William Graham Sumner Literature Analysis

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Penned and published in 1883 during an era of widespread economic uncertainty in America, William Graham Sumner's What the Social Classes Owe Each Other stands as the seminal treatise on the purely democratic concepts of societal obligation and shared responsibility. Sumner's infamous assertions regarding the relative status of individual people, which essentially argued that human nature inevitably produces both poverty stricken and privileged classes, forcefully challenged the socially acceptable orthodoxy of compulsory altruism in an age when charity was lauded as the most virtuous of public acts. While Sumner argued eloquently that "a man who is present as a consumer, yet who does not contribute either by land, labor, or capital to the work of society, is a burden" (1952), his philosophical views were challenged by several contemporaries, including muckraking investigative reporter Nell Cusack and socialist paragon Eugene V. Debs. Both Cusack and Debs forcefully fought to protect and preserve the rights of those who occupy society's fringes, while Sumner chose to champion the advantageous positions held by the most affluent and ambitious among us. By conducting a thorough and thoughtful comparison of Sumner's statements and the work of his rhetorical opponents, modern readers are provided with the opportunity to assess such controversial and conflicted stances in the sublime light provided by historical hindsight. The final decades of the 19th century were defined

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