Over at Liberty Fund’s “Liberty Matters” site, I have an essay on the neglected political ideas of William Graham Sumner. Here’s a bit from the beginning:
History has not been kind to the legacy of William Graham Sumner. In his time (1840-1910), Sumner was one of the most prestigious and widely read libertarian intellectuals in the United States. Beyond his more technical academic work Sumner also wrote passionately and voluminously in defense of laissez faireon a wide range of social issues. His popular critique of protectionism, “The –ism Which Teaches that Waste Makes Wealth” (1885) and his denunciation of imperialism in “The Conquest of the United States by Spain” (1898) are two of his most impressive polemical works. Sumner’s most sustained investigation of questions of economic policy and distributive justice appeared in a collection essays What Social Classes Owe to Each Other (1883) which includes his most famous single essay – “The Forgotten Man” (1884). Unfortunately, Sumner’s intellectual legacy suffered essentially the same fate as that of his contemporary Herbert Spencer, and for much the same reason. From near-ubiquity and respectability, Sumner’s ideas have descended into obscurity and disrepute. To the extent he is remembered at all today, it is mostly for his alleged “social Darwinism.”
Following my essay is a terrific discussion featuring contributions from David Hart, Robert Leroux, and Fabio Rojas. Be sure to check it out!