The First American Anarchist (C. L. Swartz)

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Clarence L. Swartz. "The First American Anarchist," Liberty, 15, 2 (April, 1906), 50-57.

C. L. S., "The First American Anarchist," Liberty, 15, 2 (April, 1906), 50-57.


William Bailie's "Josiah Warren" is the first and an admirable attempt to meet what has been, in the real sense of the term, a "long-felt want." With the exception of Warren's own writings, all too few and for some time practically out of print, and Stephen Pearl Andrews's exposition of Warren's ideas in the "Science of Society," there has been no direct elucidation of the principles which Warren discovered and enunciated other than the active propaganda carried on by Liberty and its auxiliary publications. The time was therefore extremely ripe for just such a work as Mr. Bailie has undertaken to produce, and in which production he has in a large measure succeeded. Wherein he has failed to take advantage of his rare opportunities I shall later point out.

We are taken, in the first chapter, to Warren's early life, which in many ways was the most remarkable part of this most remarkable man's life. It has not often occurred, in the history of the world, that an ardent social reformer has been at the same time an inventive genius of the highest order; yet it is no exaggeration to say that Josiah Warren was such an one. Whenever he discovered a human need, he apparently set to work to supply it, and his inventions covered in their scope a list that ranges from illumination to a new system of musical notation. There was seemingly no problem in industrial as well as social activities and necessities whose solution he did not attempt and, in some way, accomplish. The world will never know to what extent he benefited it, for he frequently made no effort to protect his inventions by patent and from one of the greatest of them—that of the cylinder press printing paper from a roll—he got absolutely nothing, some large manufacturers many years later amassing great wealth from the adoption of his idea. Mr. Bailie has now put the world in a position to find out something about this rare character, who devoted a wonderfully fruitful life to its service.

It is quite evident that the writing of this book has been, for Mr. Bailie, a work of love. His style is lucid and entertaining, and he makes of Warren's interesting life a story still more interesting in the charming way in which he tells it,—a way that is impressive in the fulness of his sympathy for his subject. He tells us how Warren joined forces with Owen at New Harmony, and then discovered the failure of majority rule to solve such social problems as were involved in that attempt at colonizing reformers. He soon realized that there was no personal liberty or individual responsibility in the colony, and therefore left it. Our biographer next tells us of Warren's famous "time stores" and of their success. Warren was the originator of the idea of manual training schools, and his views of education were in other respects a half a century in advance of the times. An especially interesting feature of the book is a facsimile of the labor note issued by Warren and used by him in connection with his time store. An extended description of the village of Modern Times and of Warren's life there is given; a chapter is devoted to Warren's inventions in printing, one to the dosing years of the pioneer Anarchist, and then one is devoted to Warren's philosophy. The book closes with an appendix, which consists of a letter written by Warren (said to be his last published writing) to a friend, which friend was E. H. Heywood. Mr. Bailie does not give Mr. Heywood's name, although it has long been a matter of public knowledge that he was the person to whom it was written.

On page 23 a fact is disclosed which recent events have made doubly interesting. While Warren was living in Cincinnati, he obtained from Nicholas Longworth a ninety-nine-year lease on a large tract of laud that now comprises the central portion of the business part of that city. Later Warren reprehended so fully the holding of land for speculative purposes that he voluntarily relinquished his holdings, which thus reverted to Mr. Longworth without any compensation being demanded from the latter by Warren. Thus Alice Roosevelt's husband, a descendant of the Nicholas Longworth mentioned, was made a rich man through the scrupulous honesty and magnanimity of the pioneer of those Anarchists whom her father so roundly abused in his message to congress I

Another indication of Mr. Bailie's great sympathy for his subject is his neglect to point out that, not only in his later life, but almost from the beginning of modern Spiritualism, Warren was a believer in it. This may be a venial sin, but it is clear that a biographer's fidelity to his subject should prevent him from exercising too great consideration for the results of a candid exposition of his subject's character and beliefs.

It is noteworthy, too, that Mr. Bailie has neglected to make any mention of Lysander Spooner's name in connection with Warren, although his motive in this case is not so clear. Spooner's political propagandism always closely paralleled Warren's, and, during the last months of Warren's life, at any rate, he, Linton, and Spooner were a notable trio frequently together.

A most astonishing fault in this volume, however, is Mr. Bailie's failure to mention the fact that Sidney H. Morse, the sculptor, was, during the last two years of Warren's life, his most active propagandist. Furthermore, Morse's efforts were so great that they did not fail of appreciation by Warren, and the latter showed his full recognition of their value by making Morse his literary executor. Mr. Bailie's biography would certainly have been the place to record these facts, as well as the further incident that Warren, at the time of designating Morse as his literary executor, stipulated that, at the latter's death, the literary effects should be passed on to Benj. R. Tucker.

I have already mentioned Mr. Bailie's apparent sympathy for his subject; and certainly the greater part of this volume, as well as Mr. Bailie's contributions to Liberty, would proclaim him a sincere partisan of Warren. This makes all the more imcomprehensible the fact that, on page 82, he apparently gives away Warren's whole case. To quote:

How far they [Warren's principles] will inspire the individual to undertake and carry out functions with which society in its collective capacity alone can adequately deal, remains a speculative question. It may well be doubted, for example, whether Warren's teaching would inspire an individual or group to plan and carry out so far-reaching a public enterprise as the Metropolitan Park System of Massachusetts. Here we have a commission with adequate powers and resources devising and executing comprehensive schemes, requiring for their completion many years. Ta this instance, the community reaps beneficial results of a lasting character, despite the drawbacks now incident to public undertakings supported by compulsory taxation.

In this we seem to have Mr. Bailie as a special pleader for State Socialism, and scarcely to be recognized as the same writer who, two pages previously, penned the following lines:

Even Socialists, in proclaiming the doctrine of the Social Organism, insist on subordinating the individual to the aggregation we term society, unmindful that society exists and is maintained for the good of the individuals composing it, rather than that the Individuals exist for the benefit of society. For, unless society subserve the welfare of its members individually, what valid reason remains for its continued existence?

In still greater contrast to the first quotation are the following extracts from pages 103, 104, and 105. Here we have the real Anarchist speaking:

Its [the State's] function can be carried out with greater efficiency and certainty by a system of free association, a kind of protective Insurance. Voluntary organization has accomplished even more delicate and difficult tasks in the social economy.

But, if the arbitrary authority of government can be dispensed with, the numerous and ever-growing functions it baa assumed, ostensibly for the good of the community, can equally well be taken away and the like kind of service be performed by voluntary agency.

There is no service undertaken by government that could not be more efficiently and wore economically performed by associated or individual effort springing up naturally to meet the needs of society.

It will be generally considered, I think, by those who read his book and who are acquainted with Mr. Bailie's other writings, that his lapse into advocacy of collectivism was but momentary and inadvertent, and that, after all, his implied criticism of Warren's attitude toward government was not intentional. Let us at least give him the benefit of the doubt.

In describing the life-work of a public character, such as Warren certainly was, the account of what he accomplished during his life is not complete without some enumeration of the things that have resulted from his work, thus demonstrating its viability and the soundness of the principles upon which it was based. It is true that, in his introductory chapter entitled "The Anarchist Spirit," Mr. Bailie has given a survey of all the Anarchistic tendencies of the past, and shows that there have been other forces at work upon lines similar to those of Warren's efforts; but in this chapter Mr. Bailie has written in a general way only, and has not called attention to what is practically the continuation of Warren's work. In thus failing to point out the manner in which Warren's life-work has been carried on since his death, and to describe in some detail the agencies so engaged, a serious injustice to Warren has been done. There is material enough in the literary enterprises that have been engendered by Warren's ideas for at least a brief additional chapter in Mr. Bailie's book, and many Anarchists are going to miss it. Moreover, no greater value could be given to a biography of a reformer, especially in Ms own eyes were he living, than by adding to it what had been accomplished by the forces that were set in motion by his work. In fact, the results of his work are actually a part of it, and should be so taken into account.

The book is nicely printed and bound (coming from the press of Small, Maynard & Co., Boston), except for a few typographical errors which have crept in, none of which, however, are likely to confuse the reader, unless it be one on page 53, sixth line from the bottom, where the word should be "land."

I have pointed out these minor defects simply because they are not likely to be noticed elsewhere. They are really negligible, however, in comparison with the great service to Anarchism which the book renders by its excellence.

C. L. S.