Saturday, January 22, 2011

William Graham Sumner

Yale sociologist William Graham Sumner was one of the most influential American thinkers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. While Sumner could be considered the founder of sociology as an academic discipline, his ideas ranged much farther. An intellectual ally of Englishman Herbert Spencer and American president Grover Cleveland, he was an outspoken advocate of laissez-faire capitalism, minimum government, personal responsibility and sound money. He wrote biographies of Andrew Jackson, Alexander Hamilton and Robert Morris as well as the popular Folkways and The Forgotten Man.

Some quotes of William Graham Sumner:

A proposition to give everybody an existence worthy of a human being, without a specification of the measures by which it is proposed to do it, is like a proposition to make everybody handsome. . . . Our analysis has . . . shown this noble sentiment is simply a bathos.

The question . . . arises, if it is proposed to reorganize the the social system on the principles of American democracy, whether the institutions of industrialism will be retained. If so, all the virus of capitalism will be retained. It is forgotten, in many schemes of social reformation in which it is proposed to mix what we like with what we do not like, in order to extirpate the latter, that each must undergo a reaction from the other, and that what we like may be extirpated by what we do not like. We may find that instead of democratizing capitalism we have capitalized democracy--that is, have brought in plutocracy.

Who are those who assume to put hard questions to other people and to demand a solution of them? How did they acquire the right to demand that others should solve their world problems for them? Who are they who are held to consider and solve all questions, and how did they fall under this duty?

We groan about monopolies and talk about more laws to prevent the wrongs done by chartered corporations. Who made the charters? Our representatives. Who elected such representatives? We did. How can we get bad law-makers to make a law which shall prevent bad law-makers from making a bad law? That is, really, what we are trying to do. If we are a free, self-governing people, all our misfortunes come right home to ourselves and we can blame nobody else.

(The abolition of poverty) When we turn to examine the means which we are invited to employ for this purpose, we find that it is only the same old proposal once more in a new disguise; we are to abolish poverty by abolishing wealth. We are to go back, in fact, to the primitive barbarism, to the bliss which rests on ignorance, and the contentment which comes from savage stupidity; and the net final gain will be that our envy will no longer be excited by seeing anybody else better off than we. . . . The philosophizing which goes on about these things is one of the marks of the literature of our time. Most of it is as idle as it would be to write essays about the distress of excessive heat.

The robbery of a merchant by a robber baron, the robbery of an investor by a railroad wrecker and the robbery of a capitalist by a collectivist, are all one.

Nearly all, when they say that they want equality only use another form of expression to say that they want more welfare than they have, because they take as a standard all which any one has and they find many who have more than themselves.

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