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San Francisco Call Editorial, "The Spirit of Anarchy"

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San Francisco Call editorial,
"The Spirit of Anarchy,"
September 29, 1901
CONTEXT: This editorial was reprinted in 1901 following Goldman's implication in the assassination of President William McKinley. The editorial first appeared in 1898 in response to one of Emma Goldman's visits to San Francisco where she publicly denounced both the Spanish-American War and President William McKinley.

San Francisco Call
April 28, 1898; reprinted Sept. 29, 1901

The record of several anarchists who by bomb-throwing and other forms of assassination have brought themselves into position in which their lives could be laid bare furnishes an interesting study.

They have usually been found to have lived in violation of the moral law which was in force among men before national codes were formed, and is understood to restrain men even when they are beyond the reach of codes and statutes. Their domestic relations are frequently illicit and their ideas of rights of property are not derived from the ten commandments.

As organized society and the laws of states are based upon the rights of person and property and defend the moral foundation of the domestic relations, anarchy hits its hand against society and against government.

When confronted with such records as are revealed by the arrest of anarchists who have been guilty of assassination it is their practice to reply that the moral offenses committed by them are also practiced by others who profess to support organized society and to support government.

That is obviously true. But such violators of the moral code are secret sinners, who realize their offense and conceal it and shrink from making its practice the social rule by the destruction of government and its institutions.

The spirit of anarchy is one that resists moral restraint, that chafes under the discipline of institutions, and strikes impartiality at church and state, because each is in its way the agent of morality and discipline.

It would seem, then, that anarchy is the cult of the abnormal man, of the class of atavists who reject everything that has come into the world with civilization.

Those who publicly propagate it are the apostles of crime, the evangelists of assassination.

Their cry to the laboring man is that he is a slave, and no means are omitted to embitter him and make him an agent in the destruction of civilization and government.

It needs no profound knowledge or exalted intelligence to discern the motives or deny the premises of anarchy. Modern civilization, which it attacks, has lifted the face of labor from the ground and turned it toward the stars. It has taken labor in the mass out of serfdom into independence, out of a hut into a house. It has dotted the nations with schools wherein the sons and daughters of laboring men have been freely offered the opportunity for a better education than was within the reach of princes a thousand years ago.

Government and civilization have put the personal and property rights of labor on exactly the same footing and under the same judicial protection as the rights of the rich, born in the purple.

The improved economic conditions, due to modern civilization, have put over labor a shelter, into its life comforts, and on its table food that were the exclusive possession of royalty and nobility five hundred years ago.

So government and social institutions can point to what they have done for the enfranchisement of man since the dark ages. To what can anarchy point as its achievements for humanity? To the innocent torn to shreds by dynamite; to the President of a republic murdered in his carriage; to the Czar who decreed freedom and ownership of land to 25,000,000 serfs, assassinated in the streets of St. Petersburg; to a score of faithful policemen murdered in Haymarket square while doing their duty as protectors of person and property. What has all this crime and violence done for labor? Has it given wages, shelter, food and schooling? Has it advanced man a step in the path of further progress which civilization has opened for him?

Let it blazon its achievements and inform labor of the mighty things it has wrought for those who toil that the world may strike a balance between murder and civilization as a means for the uplifting of the race.

Questions on "The Spirit of Anarchy":
  1. What is the editor's attitude towards anarchists?

  2. How does the editor define anarchism?

  3. What values does the editor defend?

  4. What would an anarchist say about the editor's attitude toward workers?

  5. Contrast the editor's definition of civilization with the anarchist definition as suggested by the Mother Earth cover.

  6. How was the anarchist position on the role of governnment different from other social change movements of the period?

General Questions on This Exhibit:
  1. What is an editorial? How does it differ from a news article?

  2. Do newspapers have political biases? How can you determine a bias?

  3. Is T.V. programing free from bias? Depending on your opinion, give examples.

  4. What is needed to create a balanced presentation on a topic?

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