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Publication information
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Source: Spectator
Source type: newspaper
Document type: editorial
Document title: “How to Deal with Anarchists”
Author(s): anonymous
City of publication: London, England
Date of publication: 14 September 1901
Volume number: none
Issue number: 3820
Pagination: 340-41

“How to Deal with Anarchists.” Spectator 14 Sept. 1901 n3820: pp. 340-41.
full text
anarchism; anarchism (dealing with).
Named persons
Alexander III; Otto von Bismarck; Camillo Benso di Cavour; Francesco Crispi; Oliver Cromwell; Leon Czolgosz; Benjamin Disraeli [identified as Beaconsfield below]; Léon Gambetta; William Ewart Gladstone; Emma Goldman; Henry IV [identified as Henri Quatre below]; Humbert I; Louis XIV; Napoléon III; Henry John Temple [identified as Palmerston below]; René Waldeck-Rousseau.
The identity of De Witt (below) cannot be determined. Possibly this is a reference to the lynching of Cornelius and Johan de Witt in The Hague in 1672.


How to Deal with Anarchists

NO leading politician in the United States has ever been assassinated unless he were President. In Europe at least seven men—Palmerston, Bismarck, Cavour, Gambetta, Beaconsfield, Gladstone, and Crispi—have within living memory governed great States, have done great or striking things, and have aroused implacable enmities, but all escaped the political assassin. It is probable, perhaps certain, in spite of official denials, that Gambetta was killed; but if so, it was by a household enemy in a fit of rage, and not in consequence of any provocation given by his position or his career. Within the same period two European Sovereigns, one Sovereign’s wife, a European President, and three American Presidents have been foully assassinated by men whose avowed motive was hate, either social or political; while the number of attempts has been great, and of serious menaces such as compel careful precautions has been past all counting. That series of facts, as it seems to us, must have a meaning, and its meaning must be this. There exist in all civilised countries evil men, usually abnormally vain men, of the type in which brooding produces resolve, who are attracted, so to speak, by the crown, whether it be borne by King or President, by its visibility and loftiness, as kleptomaniacs are attracted by glitter; who understand nothing of greatness, or even real power; but who, when their thoughts are savage to murderousness, fix them on the head of the State; attribute to him all they detest; believe, or think they believe, that without his removal nothing will go right; and at last resolve to be the agents of that removal. They are not insane in the sense of irresponsibility—that is a most mischievous assumption—but their wills, once fixed, are too strong for their brain-power, and they become blind to every danger except that of being intercepted. They must stir the waters, must strike their blow, must for one brief moment have done somewhat that all the world can see, and they strike with their whole force. The Pole Czolgosz, or Nieman, shrank from the detectives, and postponed his evil purpose day after day; but when he was on his back, in great risk of being pommelled to death, he pointed, or tried to point, his revolver, not at his assailants, but at the President once more. It is this class of men, who may be Anarchists—usually are, for when everything seems wrong war with everything is the first impulse—but may also be merely possessed by the sense of the difference between their own thoughts of themselves, or of those like themselves, and the actualities around them, who are now the serious danger, the most serious and trying danger, of all Kings and Presidents,—that is, as we are contending, not so much of those who are powerful as of those who are recognised as first, who are known to all men and can be seen far off. It is not as rulers that they are menaced—M. Waldeck-Rousseau is in no danger, except perhaps from some mad cleric—but as greatest among the great. Character is no protection to them, nor popular approval, nor liberal tendency in politics; they are at the top, and are struck at as in guerilla warfare men are fired at who show on the sky-line.
     We believe that men of this dangerous character are increasing, and will increase with the increase of consciousness as to the contrasts in life, of envy, and of vanity—which last quality was held in fetters when society was cast in stronger moulds—and now constitute a most serious danger, both to those who reign, whether for life or for a period, and to the great communities of the world, which are perturbed and injured by every assassination; and the point for statesmen to consider is how best to diminish their chances of success. It is of no use to go into fits of horror over the abominable character of their crimes—that is admitted, for they are murderers who intend to kill society as well as the individual—the true question is what is to be done with them. It will not do to tolerate lynching, for if the police and soldiers, who defend society, may not act, opinion being too strong for them, the first protection of Sovereigns is torn away, their best agents becoming uncertain as to what ought to be their immediate duty. The mob, too, may be hostile, as in the case of De Witt, and what are police and soldiers to do then if the hint has been given them to allow the mob to have its way? We must keep the social rules if there is to be any safety for anybody, and the first rule is that a supposed criminal be heard. Nor is there any use in torture. We ourselves believe that torture is forbidden by Christianity; but if we waive that, it is certainly of no use in preventing such crimes. The assassins of old knew perfectly well that they would be subjected to awful torture, breaking on the wheel, for instance, and were so little deterred that poisoning, now the rarest of offences against the great, became in the time of Louis XIV., when all poisoners were tortured, an epidemic. In modern times torture would be even more useless, for the murderer would execute himself, and so pass out of the hands of human justice, to the great increase of that variety of the crime in which the guilty man is the agent of a society or club of assassins. We are doubtful even of the effect of the change which to so many among us seems beyond argument,—the capital penalty for attempted assassination. There is no objection to it on the score of justice, for to wound with intent to murder is morally murder, and deserves death, but then is it expedient to make no distinction? Nieman deserves death whether the American President lives or dies; but if he gets death the next assassin will take extra care not to fail. Is it not better to leave a loophole for half-relentings, especially when, as sometimes happens, the assassin is rather agent than originator of the crime? Nor can we say that we believe that much will be gained by sharper laws against Anarchist societies or Anarchist literature. Such laws only bind the desperadoes more firmly together. The Thuggee Law which the ignorant write about would not work against Anarchy, for the essence of that wonderful law is to collate the evidence of those who have been guilty of the practice about others who have also been guilty, and then if several testimonies strike the same person to lock him up for life. The Anarchists hardly know one another, and have no solid evidence to give. As to literature, the old assassins knew none, and we confess we believe its effect to be unreasonably exaggerated. There would be no injustice in punishing any person who in type recommends or justifies murder, or suggests any method of committing it; but we question if when all such literature had disappeared the Kings and Presidents would be much the safer. To begin with, general denunciations of society, which can hardly be punished, seem of all literature to have most efficacy in arousing the homicidal instinct, and the transition from thinking society at large detestable to holding the head of that society specially to be execrated is very easy and rapid. Nieman says that a lecture by Emma Goldman, a woman apparently known as an Anarchist teacher in America, greatly influenced him; but the proof that but for the lecture he would have been only a malicious citizen is wholly wanting. That kind of man always wants to throw the onus of a guilt of which with one side of his head he is ashamed upon some one other than himself. Praise of the Anarchist murderer may do something by stimulating vanity, but we suspect the evil resolve comes originally from within—self-begotten. And finally, we do not see how the police are to be made more active or more international than they are. They warn an intended victim very carefully; they watch every suspected Anarchist night and day; and what more can they do? We cannot allow them to imprison men on suspicion and without trial. That would be to manufacture Anarchists, for each man so treated would hold it proof either that the great were persecuting him—the grand delusion of the half-insane—or that society was obviously rotten, and that its keystone must be knocked out.
     The truth, the melancholy truth, in that very little more can be done to prevent assassination than is done already. Society has developed a class whose homicidal malignity is mainly directed against Kings and Presidents, and those great personages must accept the danger—which we trust will prove only temporary—as King Humbert did, as one incidental to their profession. There is no complete protection for them possible, unless they consent, like the Russian Emperor Alexander III. and the present Sultan, to be virtual prisoners in their palaces. They may no doubt organise specially selected groups of sharp-witted detectives for their protection, and so be guarded as well as Napoleon III. was by his Corsicans. They [340][341] may force themselves when in public to wear light chain-armour, a very real protection against knife and bullet. And they can listen to warnings with a readiness to believe which they have repeatedly failed to show. Beyond this we fear there is no resource for them but to call up their courage, shut their teeth, and face a contingency which tried Cromwell and Henri Quatre, and is no doubt one of the most harassing to which human beings can be exposed. They have two palliatives to support them, neither, we fear, quite efficacious. One is that their subjects and fellow-citizens not only sympathise with them in any suffering, but will prevent it at the risk of their lives if they see a chance; and the other is that assassination is, like any other mortal disease, only a contingency. The Emperor of Austria has reigned fifty-two years, has taken only ordinary precautions, has hunted, shot, held reviews, and visited his friends, and has never received a wound. Yet the Emperor’s death would shake all Europe, and cause perhaps a maximum of misfortune, and he must therefore be an object of the malignity of all Anarchists, as well as the most visible figure in the sight of the half-insane of five jarring nationalities.



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