Josiah Warren

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Josiah Warren
Josiah Warren.jpg
Born 1798
Boston, Massachusetts, US
Died Script error: The function "death_date_and_age" does not exist.
Boston, Massachusetts, US
School Individualist anarchism
Main interests
The individual, economics, intentional communities
Notable ideas
Cost the limit of price, sovereignty of the individual

Josiah Warren (/ˈwɔːrən/; 1798 – April 14, 1874) was an individualist anarchist, inventor, musician, and author in the United States. He is widely regarded as the first American anarchist,[1][2] and the four-page weekly paper he edited during 1833, The Peaceful Revolutionist, was the first anarchist periodical published,[3] an enterprise for which he built his own printing press, cast his own type, and made his own printing plates.[3]


Early life

Warren was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1798.[2] He showed an early talent for music and was a member of the "Old Boston Brigade Band" at an early age. He may have married at age 20 and then moved to Cincinnati, Ohio where he worked as a music teacher and orchestra leader.[4] He invented a tallow-burning lamp in 1821 and manufactured his invention for a number of years in Cincinnati.[5]

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.[6] When this group failed to come to agreement about the form and goals of their proposed community, Warren "sold his factory after only two years of operation, packed up his young family, and took his place as one of 900 or so Owenites who had decided to become part of the founding population of New Harmony, Indiana."[2] The Cincinnati colony was attempted without Warren's involvement, but failed.[7] 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, but he developed a warm and lasting respect for Robert Owen and his sons. One of his earliest writings, published in The March of Mind in 1827, attests to this, as do later writings.[8]

Later life and death

Warren later returned to the Boston area. From 1864 to 1869, he resided in Cliftondale, Massachusetts, where he twice attempted to establish a mutual town. He then moved back to Boston, where he remained until his death.[9]

Warren died on April 14, 1874 in Charlestown at the home of a friend after developing edema.[9][10]


Warren, like Proudhon, chose the path of anarchism and individualism. 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."[11] 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."[12] Warren's principle of the "sovereignty of the individual" was later taken up by Mill and Herbert Spencer.[13]

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 absolutely 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 an experiment."[14] Warren is notable for expounding the idea of "sovereignty of the individual".

In his Manifesto[15] Josiah Warren writes:

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

Ethics of pricing

Sample labor for labor note for the Cincinnati Time Store. Scanned from Equitable Commerce (1846) by Josiah Warren

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.[16] 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. Therefore, he "proposed a system to pay people with certificates indicating how many hours of work they did. They could exchange the notes at local time stores for goods that took the same amount of time to produce."[1] To charge more labor for something that entailed less labor was "cannibalism," according to him.[17] Moreover, he believed that trading according to "cost the limit of price" would promote increasing efficiency in an economy, as he explains in Equitable Commerce:

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

If I am to have my supply of flour at cost, then, any facility I can afford to the wheat grower, reduces the cost to me, and it does the same for all who have any portion of the wheat, I am promoting all their interests while pursuing my own…Now if the wheat were NOT TO BE SOLD TO us AT COST, but at "whatever it would bring" according to our necessities, then none of us would have any interest in affording facilities, repairing breaches, nor in any other way co-operating with the producer of it. The same motive would act in the production, preservation, and use of every thing."[18]

He put his theories to the test by establishing an experimental "labor for labor store" called the Cincinnati Time Store at the corner of 5th and Elm Streets in what is now downtown Cincinnati, where trade was facilitated by notes backed by a promise to perform labor. "All the goods offered for sale in Warren's store were offered at the same price the merchant himself had paid for them, plus a small surcharge, in the neighborhood of 4 to 7 percent, to cover store overhead."[2] 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.[19]


Catalan historian Xavier Diez reports that the intentional communal experiments pioneered by Warren were influential in European individualist anarchists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries such as Émile Armand and the intentional communities started by them.[20]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Palmer, Brian (2010-12-29) What do anarchists want from us?,
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Riggenbach, Jeff (February 25, 2011). "Josiah Warren: The First American Anarchist". Mises Daily. Ludwig von Mises Institute.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 William Bailie, [1] Josiah Warren: The First American Anarchist—A Sociological Study, Boston: Small, Maynard & Co., 1906, p. 20
  4. American National Biography Online, "Josiah Warren"
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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).
  8. J. W., "From the March of Mind," New Harmony Gazette (Sept. 10, 1828), 365.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Martin, James J. Men Against the State. Ludwig von Mises Institute. pp. 94–102. ISBN 9781610161756.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. William Bailie, [2] op.cit., p. 35
  11. Liberty XIV (December, 1900):1)
  12. Mill, John Stuart. Autobiography (1873), Oxford University Press, World's Classics edition (1935), p. 217
  13. Harvey Wish. "Stephen Pearl Andrews, American Pioneer Sociologist". Social Forces, Vol. 19, No. 4. (May, 1941), p. 481
  14. Butler, Ann Caldwell. "Josiah Warren and the Sovereignty of the Individual". Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. IV, No. 4 (Fall 1980)
  16. "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
  17. "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
  18. Warren, Josiah. Equitable Commerce. pp. 77–78
  19. Charles A. Madison. "Anarchism in the United States". Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 6, No. 1. (Jan., 1945), pp. 53
  20. Xavier Diez. L'ANARQUISME INDIVIDUALISTA A ESPANYA 1923–1938 pg. 42


  • 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 links