WilliamGrahamSumnerNotes

WilliamGrahamSumnerNotes - William Graham Sumner What...

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William Graham Sumner, What Social Classes Owe to Each Other Sumner was a passionate advocate of laissez-faire economics and believed that, due to the sociological structure of communal life, governmental reform was useless at best, and a burdensome constraint at worst. The book was published in 1883, a time when monopolies were forming and the economy was undergoing rapid change and industrialization. Sumner’s main purpose in this book is to affirm that the ‘ambitious’ and ‘competent’ should be given the freedom of economic development unrestrained by artificial duties to the ‘lazy’ and ‘incompetent’ poor. It is a direct attack against ‘social reforms’ meant to provide assistance, relief and so forth to the lower classes. Sumner begins from a fundamental frustration with the sociopolitical thought of the times, and claims it is centered on demanding other people (the implication being the contemplative and elite classes) solve the growing problems of the “large, but vague and undefined, constituency,” of the lower classes (7-8). Sumner captures this in stating, “Those who are bound to solve the problems are the rich, comfortable, prosperous, virtuous, respectable, educated, and healthy; those whose right it is to set the problems are those who have been less fortunate or less successful in the struggle for existence. The problem itself seems to be, How shall the latter be made as comfortable as the former? To solve this problem, and make us all equally well off, is assumed to be the duty of the former class; the penalty, if they fail of this, is to be bloodshed and destruction Those who are bound to solve the problems are the rich, comfortable, prosperous, virtuous, respectable, educated, and healthy; those whose right it is to set the problems are those who have been less fortunate or less successful in the struggle for existence. The problem itself seems to be, How shall the latter be made as comfortable as the former? To solve this problem, and make us all equally well off, is assumed to be the duty of the former class; the penalty, if they fail of this, is to be bloodshed and destruction,” (8). He refers here to German writers (the primary implied example is Hegel) who want a powerful state that acts as a conscientious and intelligent control checking human limitations as his foil. To Sumner, the state is, “All-of-us. In practice…it is only a little group of men chosen in a very haphazard way by the majority of us to perform certain services for all of us. The majority do not go about their selection very rationally…Hence ‘the State,’ instead of offering resources of wisdom, right reason and pure moral sense beyond what the average of us possess, generally offers much less of all those things…[it] is a little functionary on whom a big functionary is forced to depend,” (9-10). So, in sum, if statesmen could become wise, they might be able to regulate the
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WilliamGrahamSumnerNotes - William Graham Sumner What...

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