We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Timeless words of a master

“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.

5 comments to Timeless words of a master

  • RRS

    Readers might profit to know that this essay and other works of Sumner are available online – FREE

    at Libertyfund.org.

    Simply go to their online library of liberty (OLL)
    click on the “s” in the top line on the first list of authors, when the list appears scroll to the bottom and thar he be.

    Liberty Fund is a tremendous resource of printed books and collected works – take a look at the catalogue, just to get an idea of all that has been thought out over millenia on the topics that so concern us now.

    Warning: it may appear to be a bit “libertarian.”

  • Allan Ripley

    The Mises Institute (Link)
    has this and others by Graham in an excellent dead tree edition. They are very big into reprints of the masters. And unapologetically libertarian.

  • RRS

    Liberty Fund also distributes, absolutely free (and it costs them about $1.00 in U S postage to mail, so I don’t know if they can serve the U K or elsewhere), a DVD, which they call their Portable Library of Liberty (PLL), which contains 1001 books, inclusive of those same works of Sumner, plus a treaure trove of other masterpieces and classics from their OLL (cited in the prior comment) as well as audio such as the lecture series The Legacy of Friedrich Hayek.

    This is the 50th Anniversary Ed (2010) of the PLL.

    Still, I like to buy books and collections from them, because the last time i tried they would not accept contributions (they were endowed by a bequest).

  • veryretired

    We live in a society which has so magnified the productivity of the people referred to in that quotation that it is wealthy beyond the wildest dreams of the kings and emperors of antiquity.

    I am a very ordinary, middle class person who has not earned any extravagant amount of money in my life. My wife is about the same. We have both worked since our teenage years, and she is still pursuing her career, while I work only occasionally any longer.

    And yet, we have owned very nice houses, cars, taken vacations, and raised 4 children with private schooling, had good medical care, and, as my waistline will attest, enjoyed an entire lifetime of good, nutritious food.

    Our people described as “poor” live at a level comparable to any other country’s middle class, and, historically, better even than past royalty or aristocracy.

    This has occurred for one reason and one reason only—the acknowledgement of individual rights, and the resulting freedom for creative, productive people to prosper and retain the fruits of their labor.

    That latter phrase, in and of itself, is a revolutionary step in human social development.

    It is also the area most continuously under attack for the last century by the advocates of collective ideology and statist society.

    I do not care about Warren Buffett or Bill Gates. I care about the people who work every day, day in and day out, hoping to take care of their families, and enjoy a few of life’s amenities along the way.

    The genius of liberty is that they can achieve that hope.

    The shame of collectivist society is that that dream is denied, indeed, stolen, in order to feed the power hunger of its cadres, and pour the wealth of the productive into the black hole of the needs of the incapable.

  • Paul Marks

    Sumner was becomming isolated at Yale – even in his day.

    These days the only jobs he would get there (or in the rest of the Ivy League) would be either cleaner or security.

    For years (indeed decades) “practical” people ignored warnings of what was happening to education (and not just to the Ivy League).

    “Theory” did not matter – “once the students come out into the real world….”.

    In the “Age of Obama” the “practical” people stand exposed as fools.

    Ideas do matter – and the young are deeply influenced by the control of formal education by the left.