Liberty vs. Assassination

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By Edwin C. Walker.












The Czolgosz memorial meeting and the events following suggest a serious and dispassionate consideration of elementary principles of association, assembly, utterance, and the preservation of the peace.

Under a republican form of government, such as that of the United States, where changes in policy and administration may be and are brought about by private and public discussion and the formal registration of opinions at the polls, it would seem to be self-evident that the appeal of dissentients, as of conformists, should be, always, to reason, and to enlightened self-interest, if you will, and the object should be the orderly formation and ascertainment of social aspirations and purposes. Only the most grave and continuous denial of the rights of investigation and expression could warrant even the hint of a resort to force, for that appeal would mean the abandonment of reason, of deliberation, of peace, and the exaltation of unthinking physical force, of frenzy, of war. Whatever denial there has been of the right to fully discuss moral themes there has not been, in all this part of the country, any obstruction of peaceful political agitation, except the foolish attack upon Single Tax speakers in Delaware a few years ago. And whatever interference there has been in the domains of morals and religion, whatever interference there may be in any domain of thought in the present or future, the remedy therefor has lain and lies and in all probability will lie in the hands of the people themselves. They can not be gagged by their officials save by their own active or passive connivance. Constitutionally, traditionally, and historically they may place their feet in paths which broaden into highways that lead out of every ambush and labyrinth of any and all censorships. Only their own superstition, indifference, and sluggishness on, the one hand, or their unfamiliarity with their new environment, their impatience, and their blind passion on the other, can avail to make permanent, extensive, and really dangerous any sporadic and embryonic manifestations of old-world surveillance and suppression that now annoy or alarm thoughtful men or women.

Whenever a minority's only danger lies in the majority's non-acquaintance with or prejudice against or reasoned rejection of the principles and proposals of that minority, it is folly and suicide for the minority to resort to force or to threaten to resort to force. When it thus dethrones reason and puts brute might in the seat of authority, it succeeds only in deepening the prevailing ignorance concerning its sound ideas and good intentions, it makes the prejudice against its theories absolutely unamenable to argument, and it immeasurably strengthens the brief of every attorney who pleads at the bar of thought for its condemnation and conviction. When a minority drops the pen of reason and draws the sword of physical force, does it expect still to be opposed by reason and waved back with olive branches? The appeal to the arbitrament of war is an extremely serious challenge, and when a hopeless minority, in a country where persuasive agitation is at least fairly safe, issues such a challenge, its folly is equalled only by its criminality.

I have spoken of the bigoted harrying of the Single Taxers in Delaware. If that persecution had developed a Czolgosz, and if from that day to this the orators and organs of the Single Tax party, all over the country, had been eloquent with guarded apologies for or fulsome laudations of that ill-balanced assassin, what would be the status of the Single Tax idea and its advocates? Instead of meeting, at the worst, indifference, and at the best, eager inquiry and welcome, would not those advocates be despised and hated? Would not their meetings be under police espionage, their propaganda practically nil in results?

While the organizers of Czolgosz meetings and the editors of "Mother Earth"—these Communists and revolutionists who miscall themselves "Anarchists"—have been guilty of incredible folly in pursuing the course they have, they have stultified themselves as well. Why they are not Anarchists and how they have stultified themselves, I shall show later. First, however, attention must be called to equally stupendous folly on the other side.

These propagandists would be the champion blunderers were the police not neck-and-neck in the race with them. While the Communists have been busy "cramming the furnace with resin and pine," the police have been sitting on the safety-valve. Under such conditions, explosions always are due. Appeals to passion, to hatred, veiled incitements to violence, always are reprehensible and often are dangerous. But the real statesman is inclined to let the talking proceed, even when it is most unwise and may become very perilous. Except in grave crises, equal freedom for all to talk will be the surest guarantee that the foolish will not overbear the wiser part of the people. Necessarily, this condition of equal freedom is absent in a bloodthirsty mob, where no dissent is permitted, and then it is the first and urgent duty of the forces of order to intervene. But no evidence is forthcoming that the managers of the meetings attacked, that the editors of "Mother Earth" would have gagged critics. So there can be no doubt, as it appears to me, that the police were very ill-advised when they piled themselves on to the safety-valve of speech. Theoretically, any government is justified to itself when it meets violence, or incitements to violence, with violence; the attacking or threatening faction invites such a counter-stroke, and it need not be astonished or scandalized if that stroke is delivered. But not all violent defensive action that is permissible is politic. It is not probable that any wholly sane man or woman has been converted into a Czolgosz admirer or apologist by anything that was said at the interrupted meetings or that was printed in "Mother Earth." On the other hand, it is quite likely that the assault by the police has created more or less sympathy for those who were arrested, and this sympathy, naturally, is not always as discriminating as it should be. And the misguided action of the police has confused the issues. Before, no one not to some extent susceptible to the attacks of the assassination microbe, or very young and unthinking, was likely to go to such a meeting. Now that the police, unintendingly, have raised the question of free speech, many will hear protest addresses and read protest articles, and in some of these addresses and articles there will be little or no clear thought and much confused and confusing rhetoric, in the mists of which the ideas of many hearers and readers will become foggy and uncertain, divided between approval of force as a "reform" weapon and disapproval of force as a police weapon.

Yes; the police have done foolishly, badly; almost or quite as foolishly and badly as the Communist Czolgosz apologists.

The police, led and misled by the ideals now put before them, and knowing little more of small parties than their names used as epithets, are not the men to deal officially with sociological problems and pass judgment on the truth or error preached by men they do not know, and often in a language with which they are unfamiliar. It is pretended that the Detective Bureau knows all about the "Anarchists" of the East Side; knows who the leaders are and all other particulars. But when a raid is made, most of those caught in the net are girls and boys, and mere auditors at that; many of them drawn to the place by curiosity or childish enthusiasm. When a gambling house is raided, only the proprietor and the employees running the games are held; the visiting gamblers and the onlookers are released. Why is not this rule followed when an "Anarchist" assemblage is caught in the toils? Why hold the members of the audience, the youths of either sex who are neither managers nor speakers ? Are the police anxious to make malcontents, rebels, potential assassins, or are they simply so densely stupid that they do not know what they are doing?

If the American theory of social organization is sound; that is, if reason is to be the determining factor in ordering our associative life, then they are most unwise who favor, even if only by apology after the fact, the "removal" of chosen chiefs of state; and they are equally unwise who endeavor by force to suppress expressions of discontent, even if this discontent sometimes foolishly voices itself as sympathy for or approval of unfortunate unbalanced assassins. The surest way to weaken the influence and power of a tyrannous official is to let in the light upon his actions. To kill him is to rally his party and the overwhelming majority of all other parties to avenge his death. The surest way to prevent incendiary utterances is to let folks talk. On the one side, do not throw in too much fuel, raising the steam above the danger point; and on the other side, do not sit on the safety-valve.

The so-called "yellow" press of this and other cities has done vast harm by its sensationalism, its appeal to class feeling, to passion, to indiscriminating hatred of what is; by its magnifying of relatively unimportant issues and its minimizing of vital questions; by its prying into private affairs and its sinister disregard of personal liberty and the salutary freedom of speech, press, and life. But is there a careful student of human nature and human history who for a moment thinks that evil would have been less had this most unsanitary press been subjected to a rigid official censorship? Are we not as certain as that we live that an attempt to muzzle these unwholesome sheets would have multiplied ten times the evil wrought by and through them? The very badness of their conduct has made the saner, more thoughtful, less invasive, even if "conservative," journals much more welcome to earnest men and women than they might have been had they not constantly been confronted and warned by these "horrible examples." The most nearly effective censor of the press is the press itself.

To return to our examination of the policy of those who stand forth as apologists or quasi-apologists for political assassination in the United States: In the first place, as heretofore intimated, they are not Anarchists, for if Anarchism means one thing more than any other, it means opposition to the government of man by man. To take a man's life without his consent is the last supreme step in governing him. Therefore, assassination is superlative governmentalism, not Anarchism. If it be objected that the official is killed in self-defense and that defense is not government, the sufficient answer is that in a republic there are other and preferable means of defense; that the killing, instead of lessening the tyranny or the alleged tyranny, but intensifies it in its effect upon all whom it had affected before and extends those baneful effects to others, non-participants in the "propaganda by deed" and non-sympathizers with that method of evangelization; and, finally, so far from the killing being an act of self-defense it is an act of self-destruction.

In the second place,-radical reformers of all schools, including the various divisions of Anarchists and Socialists, acclaim themselves the especial champions of anti-militarism, the opponents of armies and navies, the apostles of "the peaceful conquest of the earth." Needless to say, assassination is an act of war, an act kindling the war spirit in others, fanning afresh the fires of hatred and leading almost inevitably to more and more bloodshed. It is an act of war wholly unnecessary here, wholly futile, and worse. Strangely enough, nearly all those who are ready to order or approve the "execution" of disliked officials are strenuous opponents of capital punishment. Will they see the point when they are asked, as I ask them now, if an "execution" is not the infliction of capital punishment? And in carrying the decree of execution into effect, how many innocent men, women and children are maimed and slaughtered!

But the question I am leading up to is this: Why should missionaries of peace select as their hero a fighter with bomb or knife or pistol; a killer, an assassin, a man who, like Czolgosz, never, so far as any of them knows, gave to the world a single day of study, a single thought, a single beautiful emotion to cheer and uplift in hours of loneliness and affliction? Why should they select this man whose mad act has made it almost infinitely harder for thousands of us, men and women, to express our thoughts, to do our work for human betterment—why should they issue memorial numbers of magazines and hold commemorative meetings for him? Have there not been, are there not now, any soldiers of thought in their own ranks? Has there not been, is there not now, a solitary man or woman in their company or outside it who has done noble work for the race in the fields of discovery, invention, science, letters, art, peace? How pitifully small, how hideously malformed, how unspeakably a failure, crouches a Czolgosz at the feet of a Bruno, a Voltaire, a Howard, a Paine, a Kropotkin, a Reclus, a Tolstoy, a Spencer, a Darwin, a Haeckel, a Proudhon, a Garrison, a Whitman, an Ibsen, a Marx, a Thoreau, an Emerson, a Mary Wollstonecraft, an Elizabeth-Cady Stanton, a Susan B. Anthony. A mere blood-letter set high on a pedestal above all these creative workers! And this done by the proclaimers of peace !

In less than forty years three Presidents of the United States were done to death by assassins. Two of the murderers were half-demented, to say the least. Perhaps the third, Booth, was, also. Anyway, his deed was a result of five years of civil war; it was born o£ the fierce passions of internecine strife. Guiteau's act was the outcome of a factional fight in the Republican party. Guiteau's brain could not stand the strain. Probably the influences leading to the murder of Mr. McKinley were more complex. The suggestion to be made here is, What would the whitewashers and gilders of Czolgosz think if certain citizens or aliens were to assemble in meetings to-day or issue memorial numbers of periodicals intended to "put a good face" on the assassin of Abraham Lincoln, or of James A. Garfield? But why should they not, if such actions are allowable, necessary, or useful in the case of the murderer of William McKinley?

What could be more absurd and repulsive than for adolescent youths, misses in short dresses, and declamatory agitators to expend breath in fervent periods over such a gruesome event as either of these assassinations? But it has been done in one case; why not in the others?

These assassinations furnish material for serious study, but no excuse for truck-end oratory. An association of mature scientific men and women might profitably spend some hours or days in examining facts and comparing inductions. Alienists, neurologists, pathologists, and psychologists would find much that they could make use of in their studies and apply in the amelioration of human suffering. Here were three assassins, coming from different walks in life, acted upon by environments differing widely, and yet producing subjective and objective results essentially similar. It is a rich field for scientific investigation; for careful) painstaking collection of facts; for analysis and synthesis; for dispassionate drawing of conclusions. But for callow, frantic, partisan speechmaking there is no occasion. We had too much of that preceding and immediately following the respective murders. Long ago the demagogue should have made way for the psychologist and the scientific sociologist. _________

Freedom of speech is necessary to freedom of thought and is a condition precedent to sanity of thought. Reason and comity can do their best work only when fear of punishment is absent. Fear of punishment may be induced by memory or record of former persecution, by present persecution, or by threatened persecution. Persecution may be instituted, without provocation, by the enemies of freedom of thought and expression, or these enemies may resort to it because of the blunders or mistaken methods of the friends of freedom of thought and expression. The man who prayed to be delivered from his reckless friends, at the same time declaring his ability to take care of his enemies without assistance, simply voiced the thought of every sane reformer since the race began its evolution.

Freethought postulated as a method is the antithesis of the methods of physical violence. No new society that shall be at the same time a better society is possible unless its component units exert themselves to the utmost to rid their minds of the force-ideals of the old society and to keep their hands from that crucifixion of reason and persuasion which is the gravamen of their indictment of the old society. It is incumbent upon the new men and women, not only to talk better in glittering generalities, but to plan more wisely and to do more equitably than have the old men and women whose places they would take in the direction of human affairs. "We learn to do by doing" as we want others to do, not by doing as they do while we brand them as criminals because they do not do as we preach.

Where there is even only a partial liberty of investigation and utterance, as in this country, it is the extreme of unwisdom to throw argument and moral appeal aside and revert to the weapons of the savage. To kill officials, to hint at the alleged justifiableness or expediency of killing them, or to condone the killing of them is the rankest folly, from every point of view. It is suicide. It solidifies against such propagandists not only "the powers that be" but all who stand for peaceful inquiry and scientific demonstration. Strike thus at officers of government in a republic, and you strike at the vast majority of the people of all schools of thought; you harden their hearts against you; you shut their ears to your arguments, to your just complaints, and your best suggestions. You drive your audience from you and force into silence nearly all reformers, nearly all advocates of change save those whose counsel is to further madness and greater destruction.

Even to argue for the right or alleged right to advocate the performance of criminal acts, on the ground that without unrestricted freedom for such advocacy of invasion the right to liberty of expression is denied, is to sacrifice essential substance to empty form. It is to transform a living principle into a dead dogma, whose worship is blindness and culminates in disaster. Your appeal to reason, or his, or mine, is nullified just in the ratio that insistence is laid on a real or assumed free-speech right to advocate the training of a battery of Nordenfeldt's on dissenters or the throwing of a bomb at an official elected by those dissenters, by those who do not agree with you or him or me. What may or may not be a theoretical right in the premises is relatively unimportant; what is important, vitally important, is the fact that to insist that we have such a right is to menace and cripple our perfectly defensible right of expression, to seriously limit if not destroy our opportunity to teach and persuade. It is enough for us to affirm the right and benefit of the utmost freedom for the discussion of all suggested peaceful changes in belief and society, and to keep it ever before all authorities that in the long run their tenure of office depends far more on non-interference with even the most incendiary utterance than on suppression of that utterance.

The assassin and the arrogant police official play into each other's hands and postpone indefinitely the day of reason and self-rule. Every act of legal or administrative oppression augments sullen discontent and trains potential murderers. Every murder of an official puts another drastic law on the statute-book and a thousand more men into the ranks of the police. Blindness and madness are pitted against blindness and madness, and between the two armies of hate the men and women of thought and peace vainly cry for truce and calm study of causes and remedies.



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