Page images
PDF
EPUB

in the end, and learn to use peaceful means for making changes. The slow road of education, propaganda, campaigning, and the ballot, will be in the long run the quickest road to the attainment of any reform that is genuinely desirable.

Unhappily, respect for the slow processes of law is not a mark of a pioneer country; and our nation, strong with the strength of youth and rich with the exploitation of the virgin resources of a continent, has not yet fully learned the necessity of restraint. Lord Bryce has declared that our greatest fault is “the disposition to be lax in enforcing laws disliked by any large part of the population, to tolerate breaches of public order, to be too indulgent to offenders generally.”

The most flagrant example of our lawlessness is, of course, the lynchings we tolerate. In the past thirty years over three thousand people have been put to death by mobs in this country-a record worse than that of any other contemporary civilized State, up to the time of the Great War. The number of annual lynchings has begun to decrease appreciably; but some of the most brutal and inexcusable of these mob murders have been perpetrated within the past few years. The fact that more than three-quarters of the victims were negroes points to the factor of race prejudice but does not in the least palliate the crimes. The offence charged has by no means always been rape-the suspicion of which most arouses human passions; in many cases the alleged crime was of a trivial character. And in very many cases the evidence of the guilt of the victim has been meager. Certainly in a number of cases an innocent man has been tortured and hanged or burned to death. It is true that the most progressive sections of the country are free from this horror. But the stain rests upon the Nation as a whole; and it is nothing short of grotesque to make a great hue and cry about imagined Bolshevists in our midst when men and women of American descent thus practise the most brutal forms of violence and go unpunished therefor.

As a matter of fact, violence by “Bolshevists,” by anarchists, by radicals of any sort bent on terrorizing and bloodshed, has existed to very slight extent in this country. There has been more or less open advocacy of revolutionary methods, of the destruction of property, by the propertyless, of sabotage, by underpaid and underfed workers, of armed revolution, when the “proletariat” could be brought to the point of revolution. But the sporadic cases of violence actually attempted have been vigorously condemned by the rank and file of labor; and there is absolutely no danger of armed revolution in the present temper of the masses. The fact is, we are too prosperous; revolution thrives upon hardship and hunger. In spite of much that is unjust and exasperating in our social order, conditions are not such as drive men to bloodshed and anarchy.

It is, indeed, a fair question whether more actual lawbreaking and violence has not been committed by the noisy advocates of "law and order," the "hundred per cent Americans” who wel every critic of contemporary institutions a "Bolshevist," who raid illegally the offices of radical newspapers, break up Socialist meetings and parades, threaten labor organizers, and urge the jailing or deportation of every "red.” There has been no more flagrant violation of law than the Bisbee deportations, in 1917, carried out by the bitter enemies of organized labor-an outrage for which no punishment was ever inflicted. There

[ocr errors]

has been probably more violence committed in time of strikes by the strikebreakers and hired servants of the employers than by the strikers.

In any case, whatever the facts may be as to the past, we must be stern to repress illegal action in the future, whether committed by a lower class or an upper class, by an I. W. W. agitator or the hired thug of a great corporation.

But it is not enough to repress violence, we must seek to counteract the influences that lead to it. Among those influences there are three of chief importance. In the first place, there is the conviction, current here and there among the lower classes, that the social order is weighted against them, that they have no hope of securing their share of the good things of life except through some violent convulsion. This conviction we must combat by promoting a discussion of their grievances, real or supposed, and focusing the attention of publicists and legislators upon their cure. If these disaffected people can be shown that their government is sincerely interested in their welfare-shown by acts as well as by platform promises—they will cease to look to extragovernmental means for improving their condition.

In the second place, the upper classes, those who are well off under our present system of laws, must cease to regard that system as sacrosanct. Reverence for law and order means properly the insistence upon using the ballot alone for altering the legal structure, not the insistence upon retaining unmodified a given social system. Criticism of our laws, even of our Constitution, is not equivalent to advocacy of disobedience to these laws while they remain on the statute-books. To brand as “disloyal” every honest thinker who holds that our present system can be

[ocr errors]

improved upon is to cheapen respect for that system. It has often been true that the most devoted patriots have been the keenest critics of their country's policies and laws. It is possible to criticize our existing political or industrial system, not because we do not love our country, but precisely because we love her too well to be content that she should have any but the most ideal system that can be devised. To assume that wisdom died with our fathers, and that the laws they conceived are to be petrified and made unchangeable is to belie the spirit of those valiant reformers and to supplant Americanism with Bourbonism—the maintenance of what is, simply because it is to some people's advantage to keep it as it is.

In the third place, and most important of all, if lawlessness on the part of the disaffected is to be avoided, they must be given every opportunity to air their opinions openly and without fear. Deny men the right of free speech, and you foster in them the revolutionary spirit. Nothing cheapens the authority of the laws more than the browbeating of those who protest against them. Free speech, and plenty of it, is the great safety valve; conversely, as President Wilson has put it, "repression is the seed of revolution."

This, then, is an argument for free speech perhaps even more important than those we discussed in the preceding chapter. No argument for any existing law or custom will weigh with those who chafe under it unless they feel perfectly free, with safety, to

press their arguments against it. The utter futility of the repression policy is obvious to any careful observer, or, indeed, to any student of psychology. The suppressed ideas do not vanish, they work underground, and, like steam without an outlet,

[ocr errors]

become more and more explosive. On the other hand, as Mr. Justice Holmes recently wrote, “with effervescing opinions, as with the not yet forgotten champagnes, the quickest way to let them get flat is to let them get exposed to the air.”

In a society as complex as ours, there is bound to be disaffection. No sensible person can suppose that our present civilization achieves the maximum of human welfare obtainable. If there were no unrest, there would be no hope of progress. Our danger is not in unrest, it is in unrest that is suppressed, ignored, inarticulate. Our hope is in unrest that crystallizes into concrete proposals which can be debated until they convert the majority or disappear through the impact of sound and fair-minded argument. Institutions inherently justifiable will never be overthrown by iconoclastic agitators, they may be overthrown only if they are artificially protected from criticism and hence come to be regarded as without reasonable justification.

One of the sanest proposals of recent years is that of the eminent sociologist, Dr. Edward T. Devine: “Let all of those who have grievances be openly. invited to voice them. Let President Wilson and every governor and every mayor designate great public meeting places in halls and in public parks where the freely chosen representatives of every group .. may express their views. Let the secret service men attend, not to find victims for prosecution, but to catch the faintest whisper of a just complaint. Let legislative assemblies give patien hearing to delegates who come to them from such assemblies. Let grand juries weigh their complaints, whether against individuals or against any existing abuse which might be remedied. Let the industries

[ocr errors]

.

« PreviousContinue »