Saturday, June 16, 2012

In The Usual Case...

...I would let the post below stand as my tirade for the day. However, I have lately taken to refreshing my acquaintance with the works of the great classical liberals: the men whose thoughts and writings would give us the body of convictions and reasoning that has become contemporary libertarian-conservatism.

One of those men, perhaps less well known than the others, was William Graham Sumner, the first American thinker to practice and promote the academic discipline we know as sociology. Sumner had a great deal in common with the great Herbert Spencer, though the two had some fundamental differences over whether there are truly such things as "natural rights." Nevertheless, when it came to political and social policy, the two hardly ever disagreed.

Regard well the following segment from Sumner's "What Social Classes Owe to Each Other:"

The humanitarians, philanthropists, and reformers, looking at the facts of life as they present themselves, find enough which is sad and unpromising in the condition of many of the members of society. They see wealth and poverty side by side. They note great inequality of social position and social chances. They eagerly set about the attempt to account for what they see, and to devise schemes for remedying what they do not like. In their eagerness to recommend the less fortunate classes to pity and consideration they forget all about the rights of other classes; they gloss over all the faults of the classes in question, and they exaggerate their misfortunes and their virtues. They invent new theories of property, distorting rights and perpetuating injustice, as anyone is sure to do who sets about the readjustment of social relations with the interests of one group distinctly in mind and the interests of all other groups thrown into the background.

When I have read certain of these discussions I have thought that it must be quite disreputable to be respectable, quite dishonest to own property, quite unjust to go one's own way and earn one's own living, and that the only really admirable person was the good-for-nothing. The man who by his own effort raises himself above poverty appears, in these discussions, to be of no account. The man who has done nothing to raise himself above poverty finds that the social doctors flock about him, bringing the capital which they have collected from the other class, and promising him the aid of the State to give him what the other had to work for. In all these schemes and projects the organized intervention of the State is thus made to become the protector and guardian of certain classes. The agents who are to direct the action of the State are, of course, the reformers and philanthropists. Their schemes, therefore, may always be reduced to this type -- that A and B shall decide what C shall do for D....

Here it may suffice to observe that, on the theories of the social philosophers to whom I have referred, we should get a new maxim of judicious living: Poverty is the best policy. If you get wealth, you will have to support other people; if you do not get wealth, it will be the duty of other people to support you.

This is as complete a formulation of the major contemporary uses of State power as I have ever seen.

William Graham Sumner is little known and even less read in our time. Perhaps his most prominent descendant will change that. At any rate, we can hope.

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