Source type: magazine
Document type: editorial
Document title: “A Duty to Civilization”
Date of publication: 12 September 1901
Volume number: 83
Issue number: 36
|“A Duty to Civilization.” Watchman 12 Sept. 1901 v83n36: p. 8.|
|anarchism; anarchism (dealing with).|
|Gaetano Bresci; Leon Czolgosz; Emma Goldman; Humbert I; William McKinley; Johann Most.|
A Duty to Civilization
All the safeguards of civilization break down
when men cease to be responsive to the ordinary human motives. There is no protection,
short of physical constraint, against those who are willing to throw away their
own lives for the sake of taking the lives of others. For these reasons the
peril that those in great place may be assassinated cannot be wholly eliminated
except by isolating them from their fellowmen. No one can tell when some madman
or fanatic will make the fatal attack. The security of the President of the
United States from physical violence, no matter how strong his body guard [sic],
must ultimately reside in the fact that the overwhelming majority of those with
whom he comes in contact are normally constituted. Even if they are not animated
by good will toward him they at least value their own lives and the penalties
for the violation of law have some terror for them.
The unspeakably atrocious assault upon President McKinley last Friday afternoon, which, before these words are read, may result in his death, is in no sense whatever symptomatic of our civilization, deeply as we feel the disgrace and shame of it. The Polish Anarchist, Czolgosz, who attempted to assassinate the President, was hardly more sensitive to the motives to which men ordinarily respond than one of the lions in the building near where the President fell. Such a man has far more in common with the beast than humanity.
And yet, on the other hand, we cannot blind our eyes to the fact that we have permitted to grow up in our country a propaganda which deliberately sets out to dehumanize men, and to encourage them to perform just such acts as this of the Polish Anarchist. We have been exceedingly jealous in this country of the right of free speech, and of any infringement of the liberty of expressing opinion. Our laws take cognizance of overt acts, not of doctrines. This is in thorough accord with the genius of our institutions. But the question arises whether we should permit the expressions of opinion that directly instigate to crime. If a man gathers a crowd in front of your house and directly or indirectly instigates it to burn up your home, must the police refrain from interfering until the torch is actually applied? For the last twenty-five years at least in the great centers of our immigrant population, like New York, Chicago and Cleveland, there has been a perfectly well-known Anarchist propaganda. The doctrine that rulers ought to be assassinated has been openly preached. We have flattered ourselves that the ravings of Herr Most and of Emma Goldman were too outrageous to produce much effect, and that the wiser course would be to ignore them. But in the tragedy which last week plunged the whole nation in grief and shame, we see the outcome of the unwillingness to treat instigation to crime as a crime.
Only a little over a year ago King Humbert of Italy was assassinated by an Anarchist hailing from Paterson, N. J., where there exists a well-defined Anarchist society with which it is more than suspected that Czolgosz was connected, and there is positive knowledge that he was directly influenced by its teachings. The relation of the Government at Washington and of the State of New Jersey to the Paterson Anarchists after Bresci had killed King Humbert was characterized by deplorable weakness and indecision. Friendliness to Italy, to say nothing of regard for our own institutions, would have led to immediate apprehension of the leaders of that society and the suppression of the entire propaganda.
The peril that assails men in great place from the attacks of lunatics and fanatics cannot be absolutely eliminated from any civilization, but no theory of personal liberty compels us to tolerate the utterances of men and women who incite their followers to the murder of rulers or the existence of societies for the purpose of instigating to crime.