Introduction of The Practical Anarchist: Writings of Josiah Warren
by Crispin Sartwell
forthcoming from Fordham University Press


     The early and mid-nineteenth century in America produced a bewildering variety of individualists, both in the sense of people who advocated the primacy of the human individual politically and of the particular thing metaphysically, and in the sense of seriously idiosyncratic persons who followed their own odd genius and ended up changing the world or leaving it entirely indifferent. It was, in many ways, a religious revival, but it soon sacrificed God on the altar of non-conformity. It produced undoubted geniuses of the caliber of Emerson, Fuller, Thoreau, Melville, Whitman, Hawthorne. It produced social reformers as pure and intense as any that the world has known - such as William Lloyd Garrison, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Captain John Brown. And it produced utopians who thought they could found a new social order - a transformed species - people like Adin Ballou, John Humphrey Noyes, Bronson Alcott, and Josiah Warren.

     Like almost all of these astonishing and exasperating people, Josiah Warren originated in New England. Like Garrison (and Ben Franklin, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, and Albert Parsons) he was printer. Like John Brown he was a revolutionist, though Brown was violent, Warren by his own declaration peaceful. Like Emerson and Whitman, he sang or in his case lectured about free individuality and connected it to an understanding of the nature of the universe. Like Thoreau he loved simplicity and skill, and displayed them prodigiously as qualities of character and thought throughout his life. And like Ballou - and all these people at one time or another - he loathed the state and took steps to try to work out a life without it.

     You could think of Warren as an Emersonian avatar, someone who lived what "The American Scholar," "Self-Reliance," "Nature," and even "Fate" taught, even as those fundamental statements of the American character were written. He practiced wilderness self-sufficiency, anti-capitalist economy, radical democracy that entailed extreme decentralization of decision-making, and a metaphysics of particulars. In short, his philosophy is what is called in American literary history "transcendentalism," and it as early as Emerson. But unlike Emerson, he was devoted not to stating this philosophy beautifully, but to realizing it practically.

    Josiah Warren was both a genius and a crank of nearly the first order. Warren has often been called the first American anarchist, though he called himself a "Democrat." And though I am certain he wasn't the first American anarchist (since every state breeds skeptics, and since radical Protestants of all sorts had vowed to live outside the state, or against it, in the previous two centuries), it is not an entirely inapt characterization. In the usual histories of anarchist thinking only William Godwin is earlier, and Warren's Peaceful Revolutionist (of 1833) has plausibly been called the first anarchist periodical. Through Stephen Pearl Andrews and Benjamin Tucker - also extremely idiosyncratic thinkers - Warren became known as the founder of "individualist" anarchism. Though "first American anarchist" is an appropriate tribute to his importance on a particular radical wing, it would be more accurate to say that he was the first American anarchist to publish his views whose anarchism was not primarily religious.[i]

      He was also - until now, I believe - well-nigh unreadable. He himself never regarded his written work (but rather his practical experiments in living) as his most important work, and his prose is undoubtedly the prose of a man who developed a new and less expensive and time-consuming process for manufacturing his own type and printing his own books, pamphlets, and periodicals. Warren's is some of the most typographically perverse writing produced before surrealist poetry. For example, he often uses several sizes of small caps for different degrees of emphasis, tossing in a half dozen exclamation marks for effect. I informally calculate that among his works about a third of the sentences end in at least one exclamation point; in his notebooks the percentage is far higher. He introduced marginal indexing systems and tables of reference so that one could follow a single theme through a book, or read the book in different thematic orders, a kind of hyperlink typesetting that yields perverse organizations worthy of a Spinoza. In his handwritten journals he used a system of underlinings meant to add absurd shades and degrees and intensities of emphasis, building to a bathetic crescendo of hyperbole. Bracing and fundamentally original ideas are studded with mere enthusing, as in this typical sentence from his fundamental book Equitable Commerce: "Thus does simple EQUITY outstrip the sagacity and genius of man, and work out for him the great problem of SOCIETY, WITHOUT THE DESTRUCTION OF LIBERTY!"[ii] Even as American anarchists appealed to him as their founder and to his ideas as their solution, he was something of an embarrassment. The texts in this volume are edited to remove emphasis and excise redundancies expressions of mere enthusiasm. I hope that at least some of the texts can be scanned and placed online, so that scholars may compare the edited to the original versions.

     At any rate, one thing we could say about all the American literary and political figures mentioned above. They may or may not have been smarter or better human beings than Josiah Warren. They may or may not prove to be greater benefactors of mankind. But they were undoubtedly better prose stylists.

     Why, then, revive the sage of . . . Utopia, Ohio? My own primary interest in Warren is not as an historical phenomenon but as someone who developed and tried to put into concrete operation practical plans to realize a complex society in which unity does not rest on coercion. That is, I think of Warren as our most practical anarchist. Furthermore, however, I believe his political philosophy derives from a set of profound insights which were astonishing and perverse when they were articulated and which are perhaps even more astonishing and perverse today. They run against the stream of modernity and post-modernity in physical science and social science and ethics - in short in every area of human thought and endeavor - but they are simultaneously entailed by these developments, are their other. For those reasons I have striven to produce readable texts of Warren's most important works.


I. Life in Brief and Leading Ideas

    Moncure Conway, describing Josiah Warren around age 60, wrote: "He was a short, thick-set man about fifty years of age, with a bright, restless blue eye, and somewhat restless, too, in his movements. His forehead was large, descending to a good full brow; his lower face, especially the mouth, was not of equal strength, but indicated a mild enthusiasm. He was fluent, eager, and entirely absorbed in his social ideas."[iii]

      For someone who dedicated much of his life to writing and to publishing what he wrote, Josiah Warren revealed surprisingly little about himself. He was born in 1798 in Boston and by his early twenties had moved to Cincinnati, married (he and his wife Caroline eventually had a son, George), and set up shop as a performer and teacher of music. An inveterate tinkerer, he invented a lamp that burned lard, as opposed to the more expensive tallow, which he patented in 1821. In the mid-1820s, Warren established a concern to manufacture his invention. Inspired by hearing a lecture by Robert Owen - the great Scottish industrialist and utopian projector - Warren and his family removed to the socialist community of New Harmony, Indiana, where he served as the band leader. Returning to Cincinnati after the failure of the initial New Harmony experiment in 1827, Warren established the first of his Time Stores, which gave rise to a small cooperative economy, illustrated the labor theory of value, and put into the circulation the first version of Warren's currency: the labor note. In 1835, he established the first of his "trial villages" in Tuscarawas County, Ohio, which was followed by experiments at Utopia, Ohio, commencing in 1847, and the wild anarchist free-love paradise or hell of Modern Times, on Long Island, in 1851. The priority in all cases was to make it possible for people with no means to build homes, and the communities were successful in that regard. In 1833, he published what is often termed the first anarchist periodical, The Peaceful Revolutionist: the first of a number of periodicals and pamphlet series. Throughout his life, small-scale publishing ventures were conjoined with dramatic innovations in type production, typesetting, and printing, including what was perhaps the world's first continuous-feed press, which he perfected in the 1820s and 30s. In 1844 he published the first version of his new "mathematical" system of musical notation. He moved to Modern Times in the 1850s, then to the Boston area by the 1860s, and was active in the nascent American labor movement of that era, as well as in a number of cooperative enterprises for ameliorating poverty.  He died in 1874. [iv] For more details, consult the timeline of his life (Appendix A).


    Warren throughout his adult life thought of his philosophy as easily captured in a few simple principles. He listed them in various enumerations: here I give them in four: individualism; self-sovereignty; the cost limit of price; and the labor note as a circulating medium.


(1) Individualism, as an ontology and as a science: as a statement of what there is and of the principle for finding out what there is, namely by ever-finer appreciation of the specificities of every event, thing, or person.

     Warren is one of the most extreme of American individualists, a group that would include Emerson, Thoreau, Garrison, Lysander Spooner, and many great American reformers of the period, including feminists and abolitionists. Though individualism would now be associated primarily with the right, it was the consensus position of radical American reformers of the first three quarters of the nineteenth century. It is a political position, or entails political positions, but it is also a metaphysics and an epistemology, systematically developed by the obscure American genius Alexander Bryan Johnson (of whom, more later), for example, and unsystematically by a great wave of American radicals.

    First, let us consider individualism as a metaphysical and epistemological system. The study of anything, as understood since the earliest Greeks, is the process of generalizing from particulars. That's the origin of the pre-Socratic cosmologies of Thales or Democritus; it's the essence of Platonism, where generalities are the only truths, to say nothing of Augustine or Plotinus. Aristotle qualified but did not abandon this approach to disciplinary taxonomies and also, hence, to the actual nature of things, in his physics, logic, metaphysics, ethics, poetics, politics. Medieval Islamic and scholastic philosophy displays the Aristotelian negotiation between the purity of ideas and the particularities of phenomena.  Science, in its initial bloom at the hands of Bacon, for example, and certainly through the "scientistic" late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, is sometimes thought of as a refinement of everyday induction: one makes a series of observations and draws generalizations from them. Science in this sense, we might say, is the art of generalization, the art of battening on to the shared qualities of varied phenomena, and capturing these shared qualities in principles or laws. Newtonian physics is a good example, of course, but perhaps an even clearer one - and one closer to Warren's spirit and moment - is Darwin's theory of natural selection. Devising and refining and defending the theory required countless observations of particular organisms in relation to the particularities of their environments. But its value became manifest at the moment that from these particularities a generalization emerged that encompassed and accounted for them. This generalization, in turn, could be used to understand and potentially control further particulars. The particular phenomena, we might say, were instrumental in the process of generalization, and were expunged into it, comprehended by it, grasped and turned to useful work within it.

    Warren formulates the exquisite opposite principle, which he himself called the first principle or the subject-matter of all his work: "The Study of Individuality, or the practice of mentally discriminating, dividing, separating, or disconnecting persons, things, and events, according to their individual peculiarities" (Equitable Commerce, see below p.   ).

     In the rhetoric of modern science and in the atmosphere of British empiricism in which even a provincial cousin like Warren was steeped, the world was being de-mystified, principles yielding to observations. This tradition emerged from the revival of republicanism and skepticism and a rapidly improving technology. Nevertheless, the goal of the project was always to create an adequate taxonomy of nature (the primary project of 18th-century science, as in Linnaeus). To range it under categories was to comprehend its laws, which opened the globe to navigation using ships and lenses, and created prosperity: Adam Smith's economics is a manifesto of this idea.

    The idea that science proceeds by generalization or by the abstraction of individuals into categories, is impoverished, because science thus conceived in a Linnaeus way fundamentally involves - or we may redescribe the same process by saying that it involves - unprecedented attention to the individual object and an attempt to account for the bewildering array of experience through a multiplication of specific categories, by an increased attentiveness to specificities. In Equitable Commerce, Warren argues that if you want to organize your correspondence or a box of tools, you individualize and separate them. But of course you also conflate them into categories; indeed the two processes are complementary or inseparable. It is Warren's task to emphasize what we might call the subaltern moment in this dialectic

    In application to human beings, Warren's particularism takes the form of an affirmation of the irreducibility of subjectivity and a critique of language, in particular written language. For Warren, the problem at the heart of a political order is that it necessarily de-individualizes its subjects, treating them en masse or in classes. And the worst imaginable approach would be to subject human beings to laws or constitutions, which are inevitably interpreted differently by each person, and by the same person at different times. To freeze a dynamic social order into a document is mere folly: you simply now launch into the interminable and in principle insoluble process of interpretation. Words are the tools of persons, that is, rather than persons the tools of words, and that cannot be changed until human subjectivity can be eradicated. The eradication of subjectivity - the dream or nightmare of a Rousseau, a Hegel, and a Marx - would be the eradication of persons and the world they experience. Or: subjectivity is a dimension of the massed specificities of each person, a human aspect of the pluralism and dynamism of the universe, its existence as an array of irreducible particulars. Indeed the political movement of modernity, which depends in almost any of its formulas on some system of combining interests and identities, is - according to Warren - simply a fantasy and a formula for interminable conflict: people clash when their interests are the same, not when they are carefully distinguished, and conflict can be minimized by extricating people from one another, not by rolling them up in ever-larger human bales.

      For Warren, a last move remains in the history of science considered as a program: total emigration into specificity, in which the value and character of each incomparable object, event, and person becomes manifest. It is a hyper-nominalist fantasy, and potentially also re-mystifies experience. In the Western tradition it has antecedents in Heraclitean flux, Cynicism, medieval nominalism, and Scottish common-sense philosophy. And surely this is also an idea scouted in Emerson, Nietzsche, and Heidegger, though in each case other than Warren's that is not where the thinker leaves off. Particularism of this variety can look either like anti-scientism or the triumph of scientism over the Western tradition that returns us to the brute truth of reality, as the tradition rips itself apart or shows, by its own epistemic standards, its own untruth. The truth lodges in particulars, not in principles. Every abstraction from the world is . . . an abstraction from the world, a digression or diversion from it, and a devaluation of it. For millennia, we have been bundling things together to try to comprehend them; now the point is to appreciate their strangenesses, their excesses to categorization. Individualism is an attempt to re-make the world by affirming it.

     Indeed Warren, a la Saussure, treats symbol systems, including his own musical notation, as systems of differences, and points out that signs only mean insofar as they are syntactically distinct and separated from one another spatially or temporally. The world is an indefinitely large plethora of particulars, and so are the representational systems by which we show it forth or grasp it.

      The critique itself, of course, is self-refuting. As soon as Warren starts founding disciplines and capturing in a term ("individuality") the essence of the universe, or ("self-sovereignty") the basis of all justice and social arrangements, he is doing what the discipline he invented demands he not do. But his discipline demands that he do it. At any rate, Warren is located at the heart of this conceptual tornado, under the tsunami's curl we might say. No one has flatly stated what he believed to be the truth more comprehensively in a few sentences and no one has inveighed more extremely against drawing any generalizations from experience. For precisely these reasons, he is both an extreme and emblematic figure, as far into a certain dilemma as the Western tradition has ever gone.


    Two broad strands of religious/political individualism emerged from the Protestant Reformation. Both of them took with some literalness Luther's call for a "priesthood of all believers," a basic statement of religious individualism most emblematically expressed in America in Quakerism. Each person was placed by Luther in charge of his or even her own relationship with God; there were to be no intercessors, none of Catholicism's layers of beings between the peasant and the Lord (though to some extent Luther thought that scripture performed this function, a view Warren would utterly oppose). As Reformation Europe tried to throw off clerical institutions and remake political institutions, it focused on the individual believer, and assigned to her the task of becoming apparent before God, as the Lutheran lay preacher and Warren contemporary Kierkegaard, put it. Like many individualists, Warren almost ritually invoked Luther, though Warren was not a Christian: "We want a Luther in the political sphere, and another in the financial sphere, another in the commercial, another in the educational sphere, to rouse the people to use their own experience" (True Civilization).

     And it is worth mentioning that the Reformation's aesthetic was minimalist and utilitarian. It held that a Catholic aesthetic of teeming imagery and encrusted decoration was a form of idolatry. Each more radical sect simplified further the principles of design. The aesthetic of Warren's system is extremely clear and simple and consistent from the 1820s to the 1870s: a Shaker chair of a philosophy, and thus opposed temperamentally to, let us say, Hegel, or even Emerson. Though Luther aligned himself with the secular state in order to ward off the Catholic Church, the political implications of his individualism became apparent quickly in a variety of radical movements, many of which recognized no authority over the individual but God: that is, no human authority. This was important in the development of modern democratic political theory, and it is in my view the precursor of all the modern forms of anarchism.

     One form of individualism that emerged from the Reformation arose among the educated classes, especially in England, where it is called "the liberal tradition." We see it in Hobbes's notion that people can only be put out of a state of nature by their own consent. This becomes, with an admixture of academic Thomism, the notion of natural rights, and of government instituted by contractors or independent agents in something appearing similar to a business transaction. The tradition is of course associated with democracy (as we would now put it) as a political system, above all with the names of Locke and Madison. And it is associated with capitalism as an economic system, the classic statements being in Smith and Ricardo. It eventuates in British utilitarianism, in Bentham and Mill (an admirer of Warren). It is empirical, this-worldly. It emphasizes inalienable individual political and (above all) economic rights. By the time of its maturity in Hume or Gibbon, it has lost even the veneer of theology (in Locke God is still close at hand), and it leads as well to what are called the social sciences, in Comte, Spencer, or Mead. It seeks limitations on government power without an actual descent into anarchy. Its real center is an elitist but civic-minded republicanism of a sort compatible with a Protestant monarchy or a representative republic.

    The other strand was an individualism not of scholars and gentlemen but of half-mad enthusiasts or even fanatics. Consider, at the dawn of the Reformation, the radical peasant movements of the German Reformation, for example the spread of radical Anabaptism, fairly quickly extended into North America. These movements recognized no authority over the individual, either religious or temporal, because they (the movements) asserted the unconditional obligation each person was under to obey the commands of God, as God was manifest in the life and mind of that person, though they also practiced various forms of social discipline. We might mention radical Protestant dissenters in England, including religious anarchists such as the Diggers and, more mildly, the Quakers and their ilk. The earliest expression of this attitude of "antinomianism" on the American continent is the movement of Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson to secede (or court expulsion) from Plymouth colony and establish communities of conscience. They did not conceive their activities as the effusion of reason and science, but as the direct inspiration of God, His intervention into every aspect of life. It was an individualism among persons for the sake of the union with God: individualism as the abandonment of individuality. Its mood was not genteel or scholarly or commercial, but ecstatic.

     This is the idea that swept the United States in a half-beautiful and half-farcical mood or movement in the early nineteenth century and it led from an enthusiasm for God to an enthusiasm for . . . enthusiasm, a hyper-provincial romanticism.

    At any rate, these two strands of individualism - the genteel and the ecstatic - conflict at times; they are as much temperaments as opinions, and though in some ways the opinions dovetail, the temperaments are fiercely incompatible. But we might think, for example, of the American Revolution as in part patrician liberal individualists leading ecstatic Protestant individualists. Certainly the average person in western Pennsylvania or Virginia was not reading Locke. But he was going to church. A good example of an authorship poised on this borderline is Lysander Spooner's. Never have liberal principles (natural rights) been given a clearer exposition, or a more extreme statement. Meanwhile, Spooner was founding an alternative postal service or plotting to liberate John Brown with a raid into Virginia. But as a scholar of English legal theory or of anything else, Warren is no match for Spooner. He is a pure product of the American utopian vision, drifting West to make the lands bloom.

   American ecstatic individualism states its own essence in Warren's work, where it is thoroughly secularized. Warren has none of Emerson and Thoreau's distance or erudition or poetry, none of Spooner's or Garrison's polemical mastery. But he delivers a central formulation of the very central motif of American reform, circa 1840, a political theory to match his pre-Thoreauvian ontology of particulars. And he states an extreme response to Western metaphysics even as he insists on a utopian vision.

     One of the most interesting aspects of Warren's authorship is that he is an individualist and an advocate of liberty with no sophisticated notion of natural rights. What he says is simply this: the individuality of each person is ineradicable and hence in the strictest sense literally inalienable. Then the question is: how are we to deal politically with this reality?


 (2) The Sovereignty of the Individual. Each person is to have absolute control over his own body and actions, at his own cost or responsibility.

    The ideal of self-sovereignty is central to the reform movements of early nineteenth century America, and it is a direct, if you like secularist development out of religious conviction of the sovereignty of God. True commitment to the authority of God, according to the radical Reformation, entailed that one could not come under any lesser authority. One must always be free to obey God's command in the face of any lesser command, whether of ruler, priest, or master. You don't find Locke talking about self-sovereignty, or even Jefferson: at their hearts these are republicans who are sensitive to the construction of civic identities, identifying oneself with the interests of the polis. But the radical Reformation tore even at this fairly mild bundling together of identities.

     What crystallizes the idea of self-sovereignty as the pure expression of American individualism is the abolitionist movement. This emerged, in simultaneity to the life of Josiah Warren, from an extreme ecstatic Protestantism to a fairly secular vision of universal freedom. The problem of slavery appeared to Garrison and Henry Clarke Wright and the GrimkÚ sisters as the overarching sin of their own nation and people. And the problem with slavery was not merely its cruelty, but the source of its cruelty: its claim to ownership in persons. This claim appeared to all these figures to be poised in precise opposition to the teachings of Jesus, above all the Sermon on the Mount. Ownership of other people was conceived not merely as an evil, but the essence and acme of all evil: the justification of every violation. To say that this has anarchist implications is overly mild: government, with its authority that rests on coercion and a policy of expropriation of property, its conscription and use of people as cannon fodder, its pretensions to oversee the values of its citizens is, in its essence and in its every act, incompatible with each person's ownership of herself.[v]

     The abolitionist movement was dominated by people who simply asserted (a typical statement in some ways is Thoreau's) that government cannot possibly impose actual duties on its citizens that they do not already possess, government or no. For one thing, the government of the United States, including as embodied in the Constitution, recognized the institution of slavery, as did various Christian denominations. Since dominant institutions plainly can permit or encourage the greatest of evils short of soul-murder, it was obvious that governments could actually be satanic; Garrison famously called the Constitution a "pact with the devil."

    The ancients characterized forms of government by forms of sovereignty. Aristotle sorts regimes according to whether one person, or a few persons, or all persons, rule. Once you have the insight that what freedom means is individual self-sovereignty - the rule, we may say, of each - it is evident that you cannot countenance human government. One might, as well, simply reach this conclusion directly from Christian pacifism of the kind embodied by Garrison and Adin Ballou, later taken up by Tolstoy and King: if physical violence is wrong, human government is illegitimate. One way to capture the pacifist intuition is that to physically attack someone is to tear away their self-ownership, literally to violate their humanity and hence one's own. Indeed, initially the American anarchist movement (as it was constituted by such figures as Warren, Ezra Heywood, and a young Ben Tucker and Voltairine de Cleyre) was explicitly pacifist.

    Eventually, the idea of self-sovereignty became something of a euphemism for license, and the residents of Modern Times in the 1850s were referred to with a bit of derision as "sovereigns." Under the tender ministrations of Stephen Pearl Andrews and Ezra Heywood, self-sovereignty came to be associated with extreme eccentricity and free love. But for Warren, self-sovereignty was precisely as much about responsibility as liberty. One problem with social combination is that it tends to obscure the lines of responsibility, and surely we should say that this foreswearing of responsibility and hence personhood has been brought to a peak of perfection by modern government. Warren was particularly concerned to emphasize individual productivity and responsibility - in short, self-reliance - early in his career, as in The Peaceful Revolutionist of 1833.


(3) Cost the Limit of Price. The price of something is to be fixed by (can only be fixed by) the cost of producing it, measured by the labor or pain expended in producing it, rather than by what a given person is prepared to pay for it.

     Of the figures usually described as "utopian," only Warren actually founded a place called "Utopia," a town in Ohio that still exists by the same name. It had some success, because Warren's vision of how social living might be arranged was realistic, grounded in the basic skills and trades it took to keep people alive; Warren always concentrated on the circulation of commodities, improvement of standards of living, technological development, and pride in individual ownership. And yet there was to be no accumulation of capital or profit because business would be conducted according to Warren's doctrine of equitable commerce. This taught that the price of goods was to be fixed not by what they would bring, but what they cost to produce.

     Obviously, this is radical conclusion in the face of Smith-style capitalist economics: it is boldly perverse. And it is, as well, strikingly simple as an economic law. According to Warren, the alternative - that demand fixes price - is, first of all, simply morally and politically repellant: it explicitly authorizes blackmail and coercion. He always returns to the same reductio ad absurdum of the law of supply and demand: what is the value of a glass of water to a man dying of thirst? Everything he has. It would be contrary to self-interest, the supposed essence of all human motivation, not to take it all. People at times do take everything that someone has, justifying themselves by the supposed law that price is fixed by demand and the corollary of debt at interest, which treats money itself as a commodity. Ought they to, and must they? At the macro-scale, one works on fleecing one or another segment of the economy, alternately underselling to destroy competitors and inflating prices to exploit local monopolies; prices are entirely capricious, speculation rests on price fluctuations and exacerbates them; economic crises result, and so on. This of course recalls Marx's analysis of capitalism, the common strand between Warren and Marx being provided by Robert Owen's socialism, discussed below.

    For Warren, the profit motive devours people and the economy. It is an indulgence in greed, not a natural condition of human beings. Speculation and lending at interest occur at every stage in the circulation of goods in a capitalist economy, and each person's greed provides a motivation and justification for each other person's. By the time a commodity arrives at use, it has layers of inflated and imaginary costs associated with it, and because one needs the wherewithal to obtain it, one must oneself seek to maximize profits from all activities. Great hordes of useless wealth co-exist with grinding poverty, homelessness, starvation, and terrible exploitation. In a rational system where price is fixed by cost or value measured in labor, a modest industriousness would be enough, according to Warren, to provide each person with what she needs and somewhat more.

    It is not entirely clear whether, for Warren, cost as what fixes price is a mere utopian ideal or an economic law. But it is not completely out of place as a description of, let us say, mature small-scale capitalist economies, even as a conclusion of the usual laissez-faire arguments. Warren actually proved time and time again by practical experiment that businesses conducted on this principle would in the long run and for the most part under-sell businesses that operated on the motive of maximum profit. This seems obviously true in the sense that in the long run prices cannot fall short of costs or eventually the concern fails, while a firm operating at a large profit will be undersold unless they can enforce a monopoly. It seems in a certain way likely that in a situation of free competition, prices must approach costs, eliminating profits.

     The idea that price must be fixed by cost shows us why Warren cannot be annexed to the greed-is-good crowd of libertarian egoists such as Ayn Rand, or to Smithian rational utility maximizers. When John Humphrey Noyes wrote his history of American utopian movements, he called them "American Socialisms." The word is of course impossibly vague (actually, both words are), but it is meant to encompass Christian anarcho-communism of the sort that Noyes taught at Oneida and Warren's equitable communities. Possibly it was coined by Robert Owen in his projects. Eventually 'socialism' just indicated plans for social improvement, and then was used in the sense of state projects for social amelioration and control of the economy. But Warren is one of the few thinkers ever to propose ownership, even of capital, without greed: a modified capitalism - deleting the profit motive - that could if necessary be based on a sober assessment of one's actual interests but could also be an inspiring ideal of a decent life of moderate ownership and doing useful work.

     Warren, as will already be evident, was an adherent of the labor theory of value, which was already something of a commonplace when he wrote. Vernon Parrington, discussing the theory as propounded in the mid-eighteenth century by Benjamin Franklin, gives the notion the following pedigree. "In his Treatise on Taxes, written in 1662, Sir William Petty . . . clearly elaborated the principle of labor-value; it was restated by Vauban in 1707, . . . by Hume in 1752, and later by the Physiocrats; and when Adam Smith wrote it was pretty widely known."[vi] One might remark that it is implied in Locke's account of property. Obviously it was an article of faith for Marx and later communism as well. Indeed, one supposes that it is an ancient insight, a kind of inevitable conclusion. As an exclusive account of why things actually have the value they do, it has its limitations. In Warren's version, however, the labor theory of value is, as it were, an ideal: he asserts that expenditure of time and of pain is the only rational and stable means of fixing price, that all other systems, in particular specie money, entail arbitrary fluctuation of price, speculation, usury, and poverty.

     His account was refined over the decades of his authorship. Initially he argued that all labor was of equal worth: that one hour of washerwomaning was worth one hour of lawyering. As he went on, he came to think that cost was equal to pain, and hence, for example, that the work of a washerwoman was worth substantially more than that of a lawyer, and far, far more than that of a musician (such as himself), whose labor was for the most part an actual pleasure.


 (4) The Labor Note as Circulating Medium. The only rational medium of exchange is a representation of a certain definite quantity of labor of a certain type, which is equivalent to a certain quantity of a commodity.

    This idea follows, according to Warren, from the labor theory of value, and was the basis of Warren's Time Stores in Cincinnati, New Harmony, Utopia, and Modern Times. He admitted the desirability, for commerce, of a circulating medium. However, Warren's account of monetary economics is radical in its attack on money, and beautifully clear as a theory of economic representation and circulation. He argues that money, in the then-current capitalist economy, is a commodity like anything else: its price is fixed by its value, or what it will bring. For precisely this reason, money - whether or not, for example, it is backed by gold - is unsuited to be a circulating medium: one can never fix the value of money from one moment to the next. Currency and credit, like corn in an irrational capitalist economy, are subject to sudden inflation because of speculation or limits on the supply and sudden deflation because of overproduction or people dumping hoarded supplies. A stable, rational circulating medium must be nothing but a representation of a certain amount of goods or labor: a sheer placeholder for things of intrinsic value. Goods are, in turn, resolvable into labor; the two are interchangeable.

     Various collections preserve labor notes from different eras of Warren's career, and most of them are proposed to be negotiable for a certain amount of labor of a certain type (seamstressing, for example), or good of a certain quantity (bushels of corn, for example). Warren had from his earliest experiments a strategy for weaning people from currency to labor notes. At the Time Stores he established, one would pay for goods usually in legal tender, repaying the store-keeper for his time in purchasing, stocking, weighing, selling, and so on, with a labor note, calculated by a large clock (hence "Time Store"). Eventually, if the cooperative became large enough, the labor notes of a variety of people would be desirable; goods could then be purchased with labor notes, or labor notes could be exchanged as people made their needs known to one another, posting them on a notice-board at the Time Store. Thus the Time Store would eventually mutate into a labor bank that would be the basis of a local co-operative economy. This would be of inestimable help to the poor and homeless, who have wealth in this context insofar as they dispose of their own labor, and indeed at Utopia and Modern Times people were able to build homes with almost no outlay of money, by exchanging their labor with one another. In other words, Warren regarded this approach as a solution to homelessness and poverty.

    In addition, this approach solves the problem that Warren came more and more to conceive as central to the nineteenth century: securing for labor, which produces all wealth, its just reward. For each person to be self-sovereign entails that each person controls her own labor. If labor is equitably exchanged along the lines explored at the Time Stores, each will receive the equivalent of her actual production. This is Warren's "socialism," his way of addressing emerging polarizations of class along the lines of ownership in labor, which many American radicals of the era regarded as a mode of ownership in persons, or a development of slavery: "wage-slavery."

    There are many possible objections to a labor note economy. For one thing, nothing apparently stops people from issuing an indefinite number of labor notes, then absconding or failing to make good when the labor is (or goods are) demanded. Furthermore, there could be speculation in labor notes: one might seek to monopolize an industry by buying up the notes of those who work in that industry, and so on. But Warren (especially as elaborated by Heywood in the essay "Hard Cash") saw that a credit system would evolve along with the labor-note economy, that people whose notes were not good would soon find themselves unable to have their notes accepted.[vii] Potential speculators, not having anything to begin with but their own notes, would be unable to amass wealth in that form. The economy could in essence be self-regulating, the only coordination being provided by a central clearinghouse of needs and abilities.

     Another objection might be that such a system is appropriate only to a small-scale economy: it is a craft or artisanal model of production and could not work on an industrial scale. On the contrary, the model is more plausible the larger the economy and the more specialized the tasks which people perform, because each such increase increases the likelihood that one will find in a labor exchange a person able to perform the exact task one requires. Warren was an advocate of division of labor, but also hoped that each person could learn several trades, and thus be able to gravitate toward the productive sectors of the economy. He evidently thought that seeking to cut labor costs as well as sheer irrepressible human ingenuity would continue to produce technological innovations.

   In the beginning, and under the influence of Owen, Warren believed that all labor should be valued at the same rate. As he went on, he came to believe that the value of labor varied not only with time expended but with the onerousness of the task, so that the tasks people were least happy to perform should be paid at the highest rate. That is, the labor note was a calculation of pain. This too could be left as it were to the free market in notes, as the notes of those able to perform the most painful tasks would be the least common, and no one would be able to perform such tasks for many hours at a clip. Thus, if anything, the class order would be inverted, and those engaged in purely artistic or intellectual tasks would pay a (small and reasonable) price for the pleasantness or absorbingness of their professions. 

    If Warren believed he had shown nothing else in the course of his "experiments," he certainly believed he had demonstrated the practicality of labor notes as a circulating medium, and their effectiveness at pulling people out of poverty and pulling class interests into coordination.


II. New Harmony and American Utopias

     Josiah Warren is a central figure in what is sometimes rather derisively termed the American "utopian" movement, the attempt to set up ideal communities, often on the edge of the frontier. Though relative to the total populations of Europe or the Americas the movement was small, the utopians showed something central about how American was conceived, particularly in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and in the first half of the nineteenth centuries: as, precisely, a "new world," a place to begin again without the  burdens of monarchy, rigid class structures, religious institutions, and irrational traditions. In short, a place of freedom and possibility. Many, including the transcendentalists, toyed with the idea that America could be the salvation of mankind.

    Warren's thought and projects fit only with difficulty into the idea of utopia. As this is usually set out, from Plato's Republic, to Thomas More, to Fourier, a utopia consists of a form of society designed - often to a quite absurd level of detail - a priori, and imposed on reality: an ideal set of institutions, often supposed to be eternally valid, an escape from history. Nothing could be further from Warren's thinking. He wanted to create the possibility of an open future, an unpredictable and uncontrolled development of human individuality. Where utopian projectors starting with Plato entertained the idea of creating an ideal species through eugenics and education and a set of universally valid institutions inculcating shared identities, Warren wanted to dissolve such identities in a solution of individual self-sovereignty. His educational experiments, for example, possibly under the influence of the great Swiss educational theorist Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (via Owen), emphasized - as we would expect - the nurturing of the independence and the conscience of individual children, not the inculcation of pre-conceived values. In this, Warren is strikingly connected to the work of Bronson Alcott, though again I know of no evidence of direct interchange.

    Before Owen's community at New Harmony, Indiana, the American ideal communities were religious: varieties of radical Protestantism, often including "primitive Christian communism," that is, community of property. We might mention in this regard Ephrata in Pennsylvania, the Shakers in a number of locations, and the "Rappites" or "Harmonists" who originally built Harmonie, Indiana on the banks of the Wabash River and sold it lock, stock, and barrel to Robert Owen in 1825, who re-named it New Harmony. The New Harmony experience was central to Warren's life and thought, and many of his ideas can be seen as attempts to understand and correct the failures of New Harmony, while retaining the energy and idealism that first drew him there.

    It is difficult to know whether to write the story of Robert Owen as an inspiring tale of uplift or as a comedy. He had made his fortune running a textile mill in Lanark, Scotland, and in the context of a successful business venture had introduced a number of reforms, including a shorter work day, a reduction in child labor, and educational projects based on Pestalozzi.[viii] People came from all over Europe and the United States to see New Lanark. Owen, however, quickly became a controversial figure due to his explicit atheism, perhaps one reason why he decided to try a socialistic venture in the New World. New Harmony was something of a disaster, and persisted as an attempt to realize his initial vision for about two years, with 30,000 acres and about 900 people.[ix]

    Owen must have been an extremely compelling speaker, because many people, including Josiah Warren, changed their lives entirely after hearing him. John Humphrey Noyes - the founder of Oneida and historian of American ideal communities - attributes Owen's communism to his contact with the Rappites; at any rate, it is clear that by the time of the New Harmony experiment, Owen was no longer content with benevolent capitalism of the sort he practiced at new Lanark. As idealists and others gathered in New Harmony, Owen promoted the project relentlessly. It is a measure of the seriousness with which he was taken that he addressed joint sessions of Congress and met President James Monroe, President-elect John Quincy Adams, as well as Thomas Jefferson. He proposed to make the whole of the United States into a system of "phalansteries" or square-shaped building-complexes surrounding courtyards, a style later advocated by Owen's inheritor in utopian socialism, Fourier.

    The Owenite trend or fad was based perhaps more on his personal charisma than on the soundness of his schemes, and as he promoted New Harmony here and there, his young son William and others tried to set up a community based on a vague set of suggestions, in contrast to the meticulous contracts establishing community of property that had been entered into by the Rappites. Property was to be held in common, but the terms under which resources were pooled led immediately to all sorts of disputes. One center of such disputes was the common store. People recorded credits for labor and debits for what they obtained at the store, a matter of constant bickering.

    Warren, then in his twenties, served as the leader of the band and a music teacher at the school, which, as Kenneth Rexroth points out, were "the community╣s only two successful institutions."[x] Observing the extreme difficulties surrounding the store, his sense of how this procedure could be improved led to his plans for the time stores, a much more practical approach to this particular set of problems. In particular, he believed that the whole project foundered on disputes originating in communal ownership of  property.

    One other feature of New Harmony left its inverted mark on Warren. The community was filled with dreamers, scientists, and poets inspired by Owen's vision. The founder's son, Robert Dale Owen, described the population as "that heterogeneous collection of radicals, enthusiastic devotees to principle, honest latitudinarians, and lazy theorists, with a sprinkling of unprincipled sharpers thrown in."[xi] Conspicuously lacking were farmers, mechanics, laborers, craftsmen, carpenters, blacksmiths, competent manufacturers. One of the many ways the community foundered was by a lack of practical know-how, obviously entirely essential to establish a working economy on a frontier. Though Warren eventually faced a similar situation at Modern Times - the eccentrics of which made New Harmony look conventional - he set himself to acquire a set of practical skills and recruit for them and inculcate them in the people he worked with.

    By 1826, people were abandoning the town, and schismatic movements and villages were springing up.  By early 1827, Owen was going so far as to sell property to the people occupying it, ending the communism that in fact was based on the ownership of the area by Owen, and beginning the chaotic transition of New Harmony to a more conventional American community.[xii] The failure is the origin of Warren's individualism and what we might term "anti-communism": he came to believe that people entered into conflict when their resources and interests were the same, not when they were distinguished. Above all, he turned against the basic idea of utopian socialism, in which an a priori scheme (embodied above all in the phalanstery) was imposed on a group of people. His vision of an ideal community shifted to the idea of creating circumstances in which each person might be free to make whatever experiments in living arrangements they saw fit.

    Though Owen, Fourier and others presented their schemes as "scientific," Warren held that they were just the opposite, in that they imposed a pre-existing plan rather than relying on experimentation: careful observation and continual adaptation. As William Wilson observes in his history of New Harmony, Owen, by 1826 "had reached a point in his life from which he would thereafter never retreat, a point where, for him, the truth was only what he wanted to believe and facts were of no importance."[xiii] And though Owen and Fourier presented their schemes as liberatory or a realization of democracy, Warren detected in their ideas an element of benevolent tyranny based on charismatic leadership. Such criticisms, putting it mildly, contained an element of truth. In such matters, Warren expresses a vision connecting radical democracy (or anarchism) with science and practical technology that originates in the connections of republicanism with science and technology in such figures as Franklin and Jefferson and would be taken up in modified form by thinkers such as John Dewey. But the element of radical individualism which Warren appropriated from the atmosphere of his moment distinguished his ideas from those of his predecessors and successors. One way into this was his observation that even if a utopian plan could be perfectly formulated - for example in a book or a constitution - each person would interpret the plan differently: that whatever your procedure, the individuality of the participants was ineradicable, a hard fact to which any scheme - even the best - must bend. Warren's biographer William Bailie quotes Warren from a quarter century later on his experience at New Harmony: "If the world could only assemble on these hills around and look down on us through all these experiences, what lessons they would learn! There would be no more French Revolutions, no more patent political governments, no more organizations, no more constitution-making, law-making, nor human contrivances for the foundation of society."[xiv] Indeed, two weeks after a constitution was adopted at New Harmony, its application was so chaotic that the citizens requested Robert Owen to assume a dictatorial power. One might also say that, in part, Warren's anti-charismatic style of leadership was formed in response to Owen. Charles Codman observed Warren at Modern Times: "Mr. J. Warren was a poor leader. He had no magnetic qualities so needful in persuasion or gaining converts. Also he was a timid man and hated to wrangle."[xv] Of course, this was Warren's actual personality, but it was also his principled approach to leadership. He didn't want to inspire converts; he wanted you to do what expressed your personality. It is, in short, in response to Owen's failure at New Harmony that Warren's basic approach to philosophy, reform, and his own personality were formulated.

    It is worth remarking again, however, also on one of the basic ideas that Warren retained from Owen. A remarkable feature of Warren's advocacy of individual liberty is that he takes it to follow from environmental determinism. Even more radically and, one might think, oddly for an extreme individualist, Warren takes a deflationary attitude to the human self; it has no core, but is an ever-changing bundle of experiences. That is precisely, in fact, wherein individuality consists: in the incomparability of the experiences of each of us, and the pressure on each of us of a unique set of uncontrollable circumstances.

     One correlate of this is that punishment for crime is wrong and ineffective. If one does not want people to commit some class of act, the environment which gives rise to it must be altered. Controlling people under threat, trying to erase their individuality according to some text or model, is worse than hopeless. Furthermore, enforcement or construction of uniformity is counter-productive: the only way to find out how circumstances affect persons is to allow them to experiment: the greatest possible flourishing of human variety and eccentricity is the only approach that respects the circumstances and hence the character of each individual, and it is the approach best suited to finding, by practical experiment, how best to live. In all these positions, Warren strikingly resembles his contemporary John Stuart Mill, who explicitly credits Warren with lending him the idea of self-sovereignty.

     Warren is notably reticent on matters of religion. It may be that, under the influence of Alexander Bryan Johnson, he believed that religious claims were literally senseless, or referred only to the emotional states of the speaker. Certainly, under the influence of Owen, he believed that religion had been a disaster for the social development of mankind. But he rarely addressed the matter explicitly, and in keeping with his basic philosophy he certainly thought of religious beliefs as an individual prerogative, and in that sense not a proper subject of social reform at all. Nevertheless, I think it's fairly certain from a few stray remarks - notably very early, in The Peaceful Revolutionist - that Warren was an atheist or at most a deist. In True Civilization he defines "the Divine" as whatever is not human, or as the natural, a fascinating and extraordinarily problematic assertion that of course emphasizes his connections to people such as Thoreau. At any rate, he never believed in the human soul, the kernel of inexplicable individual essence. Rather, he believed in the self as an ever-changing kaleidoscope of experiences, fragments of glass through which the world shone.

     One other figure connected to New Harmony must be mentioned: Fanny Wright, one of the boldest and most radical reformers of the period. Scottish by birth, she was associated with Owen's reforms, but was even more radical, and as she toured the United States, she urged religious skepticism, equality of the sexes and races, and much else besides. Anticipating the role of female lecturers in Garrisonian abolitionism, she was the first woman in America to lecture to audiences of mixed gender, which she did at New Harmony in 1828. She founded perhaps the most astonishing ideal community of the period: Nashoba, in Tennessee, a mixed-race community based to some extent on Owen's ideas, though Owen himself did not clearly advocate race or gender equity. At the same time, she advocated miscegenation as the cure to the race problem: approximately as provocative a position as could have formulated at that place and moment. With the founder's son Robert Dale Owen, Wright edited the New Harmony Gazette, which later mutated into the Free Enquirer, a publication remarkable for its constant representation of views hostile to those of the editors. This provided Warren with some of his sense of the power of the printed word and the importance of free expression that led to his printing inventions. Warren met Wright on several occasions that are documented, and a poem he wrote on the death her sister Camilla (see Appendix A) suggests that they were friends. That puts Warren's work in a somewhat different perspective as a direct result of radical British and American reform of the 1820s. That is earlier than Garrisonian abolitionism, but Warren persisted through that reform movement as well, and had some connection to most of the causes undertaken into the 1870s.

    Of Warren's Time Store, Fanny Wright wrote:


Unaided by money, unbacked by influence, and unseconded save by his own conviction of the value of the principle he had seized and the beneficial consequences of the practice he was prepared to explore, he succeeded in exhibiting to the understandings, and bringing home to the worldly interests of thousands the perfect facility of living in plenty with one third of the labor and without any of the anxiety inseparable from the existing monied exchange of the world.[xvi]


Warren, like Garrison, stands out for his advocacy of women's equality; and he treats the individuality of women in precisely the way he treats that of men. One of the advantages of being an individualist is that it will make you skeptical of racial and gender categories; Warren always argued that placing people into a few neat categories was fictional, that even words such as 'man' or 'woman' were ultimately too crude to apply to particular persons.[xvii]

     Shortly after the New Harmony period, both Warren and Wright were exposed to the work of a remarkable philosopher: Alexander Bryan Johnson, Warren's close contemporary, who emigrated from England as a teenager and set up shop in Utica, New York. (This intellectual affinity again suggests that Warren and Wright were in dialogue through the 1820s.) Johnson was a successful banker who wrote numerous works in philosophy, political commentary, and fiction, none of which seems to have made much of an impression on anyone at the time, or indeed since then. The one exception to the absence of reception, for reasons that remain a trifle obscure, occurred in Cincinnati in the late 1820s, where Johnson's Philosophy of Human Knowledge, or a Treatise on Language was reviewed ecstatically by Frances Wright and others. [xviii]

    Johnson's philosophy of language would have been a contribution to human thought had it been more widely read. It looks back to and elaborates the classical empiricists and common sense philosophers in one direction and strikingly anticipates logical positivism and pragmatism on the other. For Johnson, the meaning of a statement or theory is the means that would be used to prove or give evidence for it; a statement means the difference it would practically make in experience. He attacked language on grounds that might be termed radically nominalistic. Nature, he said, appeared only in particulars, whereas the words applied to these particulars were always general. That is, in every instance of a different thing to which a word refers or which falls into its extension, the same word is applied, but in each case the particular phenomenon is distinct. This leads philosophers and the rest of us into a massively fallacious interpretation of nature, in which it is viewed as a series of instantiations of universals. Rather, language should be adapted to the ever-more precise delineation of particulars. "Individuality is characteristic of nature. [L]anguage unites under one name, as identities, what is only partially identical. Individuality is no anomaly of nature. It is nature's regular production, and boundless riches. No two parcels of calomel possess the perfect identity which the sameness of their name implies. No two men possess the perfect identity which the sameness of their manhood implies; nor possesses any one man, at all times, and under all circumstances, the complete identity with which language invests his individuality."[xix]

     Johnson was a phenomenalist: he believed that the fundamental data of experience were what Hume termed "sense impressions" (Johnson calls them sights, sounds, feels, smells, and tastes) and that what we termed individual objects were composed of or identical with such impressions. Any term that could not be referred to a specific impression - someone's experience at some time - was asserted by Johnson to be without meaning: it was returned to nature as a pristine, blank sound. However, he did not follow this into a Berkeleyan idealism, but to a radical realism (which, to be fair, is one reading of Berkeley).


My hand is red, hair is often red, the moon is sometimes red, fire is red, and Indians are red. These objects possess a congruity of appearance that entitles them to the appellation of red; but the precise meaning of the word in each application is the sight itself which the object exhibits. Whether an object shall or not be called red is a question which relates to the propriety of phraseology, and with which nature has no concern; but the meaning of the word red in each application, is a question which relates solely to nature, and with which language has no concern: - at least, language possesses over it no control. (115)


This is a remarkable doctrine, taken by Johnson to be a direct result of his nominalism: it returns us to nature and, explicitly, to language as a mirror of nature, albeit a dark mirror. Language is serviceable and sensible insofar as it reflects nature in its massed specificities. A perfect language would have a different name for each phenomenon of nature, but such a thing is beyond our power to wield. We must keep speaking in generalities, but we must open ourselves to the specificities of reality: real knowledge would consist of a degeneralization or an ever-closer approximation to nature, which consists in nothing but unique particulars. Warren sought a politics that could thus respond to particularity, a nominalism of persons.

   Warren throughout his career also displayed an interest in notational systems and what we might call practical semantics, and his philosophy at its best is expressed in a notably precise style. He devised new systems of musical notation and stereotyping, and was followed along these lines by his follower Stephen Pearl Andrews, whose first works were by way of introducing Pitman's phonic shorthand to American audiences. The problem of reference and a critique of language are never far from Warren's mind. Warren absorbed Johnson's proto-pragmatism, his critique of language, his nominalism, and his celebration of individual things and moments as the reality underlying experience and underlying the description of experience. Indeed, Warren's life can in some ways be read as the attempt to live Johnson's anti-metaphysics, to make it into a social philosophy as well as a philosophy of language. If he defines himself initially in opposition to Owen, he also defines himself by alliance with Johnson.

    At any rate, immediately after the experience of New Harmony, Warren launched on his series of experiments: Time Stores (the first of which was established in May 1827 at Fifth and Elm Streets, Cincinnati), ideal communities, innovations in printing, all of them designed at once to reverse and to make good Owen's utopian vision. Noyes acutely observes that "the village of 'Modern Times,' where all forms of social organization were scouted as unscientific, was the electric negative of New Harmony."[xx] In the initial presentations of his thought, for example in the Peaceful Revolutionist, it is obvious that the dialogue in his head with Owen, as with Johnson, drove many of his ideas. He did not reject them all: he retained Owen's determinism, translating it into a variety of individualism: if people are what their circumstances make them, their differences are ineradicable. He retained Owen's religious skepticism. And he retained also the secularized millenialism, a tone of limitless optimism, the anticipation of a transfigured world. As a matter of personal style, we might speculate that Warren, in the face of Owen, rejected personal charisma as a basis of leadership, or indeed leadership in its entirety because of his enthusiasm for and then disappointment with Owen, his feeling that he and others had been seduced by Owen's passion. His own style of leadership was pointedly self-effacing. He did want followers of his compelling personality, or followers at all, but only people compelled by the power of his ideas and inventions, and by their own.


III. Transcendentalism and American Reform

    More widely, we must connect Warren's work with the mania of reform sweeping America - particularly in New England - during the three decades beginning around 1820. Emetic cures and spirit visitations, all the motley of apocalyptic cults, celibate saints, community-of-wives trigamists, primitive Christian communists, violent abolitionists, come-outers, hydropathists, absolute non-resistants, temperance fanatics, and so on, each with a vision from on high and a plan to redeem the world or abandon it completely: Adin Ballou and John Humphrey Noyes, Shakers and Mormons, mentally ill or divinely instructed. Some of these people were, in fact, cranks. Others were, in fact, saints, and Wlliam Lloyd Garrison and Nathaniel Peabody Rogers - beautiful souls by any standard - are as characteristic as anyone. Their ideas were entirely serious, though no doubt extreme: immediate abolition of slavery; absolute non-resistance; anarchism, on the grounds that the state consists fundamentally in violence; feminism (Garrison insisted that women act as full participants and leaders in the abolitionist movement); the inviolability of the human person. All of these emerged directly for Garrison from a reading of the Sermon on the Mount, and Garrison was in every sentence and every gesture a profoundly religious man. But though he was not a religious man, Warren agreed with every one of these positions.[xxi]

    On one level, Josiah Warren is about as level-headed and practical a man as it is possible even for a backwoods philosopher to be. At heart, he's a pragmatist in the early sense and professes no interest in theory even as he writes it. On another, he's a pure second revival millenarian, over the moon for the ecstasy at the end of history, just around the corner. In this, Warren was massively in keeping with the mood of both secular and religious society, of scholars and fanatics, geniuses and dolts, ascetics and libertines: it hovers over the era like a fog or a sun, depending on your view. The divergent Protestant sects of Europe awaited the apocalypse, and brought that expectation to North America. The Shakers anticipated the millennium, and John Humphrey Noyes said that it had already occurred. The Mormons taught a version of the rapture, and Owen and Fourier showed the way to a social paradise. Marx and Hegel predicted the inevitable, paradisiacal end of history. Emerson and Thoreau kept hinting that human beings were just about to get much, much better. The abolitionists, the transcendentalists, the spiritualists: none was immune to the mood.

    I'm not sure that such an atmosphere can be explained; certainly it cannot be explained in a neat sentence or two. We might think of the radical displacements or rapid economic and environmental changes of the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century, but one might say the same of practically any era. The typical millennial vision was at least provisionally optimistic, and participated in the optimistic implications of an apparently open continent or world: a penchant for starting over in a direction that would lead to perfection, or salvation, a renewal of or return to the garden that would bring this sorry tale to a close, the ecstasy at the end or beginning of history. Warren is as close to the radical Protestant sects in this matter of mood as he is to Owen, and the overflow of his typography is his ecstatic testimony, his shaking and quaking and speaking in tongues. Even late in his life he retains an optimism that arises from faith rather than reason, though his own mood is tempered, as is, by then, the mood of all the apocalyptic cults aside from those of Marx and Hegel.

     What is remarkable about several of these figures - certainly about Noyes, for example, and the Shakers (under the leadership of Frederick Evans, Warren's fellow veteran of New Harmony) - is their combination of extreme, eccentric faith with Yankee ingenuity and know-how. These were people with the ability to perform the practical tasks before them in an extremely effective manner. Indeed, Warren's paradise was above all a place where practical skills were inculcated and practiced and valued to their fullest. These were people liable to clear the land, survey it, build structures on it and furnish those structures, and then build institutions or anti-institutions (such as the Time Store) of remarkable practical value. This was also a problem in the Owenite communities: where skill was a form of prayer for the Shakers, the Rappites, and for Thoreau, the population of New Harmony was feckless.

    By the time American philosophy was transformed from transcendentalism to  pragmatism, the mood of American optimism has shifted from millenialist to meliorist, and meliorism would have been more than enough to fund Warren's experiments, and more in keeping with his experiences: small-scale, qualified successes, with a total transformation toward equity or self-sovereignty nowhere in sight. But even in the midst of his successes, he had to see that these were modest and equivocal, and that he did not exactly seem ever to represent the basic direction of his age. Yet his faith, like that of many of those around him, remains touching, and he retained it more truly than most in the face of war and industrialization. The perversity and quixoticism with which he pursued his vision made him occasionally the object of ridicule, but it also, as in Quixote, retained an underlying nobility or even sublimity even as it occasionally threatened to lose contact with reality. And what ultimately redeemed the experience of the people he worked with and for was the element of the practical that we see accompanying the American dream of that era: the concerted economic practicality of the Rappites or Mormons - or for that matter Ben Franklin - growing rich on the frontier; Thoreau's pencil-making and surveying; Warren the pointedly practical economist and inventor, improbably inventing a vision of redemption for mankind.

    In the run-up to the Civil War, and after that, many of the surviving enthusiasts lost their idealism and descended into decadence, rolling from fad to fad like Warren acquaintances Victoria Woodhull and Mary Gove Nichols. One might find oneself believing or at least trying to believe anything; precisely the implausibility of an idea became its compelling quality; individuality descended into mere eccentricity. But by the same token Warren's presence in reform organizations - such as the New England Labor Reform League - increased in the post-war years, no doubt because after the establishment of Modern Times, the equity community at the location of what is now Brentwood on Long Island, he lived in New York and Boston rather than on the edge of civilization.

    Indeed, it is not too much to say that in the last decade of his life, 1865 to 1874, he turned from trying to introduce small-scale models of social reform, and moved toward mass organizing, a stage in the emergence of a later American trade-unionism and radical agitation. His influence in the American labor and banking reform movements around 1870, in particular, was pervasive. Many of the post-war reformers - people such as William Batchelder Greene, Ezra Heywood, and Stephen Pearl Andrews - had been abolitionists, and each of them claimed Warren as a or the basic inspiration of their views. A young Benjamin Tucker emerged from this environment and ended up as the most eminent American individualist anarchist. These figures themselves were superseded by leaders influenced by European radicalism: Marx, Stirner, Bakunin, and their heirs. The Warren style of political activism - in particular, his individualism - became passÚ, or ceased to be an active movement, at latest by 1880.


    Emerson and Thoreau stand in a fascinating relation to the American reform tradition. For Americans, they were the most cosmopolitan of Harvard men, casually dropping into ancient Greek. Yet they emerge in the culture of religious and political enthusiasm and in many ways crystallize it, even as they maintain, from it, a wry distance, seen with lovely absurd clarity in Emerson's essay "New England Reformers." The radical history of America becomes, in them, an American literature and an American character. Thoreau was, despite his own oaths to swear off, more directly interested in political matters than was Emerson, as was made clear after John Brown's raid. But the political themes are also visible throughout his books, journals, and correspondence. Both men expressed themselves equivocally about engagement in reform movements, though basically they wished them well and were willing to make contributions from time to time of one sort of another.

    As I said, Warren could be regarded as an Emersonian avatar, and continually put into practice the idea of self-reliance as Emerson put it forth in his great essay of that title (1841): Warren's life embodies that essay beautifully. And Warren's great practical competence, tendency to float to the wilderness, basic individualism, and rejection of government authority, could be thought of as Thoreauvian. But first of all, the connection is one of mutual simultaneous causation rather than influence. Emerson and Thoreau were younger than Warren, but I know of no evidence that the transcendentalists were acquainted with Warren until late in all their lives, and no evidence that he was acquainted with them.

     Perhaps the most important distinction between Warren and Emerson/Thoreau is that, while the latter had at their disposal the entire intellectual tradition, and were familiar at first or second-hand with what was going on in intellectual circles in England and Europe, Warren was not, essentially, an intellectual at all, but by his own account a practical projector. While Emerson, Thoreau, Fuller, and others were reading Carlyle and Coleridge, the Tao Te Ching and the Bhagavad-Gita, and among other things rejecting 18th-century empiricism in favor of more grandiose and spiritual orientations, including forms of pantheism, Warren was never influenced by these developments. He retained a basically empiricist orientation, under the influence of Alexander Bryan Johnson, and pointedly never speculated on the nature of God, much less Emerson's Oversoul. He was remarkably isolated from the intellectual currents of the day, even as he developed a system of thought that was related to them in complex ways.

    But that in itself confirmed Emerson and Thoreau's ideas about America in a variety of respects. Even as they speculated about the birth of the characteristically American spirit or genius, even as Emerson argued for an American scholarship distinct from that of the old world, the transcendentalists remained engaged in the European debates and taxonomies, though they also shifted them in various ways. That Warren was operating in Ohio and Indiana in very much the way they suggested, and with remarkably little intellectual history at his disposal, and that he instantiated perfectly their ideas of individuality, liberty, and self-reliance, would have been a lovely confirmation of their sense of the American spirit, had they been aware of Warren's work. Emerson, Thoreau, Fuller, Theodore Parker: they were engaged in learning, among other things, for its own sake. Warren never had the time or inclination for information that did not have a direct practical application. Yet his activities strikingly mirrored their ideas.

    In my view, however, the transcendentalists are less transcendent than they are sometimes portrayed as being. Particularly in Thoreau, the basic commitment is to the everyday world, labor, skill, the close observation of nature. They are certainly not "idealists" in the grand German sense, a la Schelling, Hegel, Schopenhauer. They had no systematic metaphysics, and that was intentional. They were continuously attentive to the particular, and not merely as a sign of the general or as an expression of the Oversoul. Whatever Thoreau believed, he endeavored to put into practical operation.

     The transcendentalists were engaged in what came to be known as romanticism, and in particular with the cult of nature most famously expressed in Wordsworth, and now associated with the name of Thoreau above all. Thoreau famously thought that wildness could redeem the world. But a man trying, with small groups of fellow-travelers, to carve out a living in the semi-wilderness, is likely to view nature, first, as a provider of resources, and, second, as something to be overcome. Warren was more interested in how to make an efficient sawmill than in how to experience oneness with the trees.

    Nevertheless, the commonalities between Emerson/Thoreau and Warren are striking. Emerson wrote many times of America as a new start for mankind, and there is an almost ecstatic tone in his speculations about what might be achieved here socially and politically. In a typical passage, he writes that "The land is the appointed remedy for whatever is false and fantastic in our culture. The continent we inhabit is to be physic and food for our mind, as well as our body. The land, with its tranquilizing, sanative influences, is to repair the errors of a scholastic and traditional education, and bring us into just relations with men and things."[xxii] Indeed, many a European and many an American regarded America in precisely this way: as a place in which humanity could be created afresh. Warren certainly regarded it that way, and as much as anyone, set out to make it a reality. Emerson, Thoreau, Alcott, Whitman: all hinted that America would redeem the species; Warren tried to make it so.

    Emerson taught that human individuality was sacred, or was a spark of the divine. It was our duty to cherish it, develop it, guard it in ourselves with jealous care. It was in some sense our participation in the reality of the universe, and the point was not to submerge it in a social unity, but to nurture it even in its perversities and contradictions. Indeed, if there was to be true cohesion, it had to be a unity of individual selves in their reality. And he taught what was already a commonplace of American radical Protestantism, especially among Quakers and Unitarians, that the ultimate moral arbiter for each person must be the conscience of that person, God or the Oversoul made manifest in each person's life. It follows that the institutions by which we try to bring one another to heel, or to impose our own conscience on that of others, are violations of our nature, and of Nature, of the spirit which animates the world. And he taught, as Thoreau, for example, made utterly explicit, that as human individuality came to be cherished, institutions of power of persons over persons must dissolve, that ultimately they were violations, as we might put it, of reality. "[T]he less government we have the better, - the fewer laws, and the less confided power," wrote Emerson in his essay "Politics."  "The antidote to this abuse of formal Government, is, the influence of private character, the growth of the Individual."[xxiii]

     Emerson developed these ideas with an incredibly compelling and passionate literary style and with immense learning. Warren - as I say, without apparently any direct influence in either direction - sought to make them true practically. He had little interest in their religious origins or implications, but he asked whether it was possible actually to develop a society - economy, education, arts - that took the human individual as the fundamental fact, as the source, motive force, and the purpose of social life. He wanted to show that an actual social system could be made that was based around respecting our differences rather than seeking to deny or expunge them. Even his experiments in printing and music were aimed at this result: he wanted to make it possible for every person to express and develop herself through publishing her ideas and by creating art.

     Whether or not Emerson was an anarchist is a difficult matter; he was reticent to declare a straightforward political program. But Thoreau certainly was, and his hymns to individual conscience and inviolable liberty would have been profoundly congenial to Warren, as would his experiment in rural economy at Walden. Here is a passage from A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers that, but for excellence of the prose, could have been written by Warren.


I love man - kind, but I hate the institutions of the dead un-kind. Men execute nothing so faithfully as the wills of the dead, to the last codicil and letter. . . . [W]e bear about with us the mouldering relics of our ancestors on our shoulders. If, for instance, a man asserts the value of individual liberty over the merely political commonweal, his neighbor still tolerate him, that is he who is living near him, sometimes even sustains him, but never the State. Its officer, as a living man, may have human virtues and a thought in his brain, but as the tool of an institution, a jailer or constable it may be, he is not a whit superior to his prison key or his staff. Herein is the tragedy; that men doing outrage to their proper natures, even those called wise and good, lend themselves to perform the office of inferior and brutal ones. Hence come war and slavery in; and what else may not come in by this opening?[xxiv]


For Thoreau, it is the attempt of human beings to escape from their ineradicable individuality - both their liberty and their responsibility - through laws, institutions, roles, rules, that has led to the worst outrages in human history. And he believed that this is a traffic in delusions, that offloading one's freedom and one's responsibility was always impossible. On all of these points, Warren was entirely agreed, including the idea that we were in thrall to the dead, specifically through their "letters and codicils,' their texts and institutional arrangements. As Thoreau sought to realize his principles in his own life, Warren sought to realize them - with a slight touch of paradox - in social arrangements. The test of such arrangements was precisely whether they left the lines of liberty and responsibility clear, and he believed that that was the most practical as well the most principled test of their truth and decency.

    Indeed, one might think of Thoreau's two years at Walden as a utopian experiment, along the lines of George Ripley's Brook Farm or Bronson Alcott's Fruitlands. But it more closely resembles Utopia, Ohio than either of these: it is an experiment in individualism and basic economics of precisely the sort that Warren undertook with more than one person. And the simultaneous overweening idealism and pointed practicality of Thoreau's Walden was present in the same measures in Warren's communities.


IV. Modern Times

    Of the two communities (Equity and Utopia) Warren formed in Ohio between his sojourn at New Harmony and the founding of Modern Times in the pine barrens of Long Island, relatively little is known, though Warren does describe some aspects of them, including something about the educational and economic structures. This probably boded well for their success: publicity was an element in the difficulties faced at New Harmony and Modern Times, while even revealing the precise location of the communities might attract speculators in land, which actually did wind up putting an end to a number of American ideal communities. Modern Times, on the other hand,  became a sensation and a scandal, though we might point out that this had little to do with Warren and much to do with his partner Stephen Pearl Andrews.

    Andrews, though hailing from Massachusetts, had lived in New Orleans in his youth, where he became a radical abolitionist, and had practiced as a lawyer in Texas, where he hatched an abortive scheme for the abolition of slavery. (This was an unusual arc, but not unique; Bronson Alcott, for example, worked as a traveling peddler in the South as a young man.) He returned to the North an ardent abolitionist, and like many of the reformers of his era derived his libertarian conclusions from his opposition to slavery. In the run-up to and aftermath of the Civil War, Andrews - again like many American reformers, advocated a smorgasbord of radicalisms, including free love (in fact his society, The Grand Order of Recreation, was busted by New York City's vice cops), spiritualism, and a merger of all human languages into his own Alwato, which would bring in its train the millennium of peace and brotherhood.

     Josiah Warren met Stephen Pearl Andrews in Boston in 1849, where Warren was giving a series of talks to reformers on equitable commerce. Though they seemed for a brief time to agree about everything (because Andrews loudly endorsed Warren's views, which never seemed to alter one iota), it would be hard to imagine two more different men. Where Warren was strait-laced and extremely direct, Andrews was something of a libertine and something of an obscurantist. Where Warren's ideas and their expression were characterized by simplicity and straightforwardness, Andrews eventually built an incredibly elaborate and more-or-less incomprehensible philosophical system, explaining absolutely everything from the ground up, which he called "Universology." Where Warren had a rudimentary education and a great deal of practical skill, Andrews supposedly read thirty-two languages and was drenched in French and German thought, especially Fourier and Comte, and his ideas and career were more wild and astonishing than practical. Where Warren was self-effacing, Andrews was spectacular.

    On the other hand, the alliance was complementary. Andrews was a scholar (let me express some reservations on that), a writer (ditto), and a speaker and organizer. These were qualities Warren lacked; but Warren had a series of fundamental, comprehensible, and compelling ideas, which was a problem for Andrews throughout his career. Andrews called Warren "the Euclid of the social sciences," a nice tribute to the simplicity and scope of Warren's views.[xxv] He converted to Warren's position, but always tried to mingle Warren's ideas with developments in European thought, though a synthesis of Warren and Fourier is, as Warren saw, an impossibility. Andrews's The Science of Society (1851) is engaged in the project of elaborating Warren's principles and placing them in relation to Comte's sociology and Fourier's socialism. Its statements of Warren's positions are, however, when the infelicities of Warren's prose are attenuated, finally both less clear and less systematic than Warren's own.

    Madeleine Stern, in her biography of Andrews, describes the founding of Modern Times.


The two reformers set out together to search for their new Eden - the short Yankee inventor and the tall, forceful discoverer. Early in 1851, when the frosty air nipped his long Roman nose, Andrews ferried to Brooklyn with the saint of equity and then, after a two-hour journey by railroad, arrived at Thompson's Station in Long Island.

    The Pine Barrens of Long Island, some forty miles east of New York City, had little to recommend it to the objective viewer. The area was filled with a heavy growth of scrub oaks which would have to be uprooted. Water would have to be carried in buckets from Dr. Peck's farm. The soil was impoverished. Sparks from the railroad might start forest fires, and there was not even a cow path in sight.

   Peal Andrews dismissed such minor flaws with a wave of the hand. The air was pure; the ground was solid. Roses would bloom where the scrub oaks stood. Broad avenues could be marked out. . . . He would call it "Modern Times" and the era of its founding would be known as the "Utopian Era."[xxvi]


    Andrews wrestled Equitable Commerce (1852) - Warren's fundamental statement of his own philosophy - into some sort of shape; their respective roles in the final text are hard to sort out. But with regard Modern Times their roles were clearly defined. Warren would be on the ground (now Brentwood, Long Island) overseeing the practical details of home-building and keeping a Time Store to serve as a labor exchange. Andrews, a leading light of the reform circuit in New York City, would serve as agent: recruiting and raising money and publicity. In the matter of publicity, he succeeded above expectations, and one suspects that Warren, now in his fifties and frustrated with his limited achievements in transforming society, overcame his misgivings in the hope that publicity would lead to the widespread dissemination of his ideas.

     Modern Times usually had about a hundred residents, and persisted from 1851 to 1864 or so, when it went underground as Brentwood. Lots were sold on the cost principle, so land was notably inexpensive, and New York City was accessible by rail. Moncure Daniel Conway, who visited Modern Times in 1858, said that he wasn't sure whether to travel to the individualist utopia "by railway or by rainbow."[xxvii] Warren stated the purpose of the community in a somewhat more down-to-earth manner: "If we do not secure homes to the homeless, we work to no purpose."[xxviii]

    Andrews had other ideas, and invited Thomas Low Nichols and Mary Grove Nichols to take up residence. The Nicholses were free love, plural marriage, and sex education activists, and this agenda - shared by Andrews though decidedly not by Warren - swamped every other aspect of the community and was the subject of sensational press coverage. It is worth noting that many of the American ideal communities - including the Shakers, the Rappites, the Mormons, and Oneida - experimented with various reconceptions of the marriage and family relation: the matter did not escape their determination to put society on an entirely new basis. Though Andrews was an activist in this cause, and later co-edited Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly, in which the astonishing Victoria Woodhull put forward her views on free love, Warren regarded free love as a terrible idea and a terrible distraction. On the other hand, he was completely committed to letting anyone live however they liked, and he held that a few disastrous experiments would put paid to the whole idea.

     Andrews, Horace Greeley, and Henry James, Sr. - each a great reformer and a great eccentric - debated the matter in Greeley's New York Tribune in 1852-53. The debate extended to Warren's basic principles, as Greeley identified self-sovereignty as license, an equation made all the easier by Andrews's direct advocacy of free love. He said that "Your sovereignty of the individual is in palpable collision with the purity of society and the sovereignty of God"[xxix]. putting into play a more traditional mode of liberatory rhetoric. Meanwhile, Modern Times was associated with atheism and other heresies in plenty. But it should also be said that the experiments of all the idealists in different family arrangements had a feminist edge, and this was explicitly so with Andrews and the Goves; the destruction of traditional marriage was seen to be a necessary condition of the liberation of women. They advocated sex education and birth control as a way to make sure every child was wanted and no woman was trapped.

     The association of Modern Times with free love was enough, first, to attract all sorts of eccentrics to the town, including anyone who felt oppressed in virtue of their non-standard marital arrangements. Mary Gove Nichols was described by Edgar Allan Poe in 1848 as "a Mesmerist, a Swedenborgian, a phrenologist, a homeopathist and a hydropathist," and she shared some or all of these enthusiasms, and more, with the people who began to gather at Modern Times.[xxx] The town became for a time the center of American spiritualism, and a haven for almost any variety of crankery. Warren cannot but have seen this as to some extent a replay of New Harmony, and the community again lacked practical skills and workmanlike people. And Warren did not want to be associated with "free love," as he made clear when he circulated a petition, which read in part ''The Sovereignty of every Individual' is as valid a warrant for retaining the present relations, as for changing them" ("Positions Defined"). Nevertheless, Modern Times persisted as a remarkable and notorious experiment into the 1860s, when it slowly disintegrated and became something like a standard town. Reichert writes:


The effect of this unwanted publicity, as Warren described it, was an influx of 'crochets,' each dragging with him his 'particular hobby' by which he projected the total and immediate salvation of the world and all in it.' One of the 'imposters' assured the community that the liberation of mankind would follow at once if all its children were brought up without the burden of clothing. So reasonable did this proposition appear to another of the newcomers that she immediately put the theory into practice, forcing her child to go naked despite the severity of the bitter winds that blew from the Sound during the winter. One old man of German origin sought to cure the infliction of blindness from which he suffered by walking the street sans clothing, while some of the female residents took to the habit of dressing themselves in men's clothing as a sign of their emancipation. More serious in its consequences were the dietary notions of another female inhabitant who would eat nothing but beans on the theory that it was good for her health. 'She tottered around a living skeleton for about a year,' according to Warren, 'and then sank down and died.'[xxxi]


This is comical of course, and tragic for the bean-eater. But on the other hand it is a rather delightful portrayal of a Temporary Autonomous Zone, an actual bizarre anarchist community, and Warren managed a crack about "the great sacred right of freedom to do silly things" (Practical Applications).

   And in a small way, Modern Times remained an inspiration to reformers all over the world, including John Stuart Mill, then developing his own version of "self-sovereignty" on utilitarian grounds. John Stuart Mill credits Warren with the idea of "the sovereignty of the individual" in the Autobiography: Describing the influences on On Liberty, he says,


[A] remarkable American, Mr. Warren, has framed a System of Society, on the foundation of 'the Sovereignty of the Individual,' had obtained a number of followers [at Modern Times] (whether it now exists I know not) which, though bearing a superficial resemblance to some of the projects of the Socialists, is diametrically opposite to them in principle, since it recognises no authority whatever over the individual, except to enforce equal freedom of development for all individualities. As the book which bears my name claimed no originality for any of its doctrines, and was not intended to write their history, the only author who had preceded me in their assertion of whom I thought it appropriate to say anything, was Humboldt, who furnished the motto for the work; although in one passage I borrowed from the Warrenites their phrase, the sovereignty of the individual.[xxxii]


The publicity, after all, had some effect.



V. Warren and Anarchism

    As politics, the principle of individuality is a flat attack on the whole of modern political thought: the Hobbes Leviathan, the Lockean contract, Rousseau's general will, Hegel's state. And then it runs roughly against the entire stream of political reality since Warren wrote: Marxist communism squaring off against welfare-state, bureaucratic capitalism. We must understand that Warren's thought gravitates no more toward modern capitalism than it does toward Marxism, nor more the other way round: it is outside and prior to these categories, having been composed in the middle of nowhere (deepest Indiana, to be precise) in the early decades of the nineteenth century. It's worth saying that Warren rarely quotes anything except the Declaration of Independence: there is no evidence of his reading Hume, Smith or (later in his life) Marx or Proudhon, or, for that matter, Emerson and Thoreau, though probably by the 1840s every literate American had heard of Emerson. In fact, between spasms of journal writing, he was not engaged in scholarship, but in developing new processes for manufacturing bricks or printing up new varieties of currency.

    Warren is also precisely prior to and outside of the split between what I am going to call left-wing and right-wing anarchism. Tracing the left: it proceeds from Proudhon - who like Warren on the other end precedes and remains outside it - and then develops as a movement against Marx in the late nineteenth-century battles for leadership of the radical industrial labor movement. Mikhail Bakunin follows Proudhon as Marx's opponent, and Peter Kropotkin is easily the best 19th-century theoretician of this view. Kropotkin was certainly aware of Warren and regarded him as an inspiration of his own view, despite all the differences. Kropotkin mentions Warren in his famous Encyclopedia Britannica article on "Anarchism" as a precursor of (influence on?) Proudhon.


It [mutualism] had also its precursor in America. Josiah Warren, who was born in 1798 . . . , and belonged to Owen's "New Harmony," considered that the failure of this enterprise was chiefly due to the suppression of individuality and the lack of initiative and responsibility. These defects, he taught, were inherent to every scheme based upon authority and community of goods. He advocated, therefore, complete individual liberty. In 1827 he opened in Cincinnati a little country store which was the first "equity Store," and which people called "Time Store," because it was based on labor being exchanged hour for hour in all sorts of produce. 'Cost - the limit of price,' and consequently 'no interest,' was the motto of his store, and later on of his 'Equity Village' near New York, which was still in existence in 1865.[xxxiii]


The Bakunin/Kropotkin  strand came to be called "communist anarchism." It was marked by an attack on private ownership and called for a true union of human beings: a spontaneous unanimity and cooperation enshrined in Kropotkin's concept of "mutual aid" as a factor in evolution, forever the refutation of social Darwinism. Communist anarchism reaches its American height under the aegis of Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, Russian Kropotkinians importing their ideas to Greenwich Village. This tendency came to be despised between the time of the Haymarket riot and the assassination of William McKinley. Its image: the bomb-throwing immigrant nihilist terrorist scourge of modernity.

     The alternative history uses Warren as the communists use Proudhon. The nineteenth-century militant individualist movement, to repeat, comes out of New England reform movements emerging from radical Protestantism: abolitionism, non-resistance, feminism, and the philosophy and literature termed "transcendentalist." Lysander Spooner moves straight from Locke and Jefferson to a militant defense of deism and individual rights. If anarchism could have a legal theory, Spooner in his capacities as a self-taught lawyer and freakish polemical talent would have been its theoretician. Benjamin Tucker - another provincial New England printer - used Warren and Spooner as twin supports without fully exploring the tension between them. But Tucker, as time goes on, adds an admixture of the egoism of Max Stirner, of whom he was the first American publisher. Stirner's work, though striking in its diagnosis of modernity as the cult of the state and its continual paradoxes, would be an absurd guide for social reform, and is actually sort of pathetic: the assertion by a tiny man of his unbelievable giganticness: the alleged fact that his ego is or accomplishes or commands the world.

      Because they precede and transcend the schism between stateless communism and Stirner-style egoism, between left and right anarchism as it has played out ever since, it is a particularly interesting to recover Warren and Proudhon's thought. Of course the communist anarchists rejected Marx's statist solution, but they accepted to a large extent his analysis of history as class struggle. Indeed, Bakunin's thought is little more than a pastiche of Marxism and Proudhon. The communist anarchists held property to be at the root of capitalist exploitation, and hence proposed its elimination. This analysis was to some extent discredited by the development of capitalism into a modified socialism with a huge state sector and regulation of the economy and redistributive schemes, as well as by the success of the labor movement in increasing wages and benefits and decreasing hours. In addition, the communists organized internationally as opposed to trying to achieve local transformations, emphasizing world proletariat revolution rather than local community formation.

     The egoists, on the other hand, came to celebrate exploitation itself as the result of voluntary contract, and to recommend self-seeking acquisitiveness. It tried to manufacture the overman: the independent ego who needs no assistance and brooks no interference: who dares to do injustice: the blonde beast or little grey chairman of the Federal Reserve. The egoists refuse organization of attempts at societal transformation, think of activism or community construction or even charity as little more than an expression of social slavishness, and dismiss justice and morality as a plot of the little people. Warren fits this picture no better - or perhaps considerably worse - than he does the communist ideal, despite his own brand of extreme individualism. The question for Warren is how decent folk can achieve a non-exploitative economy in which they contribute not only to themselves but to social well-being, which he thinks of as one of our natural impulses. It is one of the greatest errors in superficial readings of Warren to connect him to the thought of later Benjamin Tucker, Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, and so on, though the term "individualist" is used to describe them all.

     A division in anarchist theory persists throughout its history between those who wish to proceed by community-formation or by carving out, within existing society, a zone of autonomy, and those who propose a global social revolution. To some extent this tracks the American/European and individualist/communist splits within anarchism. The Americans emerge from dissenting Protestant prophets and abolitionist saints. The Europeans emerge from the 1789 French revolution and the works of Rousseau. Each despises the other, and thinks the other impractical and defeatist. But each has also done great (well, medium-sized) prodigies. The pre-immigrant American tradition takes the course of practical experiment (Lysander Spooner's postal service and challenges to licensing procedures are another example), along with an accompanying polemical publicity that serves as a record of experiments and a recruiting brochure. Warren, at any rate, belongs squarely in what is called by its opponents "lifestyle anarchism," concerned with inhabiting the temporary autonomous zone. On the other hand, of course, the revolution is going to suck: plenty of death and destruction without any predictable result. At any rate, the opposition is tendentious; the approaches ought to be complementary. Build a world, then take it public.

    On, as it were, the third hand, Warren was no primitivist, though his own preference for small-scale, local economies might lend some comfort to anarchists of this bent. But his own continuous activity as inventor shows his warmth for technology. An article about Warren in the journal Printing History is aptly titled "Every Man His Own Printer," and Warren, with his obsession with self-publishing, would no doubt at this point be a blogger.[xxxiv] He conceived his own economics as practical, as encouraging industry and trade. He is neither a technological optimist in the mode of so many thinkers of his time and afterwards (such as the pragmatists) nor a pessimist of the backtotheland movements of the sixties and the millennium. For Warren, technology cannot redeem us, but it can contribute to a decent human life in many ways.

      At any rate it is crucial for understanding Warren to understand the political spectrum of early nineteenth century American politics, in particular radical politics. The very most radical, progressive elements were by and large religious fanatics. What we might think of as the far left - the feminist movement, abolitionism, the peace movement - attacked the very idea of state power; individualism was the political currency of the American reform movement. The division of the left and right understood as statist socialism or communism and the right as libertarian laissez faire capitalism just wasn't in play.

    There is evidence that Warren sympathized with most of the major reform movements of the nineteenth century: abolitionism, pacifism, religious skepticism, and, in particular, feminism. He is among the few nineteenth-century authors you will find using gender-neutral locutions such "he or she": these are not as a result of my editing. Warren explicitly and at length decries the limitation of women to a certain set of professions, and frankly proposes equality of the sexes, along with practical measures to make this possible (including day care).

    Extreme religious forces in early nineteenth century America were on the far left. What we would call "conservatives" were leftover Federalists or slavery enthusiasts. They were big-government Hamiltonians or bold pseudo-Cavaliers. Reform still meant freedom from "tyranny," control by a foreign power. But the term "tyranny" soon came to mean simply any interruption of self-sovereignty: in short, slavery. That is why we need to return precisely to the moment of Warren: because this split between left and right as it developed under the aegis of Marxism is invidious and extraneous, arbitrary with regard to the subject matter. The Hegelian solution, the ever-growing state, has in fact been adopted by both the extreme right and the extreme left, and the moderate right and the moderate left. In a way, the history of American reform movements in particular was co-opted by international statist socialism, which prevented the emergence of an indigenous radical understanding. After Warren, the apocalypse: the Civil and World wars, the genocides of colonialism and state terrorism.

    Put simply, Warren was neither a communist nor a capitalist. He was not a communist: the economy he imagined was regulated by the invisible hand of competition and the inexorable laws of supply and demand. He emphasized private property and free transactions. He never tried to outnice his capitalist competitors, but to underprice them. He was not a capitalist: his entire program depended on the elimination of profit in all transactions; and he always proposed his "experiments" as a way to help the laboring classes as well as the destitute.


VI. Conclusion

At any rate, Warren's life might be described as merely odd and quixotic, but it was also beautiful in its earnestness, in the consistency and overflowing love, the strange combination of rationality and ecstasy, with which it tried to be the truth it spoke.


[i] The best sources on American individualist anarchism: Eunice Schuster, Native American Anarchism: A Study of Left-Wing American Individualism (New York: De Capo, 1970 [1932]). This book is exemplary in connecting American individualist anarchism to radical Protestantism. James J. Martin, Men Against the State: The Expositors of American Individualist Anarchism, 1827-1908 (Colorado Springs: Ralph Myles, 1970). William G. Reichert, Partisans of Freedom: A Study in American Anarchism (Bowling Green: Popular Press, 1976. Martin's and Reichert's volumes represent the most elaborate scholarship on this topic, and I'd like to express my gratitude to both authors: an incredible amount of work for a very small audience: that work has been indispensable to my development as a political philosopher and historian of libertarian/anarchist thought. David DeLeon, The American as Anarchist: Reflections on Indigenous Radicalism (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978).

[ii][ii] Josiah Warren, Equitable Commerce    . These are precisely the sort of passages edited out in this volume.

[iii] Conway's article appeared  in the Fortnightly Review of July 1, 1865, recollecting Warren in 1858. Quoted in William Bailie, Josiah Warren, The First American Anarchist William Bailie, Josiah Warren, the First American Anarchist (New York: Herbert C. Roseman, 1971 [1906]).

[iv] The main biographical sources are William Bailie's Josiah Warren: The First American Anarchist, published in 1906, and Roger Wunderlich's Low Living and High Thinking at Modern Times, New York (see bibliography).


[v] For the intersection of radical Protestantism, individualism, abolitionism, anarchism, and pacifism, the best sources are Valerie H. Ziegler, The Advocates of Peace in Antebellum America (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992); Aileen S. Kraditor, Means and Ends in American Abolitionism (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 18989 [1967]); Lewis Perry, Radical Abolitionism: Anarchy and the Government of God in Antislavery Thought (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1973).

[vi] Vernon Parrington, Main Currents in American Thought (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1927), p.171.

[vii] Ezra Heywood, "Hard Cash . . . Financial Monopolies Hinder Enterprise," The Collected Works of Ezra Heywood (Weston, Massachusetts: M&S Press, 1985 [1874]), pp. 103-129. This is a very able exposition of Warren-style economic theory.

[viii] Owen derived his determinism and many political and ethical conclusions from William Godwin. Owen expressed these views, for example, in A New View Of Society, Essays on the Formation of Human Character (London: 1813).


[ix] Probably the best source on Harmonie and New Harmony is William E. Wilson, The Angel and the Serpent: The Story of New Harmony (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1964). I have relied on this volume for most of the account.

[x] Kenneth Rexroth, Communalism: From its Origins to the Twentieth Century

[xi] Wilson, p. 151.

[xii] Noyes, p. 41.

[xiii] Wilson, p. 148.

[xiv] Willaim Bailie, Josiah Warren, The First American Anarchist (New York: Herbert C. Roseman, 1971 [1906]), p. 5.

[xv] Roger Wunderlich, Low Living and High Thinking at Modern Times, New York (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1992), p. 22.

[xvi] Frances Wright, "Wealth and Money," Free Enquirer, 23 October 1830. Quoted in Celia Morris Eckhardt, Fanny Wright, Rebel in America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984, p. 179, note 22.

[xvii] On Frances Wright, a good source is Fanny Wright: Rebel in America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984), which protrays Wright as an astonishing synthesis of Jane Austen and Emma Goldman.

[xviii] The publication history of this remarkable book, as set out in the introduction of A Treatise on Language (New York: Dover, 1968) is as follows. In 1828 G. and C. Carvill of New York published it under the title The Philosophy of Human Knowledge, or A Treatise on Language. In 1836 Harper & Bros. published a revised and expanded edition, though also with some unfortunate omissions, as A Treatise on Language: or the Relation Which Words bear to Things. The latter is the basis of the all later editions. In 1854 Appleton published Johnson's restatement, The Meaning of Words.

[xix] Alexander Bryan Johnson, A Treatise on Language (New York: Dover, 1968), pp. 80-81.

[xx] Noyes, p. 42.

[xxi] On Garrison, see Henry Mayer, All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery (New York: W.W. Norton, 1998;  Horace Seldon, The Liberator Files ( On Rogers, see Crispin Sartwell, Nathaniel Peabody Rogers (

[xxii] Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The Young American" (1844), reprinted in Emerson: Essays and Lectures (New York: Library of America, 1983), p. 214.

[xxiii] Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Politics," from Essays: Second Series, collected in Emerson: Esays and Lectures (New York: Library of America, 1983 [1844]), p. 567.

[xxiv] Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, collected in Henry David Thoreau: A Week; Walden; The Maine Woods; Cape Cod (New York: Library of America,1985 [1849]), p.106.

[xxv] Quoted in Madeleine B. Stern's The Pantarch: A Biography of Stephen Pearl Andrews (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1968), p. 74.

[xxvi] Stern, p. 76.

[xxvii] Wunderlich p. 12.

[xxviii] Wunderlich p. 10.

[xxix] Quoted in Wunderlich, p. 65.

[xxx] Edgar Allan Poe, "The Literati of New York City," in Godey's Magazine and Lady's Book (July 1856), p. 16 Quoted in Wunderlich, p. 70.

[xxxi] William O. Reighert, Partisans of Freedom (Bowling Green: Popular Press, 1976), pp. 74-75. The quotations from Warren are from Practical Applications.

[xxxii] John Stuart Mill, Autobiography (New York: Penguin, 1989 [1873]), p. 191.

[xxxiii] Peter Kropotkin, "Anarchism," Encyclopedia Britannica (11th edition, 1910), collected in The Essential Kropotkin, edited by Emile Capouya and Keith Tompkins (New York: Liveright, 1975, pp. 114-15.

[xxxiv] Madelein Stern, "Every Man His Own Printer: The Typographical Experiments of Josiah Warren," Printing History, vol. II, no. 2, 1980.

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