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Quotations about Liberty and Power

About this Quotation:

The classical liberal American sociologist William Graham Sumner (1840-1910) penned two powerful essays between 1896 and 1898 to voice his opposition to the emergence of an American empire with the acquisition of Hawaii and the Philippines. His vision of a free and democratic American republic was rooted in an original notion of “American exceptionalism” which saw the founding of America as an opportunity to void the militarism and great power politics of Old Europe and to create a new society in which individuals would be free to pursue their own goals unrestricted by government regulation and taxation. In the 1890s he saw a new kind of exceptionalism emerging around him which was expansionist, aggressive, high taxing, and full of missionary zeal to “civilize” the less-developed world. He concluded that the ideals of Old Europe had won with the Spanish “moral” conquest of the United States in 1898.

Other quotes about War & Peace:

3 September, 2012

SumnerB250

Sumner’s vision of the American Republic was a parsimonious government which had little to do (1898)

Read the full quote in context here.

In 1898 the American sociologist William Graham Sumner (1840-1910) had a vision of what a free, democratic, American Republic should be like: it should have no barons, no armies, no court and no pomp, no ribbons, no public debt, no grand diplomacy, no adventurous policies of conquest or ambition; but it should have a parsimonious government which had little to do:

There should be no manors, no barons, no ranks, no prelates, no idle classes, no paupers, no disinherited ones except the vicious. There were to be no armies except a militia, which would have no functions but those of police. They (the Founders of the Republic) would have no court and no pomp; no orders, or ribbons, or decorations, or titles. They would have no public debt. They repudiated with scorn the notion that a public debt is a public blessing; if debt was incurred in war it was to be paid in peace and not entailed on posterity. There was to be no grand diplomacy, because they intended to mind their own business and not be involved in any of the intrigues to which European statesmen were accustomed. There was to be no balance of power and no “reason of state” to cost the Life and happiness of citizens.

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

And yet this scheme of a republic which our fathers formed was a glorious dream which demands more than a word of respect and affection before it passes away. Indeed, it is not fair to call it a dream or even an ideal; it was a possibility which was within our reach if we had been wise enough to grasp and hold it. It was favored by our comparative isolation, or, at least, by our distance from other strong states. The men who came here were able to throw off all the trammels of tradition and established doctrine. They went out into a wilderness, it is true, but they took with them all the art, science, and literature which, up to that time, civilization had produced. They could not, it is true, strip their minds of the ideas which they had inherited, but in time, as they lived on in the new world, they sifted and selected these ideas, retaining what they chose. Of the old-world institutions also they selected and adopted what they chose and threw aside the rest. It was a grand opportunity to be thus able to strip off all the follies and errors which they had inherited, so far as they chose to do so. They had unlimited land with no feudal restrictions to hinder them in the use of it. Their idea was that they would never allow any of the social and political abuses of the old world to grow up here. There should be no manors, no barons, no ranks, no prelates, no idle classes, no paupers, no disinherited ones except the vicious. There were to be no armies except a militia, which would have no functions but those of police. They would have no court and no pomp; no orders, or ribbons, or decorations, or titles. They would have no public debt. They repudiated with scorn the notion that a public debt is a public blessing; if debt was incurred in war it was to be paid in peace and not entailed on posterity. There was to be no grand diplomacy, because they intended to mind their own business and not be involved in any of the intrigues to which European statesmen were accustomed. There was to be no balance of power and no “reason of state” to cost the Life and happiness of citizens. The only part of the Monroe doctrine which is valid was their determination that the social and political systems of Europe should not be extended over any part of the American continent, lest people who were weaker than we should lose the opportunity which the new continent gave them to escape from those systems if they wanted to. Our fathers would have an economical government, even if grand people called it a parsimonious one, and taxes should be no greater than were absolutely necessary to pay for such a government. The citizen was to keep all the rest of his earnings and use them as he thought best for the happiness of himself and his family; he was, above all, to be insured peace and quiet while he pursued his honest industry and obeyed the laws. No adventurous policies of conquest or ambition, such as, in the belief of our fathers, kings and nobles had forced, for their own advantage, on European states, would ever be undertaken by a free democratic republic. Therefore the citizen here would never be forced to leave his family or to give his sons to shed blood for glory and to leave widows and orphans in misery for nothing. Justice and law were to reign in the midst of simplicity, and a government which had little to do was to offer little field for ambition. In a society where industry, frugality, and prudence were honored, it was believed that the vices of wealth would never flourish.

[More works by William Graham Sumner (1840 – 1910) and on War and Peace]