William Batchelder Greene (1819-1878)


This essay, from the second section of Equality translates the terms of Greene's Transcendentalism, into a discussion of political economy. It was not among those selected for inclusion in The Radical Deficiency Of The Existing Circulating Medium (1857) or any of the later mutual bank writings. Notice that Greene neither advocates nor rejects any of these systems totally. Mutualism is the "union and harmony" of all three.

The three partial philosophical systems which manifest themselves in every age of he world, have been defined as follows:—

"Transcendentalism is that form of Philosophy which sinks God and Nature in man. Let us explain. God,—man (the laborer)—and nature (capital)—in their relations (if indeed the absolute God may be said ever to be in relations) are the objects of all philosophy; but, in different theories, greater or less prominence is given to one or the other of these three, and thus systems are formed. Pantheism sinks man and nature in God; Materialism sinks God and man in the universe; Transcendentalism sinks God and nature in man. In other words, some, in philosophising, take their point of departure in God alone, and are inevitably conducted to Pantheism;—others take their point of departure in nature alone, and are led to Materialism; others start with man alone, and end in Transcendentalism."


The Transcendentalist believes that the outward world has no real existence other than that he gives to it. He believes he creates it by his intellectual labor; not only so, he believes he creates it out of himself, without working upon any capital distinct from himself We agree with the reader that this system is absurd; but we invite him to make allowances for the aberrations of powerful men who are intoxicated by the consciousness of their own genius. Shelly furnishes the following transcendental statement, in his drama of Hellas:—

"Earth and ocean,
Space, and the isles of life and light that gem
The saphire floods of interstellar air,
This firmament pavilioned upon chaos,
Whose outwall, bastioned impregnably
Against the escape of boldest thoughts, repels them
As Calpe the Atlantic clouds—this whole
Of suns, and worlds, and men, and beasts, and flowers,
With all the silent or tempestuous workings
By which they have been, are, or cease to be,
Is BUT A VISION;—all that it inherits
Are motes Or a sick eye, bubbles, and dreams;

Fichte teaches that the soul, by its native divine power, creates the universe. Ralph Waldo Emerson, than whom no more remarkable thinker has been furnished to this country by the present generation, maintains the same doctrine. Mr. Emerson's thoughts radiate always in right lines, and though he can see an object that is directly before his intellectual vision, even if it be at an infinite distance, yet he seems incapable of grasping some things in their relations:—but our questions are of labor. The man who denies the rights of capital, is a transcendentalist in political economy.

For what is capital? It is that outward object with which man is related, which man labors upon, which man transforms. Transcendentalism is the denial in the most unqualified terms of the very existence of capital, that is of things which are not man, and with which man is related: and communism is an application of transcendentalism in a more limited sphere of science.

Materialism—Capitalism—Plutocracy. [1]

The Materialist, on the other hand, denies the existence of the soul, that is, of the actor, the beginner and originator of motion and change, in short of the laborer. According to him, man is the result of organization, is fatally impelled to act as he does act by outward impulses, and the mind is the operation of the electric fluid in the brain. Materialism teaches that the word soul is a word without a meaning. If the transcendentalist talks absurdly when he says nothing really exists but soul, and that matter is merely an appearance which the soul creates, the materialist talks equally absurdly when he says that matter is the only real existence, and that the soul is an appearance resulting from the modification of matter. The transcendentalist denies the existence of capital, and therefore denies its rights; the materialist affirms the existence of capital, and denies the existence of the laborer, and therefore denies the rights of the laborer. The transcendentalist is a fanatical radical; the materialist is a bigoted conservative. We are of course speaking of these systems as they appear when rigidly carried out to their ultimate logical conclusions.


The Pantheist denies the real existence of the subject and object, of the laborer and of capital. For him nothing exists but God; and both man and nature are appearances. Hyper-Calvinism gives us a good example of pantheism. The high calvinist denies man's free will, that is, man's personality,—and, of course, man himself; for what is man if not a person? He teaches that all evil acts performed by man are the results, not of his own free action but of some depravity we have inherited from Adam, this depravity assisted in its operations by the instigations of Satan; he teaches moreover that no man can perform any good act, except by the infusion of a new spirit by irresistible grace, except by the implanting of a new principle—a new spring and source of action—in the heart. It is evident that this system does not allow that man does anything whatever. Again, the high calvinist, by his theory of Providence, continual miracles, &c., denies the real existence of outward nature. Man does nothing, nature does nothing, God does all. Ask the transcendentalist what is a man's right to property? and he answers—"Labor." Ask the materialist the same question, and he answers,—"Previous occupancy." Ask the Pantheist, and you will find him incapable of comprehending the rights of either labor or capital, for he will answer—"Property ought to be distributed according to the views of Providence, according to some theory of Divine Order."

The transcendentalist is often a violent despot, because the force of his will impels him to arbitrary measures, but he always respects liberty in theory, for he founds his whole right on this principle. The pantheist is often a despot in like manner, but his despotism comes from a different source; it comes from the fact of his being unable to conceive of liberty—and this because he does not believe in the existence of the human will. Where can you find a more arbitrary interference of the social power with private rights that was practised by our calvinistic fathers of Connecticut and Massachusetts? The materialist is a hard master, but he understands equality (though he violates it every day) for he holds his property by right of occupancy, and will tolerate no special privilege which might enable any individual to outflank his right. The pantheist knows nothing of occupancy; he understands a supposed Divine Order only, and therefore the principle of equality cannot be recognized by him. Political economy interpreted from a pantheistic point of view, gives us Socialism; that is, the intervention of society in all the private affairs of life, and the distribution of property according to the arbitrary laws of the State, according to some so called Divine Order. "The earth belongs to the Lord, and what belong to the Lord, belong to his saints." [2]

Transcendentalism is the philosophy of the right of the strongest, and therefore destroys equality. Materialism is the philosophy of the existing fact, and the opposition to all change, and therefore is destructive to liberty. Socialism is the philosophy of a Theocracy, and is destructive to both liberty and equality.

All these systems are true; and, again, they are all false. They are false as partial, exclusive systems; but they are true in their mutual relations. Man exists as a beginner of motion or change, as a living soul; and therefore transcendentalism is true, therefore liberty is a holy principle. Outward nature exists in fact, and man may occupy it, [3]. and the rights of first occupancy are valid; therefore materialism is true, therefore equality is a holy principle; and all special privileges, all violence, ought to be reprobated. There is a Divine Order, for God governs all, and has created all things according to his Eternal Logos or Wisdom; therefore pantheism is true:—when men understand this, they will see that fraternity is also a holy principle. All these systems limit, modify and correct each other; and it is in their union and harmony that the truth is to be found.


  1. A PLUTOCRACY is a government administered by, and for the advantage of, the more wealthy class of the community. In socialism, the government administers the wealth of the state; in a Plutocracy, the wealth administers the government. PLUTO was the god and king of hell. His name signifies, in Greek, the Giver of Wealth: the Latins called him Dis, that is, dives, that is, again, rich. Under the name PLUTUS , he is, especially, the god of Wealth. Diamonds, gold, and iron—in general, all hard and precious substances, were the materials of which the infernal palace was built. In the beginning, Plutus was not blind; but, as he granted his gifts only to virtuous men, Jupiter deprived him of sight, in order that he might thenceforth distribute them without distinction among the worthy, and the unworthy,. Plutus is represented as an infirm man, having his eyes bandaged, and holding a purse in his hand.
  2. Socialism is a novel fact in modern history; but it shone in full splendor in the early ages of almost all (if not all) the ancient oriental nations. Socialism manifests itself at he origin and at the dissolution of great civilizations: it is the first and the second childhood of the great empires. When it is imposed on the people by a scientific caste, by a Theocracy, it is the sign of rising national strength; when it proceeds from the contact of popular supremacy with the organization of society which results from the long prevalence of special privileges, it is the disease of which nations die. It was by Socialism that Chaldea rose high among the empires; it was by Socialism—by the African grain which was furnished to the people, at the expense of the State, that the gates of Rome were thrown open to the barbarians. Socialism is already partly organised in France (though the edict decreeing. the purchase of the rail roads has been repealed;) and this, as seems to be always the case on occasions of national decline, through the fault of the conservative party who, having ears, hear not, and having eyes, see not. The signs have appeared in the heavens; but we cannot bring ourselves to believe that Providence will ever permit any Christian nation to die out. Cataline, if he had succeeded, would have saved Rome; when Julius Caesar attempted to accomplish the work of Cataline, the day of grace had gone by, for Cicero, an imbecile, had held power in the interval. There is a man, at present in the dungeons of the Republic, who may yet save France. Let him have firm faith in that God whose instrument he is, but against whom (though not like Jonah) he now rebels!
    Communism and Socialism are the opposites of each other. The communistic doctrines tend to anarchy; the socialistic doctrines tend to excess of organization. Socialism sacrifices the individual to the State; Communism sacrifices the State to the individual .
  3. The reader must bear in mind that there is a difference between occupation and mere appropriation.

[from Equality, pages 59-65.]