Josiah Warren, the Most Practical Anarchist

It’s time for anarchists to stop wasting time arguing over the capitalism/socialism false dichotomy. “Neither statism nor corporatism” should be our economic battle cry. The real divide is between order-givers and order-takers, and between the power elite and those who are subordinated to the power elite.

By David S. D’Amato


Defying categorization as a socialist or capitalist thinker, Josiah Warren was staunchly individualist—distrustful of institutions like states that subsumed individuals into “combinations.”

Josiah Warren was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1798. His biographer, the anarchist writer William Bailie, notes that he was “of historically famous Puritan stock”—a relative of General Joseph Warren, one of the heroes of the Battle of Bunker Hill. Historian James J. Martin states that this relation “appears to be a romanticism unfounded on available sources Warren’s own son, George, leaves mention of any such relation out of his account. In any case, Warren became deservedly famous in his own right, as we shall see. Warren was “our most practical anarchist,”1 “a genuinely universal man” whose “philosophy had always been that the best way to understand a process was to learn to do it.”2 He was a talented professional musician, a successful inventor, a teacher, an entrepreneur, and a social theorist and experimenter. Often credited as the first American anarchist, Warren articulated a libertarian vision that married his arch-individualism to what he called “equitable commerce,” in which smallholders and craftspeople would exchange equal values—those values being defined by the amount of labor time invested.


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