Forgetting “The Forgotten Man”

In his inaugural address Donald Trump channeled an old trope —the forgotten man– although he updated it to “the forgotten men and women.”  He asserted that his whole program was for those forgotten by Washington for decades.

But an important portion of program for helping the forgotten man is in substantial tension with views of the man who originally introduced the phrase into the political lexicon—William Graham Sumner, a Yale professor of economics and nineteenth century classical liberal.   For Sumner the forgotten man was the citizen who was called on to shoulder the burdens of government’s social engineering.  Here is Sumner’s most pertinent paragraph on his forgotten man:

As soon as A observes something which seems to him wrong, from which X is suffering, A talks it over with B, and A and B then propose to get a law passed to remedy the evil and help X. Their law always proposes to determine what C shall do for X . . .  What I want to do is to look up C.  I want to show you what manner of man he is. I call him the Forgotten Man. . . .  He works, he votes, generally he prays—but he always pays.

In his inaugural Trump was also more explicit about his trade policy than usual: “Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.”  But putting up tariffs to protect industries is an excellent example of how Sumner’s forgotten man is harmed.

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Are American Citizens Servants or Masters? Needy Suppliants or Sturdy Yeomen?


Ben Peterson’s argument for “national sovereignty” as the “political idea of the year” was so challenging and so persuasive that it seems almost cavalier for me to have observed in commenting upon it that it under-explains the fretwork of national sovereignty. My praise of the argument is sincere, and I do think that it should issue in further discussion. I place at the center of that discussion, however, the urgent necessity to clarify what I have in the past called “political prosperity.”

The idea that people embrace national sovereignty for the sake of national sovereignty, in other words as a mere political abstraction, fails to enlist in its support those political dynamics that give currency to national sovereignty in the first place. Of those dynamics, none is more significant than the conditioning of support for national sovereignty upon the aspiration for humane conditions of life. The nation does not exist for its own sake and, more importantly, in a free society the people do not exist for the sake of the nation.

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More on Radical and Moderate Originalism

My last post distinguished between radical and moderate versions of originalism. This post discusses a few more aspects of the distinction and assesses my own views as radical or moderate. First, one sees the original and moderate versions assumed in debates about originalism. Some people claim that originalism would require radical changes in existing doctrine, and use that to criticize originalism. Other people defend originalism by denying it would be radical, in effect saying it would only be moderate. By contrast, some radical originalists view their radical interpretation as morally beneficial because it conforms with their political philosophies. Others then attempt to criticize…

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A New President

President Washington's Inauguration in New York City, April 23, 1789.

Tomorrow will make it official that Donald J. Trump is the 45th President of the United States of America. His inauguration will likely be full of the Americana that many of us love, one that will provide telling points of patriotism and gratitude without any of the postmodern irony that lurked in Obama’s second inaugural where he said the truths of the Declaration of Independence “may” be self evident, and, without pausing, concluded that we should still be willing to work eagerly on their behalf.  Trump’s election tells us that Americans are not rushing to enter the age of post-national and…

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Confirmation Hearings as a Window into Political Pathologies


Writing footnotes to a law review article can be a tedious business and I sometimes relieve the boredom by listening to background music or information.  Currently, that background consists of broadcasts of the confirmation hearings of President’s nominees. I have found them quite enlightening although not in the way that our politicians would like. Some Democratic prospects for 2020 are still caught up in the blinders that doomed Clinton’s campaign this year. Senator Kamala Harris used her time to ask the nominee for the Director of CIA about his willingness to follow LGTB friendly policies for employees at the agency. Senator…

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Foreign Policy in the Metaphysical Mode

aircraft take off

A populist backlash against globalization during 2016 brought a series of events culminating with Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the U.S. presidential election. The results marked a sharp break with a muscular form of liberal internationalism committed to spreading democracy and promoting human rights that guided policy since the 1990s.

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Radical and Moderate Originalism

Here I want to draw a distinction between two types of originalism: between a radical originalism and a more moderate originalism. The radical originalist believes that the Constitution’s original meaning establishes a regime that is extremely different from the current legal regime.  The easiest way to get a radical view is through a strong federalism.  If one believes that the Commerce Clause is narrow, that there is no Spending Power, that the Necessary and Proper Clause is very limited, then one can generate a regime that holds Social Security to be unconstitutional, that places significant limits on paper money, and that…

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Higher Education and the American Soul: A Conversation with Peter Lawler

american heresiesThis edition of Liberty Law Talk is a conversation with Peter Lawler about his new position as editor of Modern Age and his just released book, American Heresies and Higher Education.

Helping Mideast Christians

In my last post, I described some of the reasons why Mideast Christians face persecution today. Historical factors explain much. Christians face social discrimination, informed by centuries of treatment as dhimmis, which makes them easy targets for violence. This is so even though, as a formal matter, the dhimma no longer applies and Christians enjoy equal rights as citizens in most Mideast countries.

The West bears blame for the current crisis as well, however, including the United States.

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Vox Populi, Vox Impetu

US Capitol die cast model

The first constitutional test of the new era will be answered less by Donald Trump than by Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Paul Ryan (R-Wis.): namely, whether the congressional leadership delivers to the chief magistrate the news that Capitol Hill is not a subsidiary of the White House.

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