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William Graham Sumner 

An essay oj commentary 
and selections by 

Major Contributors to Social Science Series 

Alfred mc clung lee, General Editor 

William Graham Sumner 



William Graham Sumner Professor Emeritus 
of Sociology, Yale University 


New York, Established 1834 

Copyright © 1963 by Thomas Y. Crowell Company 

All Rights Reserved 

First Printing, May, 1963 

Second Printing, November, 1965 

Third Printing, January, 1967 

Fourth Printing, August, 1968 

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form, by mimeograph 

or any other means, without permission in writing from the 

publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages 

in a review to be published in a magazine or newspaper. 

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 63-9193 
Series design by Laurel Wagner 

Manufactured in the United States of America by The Colonial Press Inc. 

Grateful acknowledgment is hereby made to the following pub- 
lishers for permission to quote from their publications as indicated 

Ginn and Company, Boston: William Graham Sumner, Folkways, 
1907, reprinted in 1940. Special thanks are due to the publisher for 
permission to quote so extensively in the section entitled "Folkways/' 

Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., New York: Harris E. Starr, 
William Graham Sumner, 1925; Charles H. Cooley, Sociological 
Theory and Social Research, 1930. 

Yale University Press, New Haven: William Graham Sumner, War 
and Other Essays, edited by Albert Galloway Keller, 1911; The Chal- 
lenge oi Facts and Other Essays, edited by Albert Galloway Keller, 
1914; The Forgotten Man and Other Essays, edited by Albert Gallo- 
way Keller, 1919; Essays of William Graham Sumner, 2 vols., edited 
by Albert Galloway Keller and Maurice R. Davie, 1934; What Social 
Classes Owe to Each Other, originally published by Harper and 
Brothers in 1883, reprinted by Yale University Press in 1925; The 
Science of Society, 1927. 


Editor's Foreword 

Undergraduates often find a great challenge in reading a seminal 
thinker's major contributions to social science in their original form. 
But students are usually offered either volume-length works containing 
stimulating passages embedded in outworn discussions, or brief ex- 
cerpts included with those of other authors in general collections of 
readings. The longer works tend to be repetitious and wordy, and 
some now appear misguided. At the same time, excerpts in general 
collections do not give enough of a contributor's work to make him 
come alive. 

In planning the present series, John T. Hawes, Director of the 
College Department of the Thomas Y. Crowell Company, and I 
sought manuscripts free from either of the above weaknesses. The 
editors were asked to dig out the main lines of a contributor's method 
and thought from the verbiage and the dated materials obscuring 
them, and to make available, in one slim volume, a critical essay 
together with the most significant and interesting passages in a con- 
tributor's writings. The volumes in the series, considered as a whole, 
thus give the student an understanding of the diverse ways of thought 
that have gone into the making of the social science discipline as we 
now know it. 

The series has been edited and written so that each little book can 
be read for its own merits and without need of additional props. Each 
contains the seminal ideas of an author which still remain alive today 
but does not gloss over his weaknesses. Each book provides a critical 
vignette of the social scientist as he is now seen. Each book, too, 
should be interesting to college sophomores and especially to under- 
graduate majors in the various social sciences. 

What all volumes in the series have in common is an educative 
conception. They are all efforts to interest undergraduates in some of 


V1 editor's foreword 

the great "originals" of social science and thus to stimulate further 
exploration of important ideas and methods. The editor-critic who 
has done each volume has been free to follow his own professional 
judgment in analyzing his major contributor and in selecting signifi- 
cant excerpts from his works. Each volume thus has an individuality 
deriving from its editor-critic as well as from its subject. 

The books in this series are intended to enrich introductory courses 
in the various social sciences. For more advanced courses, they will 
permit the student to become acquainted with the meatiest contribu- 
tions of many selected social scientists rather than the few whose 
works he might read more extensively. Advanced students will find 
these books invaluable for the purposes of review. 



I have tried in the pages that follow to present in a concise and or- 
derly manner the essence of Sumner's views and contributions in the 
field of social science. Having largely omitted reference to his earlier 
career as an economist, to his books and essays on banking, currency, 
and public finance, and to his biographies of Alexander Hamilton, 
Andrew Jackson, and Robert Morris, I have concentrated on his more 
sociological writings. In making this selection, it has been my inten- 
tion, not to limit this presentation to Sumner's present relevance for 
sociology, but to give a full picture of the mature social scientist and 
his most significant work as an important episode in the history of 
social thought. 

Sumner was a pioneer in the development of the science of soci- 
ology. He introduced, in 1875, the first course in this subject to be 
taught in any university and he wrote the first volume — Folkways — 
to become an American classic in this field. He was on the firing line 
in the early battle for applying the scientific method to the study of 
human society. His insistence on dispassionate analysis, classification, 
comparison, sequence-making, and law-derivation in the field of hu- 
man affairs, was a novel approach in his time, when the traditional 
study of mankind consisted in appeal to the supernatural or to au- 
thority, reliance on intuition or on pure logic, and the like, with no 
thought of subjecting notions to rigorous verification, and when, 
indeed, at least in certain quarters, it was regarded as quite improper 
to consider men and society as natural phenomena. Although such 
problems still remain, this is a far more scientifically sophisticated 
age, and to Sumner belongs considerable credit in helping to bring it 
about. While he remains essentially a nineteenth-century figure, Sum- 
ner is less time-bound than most of the early leaders in this field. 




Two different aspects of Sumner are revealed in his life and work. 
One is that of a man of action— a popular lecturer, publicist, advocate, 
even a politico-economic moralist, engaged in the main intellectual 
controversies of his time. This is most evident in his published essays 
and is treated in the section on Sumner's political theory in this vol- 
ume. The other and more enduring aspect is that of Sumner as a 
scholar, engaged in scientific pursuits. This found expression in his 
remarkable career as a teacher and in his authorship of the famous 
Folkways. Sumner himself recognized the disparity between his 
scholastic and his public activities, and he explained his presence in 
^ the public arena as motivated by a sense of duty. 

When he began his public activities, the country was suffering from 
the consequences of the Civil War; in later years it faced new and 
complex problems arising from increasing industrialization and ur- 
banization. The period of the 1880's and 1890's, when Sumner was 
most active in public affairs, was a turning point in the social and 
economic history of the United States, with the disappearance of the 
frontier and the emergence of big business, trusts, and labor unions, 
and all the questions regarding rights and public welfare which these 
created. The relation of the government to business was a matter of 
increasing concern. It was also a period of general inefficiency of gov- 
ernment and political administration, and an age of proposed helter- 
skelter reforms of either a sentimental or a socialistic nature. These 
Sumner opposed, holding that all sound development must be slow, 
that it must be unhurried and based on scientific knowledge of the 
forces at work, of which we still knew little. For this reason he became 
a gradualist and took the position of laissez-faire, using concepts drawn 
from Darwin and Spencer to buttress his conservative outlook. 

On the other hand, in his more sociological work he was radical in 
the sense of getting at the root of the matter. He had the ability to 
ask fundamental questions and the courage to pursue their investiga- 
tion wherever it might lead and however many cherished and tradi- 
tional notions it might trample underfoot. He always went directly 
to the heart of a matter and kept his eye on the main issue. In his 
mental composition there was nothing of the sentimental or of the 
abstractly speculative; on the contrary, the practical predominated. 
It was m part his passion for the clear, definite, and practical that 
made his attitude toward the metaphysical and intuitional so hostile 
As his biographer, Harris E. Starr [William Graham Sumner, 1925, 
p. 526] relates: "All Sumner's research, writing, and teaching had 


a practical end in view. He was forever trying to discover that which 
would contribute to more successful living here upon the earth; labor- 
ing to get men to adopt right principles of action; endeavoring to 
train up youth to go out and be good citizens. His was preeminently 
.a life of service in the interest of a better world. The assurance which 
Sumner always displayed, his positiveness of statement, his uncon- 
cealed contempt for opinions and theories which he considered su- 
perficial, and his matter-of-fact assumption of superior knowledge in 
his own particular field, led some to charge him with intellectual, 
pride and arrogance. While perhaps he cannot be freed altogether 
from this indictment, it must also be admitted that he displayed a very 
fine type of humility. He was always conscious of the limitations of 
his own knowledge and of the vastness of the unexplored country 
which stretches out on every side of the thinker and teacher. It was 
impossible for him not to take a positive position upon any matter 
which presented itself to him for judgment or action; but he was quick 
to change in the light of more facts or more mature deliberation." 

Sumner was essentially a realist, preoccupied with things rather 
than words, actual behavior rather than speculation. He devoted his 
life to an objective study of the characteristics of human society and 
the laws governing its operation and development. Nowhere in his 
writings is this more clearly seen than in his Folkways, to which the 
greatest amount of attention is bestowed in this analysis of his work. 
In treating his Folkways ideas as well as other topics, I have quoted 
extensively from Sumner, partly to give the reader a flavor of the 
man, but more importantly to record exactly what Sumner said on 
various topics. It is frequently the fate of classical writings that many 
refer to them but seldom read them and that misinterpretations arise 
and persist through oral transmission. Especially does this appear to 
be true where the views are controversial. I have tried to choose what 
I consider the clearest statement of Sumner's views on each particular 
subject. While some attempt is made to relate Sumner's thoughts to 
the main currents of the intellectual history of his time, there is no 
effort to evaluate them. He needs neither praise nor apology nor de- 
fense. Here was a great figure in the history of social science, and here 
are the views he held and the generalizations he made — expressed 
mainly in his own words so that the reader may know in succinct form 
exactly what Sumner said. 

New Haven, Connecticut m. r. d. 

January, 1963 


Editor's Foreword v 

Preface vii 

i. Life, Writings, and Methods i 

2. Conception oi the Field of Sociology 12 

3. Political Theory 2 5 

4. Folkways 44 

William .Graham Sumner 

Life, Writings, and Methods 


William Graham Sumner was born at Paterson, New Jersey, on 
October 30, 1840. He died at Englewood, New Jersey, on April 12, 
1910, and was buried in Guilford, Connecticut. He was the son of 
Thomas Sumner, a mechanic, who came to the United States from 
Lancashire, England, in 1836 and married here Sarah Graham, also 
of English birth. She died when William Graham Sumner was eight 
years old. "This is about all I know of my ancestry," he once wrote 
[Essays of William Graham Sumner, I, 3]. "My father told me that 
he had seen his own great-grandfather, who was a weaver in Lan- 
cashire. They were all artisans and members of the wages class. It is 
safe to say that I am the first of them who ever learned Latin and 

Sumner grew up in Hartford, Connecticut, and was educated in 
the public schools of that city. He graduated at Yale College in 1863, 
and in the summer of that year went to Europe. He spent the winter 
of 1863-64 in Geneva, Switzerland, studying French and Hebrew. 
He was at Gottingen for the next two years, studying ancient lan- 
guages, history, and biblical science. Regarding his professors of 
biblical science, he stated: "They taught me rigorous and pitiless 
methods of investigation and deduction. . . . their method of study 
was nobly scientific, and was worthy to rank, both for its results and 
its discipline, with the best of the natural science methods" [Ibid., 
II, 61]. In April, 1866, he went to Oxford University, where he 
studied Anglican theology. There his love for political science, which 
dated back to his boyhood, was re-awakened and intensified by read- 
ing Buckle and by discussions with his fellow-students. "We used, in 
our conversations at Oxford, to talk about Buckle and the ideas which 


he had then set afloat, and the question which occupied us the most 
was whether there could be a science of society, and, if so, where it 
should begin and how it should be built. . . . We agreed, however, 
that social science must be an induction from history, that Buckle 
had started on the right track, and that the thing to do was to study 
history. The difficulty which arrested us was that we did not see how 
the mass of matter to be collected and arranged could ever be so 
mastered that the induction could actually be performed if the notion 
of an 'induction from history' should be construed strictly ' [Ibid., 

In 1866 Sumner was elected Tutor at Yale and in September of 
that year he took up his duties there. He was ordained deacon in the 
Protestant Episcopal Church in 1867 and priest in 1869. He resigned 
the tutorship in March, 1869, to become assistant to the Rector of 
Calvary Church in New York City. From September, 1870, to Sep- 
tember, 1872, he was Rector of the Church of the Redeemer at Mor- 
ristown, New Jersey. 

In June of 1872 he was elected Professor of Political and Social 
Science at Yale College, a title which he held until he retired in 
1909. With reference to this shift in career from the ministry he 
commented: "When I came to write sermons, I found to what a 
degree my interest lay in topics of social science and political econ- 
omy. ... It was at this period that I read, in an English magazine, 
the first of those essays of Herbert Spencer which were afterward 
collected into the volume The Study of Sociology. These essays im- 
mediately gave me the lead which I wanted, to bring into shape the 
crude notions which had been floating in my head for five or six 
years, especially since the Oxford days. The conception of society, 
of social forces, and of the science of society there offered was just 
the one which I had been groping after but had not been able to 
reduce for myself. It solved the old difficulty about the relation of 
social science to history, rescued social science from the dominion 
of the cranks, and offered a definite and magnificent field for work, 
from which we might hope at last to derive definite results for the 
solution of social problems. It was at this juncture (1872) that I was 
offered the chair of Political and Social Science at Yale. I had always 
been very fond of teaching and knew that the best work I could ever 
do in the world would be in that profession; also, that I ought to be 
in an academical career. I had seen two or three cases of men who, 


in that career, would have achieved distinguished usefulness, but who 
were wasted in the parish and the pulpit" [Ibid., II, 9- 10 ]- 

In 1875 Sumner offered a course in Sociology, which was the first 
course in that subject to be given in any university in America, if not 
in' the world. Of the development of his thoughts which led to this 
innovation, he stated: 

"I was definitely converted to evolution by Professor Marsh's 
horses* some time about 1875 or l8 76. I had re-read Spencer's Social 
Statics and his First Principles, the second part of the latter now 
absorbing all my attention. I now read all of Darwin, Huxley, Haeckel, 
and quite a series of the natural scientists. I greatly regretted that I 
had no education in natural science, especially in biology; but I found 
that the philosophy of history and the 'principles of philology/ as 
I had learned them, speedily adjusted themselves to the new concep- 
tion, and won a new meaning and power from it. As Spencer's 
Principles of Sociology was now coming out in numbers, I was con- 
stantly getting evidence that sociology, if it borrowed the theory of 
evolution in the first place, would speedily render it back again en- 
riched by new and independent evidence. I formed a class to read 
Spencer's book in the parts as they came out, and believe that I began 
to interest men in this important department of study, and to prepare 
them to follow its development, years before any such attempt was 
made at any other university in the world. I have followed the growth 
of the science of society in all its branches and have seen it far surpass 
all the hope and faith I ever had in it. I have spent an immense 
amount of work on it, which has been lost because misdirected. The 
only merit I can claim in that respect is that I have corrected my 
own mistakes. I have not published them for others to correct" 
[Ibid., II, 10-11]. 

Since fifteen years were to pass before a second scholar introduced 
a course in sociology, namely, Albion W. Small at Colby College, 
it is of special interest to note the pioneer development of the subject 
by Sumner. In 1879 he had a controversy with President Noah Porter 
of Yale who objected to his use of Spencer's Study of Sociology in 
his senior class (Sumner, by the way, taught only seniors and graduate 

* This refers to the fossil horses collected by Othniel C. Marsh, the first director 
of .the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University. These fossils 
showed, among other things, the evolution from a several-toed to a one-toed 
type (Editor's note). 


students), on the ground that reading this book would bring "intel- 
lectual and moral harm to the students/' The controversy lasted for 
over a year, and extended beyond academic walls. Sumner prepared 
to resign rather than submit to such interference with his conduct 
of his course. The university authorities yielded, and Sumner won a 
victory for academic freedom. 

As indicated by the Yale University catalogues during his teaching 
career, Sumner's basic course in sociology underwent modifications 
in subject matter and emphasis. In 1885 the prospectus stated: 'The 
course in sociology will include an elementary study of human 
palaeontology, archaeology, and ethnology." In 1887 he labeled the 
course "Anthropology: a very elementary course in pre-historic science 
and the origin of civilization; introduction to ethnology and soci- 
ology." The same year, incidentally, he introduced a course in "The 
Logic and Method of the Social Sciences," perhaps the first course 
ever to be given in methods of social research. In 1888 he called his 
course for seniors "Social Science," and specified among other things 
that "the course will be occupied entirely with positive information 
and scientific method, and will not take up any of the subjects of 
criticism and speculation popularly connected with 'social science/ " 
In 1895 he renamed the course "The Science of Society," a title he 
maintained until he retired. To him this included anthropology and 
ethnology, with emphasis on the origins of civilization and the devel- 
opment of institutions, and a series of lectures on systematic sociology 
in which all topics were "treated exclusively in the light of historical 
anthropology and ethnology." Sumner thus clearly followed the cul- 
tural approach to sociology, in the tradition of Spencer, Tylor, and 
Lippert, which he developed into a generalizing science. Toward the 
end of the century he introduced graduate courses along the lines of 
the major social institutions, which constituted the basis of organiza- 
tion of what would have been his magnum opus on The Science of 

In 1899 he began to write out a textbook of sociology from material 
he had used in lectures during the previous ten or fifteen years. At a 
certain point in that undertaking he found that he wanted to intro- 
duce his own treatment of popular usages and traditions, but found 
that he could not do justice to the subject in a single chapter of his 
text. Sumner therefore turned aside to write a treatise on Folkways, 
which he published in 1907. As his pupil and successor, Albert G. 
Keller, recounts it ["Memorial Address," in The Challenge of Facts 


and Other Essays, pp. 446-47], "He had written a very considerable 
mass of manuscript, when it began to be borne in upon him that 
there underlay his whole conception of the evolution and life of 
human society a certain unifying and basic idea — and that this must 
be developed before the main treatise should be pushed to comple- 
tion. In tracing the evolution of the several social forms (the indus- 
trial organization, marriage and the family, religion, government, and 
so on ) he had observed that they all went back to an origin in popular 
habit and custom; that these conventions and habitudes formed the 
'prosperity-policy' of the society practicing them; that they exercised 
a coercion upon the individual to conform to them, though they 
were not codified by any authority — though their origin was lost in 
the mystery of the far past. He saw that some explanation of the 
nature of these 'folkways' formed for him the indispensable pre- 
liminary to the analysis of the various forms of the societal institutions 
which came out of them. And so he set the bulky first manuscript of 
his Science oi Society aside and devoted many months to laying bare 
the rock upon which he planned to build a science of society or 
sociology that should not be, as much so-called sociology is, a byword 
and an object of merriment to scientists in other fields. This was the 
origin of that notable book of 1907 concerning whose grave impor- 
tance to all succeeding scientific study of human society there can be 
no two opinions." 

Folkways will be discussed in detail below. Sumner did not live to 
finish his general text on sociology, which was brought to completion 
by Keller in a four-volume work published in 1927 under the title 
of The Science oi Society. 


Sumner's bibliography consists of some three hundred items, in- 
cluding books and articles [see Essays oi William Graham Sumner, 
II, 479-507]. They range mainly over the fields of economics, political 
science, and sociology. While Sumner was always primarily a soci- 
ologist in method and point of view, his more strictly sociological 
writings — aside from the posthumous The Science oi Society in which 
Keller collaborated — included Folkways (1907), What Social Classes 
Owe to Each Other (1883), and numerous essays written between 


1873 and 1910, which have been re-published in the following col- 
lections, all printed by the Yale University Press— the first four edited 
by Albert G. Keller and the last two by Albert G. Keller and Maurice 
K. Davie: 

War and Other Essays. 1911 

Eaith Hunger and Othei Essays. 1913 

The Challenge of Facts and Othei Essays. 1914 

The Forgotten Man and Othei Essays. 19x9 

Selected Essays of William Graham Sumner. 1924 

(Selected from the above four collections) 
Essays of William Graham Sumner. 2 vols. 1934 

(A further selection from the collected essays, plus three new 

Sumner's most lasting achievement in sociology is his Folkways, 
which is of significance also to anthropology, social psychology' 
psychiatry, education, economics, and political science. This volume 
especially, but also many of his shorter pieces, shows immense erudi- 
tion. Sumner had learned since middle age eight European languages 
—Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Russian, Polish, Danish, and 
Swedish-m addition to the Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French, and 
German which he already possessed, and he utilized them in gather- 
ing ethnographic and historical comparative data for his study of man 
and society. 

Sumner's sociological writings were primarily concrete and descrip- 
tive rather than abstract and theoretical. He was not at his best in 
a long and systematic exposition. Even Folkways, which is the most 
profound of his writings, is labored and hard to read and not well 
organized. Sumner's main contribution to sociological theory lay not 
so much in the development of a system as in the introduction of 
concepts which he firmly established on a broad comparative factual 
basis. These numerous concepts, now generally accepted as a part of 
sociological theory, will be treated below. 

The essential quality of Sumner's writing is more evident in his 
shorter pieces— the essays. These are inimitable in both content and 
exposition. Here Sumner wrote with energetic conviction. His style 
was keen and epigrammatic. His more popular utterances were 
polemic; he became dogmatic, and overstated his position in the heat 
of controversy. He was an uncompromising foe of the unscientific sen- 


timentality which characterized much of the quasi-sociological writ- 
ings and movements of his generation. He lashed out against socialists, 
sentimentalists, world-reformers, metaphysicians, ethical philosophers. 
He was as much opposed to those who would array the House of 
Want against the House of Have as he was against the beneficiaries 
of a protective tariff. He was against privilege in any form as wrong 
economically, morally, and socially. He could see no ethical difference 
between the poor plundering the rich and the rich plundering the 
poor. He was a vigorous advocate of hard money, free trade, and 
laissez-faire. The element of the preacher is not absent from these 
writings. His Social Classes is an exhortation to independent thought 
and action, self-reliance, and individual initiative. But Sumner was 
not so much an exhorter to morals as a denouncer of immorality. 
"Protectionism," he bursts out in the preface to his book of that 
title,* "arouses my moral indignation. It is a subtle, cruel, and unjust 
invasion of one man's rights by another. It is done by force of law. 
It is at the same time a social abuse, an economic blunder, and a 
political evil. The moral indignation which it causes is the motive 
which draws me away from the scientific pursuits which form my 
real occupation, and forces me to take part in a popular agitation. 
The doctrine of a 'call' applies in such a case, and every man is bound 
to take just so great a share as falls in his way. That is why I have 
given more time than I could afford to popular lectures on this 
subject, and it is why I have now put the substance of those lectures 
into this book." As Keller remarks in an editorial preface to the Essays 
of William Graham Sumner [I, xii-xiii], "he was a good hater of 
sham, hypocrisy, and weak sentimentality. What makes the sparks 
fly in many of these shorter pieces is precisely that moral indignation; 
not a few of the attacking essays, and a number of the less aggressive 
ones, might be called lay sermons." And as Harry Elmer Barnes justly 
comments: "If one adds to this initial zeal the influence of genuine 
love for aspiring young students, commanding personality, wide learn- 
ing, splendid dogmatism, and mastery of incisive English which makes 
his essays models of terse nineteenth-century critical prose, it is not 
difficult to understand Sumner's reputation." t 

* Protectionism (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1885), reprinted in 
The Forgotten Man and Other Essays, pp. 9-111; 10-11 quoted. 
T Barnes and Howard Becker, Social Thought from Lore to Science (Boston: 
D. C. Heath and Company, 1938), II, 956. 



While Sumner was a strong advocate of the application of the 
scientific method to the study of social phenomena, he had little to 
do with formal methodology. The most telling comment on his 
method is that made by Charles Horton Cooley in his analysis of 
Sumner's Folkways: 

"What is the most successful work of research that American 
sociology has produced? No doubt opinions would differ about this, 
but it seems to me, on reflection, that if a vote were taken, bearing 
in mind that the question refers to factual methods and results as 
distinguished from more speculative sociology, a plurality of the 
voters, if not a majority, would probably be found to favor Sumner's 

"What strikes me most strongly when I consider this question is 
that Folkways does not conform to any of the current canons of 
methodology. It is not quantitative; it does not proceed by statistical 
method; it is not made up of case studies; it is not psychoanalytic, nor 
yet behavioristic, according to the doctrine of the sect that goes by 
that name, since much of the material it uses is based on sympathetic 
imagination. Moreover, it is not in any great measure a work of direct 
observation at all! It is almost all secondhand. And, last and worst, 
its objectivity is open to question. There is reason to think that 
Sumner was by no means an unbiased man, but was, on the contrary, 
noted for a somewhat dogmatic individualism and pessimism that 
were not without influence upon his treatment of the folkways. 

"Nearly all that I have said of Sumner's Folkways might also be 
said of Darwin's Origin of Species, which, so far as method is con- 
cerned, was a work of much the same character. They are both books 
m which the author seems quite regardless of everything except col- 
lecting the greatest possible body of pertinent facts and striving to 
make out what they mean. 

"I think I see at least two inferences that we can well draw from 
his case. The first regards the power of an abundant factual material. 
It is this, together with his vigorous personality and style, that more 
than anything else gives Sumner his immense influence. There are 
pages of facts, fresh, fascinating, well presented facts, for each idea. 
You are led to assimilate the subject in a natural, enjoyable way. It 
took great patience to accumulate all this material, and admirable 


reserve to withhold and brood over it until his ideas were mature 
and fit to shape into a lucid book. . . . 

"Another lesson is the old one of self-reliance. It is a matter of 
history that every one who has done anything important in the past 
has done it partly by resisting immediate and contemporary influences 
and finding a way of his own. There are plenty of us elders to tell 
the young student just what to do and how to do it. He can learn 
a great deal from us, no doubt, but only on condition that he rely 
first of all on his own judgment and common sense. The best authori- 
ties agree that science is nothing more than common sense refined 
and perfected, and if a rule of methodology appears, on fair considera- 
tion, to be opposed to common sense, he is sage, I think, in dis- 
regarding it."* 

Sumner was a great humanist, and his Folkways, along with De 
Tocqueville's Democracy in America and Veblen's The Theory of 
the Leisure Class, is used by Robert Redfield to illustrate his conten- 
tion that social science is an art as well as a science and is closely 
related to humanistic endeavors. t None of the three authors Redfield 
cites used formal methods in the sense of performing specified and 
formalized operations on restricted and precisely identified data. Yet 
each of these books made great contributions to the understanding 
of man in society because ( 1 ) it shows a perception of some aspect 
of human nature, (2) it brings forward significant generalizations, 
and (3) it reveals a fresh and independent viewpoint. Specifically 
Redfield comments: "Like the apprehension of the humanly signifi- 
cant, the making of the generalization is a work of imagination. 
Sumner did not find out that there is such a thing as the mores by 
learning and applying some method of research. He discovered it by 
watching the people around him and by using the observations 
recorded by other men and then by making a leap of thought across 
many diversities to apprehend the degree of uniformity that deserves 
the term 'mores/ " 

Sumner himself had much to say on the nature and function of 
science and the necessity of cultivating the scientific attitude of mind, 
as the following excerpts suggest [Essays of William Graham Sumner, 
1,30,44,49-50, 50-51]: 

* Sociological Theory and Social Research, 1930, pp. 325-27, quoted by per- 
mission of Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., New York, 
t "The Art of Social Science,'' American Journal of Sociology, 54 (November, 
1948), 181-90. 


"I should want to make the definition of science turn upon the 
method employed, and I would propose as a definition: knowledge 
of reality acquired by methods which are established in the confidence 
of men whose occupation it is to investigate truth. In Pearson's book* 
he refers constantly to the opinions and methods of scientific scholars 
as the highest test of truth. I know of no better one; I know of none 
which we employ as constantly as we do that one; and so I put it 
in the definition. I propose to define science as knowledge of reality 
because 'truth' is used in such a variety of senses. I do not know 
whether it is possible for us ever to arrive at a knowledge of 'the truth' 
in regard to any important matters. I doubt if it is possible. It is not 
important. It is the pursuit of truth which gives us life, and it is to 
that pursuit that our loyalty is due." 

"The only security [against dogmatism] is the constant practise of 
critical thinking. We ought never to accept fantastic notions of any 
kind; we ought to test all notions; we ought to pursue all propositions 
until we find out their connection with reality. That is the fashion 
of thinking which we call scientific in the deepest and broadest sense 
of the word. It is, of course, applicable over the whole field of human 
interests, and the habit of mind which insists on finding realities is 
the best product of an education which may be properly called 

"Here I may notice, in passing, the difference between science and 
religion in regard to the habits of thought which each encourages. 
No religion ever offers itself except as a complete and final answer to 
the problems of life. No religion ever offers itself as a tentative solu- 
tion. A religion cannot say: I am the best solution yet found, but I 
may be superseded tomorrow by new discoveries. But that is exactly 
what every science must say. Religions do not pretend to grow; they 
are born complete and fully correct and our duty in regard to them 
is to learn them in their integrity. . . . Every science contains the 
purpose and destiny of growth as one of its distinguishing character- 
istics; it must always be open to re-examination and must submit to 
new tests if such are proposed. Consequently the modes and habits 
of thought developed by the study of science are very different from 
those developed by the study of religion. This is the real cause/ 1 
think, of the antagonism between science and religion which is 
vaguely felt in modern times, although the interest is lacking which 
would bring the antagonism into an open conflict." 
* Karl Pearson, Grammar of Science (London: A. & C. Black, 1911). 


"As your education goes on, you ought to gain in your power of 
observation. Natural incidents, political occurrences, social events, 
ought to present to you new illustration of general principles with 
which your studies have made you familiar. You ought to gain in 
power to analyse and compare, so that all the fallacies which consist 
in presenting things as like, which are not like, should not be able 
to befog your reason. You ought to become able to recognize and 
test a generalization, and to distinguish between true generalizations 
and dogmas on the one hand, or commonplaces on another, or 
whimsical speculations on another. You ought to know when you 
are dealing with a true law which you may follow to the uttermost; 
when you have only a general truth; when you have an hypothetical 
theory; when you have a possible conjecture; and when you have only 
an ingenious assumption. These are most important distinctions on 
either side." 

Sumner was a pioneer and lifelong champion of the objective and 
scientific approach to the study of social phenomena. He held that 
social phenomena are subject to law, and he saw "no means of ad- 
vancing sociology save by the cultivation of a trained judgment 
through the careful study of sociological phenomena and sequences" 
[The Challenge of Facts and Other Essays, p. 419]. To him the basic 
data of social science are behavioristic and ethnographic or cultural. 
He laid special stress on the comparative or cross-cultural method, in 
which he pioneered; otherwise, he maintained, our generalizations 
tend to be culture-bound, that is, limited to a particular culture at a 
particular time. He promoted the idea of the cross-cultural survey, 
which may be said to have begun with Spencer's Descriptive Sociology 
and to have been continued after Sumner by G. P. Murdock at Yale 
in what is now the joint enterprise of the Human Relations Area 
Files. Sumner collected, analyzed, and classified a tremendous mass 
of material on a great number and variety of societies and cultures, 
much of which provided the substance of his Folkways and the post- 
humous The Science of Society. He followed the so-called inductive 
method— fact-gathering until the scales tip in one direction. He dis- 
liked theory of any speculative kind, even as a starting-point for 
investigation. A thematic thread in all his work was an uncompromis- 
ing insistence upon reality. He strove always to treat of the actual 
and real, and to base his conclusions on a solid body of facts. This 
insistence on empirical evidence characterized all his writings and 

Conception of the Field 
of Sociology 


Life in society, said Sumner, is the life of a human society on this 
earth. A human society he defined as "a group of human beings liv- 
ing in a cooperative effort to win subsistence and to perpetuate the 
species." This definition, typical of his realistic approach, rests 
squarely upon the well-known facts of all organic life. The conditions 
of the definition set no limitation on the size of the group that is 
taken to constitute a society: the family, the nation, or even the 
whole race of mankind satisfies the conditions. 

"A man with liis wife and his children constitutes a society, for its 
essential parts are all present, and the number more or less is imma- 
terial. A certain division of labor between the sexes is imposed by 
nature. The family as a whole maintains itself better under an organ- 
ization with division of labor than it could if the functions were 
shared so far as possible. From this germ the development of society 
goes on by the regular steps of advancement to higher organization, 
accompanied and sustained by improvements in the arts" [War and 
Other Essays, p. 174; The Science of Society, pp. 6-7]. 


The elementary conditions of the life of a human society, said Sum- 
ner, are set by the nature of human beings and the nature of the 
earth. 'We have already become familiar, in biology, with the tran- 
scendent importance of the fact that life on earth must be main- 


tained by a struggle against nature, and also by a competition with 
other forms of life. In the latter fact biology and sociology touch. 
Sociology is a science which deals with one range of phenomena pro- 
duced by the struggle for existence, while biology deals with another. 
The forces are the same, acting on different fields and under different 
conditions. The sciences are truly cognate. Nature contains certain 
materials which are capable of satisfying human needs, but those 
materials must, with rare and mean exceptions, be won by labor, and 
must be fitted to human use by more labor. As soon as any number of 
human beings are struggling each to win from nature the material 
goods necessary to support life, and are carrying on this struggle side 
by side, certain social forces come into operation. The prime condi- 
tion of this society will lie in the ratio of its numbers to the supply 
of materials within its reach" [War and Other Essays, pp. 173-74]- 


In Sumner's thinking, these two concepts, although related, are 
quite distinct. As the following excerpts show, he held that the strug- 
gle for existence is a process in which an individual and nature are the 
parties, whereas the competition of life is a process in which the 
parties are men who strive with each other. It is the latter which is 
the societal element and which produces societal organization. This 
he made much of, as we shall see, in his development of social theory. 
On the other hand, his conception of the struggle for existence, a con- 
ception which retains a nineteenth-century emphasis, became an ele- 
ment in his politico-economic views, as will be observed below in his 
opposition to schemes of social reform and to government inter- 
ference. Sumner maintained that ills which belong to the struggle for 
existence should be borne by individuals alone and not be an object 
of government intervention. 

"The struggle for existence must be carried on under life conditions 
and in connection with the competition of life. The life conditions 
consist in variable elements of the environment, the supply of mate- 
rials necessary to support life, the difficulty of exploiting them, the 
state of the arts, and the circumstances of physiography, climate, 
meteorology, etc., which favor life or the contrary. The struggle for 
existence is a process in which an individual and nature are the parties. 
The individual is engaged in a process by which he wins from his 
environment what he needs to support his existence. In the competi- 


tion of life the parties are men and other organisms. The men strive 
with each other, or with the flora and fauna with which they are 
associated. The competition of life is the rivalry, antagonism, and 
mutual displacement in which the individual is involved with other 
organisms by his efforts to carry on the struggle for existence for 
himself. It is, therefore, the competition of life which is the societal 
element, and which produces societal organization. 

"The number present and in competition is another of the life 
conditions. At a time and place the life conditions are the same for a 
number of human beings who are present, and the problems of life 
policy are the same. This is another reason why the attempts to satisfy 
interest become mass phenomena and result in folkways. The indi- 
vidual and social elements are always in interplay with each other if 
there are a number present. If one is trying to carry on the struggle 
for existence with nature, the fact that others are doing the same in 
the same environment is an essential condition for him. Then arises 
an alternative. He and the others may so interfere with each other 
that all shall fail, or they may combine, and by cooperation raise their 
efforts against nature to a higher power. This latter method is indus- 
trial organization. The crisis which produces it is constantly renewed, 
and men are forced to raise the organization to greater complexity and 
more comprehensive power, without limit. Interests are the relations 
of action and reaction between the individual and the life conditions, 
through which relations the evolution of the individual is produced. 
That evolution, so long as it goes on prosperously, is well living, and 
it results in the self-realization of the individual, for we may think 
of each one as capable of fulfilling some career and attaining to some 
character and state of power by the developing of predispositions 
which he possesses. 

"It would be an error, however, to suppose that all nature is a 
chaos of warfare and competition. Combination and cooperation are 
so fundamentally necessary that even very low life forms are found in 
symbiosis for mutual dependence and assistance. A combination can 
exist where each of its members would perish. Competition and com- 
bination are two forms of life association which alternate through the 
whole organic and superorganic domains. The neglect of this fact 
leads to many socialistic fallacies. Combination is of the essence of 
organization, and organization is the great device for increased power 
by a number of unequal and dissimilar units brought into association 
for a common purpose" [Folkways, pp. 16-17]. 



'This combination has been well called antagonistic cooperation. 
It consists in the combination of two persons or groups to satisfy a 
great common interest while minor antagonisms of interest which 
exist between them are suppressed. . . . Antagonistic cooperation is 
the most productive form of combination in high civilization. It is 
a high action of the reason to overlook lesser antagonisms in order 
"to work together for great interests. Political parties are constantly 
forced to do it. In the art of the statesman it is a constant policy. 
The difference between great parties and factions in any parliamen- 
tary system is of the first importance; that difference consists in the 
fact that parties can suppress minor differences, and combine for 
what they think most essential to public welfare, while factions divide 
and subdivide on petty differences. Inasmuch as the suppression of 
minor differences means a suppression of the emotional element, 
while the other policy encourages the narrow issues in regard to which 
feeling is always most intense, the former policy allows far less play 
to feeling and passion" [Ibid., pp. 17-18]. 


The only use which Sumner seems to have made of this concept 
was in connection with schemes of social reform which he thought 
would lead to the survival of the less fit members of society. "We 
have noticed that the relations involved in the struggle for existence 
are twofold. There is first the struggle of individuals to win the means 
of subsistence from nature, and secondly there is the competition of 
man with man in the effort to win a limited supply. The radical 
error of the socialists and sentimentalists is that they never distinguish 
these two relations from each other. They bring forward complaints 
which are really to be made, if at all, against the author of the uni- 
verse for the hardships which man has to endure in his struggle with 
nature. The complaints are addressed, however, to society; that is, to 
other men under the same hardships. The only social element, how- 
ever, is the competition of life, and when society is blamed for the 
ills which belong to the human lot, it is only burdening those who 
have successfully contended with those ills with the further task of 
conquering the same ills over again for somebody else. Hence liberty 
perishes in all socialistic schemes, and the tendency of such schemes 


is to the deterioration of society by burdening the good members 
and relieving the bad ones. The law of the survival of the fittest was 
not made by man and cannot be abrogated by man. We can only, 
by interfering with it, produce the survival of the unfittest. If a man 
comes forward with any grievance against the order of society so far 
as this is shaped by human agency, he must have patient hearing and 
full redress; but if he addresses a demand to society for relief from 
the hardships of life, he asks simply that somebody else should get 
his living for him. In that case he ought to be left to find out his 
error from hard experience" [War and Other Essays, pp. 176-77]- 

"If we do not like the survival of the fittest, we have only one 
possible alternative, and that is the survival of the unfittest. The 
former is the law of civilization; the latter is the law of anti-civiliza- 
tion ' [Essays oi William Graham Sumner, II, 56]. 


Sumner maintained that there is no boon in nature; that all the 
blessings mankind enjoys are the fruits of labor, toil, self-denial, and 

"If we look at any part of the earth's surface in a state of nature 
as it is when given to man, instead of finding that it fills any notion 
of gift or boon, we find that it offers a task of appalling magnitude. 
It is covered with trees, or stones, or swamps; or hostile animals of 
various kinds occupy it; or malaria stands guard over it. Between the 
boon and any use by man stands a series of obstacles to be overcome; 
dangerous and toilsome work to be done. It is a chance for the man 
to maintain the struggle for existence if he is strong enough to con- 
quer obstacles; if not, then he may lie down and die of despair on 
the face of the boon and not a breeze, or a leaflet, or a sunbeam will 
vary its due course to help or pity him. This is the only attitude in 
which we find nature when we come face to face with her in her 
original attitude toward mankind; it is only when we come to meet 
her, armed with knowledge, science, and capital, that we force back 
her limitations and win some wider and easier chances of existence 
for ourselves" [Ibid, I, 387-88]. 

Again, monopoly, he held, is in nature, and relaxation of monopoly 
is one of the triumphs of civilization. "Every man who stands on the 
earth's surface excludes every one else from so much of it as he covers; 
every one who eats a loaf of bread appropriates to himself for the 


time-being the exclusive use and enjoyment of so many square feet of 
the earth's surface as were required to raise the wheat; every one who 
burns wood to warm himself, or uses the fiber of cotton or wool to 
clothe himself, appropriates in monopoly a part of the land so far as 
the land is of utility or interest to man. Perhaps the most funda- 
mental fact which makes this world a world of toil and self-denial is 
that two men cannot eat the same loaf of bread. This pitiless and 
hopeless monopoly is, in the last analysis, the reason for capital and 
rent, for property and rights, for law and the state, for poverty and 
inequality. ... If now, we build houses several stories high, so that 
several men can, in effect, stand on the same square feet of the 
earth's surface, or if we make the same number of square feet bear 
two loaves of bread instead of one, we break the monopoly of nature, 
but we do it by capital and the arts of civilization. Whatever we 
have, therefore, which is worth having is not a boon of nature, but a 
conquest of civilization from nature" [Ibid., I, 386-87]. 

The conquest of civilization from nature, the advance from original 
destitution and barbarism to civilization, was epitomized to Sumner 
in property and capital. "Property," he declared, "is the strongest, 
deepest, most universal interest of mankind. It is the most funda- 
mental condition of the struggle for existence; that is to say, of the 
welfare of mankind" [Ibid., I, 231]. 

"Property is the condition of civilization. It is just as essential to 
the state, to religion, and to education as it is to food and clothing. 
In the form of capital [here Sumner was referring to tools and other 
instruments of production, which he called energy stored up against 
the struggle for existence] it is essential to industry, but if capital were 
not property it would not do its work in industry. If we negative or 
destroy property we arrest the whole life of civilized society and put 
men back on the level of beasts" [Ibid., II, 129]. 

"The reason why man is not altogether a brute is because he has 
learned to accumulate capital, to use capital to advance to a higher 
organization of society, to develop a completer cooperation, and so to 
win greater and greater control over nature" [What Social Classes 
Owe to Each Other, p. 69]. 


As intimated above, Sumner held that the most important limiting 
condition on the status of human societies is the ratio of the number 


of their members to the supply of materials necessary to support life 
or, since all subsistence comes ultimately from the land, to the amount 
of land at their disposal. "It is this ratio of population to land which 
determines what are the possibilities of human development or the 
limits of what man can attain in civilization and comfort" [Essays 
oi William Graham Sumner, I, 174]. Drawing from the Malthusian 
doctrine of population and the Ricardian law of rent, he formulated 
this relationship into a law of population: "Population tends to in- 
crease up to the limit of the supporting power of the environment 
(land), on a given stage of the arts, and for a given standard of living" 
[The Science oi Society, p. 46]. Numbers bear a direct relation to the 
industrial arts and an inverse relation to the standard of living. Neither 
term of the man-land ratio is fixed; and man has the capacity to alter 
them, by operating upon the arts of life on the land side of the ratio 
and upon the standard of living on the man side. Thus, an advance 
in the arts of production or the economy may serve to support a 
larger number of people on the same standard or the same number 
of people on a higher standard, or, if great enough, as in the case 
of the Industrial Revolution, to support both an increased popula- 
tion and a higher standard of living. 

If the stores of nature were unlimited, or if the last unit of the sup- 
ply she offers could be won as easily as the first, there would be no 
social problem, according to Sumner's reasoning. 

"On the side of the land also stands the law of the diminishing 
return as a limitation. More labor gets more from the land, but not 
proportionately more. Hence, if more men are to be supported, there 
is need not of a proportionate increase of labor, but of a dispropor- 
tionate increase of labor. The law of population, therefore, combined 
with the law of the diminishing returns, constitutes the great under- 
lying condition of society. Emigration, improvements in the arts, in 
morals, in education, in political organization, are only stages in the 
struggle of man to meet these conditions, to break their force for a 
time, and to win room under them for ease and enlargement. Ease 
and enlargement mean either power to support more men on a given 
stage of comfort or power to advance the comfort of a given number 
of men. Progress is a word which has no meaning save in view of the 
laws of population and the diminishing return, and it is quite natural 
that anyone who fails to understand those laws should fall into doubt 
which way progress points, whether towards wealth or poverty. The 
laws of population and the diminishing return, in their combination, 


are the iron spur which has driven the race on to all which it has 
ever achieved, and the fact that population ever advances, yet ad- 
vances against a barrier which resists more stubbornly at every step 
of advance, unless it is removed to a new distance by some conquest 
of man over nature, is the guarantee that the task of civilization will 
never be ended, but that the need for more energy, more intelligence, 
and more virtue will never cease while the race lasts" [War and Other 
Essays, pp. 175-76]. 


Sumner affirmed that so long as the population is low in propor 
tion to the amount of land, at a given stage of the arts, life is easy 
and the competition of man with man is weak. Where more persons 
are trying to live on a square mile than it can support, at the existing 
stage of the arts, life is hard and the competition of man with man 
is intense. He was thus led to contrast the two type-conditions of 
under-population and over-population, and to indicate their far-reach- 
ing social significance. 

"When a country is under-populated newcomers are not competi- 
tors, but assistants. If more come they may produce not only new 
quotas, but a surplus besides, to be divided between themselves and 
all who were present before. In such a state of things land is abundant 
and cheap. The possession of it confers no power or privilege. No one 
will work for another for wages when he can take up new land and 
be his own master. Hence it will pay no one to own more land than 
he can cultivate by his own labor, or with such aid as his own family 
supplies. Hence, again, land bears little or no rent; there will be no 
landlords living on rent and no laborers living on wages, but only a 
middle class of yeoman farmers. All are substantially on an equality, 
and democracy becomes the political form, because this is the only 
state of society in which the dogmatic assumption of equality, on 
which democracy is based, is realized as a fact. The same effects are 
powerfully re-enforced by other facts. In a new and under-populated 
country the industries which are most profitable are the extractive 
industries. The characteristic of these, with the exception of some 
kinds of mining, is that they call for only a low organization of labor 
and small amount of capital. Hence they allow the workman to be- 
come speedily his own master, and they educate him to freedom, 
independence, and self-reliance. At the same time, the social groups 


being only vaguely marked off from each other, it is easy to pass from 
one class of occupations, and consequently from one social grade, to 
another. Finally, under the same circumstances education, skill, and 
superior training have but inferior value compared with what they 
have in densely populated countries. The advantages lie, in an under- 
populated country, with the coarser, unskilled, manual occupations, 
and not with the highest developments of science, literature, and 
art. . . . 

"If now we turn for comparison to cases of over-population we see 
that the struggle for existence and the competition of life are intense 
where the pressure of population is great. This competition draws out 
the highest achievements. It makes the advantages of capital, educa- 
tion, talent, skill, and training tell to the utmost. It draws out the 
social scale upwards and downwards to great extremes and produces 
aristocratic social organizations in spite of all dogmas of equality. 
Landlords, tenants (i.e., capitalist employers), and laborers are the 
three primary divisions of any aristocratic order, and they are sure to 
be developed whenever land bears rent and whenever tillage requires 
the application of large capital. At the same time liberty has to un- 
dergo curtailment. A man who has a square mile to himself can easily 
do as he likes, but a man who walks Broadway at noon or lives in a 
tenement-house finds his power to do as he likes limited by scores of 
considerations for the rights and feelings of his fellowmen. Further- 
more, organization with subordination and discipline is essential in 
order that the society as a whole may win a support from the land. 
In an over-populated country the extremes of wealth and luxury are 
presented side by side with the extremes of poverty and distress. They 
are equally the products of an intense social pressure. The achieve- 
ments of power are highest, the rewards of prudence, energy, enter- 
prise, foresight, sagacity, and all other industrial virtues are greatest; 
on the other hand, the penalties of folly, weakness, error, and vice are 
most terrible. Pauperism, prostitution, and crime are the attendants 
of a state of society in which science, art, and literature reach their 
highest developments. . . . 

"Now it is evident that over-population and under-population are 
only relative terms. Hence as time goes on any under-populated na- 
tion is surely moving forward towards the other status, and is speedily 
losing its natural advantages which are absolute, and also that relative 
advantage which belongs to it if it is in neighborly relations with 
nations of dense population and high civilization; viz., the chance to 


borrow and assimilate from them the products, in arts and science, 
of high civilization without enduring the penalties of intense social 
pressure" [War and Other Essays, pp. 183-85]. 

It was from such considerations that Sumner developed the con- 
cept of earth hunger— "the apparently insatiable desire to get more 
land." This he used in a theory of migration which he illustrated by 
the population movement to the New World. 

"With more land, there are higher wages, because no one will work 
for wages which are convertible into less goods than the laborer could 
get out of the land when used in the most lavish and wasteful man- 
ner. With more land, the manual unskilled laborer is raised in com- 
parison with the skilled and educated laborer, that is, the masses are 
raised in comparison with the classes. When there is plenty of land, 
the penalties of all social follies, vices, and ignorance are light. Each 
man has plenty of the 'rights of man' because he need only be, in 
order to be a valuable member of society; he does not need high 
training and education, as he would in an old and crowded society 
with a strict organization, high discipline, intense competition, and 
weighty sanctions upon success or failure. 

"These facts of the social order are of the most fundamental and 
far-reaching importance. They are the facts which control the fate 
of the human race and produce the great phenomena which mark 
ages of history. They are the facts which, since the great geographical 
explorations of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, have spread the 
population of the European nations over the globe. The most enter- 
prising nations seized the advantage first and have pushed it farthest. 
The movements of population have been accelerated by all the in- 
ventions which have facilitated transportation and communication" 
[Essays oi William Graham Sumner, I, 187-88]. 

To Sumner the great significance of the discovery of America was 
the winning of a new continent for the labor class; and it was on the 
basis of the factors outlined above that democracy developed. "We 
are not free and equal because Jefferson put it into the Declaration 
of Independence that we were born so; but Jefferson could put it 
into the Declaration of Independence that all men are born free and 
equal because the economic relations existing in America made the 
members of society to all intents and purposes free and equal" \Ibid 
I, 458-59]. 

"It was the industrial and social power of the masses of the popu- 
lation in a new country with unlimited land which made us demo- 


cratic. It is the reflex influence of the new countries on the old centers 
of civilization which is breaking down aristocracy, and making them 
democratic too" [Ibid., I, 445]. 


Sumner was thus an economic determinist — not in the doctrinaire 
sense of Karl Marx, but in the belief that economic institutions are 
more basic than other institutions. He maintained that political and 
social institutions find their basis in economic fact, and that the stage 
of the industrial organization existing at any time is the controlling 
social factor. "It controls us all because we are all in it. It creates the 
conditions of our existence, sets the limits of our social activity, regu- 
lates the bonds of our social relations, determines our conceptions of 
good and evil, suggests our life-philosophy, molds our inherited po- 
litical institutions, and reforms the oldest and toughest customs, like 
marriage and property" [Ibid., I, 93]. 

It was the opening of the new continents and the great discoveries 
and inventions which made the modern age: "This combination has 
produced an industrial revolution, which is bringing in its train revo- 
lutions in philosophy, ethics, religion, politics, and all other relations 
of human society; for whenever you touch economic and industrial 
causes, you touch those which underlie all the others and whose 
consequences will inevitably ramify through all the others. The phi- 
losophers and all the resolution-makers of every grade come running 
together and shouting paeans of victory to the rising power and the 
coming glory; and, therefore, they claim that they have made it all. 
It is totally false. They are themselves but the product of the forces, 
and all their philosophies and resolutions are as idle as the waving of 
banners on the breezes. Democracy itself, the pet superstition of the 
age, is only a phase of the all-compelling movement. If you have 
abundance of land and few men to share it, the men will all be equal. 
Each landholder will be his own tenant and his own laborer. Social 
classes disappear. Wages are high. The mass of men, apart from lazi- 
ness, folly, and vice, are well off. No philosophy of politics or ethics 
makes them prosperous. Their prosperity makes their political phi- 
losophy and all their other creeds. It also makes all their vices, and 
imposes on them a set of fallacies produced out of itself. It is only 
necessary to look about us in the world of today to see how true this 
all is" [Ibid., I, 185-86]. 



Thus Sumner believed that the existence of society is conditioned 
by natural and social forces and that its phenomena are not arbitrary 
or accidental but are subject to laws, which it is the business of 
science to investigate. He maintained that men must do with social 
laws what they do with physical laws — learn them, obey them, and 
conform to them. He saw little field in them for arbitrary inter- 
vention, for change by direct social effort. The basic law is evolution, 
which he conceived of as an automatic process. In this respect he 
followed Darwin rather than Spencer, although he never formulated 
any theory of social evolution. This was done by Keller* who used 
it as the organizing principle of The Science of Society, stressing 
the Darwinian factors of variation, selection, transmission, and 
adaptation. To Sumner and Keller the essential meaning of evolution 
was adaptive change whereby whole cultures or their component parts 
alter in form and function during the passage of time in response to 
changes in life conditions. 

For example, Sumner wrote [Ibid., II, 123, 124]: "The industrial 
system has changed often and it will change again. Nobody invented 
former forms. No one can invent others. It will change according to 
conditions and interests, just as the gilds and manors changed into 
modern phases. . . . The world of human society is what has resulted 
from thousands of years of life. It is not a system any more than a 
man sixty years old is a system. It is a product. To talk of making 
another system is like talking of making a man of sixty into some- 
thing else than what his life has made him." 

This aspect of Sumner's thinking was most vigorously expressed in 
his essay on "The Absurd Effort to Make the World Over," from 
which the following excerpt is taken [Ibid., I, 104-06] : "If this poor 
old world is as bad as they say, one more reflection may check the 
zeal of the headlong reformer. It is at any rate a tough old world. It 
has taken its trend and curvature and all its twists and tangles from 
a long course of formation. All its wry and crooked gnarls and knobs 
are therefore stiff and stubborn. If we puny men by our arts can do 
anything at all to straighten them, it will only be by modifying the 
tendencies of some of the forces at work, so that, after a sufficient 
time, their action may be changed a little and slowly the lines of 

* Societal Evolution, rev. ed. (New York: The Macmillan Co., 1931). 


movement may be modified. This effort, however, can at most be only 
slight, and it will take a long time. In the meantime spontaneous 
forces will be at work, compared with which our efforts are like those 
of a man trying to deflect a river, and these forces will have changed 
the whole problem before our interferences have time to make them- 
selves felt. The great stream of time and earthly things will sweep on 
just the same in spite of us. It bears with it now all the errors and 
follies of the past, the wreckage of all the philosophies, the frag- 
ments of all the civilizations, the wisdom of all the abandoned ethical 
systems, the debris of all the institutions, and the penalties of all the 
mistakes. It is only in imagination that we stand by and look at and 
criticize it and plan to change it. Every one of us is a child of his age 
and cannot get out of it. He is in the stream and is swept along with 
it. All his sciences and philosophy come to him out of it. Therefore 
the tide will not be changed by us. It will swallow up both us and 
our experiments. It will absorb the efforts at change and take them 
into itself as new but trivial components, and the great movement of 
tradition and work will go on unchanged by our fads and schemes. 
The things which will change it are the great discoveries and inven- 
tions, the new reactions inside the social organism, and the changes 
in the earth itself on account of changes in the cosmical forces. These 
causes will make of it just what, in fidelity to them, it ought to be. 
The men will be carried along with it and be made by it. The utmost 
they can do by their cleverness will be to note and record their 
course as they are carried along, which is what we do now, and is 
that which leads us to the vain fancy that we can make or guide the 
movement. That is why it is the greatest folly of which a man can be 
capable, to sit down with a slate and pencil to plan out a new social 

While the above citation is an extreme statement of Sumner's 
views, taken from a popular essay of a controversial nature, it never- 
theless reflects his abounding faith in the laws of nature and his con- 
ception of evolution as a process which cannot be extensively altered 
by social effort. Sumner saw little future for intelligent social planning 
and, as is shown in the following section, he had no faith in the 
state as an institution capable of promoting the public welfare. 

Political Theory 

Although Sumner wrote and lectured extensively on political matters, 
he never published any systematic treatment of political theory. His 
reputation as a contributor to political theory rests upon a clear and 
vigorous elaboration of certain specific topics. Here again is made 
evident Sumner's realistic approach, emphasizing power politics, 
pressure groups, bureaucracy, and the like, and his opposition to gov- 
ernment intervention for practical as well as theoretical reasons. In 
the terminology of his day this section might better have been en- 
titled Sumner's "political economy/' His writings in this field reflect 
Sumner as a man of action, even as a political and economic moralist, 
in contrast to his more sociological and scholarly work, best evidenced 
in a later section entitled Folkways. 


Sumner conceived the state as a practical institution. He had little 
patience with philosophical and metaphysical views. 

"As an abstraction, the State is to me only All-of-us. In practice 
— that is, when it exercises will or adopts a line of action — it is only 
a little group of men chosen in a very haphazard way by the majority 
of us to perform certain services for all of us. The majority do not go 
about their selection very rationally, and they are almost always dis- 
appointed by the results of their own operation. Hence 'the State,' 
instead of offering resources of wisdom, right reason, and pure moral 
sense beyond what the average of us possess, generally offers much 
less of all those things. Furthermore, it often turns out in practice 
that 'the State' is not even the known and accredited servants of the 
State, but, as has been well said, is only some obscure clerk, hidden 



in the recesses of a Government bureau, into whose power the chance 
has fallen for the moment to pull one of the stops which control the 
Government machine. In former days it often happened that 'the 
State* was a barber, a fiddler, or a bad woman. In our day it often 
happens that 'the State* is a little functionary on whom a big func- 
tionary is forced to depend" [What Social Classes Owe to Each 
Other, pp. 9-10]. 

The state, he often repeated, has nothing, and can give nothing, 
which it does not take from somebody, mainly through taxation of 
those who have earned and saved. Because of its unique power, con- 
trol of the state is often sought by groups to advance their own 
interests and to exploit others. 

"The state is the greatest monopoly of all; it can brook no rival 
or colleague in its domain; it is necessarily sole and supreme. If the 
state is purely a civil organization this monopoly character of it is 
beneficial; if, however, the state enters as an agent into the industrial 
or social relations of its own subjects, it becomes the greatest and 
worst of all monopolies, the one best worth having under one's con- 
trol, the best prize of base struggles, and the most powerful engine 
by which some men may exploit others" [Essays of William Graham 
Sumnei, II, 240]. 

Indeed, Sumner believed that the history of the human race is one 
long story of attempts by certain persons and classes to obtain con- 
trol of the power of the state in order to live luxuriously off the earn- 
ings of others. "Autocracies, aristocracies, theocracies, and all other 
organizations for holding political power have exhibited only the 
same line of action. It is the extreme of political error to say that if 
political power is only taken away from generals, nobles, priests, 
millionaires, and scholars, and given to artisans and peasants, these 
latter may be trusted to do only right and justice, and never to abuse 
the power; that they will repress all excess in others, and commit none 
themselves. They will commit abuse, if they can and dare, just as 
others have done. The reason for the excesses of the old governing 
classes lies in the vices and passions of human nature — cupidity, lust, 
vindictiveness, ambition, and vanity. These vices are confined to no 
nation, class, or age. They appear in the church, the academy, the 
workshop, and the hovel, as well as in the army or the palace. They 
have appeared in autocracies, aristocracies, theocracies, democracies, 
and ochlocracies, all alike. The only thing which has ever restrained 
these vices of human nature in those who had political power is law 


sustained by impersonal institutions" [What Social Classes Owe to 
Each Other, pp. 30-31]. 

"The true rule which every state which is to be sound and enduring 
must set for itself in deciding to whom political functions may be 
entrusted, is that political rights and political duties, political bur- 
dens and political privileges, political power and political respon- 
sibility must go together and, as far as may be, in equal measure" 
[Essays ot William Graham Sumner, II, 196]. 


Sumner was opposed to any increase in the power of government 
and its extension as an agency of social reform. He commented: 
"Whenever we try to get paternalized we only succeed in getting 
policed" [Ibid., II, 149]. As he looked out over the Western world 
in the opening decade of the twentieth century he thought he saw a 
new era emerging in which the ruling ideas would be socialism, im- 
perialism, and militarism. He looked upon all three as the enemy of 
the free individual. He was convinced that they would necessitate 
stronger and more elaborate governmental machinery and that this 
would be disastrous to republican institutions and to democracy. 

Sumner maintained that when the old-fashioned theories of state 
interference, such as were developed in Rome and the Middle Ages, 
are applied to the new democratic state, the result is the inciting of 
conflict among separate interests within the society for larger shares of 
the product of industry [Ibid., II, pp. 136-49]- Th e more powerful 
the state is made, the greater will be the prize for those who control 
it, and the more intense the struggle of pressure groups. In his con- 
ception, there was no place for the state as an agency of social wel- 
fare, at least with reference to the kind of proposals then current in 
an age of hasty and ill-considered reforms. These proposals, largely 
German in origin (Socialpolitik), he designated "speculative legis- 
lation," as dealing with unverified and unverifiable propositions and 
lacking all guarantees of their practicability or of the nature of their 
results [The Challenge oi Facts and Other Essays, pp. 215-19]. In 
the same category he placed all proposed social legislation based on 
ethics or sentiment. His views in this respect were best expressed in 
an essay of general import in which he contrasted purposes and con- 
sequences [Ibid., I, 11, 12-13, 13-14* Vt] : 

"Motives and purposes are in the brain and heart of man. Conse- 


quences are in the world of fact. The former are infected by human 
ignorance, folly, self-deception, and passion; the latter are sequences 
of cause and effect dependent upon the nature of the forces at work. 
When, therefore, a man acts, he sets forces in motion, and the con- 
sequences are such as those forces produce under the conditions ex- 
isting. They are entirely independent of any notion, will, wish, or 
intention in the mind of any man or men. Consequences are facts 
in the world of experience. If one man discharges a gun at another 
and kills him, he may say afterwards that he 'did not know that it 
was loaded/ He did not mean to kill. The consequences remain; they 
are such as follow from the structure of a gun, the nature of explo- 
sives, and the relative adjustment of the men and the things. Of 
course this proposition is so simple and obvious that no demonstra- 
tion can add to it. . . . 

"Since consequences are entirely independent of motives and pur- 
poses, ethics have no application to consequences. Ethics apply only 
to motives and purposes. This is why the whole fashion, which is 
now so popular and which most people think so noble, of mixing 
ethics into economics and politics, is utterly ignorant and mischievous. 
All policies are deliberate choices of series of acts; whether we wish 
good or ill, when we choose our acts, is of no importance. The only 
important thing is whether we know what the conditions are and 
what will be the effects of our acts. To act from notions, pious hopes, 
benevolent intentions, or ideals is sentimentalism, because the mental 
states and operations lack basis in truth and reality. Policies, there- 
fore, which have not been tested by all the criteria which science 
provides are not to be discussed at all. Somebody's notion that they 
would work well and give us a gain, or that there is great need of 
them, because he thinks he sees a great evil at present, are no grounds 
of action for sober-minded men. . . . We live in the midst of a 
mass of illustrations of the fact that laws do not produce the conse- 
quences which the legislator intended. They give rise to other con- 
sequences, such, namely, as the forces which they set in operation, 
under the conditions which exist, necessarily produce. . . . 

"Whenever any policy is adopted, all the consequences of it must 
be accepted— those which are unwelcome as well as those which are 
welcome. This works both ways, for there are good consequences of 
an evil policy as well as bad consequences of a good policy. It is clear, 
however, that in the adoption of a policy the considerations which 
should be taken into account are those which are deduced from the 


conditions existing and from the relations of cause and effect in the 
world of experience. They are not ethical at all, and the introduction 
of ethical notions or dogmas can never do anything but obscure the 
study of the facts and relations which alone should occupy atten- 
tion. . . . 

"In fact the judgment of probable consequences is the only real 
and sound ground of action. It is because men have been ignorant of 
the probable consequences, or have disregarded them, that human 
history presents such a picture of the devastation and waste of human 
energy and of the wreck of human hopes. If there is any salvation 
for the human race from woe and misery it is in knowledge and in 
training to use knowledge. Every investigation of the world in which 
we live is an enlargement of our power to judge of probable conse- 
quences when cases arise in which we shall be compelled to act. The 
difference between motives and consequences, therefore, is seen to 
be a gulf between the most divergent notions of human life and of 
the way to deal with its problems. It is most essential that all of us 
who believe in the scientific view of life and its problems should ex- 
tricate ourselves completely from the trammels of the sentimental 
view, and should understand the antagonism between them, for the 
sentimental view has prevailed in the past and we live now in a con- 
fusion between the two." 

To individualistic Sumner the only things which really tell in the 
welfare of man on earth are "hard work and self-denial (in technical 
language, labor and capital), and these tell most when they are 
brought to bear directly upon the effort to earn an honest living, to 
accumulate capital, and to bring up a family of children to be indus- 
trious and self-denying in their turn. I repeat that this is the way to 
work for the welfare of man on earth; and what I mean to say is that 
the common notion that when we are going to work for the social 
welfare of men we must adopt a great dogma, organize for the reali- 
zation of some great scheme, have before us an abstract ideal, or 
otherwise do anything but live honest and industrious lives, is a great 
mistake" [War and Other Essays, p. 186]. 


For almost forty years Sumner defended the cause of laissez-faire 
against the rising tide of protectionism, socialism, and government 
intervention. Among the reasons for his stand were his conception of 


the proper role of government and individual freedom, the assump- 
tion that modern society is too complex for government to interfere 
in efforts to improve it, that we know so little about the forces at 
work that we should proceed slowly and allow greater play for natural 
adjustment. 'To err in prescribing for a man," he said, "is at worst 
to kill him; to err in prescribing for a society is to set in operation 
injurious forces which extend, ramify, and multiply their effects in 
ever new combinations throughout an indefinite future. It may pay 
to experiment with an individual, because he cannot wait for medical 
science to be perfected; it cannot pay to experiment with a society, 
because the society does not die and can afford to wait" [Ibid., pp. 

Sumner's understanding of the meaning and role of laissez-faire was 
best expressed in an essay of that title, from which the following 
excerpts are taken [Essays of William Graham Sumner, II, 468, 469, 

"The story goes that a certain French minister of state, desiring to 
exert himself for the benefit of the governed, called the merchants of 
Paris to a conference. He asked them what he could do for them. His 
idea of doing something for them was not as new as he supposed it 
was. In fact, they had had a large experience of that sort of thing 
already. They therefore answered Xaissez-nous faire/ Their answer 
has passed into a proverb and a maxim. . . . 

"A fair rendering of the answer of the French merchants would be: 
'Let us manage for ourselves/ They did not propose to do without 
management. There is no sign in what they said or in what they did 
that they thought that brains could not be applied to trade and indus- 
try so as to develop and improve them. What they dreaded and 
declined with thanks was the proposition to define lines of action 
for them according to the wisdom of a statesman. Even if he took 
them into counsel they could not be induced to cooperate in the work 
of laying down rules for themselves which must, in the nature of the 
case, be rigid, arbitrary, hard to change, dictated by some dogma or 
ideal, and not such as the development of trade and industry would 
from time to time call for. . . . 

"Laissez-faire is so far from meaning the unrestrained action of 
nature without any intelligent interference by man, that it really 
means the only rational application of human intelligence to the 
assistance of natural development. . . . 

"The doctrine and precept of laissez-faire do not preclude the at- 


tainment of positive results from investigation, nor the formulation 
of accurate statements of those results, nor the most elaborate verifi- 
cation of those results. The students of the laissez-faire school have 
done nearly all that ever has yet been done in the way of actual 
achievement under all these heads. Laissez-faire means: Do not 
meddle; wait and observe. Do not regulate; study. Do not give orders; 
be teachable. Do not enter upon any rash experiments; be patient 
until you see how it will work out. . . . 

"Laissez-faire is a maxim of policy. It is not a rule of science. Here 
we have another point of cardinal importance in the social wrangle of 
the day. No sound thinking is possible if we fail to distinguish cor- 
rectly the domain of art from that of science. Science deals with what 
is true. The laws which it discovers admit of no exceptions, and when 
correctly stated cannot be overstated. The scientific man has reached 
the limit of his domain when he has laid down what he has found 
to be true. It is immaterial whether anybody believes it or profits by 
it or not. Here there is no room for maxims. There is nothing approx- 
imate or rough that is not imperfect, needing more work put on it. 
When, however, we go over to the domain of art, that is, of the ap- 
plication of scientific laws by human intelligence to the fulfillment 
of our purposes, we have come upon an entirely different domain. 
The limitations of our intelligence and the complications of natural 
phenomena as they actually occur prevent all clear, absolute, and 
unmodified rules. Maxims alone are in order over the whole domain 
of art. They embody long experience of mankind in the work or art, 
that is, in getting along as well as is practically possible towards the 
goal we want to reach under the circumstances in which we find our- 
selves and with the means at our disposal. . . . 

"When we go over to statecraft, we go over to art — to the domain, 
not of truth but of expediency, not of scientific laws but of maxims. 
The statesman then may well be guided by maxims drawn from his- 
tory and experience. No maxim is more than approximately wise, for 
wisdom cannot be put into absolute statements and injunctions. 
Statecraft is to be guided all the time by the active reason and intel- 
ligent conscience. This is the domain of ethics also. Laissez-faire be- 
longs here, where it had its birth and where alone, so far as I know, 
the English economists, who have given us all the political economy 
we possess, have used it. If the statesman proposes to interfere with 
exchange, then laissez-faire comes in as a general warning, not as an 
absolute injunction: Let them manage for themselves. Laissez-faire 


is the only maxim which allows of the correct use of history and 
statistics to secure such knowledge as shall properly guide the states- 
man in his task." 


Democracy, Sumner wrote, is a political form in which the ultimate 
power lies with the demos, the people. "In practice, democracy means 
that all those who are once admitted to political power are equal and 
that the power lies with the numerical majority of these equal units" 
[Ibid., II, 223]. As mentioned above, he held that democracy in 
the United States was rooted in the physical, economic, and social 
circumstances of the country. The closing of the frontier and the 
advancing industrial organization he foresaw as making democracy 
more difficult [Ibid., I, 208-35; H> 3°4 _ 59]- Among the threats to 
democracy the greatest, he thought, was plutocracy, and he spent 
most of the more polemical moments of his life attacking it. 

"A plutocracy," he stated in an essay written in the i88o's [Ibid., 
II, 223], "is a political form in which the real controlling force is 
wealth. This is the thing which seems to me to be really new and 
really threatening; there have been states in which there have been 
large plutocratic elements, but none in which wealth seemed to have 
such absorbing and controlling power as it threatens us." In What 
Social Classes Owe to Each Other [pp. 102-03, 108-09] he. traced its 
development as follows: 

"In modern times the great phenomenon has been the growth of 
the middle class out of the mediaeval cities, the accumulation of 
wealth, and the encroachment of wealth, as a social power, on the 
ground formerly occupied by rank and birth. The middle class has 
been obliged to fight for its rights against the feudal class, and it has, 
during three or four centuries, gradually invented and established in- 
stitutions to guarantee personal and property rights against the arbi- 
trary will of kings and nobles. In its turn wealth is now becoming a 
power in the State, and, like every other power, it is liable to abuse 
unless restrained by checks and guarantees. There is an insolence of 
wealth, as there is an insolence of rank. A plutocracy might be even 
far worse than an aristocracy. . . . 

"The plutocrats are simply trying to do what the generals, nobles, 
and priests have done in the past — get the power of the State into 
their hands, so as to bend the rights of others to their own advantage; 


and what we need to do is to recognize the fact that we are face to 
face with the same old foes — the vices and passions of human nature." 

Sumner described a plutocrat and his mode of operation as follows 
[Essays oi William Graham Sumner, II, 228]: "A plutocrat is a man 
who, having the possession of capital, and having the power of it at 
his disposal, uses it, not industrially, but politically; instead of em- 
ploying laborers, he enlists lobbyists. Instead of applying capital to 
land, he operates upon the market by legislation, by artificial mo- 
nopoly, by legislative privileges; he creates jobs, and erects combina- 
tions, which are half political and half industrial; he practises upon 
the industrial vices, makes an engine of venality, expends his inge- 
nuity, not on processes of production, but on 'knowledge of men/ 
and on the tactics of the lobby. The modern industrial system gives 
him a magnificent field, one far more profitable, very often, than that 
of legitimate industry." 

Jobbery — which Sumner defined as "any scheme which aims to 
gain, not by the legitimate fruits of industry and enterprise, but by 
extorting from somebody a part of his product under the guise of 
some pretended industrial undertaking" — is the vice of plutocracy 
and "it is the especial form under which plutocracy corrupts a demo- 
cratic and republican form of government. . . . The greatest job of 
all is a protective tariff. It includes the biggest log-rolling and the 
widest corruption of economic and political ideas" [What Social 
Classes Owe to Each Other, pp. 141, 143]. 

The new foe of plutocracy, in Sumner's opinion, must be met as 
the old foes were met — by institutions and guarantees. "The problem 
of civil liberty is constantly renewed. Solved once, it re-appears in 
a new form. The old constitutional guarantees were all aimed against 
kings and nobles. New ones must be invented to hold the power of 
wealth to that responsibility without which no power whatever is 
consistent with liberty" [Ibid., p. 109]. 

Here is another reason why Sumner was opposed to state inter- 
ference. The wise policy in regard to the public interest "is to mini- 
mize to the utmost the relations of the state to industry. As long as 
there are such relations, every industrial interest is forced more or 
less to employ plutocratic methods. . . . The way to minimize the 
dangers to democracy, and from it, is to reduce to the utmost its 
functions, the number of its officials, the range of its taxing power, 
the variety of its modes of impinging on the individual, the amount 
and range of its expenditures, and, in short, its total weight; for among 


the other vices and errors of the prevailing tendency, this is one of 
the worst, that we do not see that whatever extends the functions of 
the state increases its weight" [Essays of William Graham Sumner, 
II, 230, 234]. 

Because of Sumner's emphasis on the societal importance of prop- 
erty and capital, his defense of the doctrine of laissez-faire, and his 
acceptance of the Darwinian concepts, he has come, ironically, to be 
regarded in some circles, as to his political views, as a defender of the 
status quo and a champion of the economically elect. The strongest 
advocates of Sumner's political philosophy today are probably to be 
found among the very class which looked upon him as its enemy 
when he denounced protectionism. Modern opponents of Sumner's 
views have tended to transform him into the patron saint of every- 
thing he detested. He railed against plutocracy, jobbery, and privilege 
in any form. He was conservative in his conception that all sound 
development must be slow, unhurried, and based on scientific knowl- 
edge, and he urged reliance on individual effort rather than legislative 
action to advance human welfare, but in all this, instead of being "a 
friend of capitalists," he was actually a champion of the common man 
— the Forgotten Man, as vigorously set forth in his essay of that title 
and in his book on What Social Classes Owe to Each Other. 

The latter is an impassioned vindication of individualism. It should 
be read in the setting of its time, when the population was predomi- 
nantly rural and agricultural, but its main thesis has application to 
the general problem of life in society, for it is a clear call to the 
standard of individual liberty under law as guaranteed by a free state. 


Sumner wrote a great deal on the subject of rights and liberty. This 
was in part to counteract the popular and traditional notions based 
on metaphysics and sentiment. The only real liberty, he maintained, 
is civil liberty — a structure of laws and institutions which brings rights 
and duties into equilibrium. He regarded it as the greatest civil good, 
the great end for which modern states exist. With liberty should go 

"Civil liberty, the only real liberty which is possible or conceivable 
on earth, is a matter of law and institutions. It is not metaphysical 
at all. Civil liberty is really a great induction from all the experience 
of mankind in the use of civil institutions; it must be defined, not in 


terms drawn from metaphysics, but in terms drawn from history and 
law. It is not an abstract conception; it is a series of concrete facts. 
These facts go to constitute a status — the status of a free man in a 
modern jural state. It is a product of institutions; it is embodied in 
institutions; it is guaranteed by institutions. It is not a matter of 
resolutions, or 'declarations/ as they seemed to think in the last cen- 
tury. It is unfriendly to dogmatism. It pertains to what a man shall 
do, have, and be. It is unfriendly to all personal control, to officialism, 
to administrative philanthropy and administrative wisdom, as much 
as to bureaucratic despotism or monarchical absolutism. It is hostile 
to all absolutism, and people who are well-trained in the traditions 
of civil liberty are quick to detect absolutism in all its new forms. 
Those who have lost the traditions of civil liberty accept phrases" 
[Essays oi William Graham Sumner, I, 314]. 

Under civil liberty, he stated, we have come to a form of society 
which is based not on prescribed status but on free contract. In the 
Middle Ages men were united by custom and prescription into asso* 
ciations, ranks, guilds, and communities of various kinds. These ties 
endured as long as life lasted. Consequently society was dependent, 
throughout all its details, on status, and the tie or bond was senti- 
mental. In the modern state, and in the United States more than 
anywhere else, the social structure is based on contract, and status is 
of the least importance. 

"A society based on contract is a society of free and independent 
men, who form ties without favor or obligation, and cooperate with- 
out cringing or intrigue. A society based on contract, therefore, gives 
the utmost room and chance for individual development, and for all 
the self-reliance and dignity of a free man. That a society of free men, 
cooperating under contract, is by far the strongest society which has 
ever yet existed; that no such society has ever yet developed the full 
measure of strength of which it is capable; and that the only social 
improvements which are now conceivable lie in the direction of more 
complete realization of a society of free men united by contract, are 
points which cannot be controverted" [What Social Classes Owe to 
Each Other, p. 27]. 

This concept of civil liberty is closely tied in with the doctrine of 
individualism, for Sumner further stated: "The institutions of civil 
liberty leave each man to run his career in life in his own way, only 
guaranteeing to him that whatever he does in the way of industry, 
economy, prudence, sound judgment, etc., shall redound to his own 


welfare and shall not be diverted to some one else's benefit. Of course 
it is a necessary corollary that each man shall also bear the penalty 
of his own vices and his own mistakes. 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" [Essays oi William Graham Sumner, I, 474]. 
One of the cardinal principles of civil liberty, according to Sumner, 
is equality before the law, "because it leaves each man to run the 
race of life for himself as best he can. The state stands neutral but 
benevolent. It does not undertake to aid some and handicap others 
at the outset in order to offset hereditary advantages and disad- 
vantages, or to make them start equally. Such a notion would belong 
to the false and spurious theory of equality which is socialistic" [Ibid., 
II, 115]. 

"It is often affirmed, and it is true, that competition tends to dis- 
perse society over a wide range of unequal conditions. Competition 
develops all powers that exist according to their measure and degree. 
The more intense competition is, the more thoroughly are all the 
forces developed. If, then, there is liberty, the results can not be equal; 
they must correspond to the forces. Liberty of development and equal- 
ity of result are therefore diametrically opposed to each other. If a 
group of men start on equal conditions, and compete in a common 
enterprise, the results which they attain must differ according to in- 
herited powers, early advantages of training, personal courage, energy, 
enterprise, perseverance, good sense, etc., etc. Since these things differ 
through a wide range, and since their combinations may vary through 
a wide range, it is possible that the results may vary through a wide 
scale of degrees. Moreover, the more intense the competition, the 
greater are the prizes of success and the heavier are the penalties of 
failure. This is illustrated in the competition of a large city as com- 
pared with that of a small one. Competition can no more be done 
away with than gravitation. Its incidence can be changed. We can 
adopt as a social policy, Woe to the successful/ We can take the 
prizes away from the successful and give them to the unsuccessful. 
It seems clear that there would soon be no prizes at all, but that in- 
ference is not universally accepted. In any event, it is plain that we 
have not got rid of competition— i.e., of the struggle for existence 
and the competition of life. We have only decided that, if we cannot 
all have equally, we will all have nothing. Competition does not 
guarantee results corresponding with merit, because hereditary con- 
ditions and good and bad fortune are always intermingled with merit, 


but competition secures to merit all the chances it can enjoy under 
the circumstances for which none of one's fellowmen are to blame" 
[Ibid., II, 152-53]. 


It follows from the above line of reasoning that a man in a free 
state cannot claim help from, and cannot be charged to give help to, 

"In a free state every man is held and expected to take care of 
himself and his family, to make no trouble for his neighbor, and to 
contribute his full share to public interests and common necessities. 
If he fails in this he throws burdens on others. He does not thereby 
acquire rights against the others. On the contrary, he only accumu- 
lates obligations toward them; and if he is allowed to make his defi- 
ciencies a ground of new claims, he passes over into the position of a 
privileged or petted person — emancipated from duties, endowed with 
claims. This is the inevitable result of combining democratic political 
theories with humanitarian social theories, ft would be aside from my 
present purpose to show, but it is worth noticing in passing, that one 
result of such inconsistency must surely be to undermine democracy, 
to increase the power of wealth in the democracy, and to hasten the 
subjection of democracy to plutocracy; for a man who accepts any 
share which he has not earned in another man's capital cannot be an 
independent citizen" [What Social Classes Owe to Each Other, pp. 

Sumner was thus opposed to legislative measures of social reform, 
at least to such measures as were proposed in his time. He thought 
that social reformers failed to make a distinction between ills which 
belong to the struggle for existence and those which are due to the 
imperfections and errors of civil institutions. The latter are a proper 
object of agitation and may be corrected by associated effort. The 
former belong to the natural hardships of life, and we cannot blame 
our fellow men for our share of them. This class of ills, he said, is 
constantly being grouped and generalized and made the object of 
social schemes which take the form of making those who have share 
with those who have not. An important element in Sumner's think- 
ing was the assumption, current in his time, that poverty is corre- 
lated with ignorance, vice, and misfortune; that is, mainly with in- 
dividual rather than social factors. Sumner was opposed to "reform- 


ers, philanthropists, humanitarians, and would-be managers-in-general 
of society" as being amateurs in social science [Ibid., pp. 112-1? 
116-17 quoted]. 

"The amateur social doctors are like the amateur physicians— they 
always begin with the question of remedies, and they go at this with- 
out 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 appre- 
hended 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 quack- 
ery the obvious injunction to the quacks is, to mind their own busi- 


The type and formula of most schemes of philanthropy or humani- 
tarianism was depicted by Sumner as follows [Ibid., pp. 123-24]: "A 
and B put their heads together to decide what C shall be made to 
do for D. The radical vice of all these schemes, from a sociological 
point of view, is that C is not allowed a voice in the matter, and his 
position, character, and interests, as well as the ultimate effects on 
society through C's interests, are entirely overlooked. I call C the 
Forgotten Man. For once let us look him up and consider his case, 
for the characteristic of all social doctors is, that they fix their minds 
on some man or group of men whose case appeals to the sympathies 
and the imagination, and they plan remedies addressed to the partic- 
ular trouble; they do not understand that all the parts of society hold 
together, and that forces which are set in action act and react through- 
out the whole organism, until an equilibrium is produced by a re- 
adjustment of all interests and rights. They therefore ignore entirely 
the source from which they must draw all the energy which they 
employ in their remedies, and they ignore all the effects on other 
members of society than the ones they have in view. They are always 
under the dominion of the superstition of government, and, forget- 
ting that a government produces nothing at all, they leave out of 
sight the first fact to be remembered in all social discussion— that 
the State cannot get a cent for any man without taking it from some 
other man, and this latter must be a man who has produced and 
saved it. This latter is the Forgotten Man." 

Almost all legislative effort to prevent vice, Sumner asserted, is 
really protective of vice, because all such legislation saves the vicious 
man from the penalty of his vice. "Nature's remedies against vice are 


terrible. She removes the victims without pity. A drunkard in the 
gutter is just where he ought to be, according to the fitness and tend- 
ency of things. Nature has set up on him the process of decline and 
dissolution by which she removes things which have survived their 
usefulness. Gambling and other less mentionable vices carry their 
own penalties with them. Now, we never can annihilate a penalty. 
We can only divert it from the head of the man who has incurred 
it to the heads of others who have not incurred it. A vast amount of 
'social reform' consists in just this operation. The consequence is that 
those who have gone astray, being relieved from Nature's fierce dis- 
cipline, go on to worse, and that there is a constantly heavier burden 
for the others to bear. Who are the others? When we see a drunkard 
in the gutter we pity him. If a policeman picks him up, we say that 
society has interfered to save him from perishing. 'Society' is a fine 
word, and it saves us the trouble of thinking. The industrious and 
sober workman, who is mulcted of a percentage of his day's wages 
to pay the policeman, is the one who bears the penalty. But he is the 
Forgotten Man. He passes by and is never noticed, because he has 
behaved himself, fulfilled his contracts, and asked for nothing" [Ibid. y 
pp. 131-32]. 

"The fallacy of all prohibitory, sumptuary, and moral legislation 
is the same. A and B determine to be teetotalers, which is often a 
wise determination, and sometimes a necessary one. If A and B are 
moved by considerations which seem to them good, that is enough. 
But A and B put their heads together to get a law passed which shall 
force C to be a teetotaler for the sake of D, who is in danger of 
drinking too much. There is no pressure on A and B. They are hav- 
ing their own way, and they like it. There is rarely any pressure on D. 
He does not like it, and evades it. The pressure all comes on C. The 
question then arises, Who is C? He is the man who wants alcoholic 
liquors for any honest purpose whatsoever, who would use his liberty 
without abusing it, who would occasion no public question, and 
trouble nobody at all. He is the Forgotten Man again, and as soon 
as he is drawn from his obscurity we see that he is just what each 
one of us ought to be" [Ibid., pp. 132-33]. 


"Now who is the Forgotten Man? He is the simple, honest laborer, 
ready to earn his living by productive work. We pass him by because 


he is independent, self-supporting, and asks no favors. He does not 
appeal to the emotions or excite the sentiments. He only wants to 
make a contract and fulfill it, with respect on both sides and favor 
on neither side. He must get his living out of the capital of the 
country. The larger the capital is, the better living he can get. Every 
particle of capital which is wasted on the vicious, the' idle, and the 
shiftless is so much taken from the capital available to reward the 
independent and productive laborer. But we stand with our backs to 
the independent and productive laborer all the time. We do not 
remember him because he makes no clamor; but i appeal to you 
whether he is not the man who ought to be remembered first of all, 
and whether, on any sound social theory, we ought not to protect 
him against the burdens of the good-for-nothing." Also against the 
burdens of state favoritism in public offices, jobbery, the tariff, etc. 
[Essays of William Graham Sumnei 7 1, 477; see also 478-93 for other 
types of cases]. 

"If we go to find him, we shall find him hard at work tilling the 
soil to get out of it the fund for all the jobbery, the object of all the 
plunder, the cost of all the economic quackery, and the pay of all the 
politicians and statesmen who have sacrificed his interests to his 
enemies. We shall find him an honest, sober, industrious citizen, 
unknown outside his little circle, paying his debts and his taxes, 
supporting the church and the school, reading his party newspaper, 
and cheering for his pet politician" [What Social Classes Owe to 
Each Other, p. 145]. 

To Sumner the "Forgotten Man" was thus the industrious, in- 
dependent and self-supporting person, not the "poor" or "weak" 
individual; nor the "ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished" to whom Presi- 
dent Franklin D. Roosevelt was referring when he revived the term 
during the Great Depression.* Said Sumner: "Such is the Forgotten 
Man. He works, he votes, generally he prays — but he always pays — 
yes, above all, he pays. He does not want an office; his name never gets 
into the newspaper except when he gets married or dies. He keeps 
production going on. He contributes to the strength of parties. He 
is flattered before election. He is strongly patriotic. He is wanted, 
whenever, in his little circle, there is work to be done or counsel to 
be given. He may grumble some occasionally to his wife and family, 
but he does not frequent the grocery or talk politics at the tavern. 
Consequently, he is forgotten. He is a commonplace man. He gives 
* The Second Inaugural Address, January 20, 1937. 


no trouble. He excites no admiration. He is not in any way a hero (like 
a popular orator); or a problem (like tramps and outcasts); nor 
notorious (like criminals); nor an object of sentiment (like the poor 
and weak); nor a burden (like paupers and loafers); nor an object 
out of which social capital may be made (like the beneficiaries of 
church and state charities); nor an object for charitable aid and 
protection (like animals treated with cruelty); nor the object of a 
job (like the ignorant and illiterate); nor one over whom sentimental 
economists and statesmen can parade their fine sentiments (like 
inefficient workmen and shiftless artisans) . Therefore, he is forgotten." 
[Essays oi William Graham Sumner, I, 492-93]- 

"Yet who is there whom the statesman, economist, and social 
philosopher ought to think of before this man? If any student of 
social science comes to appreciate the case of the Forgotten Man, 
he will become an unflinching advocate of strict scientific thinking 
in sociology, and a hard-hearted sceptic as regards any scheme of 
social amelioration. He will always want to know, Who and where 
is the Forgotten Man in this case, who will have to pay for it all?" 
[What Social Classes Owe to Each Other, p. 149]. 


It is not to be inferred from the above presentation that Sumner 
was opposed to charity or philanthropy or mutual aid. He relegated 
them to the domain of private relations, where personal acquaintance 
and personal estimates may furnish the proper limitations and guaran- 
tees. "A man who has no sympathies and no sentiments would be a 
very poor creature; but the public charities, more especially the legis- 
lative charities, nourish no man's sympathies and sentiments. Further- 
more, it ought to be distinctly perceived that any charitable and 
benevolent effort which any man desires to make voluntarily, to see 
if he can do any good, lies entirely beyond the field of discussion. 
It would be as impertinent to prevent his effort as it is to force co- 
operation in an effort on some one who does not want to participate 
in it. What I choose to do by way of exercising my own sympathies; 
under by own reason and conscience is one thing; what another mar* 
forces me to do of a sympathetic character, because his reason and 
conscience approve of it, is quite another thing" [Ibid., pp. i57"5 8 ]- 
Sumner asked himself the question: What is the reason why we 
should help each other? He answered it by the following illustration, 


which is the closest he came to formulating any theory of mutual aid 
or private welfare work. "Suppose that a man, going through a wood, 
should be struck by a falling tree and pinned down beneath it. Sup- 
pose that another man, coming that way and finding him there, 
should, instead of hastening to give or to bring aid, begin to lecture 
on the law of gravitation, taking the tree as an illustration. ... We 
may philosophize as coolly and correctly as we choose about our duties 
and about the laws of right living; no one of us lives up to what he 
knows. The man struck by the falling tree has, perhaps, been careless. 
We are all careless. Environed as we are by risks and perils, which 
befall us as misfortunes, no man of us is in a position to say, 'I know 
all the laws, and am sure to obey them all; therefore I shall never 
need aid and sympathy/ At the very best, one of us fails in one way 
and another in another, if we do not fail altogether. Therefore the 
man under the tree is the one of us who for the moment is smitten. 
It may be you to-morrow, and I next day. It is the common frailty 
in the midst of a common peril which gives us a kind of solidarity 
of interest to rescue the one for whom the chances of life have turned 
out badly just now. Probably the victim is to blame. He most always 
is so. A lecture to that effect in the crisis of his peril would be out 
of place, because it would not fit the need of the moment; but it 
would be very much in place at another time, when the need was to 
avert the repetition of such an accident to somebody else. Men, there- 
fore, owe to men, in the chances and perils of this life, aid and 
sympathy, on account of the common participation in human frailty 
and folly. This observation, however, puts aid and sympathy in the 
field of private and personal relations, under the regulation of reason 
and conscience, and gives no ground for mechanical and impersonal 
schemes" [Ibid., pp. 158-59]. 


To return to the thesis of What Social Classes Owe to Each Other: 
to social reformers, Sumner said, this really means What Ought Some- 
of-us— the prosperous, virtuous, respectable, self-reliant— do for 
Others-of-us— the less fortunate or less successful in the struggle for 
existence— through the agency of the state. His own answer was that 
the state does not owe "anything to anybody except peace, order, 
and the guarantee of rights." 

"Rights should be equal, because they pertain to chances, and all 


ought to have equal chances so far as chances are provided or limited 
by the action of society. This, however, will not produce equal results, 
but it is right just because it will produce unequal results — that is, 
results which shall be proportioned to the merits of individuals. We 
each owe it to the other to guarantee mutually the chance to earn, 
to possess, to learn, to marry, etc., against any interference which 
would prevent the exercise of those rights by a person who wishes to 
prosecute and enjoy them in peace for the pursuit of happiness. If 
we generalize this, it means that All-of-us ought to guarantee rights 
to each of us" [Ibid., p.. 164]. 

"But if we can expand the chances we can count on a general and 
steady growth of civilization and advancement of society by and 
through its best members. In the prosecution of these chances we 
all owe to each other good-will, mutual respect, and mutual guaran- 
tees of liberty and security. Beyond this nothing can be affirmed as 
a duty of one group to another in a free state" [Ibid., pp. 168-69]. 

"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" [Ibid., p. 113]. 


The most important sociological treatise that Sumner wrote was 
Folkways: A Study of the Sociological Importance of Usages, Man- 
ners, Customs y Mores, and Morals, originally published in 1907. Of 
this work Harry Elmer Barnes commented, "it is not inaccurate to 
say that it is unsurpassed as a sociological achievement by any single 
volume in any language and that it has made the sociological treat- 
ment of usages, manners, customs, mores, and morals essentially a 
completed task."* This volume is generally regarded as one of the 
classics in sociology, t "It was selling in the nineteen twenties," com- 
ments John Chamberlain, "at a faster pace than it had ever achieved 
in Sumner's lifetime. And now, in i960, a full half-century after its 
author's passing, it has reached the ultimate in canonization with the 
publication of a paperback edition." J In this work Sumner originated 
the normative approach to social phenomena by viewing behavior as 
patterned by cultural norms or social codes which contain the notion 
of what ought to be and which exert moral pressure on the individual 
to conform to them. J Sumner also pioneered in developing a func- 
tional theory of culture, || since he interpreted the folkways as ways 
of satisfying needs and serving the interests of men in groups. And 
* Introduction to the History of Sociology (Chicago: University of Chicago 
Press, 1948), p. 157. 

t Cf. Margaret Wilson Vine, An Introduction to Sociological Theory (New 
York: Longmans, Green and Company, 1959), p. 104. 
t "Beyond Relativism," The Freeman (March, i960), p. 58. 
J Cf. Nicholas S. Timasheff, Sociological Theory (New York: Doubleday and 
Company, 1955), pp. 69, 243, 295. 

|| Cf. Walter Buckley, "Structural-Functional Analysis in Modern Sociology," in 
Becker and Boskoff, eds., Modern Sociological Theory (New York: Dryden Press 
1957), p. 237. 



he formulated the theory of cultural relativism by marshaling proof 
to demonstrate that "the mores can make anything right and prevent 
condemnation of anything/ 7 

In his Preface to Folkways Sumner tells how he coined the term 
"folkways" and gave new meaning to the Latin word "mores." "I 
formed the word 'folkways' on the analogy of words already in use 
in sociology. I also took up again the Latin word 'mores' as the best 
I could find for my purpose. I mean by it the popular usages and 
traditions, when they include a judgment that they are conducive to 
societal welfare, and when they exert a coercion on the individual to 
conform to them, although they are not coordinated by any authority. 
I have also tried to bring the word 'Ethos' into familiarity again. 
'Ethica,' or 'Ethology/ or 'The Mores' seemed good titles for the 
book, but Ethics is already employed otherwise, and the other words 
were very unfamiliar. Perhaps 'folkways' is not less unfamiliar, but 
its meaning is more obvious. I must add that if any one is liable to 
be shocked by any folkways, he ought not to read about folkways 
at all." 

In another connection he elaborated on the choice of terms, as 
follows [Folkways, pp. 36-37] : " 'Ethology' would be a convenient 
term for the study of manners, customs, usages, and mores, including 
the study of the way in which they are formed, how they grow or 
decay, and how they affect the interests which it is their purpose to 
serve. The Greeks applied the term 'ethos' to the sum of the charac- 
teristic usages, ideas, standards, and codes by which a group was dif- 
ferentiated and individualized in character from other groups. 'Ethics' 
were things which pertained to the ethos and therefore the things 
which were the standard of right. The Romans used 'mores' for 
customs in the broadest and richest sense of the word, including the 
notion that customs served welfare, and had traditional and mystic 
sanction, so that they were properly authoritative and sacred. It is a 
very surprising fact that modern nations should have lost these words 
and the significant suggestions which inhere in them. The English 
language has no derivative noun from 'mores,' and no equivalent for 
it. The French moeurs is trivial compared to 'mores.' The German 
Sitte renders 'mores' but very imperfectly. The modern peoples have 
made morals and morality a separate domain, by the side of religion, 
philosophy, and politics. In that sense, morals is an impossible and 
unreal category. It has no existence, and can have none. The word 


'moral' means what belongs or appertains to the mores. Therefore 
the category of morals can never be defined without reference to 
something outside of itself." 

The first two chapters of Folkways are devoted to fundamental 
notions of the folkways and of the mores and to characteristics of the 
mores. Sumner summarized his thesis in the following words [Ibid., 

"The folkways are the habits of the individual and customs of the 
society which arise from efforts to satisfy needs; they are intertwined 
with goblinism and demonism and primitive notions of luck, and so 
they win traditional authority. Then they become regulative for suc- 
ceeding generations and take on the character of a social force. They 
arise no one knows whence or how. They grow as if by the play of 
internal life energy. They can be modified, but only to a limited 
extent, by the purposeful efforts of men. In time they lose power, 
decline, and die, or are transformed. While they are in vigor they 
very largely control individual and social undertakings, and they pro- 
duce and nourish ideas of world philosophy and life policy. Yet they 
are not organic or material. They belong to a superorganic system of 
relations, conventions, and institutional arrangements. The study of 
them is called for by their social character, by virtue of which they 
are leading factors in the science of society." 

The rest of this section will be concerned with an elaboration of 
this thesis and a discussion of numerous concepts which Sumner 
introduced in relation to it, — the arrangement being largely that of 
the writer's but the thought entirely Sumner's. 


"If we put together all that we have learned from anthropology 
and ethnography about primitive men and primitive society, we per- 
ceive that the first task of life is to live. Men begin with acts, not 
with thoughts. Every moment brings necessities which must be satis- 
fied at once. Need was the first experience, and it was followed at 
once by a blundering effort to satisfy it. . . . Need was the impelling 
force. Pleasure and pain, on the one side and the other, were the rude 
constraints which defined the line on which efforts must proceed. 
The ability to distinguish between pleasure and pain is the only 
psychical power which is to be assumed. Thus the ways of doing 
things were selected, which were expedient. They answered the pur- 


pose better than other ways, or with less toil and pain. Along the 
course on which efforts were compelled to go, habit, routine, and 
skill were developed. The struggle to maintain existence was carried 
on, not individually, but in groups. Each profited by the other's 
experience; hence there was concurrence towards that which proved 
to be most expedient. All at last adopted the same way for the same 
purpose; hence the ways turned into customs and became mass 
phenomena. Instincts were developed in connection with them. In 
this way folkways arise. The young learn them by tradition, imitation, 
and authority. The folkways, at a time, provide for all the needs of 
life then and there. They are uniform, universal in the group, impera- 
tive, and invariable. As time goes on, the folkways become more and 
more arbitrary, positive, and imperative. If asked why they act in a 
certain way in certain cases, primitive people always answer that it is 
because they and their ancestors always have done so. A sanction also 
arises from ghost fear. The ghosts of ancestors would be angry if the 
living should change the ancient folkways" [Ibid., p. 2]. 


"The operation by which folkways are produced consists in the 
frequent repetition of petty acts, often by great numbers acting in 
concert or, at least, acting in the same way when face to face with 
the same need. The immediate motive is interest. It produces habit 
in the individual and custom in the group. It is, therefore, in the 
highest degree original and primitive. By habit and custom it exerts 
a strain on every individual within its range; therefore it rises to a 
societal force to which great classes of societal phenomena are due. 
Its earliest stages, its course, and laws may be studied; also its influ- 
ence on individuals and their reaction on it. It is our present purpose 
so to study it. We have to recognize it as one of the chief forces by 
which a society is made to be what it is. Out of the unconscious 
experiment which every repetition of the ways includes, there issues 
pleasure or pain, and then, so far as the men are capable of reflection, 
convictions that the ways are conducive to societal welfare. These two 
experiences are not the same. The most uncivilized men, both in the 
food quest and in war, do things which are painful, but which have 
been found to be expedient. Perhaps these cases teach the sense of 
social welfare better than those which are pleasurable and favorable 
to welfare. The former cases call for some intelligent reflection on 


experience. When this conviction as to the relation to welfare is 
added to the folkways they are converted into mores, and, by virtue 
of the philosophical and ethical element added to them, they win 
utility and importance and become the source of the science and the 
art of living" [Ibid., p. 3] 


Sumner thus conceived of the folkways as group efforts to satisfy 
human needs or interests. Behind these interests, as impelling to 
action, he postulated four great motives, expressed in their most 
elementary terms as hunger, love, vanity, and fear. These he also 
regarded as the main socializing forces, being the stimuli which drove 
men into society and held them there. About them gathered folkways 
and mores which, as we shall later see, developed into institutions 
looking toward the maintenance and protection of life, the perpetua- 
tion of life, and satisfaction and self-expression in life. 

"There are four great motives of human action which come into 
play when some number of human beings are in juxtaposition under 
the same life conditions. They are hunger, sex passion, vanity, and 
fear (of ghosts and spirits). Under each of these motives there are 
interests. Life consists in satisfying interests, for 'life/ in a society, 
is a career of action and effort expended on both the material and 
social environment. However great the errors and misconceptions may 
be which are included in the efforts, the purpose always is advantage 
and expediency. The efforts fall into parallel lines, because the condi- 
tions and the interests are the same. It is now the accepted opinion, 
and it may be correct, that men inherited from their beast ancestors 
psychophysical traits, instincts, and dexterities, or at least predisposi- 
tions, which give them aid in solving the problems of food supply, 
sex commerce, and vanity. The result is mass phenomena; currents 
of similarity, concurrence, and mutual contribution; and these pro- 
duce folkways. The folkways are unconscious, spontaneous, unco- 
ordinated. It is never known who led in devising them, although we 
must believe that talent exerted its leadership at all times" [Ibid., 
pp. 18-19]. 


"It is of the first importance to notice that, from the first acts by 
which men try to satisfy needs, each act stands by itself, and looks 


no further than the immediate satisfaction. From recurrent needs 
arise habits for the individual and customs for the group, but these 
results are consequences which were never conscious, and never fore- 
seen or intended. They are not noticed until they have long existed, 
and it is still longer before they are appreciated. Another long time 
must pass, and a higher stage of mental development must be reached, 
before they can be used as a basis from which to deduce rules for 
meeting, in the future, problems whose pressure can be foreseen. The 
folkways, therefore, are not creations of human purpose and wit. They 
are like products of natural forces which men unconsciously set in 
operation, or they are like the instinctive ways of animals, which are 
developed out of experience, which reach a final form of maximum 
adaptation to an interest, which are handed down by tradition and 
admit of no exception or variation, yet change to meet new condi- 
tions, still within the same limited methods, and without rational 
reflection or purpose. From this it results that all the life of human 
beings, in all ages and stages of culture, is primarily controlled by a 
vast mass of folkways handed down from the earliest existence of the 
race, having the nature of the ways of other animals, only the topmost 
layers of which are subject to change and control, and have been 
somewhat modified by human philosophy, ethics, and religion, or by 
other acts of intelligent reflection" [Ibid., pp. 3-4]. 


Sumner cited language as an outstanding example of the folkways. 
Language is habit and custom; it is formed by acts of judgment, 
although the consideration is slight, the judgment is vague and un- 
conscious, and the authority of tradition prevails. "Language is a 
product of the folkways which illustrates their operation in a number 
of most important details. Language is a product of the need of co- 
operative understanding in all the work, and in connection with all 
the interests, of life. It is a societal phenomenon. It was necessary 
in war, the chase, and industry so soon as these interests were pursued 
cooperatively. Each group produced its own language which held that 
group together and sundered it from others. All are now agreed that, 
whatever may have been the origin of language, it owes its form and 
development to usage" [Ibid., pp. 133-34]. 



"No objection can lie against this postulate about the way in which 
folkways began, on account of the element of inference in it. All 
origins are lost in mystery, and it seems vain to hope that from any 
origin the veil of mystery will ever be raised. We go up the stream 
of history to the utmost point for which we have evidence of its 
course. Then we are forced to reach out into the darkness upon the 
line of direction marked by the remotest course of the historic stream. 
This is the way in which we have to act in regard to the origin of 
capital, language, the family, the state, religion, and rights. We never 
can hope to see the beginning of any one of these things. Use and 
wont are products and results. They had antecedents. We never can 
find or see the first member of the series. It is only by analysis and 
inference that we can form any conceptions of the 'beginning' which 
we are always so eager to find" [Ibid., pp. 7-8]. 


'The folkways, being ways of satisfying needs, have succeeded 
more or less well, and therefore have produced more or less pleasure 
or pain. Their quality always consisted in their adaptation to the 
purpose. If they were imperfectly adapted and unsuccessful, they 
produced pain, which drove men on to learn better. The folkways are, 
therefore, (1) subject to a strain of improvement towards better 
adaptation of means to ends, as long as the adaptation is so imperfect 
that pain is produced. They are also (2) subject to a strain of con- 
sistency with each other, because they all answer their several pur- 
poses with less friction and antagonism when they cooperate and 
support each other. The forms of industry, the forms of the family, 
the notions of property, the constructions of rights, and the types of 
religion show the strain of consistency with each other through the 
whole history of civilization. The two great cultural divisions of the 
human race are the oriental and the occidental. Each is consistent 
throughout; each has its own philosophy and spirit; they are separated 
from top to bottom by different mores, different standpoints, differ- 
ent ways, and different notions of what societal arrangements are 
advantageous. In their contrast they keep before our minds the pos- 
sible range of divergence in the solution of the great problems of 


human life, and in the views of earthly existence by which life policy 
may be controlled. If two planets were joined in one, their inhabitants 
could not differ more widely as to what things are best worth seeking, 
or what ways are most expedient for well living" [Ibid., pp. 5-6]. 


"The process of making folkways is never superseded or changed. 
It goes on now just as it did at the beginning of civilization. 'Use 
and wont' exert their force on all men always. They produce famili- 
arity, and mass acts become unconscious. The same effect is produced 
by customary acts repeated at all recurring occasions. The range of 
societal activity may be greatly enlarged, interests may be extended 
and multiplied, the materials by which needs can be supplied may 
become far more numerous, the processes of societal cooperation may 
become more complicated, and contract or artifice may take the place 
of custom for many interests; but, if the case is one which touches 
the ways or interests of the masses, folkways will develop on and 
around it by the same process as that which has been described as 
taking place from the beginning of civilization. The ways of carrying 
on war have changed with all new inventions of weapons or armor, 
and have grown into folkways of commanding range and importance. 
The factory system of handicrafts has produced a body of folkways 
in which artisans live, and which distinguish factory towns from 
commercial cities or agricultural villages. The use of cotton instead 
of linen has greatly affected modern folkways. The applications of 
power and machinery have changed the standards of comfort of all 
classes. The folkways, however, have kept their character and author- 
ity through all the changes of form which they have undergone" 
[Ibid. y p. 35]. 


While the folkways are the expedient ways of serving men's inter- 
ests, there is another element in the conditions of life which has 
called for a different type of adjustment. This is the presence of luck, 
or variation from the expected, which Sumner termed the aleatory 
element. It is the factor of chance or, as more commonly viewed, 
mischance, which can seriously affect man's welfare. In a more derived 
sense, it is the inexplicable at a given stage of knowledge, the great 


unknown. Nowadays civilized man has at hand a practical adaptation 
to this element in the form of insurance. Primitive man could only 
ascribe its operation to the agency of ghosts and spirits and engage 
in religious rites in an attempt to control it. Sumner regarded the 
aleatory element as one of the basic factors in the development of 

"If we should try to find a specimen society in which expedient 
ways of satisfying needs and interests were found by trial and failure, 
and by long selection from experience, as broadly described in sec. 1 
above,* it might be impossible to find one. Such a practical and 
utilitarian mode of procedure, even when mixed with ghost sanction, 
is rationalistic. It would not be suited to the ways and temper of 
primitive men. There was an element in the most elementary experi- 
ence which was irrational and defied all expedient methods. One 
might use the best known means with the greatest care, yet fail of 
the result. On the other hand, one might get a great result with no 
effort at all. One might also incur a calamity without any fault of 
his own. This was the aleatory element in life, the element of risk and 
loss, good or bad fortune. This element is never absent from the 
affairs of men. It has greatly influenced their life philosophy and 
policy. On one side, good luck may mean something for nothing, the 
extreme case of prosperity and felicity. On the other side, ill luck 
may mean failure, loss, calamity, and disappointment, in spite of the 
most earnest and well-planned endeavor. The minds of men always 
dwell more on bad luck. They accept ordinary prosperity as a matter 
of course. Misfortunes arrest their attention and remain in their 
memory. Hence the ills of life are the mode of manifestation of the 
aleatory element which has most affected life policy. Primitive men 
ascribed all incidents to the agency of men or of ghosts and spirits. 
Good and ill luck were attributed to the superior powers, and were 
supposed to be due to their pleasure or displeasure at the conduct 
of men. This group of notions constitutes goblinism. It furnishes a 
complete world philosophy. The element of luck is always present in 
the struggle for existence. That is why primitive men never could 
carry on the struggle for existence, disregarding the aleatory element 
and employing a utilitarian method only. The aleatory element has 
always been the connecting link between the struggle for existence 

* This Section 1 of Folkways, entitled "Definition and Mode of Origin/' is repro- 
duced on pp. 46-47. 


and religion. It was only by religious rites that the aleatory element 
in the struggle for existence could be controlled" [Ibid., pp. 6-7]. 


One of the great conceptual contributions which Sumner made to 
the understanding of the structure and mode of operation of social 
groups is his basic functional distinction between the in-group or 
we-group and the out-group or others-group. The members of an 
in-group are comrades to each other and have a common interest 
against every other group. The sentiment which prevails inside the 
we-group, among its members, is that of peace and cooperation; the 
sentiment which prevails inside of a group towards all outsiders is 
that of suspicion, distrust, hostility and war. These two sentiments 
are consistent with each other; in fact, they necessarily complement 
each other, because any group, in order to be strong against an outside 
enemy, must be well disciplined, harmonious, and peaceful inside. 
Thus there arise two codes of morals and two sets of mores, one for 
comrades inside and the other for strangers outside, common products 
of the same situation. 

"The conception of 'primitive society' which we ought to form is 
that of small groups scattered over a territory. The size of the groups 
is determined by the conditions of the struggle for existence. The 
internal organization of each group corresponds to its size. A group 
of groups may have some relation to each other (kin, neighborhood, 
alliance, connubium, and commercium) which draws them together 
and differentiates them from others. Thus a differentiation arises 
between ourselves, the we-group, or in-group, and everybody else, or 
the others-groups, out-groups. The insiders in a we-group are in a 
relation of peace, order, law, government, and industry, to each other. 
Their relation to all outsiders, or others-groups, is one of war and 
plunder, except so far as agreements have modified it. If a group is 
exogamic, the women in it were born abroad somewhere. Other 
foreigners who might be found in it are adopted persons, guest 
friends, and slaves" [Ibid., p. 12]. 


"The relation of comradeship and peace in the we-group and that 
of hostility and war towards others-groups are correlative to each 



other. The exigencies of war with outsiders are what make peace 
inside, lest internal discord should weaken the we-group for'war 
These exigencies also make government and law in the in group in 
order to prevent quarrels and enforce discipline. Thus war and peace 

the" lo^r !f ° th r nd deveI °P ed «*h other, one wi h n 
the group, the other m the inter-group relation. The closer the 
neighbors and the stronger they are, the intenser is the warfare and 

SentimenJf ^ S **,**"»* ° Tgm ™ ti0n and disci P«^ <* ^h. 
Sent ments are produced to correspond. Loyalty to the group, sacrifice 

*eneJ if 7* T™* ** ^^ ^hood witfiin war 
^L^Trfl^ ^ getheX ' C ° mm0n P roducts of Sesame 

tr ;? fi r 1r and sentiments constitute a s °^ Philoso- 
phy. It is sanctified by connection with religion. Men of an others- 
group are outsiders with whose ancestors the ancestors of the we- 
group waged war. The ghosts of the latter will see with pleasure their 

ta kniin 3 ; p,un e I UP the / ght / 3nd W1 " hel P them - V*ue -S 
in Killing, plundering, and enslaving outsiders" Ubid., pp 12-iv see 

also essay on "War" in Esssys of William Graham i££ ft£ 



The sentiment of cohesion, internal comradeship, and devotion to 
the m-group carried with it a sense of superiority Jany ouSroup and 
readiness to defend the interests of the in-group'agaj the £K> 
To this group attitude Sumner gave the name of ethnocentriZ' 
Ethnocentrism is the technical name for this view of things n wS 
one s own group is the center of everything, and all others a e Tea led 
and rated with reference to it. Folkways correspond to it to cot 
both the inner and the outer relation. Each group nourishes its wn 
pnde and vanity, boasts itself superior, exalts its own d vhnfe Zd 

the only ght ones, and ,f ,t observes that other groups have other 
folkways these excite its scorn. Opprobrious epithets aJderS f on 
these differences. Tig-eater/ 'cow-eater/ Wcumcised/ 'jabberers ' 
are epithets of contempt and abomination. The Tups called the 
Portuguese by a derisive epithet descriptive of bird^ wh ch have 
feathers around their feet, on account of trousers. For C present 
purpose the most important fact is that ethnocentrism leads a S 
to exaggerate and intensify everything in their own folkw ys whfch 


is peculiar and which differentiates them from others. It therefore 
strengthens the folkways" [Ibid., p. 13]. 


"When Caribs were asked whence they came, they answered, We 
alone are people/ The meaning of the name Kiowa is 'real or principal 
people/ The Lapps call themselves 'men/ or 'human beings/ The 
Greenland Eskimo think that Europeans have been sent to Greenland 
to learn virtue and good manners from the Greenlanders. Their high- 
est form of praise for a European is that he is, or soon will be, as 
good as a Greenlander. The Tunguses call themselves 'men/ As a 
rule it is found that nature peoples call themselves 'men/ Others are 
something else— perhaps not defined— but not real men. In myths 
the origin of their own tribe is that of the real human race. They do 
not account for the others. The Ainos derive their name from that 
of the first man, whom they worship as a god. Evidently the name 
of the god is derived from the tribe name. When the tribal name 
has another sense, it is always boastful or proud. The Ovambo name 
is a corruption of the name of the tribe for themselves, which means 
'the wealthy/ Amongst the most remarkable people in the world for 
ethnocentrism are the Seri of Lower California. They observe an 
attitude of suspicion and hostility to all outsiders, and strictly forbid 
marriage with outsiders. 

"The Jews divided all mankind into themselves and Gentiles. They 
were the 'chosen people/ The Greeks and Romans called all outsiders 
'barbarians.' In Euripides' tragedy of Iphigenia in Aulis Iphigenia 
says that it is fitting that Greeks should rule over barbarians, but not 
contrariwise, because Greeks are free, and barbarians are slaves. The 
Arabs regarded themselves as the noblest nation and all others as 
more or less barbarous. In 1896, the Chinese minister of education 
and his counselors edited a manual in which this statement occurs: 
'How grand and glorious is the Empire of China, the middle king- 
dom! She is the largest and richest in the world. The grandest men 
in the world have all come from the middle empire/ In all the 
literature of all the states equivalent statements occur, although they 
are not so naively expressed. In Russian books and newspapers the 

■ civilizing mission of Russia is talked about, just as, in the books and 

journals of France, Germany, and the United States, the civilizing 
mission of those countries is assumed and referred to as well under- 


stood. Each state now regards itself as the leader of civilization, the 
best, the freest, and the wisest, and all others as inferior. Within a 
few years our own man-on-the-curbstone has learned to class all for- 
eigners of the Latin peoples as 'dagoes/ and 'dago' has become an 
epithet of contempt. These are all cases of ethnocentrism" [Ibid, 
pp. 14-15]. 


Closely related to ethnocentrism is the modern sentiment of 
patriotism, both in its rationality and in its extravagant exaggeration. 
"Patriotism is a sentiment which belongs to modern states. It stands 
in antithesis to the mediaeval notion of catholicity. Patriotism is 
loyalty to the civic group to which one belongs by birth or other 
group bond. It is a sentiment of fellowship and cooperation in all 
the hopes, work, and suffering of the group. Mediaeval catholicity 
would have made all Christians an in-group and would have set them 
in hostility to all Mohammedans and other non-Christians. It never 
could be realized. When the great modern states took form and 
assumed control of societal interests, group sentiment was produced 
in connection with those states. Men responded willingly to a de- 
mand for support and help from an institution which could and did 
serve interests. The state drew to itself the loyalty which had been 
given to men (lords), and it became the object of that group vanity 
and antagonism which had been ethnocentric. For the modern man 
patriotism has become one of the first of duties and one of the 
noblest of sentiments. It is what he owes to the state for what the 
state does for him, and the state is, for the modern man, a cluster 
of civic institutions from which he draws security and conditions of 
welfare. The masses are always patriotic. For them the old ethno- 
centric jealousy, vanity, truculency, and ambition are the strongest 
elements in patriotism. Such sentiments are easily awakened in a 
crowd. They are sure to be popular. Wider knowledge always proves 
that they are not based on facts. That we are good and others are 
bad is never true. By history, literature, travel, and science men are 
made cosmopolitan. . . . 

"That patriotism may degenerate into a vice is shown by the in- 
vention of a name for that vice: chauvinism. It is a name for boastful 
and truculent group self-assertion. It overrules personal judgment and 


character, and puts the whole group at the mercy of the clique which 
is ruling at the moment. It produces the dominance of watchwords 
and phrases which take the place of reason and conscience in de- 
termining conduct. The patriotic bias is a recognized perversion of 
thought and judgment against which our education should guard us" 
[Ibid., p. 15]. 

"right" and "true" 

The folkways are "right" and "true," and out of them developed 
ethics and norms of welfare, also a world philosophy and a life policy. 
"The folkways are the right ways to satisfy all interests, because they 
are traditional, and exist in fact. They extend over the whole of life. 
There is a right way to catch game, to win a wife, to make one's self 
appear, to cure disease, to honor ghosts, to treat comrades or 
strangers, to behave when a child is born, on the warpath, in council, 
and so on in all cases which can arise. The ways are defined on the 
negative side, that is, by taboos. The 'right' way is the way which 
the ancestors used and which has been handed down. The tradition 
is its own warrant. It is not held subject to verification by experience. 
The notion of right is in the folkways. It is not outside of them, of 
independent origin, and brought to them to test them. In the folk- 
ways, whatever is, is right. This is because they are traditional, and 
therefore contain in themselves the authority of the ancestral ghosts. 
When we come to the folkways we are at the end of our analysis. 
The notion of right and ought is the same in regard to all the folk- 
ways, but the degree of it varies with the importance of the interest 
at stake. The obligation of conformable and cooperative action is far 
greater under ghost fear and war than in other matters, and the social 
sanctions are severer, because group interests are supposed to be at 
stake. Some usages contain only a slight element of right and ought. 
It may well be believed that notions of right and duty, and of social 
welfare, were first developed in connection with ghost fear and other- 
worldliness, and therefore that, in that field also, folkways were first 
raised to mores. 'Rights' are the rules of mutual give and take in the 
competition of life which are imposed on comrades in the in-group, 
in order that the peace may prevail there which is essential to the 
group strength. Therefore rights can never be 'natural' or 'God-given,' 
or absolute in any sense. The morality of a group at a time is the 


sum of the taboos and prescriptions in the folkways by which right 
conduct is defined. Therefore morals can never be intuitive. They 
are historical, institutional, and empirical. 

"World philosophy, life policy, right, rights, and morality are all 
products of the folkways. They are reflections on, and generalizations 
from, the experience of pleasure and pain which is won in efforts to 
carry on the struggle for existence under actual life conditions. The 
generalizations are very crude and vague in their germinal forms. 
They are embodied in folklore, and all our philosophy and science 
have been developed out of them. 

"The folkways are necessarily 'true' with respect to some world 
philosophy. Pain forced men to think. The ills of life imposed re- 
flection and taught forethought. Mental processes were irksome and 
were not undertaken until painful experience made them unavoid- 
able. With great unanimity all over the globe primitive men followed 
the same line of thought. The dead were believed to live on as ghosts 
in another world just like this one. The ghosts had just the same 
needs, tastes, passions, etc., as the living men had had. These tran- 
scendental notions were the beginning of the mental outfit of man- 
kind. They are articles of faith, not rational convictions. The living 
had duties to the ghosts, and the ghosts had rights; they also had 
power to enforce their rights. It behooved the living therefore to 
learn how to deal with ghosts. Here we have a complete world 
philosophy and a life policy deduced from it. When pain, loss, and 
ill were experienced and the question was provoked, Who did this 
to us, the world philosophy furnished the answer. When the painful 
experience forced the question, Why are the ghosts angry and what 
must we do to appease them, the 'right' answer was the one which 
fitted into the philosophy of ghost fear. All acts were therefore con- 
strained and trained into the forms of the world philosophy by ghost 
fear, ancestral authority, taboos, and habit. The habits and customs 
created a practical philosophy of welfare, and they confirmed and 
developed the religious theories of goblinism" [Ibid., pp. 28-30]. 


When the elements of truth and right are developed into doctrines 
of welfare, the folkways are raised to another plane. They then be- 
come capable of producing inferences, developing into new forms, 
and extending their constructive influence over men and society. 


Then they are called the mores. The mores are the folkways, includ- 
ing the philosophical and ethical generalizations as to societal welfare 
which are suggested by them, and inherent in them, as they evolve. 
'They are the ways of doing things which are current in a society to 
satisfy human needs and desires, together with the faiths, notions, 
codes, and standards of well living which inhere in those ways, having 
a genetic connection with them. By virtue of the latter element the 
mores are traits in the specific character (ethos) of a society or a 
period. They pervade and control the ways of thinking in all the 
exigencies of life, returning from the world of abstractions to the 
world of action, to give guidance and to win revivification" [Ibid., 
P- 59]. 


"A society is never conscious of its mores until it comes in contact 
with some other society which has different mores, or until, in higher 
civilization, it gets information by literature. The latter operation, 
however, affects only the literary classes, not the masses, and society 
never consciously sets about the task of making mores. In the early 
stages mores are elastic and plastic; later they become rigid and fixed. 
They seem to grow up, gain strength, become corrupt, decline, and 
die, as if they were organisms. The phases seem to follow each other 
by an inherent necessity, and as if independent of the reason and 
will of the men affected, but the changes are always produced by a 
strain towards better adjustment of the mores to conditions and in- 
terests of the society, or of the controlling elements in it. A society 
does not record its mores in its annals, because they are to it un- 
noticed and unconscious" [Ibid., p. 78]. 


"The mores necessarily consist, in a large part, of taboos, which 
indicate the things which must not be done. In part these are dic- 
tated by mystic dread of ghosts who might be offended by certain 
acts, but they also include such acts as have been found by experience 
to produce unwelcome results, especially in the food quest, in war, 
in health, or in increase or decrease of population. These tarpos 
always contain a greater element of philosophy than the positive 
rules, because the taboos contain reference to a reason, as, for in- 


stance, that the act would displease the ghosts. The primitive taboos 
correspond to the fact that the life of man is environed by perils. 
His food quest must be limited by shunning poisonous plants. His 
appetite must be restrained from excess. His physical strength and 
health must be guarded from dangers. The taboos carry on the 
accumulated wisdom of generations, which has almost always been 
purchased by pain, loss, disease, and death. Other taboos contain 
inhibitions of what will be injurious to the group. The laws about 
the sexes, about property, about war, and about ghosts, have this 
character. They always include some social philosophy. They are both 
mystic and utilitarian, or compounded of the two" [Ibid., pp. 30-31]. 


According to Sumner, we are born into our mores and adopt them 
unconsciously. Each one is subjected to the influence of the mores 
of his time and place, and formed by them, before he is capable of 
reasoning about them. They coerce and restrict the newborn genera- 
tion. "They do not stimulate to thought, but the contrary. The think- 
ing is already done and is embodied in the mores. They never contain 
any provision for their own amendment. They are not questions, but 
answers, to the problem of life" [Ibid., p. 79]. 

"The most important fact about the mores is their dominion over 
the individual. Arising he knows not whence or how, they meet his 
opening mind in earliest childhood, give him his outfit of ideas, 
faiths, and tastes, and lead him into prescribed mental processes. 
They bring to him codes of action, standards, and rules of ethics. 
They have a model of the man-as-he-should-be to which they mold 
him, in spite of himself and without his knowledge. If he submits 
and consents, he is taken up and may attain great social success. If 
he resists and dissents, he is thrown out and may be trodden under 
foot. The mores are therefore an engine of social selection. Their 
coercion of the individual is the mode in which they operate the 
selection, and the details of the process deserve study. Some folkways 
exercise an unknown and unintelligent selection. Infanticide does 
this. Slavery always exerts a very powerful selection, both physical and 
social" [Ibid. y pp. 173-74; see also Chap. VI, Slavery, and Chap. VII, 
Abortion, Infanticide, Killing the Old]. 

Thus folkways and mores operate as an agency of informal social 


control, regulating the actions or behavior of individuals and en- 
forcing conformity to the social norms or values. 


Sumner discerned a number of mass phenomena which are on a 
lower grade than the mores, lacking the elements of truth and right 
with respect to welfare, but which also illustrate the dominance of 
the group over the individual. These are fashion, poses, fads, and 
affectations. Fashion controls many things besides dress. It governs 
the forms of utensils and weapons, the mode of dressing the hair and 
deforming the body; it rules in architecture, painting and sculpture, 
literature, and methods of education; there are fashions of standing, 
walking, sitting; fashions in shaking hands, dancing, eating and drink- 
ing, showing respect, visiting, foods and hours of meals; there are 
also fashions in trading, banking, political devices, traveling, book 
making, shows and amusements, gardens and games, in language, in 
faiths and ideals, and in a host of other things. Fashions may be 
harmful as well as beneficial. They are arbitrary, cannot be put to 
any test, and have no sanction except that everybody submits to 
them. There is no arguing with the fashion [Ibid., pp. 57— 5 8 > l8 4~ 

Other devices of a social psychological nature which impose on 
the individual a coercion to conform and make of the mores an 
engine of social selection include suggestion and its instrumentalities, 
symbols, pictures, watchwords, catchwords, epithets, rhetorical 
phrases, pathos ("the glamour of sentiment which grows up around 
the pet notion of an age and people, and which protects it from 
criticism"), distinction, heroes, scapegoats, caricature, ideals [Ibid., 
Chap. V, Societal Selection]. 


"The process by which mores are developed and established is 
ritual. Ritual is so foreign to our mores that we do not recognize its 
power. In primitive society it is the prevailing method of activity, and 
primitive religion is entirely a matter of ritual. Ritual is the perfect 
form of drill and of the regulated habit which comes from drill. Acts 
which are ordained by authority and are repeated mechanically with- 


out intelligence run into ritual. If infants and children are subjected 
to ritual they never escape from its effects through life. Galton* says 
that he was, in early youth, in contact with the Mohammedan ritual 
idea that the left hand is less worthy than the right, and that he 
never overcame it. We see the effect of ritual in breeding, courtesy, 
politeness, and all forms of prescribed behavior. Etiquette is sociai 
ritual. Ritual is not easy compliance with usage; it is strict compliance 
with detailed and punctilious rule. It admits of no exception or devia- 
tion. The stricter the discipline, the greater the power of ritual over 
action and character. In the training of animals and the education of 
children it is the perfection, inevitableness, invariableness, and re- 
lentlessness of routine which tells. They should never experience any 
exception or irregularity. Ritual is connected with words, gestures, 
symbols, and signs. Associations result, and, upon a repetition of the 
signal, the act is repeated, whether the will assents or not. Association 
and habit account for the phenomena. Ritual gains further strength 
when it is rhythmical, and is connected with music, verse, or other 
rhythmical arts. Acts are ritually repeated at the recurrence of the 
rhythmical points. The alternation of night and day produces rhythms 
of waking and sleeping, of labor and rest, for great numbers at the 
same time, in their struggle for existence. The seasons also produce 
rhythms in work. Ritual may embody an idea of utility, expedience, 
or welfare, but it always tends to become perfunctory, and the idea 
is only subconscious. There is ritual in primitive therapeutics, and it 
was not eliminated until very recent times. The patient was directed 
not only to apply remedies, but also to perform rites. The rites intro- 
duced mystic elements. This illustrates the connection of ritual with 
notions of magical effects produced by rites. All ritual is ceremonious 
and solemn. It tends to become sacred, or to make sacred the subject- 
matter with which it is connected. Therefore, in primitive society 
it is by ritual that sentiments of awe, deference to authority, submis- 
sion to tradition, and disciplinary cooperation are inculcated. Ritual 
operates a constant suggestion, and the suggestion is at once put in 
operation in acts. Ritual, therefore, suggests sentiments, but it never 
inculcates doctrines. Ritual is strongest when it is most perfunctory 
and excites no thought. By familiarity with ritual any doctrinal refer- 
ence which it once had is lost by familiarity, but the habits persist 
Primitive religion is ritualistic, not because religion makes ritual, but 
* Inquiries into Human Faculty and Its Development (London I M Dent & 
Co., 1908), p. 216. 


because ritual makes religion. Ritual is something to be done, not 
something to be thought or felt. Men can always perform the pre- 
scribed act, although they cannot always think or feel prescribed 
thoughts or emotions. The acts may bring up again, by association, 
states of the mind and sentiments which have been connected with 
them, especially in childhood, when the fantasy was easily affected 
by rites, music, singing, dramas, etc. No creed, no moral code, and 
no scientific demonstration can ever win the same hold upon men 
and women as habits of action, with associated sentiments and states 
of mind, drilled in from childhood" [Ibid., pp. 60-61]. 


"The mores are social ritual in which we all participate uncon- 
sciously. The current habits as to hours of labor, meal hours, family 
life, the social intercourse of the sexes, propriety, amusements, travel, 
holidays, education, the use of periodicals and libraries, and innumer- 
able other details of life fall under this ritual. Each does as everybody 
does. For the great mass of mankind as to all things, and for all of 
us for a great many things, the rule to do as all do suffices. We are 
led by suggestion and association to believe that there must be 
wisdom and utility in what all do. The great mass of the folkways 
give us discipline and the support of routine and habit. If we had to 
form judgments as to all these cases before we could act in them, 
and were forced always to act rationally, the burden would be un- 
endurable. Beneficent use and wont save us this trouble" [Ibid., p. 62]. 


The coercive and inhibitive force with which the mores grasp the 
members of a society is further illustrated in the case of social status. 
The folkways and mores create status. 

"Membership in the group, kin, family, neighborhood, rank, or 
class are cases of status. The rights and duties of every man and 
woman were defined by status. No one could choose whether he 
would enter into the status or not. For instance, at puberty every one 
was married. What marriage meant, and what a husband or wife was 
(the rights and duties of each), were fixed by status. No one could 
alter the customary relations. Status, as distinguished from institu- 
tions and contract, is a direct product of the mores. Each case of 


status is a nucleus of leading interest with the folkways which cluster 
around it. Status is determined by birth. Therefore it is a help and 
a hindrance, but it is not liberty. In modern times status has become 
unpopular and our mores have grown into the forms of contract under 
liberty. The conception of status has been lost by the masses in 
modern civilized states. Nevertheless we live under status which has 
been defined and guaranteed by law and institutions, and it would 
be a great gain to recognize and appreciate the element of status 
which historically underlies the positive institutions and which is still 
subject to the action of the mores. Marriage (matrimony or wedlock) 
is a status. It is really controlled by the mores. The law defines it and 
gives sanctions to it, but the law always expresses the mores. A man 
and a woman make a contract to enter into it. The mode of entering 
into it (wedding) is fixed by custom. The law only ratifies it. No 
man and woman can by contract make wedlock different for them- 
selves from the status defined by law, so far as social rights and duties 
are concerned. The same conception of marriage as a status in the 
mores is injured by the intervention of the ecclesiastical and civil 
formalities connected with it. An individual is born into a kin group, 
a tribe, a nation, or a state, and he has a status accordingly which 
determines rights and duties for him. Civil liberty must be defined 
in accordance with this fact; not outside of it, or according to vague 
metaphysical abstractions above it. The body of the folkways con- 
stitutes a societal environment. Every one born into it must enter 
into relations of give and take with it. He is subjected to influences 
from it, and it is one of the life conditions under which he must work 
out his career of self-realization. Whatever liberty may be taken to 
mean, it is certain that liberty never can mean emancipation from 
the influence of the societal environment, or of the mores into which 
one was born" [Ibid., pp. 67-68]. 


"Each class or group in a society has its own mores. This is true of 
ranks, professions, industrial classes, religious and philosophical sects, 
and all other subdivisions of society. Individuals are in two or more 
of these groups at the same time, so that there is compromise and 
neutralization. Other mores are common to the whole society. Mores 
are also transmitted from one class to another. . . . There are cases 


in which the individual finds himself in involuntary antagonism to 
the mores of the society, or of some subgroup to which he belongs. 
If a man passes from one class to another, his acts show the contrast 
between the mores in which he was bred and those in which he finds 
himself. The satirists have made fun of the parvenu for centuries. 
His mistakes and misfortunes reveal the nature of the mores, their 
power over the individual, their pertinacity against later influences, 
the confusion in character produced by changing them, and the grip 
of habit which appears both in the persistence of old mores and the 
weakness of new ones. Every emigrant is forced to change his mores. 
He loses the sustaining help of use and wont. He has to acquire a 
new outfit of it. The traveler also experiences the change from life in 
one set of mores to life in another. The experience gives him the best 
power to criticize his native mores from a standpoint outside of 
them" [Ibid., pp. 39, 107-08]. 


Starting with the given facts of social differentiation and human 
inequality — "that all men should be alike or equal, by any standard 
whatever, is contrary to all the facts of human nature and all the con- 
ditions of human life" [Ibid., p. 43] — and following Galton* and 
Ammon,t Sumner held that if the members of a society were rated 
and scaled by the criterion of societal value, the results would fall 
under a curve of normal distribution, with most people in the middle 
and fewer people at each end. Under societal value he considered in- 
tellectual, moral, physical, and economic elements, and he thought 
that the highest societal value went with a harmonious combination, 
although it may be of lower grades. At the top of the scale one finds 
a small number of men of genius and of talent. Such individuals who 
have achieved superior status Sumner termed the "classes" or the 
"historical or selected classes," somewhat in the sense of the elite. 
At the bottom, representing negative societal value, are the dependent, 
defective, and delinquent classes, also relatively few in number, who 
constitute a burden to society. In an intermediate position are the 
"masses," the modal class, who represent the average or norm. There 

♦Francis Galton, Hereditary Genius (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1870). 
t O. Ammon, Die Gesellschaftsordnung und ihre natiirlichen Grundlagen, Jena, 


is a current of movement up the scale, especially in new countries 
and in those with universal education, and also a countercurrent 
of degenerate and unfortunate individuals [Ibid., pp. 39-45]. 

In connection with the mores, the "masses" are of very great im- 
portance. To Sumner, the "masses" are not large classes at the base 
of a social pyramid; they are the core of society. They are conserva- 
tive. They accept life as they find it, and live by tradition and habit. 

"The masses are the real bearers of the mores of the society. They 
carry tradition. The folkways are their ways. They accept influence 
or leadership, and they imitate, but they do so as they see fit, being 
controlled by their notions and tastes previously acquired. They may 
accept standards of character and action from the classes, or from 
foreigners, or from literature, or from a new religion, but whatever 
they take up they assimilate and make it a part of their own mores, 
which they then transmit by tradition, defend in its integrity, and 
refuse to discard again" [Ibid. y p. 46]. 

While it is the "masses" who carry forward the traditional mores, 
it is the "classes" who produce variation and contribute innovations. 
They are the leaders of culture, the thinkers. 

"The historical or selected classes are those which, in history, have 
controlled the activities and policy of generations. They have been 
differentiated at one time by one standard, at another time by 
another. The position which they held by inheritance from early so- 
ciety has given them prestige and authority. Merit and societal value, 
according to the standards of their time, have entered into their 
status only slightly and incidentally. Those classes have had their 
own mores. They had the power to regulate their lives to some extent 
according to their own choice, a power which modern civilized men 
eagerly desire and strive for primarily by the acquisition of wealth. 
The historical classes have, therefore, selected purposes, and have 
invented ways of fulfilling them. Their ways have been imitated by 
the masses. The classes have led the way in luxury, frivolity, and vice, 
and also in refinement, culture, and the art of living. They have in- 
troduced variation" [Ibid., p. 45]. 

The mores of any society, at a period, may be characterized by the 
promptness or reluctance of the "masses" to imitate the ways of the 
"classes." "It is a question of the first importance for the historian 
whether the mores of the historical classes of which he finds evidence 
in documentary remains penetrated the masses or not. . . . The writ- 


ings of the literary class may not represent the faiths, notions, tastes, 
standards, etc., of the masses at all" [Ibid., p. 46]. 


Morals, wrote Sumner, mean what belongs or appertains to the 
mores, and they vary from time to time and from place to place; that 
is, questions of right and wrong are relative to the particular culture 
in which the behavior occurs. This arises from the fact that ethical 
codes or standards of good and right are incorporated in the mores 

"The ethnographers write of a tribe that the 'morality' in it, espe- 
cially of the women, is low or high, etc. This is the technical use of 
morality, — as a thing pertaining to the sex relation only or especially, 
and the ethnographers make their propositions by applying our stand- 
ards of sex behavior, and our form of the sex taboo, to judge the folk- 
ways of all people. All that they can properly say is that they find a 
great range and variety of usages, ideas, standards, and ideals, which 
differ greatly from ours. . . . When, therefore, the ethnographers 
apply condemnatory or depreciatory adjectives to the people whom 
they study, they beg the most important question which we want to 
investigate; that is, What are the standards, codes, and ideas of chas- 
tity, decency, propriety, modesty, etc., and whence do they arise? The 
ethnographical facts contain the answer to this question, but in order 
to reach it we want a colorless report of the facts. We shall find proof 
that 'immoral' never means anything but contrary to the mores of the 
time and place. Therefore the mores and the morality may move 
together, and there is no permanent or universal standard by which 
right and truth in regard to these matters can be established and dif- 
ferent folkways compared and criticised. Only experience produces 
judgments of the expediency of some usages. For instance, ancient 
peoples thought pederasty was harmless and trivial. It has been well 
proved to be corrupting both to individual and social vigor, and 
harmful to interests, both individual and collective. Cannibalism, 
polygamy, incest, harlotry, and other primitive customs have been 
discarded by a very wide and, in the case of some of them, unani- 
mous judgment that they are harmful" [Ibid., pp. 417-18]. 

The mores have their own justification. That is, the "goodness" or 
"badness" of mores consists entirely in their adjustment to the life 
conditions and the interests of the time and place. "It is most im- 


portant to notice that, for the people of a time and place, their own 
mores are always good, or rather that for them there can be no ques- 
tion of the goodness or badness of their mores. The reason is because 
the standards of good and right are in the mores. If the life conditions 
change, the traditional folkways may produce pain and loss, or fail 
to produce the same good as formerly. Then the loss of comfort and 
ease brings doubt into the judgment of welfare (causing doubt of 
the pleasure of the gods, or of war power, or of health), and thus 
disturbs the unconscious philosophy of the mores. Then a later time 
will pass judgment on the mores. Another society may also pass 
judgment on the mores. In our literary and historical study of the 
mores we want to get from them their educational value, which con- 
sists in the stimulus or warning as to what is, in its effects, societally 
good or bad. This may lead us to reject or neglect a phenomenon like 
infanticide, slavery, or witchcraft, as an old 'abuse' and 'evil/ or to 
pass by the crusades as a folly which cannot recur. Such a course 
would be a great error. Everything in the mores of a time and place 
must be regarded as justified with regard to that time and place. 
'Good' mores are those which are well adapted to the situation. 
'Bad' mores are those which are not so adapted" [Ibid., p. 58]. 

The "morals" of an age are never anything but the consonance 
between what is done and what the mores of the age require. The 
whole revolves on itself, in the relation of the specific to the general, 
within the horizon formed by the mores. Thus a given age may 
approve of a practice which a later age condemns. 

"For every one the mores give the notion of what ought to be. 
This includes the notion of what ought to be done, for all should 
cooperate to bring to pass, in the order of life, what ought to be. All 
notions of propriety, decency, chastity, politeness, order, duty, right, 
rights, discipline, respect, reverence, cooperation, and fellowship, espe- 
cially all things in regard to which good and ill depend entirely on 
the point at which the line is drawn, are in the mores. The mores 
can make things seem right and good to one group or one age which 
to another seem antagonistic to every instinct of human nature. The 
thirteenth century bred in every heart such a sentiment in regard to 
heretics that inquisitors had no more misgivings in their proceedings 
than men would have now if they should attempt to exterminate 
rattlesnakes. The sixteenth century gave to all such notions about 
witches that witch persecutors thought they were waging war on 
enemies of God and man. Of course the inquisitors and witch perse- 


cutors constantly developed the notions of heretics and witches. They 
exaggerated the notions and then gave them back again to the mores, 
in their expanded form, to inflame the hearts of men with terror and 
hate and to become, in the next stage, so much more fantastic and 
ferocious motives. Such is the reaction between the mores and the 
acts of the living generation" [Ibid., p. 231]. 

Among other illustrations cited to demonstrate that "the mores can 
make anything right and prevent condemnation of anything," are the 
following practices that have prevailed at one time or another: abor- 
tion, infanticide, killing the old, sacral harlotry, child sacrifice, public 
punishments for crime, cruel treatment of prisoners, bundling, night 
wooing, public lupanars, gladiatorial contests, various popular exhibi- 
tions and vicious amusements [Ibid., Chaps. VII, XV, XVI, XVII]. 

"At every turn we find new evidence that the mores can make any- 
thing right. What they do is that they cover a usage in dress, lan- 
guage, behavior, manners, etc., with the mantle of current custom, 
and give it regulation and limits within which it becomes unques- 
tionable. The limit is generally a limit of toleration. Literature, pic- 
tures, exhibitions, celebrations, and festivals are controlled by some 
undefined, and probably undefinable, standard of decency and pro- 
priety, which sets a limit of toleration on the appeals to fun, sen- 
suality, and various prejudices. In regard to all social customs, the 
mores sanction them by defining them and giving them form" [Ibid., 
p. 521]. 


Related to this power of the mores to define the limits which make 
right and wrong is the process of conventionalization. Conventional- 
ization consists in ignoring the violation of current standards of pro- 
priety and breaches of the ordinary taboo. It always includes strict 
specification and limits of time, place, and occasion beyond which the 
same behavior would be disapproved. It accounts for many incon- 
sistencies in the mores. The conventionalizations which persist are 
the resultant of experiments and experience as to the devices by which 
to soften and smooth the details of life. 

"If traditional folkways are subjected to rational or ethical exam- 
ination they are no longer naive and unconscious. It may then be 
found that they are gross, absurd, or inexpedient. They may still be 
preserved by conventionalization. Conventionalization creates a set of 


conditions under which a thing may be tolerated which would other- 
wise be disapproved and tabooed. The special conditions may be 
created in fact, or they may be only a fiction which all agree to respect 
and to treat as true. When children, in play, 'make believe 7 that some- 
thing exists, or exists in a certain way, they employ conventionaliza- 
tion. Special conditions are created in fact when some fact is regarded 
as making the usual taboo inoperative. Such is the case with all 
archaic usages which are perpetuated on account of their antiquity, 
although they are not accordant with modern standards. The lan- 
guage of Shakespeare and the Bible contains words which are now 
tabooed. In this case, as in very many others, the conventionalization 
consists in ignoring the violation of current standards of propriety. 
Natural functions and toilet operations are put under conventional- 
ization, even in low civilization. The conventionalization consists in 
ignoring breaches of the ordinary taboo. On account of accidents 
which may occur, wellbred people are always ready to apply conven- 
tionalization to mishaps of speech, dress, manner, etc. In fairy stories, 
fables, romances, and dramas all are expected to comply with certain 
conventional understandings without which the entertainment is im- 
possible; for instance, when beasts are supposed to speak. In the 
mythologies this kind of conventionalization was essential. One of us, 
in studying mythologies, has to acquire a knowledge of the conven- 
tional assumptions with which the people who believed in them ap- 
proached them. Modern Hindoos conventionalize the stories of their 
mythology. What the gods are said to have done is put under other 
standards than those now applied to men. Everything in the mythol- 
ogy is on a plane by itself. It follows that none of the rational or 
ethical judgments are formed about the acts of the gods which would 
be formed about similar acts of men, and the corruption of morals 
which would be expected as a consequence of the stories and dramas 
is prevented by the conventionalization. There is no deduction from 
what gods do to what men may do. The Greeks of the fifth century 
b.c. rationalized on their mythology and thereby destroyed it. The 
mediaeval church claimed to be under a conventionalization which 
would prevent judgment on the church and ecclesiastics according to 
current standards. Very many people heeded this conventionalization, 
so that they were not scandalized by vice and crime in the church. 

'This intervention of conventionalization to remove cases from 
the usual domain of the mores into a special field, where they can 
be protected and tolerated by codes and standards modified in their 


favor, is of very great importance. It accounts for many inconsistencies 
in the mores. In this way there may be nakedness without indecency, 
and tales of adultery without lewdness. We observe a conventionali- 
zation in regard to the Bible, especially in regard to some of the Old 
Testament stories. The theater presents numerous cases of conven- 
tionalization. The asides, entrances and exits, and stage artifices, re- 
quire that the spectators shall concede their assent to conventional- 
ities. The dresses of the stage would not be tolerated elsewhere. It is 
by conventionalization that the literature and pictorial representations 
of science avoid collision with the mores of propriety, decency, etc. 
In all artistic work there is more or less conventionalization. Uncivi- 
lized people, and to some extent uneducated people amongst our- 
selves, cannot tell what a picture represents or means because they are 
not used to the conventionalities of pictorial art. 

"The ancient Saturnalia and the carnival have been special times of 
license at which the ordinary social restrictions have been relaxed for 
a time by conventionalization. Our own Fourth of July is a day of 
noise, risk, and annoyance, on which things are allowed which would 
not be allowed at any other time. We consent to it because 'it is 
Fourth of July/ The history of wedding ceremonies presents very 
many instances of conventionalization. Jests and buffoonery have 
been tolerated for the occasion. They became such an annoyance that 
people revolted against them, and invented means to escape them. 
Dress used in bathing, sport, the drama, or work is protected by con- 
ventionalization. The occasion calls for a variation from current usage, 
and the conventionalization, while granting toleration, defines it also, 
and makes a new law for the exceptional case. It is like taboo, and is, 
in fact, the form of taboo in high civilization. Like taboo, it has two 
aspects — it is either destructive or protective. The conventionalization 
bars out what might be offensive (i.e. when a thing may be done 
only under the conditions set by conventionalization), or it secures 
toleration for what would otherwise be forbidden. Respect, reverence, 
sacredness, and holiness, which are taboos in low civilization, become 
conventionalities in high civilization" [Ibid., pp. 68-70]. 


The main theory has been presented that folkways and mores are 
expedient devices, developed in experience under life conditions, to 


satisfy interests and secure welfare. However, this has not been uni- 
versally the case. There are various modifications of this theory. 

Folkways due to false inference. Some folkways have been formed 
by accident, that is, by irrational and incongruous action, based on 
pseudo-knowledge, of which the following are examples. 

"In Molembo a pestilence broke out soon after a Portuguese had 
died there. After that the natives took all possible measures not to 
allow any white man to die in their country. On the Nicobar islands 
some natives who had just begun to make pottery died. The art was 
given up and never again attempted. . . . Soon after the Yakuts 
saw a camel for the first time smallpox broke out amongst them. They 
thought the camel to be the agent of the disease. A woman amongst 
the same people contracted an endogamous marriage. She soon after- 
wards became blind. This was thought to be on account of the vio- 
lation of ancient customs. A very great number of such cases could 
be collected. In fact they represent the current mode of reasoning of 
nature people. It is their custom to reason that, if one thing follows 
another, it is due to it. A great number of customs are traceable to 
the notion of the evil eye, many more to ritual notions of undean- 
ness. No scientific investigation could discover the origin of the folk- 
ways mentioned, if the origin had not chanced to become known to 
civilized men. We must believe that the known cases illustrate the 
irrational and incongruous origin of many folkways. In civilized his- 
tory also we know that customs have owed their origin to 'historical 
accident' — the vanity of a princess, the deformity of a king, the whim 
of a democracy, the love intrigue of a statesman or prelate" [Ibid., pp. 

Harmful folkways. "There are folkways which are positively harm- 
ful. Very often these are just the ones for which a definite reason 
can be given. The destruction of a man's goods at his death is a 
direct deduction from other-worldliness; the dead man is supposed to 
want in the other world just what he wanted here. The destruction 
of a man's goods at his death was a great waste of capital, and it must 
have had a disastrous effect on the interests of the living, and must 
have very seriously hindered the development of civilization. With 
this custom we must class all the expenditure of labor and capital on 
graves, temples, pyramids, rites, sacrifices, and support of priests, so 
far as these were supposed to benefit the dead. The faith in goblinism 
produced other-worldly interests which overruled ordinary worldly 
interests. Foods have often been forbidden which were plentiful, the 


prohibition of which injuriously lessened the food supply. There is a 
tribe of Bushmen who will eat no goat's flesh, although goats are the 
most numerous domestic animals in the district. Where totemism 
exists it is regularly accompanied by a taboo on eating the totem 
animal. Whatever may be the real principle in totemism, it overrules 
the interest in an abundant food supply" [Ibid., p. 26]. 

The imaginative element. The practical and direct element in the 
folkways seems to be due to common sense, natural reason, intuition, 
or some other original mental endowment. It seems rational or ra- 
tionalistic and utilitarian. But in addition, errors have crept into the 
mental process, leading men to turn away from welfare and reality. 
This factor Sumner called "the imaginative element." 

"The correct apprehension of facts and events by the mind, and 
the correct inferences as to the relations between them, constitute 
knowledge, and it is chiefly by knowledge that men have become 
better able to live well on earth. Therefore the alternation between 
experience or observation and the intellectual processes by which 
the sense, sequence, interdependence, and rational consequences of 
facts are ascertained, is undoubtedly the most important process for 
winning increased power to live well. Yet we find that this process 
has been liable to most pernicious errors. The imagination has inter- 
fered with the reason and furnished objects of pursuit to men, which 
have wasted and dissipated their energies. Especially the alternations 
of observation and deduction have been traversed by vanity and super- 
stition which have introduced delusions. As a consequence, men have 
turned their backs on welfare and reality, in order to pursue beauty, 
glory, poetry, and dithyrambic rhetoric, pleasure, fame, adventure, 
and phantasms. Every group, in every age, has had its 'ideals' for 
which it has striven, as if men had blown bubbles into the air, and 
then, entranced by their beautiful colors, had leaped to catch them. 
In the very processes of analysis and deduction the most pernicious 
errors find entrance. We note our experience in every action or event. 
We study the significance from experience. We deduce a conviction 
as to what we may best do when the case arises again. Undoubtedly 
this is just what we ought to do in order to live well. The process 
presents us a constant reiteration of the sequence— act, thought, act. 
The error is made if we allow suggestions of vanity, superstition, 
speculation, or imagination to become confused with the second 
stage and to enter into our conviction of what it is best to do in such 
a case. This is what was done when goblinism was taken as the ex- 


planation of experience and the rule of right living, and it is what 
has been done over and over again ever since. Speculative and tran- 
scendental notions have furnished the world philosophy, and the 
rules of hfe policy and duty have been deduced from this and intro- 
duced at the second stage of the process,— act, thought, act. All the 
errors and fallacies of the mental process enter into the mores of the 
age. The logic of one age is not that of another. It is one of the chief 
and useful purposes of a study of the mores to learn to discern in 
them the operation of traditional error, prevailing dogmas, logical 
fallacy delusion, and current false estimates of goods worth striving 
for [Ibid., pp. 32-33]. 5 

Revolt against expediency. Closely related to errors of judgment 
is the interference of dogmas, especially the philosophy of renuncia- 
tion. J 

"We have seen that the mores are the results of the efforts of men 
to find out how to live under the conditions of human life so as to 
satisfy interests and secure welfare. The efforts have been only very 
imperfectly successful. The task, in fact, never can be finished, for 
the conditions change and the problem contains different elements 
from time to time. Moreover, dogmas interfere. They dictate 'duty' 
and 'right' by authority and as virtue, quite independently of any 
verification by experience and expediency. All the primitive taboos 
express the convictions of men that there are things which must not 
be done, or must not be done beyond some limited degree, if the 
men would live well. Such convictions came either from experience 
or from dogma. The former class of cases were those things which 
were connected with food and the sex relation. The latter class of 
cases were those things which were connected with the doctrine of 
ghosts. There are also a great many primitive customs for coercing or 
conciliating superior powers,— either men or spirits,— which consist 
in renunciation, self-torture, obscenity, bloodshedding, filthiness, and 
the performance of repugnant acts or even suicide. These customs all 
imply that the superior powers are indifferent, or angry and malevo- 
lent, or justly displeased, and that the pain of men pleases, or ap- 
peases and conciliates, or coerces them, or wins their attention. 

"Thus we meet with a fundamental philosophy of life in which it 
is not the satisfaction of need, appetites, and desires, but the opposite 
theory which is thought to lead to welfare. Renounce what you want- 
do what you do not want to do; pursue what is repugnant; in short' 
invert the relations of pleasure and pain, and act by your will against 


their sanctions, so as to seek pain and flee pleasure. A doctrine of due 
measure and limit upon the rational satisfaction of needs and desires 
is turned into an absolute rule of well-being. Within narrower limits 
the same philosophy inculcates acts of labor, pain, and renunciation, 
which produce no results in the satisfaction of wants but are regarded 
as beneficial or meritorious in themselves, as a kind of gymnastic in 
self-control and self-denial. It is not to be denied that such a gym- 
nastic has value in education, especially in the midst of luxury and 
self-indulgence, if it is controlled by common sense and limited within 
reason. Nearly all men, however, are sure to meet with as much neces- 
sity for self-control and self-denial as is necessary to their training, 
without arbitrarily subjecting themselves to artificial discipline of that 
kind" [Ibid., pp. 606-07]. 

Degenerate and aberrant mores. There is the possibility of per- 
versity and aberration in the mores, which may be illustrated by the 
custom of child marriage. After reviewing the cases in ethnography 
and history, Sumner concluded: "Child marriage is due, then, to the 
predominance of worldly considerations in marriage, especially when 
the interests considered are those of the parents, not of the children; 
also to abuse of parental authority through vanity and self-will; also 
to superstitious notions about the other world and the interests of 
the dead there; also to attempts, in the interest of the children, to 
avoid the evil consequences of other bad social arrangements" [Ibid., 
p. 382]. 

Mores may be degenerate and evil, and may characterize a period 
of decline. "The historians have familiarized us with the notion of 
corrupt or degenerate mores. Such periods as the later Roman em- 
pire, the Byzantine empire, the Merovingian kingdom, and the Ren- 
aissance offer us examples of evil mores. We need to give more 
exactitude to this idea. Bad mores are those which are not well fitted 
to the conditions and needs of the society at the time. . . . When 
the mores go wrong, it is, above all, on account of error in the 
attempt to employ the philosophical and ethical generalizations in 
order to impose upon mores and institutions a movement toward 
selected and 'ideal' results which the ruling powers of the society 
have determined to aim at. Then the energy of the society may be 
diverted from its interests. Such a drift of the mores is exactly analo- 
gous to a vice of an individual, i.e., energy is expended on acts which 
are contrary to welfare. The result is a confusion of all the functions 
of the society, and a falseness in all its mores. Any of the aberrations 


which have been mentioned will produce evil mores, that is, mores 
which are not adapted to welfare, so that a group may fall into vicious 
mores just as an individual falls into vicious habits. . . . 

"The notion that mores grow either better or worse by virtue of 
some inherent tendency is to be rejected. Goodness or badness of the 
mores is always relative only. Their purpose is to serve needs and their 
quality is to be defined by the degree to which they do it. We have 
noticed that there is in them a strain towards consistency, due to the 
fact that they are more efficient when consistent. They are consistent 
also in aberration and error when they fall under the dominion of 
any one of the false tendencies above described. Hence we may have 
the phenomena of degenerate mores characterizing a period; being a 
case of change in the mores not due to any external and determinable 
cause, and analogous either to vice or disease" [Ibid., pp. 99-100, 102]. 

Force in the folkways and mores. Another modification of the 
theory of the folkways and mores as expedient devices resulting from 
the efforts of men to meet the exigencies of life is provided by the 
fact that there is always a large element of force in them. 

"The organization of society under chiefs and medicine men 
greatly increased the power of the society to serve its own interests. 
The same is true of higher political organizations. . . . However, 
chiefs, kings, priests, warriors, statesmen, and other functionaries have 
put their own interests in the place of group interests, and have used 
the authority they possessed to force the societal organization to work 
and fight for their interests. The force is that of the society itself. It 
is directed by the ruling class or persons. The force enters into the 
mores and becomes a component in them. Despotism is in the mores 
of negro tribes, and of all Mohammedan peoples. There is an element 
of force in all forms of property, marriage, and religion. Slavery, how- 
ever, is the grandest case of force in the mores, employed to make 
some serve the interests of others, in the societal organization. The 
historical classes, having selected the group purposes and decided 
the group policy, use the force of the society itself to coerce all to 
acquiesce and to work and fight in the determined way without regard 
to their individual interests. This they do by means of discipline and 
ritual. In different kinds of mores the force is screened by different 
devices. It is always present, and brutal, cruel force has entered largely 
into the development of all our mores, even those which we think 
most noble and excellent" [Ibid., pp. 64-65]. 




As we have noted, the mores never contain any provision for their 
own amendment. They are not questions, but answers, to the prob- 
lem of life. They present themselves as final and unchangeable, be- 
cause they present answers which are offered as "the truth." They 
resist change, but as we have already seen and shall soon see again, 
they nevertheless do vary and they do change. 

The persistency of the mores is often shown in survivals — "sense 
less ceremonies whose meaning is forgotten, jests, play, parody, and 
caricature, or stereotyped words and phrases, or even in cakes of a 
prescribed form or prescribed foods at certain festivals" [Ibid., p. 82]. 

The persistency of old mores, after conditions to which they were 
once adjusted have changed, may produce crises which in higher civili- 
zation are solved by revolution and reform. "In revolutions the mores 
are broken up. Such was the case in the sixteenth century, in the 
French Revolution of 1789, and in minor revolutions. A period fol- 
lows the outburst of a revolution in which there are no mores. The 
old are broken up; the new are not formed. The social ritual is inter- 
rupted. The old taboos are suspended. New taboos cannot be enacted 
or promulgated. They require time to become established and known. 
The masses in a revolution are uncertain what they ought to do. In 
France, under the old regime, the social ritual was very complete and 
thoroughly established. In the revolution, the destruction of this ritual 
produced social anarchy. In the best case every revolution must be 
attended by this temporary chaos of the mores. It was produced in 
the American colonies. Revolutionary leaders expect to carry the 
people over to new mores by the might of two or three dogmas of 
political or social philosophy. The history of every such attempt shows 
that dogmas do not make mores. Every revolution suffers a collapse 
at the point where reconstruction should begin. Then the old ruling 
classes resume control, and by the use of force set the society in its 
old grooves again" [Ibid., p. 86]. 

Out of the very persistency of the mores arise the phenomena of 
dissent from them and of retreat and isolation in order to make new 
mores. "Since it appears that the old mores are mischievous if they 
last beyond the duration of the conditions and needs to which they 
were adapted, and that constant, gradual, smooth, and easy readjust- 


ment is the course of things which is conducive to healthful life, it 
follows that free and rational criticism of traditional mores is essen- 
tial to societal welfare. ... It is by the dissent and free judgment of 
the best reason and conscience that the mores win flexibility and 
automatic readjustment. Dissent is always unpopular in the group. 
Groups form standards of orthodoxy as to the principles' which each 
member must profess and the ritual which each must practice. Dis- 
sent seems to imply a claim of superiority. It evokes hatred and per- 
secution. Dissenters are rebels, traitors, and heretics. We see this in 
all kinds of subgroups. Noble and patrician classes, merchants, arti- 
sans, religious and philosophical sects, political parties, academies and 
learned societies, punish by social penalties dissent from, or disobe- 
dience to, their code of group conduct. The modern trades union, in 
its treatment of a 'scab/ only presents another example. The group 
also, by a majority, adopts a programme of policy and then demands 
of each member that he shall work and make sacrifices for what has 
been resolved upon for the group interest. He who refuses is a rene- 
gade or apostate with respect to the group doctrines and interests. 
He who adopts the mores of another group is a still more heinous 
criminal. The mediaeval definition of a heretic was one who varied in 
life and conversation, dress, speech, or manner (that is, the social 
ritual) from the ordinary members of the Christian community. The 
first meaning of 'Catholic' in the fourth century was a summary of 
the features which were common to all Christians in social and eccle- 
siastical behavior; those were Catholic who conformed to the mores 
which were characteristic of Christians. If a heretic was better than 
the Catholics, they hated him more. That never excused him before 
the church authorities. They wanted loyalty to the ecclesiastical cor- 
poration. Persecution of a dissenter is always popular in the group 
which he has abandoned. Toleration of dissent is no sentiment of 
the masses. . . . 

"In the stage of half-civilization and above there have been many 
cases of sects which have 'withdrawn from the world' and lived an 
isolated life. They were dissenters from the world philosophy or the 
life policy current in the society to which they belonged. The real 
issue was that they were at war with its mores. In that war they could 
not prevail so as to change the mores. They could not even realize 
their own plan of life in the midst of uncongenial mores. The Eng- 
lish Puritans of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries tried to trans- 


form the mores of their age. Many of them emigrated to uninhabited 
territory in order to make a society in which their ideal mores should 
be realized. Very many sects and parties emigrated to North America 
in the seventeenth century with the same purpose. The Quakers went 
to the greatest extreme in adopting dress, language, manners, etc., 
which should be different from the current usages. In all this they 
were multiplying ritual means of isolation and of cultivation of their 
chosen ways of life. They were not strenuous about theological dog- 
mas. Their leading notions were really about the mores and bore on 
social policy. In the Netherlands, in 1657, they appeared as a militant 
sect of revolutionary communists and levelers. In New England they 
courted persecution. They wanted to cultivate states of mind and 
traits of social character which they had selected as good, and their 
ritual was devised to that end (humility, simplicity, peacefulness, 
friendliness, truth). They are now being overpowered and absorbed 
by the mores of the society which surrounds them. The same is true 
of Shakers, Moravians, and other sects of dissenters from the mores 
of the time and place" [Ibid., pp. 95-97]. 


"No less remarkable than the persistency of the mores is their 
changeableness and variation. There is here an interesting parallel to 
heredity and variation in the organic world, even though the parallel 
has no significance. Variation in the mores is due to the fact that 
children do not perpetuate the mores just as they received them. The 
father dies, and the son whom he has educated, even if he continues 
the ritual and repeats the formulae, does not think and feel the 
same ideas and sentiments as his father. The observance of Sunday; 
the mode of treating parents, children, servants, and wives or hus- 
bands; holidays; amusements; arts of luxury; marriage and divorce; 
wine drinking, — are matters in regard to which it is easy to note 
changes in the mores from generation to generation, in our own 
times. Even in Asia, when a long period of time is taken into account, 
changes in the mores are perceptible. The mores change because con- 
ditions and interests change. It is found that dogmas and maxims 
which have been current do not verify; that established taboos are 
useless or mischievous restraints; that usages which are suitable for a 
village or a colony are not suitable for a great city or state; that many 


things are fitting when the community is rich which were not so 
when it was poor; that new inventions have made new ways of living 
more economical and healthful. It is necessary to prosperity that the 
mores should have a due degree of firmness, but also that they should 
be sufficiently elastic and flexible to conform to changes in interests 
and life conditions" [Ibid., p. 84]. 

"In further development of the same interpretation of the phe- 
nomena we find that changes in history are primarily due to changes 
in life conditions. Then the folkways change. Then new philosophies 
and ethical rules are invented to try to justify the new ways. The 
whole vast body of modern mores has thus been developed out of 
the philosophy and ethics of the Middle Ages. So the mores which 
have been developed to suit the system of great secular states, world 
commerce, credit institutions, contract wages and rent, emigration to 
outlying continents, etc., have become the norm for the whole body 
of usages, manners, ideas, faiths, customs, and institutions which 
embrace the whole life of a society and characterize an historical 
epoch. Thus India, Chaldea, Assyria, Egypt, Greece, Rome, the Mid- 
dle Ages, Modern Times, are cases in which the integration of the 
mores upon different life conditions produced societal states of com- 
plete and distinct individuality (ethos). Within any such societal 
status the great reason for any phenomenon is that it conforms to 
the mores of the time and place. Historians have always recognized 
incidentally the operation of such a determining force. What is now 
maintained is that it is not incidental or subordinate. It is supreme 
and controlling. Therefore the scientific discussion of a usage, cus- 
tom, or institution consists in tracing its relation to the mores, and 
the discussion of societal crises and changes consists in showing their 
connection with changes in the life conditions, or with the readjust- 
ment of the mores to changes in those conditions" [Ibid., p. 36]. 


Sumner was one of the first to advance a theory of social institu- 
tions, indicating the manner in which they are produced out of mores. 
To him also is to be credited one of the clearest of modern theories 
in this field. In what has become a famous definition he stated: "An 
institution consists of a concept (idea, notion, doctrine, interest) and 
a structure. The structure is a framework, or apparatus, or perhaps 


only a number of functionaries set to cooperate in prescribed ways at 
a certain conjuncture. The structure holds the concept and furnishes 
instrumentalities for bringing it into the world of facts and action in 
a way to serve the interests of men in society" [Ibid., pp. 53-54]. In 
this functional and behavioristic conception, every institution re- 
quires a system of acts and behavior, "in which custom produces con- 
tinuity, coherence, and consistency, so that the word 'structure' may 
properly be applied to the fabric of relations and prescribed positions 
with which societal functions are permanently connected" [Ibid., p. 
35]. Institutions and, as we shall later see, laws constitute the most 
highly developed and positive form of group pressure to conform. 

Sumner noted an important distinction among institutions: "In- 
stitutions are either crescive or enacted. They are crescive when they 
take shape in the mores, growing by the instinctive efforts by which 
the mores are produced. Then the efforts, through long use, become 
definite and specific. Property, marriage, and religion are the most 
primary institutions. They began in folkways. They became customs. 
They developed into mores by the addition of some philosophy of 
welfare, however crude. Then they were made more definite and 
specific as regards the rules, the prescribed acts, and the apparatus to 
be employed. This produced a structure and the institution was com- 

"Enacted institutions are products of rational invention and inten- 
tion. They belong to high civilization. Banks are institutions of credit 
founded on usages which can be traced back to barbarism. There 
came a time when, guided by rational reflection on experience, men 
systematized and regulated the usages which had become current, and 
thus created positive institutions of credit, defined by law and sanc- 
tioned by the force of the state. Pure enacted institutions which are 
strong and prosperous are hard to find. It is too difficult to invent 
and create an institution, for a purpose, out of nothing. The electoral 
college in the constitution of the United States is an example. In 
that case the democratic mores of the people have seized upon the 
device and made of it something quite different from what the in- 
ventors planned. All institutions have come out of mores, although 
the rational element in them is sometimes so large that their origin 
in the mores is not to be ascertained except by an historical investi- 
gation (legislatures, courts, juries, joint stock companies, the stock 
exchange). Property, marriage, and religion are still almost entirely in 
the mores" [Ibid., p. 54]. 



"Religion was originally a matter of the mores. It became a societal 
institution and a function of the state. It has now to a great extent 
been put back into the mores. Since laws with penalties to enforce 
religious creeds or practices have gone out of use, any one may think 
as he pleases about religion. Therefore it is not now 'good form' to 
attack religion" [Ibid., p. 76]. 

Religion, Sumner maintained, not only comes out of the mores, it 
is controlled by them. Religion, however, sums up the most general 
and philosophic elements in the mores and inculcates them as re- 
ligious dogmas. It also forms precepts upon them. Changes in re- 
ligion are produced by changes in the mores. The new religious ideas 
are then brought back to the mores as controlling dogmas. 

"Religion never has been an independent force acting from outside 
creatively to mold the mores or the ideas of men. Evidently such an 
idea is the extreme form of the world philosophy in which another 
(spiritual) world is conceived of as impinging upon this one from 
'above/ to give it laws and guidance. The mores grow out of the life 
as a whole. They change with the life conditions, density of popu- 
lation, and life experience. Then they become strange or hostile to 
traditional religion. In our own experience our mores have reached 
views about ritual practices, polygamy, slavery, celibacy, etc., which 
are strange or hostile to those in the Bible. Since the sixteenth cen- 
tury we have reconstructed our religion to fit our modern ideas and 
mores. Every religious reform in history has come about in this way. 
All religious doctrines and ritual acts are held immutable by strong 
interests and notions of religious duty. Therefore they fall out of 
consistency with the mores, which are in constant change, being 
acted on by all the observation or experience of life. Sacral harlotry 
is a case, the ethical horror of which is very great and very obvious 
to us, of old religious ideas and customs preserved by the religion into 
times of greatly changed moral (i.e., of the mores) and social codes" 
[Ibid., pp. 510, 540-41 quoted; see also "Religion and the Mores," 
Essays oi William Graham Sumner, I, 55-72]. 


Sumner held that marriage, under any of its forms (polygamy, 
polyandry, monogamy, etc.), is only a crystallization of a set of sex 


mores into an imperfect institution. "In civilized society this cluster 
of mores, constituting a relationship by which needs are satisfied and 
sentiments are cherished, is given a positive form by legislation, and 
the rights and duties which grow out of the relationship get positive 
definition and adequate guarantees. The case is, therefore, a very 
favorable one for studying the operation of the mores in the making 
of institutions, or preparing them for the final work of the lawmaker" 
[Ibid., pp. 395-96]. 

"Although we speak of marriage as an institution, it is only an 
imperfect one. It has no structure. The family is the institution, and 
it was antecedent to marriage. Marriage has always been an elastic 
and variable usage, as it now is. Each pair, or other marital combina- 
tion, has always chosen its own 'ways' of living within the limits set 
by the mores. In fact the use of language reflects the vagueness of 
marriage, for we use the word 'marriage' for wedding, nuptials, or 
matrimony (wedlock). Only the latter could be an institution" [Ibid., 
pp. 348-49]. 

The process by which marriage and the family developed out of the 
mores was delineated by Sumner as follows: 

Meaning oi sex mores. "The sex mores are one of the greatest and 
most important divisions of the mores. They cover the relations of 
men and women to each other before marriage and in marriage, with 
all the rights and duties of married and unmarried respectively to the 
rest of the society. The mores determine what marriage shall be, who 
may enter into it, in what way they may enter into it, divorce, and 
all details of proper conduct in the family relation. In regard to all 
these matters it is evident that custom governs and prescribes. When 
positive institutions and laws are made they always take up, ordain, 
and regulate what the mores have long previously made facts in the 
social order. In the administration of law also, especially by juries, 
domestic relations are controlled by the mores. The decisions ren- 
dered by judges utter in dogmatic or sententious form the current 
notions of truth and right about those relations. Our terms 'en- 
dogamy/ 'mother family/ 'polyandry/ etc., are only descriptive terms 
for a summary of the folkways which have been established in dif- 
ferent groups and which are capable of classification" [Ibid., pp. 


"The division of the human race into two sexes is the most im- 
portant of all anthropological facts. The sexes differ so much in struc- 
ture and function, and consequently in traits of feeling and character, 


that their interests are antagonistic. At the same time they are, in 
regard to reproduction, complementary. There is nothing in the sex 
relation, or in procreation, to bring about any continuing relation 
between a man and a woman. It is the care and education of children 
which first calls for such a continuing relation. The continuing rela- 
tion is not therefore 'in nature/ It is institutional and conventional. 
A man and a woman were brought together, probably against their 
will, by a higher interest in the struggle for existence. The woman 
with a child needed the union more, and probably she was more 
unwilling to enter it. A woman with a child entered into an arrange- 
ment with a man, whether the father or not was immaterial, by which 
they carried on the struggle for existence together. The arrangement 
must have afforded advantages to both. It was produced by an agree- 
ment. The family institution resulted and became customary by imi- 
tation. Marriage was the form of agreement between the man and 
the woman by which they entered into the family institution. In the 
most primitive form of life known to us (Australians and Bushmen) 
the man roams abroad in search of meat food. His wife or wives stay 
by the fire at a trysting place, care for the children, and collect plant 
food. Thus the combination comes under the form of antagonistic 
cooperation. It presents us the germ of the industrial organization. It 
is a product of the folkways, being the resultant custom which arises, 
in time, out of the ways of satisfying interests which separate individ- 
uals, or pairs, invent and try. It follows that marriage in all its forms 
is in the mores of the time and place" [Ibid., p. 345]. 

Definition ot marriage. "The definition of marriage consists in 
stating what, at any time and place, the mores have imposed as reg- 
ulations on the relations of a man and woman who are cooperatively 
carrying on the struggle for existence and the reproduction of the 
species. The regulations are always a conventionalization which sets 
the terms, modes, and conditions under which a pair may cohabit. 
It is, therefore, impossible to formulate a definition of marriage which 
will cover all forms of it throughout the history of civilization" [Ibid., 
p. 348]. 

Wedlock. "Wedlock is a mode of associated life. It is as variable 
as circumstances, interests, and character make it within the condi- 
tions. No rules or laws control it. They only affect the condition 
against which the individuals react. No laws can do more than 
specify ways of entering into wedlock, and the rights and duties of 
the parties in wedlock to each other, which the society will enforce. 


These, however, are but indifferent externals. All the intimate daily 
play of interests, emotions, character, taste, etc., are beyond the reach 
of the bystanders, and that play is what makes wedlock what it is for 
every pair. Nevertheless the relations of the parties are always deeply 
controlled by the current opinions in the society, the prevalent ethical 
standards, the approval or condemnation passed by the bystanders on 
cases between husbands and wives, and by the precepts and traditions 
of the old. Thus the mores hold control over individual taste and 
caprice, and individual experience reacts against the control. All the 
problems of marriage are in the intimate relations. When they affect 
large numbers they are brought under the solution of the mores. 
Therefore the history of marriage is to be interpreted by the mores, 
and its philosophy must be sought in the fact that it is an ever-moving 
product of the mores" [Ibid., p. 349]. 

Pair marriage. That marriage is "an ever-moving product of the 
mores" is further indicated by the marital form common in modern 
civilized societies which Sumner termed "pair marriage." "Polyandry 
passed over into polygamy when sufficient property was at command. 
There was a neutral middle point where one man had one wife. It 
follows that monogamy is not a specific term. It might be monogamy 
if one man had one wife but also concubines and slaves, or he might 
have but one wife in fact, although free to have more if he chose. 
The term 'pair marriage* is needed as a technical term for the form 
of marriage which is as exclusive and permanent for the man as for 
the woman, which one enters on the same plane of free agreement as 
the other, and in which all the rights and duties are mutual. In such 
a union there may be a complete fusion of two lives and interests. 
In no other form of union is such a fusion possible. This pair mar- 
riage is the ideal which guides the marital usages of our time and 
civilization, gives them their spirit and sense, and furnishes standards 
for all our discussions, although it is far from being universally real- 
ized. The ideal is made an object of 'pathos' in our popular literature. 
Whence did it come? In truth, we can hardly learn. It existed, by 
necessity of poverty and humble social status, in the classes amongst 
whom Christianity took root. It found expression in the canon law. 
It resisted, in the lower classes, the attempt of the church to suppress 
it in order to aggrandize the corporation. It resisted, in the same 
classes, the corruption of the Renaissance. It has risen with those 
classes to wealth and civil power. In modern times 'moral' has been 
used technically for what conforms to the code of pair marriage. 


"Pair marriage has excluded every other form of sex relation. To 
modern people it is hard to understand how different forms of sex 
relation could exist side by side and all be right. The explanation is 
in the mores. A concubine may be a woman who has a defined and 
legally guaranteed relation to one man, if the mores have so deter- 
mined. Her circumstances have not opened to her the first rank, that 
of a wife, but she has another which is recognized in the society as 
honorable. The same may be said of a slave woman, or of a mor- 
ganatic wife. Amongst the Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans of the em- 
pire concubines were a recognized class. A concubine was not a 
woman who had cast off her own honor until after the thirteenth 
century, and although her position became doubtful, it was not dis- 
reputable for two or three centuries more. Morganatic marriages for 
princes have continued down to our own time. Whatever is defined 
and provided for in the mores as a way of solving the problem of life 
interests is never wrong. Hence the cases of sacral harlotry, of tem- 
porary marriage (as in China, Korea, Japan, and ancient Arabia), of 
royal concubines (since the king was forced to accept a status wife 
of prescribed rank, etc.), and all the other peculiar arrangements 
which have existed in history are accounted for. 

"Pair marriage, however, has swept all other forms away. It is the 
system of the urban-middle-capitalist class. It has gained strength in 
all the new countries where all men and women were equal within a 
small margin and the women bore their share of the struggle for 
existence. The environment, in the new countries, favored the mores 
of the class from which the emigrants came. In the old countries the 
mores of the middle class have come into conflict with the mores of 
peasants and nobles. The former have steadily won. The movement 
has been the same everywhere, although the dates of the steps in it 
have been different. As to women, the countries which are at the 
rear of the modern movement keep the old mores; those which are at 
the head of it have emancipated women most, and have swept away 
from their legislation all toleration for anything but pair marriage. 
Vice, of course, still affects facts, and the growth of wealth and luxu- 
rious habits seems to be developing a tendency to take up again some 
old customs which bear an aristocratic color. It must be expected that 
when the economic facts which now favor the lower middle classes 
pass away and new conditions arise the marriage mores will change 
again. Democracy and pair marriage are now produced by the con- 
ditions. Both are contingent and transitory. In aristocratic society a 


man's family arrangements are his own prerogative. When life be- 
comes harder it will become aristocratic, and concubinage may be 
expected to arise again" [Ibid., pp. 374-76]. 

Pair marriage and divorce. "With the rise of pair marriage came 
divorce for the woman, upon due reason, as much as for the man. 
Hence freer divorce goes with pair marriage. Such must inevitably be 
the case, if it be admitted that any due reason for divorce ever can 
exist. The more poetical and elevated the ideas are which are clus- 
tered around marriage, the more probable it is that experience will 
produce disappointment. If one spouse enters wedlock with the belief 
that the other is the most superlative man or woman living, the cases 
must be very few in which disappointment and disillusion will not 
result. Moreover, pair marriage, by its exclusiveness, risks the happi- 
ness of the parties on a very narrow and specific condition of life. 
The coercion of this arrangement for many persons must become 
intolerable. . . . 

"No society ever has existed or ever can exist in which no divorce 
is allowed. In all stages of the father family it has been possible for a 
man to turn his wife out of doors, and for a wife to run away from 
her husband. They divorce themselves when they have determined 
that they want to do so. It would be an easy solution of marriage 
problems to assert that the society will use its force to compel all 
spouses who disagree, or for whom the marriage relation has become 
impossible through the course of events, nevertheless to continue to 
live in wedlock. Such a rule would produce endless misery, shame, 
and sin. There are reasons for divorce. Adultery is recognized as such 
a reason in the New Testament. It is a rational reason, especially 
under pair marriage. There are other rational reasons. . . . The mores 
decide at last what causes shall be sufficient. . . . When the law of 
the state or of ecclesiastical bodies goes with the mores it prevails; 
when it departs from the mores it fails. The mores are also sure to 
act in regard to a matter which presents itself in a large class of cases, 
and which calls for social and ethical judgments. At last, compre- 
hensive popular judgments will be formed and they will get into 
legislation. They will adjust interests so that people can pursue self- 
realization with success and satisfaction, under social judgments as to 
the rules necessary to preserve the institutions of wedlock and the 
family. The pursuit of happiness, either in the acquisition of property 
or in the enjoyment of family life, is only possible in submission to 
laws which define social order, rights, and duties, and against which 


the individual must react at every point. It is the mores which con- 
stantly revise and readjust the laws of social order, and so define the 
social conditions within which self-realization must go on" [Ibid., pp. 


"Acts of legislation come out of the mores. In low civilization all 
societal regulations are customs and taboos, the origin of which is 
unknown. Positive laws are impossible until the stage of verification, 
reflection, and criticism is reached. Until that point is reached there 
is only customary law, or common law. The customary law may be 
codified and systematized with respect to some philosophical prin- 
ciples, and yet remain customary. The codes of Manu and Justinian 
are examples. Enactment is not possible until reverence for ancestors 
has been so much weakened that it is no longer thought wrong to 
interfere with traditional customs by positive enactment. Even then 
there is reluctance to make enactments, and there is a stage of tran- 
sition during which traditional customs are extended by interpreta- 
tion to cover new cases and to prevent evils. Legislation, however, has 
to seek standing ground on the existing mores, and it soon becomes 
apparent that legislation, to be strong, must be consistent with the 

"Things which have been in the mores are put under police regu- 
lation and later under positive law. It is sometimes said that 'public 
opinion' must ratify and approve police regulations, but this state- 
ment rests an an imperfect analysis. The regulations must conform 
to the mores, so that the public will not think them too lax or too 
strict. The mores of our urban and rural populations are not the 
same; consequently legislation about intoxicants which is made by 
one of these sections of the population does not succeed when ap- 
plied to the other. The regulation of drinking places, gambling places, 
and disorderly houses has passed through the above-mentioned stages. 
It is always a question of expediency whether to leave a subject under 
the mores, or to make a police regulation for it, or to put it into the 
criminal law. Betting, horse racing, dangerous sports, electric cars, 
and vehicles are cases now of things which seem to be passing under 
positive enactment and out of the unformulated control of the mores. 
When an enactment is made there is a sacrifice of the elasticity and 
automatic self-adaptation of custom, but an enactment is specific and 


is provided with sanctions. Enactments come into use when conscious 
purposes are formed, and it is believed that specific devices can be 
framed by which to realize such purposes in the society. Then also 
prohibitions take the place of taboos, and punishments are planned 
to be deterrent rather then revengeful. The mores of different socie- 
ties, or of different ages, are characterized by greater or less readiness 
and confidence in regard to the use of positive enactments for the 
realization of societal purposes" [Ibid., pp. 55-56]. 


"When folkways have become institutions or laws they have 
changed their character and are to be distinguished from the mores. 
The element of sentiment and faith inheres in the mores. Laws and 
institutions have a rational and practical character, and are more 
mechanical and utilitarian. The great difference is that institutions 
and laws have a positive character, while mores are unformulated and 
undefined. There is a philosophy implicit in the folkways; when it 
is made explicit it becomes technical philosophy. Objectively re- 
garded, the mores are the customs which actually conduce to welfare 
under existing life conditions. Acts under the laws and institutions 
are conscious and voluntary; under the folkways they are always un- 
conscious and involuntary, so that they have the character of natural 
necessity. Educated reflection and skepticism can disturb this spon- 
taneous relation. The laws, being positive prescriptions, supersede the 
mores so far as they are adopted. It follows that the mores come into 
operation where laws and tribunals fail. The mores cover the great 
field of common life where there are no laws or police regulations. 
They cover an immense and undefined domain, and they break the 
way in new domains, not yet controlled at all. The mores, therefore, 
build up new laws and police regulations in time" [Ibid., pp. 56-57]. 


"The combination in the mores of persistency and variability de- 
termines the extent to which it is possible to modify them by arbi- 
trary action. It is not possible to change them, by any artifice or de- 
vice, to a great extent, or suddenly, or in any essential element; it is 
possible to modify them by slow and long-continued effort if the 
ritual is changed by minute variations" [Ibid., p. 87]. 


After reviewing various cases of attempted reform among historical 
peoples [Ibid., pp. 87-94], Sumner answered as follows the question 
he posed: What changes are possible? "All these cases go to show 
that changes which run with the mores are easily brought about, but 
that changes which are opposed to the mores require long and patient 
effort, if they are possible at all. The ruling clique can use force to 
warp the mores towards some result which they have selected, espe- 
cially if they bring their effort to bear on the ritual, not on the 
dogmas, and if they are contented to go slowly. The church has won 
great results in this way, and by so doing has created a belief that 
religion, or ideas, or institutions, make mores. The leading classes, 
no matter by what standard they are selected, can lead by example, 
which always affects ritual. An aristocracy acts in this way. It suggests 
standards of elegance, refinement, and nobility; and the usages of 
good manners, from generation to generation, are such as have spread 
from the aristocracy to other classes. Such influences are unspoken, 
unconscious, unintentional. If we admit that it is possible and right 
for some to undertake to mold the mores of others, of set purpose, 
we see that the limits within which any such effort can succeed are 
very narrow, and the methods by which it can operate are strictly 
defined. The favorite methods of our time are legislation and preach- 
ing. These methods fail because they do not affect ritual, and because 
they always aim at great results in a short time. Above all, we can 
judge of the amount of serious attention which is due to plans for 
'reorganizing society/ to get rid of alleged errors and inconveniences 
in it. We might as well plan to reorganize our globe by redistributing 
the elements in it" [Ibid., pp. 94-95]. 


Finally, Sumner pointed out how an understanding of the mores 
can serve scientifically to promote social welfare through "the art of 
societal administration." "It is not to be inferred that reform and 
correction are hopeless. Inasmuch as the mores are a phenomenon 
of the society and not of the state, and inasmuch as the machinery 
of administration belongs to the state and not to the society, the 
administration of the mores presents peculiar difficulties. Strictly 
speaking, there is no administration of the mores, or it is left to 
voluntary organs acting by moral suasion. The state administration 


fails if it tries to deal with the mores, because it goes out of its 
province. The voluntary organs which try to administer the mores 
(literature, moral teachers, schools, churches, etc.) have no set 
method and no persistent effort. They very often make great errors 
in their methods. In regard to divorce, for instance, it is idle to set up 
stringent rules in an ecclesiastical body, and to try to establish them 
by extravagant and false interpretation of the Bible, hoping in that 
way to lead opinion; but the observation and consideration of cases 
which occur affect opinion and form convictions. The statesman and 
social philosopher can act with such influences, sum up the forces 
which make them, and greatly help the result. The inference is that 
intelligent art can be introduced here as elsewhere, but that it is 
necessary to understand the mores and to be able to discern the 
elements in them, just as it is always necessary for good art to under- 
stand the facts of nature with which it will have to deal. It belongs 
to the work of publicists and statesmen to gauge the forces in the 
mores and to perceive their tendencies. The great men of a great 
epoch are those who have understood new currents in the mores. 
The great reformers of the sixteenth century, the great leaders of 
modern revolutions, were, as we can easily see, produced out of a 
protest or revulsion which had long been forming under and within 
the existing system. The leaders are such because they voice the con- 
victions which have become established and because they propose 
measures which will realize interests of which the society has become 
conscious. . . . 

"Great crises come when great new forces are at work changing 
fundamental conditions, while powerful institutions and traditions 
still hold old systems intact. The fifteenth century was such a period. 
It is in such crises that great men find their opportunity. The man 
and the age react on each other. The measures of policy which are 
adopted and upon which energy is expended become components in 
the evolution. The evolution, although it has the character of a 
nature process, always must issue by and through men whose passions, 
follies, and wills are a part of it but are also always dominated by it. 
The interaction defies our analysis, but it does not discourage our 
reason and conscience from their play on the situation, if we are 
content to know that their function must be humble. Stoll boldly 
declares that if one of us had been a judge in the times of the witch 
trials he would have reasoned as the witch judges did, and would 


have tortured like them.* If that is so, then it behooves us by educa- 
tion and will, with intelligent purpose, to criticise and judge even the 
most established ways of our time, and to put courage and labor into 
resistance to the current mores where we judge them wrong. It would 
be a mighty achievement of the science of society if it could lead up 
to an art of societal administration which should be intelligent, 
effective, and scientific" [Ibid., pp. 117-18]. 

* O. Stoll, Suggestion und Hypnotismus in der Volkerpsychologie, Leipzig, 1904, 
p. 248. 

Major Contributors to Social Science Series 

Emile Durkheim 

Vilfredo Pareto 

William Graham Sumner 

Thorstein Veblei 

Lester Frank Ward 

Max Weber