The 100thAnniversary of a Tough Lefty’s Victory

The 1919 misfortune of Woodrow Wilson and good fortune of Scott Nearing are nowhere near enough evidence for the existence of God or for even karma, but these 1919 events do provide some therapy for me—a reminder that life, occasionally, is not completely unjust.

In 1919, Wilson—who earlier in his administration had racially resegregated several federal government agencies, and then successfully pissed on the First Amendment so as to make anti-war speech illegal—suffered a debilitating stroke. Also in 1919, the tough Lefty warrior Scott Nearing (1883–1983), unlike many other Wilson victims, beat the rap and did no prison time after his arrest for anti-war words. Nearing would go on to see his 100th birthday, along the way co-writing (with his wife Helen) The Good Life and becoming a hero for back-to-the-land homesteaders who sought escape from the madness surrounding them and longed for a meaningful good life.

Beginning with Wilson’s Espionage Act of 1917 (made even more oppressive by the Sedition Act of 1918), free-speech advocates, anti-war activists, and the entirety of the U.S. anti-authoritarian Left were “shocked and awed” by state terrorism. The Palmer Raids, which began in 1919, resulted in several thousand activists being arrested, with hundreds of them—including the anarchist Emma Goldman—deported. The majority of Americans were unbothered by the arrests, imprisonments, and deportations of immigrant socialists and anarchists; however, the…

Read more