Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

William Graham Sumner

American Classical Liberal Social Scientist, Professor at Yale

"I am entitled to make the most I can of myself without hindrance from anybody, but I am not entitled to any guarantee that I shall make as much of myself as somebody else makes of himself."

"It is taught that willing and voluntary service to others is the highest duty and glory in human life... The men of talent are constantly forced to serve the rest. They make the discoveries and inventions, order the battles, write the books, and produce the works of art. The benefit and enjoyment go to the whole. There are those who joyfully order their own lives so that they may serve the welfare of mankind."

"Socialists are filled with the enthusiasm of equality... Equality of possession or of rights and equality before the law are diametrically opposed to each other. The object of equality before the law is to make the state entirely neutral."

"The four great motives which move men to social activity are hunger, love, vanity, and fear of superior powers. If we search out the causes which have moved men to war we find them under each of these motives or interests."

"The men who start out with the notion that the world owes them a living generally find that the world pays its debt in the penitentiary or the poorhouse."

"What is the real relation between happiness and goodness? It is only within a few generations that men have found the courage to say that there is none."

"If you want a war, nourish a doctrine. doctrines are the most fearful tyrants to which men ever are subject, because doctrines get inside of a man’s own reason and betray him against himself. Civilized men have done their fiercest fighting for doctrines."

"There is no state of readiness for war; the notion calls for never-ending sacrifices."

"Doctrines are the most fearful tyrants to which men ever are subject because doctrines get inside of a man’s own reason and betray him against himself."

"Hunger love, vanity, and fear. There are four great motives of human action."

"Every group stigmatizes anyone who fails in zeal, labor, and sacrifices for group interests."

"It is the supreme test of government whether its machinery is adequate for repressing the selfish undertakings of cliques formed on special interests and saving the public from raids of plunderers."

"Persecution of a dissenter is always popular I the group which he has abandoned. Toleration of dissent is no sentiment of the masses."

"A differentiation arises between ourselves, the we-group, or in-group, and everybody else, or the others-groups, out-groups."

"A drunkard in the gutter is just where he ought to be, according to the fitness and tendency of things. Nature has set upon him the process of decline and dissolution by which she removes things which have survived their usefulness."

"A good father believes that he does wisely to encourage enterprise, productive skill, prudent self-denial, and judicious expenditure on the part of his son."

"All history is one long story to this effect: men have struggled for power over their fellow men in order that they might win the joys of earth at the expense of others, might shift the burdens of life from their own shoulders upon those of others."

"All history is only one long story to this effect: men have struggled for power over their fellow-men in order that they might win the joys of earth at the expense of others and might shift the burdens of life from their own shoulders upon those of others."

"Any prosperity policy is a delusion and a path to ruin. There is no economic lesson which the people of the United States need to take to heart more than that. In the second place the Spanish mistakes arose, in part, from confusing the public treasury with the national wealth."

"Anyone who believes that any great enterprise of an industrial character can be started without labor must have little experience of life."

"Before the tribunal of nature a man has no more right to life than a rattlesnake."

"Can anyone imagine that the masterfulness, the overbearing disposition, the greed of gain, and the ruthlessness in methods, which are the faults of the master of industry at his worst, would cease when he was a functionary of the State, which had relieved him of risk and endowed him with authority? Can anyone imagine that politicians would no longer be corruptly fond of money, intriguing, and crafty when they were charged, not only with patronage and government contracts, but also with factories, stores, ships, and railroads? Could we expect anything except that, when the politician and the master of industry were joined in one, we should have the vices of both unchecked by the restraints of either?"

"Civil liberty is the status of the man who is guaranteed by law and civil institutions the exclusive employment of all his own powers for his own welfare."

"Darwin was as much of an emancipator as was Lincoln."

"Ethnocentrism is the view of things in which one's own group is the center of everything and all others are scaled and rated with reference to it.... Each group nourishes its own pride and vanity, boasts itself superior, exalts its own divinities, and looks with contempt on outsiders."

"Every man and woman in society has one big duty. That is, to take care of his or her own self. This is a social duty. For, fortunately, the matter stands so that the duty of making the best of one's self individually is not a separate thing from the duty of filling one's place in society, but the two are one, and the latter is accomplished when the former is done"

"Everywhere you go on the continent of Europe at this hour you see the conflict between militarism and industrialism. You see the expansion of industrial power pushed forward by the energy, hope, and thrift of men, and you see the development arrested, diverted, crippled, and defeated by measures which are dictated by military considerations."

"Furthermore, the unearned increment from land appears in the United States as a gain to the first comers, who have here laid the foundations of a new State."

"Gentlemen, the time is coming when there will be two great classes, Socialists, and Anarchists. The Anarchists want the government to be nothing, and the Socialists want government to be everything. There can be no greater contrast. Well, the time will come when there will be only these two great parties, the Anarchists representing the laissez faire doctrine and the Socialists representing the extreme view on the other side, and when that time comes I am an Anarchist."

"Great captains of industry are as rare as great generals"

"He who would be well taken care of must take care of himself."

"History is only a tiresome repetition of one story."

"History is only a tiresome repetition of one story. Persons and classes have sought to win possession of the power of the State in order to live luxuriously out of the earnings of others"

"I have before me a newspaper slip on which a writer expresses the opinion that no one should be allowed to possess more than one million dollars' worth of property."

"I never have known a man of ordinary common- sense who did not urge upon his sons, from earliest childhood, doctrines of economy and the practice of accumulation."

"I suppose that the first chemists seemed to be very hard-hearted and unpoetical persons when they scouted the glorious dream of the alchemists that there must be some process for turning base metals into gold. I suppose that the men who first said, in plain, cold assertion, there is no fountain of eternal youth, seemed to be the most cruel and cold-hearted adversaries of human happiness. I know that the economists who say that if we could transmute lead into gold, it would certainly do us no good and might do great harm, are still regarded as unworthy of belief. Do not the money articles of the newspapers yet ring with the doctrine that we are getting rich when we give cotton and wheat for gold rather than when we give cotton and wheat for iron?"

"If America becomes militant, it will be because its people choose to become such; it will be because they think that war and warlikeness are desirable."

"If I want to be free from any other man?s dictation, I must understand that I can have no other man under my control."

"If we put together all that we have learned from anthropology and ethnography about primitive men and primitive society, we perceive that the first task of life is to live. Men begin with acts, not with thoughts."

"If you allow a political catchword to go on and grow, you will awaken someday to find it standing over you, arbiter of your destiny, against which you are powerless."

"If you ever live in a country run by a committee, be on the committee."

"In the New Testament it is taught that willing and voluntary service to others is the highest duty and glory in human life. . . . The men of talent are constantly forced to serve the rest. They make the discoveries and inventions, order the battles, write the books, and produce the works of art. The benefit and enjoyment go to the whole. There are those who joyfully order their own lives so that they may serve the welfare of mankind."

"It is a beneficent incident of the ownership of land that a pioneer who reduces it to use, and helps to lay the foundations of a new State, finds a profit in the increasing value of land as the new State grows up."

"It is often said that the earth belongs to the race, as if raw land was a boon, or gift."

"It is remarkable that jealousy of individual property in land often goes along with very exaggerated doctrines of tribal or national property in land."

"It is the tendency of the social burdens to crush out the middle class, and to force society into an organization of only two classes, one at each social extreme."

"It used to be believed that the parent had unlimited claims on the child and rights over him. In a truer view of the matter, we are coming to see that the rights are on the side of the child and the duties on the side of the parent."

"It would be hard to find a single instance of a direct assault by positive effort upon poverty, vice, and misery which has not either failed or, if it has not failed directly and entirely, has not entailed other evils greater than the one which it removed."

"Joint- stock companies are yet in their infancy, and incorporated capital, instead of being a thing which can be overturned, is a thing which is becoming more and more indispensable."

"Labor organizations are formed, not to employ combined effort for a common object, but to indulge in declamation and denunciation, and especially to furnish an easy living to some officers who do not want to work."