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An essay by Ambrose Bierce

The Shadow On The Dial

Title:     The Shadow On The Dial
Author: Ambrose Bierce [More Titles by Bierce]


THERE is a deal of confusion and uncertainty in the use of the words "Socialist," "Anarchist," and "Nihilist." Even the '1st himself commonly knows with as little accuracy what he is as the rest of us know why he is. The Socialist believes that most human affairs should be regulated and managed by the State--the Government--that is to say, the majority. Our own system has many Socialistic features and the trend of republican government is all that way. The Anarchist is the kind of lunatic who believes that all crime is the effect of laws forbidding it--as the pig that breaks into the kitchen garden is created by the dog that chews its ear! The Anarchist favors abolition of all law and frequently belongs to an organization that secures his allegiance by solemn oaths and dreadful penalties. "Nihilism" is a name given by Turgenieff to the general body of Russian discontent which finds expression in antagonizing authority and killing authorities. Constructive politics would seem, as yet, to be a cut above the Nihilist's intelligence; he is essentially a destructionary. He is so diligently engaged in unweeding the soil that he has not given a thought to what he will grow there. Nihilism may be described as a policy of assassination tempered by reflections upon Siberia. American sympathy with it is the offspring of an unholy union between the tongue of a liar and the ear of a dupe.

Upon examination it will be seen that political dissent, when it takes any form more coherent than the mere brute dissatisfaction of a mind that does not know what it wants to want, finds expression in one of but two ways--in Socialism or in Anarchism. Whatever methods one may think will best substitute for a system gradually evolved from our needs and our natures a system existing only in the minds of dreamers, one is bound to choose between these two dreams. Yet such is the intellectual delinquency of many who most strenuously denounce the system that we have that we not infrequently find the same man advocating in one breath, Socialism, in the next, Anarchism. Indeed, few of these sons of darkness know that even as coherent dreams the two are incompatible. With Anarchy triumphant the Socialist would be a thousand years further from realization of his hope than he is today. Set up Socialism on a Monday and on Tuesday the country would be _en fete_, gaily hunting down Anarchists. There would be little difficulty in trailing them, for they have not so much sense as a deer, which, running down the wind, sends its tell-tale fragrance on before.

Socialism and Anarchism are the two extremes of political thought; they are parts of the same dung, in the sense that the terminal points of a road are parts of the same road. Between them, about midway, lies the system that we have the happiness to endure. It is a "blend" of Socialism and Anarchism in about equal parts: all that is not one is the other. Everything serving the common interest, or looking to the welfare of the whole people, is socialistic in the strictest sense of the word as understood by the Socialist Whatever tends to private advantage or advances an individual or class interest at the expense of a public one, is anarchistic. Cooperation is Socialism; competition is Anarchism. Competition carried to its logical conclusion (which only cooperation prevents or can prevent) would leave no law in force no property possible no life secure.

Of course the words "cooperation" and "competition" are not here used in a merely industrial and commercial sense; they are intended to cover the whole field of human activity. Two voices singing a duet--that is cooperation--Socialism. Two voices singing each a different tune and trying to drown each other--that is competition--Anarchism: each is a law unto itself--that is to say, it is lawless. Everything that ought to be done the Socialist hopes to do by associated endeavor, as an army wins battles; Anarchism is socialistic in its means only: by cooperation it tries to render cooperation impossible--combines to kill combination. Its method says to its purpose: "Thou fool!"


Everything foretells the doom of authority. The killing of kings is no new industry; it is as ancient as the race. Always and everywhere persons in high place have been the assassin's prey. We have ourselves lost three Presidents by murder, and will doubtless lose many another before the book of American history is closed. If anything is new in this activity of the regicide it is found in the choice of victims. The contemporary "avenger" slays, not the merely great, but the good and the inoffensive--an American President who had struck the chains from millions of slaves; a Russian Czar who against the will and work of his own powerful nobles had freed their serfs; a French President from whom the French people had received nothing but good; a powerless Austrian Empress, whose weight of sorrows touched the world to tears; a blameless Italian King beloved of his people; such is a part of the recent record of the regicide whose every entry is a tale of infamy unrelieved by one circumstance of justice, decency or good intention.

And the great Brazilian liberator died in exile.

This recent uniformity of malevolence in the choice of victims is not without significance. It points unmistakably to two facts: first, that the selections are made, not by the assassins themselves, but by some central control inaccessible to individual preference and unaffected by the fortunes of its instruments; second, that there is a constant purpose to manifest an antagonism, not to any individual ruler, but to rulers; not to any system of government, but to Government. It is a war, not upon those in authority, but upon Authority. The issue is defined, the alignment made, the battle set: Chaos against Order, Anarchy against Law.

M. Vaillant, the French gentleman who lacked a "good opinion of the law," but was singularly rich in the faith that by means of gunpowder and flying nails humanity could be brought into a nearer relation with reason, righteousness and the will of God, is said to have been nearly devoid of a nose. Of this affliction M. Vaillant made but slight account, as was natural, seeing that but for a brief season did he need even so much of nose as remained to him. Yet before its effacement by premature disruption of his own petard it must have had a certain value to him--he would not wantonly have renounced it; and had he foreseen its extinction by the bomb the iron views of that controversial device would probably have been denied expression. Albeit (so say the scientists) doomed to eventual elimination from the scheme of being, and to the Anarchist even now something of an accusing conscience, the nose is indubitably an excellent thing in man.

This brings us to consideration of the human nose as a measure of human happiness--not the size of it, but its numbers; its frequent or infrequent occurrence upon the human face. We have grown so accustomed to the presence of this feature that we take it as a matter of course; its absence is one of the most notable phenomena of our observation--"an occasion long to be remembered," as the society reporter hath it Yet "abundant testimony showeth" that but two or three centuries ago noseless men and women were so common all over Europe as to provoke but little comment when seen and (in their disagreeable way) heard They abounded in all the various walks of life: there were honored burgomasters without noses, wealthy merchants, great scholars, artists, teachers. Amongst the humbler classes nasal destitution was almost as frequent as pecuniary--in the humblest of all the most common of all. Writing in the thirteenth century, Salsius mentions the retainers and servants of certain Suabian noblemen as having hardly a whole ear among them--for until a comparatively recent period man's tenure of his ears was even more precarious than that of his nose. In 1436, when a Bavarian woman, Agnes Bemaurian, wife of Duke Albert the Pious, was dropped off the bridge at Prague, she persisted in rising to the surface and trying to escape; so the executioner gave himself the trouble to put a long pole into her hair and hold her under. A contemporary account of the matter hints that her disorderly behavior at so solemn a moment was due to the pain caused by removal of her nose; but as her execution was by order of her own father it seems more probable that "the extreme penalty of the law" was not imposed. Without a doubt, though, possession of a nose was an uncommon (and rather barren) distinction in those days among "persons designated to assist the executioner," as the condemned were civilly called. Nor, as already said, was it any too common among persons not as yet consecrated to that service: "Few," says Salsius, "have two noses, and many have none."

Man's firmer grasp upon his nose in this our day and generation is not altogether due to invention of the handkerchief. The genesis and development of his right to his own nose have been accompanied with a corresponding advance in the possessory rights all along the line of his belongings--his ears, his fingers and toes, his skin, his bones, his wife and her young, his clothes and his labor--everything that is (and that once was not) his. In Europe and America today these things can not be taken away from even the humblest and poorest without somebody wanting to "know the reason why." In every decade the nation that is most powerful upon the seas incurs voluntarily a vast expense of blood and treasure in suppressing a slave trade which in no way is injurious to her interests, nor to the interests of any but the slaves.

So "Freedom broadens slowly down," and today even the lowliest incapable of all Nature's aborted has a nose that he dares to call his own and bite off at his own sweet will. Unfortunately, with an unthinkable fatuity we permit him to be told that but for the very agencies that have put him in possession he could successfully assert a God-given and world-old right to the noses of others. At present the honest fellow is mainly engaged in refreshing himself upon his own nose, consuming that comestible with avidity and precision; but the Vaillants, Ravechols, Mosts and Willeys are pointing his appetite to other snouts than his, and inspiring him with rhinophagic ambition. Meantime the rest of us are using those imperiled organs to snore with.

'Tis a fine, resonant and melodious snore, but it is not going to last: there is to be a rude awakening. We shall one day get our eyes open to the fact that scoundrels like Vaillant are neither few nor distant. We shall learn that our blind dependence upon the magic of words is a fatuous error; that the fortuitous arrangement of consonants and vowels which we worship as Liberty is of slight efficacy in disarming the lunatic brandishing a bomb. Liberty, indeed! The murderous wretch loves it a deal better than we, and wants more of it. Liberty! one almost sickens of the word, so quick and glib it is on every lip--so destitute of meaning.

There is no such thing as abstract liberty; it is not even thinkable. If you ask me, "Do you favor liberty?" I reply, "Liberty for whom to do what? Just now I distinctly favor the liberty of the law to cut off the noses of anarchists caught red-handed or red-tongued. If they go in for mutilation let them feel what it is like. If they are not satisfied with the way that things have been going on since the wife of Duke Albert the Pious was held under water with a pole, and since the servitors of the Suabian nobleman cherished their vestigial ears, it is to be presumed that they favor reversion to that happy state. There is grave objection, but if we must we will. Let us begin (with moderation) by reverting _them_."

I favor mutilation for anarchists convicted of killing or inciting to kill--mutilation followed by death. For those who merely deny the right and expediency of law, plain mutilation--which might advantageously take the form of removal of the tongue.

Why not? Where is the injustice? Surely he who denies men's right to make laws will not invoke the laws that they have wickedly made! That were to say that they must not protect themselves, yet are bound to protect him. What! if I beat him will he call the useless and mischievous constabulary? If I draw out his tongue shall he (in the sign-language) demand it back, and failing of restitution (for surely I should cut it clean away) shall he have the law on me--the naughty law, instrument of the oppressor? Why? that "goes neare to be fonny!"

Two human beings can not live together in peace without laws--laws innumerable. Everything that either, in consideration of the other's wish or welfare, abstains from is inhibited by law, tacit or expressed. If there were in all the world none but they--if neither had come with any sense of obligation toward the other, both clean from creation, with nothing but brains to direct their conduct--every hour would evolve an understanding, that is to say, a law; every act would suggest one. They would have to agree not to kill nor harm each other. They must arrange their work and all their activities to secure the best advantage. These arrangements, agreements, understandings--what are they but laws? To live without law is to live alone. Every family is a miniature State with a complicate system of laws, a supreme authority and subordinate authorities down to the latest babe. And as he who is loudest in demanding liberty for himself is sternest in denying it to others, you may confidently go to the Maison Vaillant, or the Mosthaus, for a flawless example of the iron hand.

Laws of the State are as faulty and as faultily administered as those of the Family. Most of them have to be speedily and repeatedly "amended," many repealed, and of those permitted to stand, the greater number fall into disuse and are forgotten. Those who have to be entrusted with the duty of administering them have all the limitations of intelligence and defects of character by which the rest of us also are distinguished from the angels. In the wise governor, the just judge, the honest sheriff or the patient constable we have as rare a phenomenon as the faultless father. The good God has not given us a special kind of men upon whom to devolve the duty of seeing to the observance of the understandings that we call laws. Like all else that men do, this work is badly done. The best that we can hope for through all the failures, the injustice, the disheartening damage to individual rights and interests, is a fairly good general result, enabling us to walk abroad among our fellows unafraid, to meet even the tribesmen from another valley without too imminent peril of braining and evisceration. Of that small security the Anarchist would deprive us. But without that nothing is of value and we shall be willing to renounce all. Let us begin by depriving ourselves of the Anarchist.

Our system of civilization being the natural outgrowth of our wretched moral and intellectual natures, is open to criticism and subject to revision. Our laws, being of human origin, are faulty and their application is disappointing. Dissent, dissatisfaction, deprecation, proposals for a better system fortified with better laws more intelligently administered--these are permissible and should be welcome. The Socialist (when he is not carried away by zeal to pool issues with the Anarchist) has that in him which it does us good to hear. He may be wrong b all else, yet right in showing us wherein we ourselves are wrong. Anyhow, his mission is amendment, and so long as his paths are peace he has the right to walk therein, exhorting as he goes. The French Communist who does not preach Petroleum and It rectified is to be regarded with more than amusement, more than compassion. There is room for him and his fad; there are hospitable ears for his boast that Jesus Christ would have been a Communist if there had been Communes. They really did not "know everything down in Judee." But for the Anarchist, whose aim is not amendment, but destruction--not welfare to the race, but mischief to a part of it--not happiness for the future, but revenge for the past--for that animal there should be no close season, for that savage, no reservation. Society has not the right to grant life to one who denies the right to live. The protagonist of reversion to the regime of lacking noses should lack a nose.

It is difficult to say if the bomb-thrower, actual or potential, is greater as scoundrel or fool. Suppose his aim is to compel concession by terror. Can not the brute observe at each of his exploits a tightening of "the reins of power?" Through the necessity of guarding against him the mildest governments are becoming despotic, the most despotic more despotic. Does he suppose that "the rulers of the earth" are silly enough to make concessions that will not insure their safety? Can _he_ give them security?


Of all the wild asses that roam the plain, the wildest wild ass that roams the plain is indubitably the one that lifts his voice and heel against that socialism known as "public ownership of public utilities," on the ground of "principle." There may be honest, and in some degree intelligent, opposition on the ground of expediency. Many persons whom it is a pleasure to respect believe that a Government railway, for example, would be less efficiently managed than the same railway in private hands, and that political dangers lurk in the proposal so enormously to increase the number of Federal employes as Government ownership of railways would entail. They think, in other words, that the policy is inexpedient. It is a duty to reason with them, which, as a rule, one can do without being insulted. But the chap who greets the proposal with a howl of derision as "Socialism!" is not a respectable opponent. Eyes he has, but he sees not; ears--oh! very abundant ears--but he hears not the still, small voice of history nor the still smaller voice of common sense.

Obviously to those who, having eyes, do see, public ownership of anything is a step in the direction of Socialism, for perfect Socialism means public ownership of everything. But "principle" has nothing to do with it The principle of public ownership is already accepted and established. It has no visible opponents except in the camp of the Anarchists, and fewer of them are visible there than soap and water would reveal. Antagonists of the _principle_ of Socialism lost their fight when the first human government held the dedicatory exercises of a Cave of Legislation. Since then the only question about the matter has been how far the _extension_ of Socialism is expedient Some would draw the limiting line at one place, some at another; but only a fool thinks there can be government without it, or good government without a great deal of it (The fact that we have always had a great deal of it yet never had good government affirms nothing that it is worth while to consider.) The word-worn example of our Postal Department is only one of a thousand instances of pure Socialism. If it did not exist how bitter an opposition a proposal to establish it would evoke from Adversaries of the Red Rag! The Government builds and operates bridges with general assent; but as the late General Walker pointed out, it might under some circumstances be more economical, or better otherwise, to build and operate a ferry boat, which is a floating bridge. But that would be opposed as rank Socialism.

The truth is that the men and women of principle are a pretty dangerous class, generally speaking--and they are generally speaking. It is they that hamper us in every war. It is they who, preventing concentration and regulation of un-abolishable evils, promote their distribution and liberty. Moral principles are pretty good things--for the young and those not well grounded in goodness. If one have an impediment in his thought, or is otherwise unequal to emergencies as they arise, it is safest to be provided beforehand with something to refer to in order that a right decision may be made without taking thought. But "spirits of a purer fire" prefer to decide each question as it comes up, and to act upon the merits of the case, unbound and unpledged. With a quick intelligence, a capable conscience and a habit of doing right automatically one has little need to burden one's mind and memory with a set of solemn principles formulated by owlish philosophers who do not happen to know that what is right is merely what, in the long run and with regard to the greater number of cases, is expedient Principle is not always an infallible guide. For illustration, it is not always expedient--that is, for the good of all concerned--to tell the truth, to be entirely just or merciful, to pay a debt. I can conceive a case in which it would be right to assassinate one's neighbor. Suppose him to be a desperate scoundrel of a chemist who has devised a means of setting the atmosphere afire. The man who should go through life on an inflexible line of principle would border his path with a havoc of human happiness.

What one may think perfect one may not always think desirable. By "perfect" one may mean merely complete, and the word was so used in my reference to Socialism. I am not myself an advocate of "perfect Socialism," but as to Government ownership of railways, there is doubtless a good deal to be said on both sides. One argument in its favor appears decisive; under a system subject to popular control the law of gravitation would be shorn of its preeminence as a means of removing personal property from the baggage car, and so far as it is applicable to that work might even be repealed.


When M. Casimir-Perier resigned the French Presidency there were those who regarded the act as weak, cowardly, undutiful and otherwise censurable. It seems to me the act, not of a feeble man, but of a strong one--not that of a coward, but that of a gentleman. Indeed, I hardly know where to look in history for an act more entirely gratifying to my sense of "the fitness of things" than this dignified notification to mankind that in consenting to serve one's country one does not relinquish the right to decent treatment--to immunity from factious opposition and abuse--to at least as much civil consideration as is due from the Church to the Devil.

M. Casimir-Perier did not seek the Presidency of the French Republic; it was thrust upon him against his protestations by an apparently almost unanimous mandate of the French people in an emergency which it was thought that he was the best man to meet. That he met it with modesty and courage was testified without dissent. That he afterward did anything to forfeit the confidence and respect that he then inspired is not true, and nobody believes it true. Yet in his letter of resignation he said, and said truly:

"For the last six months a campaign of slander and insult has been going on against the army, magistrates. Parliament and hierarchical Chief of State, and this license to disseminate social hatred continues to be called 'the liberty of thought.'"

And with a dignity to which it seems strange that any one could be insensible, he added:

"The respect and ambition which I entertain for my country will not allow me to acknowledge that the servants of the country, and he who represents it in the presence of foreign nations, may be insulted every day."

These are noble words. Have we any warrant for demanding or expecting that men of clean life and character will devote themselves to the good of ingrates who pay, and ingrates who permit them to pay, in flung mud? It is hardly credible that among even those persons most infatuated by contemplation of their own merit as pointed out by their thrifty sycophants "the liberty of thought" has been carried to that extreme. The right of the State to demand the sacrifice of the citizen's life is a doctrine as old as the patriotism that concedes it, but the right to require him to forego his good name--that is something new under the sun. From nothing but the dunghill of modern democracy could so noxious a plant have sprung.

"Perhaps in laying down my functions," said M. Casimir-Perier, "I shall have marked out a path of duty to those who are solicitous for the dignity, power and good name of France in the world."

We may be permitted to hope that the lesson is wider than France and more lasting than the French Republic. It is time that not only France but all other countries with "popular institutions" should learn that if they wish to command the services of men of honor they must accord them honorable treatment; the rule now is for the party to which they belong to give them a half-hearted support while suffering all other parties to slander and insult them. The action of the President of the French Republic in these disgusting circumstances is exceptional and unusual only in respect of his courage in expressly resenting his wrong. Everywhere the unreasonable complaint is heard that good men will not "go into politics;" everywhere the ignorant and malignant masses and their no less malignant and hardly less ignorant leaders and spokesmen, having sown the wind of reasonless obstruction and partisan vilification, are reaping the whirlwind of misrule. So far as concerns the public service, gentlemen are mostly on a strike against introduction of the mud-machine. This high-minded political workman, Casimir-Perier, never showed to so noble advantage as in gathering up his tools and walking out.

It may be, and a million times has been, urged that abstention from activity in public affairs by men of brains and character leaves the business of government in the hands of the incapable and the vicious. In whose hands, pray, in a republic does it logically belong? What does the theory of "representative government" affirm? What is the lesson of every netherward extension of the suffrage? What do we mean by permitting it to "broaden slowly down" to lower and lower intelligences and moralities?--what but that stupidity and vice, equally with virtue and wisdom, are entitled to a voice in political affairs, a finger in the public pie?

A person that is fit to vote is fit to be voted for. He who is competent for the high and difficult function of choosing an officer of the State is competent to serve the State as an officer. To deny him the right is illogical and unjust. Participation in Government can not be at the same time a privilege and a duty, and he who claims it as a privilege must not speak of another's renunciation (whereby himself is more highly privileged) as "shirking." With every retirement from politics increased power passes to those who remain. Shall they protest? Shall they, also, who have retired? Who else is to protest? The complaint of "incivism" would be more rational if there were some one by whom it could reasonably be made.

My advice to slandered officials has ever been: "Resign." The public officials of this favored country, Heaven be thanked, are infrequently slandered: they are, as a rule, so bad that calumniation is a compliment. Our best men, with here and there an exception, have been driven out of public life, or made afraid to enter it. Even our spasmodic efforts at reform fail ludicrously for lack of leaders unaffiliated with "the thing to be reformed." Unless attracted by the salary, why should a gentleman "aspire" to the Presidency of the United States? During his canvass (and he is expected to "run," not merely to "stand") he will have from his own party a support that should make him blush, and from all the others an opposition that will stick at nothing to accomplish his satisfactory defamation. After his election his partition and allotment of the loaves and fishes will estrange an important and thenceforth implacable faction of his following without appeasing the animosity of any one else; and during his entire service his sky will be dark with a flight of dead cats. At the finish of his term the utmost that he can expect in the way of reward not expressible in terms of the national currency is that not much more than one-half of his countrymen will believe him a scoundrel to the end of their days.


The kind of government that we have seems to me one of the worst kinds extant A government that does not protect life is a flat failure, no matter what else it may do. Life being almost universally regarded as the most precious possession, its security is the first and highest essential--not the life of him who takes life, but the life which is exposed defenceless to his hateful hand. In no country in the world, civilized or savage, is life so insecure as in this. In no country in the world is murder held in so light reprobation. In no battle of modern times have so many lives been taken as are lost annually in the United States through public indifference to the crime of homicide--through disregard of law, through bad government. If American self-government, with its ten thousand homicides a year, is good government, there is no such thing as bad. Self-government! What monstrous nonsense! Who governs himself needs no government, has no governor, is not governed. If government has any meaning it means the restraint of the many by the few--the subordination of numbers to brains. It means the determined denial to the masses of the right to cut their own throats. It means the grasp and control of all the social forces and material enginery--a vigilant censorship of the press, a firm hand upon the church, keen supervision of public meetings and public amusements, command of the railroads, telegraph and all means of communication. It means, in short, the ability to make use of all the beneficent influences of enlightenment for the good of the people, and to array all the powers of civilization against civilization's natural enemies--the people. Government like this has a thousand defects, but it has one merit: it is government.

Despotism? Yes. It is the despotisms of the world that have been the conservators of civilization. It is the despot who, most powerful for mischief, is alone powerful for good. It is conceded that government is necessary--even by the "fierce democracies" that madly renounce it. But in so far as government is not despotic it is not government. In Europe for the last one hundred years, the tendency of all government has been liberalization. The history of European politics during that period is a history of renunciation by the rulers and assumption by the ruled. Sovereign after sovereign has surrendered prerogative after prerogative; the nobility privilege after privilege. Mark the result: society honeycombed with treason; property menaced with partition; assassination studied as a science and practiced as an art; everywhere powerful secret organizations sworn to demolish the social fabric that the slow centuries have but just erected and unmindful that themselves will perish in the wreck. No heart in Europe can beat tranquilly under clean linen. Such is the gratitude, such is the wisdom, such the virtue of "The Masses." In 1863 Alexander II of Russia freed 25,000,000 serfs. In 1879 they had killed him and all joined the conspirators.

That ancient and various device, "a republican form of government," appears to be too good for all the peoples of the earth excepting one. It is partly successful in Switzerland; in France and America, where the majority is composed of persons having dark understandings and criminal instincts, it has broken down. In our case, as in every case, the momentum of successful revolution carried us too far. We rebelled against tyranny and having overthrown it, overthrew also the governmental form in which it had happened to be manifest. In their anger and their triumph our good old gran'thers acted somewhat in the spirit of the Irishman who cudgeled the dead snake until nothing was left of it, in order to make it "sinsible of its desthroction." They meant it all, too, the honest souls! For a long time after the setting up of the republic the republic meant active hatred to kings, nobles, aristocracies. It was held, and rightly held, that a nobleman could not breathe in America--that he left his title and his privileges on the ship that brought him over. Do we observe anything of that in this generation? On the landing of a foreign king, prince or nobleman--even a miserable "knight"--do we not execute sycophantic genuflexions? Are not our newspapers full of flamboyant descriptions and qualming adulation? Nay, does not our President himself--successor to Washington and Jefferson!--greet and entertain the "nation's guest"? Is not every American young woman crazy to mate with a male of title? Does all this represent no retrogression?--is it not the backward movement of the shadow on the dial? Doubtless the republican idea has struck strong roots into the soil of the two Americas, but he who rightly considers the tendencies of events, the causes that bring them about and the consequences that flow from them, will not be hot to affirm the perpetuity of republican institutions in the Western Hemisphere. Between their inception and their present stage of development there is scarcely the beat of a pendulum; and already, by corruption and lawlessness, the people of both continents, with all their diversities of race and character, have shown themselves about equally unfit. To become a nation of scoundrels all that any people needs is opportunity, and what we are pleased to call by the impossible name of "self-government" supplies it.

The capital defect of republican government is inability to repress internal forces tending to disintegration. It does not take long for a "self-governed" people to learn that it is not really governed--that an agreement enforcible by nobody but the parties to it is not binding. We are learning this very rapidly: we set aside our laws whenever we please. The sovereign power--the tribunal of ultimate jurisdiction--is a mob. If the mob is large enough (it need not be very large), even if composed of vicious tramps, it may do as it will. It may destroy property and life. It may without proof of guilt inflict upon individuals torments unthinkable by fire and flaying, mutilations that are nameless. It may call men, women and children from their beds and beat them to death with cudgels. In the light of day it may assail the very strongholds of law in the heart of a populous city, and assassinate prisoners of whose guilt it knows nothing. And these things--observe, O victims of kings--are habitually done. One would as well be at the mercy of one's sovereign as of one's neighbor.

For generations we have been charming ourselves with the magic of words. When menaced by some exceptionally monstrous form of the tyranny of numbers we have closed our eyes and murmured, "Liberty." When armed Anarchists threaten to quench the fires of civilization in a sea of blood we prate of the protective power of "free speech." If,

"Girt about by friends or foes,
A man may speak the thing he will,"

we fondly fancy that the thing he will speak is harmless--that immunity disarms his tongue of its poison, his thought of its infection. With a fatuity that would be incredible without the testimony of observation, we hold that an Anarchist free to go about making proselytes, free to purchase arms, free to drill and parade and encourage his dupes with a demonstration of their numbers and power, is less mischievous than an Anarchist with a shut mouth, a weaponless hand and under surveillance of the police. The Anarchist himself is persuaded of the superiority of our plan of dealing with him; he likes it and comes over in quantity, inpesting the political atmosphere with the "sweltered venom" engendered by centuries of oppression--comes over here, where he is not oppressed, and sets up as oppressor. His preferred field of malefaction is the country that is most nearly anarchical. He comes here, partly to better himself under our milder institutions, partly to secure immunity while conspiring to destroy them. There is thunder in Europe, but if the storm ever break it is in America that the lightning will fall, for here is a great vortex into which the decivilizing agencies are pouring without obstruction. Here gather the eagles to the feast, for the quarry is defenceless. Here is no power in government, no government. Here an enemy of order is thought to be least dangerous when suffered to preach and arm in peace. And here is nothing between him and his task of supervision--no pampered soldiery to repress his rising, no iron authority to lay him by the heels. The militia is fraternal, the magistracy elective. Europe may hold out a little longer. The Great Powers may make what stage-play they will, but they are not maintaining their incalculable armaments for aggression upon one another, for protection from one another, nor for fun. These vast forces are purely constabular--creatures and creators of discontent--phenomena of decivilization. Eventually they will fraternize with Disorder or become themselves Praetorian Guards more dangerous than the perils that have called them into existence.

It is easy to forecast the first stages of the End's approach: Rioting. Disaffection of constabulary and troops. Subversion of the Government A policy of decapitation. Upthrust of the serviceable Anarchist. His prompt effacement by his victorious ally and natural enemy, the Socialist. Free minting and printing of money--to every citizen a shoulder-load of the latter, to the printers a ton each. Divided counsels. Pandemonium. The man on horseback. Gusts of grape. ------?

Formerly the bearer of evil tidings was only slain; he is now ignored. The gods kept their secrets by telling them to Cassandra, whom no one would believe. I do not expect to be heeded. The crust of a volcano is electric the fumes are narcotic; the combined sensation is delightful no end. I have looked at the dial of civilization; I tell you the shadow is going back. That is of small importance to men of leisure, with wine-dipped wreaths upon their heads. They do not care to know.

[The end]
Ambrose Bierce's essay: The Shadow On The Dial