Second Thoughts on the Treatment of Anarchy

FIFTEEN years ago it was fondly believed that anarchism in this country had received its deathblow by the execution of the “Chicago Anarchists.” Instead of that it has become aggressive. The Chicago Anarchists — I speak from knowledge — urged the use of force to repel force, but not the offensive use of it. I suspect that every one of them, save possibly Lingg, would have reprobated the wanton murder of last September; the widow of one — herself as ardent and violent as any in the old days—said, “No one who has the true principles of anarchy in his heart would do such a thing. ” The anarchist of to-day, however, strikes without waiting to be struck; he assassinates. Abroad a King or an Emperor is his victim; here it is a President; and those who do not commit the deed say, “All honor to the Anarchist assassin ! ” Instead of dying out, anarchism is reaching an acute stage.

Shocking and repellent as the subject is, instinctive as it is simply to react violently and ask no questions, is it not wiser — particularly after the interval which has elapsed since September — to try to understand the phenomenon, and even to exercise a little patience in the effort to do so ?

Unless I am quite mistaken, we have to dismiss from our minds at the outset the popular notion that those who perpetrate these acts are merely common criminals, cut-throats, who, if they were not at this, would be at some other wild deed of crime; that they are men “whose perverted instincts,” as a leading writer puts it, “lead them to prefer confusion and chaos to social order and beneficent institutions.” This is too easy and superficial a view. The truth is that they are most uncommon criminals. Though there may be exceptions, they are not usually persons who would be likely to do any private individual a wrong. In ordinary situations, they are not inhumane, unsympathetic, hard, or callous. This fact does not lessen their crime, but it makes it of a different character. Strange as it may seem to those of my readers who have not carefully examined the matter, the violent acts which anarchists occasionally commit spring from a theory and a mistaken sense of justice. I well remember once talking with a Russian, of gentle and affectionate nature, but with a deep and awful sense of the inhuman wrongs inflicted by the Russian government, who argued that, as a matter of high justice and offended right, he could imagine himself the executioner of a Russian Tsar. The assassin of our late President used a strange expression in referring to his murderous deed : he said, “I did my duty.” I know of no reason for questioning the man’s sincerity. He did what he thought he ought to do, horrible, revolting, — yes, cowardly and treacherous according to all ordinary standards, — as his action was. Yet how, it may be asked, can the sacred word “ duty ” be connected with such an atrocious act save by a loathsome pretense? The assassin of a liberty-suppressing Tsar might conceivably use such language, but how could a citizen of free America ? The church of the dark ages might think it a “duty” to extirpate heretics occasionally, but such fanaticism we had supposed to be impossible to-day. Saul might honestly think he was doing God service “ in laying waste the church of God, ” but surely no one can think that stoning people, or consenting to such a thing, is doing God or man service now. The inquiry is a forbidding one; yet if we are serious in desiring to understand the strange phenomenon we are considering, we must make it. What should we think of a physician who was so shocked at a disease that he would not examine into it ?

The fact is (as already hinted) that these wild acts come from a theory of society. The theory is that there should be no forcible rule in society. This means, not that there should be no order, no association, but that the order or association should arise voluntarily; that force should not be used. “Whoever prescribes a rule of action for another to obey is a tyrant, usurper, and an enemy of liberty, ” said one of the anarchists of 1886: this is the anarchist’s fundamental contention. The rule of one man is generally reprobated in this democratic age; so is the rule of a few, or an aristocracy; but the rule of a majority lingers, — it is a necessary part of the working of democracy. Hence to anarchists there is a stage of society beyond democracy, — anarchy, no rule at all. From liberty they believe that order will come ; one of their favorite sayings is that liberty is not the daughter but the mother of order. From liberty, too, they believe that association will come, — such is the inborn social disposition of man, and such are also the manifest advantages of association. They believe that everybody will be happier and the world will be better when men are thus free, — when command is heard and compulsion used no more. It would not be difficult to show the half truth, the impracticability, of these ideas.1 I am now simply stating them. They are the bottom meaning of anarchism. There is one thing anarchists will not consent to, one thing they rebel against (at least in thought, and sometimes in act),and that is anybody’s assumption to rule another, whether it be Tsar, King, nobility, or a democratic majority. They are disagreed about many things; there are individualist anarchists and socialist (or communist) anarchists, believers in private property and believers in common property, but all alike believe in self-rule, and they are as much opposed to democratic state socialism as to state socialism of any kind. They believe that power intoxicates the best of men, and are not willing to allow it in any form. “No master, high or low, ” they say, after William Morris. “Let life shape itself, ” “ Mind your own business, ” “ No interference,” — such is their demand.

Perhaps some of my readers are incredulous ; for do not anarchists, it may well be said, themselves urge the use of force? How then can they be opposed to force ? Undoubtedly there is a puzzle here, and possibly some one will say that it is foolish to dignify such incoherent views by discussing them. But let us not lose patience too quickly. The principles I have mentioned are the essential anarchist ideal. They describe the state of society which anarchists believe will sometime be, — a condition without compulsory rule or government of any kind, in which all action and association will be voluntary. But how shall such a “promised land ” be reached? Evidently this is another question. It is a question of methods rather than of results or ideals. How have political changes been accomplished in the past ? Sometimes peacefully, sometimes not. How did republican rule succeed to monarchical rule in this country? By a revolution. How did absolutism yield to democracy in France, over a century ago ? Ultimately through the pressure of force. How did slave society pass over into free society in our own South ? The Quaker poet gives the answer: —

“ We prayed for love to loose the chain ;
’T is shorn by battle’s axe in twain! ”

The peculiar thing about government and laws is that they are (or may be) supported by force. They are different from trade, art, literature, religion (save in its mediæval forms), in this respect. Hence political, unlike religious or industrial revolutions have often to be accomplished by force; sometimes they are at bottom contests of force. Men may revolutionize industry and even religion amicably, but if they attempt radical changes of government they generally get into trouble. Witness the German revolutionists of 1848, — men like Mr. Carl Schurz, and hundreds of others. Those who prize their own skin are shy of these things. But the political changes that have been made are a bagatelle compared with the last great change to which the anarchist looks forward. To end government itself, even democratic government ; to pass to a state of society in which a man shall be no more subject to political rule than to religious rule, in which “thou shalt ” and “thou shalt not ” shall be obsolete (save as they rest on the individual conscience), — this seems so wild a thought that it is scarcely to be wondered at that wild methods are often contemplated for realizing it. Yet the methods are plainly one thing, and the results are another. Because democracy has sometimes been reached by bloodshed, it does not follow that democracy is a bloody thing; and because anarchy may be attained only by bloodshed, it does not follow that anarchy is a bloody thing. It is conceivable that the anarchist ideal should be reached peacefully; that gradually present political society should dissolve of itself; that laws should become fewer and fewer (as some wish that the tendency were now), until at last no laws were left. On the other hand, it is possible that there would have to be, as there has so often been in the past, contest and a victory in arms. There are actually peaceful, long-range, what are called “philosophical anarchists; ” and there are “ force ” anarchists. But even the “force ” anarchists distinguish such a method from the end they aim at. One of the seven condemned men, fifteen years ago, said before the court: “Violence is one thing, and anarchy is another. In the present state of society violence is used on all sides, and therefore we advocate the use of violence against violence, but against violence only, as a necessary means of defense. ” Another of the seven, who was shortly hanged, said: “Anarchy is the negation of force; ” its use is “justifiable only when employed to repel force; ” and, in a book published after his death, “Anarchism will begin only when the revolution ends; ” then, if possible, still more clearly, in reference to the prospective revolution, “For the moment we must forget that we are anarchists; when the work is accomplished we may forget we were revolutionists.” Even Lingg distinguished, before the court, “the doctrines of anarchy ” from the “methods of giving them practical effect.” Thus it becomes tolerably clear that the anarchist may at once oppose force and favor it. Indeed, the advocacy or use of force is an accident in anarchism, rather than a part of its essence; it is largely a matter of individual temperament.

For all this, it may be said, is not the anarchist ideal utterly foolish and impracticable, and hence unworthy to be treated seriously ? I think it is foolish and impracticable, but the conclusion that it should not be treated seriously does not necessarily follow. First, it must be remembered that there was a strong anarchistic tendency in much of nineteenth - century political thought. Mr. Herbert Spencer hardly gives government a good pedigree, saying that it was “born of aggression; ” he adds, with regard to its future, that “the form of society toward which we are progressing ” is one “in which government will be reduced to the smallest amount possible, and freedom increased to the greatest amount possible.” So far as the near future is concerned, I believe quite the other way, but his is surely a respectable opinion. Buckle held that the only good laws passed in the last three hundred, years were those that repealed other laws. This is also a respectable opinion. Dr. Channing said, in the early part of the century: “Social order is better preserved by liberty than by restraint. . . . Liberty would prove the best peace officer. The social order of New England, without a soldier and almost without a police, bears loud witness to this truth.” Emerson was even more specific. “I am glad to see, ” he said at the Kansas Relief meeting in Cambridge, in 1856, “that the terror at disunion and anarchy is disappearing. Massachusetts, in its heroic day, had no government, — was an anarchy. Every man stood on his own feet, was his own governor; and there was no breach of peace from Cape Cod to Mount Hoosac. . . . California, a few years ago, by the testimony of all people at that time in the country, had the best government that ever existed. Pans of gold lay drying outside of every man’s tent, in perfect security. The land was measured into little strips of a few feet wide, all side by side. A bit of ground that your hand could cover was worth one or two hundred dollars, on the edge of your strip; and there was no dispute. Every man throughout the country was armed with knife and revolver, and it was known that instant justice would be administered to each offender, and perfect peace reigned.” These views are essentially anarchistic, and they are cited by anarchist writers and speakers. Vaillant, the Paris anarchist, ascribed his conversion to anarchism partly to the reading of Spencer’s Social Statics.

Second, it cannot be set down as a sheer impossibility that anarchism would work. Improbable, we may say, but not, I think, impossible. Are there not large classes of people who urge now that business and industry work far better when left to themselves than they could if under government control ? Hands off! they say. Let us mind our own business. The anarchist spirit is the same; only the anarchist would extend the sway of the precept and make it cover all activities. The anarchist believes that everything — even what government now does — might be done by free consent, bargaining, or association, among the people. “Each branch of industry, ” said one of those hanged fifteen years ago, “will have its own organization, regulations, leaders,” and “will establish equitable relations with all other branches.” If there are educated men desirous of spreading education, they will organize schools; if there are doctors and teachers of hygiene, they will organize themselves for the service of health; if there are engineers and mechanics, they will organize railroads, etc. : so argues Count Malatesta, an Italian anarchist. The process might not be so smooth and idyllic as it is described; yet one is astounded to hear how the disagreements that seem almost inevitable, when men are dealing with affairs, are settled among the Russian peasants without any outside interference whatsoever. The particular occasion I have in mind is when the lands of a commune are divided up, as they are periodically in Russia. The scene is worth describing.2 The peasants gather, and at first there is utter confusion. There is no chairman, even. The right of speaking belongs to him who can command attention. Sometimes all speak at once, and they shout their arguments at the top of their voices. Moreover, there is no voting. Controversies are not settled by a majority of voices. Debate goes on till some proposal is made that conciliates all. It may continue day after day. The subject is thoroughly thrashed out until all are satisfied, or at least till they consent; for beneath the apparently acrimonious strife a singular spirit of forbearance reigns. At last a decision is reached, and, in the simple faith of the peasants, is accepted as the decree of God himself. In this way thousands of Russian villages have been managing their petty affairs for centuries. It may be utopian to imagine that the vast, complicated affairs of a great modern municipality or a great nation can be managed in this anarchistic fashion, but I do not see how it can be set down as a sheer impossibility. Prince Kropotkin even proposes that the population of London might be redistributed in some such way, — “ thinning out the slums, and fully occupying the villas and mansions ; ” not, he explains, by a board of sixty municipal councilors sitting around a table, but by the people themselves, for each block and each street, proceeding by agreement from the parts to the whole. Who can say that even crime might not be dealt with in an anarchistic society ? Mr. John W. Mackay has recently said, “We never had so good a government in San Francisco and Virginia City as those years when the Vigilance Committees were in control.” Vigilance Committees, I need not remark, are an anarchistic arrangement.

If I am not all wrong in what I have been saying, a conclusion follows. It is that to talk of “stamping out” anarchy is rather simple. Anarchist crime we must make short work with, but the thought that in certain temperaments, under given conditions, leads to it is not so easy to deal with. We must get at the root to make a radical cure. The trouble with many of those who talk about suppressing anarchy is that they do not take the trouble to understand it. They treat it as if it were ordinary vice and crime. They do not realize that it has any intellectual significance. It is well to execute a man like Czolgosz; but his thought, “I did my duty, ” — how shall we execute that ? The thief, the highwayman, the common murderer, the ravisher, do not ordinarily act from a sense of duty. It may be well to have severer laws (or severer enforcement of existing laws) against violence, or the incitement to violence, or the approval of violence. It may be well to change the Constitution, and make it treason to kill or attempt to kill the President or any other official of the land (as such). It may be well to require immigrants to declare, on landing, that either they will become citizens, or will obey the laws of the land while they stay here. But all this would deal only with the surface of the subject. Similar precautions have been taken in other countries, without any appreciable effect. We can hardly go farther than Russia, yet what do Russian laws avail ? How often, in human history, has force succeeded in suppressing a thought ?

My object in this paper is to argue, not about anarchism, — I have sought to do this elsewhere, — but about the way in which it should be treated. I urge the need of more radical treatment than that ordinarily proposed. An intellectual phenomenon needs intellectual handling. I urge that we meet crime with punishment, but thought with thought. The roots of the evil are deeper than loose immigration laws, or yellow journals, or campaign acrimonies, — so much deeper that stress on these things comes near to being foolish. Because of a conviction of this sort, I have tried to set forth in a simple and unprejudiced way what the anarchist thought or theory is.

We can bring reason to bear on the subject in our schools, in our churches (so far as we can get anarchists to come to them), but above all in the common meeting places, where people of all sorts gather together. We should look on anarchists as our fellow men, even when they are unwilling to be called our fellow citizens. We should treat them not merely as “pestilent fellows,” but as one man meets another in honest debate ; or, if we believe their views to be pestilential, as we well may, we should show them how and why, *— not then in a spirit of angry abuse, but putting our finger on the place, saying, “Here, and here.” I know one man who used to do this in Chicago, — a strenuous fighter in the good old cause, the late General M. M. Trumbull, — a man who went to all sorts of meetings, who did not care what company he was in so error was abroad that he might combat. I know that he influenced men, that he convinced them, that he won them out of anarchy. I wonder how many of our Union League Clubs and other patriotic associations, with all their well-drawn resolutions and honest denunciations, have done as much ? Not by standingaloof from our fellow men and denouncing them, but by coming into touch with them, are we really going to influence them.

Another instrumentality is our settlements. Of all the poverty-stricken ideas abroad in the community, that is one of the worst which looks on settlements as centres of socialism and anarchy. Probably no one visible thing has done more to dissipate socialistic and anarchistic crudities than they. They come near the people, they have the confidence of the people, they are free meeting places for the people; and that is more than can be said of our clubs, of our churches, or even of our schools, as at present conducted, — though it is among the immediate possibilities that the schools shall serve the adult public more widely than they do.

But at the same time that we argue and teach let us take care not to set a bad example ourselves. Unfortunately, anarchy may be practiced by other than “anarchists.” A prominent figure in a meeting to mourn the late President and denounce anarchy was a man who had not long before led in a lynching bout, and had himself “helped fill the victim with deadly holes.” The man would probably have been indignant if he had been classed among anarchists, yet there he belonged. The essence of anarchy is distrust of the state, belief that private action is better than public action, and the disposition to take the law into one’s own hands. This unconscious and more or less respectable anarchy seems to be growing among us. We of the North are beginning to burn negroes. It has been done in Colorado and in Indiana. Moreover, it is not always for the one unmentionable crime against woman. Of the 1700 Southern lynchings (between January, 1885, and January, 1901), only 602 were for this crime; the balance were for murder, thieving, politics, unpopularity, and generally bad reputation. Nor are negroes alone the victims of this popular anarchy: of the 2516 persons slain throughout the country by mobs during the interval mentioned, 801 were white. This lawless spirit had shocking expression after the assassination, last September. One would think that at that wild act of lawlessness — so wild that we should call it insane but for the theory that lay back of it — a shudder would have gone through the universal heart at lawlessness in every form. It seems as if awe would have fallen on men, and a cry of execration would have gone up against the very spirit of private vengeance. But no; the spirit of private vengeance seems to have been unleashed. “Lynch him! ” “Hang him! ” were cries heard at once after the murderous deed. “The rope! The rope! ” yelled thousands in the crowd. Two days later Christian ministers rose in their pulpits and said the murderer ought to have been lynched. The minister in the late President’s church in Washington said, “I would have blown the scoundrel to atoms. ” Another clergyman uttered the wish that the policeman who arrested the assassin had, with the butt end of his pistol, “ dashed his life out. ’ Still another divine said: “Until a better way is found, lynch him on the spot. When an anarchist makes red-flag speeches, then, and not when he has killed a President, be done with him.” Even a United States Senator expressed the opinion that this was “one of the instances where lynch law would be justifiable.” A man in Chicago arose in a meeting and called for seventy-five men who were willing to help him extirpate both the anarchists and their doctrines from that city. “Who is there,” he called out, “who is willing to go with me and drive those pests out of our city? I, for one, will go with drawn revolvers and help to put down those foes of the nation.”

Undoubtedly there was madly inciting provocation to all these cries and wild proposals; there is such provocation to almost all acts of mob violence. Mobs are rarely angry save at what they conceive to be a dastardly wrong. The only question is, Who is to be the judge of the wrong? In our answer to this lies the whole difference between barbarism and civilization. The most convincing argument that could be made against anarchy is that, if a state of anarchy had suddenly been introduced in this country at the time, the assassin of the late President and all his sympathizers and apologists would have been shot, or hanged, or burned, or lynched, instantaneously and without formality. The orderly procedure of the law was never more impressive than in the protection that was at once given the assassin, and in the calm, judicial trial that followed.

Another way in which we may set a bad example is by allowing ourselves to make the law a tool of our private interests. This is turning the state into a caricature. To what extent it is done I shall not undertake to say. Only those who make and those who seek to influence the laws really know. For obvious reasons neither class likes to speak, so that most of our information (if such it can be called) is hearsay and inference. Who are responsible for the demoralization of the councils of some of our municipalities, and of the legislatures of some of our commonwealths ? Who defeated the late President’s laudable efforts for reciprocity treaties with France, with Argentina and other states and colonies of South America ? Who now are blocking reciprocity, which Mr. McKinley so nobly commended in Buffalo ? How was the earlier tariff legislation passed ? What is the “true inwardness ” of the ship subsidy bill ? A stalwart Republican said bitterly, in a congressional committee room, winter before last, “You do not understand the situation: we are in the hands of a syndicate. ” Even Mr. Olney has spoken of “the great and growing if not overwhelming influence of money in our politics,”and of present conditions as transforming the government into “an engine for use in the acquisition of private wealth.” Let us hope that both men were mistaken. The point I make is none the less valid. To whatever extent special private interests direct the legislation of the country or the administration of the laws, to that extent the anarchist contention about the state tends to be justified. The anarchist says that, however we may theorize about law, law actually is designed, not to protect the weak against the strong, but to give privileges to the strong, and thereby force the weak to submit to them. I was struck by a remark in an anarchist paper, recently, to the effect that the idea of the state as a protecting and adjusting factor in society “has always been utopian. ” Notice the word “utopian.” Not false, then, but merely a kind of dream. The implication is in favor of rather than against the state, taken on its ideal side. The idea is honored; it only happens, the anarchist argues, that there is nothing corresponding to the idea. Those who seek special privileges of the state, those who make law a short cut to wealth, are perhaps hardly aware that they are doing what they can to make the anarchist view of the state a true one. They are the real confederates of the anarchist; they give him his powder and ammunition, — a good part of the food by which his theories live. They are really anarchists themselves. For if men set out to capture the state’s machinery, and to run it for their private benefit, they violate the very idea of the state.

Let us purify ourselves. As Emerson, preacher of the moralities as he was to the end, said, “Those who are in the wrong cannot cure evils.”

William Mackintire Salter.

  1. I have sought to do this in a little book : Anarchy or Government ? An Inquiry in Fundamental Politics. Boston : T. Y. Crowell & Co. 1895. I believe government to be necessary for the present and for an indefinite period to come.
  2. See Stepniak’s Russia under the Tsars, i. 2.