Guy A. Aldred Archive

Pioneers of Anti-Parliamentarism
Chapter 10
The Physiognomy of Social Revolution

Written: 1940.
Source: PDF Scans from; OCR'ing and editing from
Transcription/Markup: Andy Carloff
Online Source:; 2021

The Chicago martyrdoms inspired Cesare Lombroso, the criminologist, to contribute an interesting essay to the columns of The Monist, for April, 1891, on the theme, “The Physiognomy of the Anarchists.” The most interesting feature of the essay was its exposure of the ignorance that passed muster for criminology, a psuedo-science of patho-psychology, invented in the interests of bourgeois society.

Lombroso claimed that criminal anthropology was a science on the ground that vice, crime, and brutality very often find a characteristic expression of face. But the relationship is not exact, because there is and can be no exact standard of judgment. The physiologists judge inaccurately and falsely. And, like their victims, their attitude towards life is dictated by economic conditions. Criminal anthropology is merely a bourgeois pretense and hypocrisy.

Lombroso makes an interesting distinction between “true revolution” and mere "rebellion." He claimed that criminal anthropology supplied : --

“The method for distinguishing true revolution always fruitful and useful. from Utopia or rebellion, which is always sterile. . . . True revolutionists—-that is to say, the initiators of great scientific and political revolutions, who excite and bring about a true progress in. humanity—are almost always geniuses or saints, and have all at marvelously harmonious physiognomy."

Lombroso instanced the noble physiognomies of Marx, Mazzini, Garibaldi, and Lassalle, among others. But does this not instance the danger of a criminologist dabbling in politics? Marx was a magnificent critic of political economy and to some extent a social prophet. But he was dominated personally by terrible ambition, which does not make for harmony of mind or thought, and should‘ have found expression in his physiognomy. Mazzini has many excellent qualities as a man, but was not his United Italy activity finally sterile Garibaldi was a great soldier of freedom, but his efforts ended in sterile patriotism. Lassalle’s career was a conceit and his contribution to working-class organization a colossal pretense.

Lombroso notes the large forehead, the bushy beard, the large- soft eyes, the well-developed jaw, and the pale face. But here he sins against fashion, and perhaps common sense. The bushy beard no longer argues a noble physiognomy but disease-carrying fungus. And it can always conceal a week jaw. Lombroso does not find these features in all the Anarchists. But since they do not exist in other folks either, the argument seems a little barren, and the- deduction not too obvious.

Out of all this pretense of criminal anthropological knowledge, there emerges only one useful point, the differentiation between the fruitfulness of true revolution and the sterility of mere rebellion. ()ne did not need to be a criminologist to remark this difference. But one does need intelligence to apply this distinction. Lombroso reveals only his prejudice in endeavoring to apply it. He found the criminal type 2 percent less among the Italian revolutionists than among normal men. He found the criminal type 5 per cent. more among the Russian Nihilists than among normal men. He found the criminal type 6 per cent. more among the Paris Communards than among the Russian Nihilists. And he found 10 per cent. of the remainder of the Communards to be insane. Passing to the regicides and presidenticides, Lombroso instances “the monsters of the French Revolution" and finds them to be nearly all of the criminal type. But the French Revolution was one of the most fruitful events in the history of the world. It is hard to accept the criminal classification of Marat, when one knows his history. Lombroso reaches the climax of his prejudice when, after an arbitrary classification and observation, he finds the criminal type to be 34 per cent. among the Anarchists.

Lombroso discovered the physiognomy of Schnaubelt. who seems to have been the agent employed by the authorities to throw the bomb to be very fine. It matters little, after this tribute to a spy and agent provocateur, that Lombroso discovers the physiognomies of Parsons and Neebe to be “very noble and truly genial.” Especially when, in the same breath, Lombroso considers Waller and Seliger, former comrades of the martyrs, turned perjured in- formers from fear of the gallows and hope of gain. to possess “fine physiognomies" also. Obviously, “fine and noble physiognomy" is a dangerous and futile classification. And the man who substitutes it for economics is engaging in charlatanism and psuedo-science. Criminal anthropology is the astrology of sociology, whereas we are seeking the astronomy. It is the dying conjuring of witchcraft and demonology. clad in the borrowed wardrobe of science.

An unskillful surgeon made john Most’s face unsymmetric. Most was hounded down and hated by the authorities for his stern and unbending loyalty to the cause of the Chicago martyrs. He figured in Schaack’s book accordingly as a wild and dangerous Anarchist. Lombroso looked at the picture and concluded that “Most has acrocephaly and facial unsymmetry.” In other words Most was high-skulled and his features disproportionate. Therefore, his mind was unbalanced. But nature never gave Most an unpleasant face. It was a doctor.

August Spies was of a very tender nature, and his compassion for all who suffered was a byword with his comrades. Compassion as well as justice made him more concerned with the fate of Parsons than with his own doom. But Spies was born in a chateau celebrated for feudal robberies—-called on that account, the Raubschloss. And Lombroso, the criminologist, discovered a connection between this fact and the other one, that Spies was converted twenty years later to Socialism in America.

Lombroso complained of the morbid physiognomy of August Spies, basing his opinion upon a picture published in Schaack’s book. In a footnote, Lombroso admitted that this picture was not true to life and that the features upon which his opinion was founded, did not exist. This did not prevent Lombroso from stating that “the physiognomy of Spies,” in the inaccurate picture, “corresponds with his autobiography, written with a fierce fanatacism”! Which, of course is science and a study in values!

Lombroso finds that Fielden has a wild and sensual physiognomy, a turned-up nose, and protruding jaws. But Fielden's employers considered him a harmless enthusiast of an amiable nature, and never suspected of any criminal disposition. It was admitted, even by the prosecution, that he had become entangled in the Anarchist prosecution by a strange concatenation of circumstances. And even judge Gary, Anarchist-hater and sensation-monger, witnessed. in a letter to Governor Oglesby, that Fielden’s faults consisted of “a natural love of justice, an impatience at all undeserved suffering” Otherwise, Gary found Fielden “the honest, industrious, and peaceable laboring man.” On his release by Altgeld in 1893. Fielden settled with his family on a farm in Colorado, and certainly betrayed no criminal impulses.

Connecting Fielden with the well-known M.P., who was related slightly to his father, and with whom Fielden in his youth probably did associate, Lombroso unfolds his theory of the criminal consequence of genius:—-

“l have proved how often genius ls nervous epilepsy, and how almost all the sons of men of genius are lunatics, idiots or criminals."

This statement is, of course, absurd, and is rebuked by facts. The Darwin family has been famous for over two hundred and fifty years. The sons of Hegel and Schelling were able men. The Huxley family is more famous in the third generation than in its original outstanding representative, the immortal Thomas Henry Huxley. John Stuart Mill was the famous son of James Mill. Genius, and the posterity of genius, often go to the wall. But the explanation is to be found in external circumstances, in economic conditions.

Lombroso discovered “a Mongolic cast of feature” in Engel and Lingg, and concluded that they were, therefore, degenerative in character. Lingg’s oblique eyes offended him particularly. He discovered them both to have been driven to political action by “a truly ungovernable epileptoid idea.” Enthusiasm possessed them like a disease.

The truth is Engel joined the Socialists at an advanced age. In his earlier years he was an Anti-Socialist. On his first arrest he was released upon the good word of Coroner Herg, who declared that he had known Engel for years as a quiet and well-behaved citizen.

Lingg was only 23 years of age. And youth is sometimes moved by an enthusiasm that lapses with years. Certainly his character was not matured nor his ideas tested at this age. What does one know of life at 23?

This consideration, although noted, moved Lombroso less than the fact that the ears were protruding, and were without lobes, in the case of Lingg, Spies, Fischer, and Engel. l-le was determined to treat politics as a physiognomy instead of an economy: an individual and not a social problem.

Thus Booth, who murdered Lincoln, was given by his father the name Wilkes, and the father’s own name was Junius Brutus. Which proves (says Lombroso) hereditary! Incidentally, Lombroso declares that Wilkes was “a revolutionist"! Which Wilkes certainly was not!

All this fun and criminal anthropological moonshine Lombroso discovered in Schaack’s Anarchy and Anarchists, Chicago, 1889. He found this work “very partial but rich in facts.” Its pictures were all wrong and its biographies paid little heed to truth. Schwab rightly termed this book “a fictitious robber-story,” containing “untruths absolutely invented for ornament and decoration.”

Michael Schwab, whose death sentence was commuted on petition to imprisonment, published this comment on Lombroso’s essay in an article written from the Joliet Penitentiary, and contributed to the Morris! for July, 1891. At that time Schwab had served five out of his fifteen years’ penal servitude, for an offense of which, in common with his comrades, he was innocent, and was within two years of receiving the famous Altgeld pardon, which exonerated him and his comrades. Incidentally, this pardon demolished Lombroso’s physiognomy of crime explanation of the Chicago bombing, since it declared the outrage to be on the other side of the question, the State side!

But even if it had been possible to have conceded the accuracy of Lombroso’s blundering theory, as Schwab wrote, “he necessarily failed from the insufficiency of his materials,” as regards accurate biographical data, and the fact that “the portraits from which he made his deduction,” were “not sufficiently truthful for his purpose.”

Schwab added to this criticism the following excellent reflection:-—

“It is in the highest degree improbable that such a book should not have caricatured the portraits of the Anarchists. in hooks designed for sale to the masses, the illustrations are not, as a rule, of any value as works of art, even if the persons pictured in them enjoy the author's favor."

Lombroso lends point to this comment, and invalidates all his “shocker” reasoning about the physiognomy of the Anarchists, when he says:--

"I repeat that among the anarchists there are no true criminals; even Schaack, the police historian, can name but two criminals, and certainly he would not have spared them if he could have stigmatized them. Their heroic-like deaths, with their ideal on their lips. proves that they were not common criminals.”

Which ends the discussion. Obviously, there is no exact physiognomy of crime, and no physiognomy of social revolution. It is a question of social and political economy, sociology versus physiognomy. Nero tuned whilst Rome burned: and Lombroso enjoyed a minor harmony whilst civilization wasted. History never records tragedy without mockery and every crisis has its burlesque. Criminology is the burlesque of property——which is robbery and infamy. Socialism will end the mean and intolerable farce.