Josiah Warren, Equitable Commerce, 4/11/1849

“Equitable Commerce,” Boston Investigator, 18, 49 (April 11, 1849), 3.

Equitable Commerce.

The following article on this subject by Josiah Warren, its discoverer, will be read with interest by his friends in this city and throughout the country :—

To the Editor of the Investigator:

Dear Sir:—In accordance with your request, I would gladly make use of your columns as a medium through which the public might get some idea of “Equitable Commerce,” but I do not know that I could re-state the subject in any better form than that in the pamphlet entitled “Equitable Commerce,” from which you are at liberty to extract whatever you judge may be useful.

There are some points, however, that I would wish to impress most emphatically, and these may justify reiteration. To do this subject justice it is necessary to examine it by itself, and not judge it by the experiments that have so often failed. Communism, Fourierism, and all the great enterprises for social reformation have (as far as I know,) been based upon a Unity of interests. Equitable Commerce is founded on exactly the opposite principle, that of the most complete Individuality of interests. One of the great ideas of Common Property and Fourierism was, to neutralise the antagonism of interests, to disarm competition of its desolating power, arid to make the interests of men harmonise and co-operate with instead of clashing with, and destroying each other. The inventors of these systems seem to have had this object in view in proposing a Unity of interests; but after a full and fair trial of this idea in a great variety of different forms at New Harmony with Mr. Owen in 1825 and ’26, I was most thoroughly satisfied that no amount of philanthropy, wisdom and capital combined could make these enterprises based on United interests succeed; and that if we could not preserve the Individuality of interests and yet make them harmonise and procure the required co-operation, that our cause was hopeless. I believe it is admitted by all who have examined “Equitable Commerce,” that simple equity is sufficient in itself if acted on, to neutralise destructive competition and to produce all the co-operation and all the economies aimed at by common property or by Fourierism.

The great obstacle to the understanding of this subject is its extreme simplicity. You can hold your finger so near your eye that you cannot see it. Some people think that a subject of this magnitude cannot be examined without spectacles: and their first step is to refer immediately to those who wear them, or to procure a pair for themselves; never thinking of the expedient of using their eyes. The editor of the “Bee” in this city, after examining the work on “Equitable Commerce,” says “he cannot for the life of him see the pith of the principles,” while a farmer in Indiana said that ”they had all the features that a great redeeming revolution ought to possess.”

The editor of time Boston Post, after implying that he had read the work, seems to come to the conclusion that all such attempts to remodel society must be abortive, and that we must content ourselves with taking care of and preserving ourselves without infringing our neighbors rights! He probably read the work through with spectacles—if he had used his eyes, he must have perceived that this was exactly the substance of “Equitable Commerce.” It is proposed as a means by which each one can preserve himself without encroaching upon the rights of others. This I understand to be exactly the reformation required—the problem to be solved!—However, it is not necessary that these editors should be able to comprehend the subject. It depends for its development upon the simple, unpretending common sense of those who see and feel the need of it. Diversity, of opinion or capacity, is no evil where conformity is not required. Equitable Commerce is founded on the broadest admission of individuality in all things, and the difference, therefore, even in the estimate of the subject, is not only harmless but beneficial, as it illustrates individuality itself, and serves to moderate enthusiasm, which might defeat the best of enterprises.

I very much doubt whether any merely verbal statement of the subject an establish its claims to confidence, and it is for this reason that the theory has been for twenty years kept in the back ground, while a silent but practical development of its details has been going on in different departments of business and investigation. It only remains to put these parts together at some one place, so that the whole may constitute a practical demonstration. This is now being done at Utopia, on the Ohio river, forty miles above Cincinnati, where those particularly interested, would do well, before forming an estimate of the subject, to spend two or three weeks in investigating details; but I would not advise any one to come to that place to settle or to stay any length of time without making enquiries by letter relative to the demand for his labor, accommodations, &c. Letters should be addressed to some one in “Eutopia, Rural Post Office, Ohio.”

The length of an article often prevents it being read, I will therefore defer any thing further till a future opportunity.


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Independent scholar, translator and archivist.