Criticism (Warren)

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Josiah Warren

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Mr. Editor: You are not afraid of a difference of views; and. as I took it on myself to commend your enterprise, in advance of the prospectus, I want to say I do not wholly approve of its phraseology.

The words" thief" and" robber" I think are not only unnecessarily harsh and accusatory and look like the commencement of hostilities to begin with, but they are really untrue, in the sense in which those words will be generally understood. We are accustomed to apply those words to those who, at least know that they are thieves and robbers; but you apply them to those who have not the least idea that they are doing anything wrong; and besides, without some correct principle by which to measure equivalents, it is impossible to tell who takes more or less than justice awards; but no such principle is generally known, I and even when known, has to be introduced step by step, item by item, and no one can possibly conduct all his business equitably, all at once, especially when dealing with those who are strangers to the principle you have in your mind. All the wisdom of the world assembled could not tell how much common money would be an equitable price for a barrel of flour, a bushel of potatoes, nor a day's work of any kind; and without new elements of thought and action, it is impossible to tell when the demands of equity are fulfilled; and to imply blame or censure for not fulfilling them before they are understood, is not either equitable or expedient; it is likely to offend and repel many who might otherwise prove our most valuable friends and helpers, unless they understand that you use those words in a very abstract sense; which, when they come to analyze these subjects as you have done, they may excuse the language for the sake of the Ideas.

With regard to State marriages, I think you don't intend to make uncompromising war upon them when the parties prefer to be married by State laws and ceremonies; yet your words may be so understood, and certainly will be so represented by the mercenary press and all other obstructives to Freedom.

With regard to land tenures, I don't see how it is possible to get a practical settlement of this difficult subject, except, that which would result from the application of the Principle of Equivalents."<ref>This principle is explained at page 40 of "True Civilization, advertised on the first page.</ref> If land could not be sold for profit, it would not be monopolized for speculation; and it is speculation that is the evil to be cured; and I don't see how this can be affected at once without more or less resort to legal contracts.

I know it is next to impossible to devise a programme including so much as your prospectus does, without subjecting it to adverse criticism. The difficulty has its root in the very nature of language itself; which, unless it is interpreted by practical illustrations, can scarcely produce any results except the sour fruit of unprofitable controversy. But by one simple application of the Cost principle—that of rent, by which I occupy four rooms of yours for twenty-six dollars a year, which I could not get in Boston for less than from two to three hundred dollars, will, in my opinion, tell more for reform than any amount of indefinite abstractions could ever accomplish.

There are a few other points that I would like to remark upon, especially the repudiation of a certain kind of debts, in which I cannot agree with you; but as my article is perhaps already too long, I must defer to the next number. Your friend,



  • Josiah Warren, “Criticism,” The Word 1, no. 2 (June 1872): 3.