Josiah Warren

Josiah Warren

Josiah Warren (1798-1874) was an individualist anarchist, inventor, musician, and author in the United States. Biographer William Bailie regarded him as the first American anarchist, and the four-page weekly paper he edited during 1833, "The Peaceful Revolutionist", was the first anarchist periodical published,William Bailie, [] "Josiah Warren: The First American Anarchist — A Sociological Study", Boston: Small, Maynard & Co., 1906, p. 20] an enterprise for which he built his own printing press, cast his own type and made his own printing plates.


Early life

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

Owenism and New Harmony

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

Warren died on April 14, 1874 amidst his friends, after developing dropsy (edema).William Bailie, [] op.cit., p. 35]


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

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

In his "Manifesto" Josiah Warren writes:

Joseph L. Blau writes:

Ethics of pricing

Josiah Warren termed the phrase "Cost the limit of price," with "cost" here referring not to monetary price paid but the labor one exerted to produce an item. ["A watch has a "cost" and a "value". The COST consists of the amount of labor bestowed on the mineral or natural wealth, in converting it into metals…". Warren, Josiah. "Equitable Commerce"] This understanding of cost is congruent with that of the classical economist Adam Smith who said "The real price of every thing, what every thing really costs to the man who wants to acquire it, is the toil and trouble of acquiring it," though Warren reached different conclusions. He believed that goods and services should trade according to how much labor was exerted to produce them and bring them to market, instead of according to how individuals believed them to be subjectively worth. To charge more labor for something that entailed less labor was "cannibalism," according to him. ["If a priest is required to get a soul out of purgatory, he sets his price according to the value which the relatives set upon his prayers, instead of their cost to the priest. This, again, is cannibalism. The same amount of labor equally disagreeable, with equal wear and tear, performed by his customers, would be a just remuneration". Warren, Josiah. "Equitable Commerce"] Moreover, he believed that trading according to "cost the limit of price" would promote increasing efficiency in an economy, as he explains in "Equitable Commerce":bquote|If "cost" is made the limit of price, every one becomes interested in reducing COST, by bringing in all the economies, all the facilities to their aid. But, on the contrary, if "cost" does not govern the price, but every thing is priced at what it will bring, there are no such co-operating interests.

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

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


ee also

* Mutualism (economic theory)
* Individualist Anarchism
* Local currency

Academic references

* Bailie, William. "Josiah Warren: The First American Anarchist". Boston: Small, Maynard & Co., 1906.
* Martin, James J. "Men Against the State: The Expositors of Individualist Anarchism in America, 1827-1908". Colorado Springs, CO.: Ralph Myles Publishers, 1970.
* Miskelly, Matthew; and Jaime Noce. (eds) "Political Theories For Students". Farmington Hills, MI: The Gale Group Inc., 2002. ISBN 0-7876-5645-3
* Wunderlich, Roger. "Low Living and High Thinking at Modern Times", New York. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1992. ISBN 0-8156-2554-5

External references

* [ The Josiah Warren Project, dedicated to publishing material by and about Warren]
* [ A biography of Warren by his son George W. Warren]
* [ Josiah Warren's Manifesto]
* [ "Equitable Commerce" by Josiah Warren]
* [ "Plan of the Cincinnati Labor for Labor Store" by Josiah Warren]
* [ "True Civilization" by Josiah Warren] , hosted by the Anarchy Archives
* [ "Josiah Warren: The First American Anarchist", by William Bailie]
* [ " Josiah Warren and the Sovereignty of the Individual" by Ann Caldwell Butler]
* [ Josiah Warren] at

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