Josiah Warren

From The Libertarian Labyrinth
Revision as of 19:13, 10 May 2014 by Shawn P. Wilbur (Talk | contribs) (1 revision)

(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)
Jump to: navigation, search
Resources Relating to

Josiah Warren

Main Page
Biographical Resources
Alphabetical Bibliography
Chronological Bibliography
Equitable Commerce Bibliography

Josiah Warren (1798-1874) was an individualist anarchist, inventor, musician, and author in the United States. He is widely regarded to be the first American anarchist, and some regard the periodical he edited in 1833, The Peaceful Revolutionist, to be the first anarchist periodical ever published.


Early life

Warren was born in Massachusetts in 1798. He showed an early talent for music, and was a member of the "Old Boston Brigade Band" at an early age. He married at age 20, and in 1821 moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. He invented a tallow-burning lamp in 1821, and manufactured his invention for a number of years in Cincinnati. <ref>William Bailie, Josiah Warren; George Warren, "Josiah Warren"; "Weekly Summary," The Plough Boy, and Journal of the Board of Agriculture, 2, 52 (May 26, 1821), 415.</ref>

Owenism and New Harmony

In 1825, Warren became aware of the "social system" of Robert Owen, and began to talk with others in Cincinnati about finding a communist colony.<ref>Josiah Warren, "The Motives for Communism — How It Worked and What It Led To," Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly, IV, 14 (February 17, 1872), 5.</ref> When this group failed to come to agreement about the form and goals of their proposed community, Warren decided to join Owen's community at New Harmony, Indiana. The Cincinnati colony was attempted without Warren's involvement, but failed.<ref>Josiah Warren, "The Motives for Communism — How It Worked and What It Led To — Article II," Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly, IV, 15 (February 24, 1872). </ref> Warren traveled by flat-boat from Cincinnati, arriving in New Harmony in early May, 1825. By 1827, he had returned to Cincinnati, convinced that the complete individualization of interests was necessary to cooperation. He considered Owen's experiment "communism," which he rejected in no uncertain terms. For Robert Owen and his sons, however, Warren developed a warm and lasting respect. One of his earliest writings, published in The March of Mind in 1828, attests to this, as do later writings.<ref>J. W., "From the March of Mind," New Harmony Gazette (Sep 10, 1828), 365.</ref>

Return to Cincinnati and the "Time Magazine"

Warren in New York City

Spring Hill School and educational theories

Innovations in Printing

Equity, OH

Return to New Harmony

Equitable Commerce

Utopia, OH

The Boston propaganda and its results

Stephen Pearl Andrews and Modern Times, NY

Late Life


Warren, like Proudhon, chose the path of anarchy and individualism over authoritarian state socialism. Benjamin Tucker dedicated his collection of essays, Instead of a Book, to the memory of Warren, "my friend and master...whose teachings were my first source of light". Tucker says that Warren "was the first man to expound and formulate the doctrine now known as Anarchism." (Liberty XIV (December, 1900):1) John Stuart Mill said Warren's philosophy, "though being a superficial resemblance to some of the project of the Socialists, is diametrically opposed to them in principle, since it recognizes no authority whatever in Society, over the individual, except to enforce equal freedom of development for all individuals."<ref>Mill, John Stuart. Autobiography (1873), Oxford University Press, World's Classics edition (1935), p. 217</ref> Warren's principle of the "sovereignty of the individual" was later taken up by Mill and Herbert Spencer.<ref>Harvey Wish. Stephen Pearl Andrews, American Pioneer Sociologist. Social Forces, Vol. 19, No. 4. (May, 1941), p. 481</ref>

Warren's individualistic philosophy arose out of his rejection of Robert Owen's cooperative movement, of which he was an early participant, witnessing in person the failure of Owen's New Harmony commune. Of it, he wrote: "It seemed that the difference of opinion, tastes and purposes increased just in proportion to the demand for conformity […] It appeared that it was nature's own inherent law of diversity that had conquered us […] our 'united interests' were directly at war with the individualities of persons and circumstances and the instinct of self-preservation". According to Warren, there should be abolutely no community of property; all property should be individualized, and "those who advocated any type of communism with connected property, interests, and responsibilities were doomed to failure because of the individuality of the persons involved in such as experiment."<ref>Butler, Ann Caldwell. Josiah Warren and the Sovereignty of the Individual. The Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. IV, No. 4 (Fall 1980)</ref> Warren is notable for expounding the idea of "sovereignty of the individual". In his Manifesto Warren states:

"the forming of societies or any other artificial combinations IS the first, greatest, and most fatal mistake ever committed by legislators and by reformers. That all these combinations require the surrender of the natural sovereignty of the INDIVIDUAL over her or his person, time, property and responsibilities, to the government of the combination. That this tends to prostrate the individual-To reduce him to a mere piece of a machine ; involving others in responsibility for his acts, and being involved in responsibilities for the acts and sentiments of his associates ; he lives & acts, without proper control over his own affairs, without certainty as to the results of his actions, and almost without brains that he dares to use on his own account ; and consequently never realizes the great objects for which society is professedly formed."

Joseph L. Blau writes: Warren's economic theory was by no means a rejection of the "classical" theory of capitalism: if anything, it was an extreme insistence upon the most individualistic features of capitalist economies, repudiating the residual coercive political actions of the state that still survive in Adam Smith's theory while attempting (even as Smith himself) to eliminate the coercive economic activities of "monopolies."<ref>Joseph L. Blaue. Unfettered Freedom. Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society, Vol. 7, No. 4. (Fall 1971), pp. 247</ref>

Ethics of Pricing

Warren termed the phrase "Cost the limit of price," with "cost" here referring not to monetary price paid but the labor one exerted to produce an item.<ref>Warren says in Equitiable Commerce, "A watch has a cost and a value. The COST consists of the amount of labor bestowed on the mineral or natural wealth, in converting it into metals..."</ref> This understanding of cost is congruent with that of the classical economist Adam Smith who said "The real price of every thing, what every thing really costs to the man who wants to acquire it, is the toil and trouble of acquiring it," though Warren reached different conclusions. He believed that goods and services should trade according to how much labor was exerted to produce them and bring them to market, instead of according to how individuals believed them to be subjectively worth. To charge more labor for something that entailed less labor was "cannibalism," according to him.<ref>In Equitable Commerce, Warren writes, "If a priest is required to get a soul out of purgatory, he sets his price according to the value which the relatives set upon his prayers, instead of their cost to the priest. This, again, is cannibalism. The same amount of labor equally disagreeable, with equal wear and tear, performed by his customers, would be a just remuneration</ref> Moreover, he believed that trading according to "cost the limit of price" would promote increasing efficiency in an economy, as he explains in Equitable Commerce:

If cost is made the limit of price, every one becomes interested in reducing COST, by bringing in all the economies, all the facilities to their aid. But, on the contrary, if cost does not govern the price, but every thing is priced at what it will bring, there are no such co-operating interests.

If I am to have my supply of flour at cost, then, any facility I can afford to the wheat grower, reduces the cost to me, and it does the same for all who have any portion of the wheat, I am promoting all their interests while pursuing my own... Now if the wheat were NOT TO BE SOLD TO us AT COST, but at "whatever it would bring" according to our necessities, then none of us would have any interest in affording facilities, repairing breaches, nor in any other way co-operating with the producer of it. The same, motive would act in the production, preservation, and use of every thing." (p. 77-78)

He put his theories to the test by establishing an experimental "labor for labor store" called the Cincinnati Time Store where trade was facilitated by notes backed by a promise to perform labor. The store proved successful and operated for three years after which it was closed so that Warren could pursue establishing colonies based on mutualism. These included "Utopia" and "Modern Times." Warren said that Stephen Pearl Andrews' The Science of Society, published in 1852, was the most lucid and complete exposition of Warren's own theories.<ref>Charles A. Madison. Anarchism in the United States. Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 6, No. 1. (Jan., 1945), pp. 53</ref>


<references />