Wednesday, July 30, 2008

William Graham Sumner on Social Doctors

"The amateur social doctors are like amateur physicians--they always begin with the question of remedies, and they go at this without any diagnosis or any knowledge of the anatomy or physiology of society. They never have any doubt of the efficacy of their remedies. They never take account of any ulterior effects which may be apprehended from the remedy itself. It generally troubles them not a whit that their remedy implies a complete reconstruction of society, or even a reconstitution of human nature. Against all such social quackery the obvious injunction to the quacks is to mind their own business.

"The social doctors enjoy the satisfaction of feeling themselves to be more moral or more enlightened than their fellow-men. They are able to see what other men ought to do when the other men do not see it. An examination of the work of the social doctors, however, shows that they are only more ignorant and more presumptuous than other people. We have a great many social difficulties and hardships to contend with. Poverty, pain, disease, and misfortune surround our existence. We fight against them all the time. The individual is a centre of hopes, affections, desires and sufferings...But we have inherited a vast number of social ills which never came from Nature. They are the complicated products of all the tinkering, muddling and blundering of social doctors in the past. These products of social quackery are now buttressed by habit, fashion, prejudice, platitudinarian thinking, and new quackery in political economy and social science...the greatest reforms which could now be accomplished would consist in undoing the work of statesmen in the past and the greatest difficulty in the way of reform is to find out how to undo their work without injury to what is natural and sound."

---William Graham Sumner, What Social Classes Owe to Each Other, Originally published in 1883.

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