The Issue of Federal Regulation in the Progressive Era

By Richard Abrams | Go to book overview

I THE ISSUE IN THE ABSTRACT

ALL THESE APPEALS HAD FIRST TO OVERCOME THE PREDOMINANT AVOWED ideology of the times. That ideology, as expressed in its most disinterested or idealistic form by William Graham Sumner ( 1840-1910), Professor of Political Science at Yale University and a disciple of the English sociologist Herbert Spencer, made use of the most recent scientific theories about the laws of Nature to condemn political--that is, "artificial"--interference with the "natural" processes of social development. Sumner "Social Darwinism" strikes most people today as embodying gross misapprehensions about science and a gross misapplication of biological knowledge to social processes. But even today, in the middle of the twentieth century, there is considerable provocative force in his view that "Certain ills belong to the hardships of human life," that "It is not at all the function of the State to make men happy," and that "It is not to be admitted for a moment that liberty is a means to social ends, and that it may be impaired for major considerations." (Compare Theodore Roosevelt's qualifications regarding individual liberty in 1910. quoted on page 23 below.) Similarly, his frigidly realistic description of the State ("only a little group of men chosen in a very haphazard way") can be chilling to those who urge placing upon "the State" regulative functions in the production and distribution of wealth.


A. THE MORAL DISCIPLINE OF WORK

In the following selection. Richard Hofstadter, a modern liberal historian, presents a brief view of Social Darwinism which should serve to introduce the student in a fresh way to the assertions of a man who, in his own time, was very much a liberal himself. The Sumner selection follows immediately thereafter. ( Richard Hofstadter, Social Darwinism in American Thought [ Boston: Beacon Press, 1955], pp. 9-11.)]

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