Shall the Press Be Muzzled?
Let us hope that Americans will not
be led by their horror at the murder of the late President to do
themselves a mischief greater than the loss of the best of men.
The consequences will not be confined to themselves. The influence
of American opinion has increased, especially in England. It is
even doubtful whether, if American sentiment had been in its normal
state, we should have had this hideous South African war. In Europe
there are plenty of reactionists who would hail the signal for repression
of opinion held out by the American republic.
Is there anything in the murder of
the late President pointing to the necessity of such a change of
principle as the restriction of the freedom of the press? Have we
any reason for thinking that Czolgosz imbibed his evil inspiration
from the newspapers? He appears to have imbibed it from the lectures
of Emma Goldman. If Emma Goldman incites to crime, put her down.
Put down any one who in a newspaper or elsewhere incites to crime.
But criticism of the acts or public characters of persons in authority,
though it may make those persons objects of odium, is not inciting
to crime. The antidote to unjust criticism grows, in a free press,
beside the bane.
Does there appear to have been a single
case of political assassination traceable to criticism in the press?
Did Junius, the keenest as well as the bitterest and most malignant
of critics, breed or show any tendency to breeding an assassin?
Was George III., the Duke of Grafton, or any other victim of Junius,
for a moment in danger of his life?
Three Presidents, cry the advocates
of restriction, have been assassinated in a single generation. They
might as well add to the list the assassination of Julius Cæsar
or Henry IV. There is not the faintest connection between the three
cases, nor do they together form any ground for exceptional legislation.
It is doubtful even whether the safety
of persons in authority would be increased by the suppression of
criticism. You might be only closing the safety-valve.
If dangerous conspiracies of any kind
are on foot, let us increase the police and the detective force,
not renounce principles and discard the great securities for freedom.
It might be difficult even to define
anarchism, as Congress is exhorted to do, for the purpose of criminal
law. Anarchism, though always fatuous, is not always murderous.
In Shelley or in Kropotkin it is the belief that human nature is
good; that the manifestation of its goodness is prevented by artificial
institutions; and that if we were rid of these there would be a
reign of spontaneous love. Read Shelley’s “Revolt of Islam,” and
this will be seen. It is when maddened by discontent and supposed
wrong that anarchism becomes murderous. It would not be easy even
to draw the line between anarchism and the more pronounced forms
of socialism and communism, which are capable of becoming murderous,
as the Paris Commune showed. All social revolutionists, even Utopians,
such as Mr. Bellamy, are Anarchists in a certain sense. They want
to be rid of the whole existing order of things. But nobody thinks
that the expression of Socialist, Communist or Utopian ideas is
a proper subject for criminal repression.
Go to Naples. Look upon that immense
expanse of penury, squalor and wretchedness. Think that half the
coarse crust and half the cup of poor wine are being taken from
those people to keep up a vast army and navy for the objects of
a preposterous ambition. The wonder is not that there are a few
murderous Anarchists, but that they do not swarm.
Anarchism, in its deepest sense, is
disregard of law—municipal, international or moral. Emperors who
give the word for indiscriminate massacre, Governments which go
about burning homesteads and crowding women and children into pestilential
camps are Anarchists and propagators of anarchism. Of that spirit,
partly perhaps because religious sanctions have been losing their
force, the world just now is full. It prevails in the highest places
as well as in the lowest.
The trial of Czolgosz at Buffalo,
conducted amid the whirlwind of popular passion with perfect calmness,
dignity and equity, and with a strict observance of all securities
for justice, is the best protest against anarchism which has hitherto
been made in connection with this deplorable affair.