William Graham Sumner

Quotes Suitable for Framing: William Graham Sumner

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The type and formula of most schemes of philanthropy or humanitarianism is this: A and B put their heads together to decide what C shall be made to do for D.  The radical vice of all these schemes, from a sociological point of view, is that C is not allowed a voice in the matter,  and his position, character, and interests, as well as the ultimate effects on society through C’s interests, are entirely overlooked.  I call C the Forgotten Man.  For once let us look him up and consider his case, for the characteristic of all social doctors is, that they fix their minds on some man or group of men whose case appeals to the sympathies and the imagination, and they plan remedies addressed to the particular trouble; they do not understand that all the parts of society hold together, and that forces which are set in action act and react throughout the whole organism, until an equilibrium is produced by a re-adjustment of all interests and rights.  They therefore ignore entirely the source from which they must draw all the energy which they employ in their remedies, and they ignore all the effects on other members of society than the ones they have in view.  They are always under the dominion of the superstition of government, and, forgetting that a government produces nothing at all, they leave out of sight the first fact to be remembered in all social discussion – that the State cannot get a cent for any man without taking it from some other man, and this latter must be a man who has produced and saved it.  This latter is the Forgotten Man.

William Graham Sumner, The Forgotten Man

The Forgotten Men & Women of America


In 1883, William Graham Sumner published an essay titled “The Forgotten Man” (originally titled “On the Case of a Certain Man Who Is Never Thought Of” – not quite as catchy) which is as relevant today as it was when it was written. The essay is a great exposition of the laissez-faire understanding and approach to social problems and articulates what I believe many on the libertarian right and within the Tea Party believe today. From a Catholic point of view, there is much I find agreeable within it, though there are certain tangents, unnecessary to the main argument, that I would take issue with.

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