“Now who is the Forgotten Man? He is the simple, honest laborer, willing to earn his living by productive work. We pass him by because he is independent, self-supporting, and asks no favors. He does not appeal to the emotions or excite the sentiments. He only wants to make a contract and fulfil it, with respect to both sides and favor on neither side. He must get his living out of the capital of the country. The larger the capital is, the better living he can get. Every particle of capital which is wasted on the vicious, the idle, and the shiftless is so much taken from the capital available to reward the independent and productive laborer. But we stand with our backs to the independent and productive laborer all the time. We do not remember him because he makes no clamor; but appeal to you whether he is not the man who ought to be remembered first of all, and whether, on any sound social theory, we ought not to protect him against the burdens of the good-for-nothing.”
- The Forgotten Man, page 209 from On Liberty, Society and Politics. The Essential Writings of William Graham Sumner, Edited by Robert C. Bannister.
His idea that a large swathe of people who asked for no favours – nor received many – has its echoes, however imperfect, in such expressions as Richard Nixon’s “Great Silent Majority” or, in the UK perspective, “Middle England”, or perhaps, “the coping classes”. Sumner is a useful reminder that the great classical liberal thinkers of the 19th Century and before acutely understood the issues of class and the difference between the self-reliant and others, but without the tedious animosity and simple-mindedness of the Marxians or the patronising dreams of High Tories a la Disraeli or, god help us, David Cameron or the late Harold Macmillan.
I strongly recommend this book, although these reprints of old classics by Liberty Fund are not exactly cheap.