Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on November 2, 2013

in Civil Society, Seen and Unseen

… is from page 210 of the 1992 collection of some of William Graham Sumner’s best essays, On Liberty, Society, and Politics (Roger C. Bannister, ed.); specifically, this quotation is from Sumner’s famous 1883 essay “The Forgotten Man“:

There are a great many schemes brought forward for “improving the condition of the working classes.”  I have shown already that a free man cannot take a favor.  One who takes a favor or submits to patronage demeans himself.  He falls under obligation.  He cannot be free and he cannot assert a station of equality with the man who confers the favor on him.  The only exception is where there are exceptional bonds of affection or friendship, that is, where the sentimental relation supersedes the free relation.  Therefore, in a country which is a free democracy, all propositions to do something for the working classes have an air of patronage and superiority which is impertinent and out of place.  No one can do anything for anybody else unless he has a surplus of energy to dispose of after taking care of himself.  In the United States, the working classes, technically so called, are the strongest classes.  It is they who have a surplus to dispose of if anybody has.  Why should anybody else offer to take care of them or to serve them?  They can get whatever they think worth having and, at any rate, if they are free men in a free state, it is ignominious and unbecoming to introduce fashions of patronage and favoritism here.  A man who, by superior education and experience of business, is in a position to advise a struggling man of the wages class, is certainly held to do so and will, I believe, always be willing and glad to do so; but this sort of activity lies in the range of private and personal relations.

My parents, by the way – who in their too-short lives never heard of William Graham Sumner and never read a word written by thinkers such as Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, F.A. Hayek, or any other notable champion of a free society – implicitly understood and taught by example and in their own words the above lesson.  My mom.  My dad.

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