crime, than anything Miss Goldman is reported
to have said.
The reckless speeches of anarchist
orators are, as we believe, best left alone. We believe this because
there are worse things than speeches advocating violence, and one
of them is a public policy which turns policemen into censors of
public speaking. We believe it also because speeches urging violence
react, if left alone, upon those who make them, and if they fairly
represent a cause, upon the cause itself. We believe it also because
we do not believe that assassins are ever really instigated by violent
speeches, unless they are insane; and that if insane they are just
as liable to be instigated by a temperance speech or a chapter from
the old testament. No public speaker would be safe if any murderer
might implicate him in the crime by asserting that he received the
murderous impulse from a speech of his.
It is needless for us to say that
we have no sympathy with the physical force idea in this country.
There are countries where public opinion is kept in ignorance and
subjection, and where, consequently, physical force and terrorism
of officials are excusable though exceedingly ineffective methods
of agitation. But in this country press and platform are as a whole
entirely free, so that the people can be educated along any lines
that interest them. The right of anarchists to use these means for
spreading a knowledge of their theories of civilization without
government has been and must be maintained. This right can be safely
taken from nobody who seeks the public ear. And if anarchists succeed
in converting a majority of the people to their views, the ballot
offers an adequate, even if crude, method of putting them into practice.
Crude as it is, it is a better method than terrorism, better than
assassination or violence of any kind, better even than passive
non-conformity. With facilities like these there is no warrant for
violence, no need for conspiracies, no excuse for speeches suggesting
or applauding violence, no reason whatever for that playing at revolutionist
in which some anarchists find a species of satisfaction. Not only
is there no excuse, but such conduct is calculated to excite a popular
frenzy, which, when some one shoots down a prominent man, may engulf
not only the slayer, but those also who have played at conspiracy,
and even better men who have not.
It behooves the peaceable anarchists
of this country, if they insist upon using a name that is associated
in the public mind with the idea of cowardly assassination, to break
off all organic  relations
with physical force anarchists, and not only to disclaim but to
denounce assassination as a method of advancing their cause. On
the other hand, it behooves people who are not anarchists to learn
the difference between men who murder and teach murder and men who
by peaceable methods propagate the political doctrine of individualism.