Source type: newspaper
Document type: editorial
Document title: “Shall the Press Be Muzzled?”
Author(s): Smith, Goldwin
City of publication: New York, New York
Date of publication: 30 October 1901
Volume number: 69
Issue number: 60
|Smith, Goldwin. “Shall the Press Be Muzzled?” Sun [New York] 30 Oct. 1901 v69n60: p. 6.|
|McKinley assassination (international response); the press (freedom of); anarchism; Leon Czolgosz (trial: international response).|
|Edward Bellamy; Julius Caesar; Leon Czolgosz; Augustus Henry Fitzroy [identified as Grafton below]; George III; Emma Goldman; Henry IV (France); Junius; Peter Kropotkin; Percy Bysshe Shelley.|
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 [be]en 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.