At the onset of diabetes mellitus, the glomerular filtration rate becomes supranormal. Discovery science has identified many abnormalities in the early diabetic kidney that apparently contribute to this phenotype. A serviceable understanding of the early diabetic kidney requires this information to fit together. It is the purpose of this article to present an archetype that explains multiple nuances of kidney function in early diabetes. We refer to this archetype as the "tubular hypothesis of glomerular filtration." Its basic tenet is that strange effects of diabetes on glomerular filtration stem from primary effects on the proximal tubule or loop of Henle that impact glomerular filtration by feedback through the macula densa. This theory can explain diabetic hyperfiltration, a paradoxical effect of dietary salt on glomerular filtration rate in diabetes, and the renal response to dietary protein and amino acid infusion in diabetes. The discussion centers on the kidney as an integrated system of parts rather than on the specific cellular mechanisms that comprise those parts.