Last modified on 6 November 2013, at 20:05

The Theory of the Leisure Class


The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions (1899), by Thorstein Veblen, is an economic treatise and detailed social critique of conspicuous consumption, as a function of social-class consumerism, which proposes that the social strata and the division of labor of the feudal period continued into the modern era. Veblen’s analyses of business cycles and prices, and of the emergent technocratic division of labor by specialty (scientists, engineers, technologists) at the beginning of the 20th century proved to be accurate predictions of the nature of an industrial society.

QuotesEdit

Ch.1: IntroductoryEdit

  • Chief among the honorable employments in any feudal community is warfare; and priestly service is commonly second to warfare. ...the rule holds with but slight exceptions that, whether warriors or priests, the upper classes are exempt from industrial employments, and this exemption is the economic expression of their superior rank.
    • p.1
  • At an earlier... stage of barbarism, the leisure class is found in a less differentiated form. Neither the class distinctions nor the distinctions between leisure-class occupations are so minute and intricate. ...The men of the upper classes are not only exempt, but by prescriptive custom they are debarred, from all industrial occupations. The range of employments open to them is rigidly defined. As on the higher [feudal] plane... these employments are government, warfare, religious observances, and sports. These four lines of activity govern the scheme of life of the upper classes, and for the highest rank—the kings or chieftains—these are the only kinds of activity that custom or the common sense of the community will allow.
    • p.2-3
  • If we go a step back of this exemplary barbarian culture, into the lower stages of barbarism, we no longer find the leisure class in fully developed form. But this lower barbarism shows the usages, motives, and circumstances out of which the institution of a leisure class has arisen, and indicates the steps of its early growth. ...In nearly all these tribes the women are, by prescriptive custom, held to those employments out of which the industrial occupations proper develop at the next advance. The men are exempt from these vulgar employments and are reserved for war, hunting, sports, and devout observances.
    • p.3-4
  • Virtually the whole range of industrial employments is an outgrowth of what is classed as woman's work in the primitive barbarian community.
    • p.5
  • There is in all barbarian communities a profound sense of the disparity between man's and woman's work. His work may conduce to the maintenance of the group, but it is felt that it does so through an excellence and an efficacy of a kind that cannot without derogation be compared with the uneventful diligence of the women.
    • p.5
  • At a farther step backward in the cultural scale—among savage groups—the differentiation of employments is still less elaborate... Their culture differs... in the absence of a leisure class and the absence, in great measure, of the animus or spiritual attitude on which the institution of a leisure class rests. These communities of primitive savages in which there is no hierarchy of economic classes make up but a small and inconspicuous fraction of the human race. ...the class seems to include the most peaceable—perhaps all the characteristically peaceable—primitive groups of men. Indeed, the most notable trait common to members of such communities is a certain amiable inefficiency when confronted with force or fraud.
    • p.6-7
  • The evidence... indicates that the institution of a leisure class has emerged gradually during the transition from primitive savagery to barbarism; or more precisely, during the transition from a peaceable to a consistently warlike habit of life.
    • p.7
  • The institution of leisure class is the outgrowth of an early discrimination between employments, according to which some employments are worthy and others unworthy. Under this ancient distinction the worthy employments are those which may be classed as exploit; unworthy are those necessary everyday employments into which no appreciable element of exploit enters.
    • p.8
  • A distinction is still habitually made between industrial and non-industrial occupations; and this modern distinction is a transmuted form of the barbarian distinction between exploit and drudgery. Such employments as warfare, politics, public worship, and public merrymaking, are felt, in the popular apprehension, to differ intrinsically from the labor that has to do with elaborating the material means of life.
    • p.9-10
  • Men's hunting and fighting... are of a predatory nature; the warrior and the hunter alike reap where they have not strewn. Their aggressive assertion of force and sagacity... it is not to be accounted productive labor but rather an acquisition of substance by seizure. Such being the barbarian man's work, in its best development and widest divergence from women's work... the tradition gains consistency, the common sense of the community erects it into a canon of conduct.
    • p.14
  • When the predatory habit of life has been settled upon the group by long habituation, it becomes the able-bodied man's accredited office in the social economy to kill, to destroy such competitors in the struggle for existence as attempt to resist or elude him, to overcome and reduce to subservience those alien forces that assert themselves refractorily in the environment.
    • p.14-15
  • Man is an agent... a center of unfolding impulsive activity—"teleological" activity... seeking... some concrete, objective, impersonal end. ...he is possessed of a taste for effective work, and a distaste for futile effort. He has a sense of the merit of serviceability or efficiency and of the demerit of futility, waste, or incapacity. This aptitude or propensity may be called the instinct of workmanship.
    • p.15
  • Wherever the circumstances or traditions of life lead to an habitual comparison of one person with another in point of efficiency, the instinct of workmanship works out in an emulative or invidious comparison of persons. ...In any community where such an invidious comparison of persons is habitually made, visible success becomes an end sought for its own utility as a basis of esteem. Esteem is gained and dispraise is avoided by putting one's efficiency in evidence. The result is that the instinct of workmanship works out in an emulative demonstration of force.
    • p.15-16
  • When the community passes from peaceable savagery to a predatory phase of life... opportunity and the incentive to emulate increase greatly... The activity of the men more and more takes on the character of exploit; and an invidious comparison... grows continually easier and more habitual. Tangible evidences of prowess—trophies—find a place in men's habits of thought as an essential feature... and booty serves as prima facie evidence of successful aggression. ...as a conventional evidence of successful contest. Therefore... the obtaining of goods by other methods than seizure comes to be accounted unworthy. ...Labor acquires a character of irksomeness by virtue of the indignity imputed to it.
    • p.16-17
  • With the primitive barbarian... "honorable" seems to connote nothing else than assertion of superior force. ...The naive, archaic habit of construing all manifestations of force in terms of personality or "will power" greatly fortifies this conventional exaltation of the strong hand. ...This holds true to an extent also in the more civilized communities of the present day.
    • p.17-18
  • Under this common-sense barbarian appreciation of worth or honor, the taking of life—the killing of formidable competitors, whether brute or human—is honorable in the highest degree. And this high office of slaughter... casts a glamor of worth over every act of slaughter and over all the tools and accessories of the act. Arms are honorable, and the use of them... becomes a honorific employment. At the same time, employment in industry becomes correspondingly odious, and, in the common-sense apprehension, the handling of the tools and implements of industry falls beneath the dignity of able-bodied men. Labor becomes irksome.
    • p.18
  • Some fighting... would be met with at any early stage of social development. ...The known habits of primitive groups, as well as the habits of the anthropoid apes, argue to that effect, and the evidence from... human nature enforces the same view.
    • p.19
  • The predatory phase of culture is attained only when the predatory attitude has become the habitual and accredited spiritual attitude for the members of the group; when the fight has become the dominant note in the current theory of life; when the common-sense appreciation of men and things has come to be an appreciation with a view to combat.
    • p.19
  • Predation can not become the habitual, conventional resource of any group or any class until industrial methods have been developed to such a degree of efficiency as to leave a margin worth fighting for, above the subsistence of those engaged in getting a living. ...The early development of tools and of weapons is of course the same fact seen from two different points of view. ...The predatory phase of culture is therefore conceived to come on gradually.
    • p.20

Ch.2: Pecuniary EmulationEdit

  • The emergence of a leisure class coincides with the beginning of ownership. ...for these two institutions result from the same set of economic forces.
    • p.22
  • The earliest form of ownership is an ownership of the women by the able bodied men of the community.
    • p.22-23
  • The ownership of women begins in the lower barbarian stages of culture, apparently with the seizure of female captives. ...This was followed by an extension of slavery to other captives and inferiors, besides women, and by an extension of ownership-marriage to other women than those seized from the enemy.
    • p.23
  • A form of marriage resting on coercion, and... the custom of ownership... The two institutions are not distinguishable in the initial phase of their development; both arise from the desire of the successful men to put their prowess in evidence by exhibiting some durable result of their exploits. Both also minister to that propensity for mastery which pervades all predatory communities. From the ownership of women the concept of ownership extends itself to include the products of their industry, and so there arises the ownership of things as well as of persons.
    • p.23-24
  • Wealth has by no means yet lost its utility as a honorific evidence of the owner's prepotence.
    • p.24
  • It has been customary in economic theory, and especially among those economists who adhere with least faltering to the body of modernized classical doctrines, to construe this struggle for wealth as being substantially a struggle for subsistence... But in all progressing communities... industrial efficiency is presently carried to such a pitch as to afford something appreciably more than a bare livelihood... The motive that lies at the root of ownership is emulation; and the same motive of emulation continues active in the further development of the institution... and in the development of all those features of the social structure which this institution of ownership touches.
    • p.24-26
  • The possession of wealth confers honor; it is an invidious distinction.
    • p.26
  • Ownership began and grew into a human institution on grounds unrelated to the subsistence minimum. The dominant incentive was from the outset the invidious distinction attaching to wealth, and, save temporarily and by exception, no other motive has usurped the primacy at any later stage of the development.
    • p.26
  • So long as the group... still stood in close contact with other hostile groups, the utility of things or persons owned lay chiefly in an invidious comparison between their possessor and the enemy from whom they were taken. ...The man's prowess was still primarily the group's prowess, and the possessor of the booty felt himself to be primarily the keeper of the honor of his group. This appreciation of exploit from the communal point of view is met with also at later stages of social growth, especially as regards the laurels of war.
    • p.27
  • The initial phase of ownership, the phase of acquisition by naive seizure and conversion, begins to pass into the subsequent stage of an incipient organization of industry on the basis of private property (in slaves); the horde develops into a more or less self-sufficing industrial community; possessions then come to be valued not so much as evidence of successful foray, but rather as evidence of the prepotence of the possessor of these goods over other individuals within the community.
    • p.27-28
  • Property is still of the nature of trophy, but, with the cultural advance, it becomes more and more a trophy of successes scored in the game of ownership carried on between the members of the group under the quasi-peaceable methods of nomadic life.
    • p.28
  • With the growth of settled industry... the possession of wealth gains in relative importance and effectiveness as a customary basis of repute and esteem. ...not that successful predatory aggression or warlike exploit ceases to call out the approval and admiration of the crowd ...but the opportunities for gaining distinction by means of this direct manifestation of superior force grow less available.
    • p.28
  • Property now becomes the most easily recognized evidence of a reputable degree of success as distinguished from heroic or signal achievement. It therefore becomes the conventional basis of esteem. Its possession in some amount becomes necessary in order to any reputable standing in the community. ...The possession of goods, whether acquired aggressively by one's own exertion or passively by transmission through inheritance from others, becomes a conventional basis of reputability.
    • p.28-29
  • The possession of wealth, which was at the outset valued simply as an evidence of efficiency, becomes, in popular apprehension, itself a meritorious act. Wealth is now itself intrinsically honorable and confers honor on its possessor. By a further refinement, wealth acquired passively by transmission from ancestors or other antecedents presently becomes even more honorific than wealth acquired by the possessor's own effort.
    • p.29
  • It is necessary to come up to a certain, somewhat indefinite, conventional standard of wealth; just as in the earlier predatory stage it is necessary for the barbarian man to come up to the tribe's standard of physical endurance, cunning, and skill at arms. A certain standard of wealth in the one case, and of prowess in the other, is a necessary condition of reputability, and anything in excess of this normal amount is meritorious.
    • p.30
  • So soon as the possession of property becomes the basis of popular esteem... it becomes also a requisite to the complacency which we call self-respect.
    • p.30
  • As fast as a person makes new acquisitions, and becomes accustomed to the resulting new standard of wealth, the new standard forthwith ceases to afford appreciably greater satisfaction than the earlier standard did. The tendency in any case is constantly to make the present pecuniary standard the point of departure for a fresh increase of wealth.
    • p.31
  • The invidious comparison can never become so favorable to the individual making it that he would not gladly rate himself still higher relatively to his competitors in the struggle for pecuniary reputability.
    • p.31-32
  • However widely, or equally, or "fairly", it may be distributed, no general increase of the community's wealth can make any approach to satiating this need, the ground of which is the desire of every one to excel every one else in the accumulation of goods.
    • p.32
  • If, as is sometimes assumed, the incentive to accumulation were the want of subsistence or of physical comfort, then the aggregate economic wants of a community might conceivably be satisfied at some point in the advance of industrial efficiency; but since the struggle is substantially a race for reputability on the basis of an invidious comparison, no approach to a definitive attainment is possible.
    • p.32
  • The propensity for achievement and the repugnance to futility remain the underlying economic motive.
    • p.33
  • The propensity for achievement—the instinct of workmanship—tends more and more to shape itself into a straining to excel others in pecuniary achievement. Relative success, tested by an invidious pecuniary comparison with other men, becomes the conventional end [goal] of action. ...the repugnance to futility... coalesces with the incentive of emulation. ...Purposeful effort comes to mean... effort directed to or resulting in a more creditable showing of accumulated wealth.
    • p.33
  • In making use of the term "invidious"... there is no intention to extol or depreciate, or to commend or deplore any of the phenomena which the word is used to characterize. The term is used in a technical sense as describing a comparison of persons with a view to rating and grading them in respect of relative worth or value—in an aesthetic or moral sense—and so awarding and defining the relative degrees of complacency with which they may legitimately be contemplated by themselves and by others. An invidious comparison is a process of valuation of persons in respect of worth.
    • p.34

Ch.3: Conspicuous LeisureEdit

  • If its working were not disturbed by other economic forces or other features of the emulative process, the immediate effect of... a pecuniary struggle... would be to make men industrious and frugal. ...This is more especially true of the laboring classes in a sedentary community which is at an agricultural stage of industry, in which there is a considerable subdivision of industry, and whose laws and customs secure to these classes a more or less definite share of the product of their industry. ...since labor is their recognized and accepted mode of life, they take some emulative pride in a reputation for efficiency in their work.
    • p.35
  • During the predatory culture labor comes to be associated in men's habits of thought with weakness and subjection to a master. It is therefore a mark of inferiority ...accounted unworthy of man in his best estate. ...labor is felt to be debasing, and this tradition has never died out. On the contrary, with the advance of social differentiation it has acquired the axiomatic force due to ancient and unquestioned prescription.
    • p.36
  • In all but the lowest stages of culture the normally constituted man is comforted and upheld in his self-respect by "decent surroundings" and by exemption from "menial offices".
    • p.37
  • [Even today] there are few of the better class who are not possessed of an instinctive repugnance for the vulgar forms of labor. We have a realizing sense of ceremonial uncleanness attaching in an especial degree to the occupations which are associated in our habits of thought with menial service. ...Vulgar surroundings, mean (that is to say, inexpensive) habitations, and vulgarly productive occupations are unhesitatingly condemned and avoided. They are incompatible with life on a satisfactory spiritual plane—with "high thinking".
    • p.37
  • From the days of the Greek philosophers to the present, a degree of leisure and of exemption from contact with such industrial processes as serve the immediate everyday purposes of human life has ever been recognized by thoughtful men as a prerequisite to a worthy or beautiful, or even a blameless, human life.
    • p.37-38
  • In itself and in its consequences the life of leisure is beautiful and ennobling in all civilized men's eyes.
    • p.38
  • Even if the institution of a leisure class had not come in with the first emergence of individual ownership, by force of the dishonor attaching to productive employment, it would in any case have come in as one of the early consequences of ownership.
    • p.39
  • The... stage of quasi-peaceable industry is usually characterized by an established chattel slavery, herds of cattle, and a servile class of herdsmen and shepherds; industry has advanced so far that the community is no longer dependent for its livelihood on the chase or on any other form of activity that can fairly be classed as exploit. From this point on, the characteristic feature of leisure class life is a conspicuous exemption from all useful employment.
    • p.40
  • Wherever the canon of conspicuous leisure has a chance undisturbed to work out its tendency, there will therefore emerge a secondary, and in a sense spurious, leisure class—abjectly poor and living in a precarious life of want and discomfort, but morally unable to stoop to gainful pursuits.
    • p.42
  • In persons of a delicate sensibility who have long been habituated to gentle manners, the sense of the shamefulness of manual labor may become so strong that, at a critical juncture, it will even set aside the instinct of self-preservation.
    • p.42
  • The term "leisure", as here used, does not connote indolence or quiescence. What it connotes is non-productive consumption of time.
    • p.43
  • As the population increases in density, and as human relations grow more complex and numerous, all the details of life undergo a process of elaboration and selection; and in this process of elaboration the use of trophies develops into a system of rank, titles, degrees and insignia, typical examples of which are heraldic devices, medals, and honorary decorations.
    • p.44
  • As seen from the economic point of view, leisure, considered as an employment, is closely allied in kind with the life of exploit; and the achievements... which remain as its decorous criteria, have much in common with the trophies of exploit.
    • p.44
  • Immaterial evidences of past leisure are quasi-scholarly or quasi-artistic accomplishments and a knowledge of processes and incidents which do not conduce directly to the furtherance of human life. ...unless these accomplishments had approved themselves as serviceable evidence of an unproductive expenditure of time, they would not have survived and held their place as conventional accomplishments of the leisure class.
    • p.45
  • All that class of ceremonial observances which are classed under the general head of manners hold a more important place in the esteem of men during the stage of culture at which conspicuous leisure has the greatest vogue as a mark of reputability, than at later stages of the cultural development.
    • p.46
  • It is currently believed that manners have progressively deteriorated as society has receded from the patriarchal stage.
    • p.46
  • The decay of the ceremonial code—or as it is otherwise called, the vulgarization of life—among the industrial classes proper has become one of the chief enormities of latter-day civilization in the eyes of all persons of delicate sensibilities.
    • p.46
  • Decorum is a product and an exponent of leisure class life and thrives in full measure only under a regime of status.
    • p.46
  • Manners... are in part an elaboration of gesture, and in part they are symbolical and conventionalized survivals representing former acts of dominance or of personal service or of personal contact. In large part they are an expression of the relation of status,—a symbolic pantomime of mastery on the one hand and of subservience on the other.
    • p.47
  • Deviations from the code of decorum have become intrinsically odious to all men, and good breeding is, in everyday apprehension, not simply an adventitious mark of human excellence, but an integral feature of the worthy human soul. There are few things that so touch us with instinctive revulsion as a breach of decorum. ...A breach of faith may be condoned, but a breach of decorum can not. "Manners maketh man."
    • p.48
  • Refined tastes, manners, habits of life are a useful evidence of gentility, because good breeding requires time, application and expense, and can therefore not be compassed by those whose time and energy are taken up with work. A knowledge of good form is prima facie evidence that that portion of the well-bred person's life... has been worthily spent in acquiring accomplishments that are of no lucrative effect.
    • p.48-49
  • In the last analysis the value of manners lies in the fact that they are the voucher of a life of leisure. ...the acquisition of some proficiency in decorum is incumbent on all who aspire to a modicum of pecuniary decency.
    • p.49
  • This conspicuous leisure of which decorum is a ramification grows gradually into a laborious drill in deportment and an education in taste and discrimination as to what articles of consumption are decorous and what are the decorous methods of consuming them.
    • p.50
  • While the proximate ground of discrimination may be of another kind, still the pervading principle and abiding test of good breeding is the requirement of a substantial and patent waste of time. There may be some considerable range of variation in detail within the scope of this principle, but they are variations of form and expression, not of substance.
    • p.51-52
  • A divine assurance and an imperious complaisance, as of one habituated to require subservience and to take no thought for the morrow, is the birthright and the criterion of the gentleman at his best... this demeanor is accepted as an intrinsic attribute of superior worth, before which the base-born commoner delights to stoop and yield.
    • p.52-53
  • The institution of ownership has begun with the ownership of persons, primarily women. The incentives to acquiring such property have apparently been: (1) a propensity for dominance and coercion; (2) the utility of these persons as evidence of the prowess of the owner; (3) the utility of their services.
    • p.53
  • During the stage of quasi-peaceable industry, and especially during the earlier development of industry within ... this general stage... Women and other slaves are highly valued, both as an evidence of wealth and as a means of accumulating wealth. Together with cattle, if the tribe is a pastoral one, they are the usual form of investment for a profit. ...women even come to serve as a unit of value... as for instance in Homeric times. Where this is the case... the basis of the industrial system is chattel slavery... The accepted evidence of wealth is the possession of many women, and presently also of other slaves.
    • p.53-54
  • The vicarious leisure performed by housewives and menials, under the head of household cares, may frequently develop into drudgery, especially where the competition for reputability is close and strenuous. This is frequently the case in modern life. ...these occupations are chiefly useful as a method of imputing pecuniary reputability to the master or to the household on the ground that a given amount of time and effort is conspicuously wasted in that behalf.
    • p.59
  • There arises a subsidiary or derivative leisure class, whose office is the performance of a vicarious leisure for the behoof of the reputability of the primary or legitimate leisure class. ...The servant or wife should not only perform certain offices... they should show... a trained conformity to the canons of effectual and conspicuous subservience. Even today it is this aptitude and acquired skill in the formal manifestation of the servile relation that constitutes the chief element of utility in our highly paid servants, as well as one of the chief ornaments of the well-bred housewife.
    • p.59-60
  • The first requisite of a good servant is that he should conspicuously know his place. ...Any departure from ...canons of form is to be depreciated, not so much because it evinces a shortcoming in mechanical efficiency, or even that it shows an absence of the servile attitude and temperament, but because... it shows the absence of special training.
    • p.60
  • Special training in personal service costs time and effort... it argues that the servant who possesses it, neither is nor has been habitually engaged in any productive occupation. It is prima facie evidence of a vicarious leisure extending far back in the past.
    • p.61
  • Trained service has utility, not only as gratifying the master's instinctive liking for good and skilful workmanship and his propensity for conspicuous dominance over those whose lives are subservient to his own, but it has utility also as putting in evidence a much larger consumption of human service than would be shown by the mere present conspicuous leisure performed by an untrained person.
    • p.61
  • The chief use of servants is the evidence they afford of the master's ability to pay.
    • p.62
  • Whatever approves itself to us on any ground at the outset, presently comes to appeal to us as a gratifying thing in itself; it comes to rest in our habits of thought as substantially right.
    • p.62
  • There arises a class of servants, the more numerous the better, whose sole office is fatuously to wait upon the person of their owner, and so to put in evidence his ability unproductively to consume a large amount of service. ...while one group produces goods for him, another group, usually headed by the wife, or chief, consumes for him in conspicuous leisure.
    • p.63
  • This... outline of the development and nature of domestic service comes nearest being true for that cultural stage which has here been named the "quasi-peaceable" stage of industry. ...the quasi-peaceable stage follows the predatory stage proper, the two being successive phases of barbarian life. ...life at this stage still has too much of coercion and class antagonism to be called peaceable in the full sense of the word. ...it might as well be named the stage of status. ...But as a descriptive term to characterize the prevailing methods of industry, as well as... the trend of industrial development... the term "quasi-peaceable" seems preferable.
    • p.63-64
  • So far as concerns the communities of the Western culture, this [quasi-peaceable] phase of economic development probably lies in the past; except for a numerically small though very conspicuous fraction of the community in whom the habits of thought peculiar to the barbarian culture have suffered but a relatively slight disintegration.
    • p.64
  • The best development of this vicarious leisure lies in the past rather than in the present; and its best expression in the present is to be found in the scheme of life of the upper leisure class.
    • p.64
  • In the modern industrial communities the mechanical contrivances available for the comfort and convenience of everyday life are highly developed. ...Under the requirement of conspicuous consumption of goods, the apparatus of living has grown so elaborate and cumbrous, in the way of dwellings, furniture, bric-a-brac, wardrobe and meals, that the consumers of these things cannot make way with them in the required manner without help.
    • p.65-66
  • Personal contact with the hired persons... is commonly distasteful to the occupants of the house, but their presence is endured and paid for, in order to delegate to them a share in this onerous consumption of household goods. The presence of domestic servants... is a concession of physical comfort to the moral need of pecuniary decency.
    • p.64

Ch.4: Conspicuous ConsumptionEdit

  • When the quasi-peaceable stage of industry is reached, with its fundamental institution of chattel slavery, the general principle, more or less rigorously applied, is that the base, industrious class should consume only what may be necessary to their subsistence. In the nature of things, luxuries and the comforts of life belong to the leisure class. Under the tabu, certain victuals, and more particularly certain beverages, are strictly reserved for the use of the superior class.
    • p.70
  • The ceremonial differentiation of the dietary is best seen in the use of intoxicating beverages and narcotics. If these articles of consumption are costly, they are felt to be noble and honorific. Therefore the base classes, primarily the women, practice an enforced continence with respect to these stimulants, except in countries where they are obtainable at a very low cost. From archaic times down through all the length of the patriarchal regime it has been the office of the women to prepare and administer these luxuries. ...The same invidious distinction adds force to the current disapproval of any indulgence of this kind on the part of women, minors, and inferiors. ...The greater abstinence of women is in some part due to an imperative conventionality... strongest where the patriarchal tradition—the tradition that the woman is a chattel—has retained its hold in greatest vigor.
    • p.70-71
  • In a sense which has been greatly qualified in scope and rigour, but which has by no means lost its meaning even yet... tradition says that the woman, being a chattel, should consume only what is necessary to her sustenance,—except so far as her further consumption contributes to the comfort or the good repute of her master.
    • p.71
  • In communities where the popular habits of thought have been profoundly shaped by the patriarchal tradition we may accordingly look for survivals of the tabu on luxuries at least to the extent of a conventional deprecation of their use by the unfree and dependent class.
    • p.72
  • With many qualifications—with more qualifications as the patriarchal tradition has gradually weakened—the general rule is felt to be right and binding that women should consume only for the benefit of their masters.
    • p.72-73
  • The quasi-peaceable gentleman of leisure... not only consumes... beyond the minimum required for subsistence and physical efficiency, but his consumption also undergoes a specialization as regards the quality of the goods consumed. He consumes freely and of the best, in food, drink, narcotics, shelter, services, ornaments, apparel, weapons and accoutrements, amusements, amulets, and idols or divinities. ...Since the consumption of these more excellent goods is an evidence of wealth, it becomes honorific; and conversely, the failure to consume in due quantity and quality becomes a mark of inferiority and demerit.
    • p.73-74
  • Closely related to the requirement that the gentleman must consume freely and of the right kind of goods, there is the requirement that he must know how to consume them in a seemly manner. His life of leisure must be conducted in due form. Hence arise good manners... High-bred manners and ways of living are items of conformity to the norm of conspicuous leisure and conspicuous consumption.
    • p.74-75
  • Conspicuous consumption of valuable goods is a means of reputability to the gentleman of leisure. As wealth accumulates on his hands, his own unaided effort will not avail to sufficiently put his opulence in evidence by this method. The aid of friends and competitors is therefore brought in by resorting to the giving of valuable presents and expensive feasts and entertainments. Presents and feasts had probably another origin than that of naive ostentation, but they acquired their utility for this purpose very early, and they have retained that character to the present.
    • p.75
  • The latter-day leisure-class festivities and entertainments may continue in some slight degree to serve the religious need and in a higher degree the needs of recreation and conviviality, but they also serve an invidious purpose.
    • p.76
  • As wealth accumulates, the leisure class develops... a more or less elaborate system of rank and grades.
    • p.76
  • We are yet so little removed from a state of effective slavery as still to be fully sensitive to the sting of any imputation of servility. This antipathy asserts itself even in the case of the liveries or uniforms which some corporations prescribe as the distinctive dress of their employees. In this country the aversion even goes the length of discrediting—in a mild and uncertain way—those government employments, military and civil, which require the wearing of a livery or uniform.
    • p.80
  • As we descend the social scale, the point is presently reached where the duties of vicarious leisure and consumption devolve upon the wife alone. In the communities of the Western culture, this point is at present found among the lower middle class.
    • p.80-81
  • Here occurs a curious inversion. ...in this lower middle class there is no pretense of leisure on the part of the head of the household. ...It is by no means an uncommon spectacle to find a man applying himself to work with the utmost assiduity, in order that his wife may in due form render for him that degree of vicarious leisure. ...the housewife's efforts are under the guidance of traditions that have been shaped by the law of conspicuously wasteful expenditure of time and substance. If beauty or comfort is achieved... they must be achieved by means and methods that commend themselves to the great economic law of wasted effort. The more reputable, "presentable" portion of middle-class household paraphernalia are... items of conspicuous consumption, and... apparatus for putting in evidence the vicarious leisure rendered by the housewife.
    • p.81-83
  • The latter-day outcome of this evolution of an archaic institution, the wife, who was at the outset the drudge and chattel of the man, both in fact and in theory—the producer of goods for him to consume—has become the ceremonial consumer of goods which he produces. But she still quite unmistakably remains his chattel in theory; for the habitual rendering of vicarious leisure and consumption is the abiding mark of the unfree servant.
    • p.83
  • Vicarious consumption practiced by the household of the middle and lower classes can not be counted as a direct expression of the leisure-class scheme of life... The leisure class stands at the head of the social structure in point of reputability; and its manner of life and its standards of worth therefore afford the norm of reputability for the community.
    • p.83
  • In modern civilized communities... the norm of reputability imposed by the upper class extends its coercive influence with but slight hindrance down through the social structure to the lowest strata... the members of each stratum accept as their ideal of decency the scheme of life in vogue in the next higher stratum.
    • p.84
  • The basis on which good repute in any highly organized industrial community ultimately rests is pecuniary strength; and the means of showing pecuniary strength, and so of gaining or retaining a good name, are leisure and a conspicuous consumption of goods. ...in the lower strata in which the two methods are employed, both offices are in great part delegated to the wife and children of the household. ...with a still lower descent into the levels of indigence—along the margin of the slums—the man, and presently also the children, virtually cease to consume valuable goods for appearances, and the woman remains virtually the sole exponent of the household's pecuniary decency. No class of society, not even the most abjectly poor, forgoes all customary conspicuous consumption. Very much of squalor and discomfort will be endured before the last trinket or the last pretense of pecuniary decency is put away. ...gratification of this higher or spiritual need.
    • p.84-85
  • From the foregoing survey of the growth of conspicuous leisure and consumption, it appears that the utility of both alike for the purposes of reputability lies in the element of waste [of time and effort] that is common to both.
    • p.85
  • The exigencies of the modern industrial system frequently place individuals and households in juxtaposition between whom there is little contact in any other sense than that of juxtaposition. One's neighbors, mechanically speaking, often are socially not one's neighbors, or even acquaintances; and still their transient good opinion has a high degree of utility. The only practicable means of impressing one's pecuniary ability on these unsympathetic observers of one's everyday life is an unremitting demonstration of ability to pay.
    • p.86-87
  • In the modern community there is also a more frequent attendance at large gatherings of people to whom one's everyday life is unknown... the signature of one's pecuniary strength should be written in characters which he who runs may read. It is evident, therefore, that the present trend of the development is in the direction of heightening the utility of conspicuous consumption as compared with leisure.
    • p.87
  • The serviceability of consumption as a means of repute... is at its best in those portions of the community where the human contact of the individual is widest and the mobility of the population is greatest. Conspicuous consumption claims a relatively larger portion of the income of the urban than of the rural population... in order to keep up a decent appearance, the former habitually live hand-to-mouth to a greater extent than the latter.
    • p.87
  • In the struggle to outdo one another the city population push their normal standard of conspicuous consumption to a higher point, with the result that a relatively greater expenditure in this direction is required to indicate a given degree of pecuniary decency in the city. ...this requirement of decent appearance must be lived up to on pain of losing caste.
    • p.88
  • Among the country population its [conspicuous consumption's] place is to some extent taken by savings and home comforts known through the medium of neighborhood gossip sufficiently to serve the like general purpose of Pecuniary repute. ...everybody's affairs, especially everybody's pecuniary status, are known to everybody else.
    • p.88
  • The substantial ground of this high requirement in dissipation is in the last analysis no other than that same propensity for a manifestation of dominance and pecuniary decency which makes the French peasant-proprietor parsimonious and frugal, and induces the American millionaire to found colleges, hospitals and museums. If the canon of conspicuous consumption were not offset to a considerable extent by other features of human nature, alien to it, any saving should logically be impossible for a population situated as the artisan and laboring classes of the cities are at present, however high their wages or their income might be.
    • p.91
  • Leisure held the first place at the start, and came to hold a rank very much above wasteful consumption of goods, both as a direct exponent of wealth and as an element in the standard of decency, during the quasi-peaceable culture. From that point onward, consumption has gained ground, until, at present, it unquestionably holds the primacy, though it is still far from absorbing the entire margin of production above the subsistence minimum.
    • p.92
  • The instinct of workmanship is present in all men, and asserts itself even under very adverse circumstances. So that however wasteful a given expenditure may be in reality, it must at least have some colorable excuse in the way of an ostensible purpose.
    • p.93
  • Those persons (adult) are but a vanishing minority today who harbor no inclination to the accomplishment of some end, or who are not impelled of their own motion to shape some object or fact or relation for human use. The propensity may in large measure be overborne by the more immediately constraining incentive to a reputable leisure and an avoidance of indecorous usefulness, and it may therefore work itself out in make-believe only; as for instance in "social duties," and in quasi-artistic or quasi-scholarly accomplishments, in the care and decoration of the house, in sewing-circle activity or dress reform, in proficiency at dress, cards, yachting, golf, and various sports.
    • p.94
  • The energy which formerly found a vent in predatory activity, now in part takes the direction of some ostensibly useful end. Ostensibly purposeless leisure has come to be deprecated, especially among that large portion of the leisure class whose plebeian origin acts to set them at variance with the tradition of the otium cum dignitate [retirement with dignity]. But that canon of reputability which discountenances all employment that is of the nature of productive effort is still at hand, and will permit nothing beyond the most transient vogue to any employment that is substantially useful or productive. A reconciliation... is effected by a resort to make-believe. Many and intricate polite observances and social duties of a ceremonial nature are developed; many organizations are founded, with some specious object of amelioration... there is much coming and going, and a deal of talk... And along with the make-believe of purposeful employment, and woven inextricably into its texture, there is commonly... a more or less appreciable element of purposeful effort directed to some serious end.
    • p.95
  • Throughout the entire evolution of conspicuous expenditure, whether of goods or of services or human life, runs the obvious implication that in order to effectually mend the consumer's good fame it must be an expenditure of superfluities. In order to be reputable it must be wasteful. No merit would accrue from the consumption of the bare necessaries of life, except by comparison with the abjectly poor who fall short even of the subsistence minimum.
    • p.96-97
  • A standard of life would still be possible which should admit of invidious comparison in other respects than that of opulence; as, for instance, a comparison in various directions in the manifestation of moral, physical, intellectual, or aesthetic force. Comparison in all these directions is in vogue today; and the comparison made in these respects is commonly so inextricably bound up with the pecuniary comparison as to be scarcely distinguishable from the latter. ...we frequently interpret as aesthetic or intellectual a difference which in substance is pecuniary only.
    • p.97
  • The use of the term "waste" ...in the speech of everyday life the word carries an undertone of deprecation. It is here used for want of a better term... and it is not to be taken in an odious sense, as implying an illegitimate expenditure of human products or of human life. In the view of economic theory the expenditure in question is no more and no less legitimate than any other expenditure. It is here called "waste" because this expenditure does not serve human life or human well-being on the whole... Whatever form of expenditure the consumer chooses... has utility to him by virtue of his preference.
    • p.97
  • As seen from the point of view of the individual consumer, the question of wastefulness does not arise within the scope of economic theory proper. The use of the word "waste" as a technical term, therefore, implies no deprecation of the motives or of the ends sought by the consumer under this canon of conspicuous waste.
    • p.98
  • It frequently happens that an element of the standard of living which set out with being primarily wasteful, ends with becoming, in the apprehension of the consumer, a necessary of life; and it may in this way become as indispensable as any other item of the consumer's habitual expenditure.
    • p.99
  • The test to which all expenditure must be brought... is the question whether it serves directly to enhance human life on the whole-whether it furthers the life process taken impersonally. For this is the basis of award of the instinct of workmanship, and that instinct is the court of final appeal in any question of economic truth or adequacy. It is a question as to the award rendered by a dispassionate common sense.
    • p.99
  • The question is... not whether, under the existing circumstances of individual habit and social custom, a given expenditure conduces to the particular consumer's gratification or peace of mind; but whether, aside from acquired tastes and from the canons of usage and conventional decency, its result is a net gain in comfort or in the fullness of life.
    • p.99-100
  • Customary expenditure must be classed under the head of waste in so far as the custom on which it rests is traceable to the habit of making an invidious pecuniary comparison-in so far as it is conceived that it could not have become customary and prescriptive without the backing of this principle of pecuniary reputability or relative economic success.
    • p.100
  • An article may be useful and wasteful both, and its utility to the consumer may be made up of use and waste in the most varying proportions.
    • p.100
  • In a general way, the element of waste tends to predominate in articles of consumption, while the contrary is true of articles designed for productive use. Even in articles which appear... to serve for pure ostentation only, it is always possible to detect the presence of some, at least ostensible, useful purpose... even in special machinery and tools contrived for some particular industrial process, as well as in the rudest appliances of human industry, the traces of conspicuous waste, or at least of the habit of ostentation, usually become evident on a close scrutiny.
    • p.100-101
  • It would be hazardous to assert that a useful purpose is ever absent from the utility of any article or of any service, however obviously its prime purpose and chief element is conspicuous waste; and it would be only less hazardous to assert of any primarily useful product that the element of waste is in no way concerned in its value, immediately or remotely.
    • p.101

Ch.5: The Pecuniary Standard of LivingEdit

  • It is much more difficult to recede from a scale of expenditure once adopted than it is to extend the accustomed scale in response to an accession of wealth.
    • p.102
  • The conspicuously wasteful honorific expenditure that confers spiritual well-being may become more indispensable than much of that expenditure which ministers to the "lower" wants of physical well-being or sustenance only.
    • p.103
  • In the rare cases where it occurs, a failure to increase one's visible consumption when the means for an increase are at hand is felt in popular apprehension to call for explanation, and unworthy motives of miserliness are imputed to those who fall short in this respect.
    • p.103
  • Each class envies and emulates the class next above it in the social scale, while it rarely compares itself with those below or with those who are considerably in advance.
    • p.103-104
  • A standard of living is of the nature of habit.
    • p.106
  • The control exerted by the accepted standard of living is chiefly of a negative character; it acts almost solely to prevent recession from a scale of conspicuous expenditure that has once become habitual.
    • p.106
  • The articles or forms of consumption to which the consumer clings with the greatest tenacity are commonly the so-called necessaries of life, or the subsistence minimum.
    • p.107
  • Some... higher wants, as for instance the habitual use of certain stimulants, or the need of salvation (in the eschatological sense), or of good repute, may in some cases take precedence of the lower or more elementary wants.
    • p.107
  • In general, the longer the habituation, the more unbroken the habit, and the more nearly it coincides with previous habitual forms of the life process, the more persistently will the given habit assert itself. The habit will be stronger if the particular traits of human nature which its action involves, or the particular aptitudes that find exercise in it, are traits or aptitudes that are already largely and profoundly concerned in the life process or that are intimately bound up with the life history.
    • p.107-108
  • The prevalent type of transmitted aptitudes, or in other words the type of temperament belonging to the dominant ethnic element in any community, will go far to decide what will be the scope and form of expression of the community's habitual life process.
    • p.108
  • In any community where conspicuous consumption is an element of the scheme of life, an increase in an individual's ability to pay is likely to take the form of an expenditure for some accredited line of conspicuous consumption.
    • p.110
  • With the exception of the instinct of self-preservation, the propensity for emulation is probably the strongest and most alert and persistent of the economic motives proper. ...as regards the Western civilized communities ...it expresses itself in some form of conspicuous waste.
    • p.110
  • The need of conspicuous waste... stands ready to absorb any increase in the community's industrial efficiency or output of goods, after the most elementary physical wants have been provided for.
    • p.110
  • As increased industrial efficiency makes it possible to procure the means of livelihood with less labor, the energies of the industrious members of the community are bent to the compassing of a higher result in conspicuous expenditure, rather than slackened to a more comfortable pace. ...this want ...is indefinitely expansible, after the manner commonly imputed in economic theory to higher or spiritual wants. It is owing chiefly to... this... that J. S. Mill was able to say that "hitherto it is questionable if all the mechanical inventions yet made have lightened the day's toil of any human being."
    • p.111
  • The accepted standard of expenditure in the community or in the class to which a person belongs largely determines what his standard of living will be. It does this directly... but it does so also indirectly through popular insistence on conformity to the accepted scale of expenditure as a matter of propriety, under pain of disesteem and ostracism.
    • p.111
  • The domestic life of most classes is relatively shabby, as compared with the éclat of that overt portion of their life that is carried on before the eyes of observers. ...hence the exclusiveness of people, as regards their domestic life, in most of the industrially developed communities; and... the habit of privacy and reserve that is so large a feature in the code of proprieties of the better class in all communities.
    • p.112-113
  • People of scholarly pursuits are unavoidably thrown into contact with classes that are pecuniarily their superiors... there is no class of the community that spends a larger proportion of its substance in conspicuous waste than these.
    • p.113-114

Ch.6: Pecuniary Canons of TasteEdit

  • The principle of conspicuous waste guides the formation of habits of thought as to what is honest and reputable in life and in commodities. ...So the canon of honorific waste may, immediately or remotely, influence the sense of duty, the sense of beauty, the sense of utility, the sense of devotional or ritualistic fitness, and the scientific sense of truth.
    • p.116
  • In modern communities, where the dominant economic and legal feature of the community's life is the institution of private property, one of the salient features of the code of morals is the sacredness of property.
    • p.117
  • The thief or swindler who has gained great wealth by his delinquency has a better chance than the small thief of escaping the rigorous penalty of the law and some good repute accrues to him from his increased wealth and from his spending the irregularly acquired possessions in a seemly manner.
    • p.117
  • All that considerable body of morals that clusters about the concept of an inviolable ownership is itself a psychological precipitate of the traditional meritoriousness of wealth.
    • p.118
  • Obviously, the canon of conspicuous waste is accountable for a great portion of what may be called devout consumption; as, e.g., the consumption of sacred edifices, vestments, and other goods of the same class. ...Even in those modern cults ...sacred buildings and the other properties ...are constructed and decorated with some view to a reputable degree of wasteful expenditure.
    • p.119
  • The expensive splendor of the house of worship has an appreciable uplifting and mellowing effect upon the worshipper's frame of mind. ...any evidence of indigence or squalor about the sacred place affects all beholders.
    • p.119
  • It is felt by all men that a right and enlightened sense of the true, the beautiful, and the good demands that in all expenditure on the sanctuary anything that might serve the comfort of the worshipper should be conspicuously absent. If any element of comfort is admitted in the fittings of the sanctuary, it should be at least scrupulously screened and masked under an ostensible austerity.
    • p.120
  • There are few persons of delicate tastes, in the matter of devout consumption to whom... austerely wasteful discomfort does not appeal as intrinsically right and good.
    • p.120
  • Devout consumption is of the nature of vicarious consumption. This canon of devout austerity is based on the pecuniary reputability of conspicuously wasteful consumption, backed by the principle that vicarious consumption should conspicuously not conduce to the comfort of the vicarious consumer.
    • p.120-121
  • The sanctuary and the sacred apparatus are so contrived as not to enhance the comfort or fullness of life of the vicarious consumer, or at any rate not to convey the impression that the end of their consumption is the consumer's comfort. For the end of vicarious consumption is to enhance, not the fullness of life of the consumer, but the pecuniary repute of the master for whose behoof the consumption takes place. Therefore priestly vestments are notoriously expensive, ornate, and inconvenient; and in the cults where the priestly servitor of the divinity is not conceived to serve him in the capacity of consort, they are of an austere, comfortless fashion. And such it is felt that they should be.
    • p.121-122
  • Priestly demeanor at its best is aloof, leisurely, perfunctory, and uncontaminated with suggestions of sensuous pleasure. This holds true, in different degrees of course, for the different cults and denominations; but in the priestly life of all anthropomorphic cults the marks of a vicarious consumption of time are visible.
    • p.122
  • All ritual has a notable tendency to reduce itself to a rehearsal of formulas.
    • p.122
  • It is needless to point out the close analogy at this point between the priestly office and the office of the footman. It is pleasing to our sense of what is fitting... to recognize in the obvious perfunctoriness of the service that it is a pro forma execution only. There should be no show of agility or of dexterous manipulation in the execution of the priestly office, such as might suggest a capacity for turning off the work.
    • p.123
  • It appears that the canons of pecuniary reputability do... affect our notions of the attributes of divinity, as well as... of divine communion. It is felt that the divinity must be of a peculiarly serene and leisurely habit of life. And whenever his local habitation is pictured in poetic imagery... the devout word-painter, as a matter of course, brings out before his auditors' imagination a throne with a profusion of the insignia of opulence and power, and surrounded by a great number of servitors. ...the office of this corps of servants is a vicarious leisure, their time and efforts being in great measure taken up with an industrially unproductive rehearsal of the meritorious characteristics and exploits of the divinity; while the background of the presentation is filled with the shimmer of the precious metals and of the more expensive varieties of precious stones.
    • p.123-125
  • There is probably no cult in which ideals of pecuniary merit have not been called in to supplement the ideals of ceremonial adequacy that guide men's conception of what is right in the matter of sacred apparatus.
    • p.125
  • The priestly servitors of the divinity should not engage in industrially productive work... work of any kind—any employment which is of tangible human use—must not be carried on in the divine presence, or within the precincts of the sanctuary; that whoever comes into the presence should come cleansed of all profane industrial features in his apparel or person, and should come clad in garments of more than everyday expensiveness; that on holidays set apart in honor of or for communion with the divinity no work that is of human use should be performed by any one.
    • p.125-126
  • Canons of reputability have had a... more far-reaching... effect upon the popular sense of beauty or serviceability in consumable goods. ...Articles are ...felt to be serviceable somewhat in proportion as they are wasteful and ill adapted to their ostensible use. ...The utility of articles valued for their beauty depends closely upon the expensiveness of the articles.
    • p.126
  • The requirement of conspicuous wastefulness is not commonly present, consciously, in our canons of taste, but it is none the less present as a constraining norm selectively shaping and sustaining our sense of what is beautiful, and guiding our discrimination with respect to what may legitimately be approved as beautiful and what may not.
    • p.126
  • The superior gratification derived from the use and contemplation of costly and supposedly beautiful products is, commonly, in great measure a gratification of our sense of costliness masquerading under the name of beauty.
    • p.128
  • At this point, where the beautiful and the honorific meet and blend, that a discrimination between serviceability and wastefulness is most difficult in any concrete case. It frequently happens that an article which serves the honorific purpose of conspicuous waste is at the same time a beautiful object; and the same application of labor to which it owes its utility for the former purpose may, and often does, give beauty of form and color to the article.
    • p.128-129
  • Many objects, as... the precious stones and the metals and some other materials used for adornment and decoration, owe their utility as items of conspicuous waste to an antecedent utility as objects of beauty. Gold, for instance, has a high degree of sensuous beauty; very many if not most of the highly prized works of art are intrinsically beautiful, though often with material qualification; the like is true of some stuffs used for clothing, of some landscapes, and of many other things in less degree. ...But the utility of these things to the possessor is commonly due less to their intrinsic beauty than to the honor which their possession and consumption confers, or to the obloquy which it wards off.
    • p.129
  • There is... relatively little incentive to the exclusive possession and use of these beautiful things, except on the ground of their honorific character as items of conspicuous waste.
    • p.130
  • Even as regards personal ornaments it is to be added that their chief purpose is to lend éclat to the person of their wearer (or owner) by comparison with other persons who are compelled to do without.
    • p.130
  • The aesthetic serviceability of objects of beauty is not greatly nor universally heightened by possession.
    • p.130
  • Any valuable object in order to appeal to our sense of beauty must conform to the requirements of beauty and of expensiveness both. ...The marks of expensiveness come to be accepted as beautiful features of the expensive articles.
    • p.130
  • By further habituation to an appreciative perception of the marks of expensiveness in goods, and by habitually identifying beauty with reputability, it comes about that a beautiful article which is not expensive is accounted not beautiful. In this way... some beautiful flowers pass conventionally for offensive weeds; others that can be cultivated with relative ease are accepted and admired by the lower middle class... are rejected as vulgar by those people who are better able to pay for expensive flowers and who are educated to a higher schedule of pecuniary beauty in the florist's products
    • p.132
  • The close-cropped lawn is beautiful in the eyes of a people whose inherited bent it is to readily find pleasure in contemplating a well-preserved pasture or grazing land. ...Public parks of course fall in the same category with the lawn; they too, at their best, are imitations of the pasture. ..to the average popular apprehension a herd of cattle so pointedly suggests thrift and usefulness that their presence in the public pleasure ground would be intolerably cheap. This method of keeping grounds is comparatively inexpensive, therefore it is indecorous.
    • p.134-135
  • Private grounds... show the same physiognomy wherever they are in the management or ownership of persons whose tastes have been formed under middle-class habits of life or under the upper-class traditions of no later a date than the childhood of the generation that is now passing.
    • p.135
  • The taste of the more recent accessions to the leisure class proper and of the middle and lower classes still requires a pecuniary beauty to supplement the aesthetic beauty, even in those objects which are primarily admired for the beauty that belongs to them as natural growths.
    • p.138
  • A forest growth of oak, elm, beech, butternut, hemlock, basswood, and birch is cleared off to give room for saplings of soft maple, cottonwood, and brittle willow. It is felt that the inexpensiveness of leaving the forest trees standing would derogate from the dignity that should invest an article which is intended to serve a decorative and honorific end.
    • p.139
  • Barnyard fowl, hogs, cattle, sheep, goats, draught-horses. They are of the nature of productive goods, and serve a useful, often a lucrative end; therefore beauty is not readily imputed to them. The case is different with those domestic animals which ordinarily serve no industrial end; such as pigeons, parrots and other cage-birds, cats, dogs, and fast horses. These commonly are items of conspicuous consumption, and are therefore honorific in their nature and may legitimately be accounted beautiful.
    • p.139-140
  • Animals which merit particular attention are cats, dogs, and fast horses. The cat is less reputable than the other two just named, because she is less wasteful; she may even serve a useful end. At the same time the cat's temperament does not fit her for the honorific purpose. She lives with man on terms of equality, knows nothing of that relation of status which is the ancient basis of all distinctions of worth, honor, and repute, and she does not lend herself with facility to an invidious comparison between her owner and his neighbors. The exception to this last rule occurs in the case of such scarce and fanciful products as the Angora cat, which have some slight honorific value on the ground of expensiveness.
    • p.140-141
  • The dog has advantages in the way of uselessness as well as in special gifts of temperament. ...the dog is man's servant and that he has the gift of an unquestioning subservience and a slave's quickness in guessing his master's mood. ...the dog has some characteristics which are of a more equivocal aesthetic value. He is the filthiest of the domestic animals in his person and the nastiest in his habits. For this he makes up is a servile, fawning attitude towards his master, and a readiness to inflict damage and discomfort on all else. ...The dog is at the same time associated... with the chase—a meritorious employment and an expression of the honorable predatory impulse.
    • p.141
  • Even those varieties of the dog which have been bred into grotesque deformity by the dog-fancier are in good faith accounted beautiful by many. These varieties of dogs—and the like is true of other fancy-bred animals—are rated and graded in aesthetic value somewhat in proportion to the degree of grotesqueness and instability of the particular fashion which the deformity takes in the given case. For the purpose in hand, this differential utility... is reducible to terms of a greater scarcity and consequent expense. The commercial value of canine monstrosities, such as the prevailing styles of pet dogs both for men's and women's use, rests on their high cost of production, and their value to their owners lies chiefly in their utility as items of conspicuous consumption.
    • p.141-142
  • The case of the fast horse is much like that of the dog. He is on the whole expensive, or wasteful and useless—for the industrial purpose. What productive use he may possess... takes the form of exhibitions of force and facility of motion that gratify the popular aesthetic sense. ...The horse is not endowed with the spiritual aptitude for servile dependence in the same measure as the dog; but he ministers effectually to his master's impulse to convert the "animate" forces of the environment to his own use and discretion and so express his own dominating individuality through them.
    • p.142-143
  • The utility of the fast horse lies largely in his efficiency as a means of emulation; it gratifies the owner's sense of aggression and dominance to have his own horse outstrip his neighbor's. This use being not lucrative, but on the whole pretty consistently wasteful, and quite conspicuously so, it is honorific, and therefore gives the fast horse a strong presumptive position of reputability. Beyond this, the race-horse proper has also a similarly non-industrial but honorific use as a gambling instrument.
    • p.143
  • The requirements of beauty... are for the most part best satisfied by inexpensive contrivances and structures.
    • p.150
  • An auxiliary sense of taste is the sense of novelty... Hence it comes that most objects alleged to be beautiful... show considerable ingenuity of design and are calculated to puzzle the beholder—to bewilder him with irrelevant suggestions and hints of the improbable—at the same time that they give evidence of an expenditure of labor in excess of what would give them their fullest efficiency for their ostensible economic end. ...The result is quite as often a virtually complete suppression of all elements that would bear scrutiny as expressions of beauty, or of serviceability, and the substitution of evidences of misspent ingenuity and labor, backed by a conspicuous ineptitude; until many of the objects with which we surround ourselves in everyday life, and even many articles of everyday dress and ornament, are such as would not be tolerated except under the stress of prescriptive tradition.
    • p.152-153
  • The canon of beauty requires expression of the generic. The "novelty" due to the demands of conspicuous waste traverses this canon of beauty, in that it results in making the physiognomy of our objects of taste a congeries of idiosyncrasies... under the selective surveillance of the canon of expensiveness.
    • p.153
  • It would be extremely difficult to find a modern civilized residence or public building which can claim anything better than relative inoffensiveness in the eyes of anyone who will dissociate the elements of beauty from those of honorific waste. ...the dead walls of the sides and back of these structures, left untouched by the hands of the artist, are commonly the best feature of the building.
    • p.154
  • The consumption of expensive goods is meritorious, and the goods which contain an appreciable element of cost in excess of what goes to give them serviceability for their ostensible mechanical purpose are honorific.
    • p.154-155
  • Goods are humilific, and therefore unattractive, if they show too thrifty an adaptation to the mechanical end sought and do not include a margin of expensiveness on which to rest a complacent invidious comparison.
    • p.155
  • So thoroughly has the habit of approving the expensive and disapproving the inexpensive been ingrained into our thinking that we instinctively insist upon at least some measure of wasteful expensiveness in all our consumption, even in the case of goods which are consumed in strict privacy and without the slightest thought of display.
    • p.155-156
  • Any consumer who might, Diogenes-like, insist on the elimination of all honorific or wasteful elements from his consumption, would be unable to supply his most trivial wants in the modern market. Indeed, even if he resorted to supplying his wants directly by his own efforts... he could scarcely compass a supply of the necessaries of life for a day's consumption without instinctively and by oversight incorporating in his home-made product something of this honorific, quasi-decorative element of wasted labor.
    • p.157
  • In their selection of serviceable goods in the retail market purchasers are guided more by the finish and workmanship of the goods than by any marks of substantial serviceability. ...the conventional requirement of obvious costliness, as a voucher and a constituent of the serviceability of the goods, leads him to reject as under grade such goods as do not contain a large element of conspicuous waste.
    • p.157-158
  • No such evidence of skillful workmanship, or of ingenious and effective adaptation of means to an end, will... enjoy the approbation of the modern civilized consumer unless it has the sanction of the Canon of conspicuous waste.
    • p.158
  • Commonly, if not invariably, the honorific marks of hand labor are certain imperfections and irregularities in the lines of the hand-wrought article, showing where the workman has fallen short in the execution of the design. The ground of the superiority of hand-wrought goods, therefore, is a certain margin of crudeness.
    • p.159
  • The ceremonial inferiority or uncleanness in consumable goods due to "commonness," or... slight cost of production, has been taken very seriously by many persons. The objection to machine products is often formulated as an objection to the commonness of such goods. What is common is within the (pecuniary) reach of many people. Its consumption is therefore not honorific, since it does not serve the purpose of a favorable invidious comparison with other consumers. Hence... the sight of such goods, is inseparable from an odious suggestion of the lower levels of human life... a pervading sense of meanness that is extremely distasteful and depressing.
    • p.160-161
  • Not infrequently... the marks of cheapness or commonness are accepted as definitive marks of artistic unfitness, and a code or schedule of aesthetic proprieties... and of aesthetic abominations... is constructed on this basis for guidance in questions of taste.
    • p.161
  • Hence has arisen that exaltation of the defective, of which John Ruskin and William Morris were such eager spokesmen in their time; and on this ground their propaganda of crudity and wasted effort has been taken up... And hence also the propaganda for a return to handicraft and household industry. So much of the work and speculations of this group of men... would have been impossible at a time when the visibly more perfect goods were not the cheaper.
    • p.162
  • It is of course only as to the economic value of this school of aesthetic teaching that anything is intended to be said or can be said here. What is said is not to be taken in the sense of depreciation, but chiefly as a characterization of the tendency of this teaching in its effect on consumption and on the production of consumable goods.
    • p.162
  • The law of conspicuous waste... acts selectively to eliminate any canon of taste that does not conform to its demands. ...The product, if it is beautiful, must also at the same time be costly and ill adapted to its ostensible use. This mandatory canon of taste... is not shaped entirely by the law of waste in its first form; the canon is to some extent shaped in conformity to that secondary expression of the predatory temperament, veneration for the archaic or obsolete, which in one of its special developments is called classicism.
    • p.164-165
  • In aesthetic theory it might be extremely difficult, if not quite impracticable, to draw a line between the canon of classicism, or regard for the archaic, and the canon of beauty.
    • p.165
  • The position of machine products in the civilized scheme of consumption serves to point out the nature of the relation which subsists between the canon of conspicuous waste and the code of proprieties in consumption. Neither in matters of art and taste proper, nor as regards the current sense of the serviceability of goods, does this canon act as a principle of innovation or initiative. ...The principle... is... a negative rather than a positive law. It is a regulative rather than a creative principle. ...It acts to conserve the fit, not to originate the acceptable.
    • p.166

Ch.7: Dress as an Expression of the Pecuniary CultureEdit

  • Our apparel is always in evidence and affords an indication of our pecuniary standing to all observers at the first glance.
    • p.167
  • Expenditure for display is more obviously present, and is, perhaps, more universally practiced in the matter of dress than in any other line of consumption.
    • p.167
  • The greater part of the expenditure incurred by all classes for apparel is incurred for the sake of a respectable appearance rather than for the protection of the person.
    • p.167-168
  • Probably at no other point is the sense of shabbiness so keenly felt as it is if we fall short of the standard set by social usage in this matter of dress.
    • p.168
  • It is true of dress in even a higher degree than of most other items of consumption, that people will undergo a very considerable degree of privation in the comforts or the necessaries of life in order to afford what is considered a decent amount of wasteful consumption; so that it is by no means an uncommon occurrence, in an inclement climate, for people to go ill clad in order to appear well dressed.
    • p.168
  • The commercial value of the goods used for clothing in any modern community is made up to a much larger extent of the fashionableness, the reputability of the goods, than of the mechanical service which they render in clothing the person of the wearer. The need of dress is eminently a "higher" or spiritual need.
    • p.168
  • The requirement of expensiveness is so ingrained into our habits of thought in matters of dress that any other than expensive apparel is instinctively odious to us.
    • p.168-169
  • Without reflection or analysis, we feel that what is inexpensive is unworthy. "A cheap coat makes a cheap man."
    • p.169
  • On the ground both of taste and of serviceability, an inexpensive article of apparel is held to be inferior, under the maxim "cheap and nasty." We find things beautiful, as well as serviceable, somewhat in proportion as they are costly.
    • p.169
  • The aesthetic value of a detected counterfeit in dress declines somewhat in the same proportion as the counterfeit is cheaper than its original. It loses caste aesthetically because it falls to a lower pecuniary grade.
    • p.169
  • If, in addition to showing that the wearer can afford to consume freely and uneconomically, it can also be shown in the same stroke that he or she is not under the necessity of earning a livelihood, the evidence of social worth is enhanced in a very considerable degree. Our dress, therefore... should not only he expensive, but it should also make plain to all observers that the wearer is not engaged in any kind of productive labor.
    • p.170
  • No apparel can be considered elegant, or even decent, if it shows the effect of manual labor on the part of the wearer, in the way of soil or wear. The pleasing effect of neat and spotless garments is chiefly, if not altogether, due to their carrying the suggestion of leisure—exemption from personal contact with industrial processes of any kind.
    • p.170
  • The wearer cannot when so attired bear a hand in any employment that is directly and immediately of any human use. Elegant dress serves its purpose of elegance... because it is the insignia of leisure. It not only shows that the wearer is able to consume a relatively large value, but it argues at the same time that he consumes without producing.
    • p.171
  • The dress of women goes even farther than that of men in the way of demonstrating the wearer's abstinence from productive employment. ...feminine bonnets go even farther towards making work impossible than does the man's high hat. The woman's shoe adds the so-called French [high] heel... obviously makes any, even the simplest and most necessary manual work extremely difficult. ...The substantial reason for our tenacious attachment to the skirt is just this; it is expensive and it hampers the wearer at every turn and incapacitates her for all useful exertion.
    • p.171
  • The corset is, in economic theory, substantially a mutilation, undergone for the purpose of lowering the subject's vitality and rendering her permanently and obviously unfit for work.
    • p.172
  • We have, as the great and dominant norm of dress, the broad principle of conspicuous waste. Subsidiary to this principle, and as a corollary under it, we get as a second norm the principle of conspicuous leisure. ...Beyond these two principles there is a third of scarcely less constraining force... Dress must not only be conspicuously expensive and inconvenient, it must at the same time be up to date. ...This principle of novelty is another corollary under the law of conspicuous waste. ...If none of last season's apparel is carried over and made further use of during the present season, the wasteful expenditure on dress is greatly increased. ...any change in the fashions must conform to the requirement of wastefulness.
    • p.172-173
  • For a creative principle, capable of serving as motive to invention and innovation in fashions, we shall have to go back to the primitive, non-economic motive with which apparel originated—the motive of adornment. ...The changing styles are the expression of a restless search for something which shall commend itself to our aesthetic sense; but as each innovation is subject to the selective action of the norm of conspicuous waste, the range within which innovation can take place is somewhat restricted.
    • p.173-174
  • We might naturally expect that the fashions should show a well-marked trend in the direction of some one or more types of apparel eminently becoming to the human form; and we might even feel that we have substantial ground for the hope that today, after all the ingenuity and effort which have been spent on dress these many years, the fashions should have achieved a relative perfection and a relative stability, closely approximating to a permanently tenable artistic ideal. But such is not the case. ...the assertion freely goes uncontradicted that styles in vogue two thousand years ago are more becoming than the most elaborate and painstaking constructions of today.
    • p.174-175
  • Relatively stable styles and types of costume have been worked out in various parts of the world; as, for instance, among the Japanese, Chinese, and other Oriental nations; likewise among the Greeks, Romans, and other Eastern peoples of antiquity so also, in later times, among the peasants of nearly every country of Europe. ...usually, less obviously wasteful; that is to say, other elements than that of a display of expense are more readily detected in their structure. ...The countries and classes which have in this way worked out stable and artistic costumes have been so placed that the pecuniary emulation among them has taken the direction of a competition in conspicuous leisure rather than in conspicuous consumption of goods.
    • p.175-176
  • Fashions are least stable and least becoming in those communities where the principle of a conspicuous waste of goods asserts itself most imperatively, as among ourselves.
    • p.176
  • The norm of conspicuous waste is incompatible with the requirement that dress should be beautiful or becoming. And this antagonism offers an explanation of that restless change in fashion which neither the canon of expensiveness nor that of beauty alone can account for.
    • p.176
  • All wastefulness is offensive to native taste. The psychological law has already been pointed out that all menand women perhaps even in a higher degree—abhor futility, whether of effort or of expenditure... But the principle of conspicuous waste requires an obviously futile expenditure; and the resulting conspicuous expensiveness of dress is therefore intrinsically ugly.
    • p.176
  • In all innovations in dress... the requirement of conspicuous waste prevents the purposefulness of these innovations from becoming anything more than a somewhat transparent pretense.
    • p.176-177
  • The only remedy which the law of waste allows us is to seek relief in some new construction, equally futile and equally untenable. Hence the essential ugliness and the unceasing change of fashionable attire.
    • p.177
  • So long as it is a novelty, people very generally find the new style attractive. The prevailing fashion is felt to be beautiful. This is due partly to the relief it affords in being different... partly to its being reputable. ...The canon of reputability to some extent shapes our tastes, so that under its guidance anything will be accepted as becoming until its novelty wears off, or until the warrant of reputability is transferred to a new and novel structure serving the same general purpose.
    • p.177-178
  • That the alleged beauty, or "loveliness," of the styles in vogue at any given time is transient and spurious only is attested by the fact that none of the many shifting fashions will bear the test of time. When seen in the perspective of half-a-dozen years or more, the best of our fashions strike us as grotesque, if not unsightly.
    • p.178
  • The process of developing an aesthetic nausea takes more or less time; the length of time required in any given case being inversely as the degree of intrinsic odiousness of the style in question. ...the more rapidly the styles succeed and displace one another, the more offensive they are to sound taste.
    • p.178
  • The farther the community, especially the wealthy classes of the community, develop in wealth and mobility and in the range of their human contact, the more imperatively will the law of conspicuous waste assert itself in matters of dress, the more will the sense of beauty tend to fall into abeyance or be overborne by the canon of pecuniary reputability, the more rapidly will fashions shift and change, and the more grotesque and intolerable will be the varying styles that successively come into vogue.
    • p.178
  • Propriety requires respectable women to abstain more consistently from useful effort and to make more of a show of leisure than the men of the same social classes. ...Her sphere is within the household, which she should "beautify," and of which she should be the "chief ornament." The male head of the household is not currently spoken of as its ornament. ...attention to conspicuous waste of substance and effort should normally be the sole economic function of the woman.
    • p.179-180
  • Women have been required not only to afford evidence of a life of leisure, but even to disable themselves for useful activity. ...the high heel, the skirt, the impracticable bonnet, the corset... are so many items of evidence to the effect that... the woman is still, in theory, the economic dependent of the man—that, perhaps in a highly idealized sense, she still is the man's chattel. The homely reason for all this conspicuous leisure and attire on the part of women lies in the fact that they are servants to whom, in the differentiation of economic functions, has been delegated the office of putting in evidence their master's ability to pay.
    • p.181
  • Besides servants... there is at least one other class of persons whose garb assimilates them to the class of servants and shows many of the features that go to make up the womanliness of woman's dress. This is the priestly class. Priestly vestments show, in accentuated form, all the features that have been shown to be evidence of a servile status and a vicarious life. Even more strikingly than the everyday habit of the priest, the vestments, properly so called, are ornate, grotesque, inconvenient, and, at least ostensibly, comfortless to the point of distress. The priest is at the same time expected to refrain from useful effort and, when before the public eye, to present an impassively disconsolate countenance, very much after the manner of a well-trained domestic servant.
    • p.182
  • In economic theory, the priest is a body servant, constructively in attendance upon the person of the divinity whose livery he wears. His livery is of a very expensive character, as it should be in order to set forth in a beseeming manner the dignity of his exalted master; but it is contrived to show that the wearing of it contributes little or nothing to the physical comfort of the wearer, for it is an item of vicarious consumption, and the repute which accrues from its consumption is to be imputed to the absent master, not to the servant.
    • p.182-183
  • The line of demarcation between the dress of women, priests, and servants... and of men, on the other hand, is always present in a more or less definite way in the popular habits of thought.
    • p.183
  • During the past one hundred years there is a tendency perceptible, in the development of men's dress especially, to discontinue methods of expenditure and the use of symbols of leisure which must have been irksome... the continuation of which among the upper classes today would be a work of supererogation; as, for instance, the use of powdered wigs and of gold lace, and the practice of constantly shaving the face. There has of late years been some slight recrudescence of the shaven face in polite society, but this is probably a transient and unadvised mimicry of the fashion imposed upon body servants, and it may fairly be expected to go the way of the powdered wig of our grandfathers.
    • p.186
  • These indices and others which resemble them in point of the boldness with which they point out to all observers the habitual uselessness of those persons who employ them, have been replaced by other, more dedicate methods of expressing the same fact; methods which are no less evident to the trained eyes of that smaller, select circle whose good opinion is chiefly sought. ...As the community advances in wealth and culture, the ability to pay is put in evidence by means which require a progressively nicer discrimination in the beholder. This nicer discrimination between advertising media is in fact a very large element of the higher pecuniary culture.
    • p.187

Ch.8: Industrial Exemption and ConservatismEdit

  • The evolution of social structure has been a process of natural selection of institutions.
    • p.188
  • Institutions are not only themselves the result of a selective and adaptive process which shapes the prevailing or dominant types of spiritual attitude and aptitudes; they are at the same time special methods of life and of human relations, and are therefore in their turn efficient factors of selection.
    • p.188
  • Changing institutions in their turn make for a further selection of individuals endowed with the fittest temperament, and a further adaptation of individual temperament and habits to the changing environment through the formation of new institutions.
    • p.188
  • There is... a variation due to adaptation in detail within the range of the type, and to selection between specific habitual views regarding any given social relation or group of relations.
    • p.189-190
  • The development of... institutions is the development of society. The institutions... may, on the psychological side, be broadly characterized as a prevalent spiritual attitude or a prevalent theory of life. As regards its generic features, this... is in the last analysis reducible to terms of a prevalent type of character.
    • p.190
  • Institutions are products of the past process, are adapted to past circumstances, and are therefore never in full accord with the requirements of the present.
    • p.191
  • Each successive situation of the community in its turn tends to obsolescence as soon as it has been established. When a step in the development has been taken, this step itself constitutes a change of situation which requires a new adaptation; it becomes the point of departure for a new step in the adjustment, and so on interminably.
    • p.191
  • Men's present habits of thought tend to persist indefinitely, except as circumstances enforce a change. These institutions... these habits of thought, points of view, mental attitudes and aptitudes, or what not, are therefore themselves a conservative factor. This is the factor of social inertia, psychological inertia, conservatism.
    • p.191
  • Social structure changes, develops, adapts itself to an altered situation, only through a change in the habits of thought of the several classes of the community, or in the last analysis, through... the individuals which make up the community.
    • p.192
  • The evolution of society is substantially a process of mental adaptation on the part of individuals under the stress of circumstances which will no longer tolerate habits of thought formed under and conforming to a different set of circumstances in the past.
    • p.192
  • Social advance, especially as seen from the point of view of economic theory, consists in a continued progressive approach to an approximately exact "adjustment of inner relations to outer relations", but this adjustment is never definitively established, since the "outer relations" are subject to constant change as a consequence of the progressive change going on in the "inner relations."
    • p.192
  • If any portion or class of society is sheltered from the action of the environment in any essential respect, that portion of the community, or that class, will adapt its views and its scheme of life more tardily to the altered general situation; it will in so far tend to retard the process of social transformation. The wealthy leisure class is in such a sheltered position with respect to the economic forces that make for change and readjustment.
    • p.193
  • The forces which make for a readjustment of institutions, especially in the case of a modern industrial community, are, in the last analysis, almost entirely of an economic nature.
    • p.193
  • Under the altered conditions of population, skill, and knowledge, the facility of life as carried on according to the traditional scheme may not be lower than under the earlier conditions; but the chances are always that it is less than might be if the scheme were altered to suit the altered conditions.
    • p.194
  • Altered conditions may increase the facility of life for the group as a whole, but the redistribution will usually result in a decrease of facility or fullness of life for some members of the group.
    • p.195
  • The means through which a change is wrought in men's apprehension of what is good and right is in large part the pressure of pecuniary exigencies.
    • p.196
  • Any change in men's views as to what is good and right in human life make its way but tardily at the best. Especially is this true of any change in the direction of what is called progress; that is to say, in the direction of divergence from the archaic position—from the position which may be accounted the point of departure at any step in the social evolution of the community.
    • p.196
  • Retrogression, reapproach to a standpoint to which the race has been long habituated in the past, is easier.
    • p.196
  • The cultural stage which lies immediately back of the present in the life history of Western civilization is what has here been called the quasi-peaceable stage. At this quasi-peaceable stage the law of status is the dominant feature in the scheme of life. There is no need of pointing out how prone the men of today are to revert to the spiritual attitude of mastery and of personal subservience which characterizes that stage.
    • p.196
  • When individuals, or even considerable groups of men, are segregated from a higher industrial culture and exposed to a lower cultural environment, or to an economic situation of a more primitive character, they quickly show evidence of reversion toward the spiritual features which characterize the predatory type; and it seems probable that the dolicho-blond type of European man is possessed of a greater facility for such reversion to barbarism than the other ethnic elements with which that type is associated in the Western culture.
    • p.197
  • The office of the leisure class in social evolution is to retard the movement and to conserve what is obsolescent. This proposition is by no means novel; it has long been one of the commonplaces of popular opinion.
    • p.198
  • The opposition of the class to changes in the cultural scheme is instinctive, and does not rest primarily on an interested calculation of material advantages; it is an instinctive revulsion at any departure from the accepted way of doing and of looking at things—a revulsion common to all men and only to be overcome by stress of circumstances.
    • p.199
  • The members of the wealthy class do not yield to the demand for innovation as readily as other men because they are not constrained to do so.
    • p.199
  • This conservatism of the wealthy class is so obvious a feature that it has even come to be recognized as a mark of respectability. ...it has acquired a certain honorific or decorative value. It has become prescriptive to such an extent that an adherence to conservative views is comprised as a matter of course in our notions of respectability; and it is imperatively incumbent on all who would lead a blameless life in point of social repute.
    • p.199-200
  • Conservatism, being an upper-class characteristic, is decorous; and conversely, innovation, being a lower-class phenomenon, is vulgar. ...Innovation is bad form.
    • p.200
  • The fact that the usages, actions, and views of the well-to-do leisure class acquire the character of a prescriptive canon of conduct for the rest of society, gives added weight and reach to the conservative influence of that class. It makes it incumbent upon all reputable people to follow their lead.
    • p.200
  • By virtue of its high position as the avatar of good form, the wealthier class comes to exert a retarding influence upon social development far in excess of that which the simple numerical strength of the class would assign it.
    • p.200
  • The code of proprieties, conventionalities, and usages in vogue at any given time and among any given people has more or less of the character of an organic whole; so that any appreciable change in one point of the scheme involves something of a change or readjustment at other points also, if not a reorganization all along the line. When a change is made which immediately touches only a minor point in the scheme, the consequent derangement of the structure of conventionalities may be inconspicuous; but even in such a case it is safe to say that some derangement of the general scheme, more or less far-reaching, will follow.
    • p.201
  • When an attempted reform involves the suppression or thorough-going remodeling of an institution of first-rate importance in the conventional scheme, it is immediately felt that a serious derangement of the entire scheme would result... that a readjustment of the structure to the new form taken on by one of its chief elements would be a painful and tedious, if not a doubtful process.
    • p.201
  • The suppression of the monogamic family, or of the agnatic system of consanguinity, or of private property, or of the theistic faith, in any country of the Western civilization; or suppose the suppression of ancestor worship in China, or of the caste system in india, or of slavery in Africa, or the establishment of equality of the sexes in Mohammedan countries... The aversion to any such innovation amounts to a shrinking from an essentially alien scheme of life.
    • p.202
  • It is not unusual to hear those persons who dispense salutary advice and admonition to the community express themselves forcibly upon the far-reaching pernicious effects which the community would suffer from such relatively slight changes as the disestablishment of the Anglican Church, an increased facility of divorce, adoption of female suffrage, prohibition of the manufacture and sale of intoxicating beverages, abolition or restriction of inheritances, etc. Any one of these innovations would, we are told, "shake the social structure to its base," "reduce society to chaos," "subvert the foundations of morality," "make life intolerable," "confound the order of nature," etc.
    • p.202-203
  • The aversion to change is in large part an aversion to the bother of making the readjustment which any given change will necessitate; and this solidarity of the system of institutions of any given culture or of any given people strengthens the instinctive resistance offered to any change in men's habits of thought, even in matters which, taken by themselves, are of minor importance.
    • p.203
  • The process of readjustment of the accepted theory of life involves a degree of mental effort—a more or less protracted and laborious effort to find and to keep one's bearings under the altered circumstances. This process requires... some surplus of energy beyond that absorbed in the daily struggle for subsistence.
    • p.203-204
  • The abjectly poor, and all those persons whose energies are entirely absorbed by the struggle for daily sustenance, are conservative because they cannot afford the effort of taking thought for the day after tomorrow; just as the highly prosperous are conservative because they have small occasion to be discontented with the situation as it stands today.
    • p.204
  • The institution of a leisure class acts to make the lower classes conservative by withdrawing from them as much as it may of the means of sustenance, and so reducing their consumption, and consequently their available energy, to such a point as to make them incapable of the effort required for the learning and adoption of new habits of thought.
    • p.204
  • The accumulation of wealth at the upper end of the pecuniary scale implies privation at the lower end of the scale. It is a commonplace that, wherever it occurs, a considerable degree of privation among the body of the people is a serious obstacle to any innovation.
    • p.204
  • Under the circumstances prevailing at any given time this [leisure] class is in a privileged position, and any departure from the existing order may be expected to work to the detriment of the class rather than the reverse. The attitude of the class... should therefore be to let well-enough alone. This interested motive comes in to supplement the strong instinctive bias of the class, and so to render it even more consistently conservative than it otherwise would be.
    • p.206
  • There may be truth in the view (as a question of policy) so often expressed by the spokesmen of the conservative element, that without some such substantial and consistent resistance to innovation as is offered by the conservative well-to-do classes, social innovation and experiment would hurry the community into untenable and intolerable situations; the only possible result of which would be discontent and disastrous reaction. All this, however, is beside the present argument.
    • p.206
  • The leisure class, in the nature of things, consistently acts to retard that adjustment to the environment which is called social advance or development. The characteristic attitude of the class may be summed up in the maxim: "Whatever is, is right" whereas the law of natural selection, as applied to human institutions, gives the axiom: "Whatever is, is wrong."
    • p.206-207
  • "Right" and "wrong" are of course here used without conveying any rejection as to what ought or ought not to be. They are applied simply from the (morally colorless) evolutionary standpoint, and are intended to designate compatibility or incompatibility with the effective evolutionary process.
    • p.207
  • The institution of a leisure class, by force or class interest and instinct, and by precept and prescriptive example, makes for the perpetuation of the existing maladjustment of institutions, and even favors a reversion to a somewhat more archaic scheme of life; a scheme which would be still farther out of adjustment with the exigencies of life under the existing situation even than the accredited, obsolescent scheme that has come down from the immediate past.
    • p.207
  • The relation of the leisure (that is, propertied non-industrial) class to the economic process is a pecuniary relation—a relation of acquisition, not of production; of exploitation, not of serviceability. ...Their office is of a parasitic character, and their interest is to divert what substance they may to their own use, and to retain whatever is under their hand.
    • p.209
  • The conventions of the business world have grown up under the selective surveillance of this principle of predation or parasitism. They are conventions of ownership; derivatives, more or less remote, of the ancient predatory culture. But these pecuniary institutions do not entirely fit the situation of today... there is a more or less consistent trend in the leisure-class guidance of institutional growth, answering to the pecuniary ends which shape leisure-class economic life. ...The community's institutional furniture... is of immediate consequence only to the propertied classes, and in proportion as they are propertied; that is to say, in proportion as they are to be ranked with the leisure class.
    • p.209-210
  • The ameliorations wrought in favor of the pecuniary interest in modern institutions tend... to substitute the "soulless" joint-stock corporation for the captain, and so they make also for the dispensability, of the great leisure-class function of ownership.
    • p.211

Ch.9: The Conservation of Archaic TraitsEdit

  • The institution of a leisure class has an effect not only upon social structure but also upon the individual character of the members of society. ...This effect is wrought partly by a coercive, educational adaptation of the habits of all individuals, partly by a selective elimination of the unfit individuals and lines of descent. Such human material as does not lend itself to the methods of life imposed by the accepted scheme suffers more or less elimination as well as repression.
    • p.212
  • The proximate tendency of the institution of a leisure class in shaping human character runs in the direction of spiritual survival and reversion. Its effect upon the temper of a community is of the nature of an arrested spiritual development.
    • p.213
  • Men tend to revert or to breed true, more or less closely, to one or another of certain types of human nature that have in their main features been fixed in approximate conformity to a situation in the past which differed from the situation of today.
    • p.213-214
  • There are several of these relatively stable ethnic types of mankind comprised in the populations of the Western culture. ...The man of our industrial communities tends to breed true to one or the other of three main ethic types; the dolichocephalic-blond, the brachycephalic-brunette, and the Mediterranean—disregarding minor and outlying elements of our culture. But within each of these main ethnic types the reversion tends to one or the other of at least two main directions of variation; the peaceable or antepredatory variant and the predatory variant.
    • p.214-215
  • The human nature inherited by modern Occidental man is not nearly uniform in respect of the range or the relative strength of the various aptitudes and propensities which go to make it up. The man of the hereditary present is slightly archaic as judged for the purposes of the latest exigencies of associated life. And the type to which the modern man chiefly tends to revert under the law of variation is a somewhat more archaic human nature. On the other hand, to judge by the reversional traits which show themselves in individuals that vary from the prevailing predatory style of temperament, the ante-predatory variant seems to have a greater stability and greater symmetry in the distribution or relative force of its temperamental elements.
    • p.216
  • These ethnic types differ in temperament in a way somewhat similar to the difference between the predatory and the antepredatory variants of the types; the dolicho-blond type showing more of the characteristics of the predatory temperament—or at least more of the violent disposition—than the brachycephalic-brunette type, and especially more than the Mediterranean.
    • p.217
  • The predatory temperament does not lead itself to all the purposes of modern life, and more especially not to modern industry.
    • p.218
  • The conditions under which men lived in the most primitive stages of associated life that can properly be called human, seem to have been of a peaceful kind; and the character—the temperament and spiritual attitude of men under these early conditions or environment and institutions seems to have been of a peaceful and unaggressive, not to say an indolent, cast. For the immediate purpose this peaceable cultural stage may be taken to mark the initial phase of social development. ...evidence of its existence is to be found in psychological survivals, in the way of persistent and pervading traits of human character.
    • p.219-220
  • On the transition to the predatory culture the character of the struggle for existence changed in some degree from a struggle of the group against a non-human environment to a struggle against a human environment. ...This change was accompanied by an increasing antagonism and consciousness of antagonism between the individual members of the group. ...Among these archaic traits that are to be regarded as survivals from the peaceable cultural phase, are that instinct of race solidarity which we call conscience, including the sense of truthfulness and equity, and the instinct of workmanship, in its naive, non-invidious expression.
    • p.220
  • Peaceable traits are in great part alien to the methods and the animus of barbarian life. The salient characteristic of the barbarian culture is an unremitting emulation and antagonism between classes and between individuals. ...Where life is largely a struggle between individuals within the group, the possession of the ancient peaceable traits in a marked degree would hamper an individual in the struggle for life.
    • p.222
  • Freedom from scruple, from sympathy, honesty and regard for life, may, within fairly wide limits, be said to further the success of the individual in the pecuniary culture. The highly successful men of all times have commonly been of this type; except those whose success has not been scored in terms of either wealth or power.
    • p.223
  • It is only within narrow limits, and then only in a Pickwickian sense, that honesty is the best policy.
    • p.223
  • As seen from the point of view of life under modern civilized conditions in an enlightened community of the Western culture, the primitive, ante-predatory savage... was not a great success. ...this primitive man has quite as many and as conspicuous economic failings as he has economic virtues—as should be plain to any one whose sense of the case is not biased by leniency born of a fellow-feeling. At his best he is "a clever, good-for-nothing fellow." The shortcomings of this presumptively primitive type of character are weakness, inefficiency, lack of initiative and ingenuity, and a yielding and indolent amiability, together with a lively but inconsequential animistic sense. Along with these traits go certain others which have some value for the collective life process, in the sense that they further the facility of life in the group. These traits are truthfulness, peaceableness, good-will, and a non-emulative, non-invidious interest in men and things.
    • p.223-224
  • The traits which characterize the predatory and subsequent stages of culture, and which indicate the types of man best fitted to survive under the regime of status, are (in their primary expression) ferocity, self-seeking, clannishness, and disingenuousness—a free resort to force and fraud.
    • p.225
  • The earlier—acquired, more generic habits of the race have never ceased to have some usefulness for the purpose of the life of the collectivity and have never fallen into definitive abeyance.
    • p.225
  • The success of a class or party presumes a strong element of clannishness, or loyalty to a chief, or adherence to a tenet; whereas the competitive individual can best achieve his ends if he combines the barbarian's energy, initiative, self-seeking and disingenuousness with the savage's lack of loyalty or clannishness.
    • p.226
  • In their corporate capacity, these advanced industrial communities are ceasing to be competitors for the means of life or for the right to live—except in so far as the predatory propensities of their ruling classes keep up the tradition of war and rapine. ...No one of them any longer has any material interest in getting the better of any other. The same is not true in the same degree as regards individuals and their relations to one another.
    • p.226-227
  • Under the regime of emulation the members of a modern industrial community are rivals, each of whom will best attain his individual and immediate advantage if, through an exceptional exemption from scruple, he is able serenely to overreach and injure his fellows when the chance offers.
    • p.228-229
  • Modern economic institutions fall into two roughly distinct categories—the pecuniary and the industrial. The like is true of employments. Under the former head are employments that have to do with ownership or acquisition; under the latter head, those that have to do with workmanship or production. As was found in speaking of the growth of institutions, so with regard to employments. The economic interests of the leisure class lie in the pecuniary employments; those of the working classes lie in both classes of employments, but chiefly in the industrial.
    • p.229
  • Entrance to the leisure class lies through the pecuniary employments. ..The discipline of the pecuniary employments acts to conserve and to cultivate certain of the predatory aptitudes and the predatory animus. ...the pecuniary employments give proficiency in the general line of practices comprised under fraud, rather than in those that belong under the more archaic method of forcible seizure.
    • p.229-230
  • Pecuniary employments, tending to conserve the predatory temperament, are the employments which have to do with ownership—the immediate function of the leisure class proper—and the subsidiary functions concerned with acquisition and accumulation.
    • p.230
  • The captain of industry is an astute man rather than an ingenious one, and his captaincy is a pecuniary rather than an industrial captaincy. Such administration of industry as he exercises is commonly of a permissive kind. The mechanically effective details of production and of industrial organization are delegated to subordinates of a less "practical" turn of mind—men who are possessed of a gift for workmanship rather than administrative ability.
    • p.230
  • So far as regards their tendency in shaping human nature by education and selection, the common run of non-economic employments are to be classed with the pecuniary employments. Such are politics and ecclesiastical and military employments.
    • p.230-231
  • Employments fall into a hierarchical gradation of reputability. Those which have to do immediately with ownership on a large scale are the most reputable of economic employments proper. Next to these in good repute come those employments that are immediately subservient to ownership and financiering—such as banking and the law.
    • p.231
  • The profession of the law does not imply large ownership; but since no taint of usefulness, for other than the competitive purpose, attaches to the lawyer's trade, it grades high in the conventional scheme. The lawyer is exclusively occupied with the details of predatory fraud, either in achieving or in checkmating chicanery, and success in the profession is therefore accepted as marking a large endowment of that barbarian astuteness which has always commanded men's respect and fear.
    • p.231
  • Mercantile pursuits are only half-way reputable, unless they involve a large element of ownership and a small element of usefulness.
    • p.231-232
  • Manual labor, or even the work of directing mechanical processes, is of course on a precarious footing as regards respectability.
    • p.232
  • As regards those individuals or classes who are immediately occupied with the technique and manual operations of production... So far as concerns this portion of the population, the educative and selective action of the industrial process with which they are immediately in contact acts to adapt their habits of thought to the non-invidious purposes of the collective life. For them, therefore, it hastens the obsolescence of the distinctively predatory aptitudes and propensities carried over by heredity and tradition from the barbarian past of the race. But... are nearly all to some extent also concerned with matters of pecuniary competition (as, for instance, in the competitive fixing of wages and salaries, in the purchase of goods for consumption, etc.). Therefore the distinction here made between classes of employments is by no means a hard and fast distinction between classes of persons.
    • p.232-233
  • So soon as a case of reversion to non-predatory human nature shows itself on these upper levels, it is commonly weeded out and thrown back to the lower pecuniary levels. In order to hold its place in the class, a stock must have the pecuniary temperament; otherwise its fortune would be dissipated and it would presently lose caste.
    • p.235
  • In the early barbarian, or predatory stage proper, the test of fitness was prowess, in the naive sense of the word. To gain entrance to the class, the candidate had to be gifted with clannishness, massiveness, ferocity, unscrupulousness, and tenacity of purpose. These were the qualities that counted toward the accumulation and continued tenure of wealth.
    • p.236
  • The dominant traits of the early barbarian leisure class were bold aggression, an alert sense of status, and a free resort to fraud.
    • p.236
  • In the later barbarian culture society attained settled methods of acquisition and possession under the quasi-peaceable regime of status. Simple aggression and unrestrained violence in great measure gave place to shrewd practice and chicanery, as the best approved method of accumulating wealth.
    • p.236
  • Masterful aggression, and the correlative massiveness, together with a ruthlessly consistent sense of status, would still count among the most splendid traits of the class. These have remained in our traditions as the typical "aristocratic virtues." But with these were associated an increasing complement of the less obtrusive pecuniary virtues; such as providence, prudence, and chicanery. As time has gone on, and the modern peaceable stage of pecuniary culture has been approached, the last-named range of aptitudes and habits has gained in relative effectiveness for pecuniary ends, and they have counted for relatively more in the selective process under which admission is gained and place is held in the leisure class. ...What remains of the predatory barbarian traits is the tenacity of purpose or consistency of aim which distinguished the successful predatory barbarian from the peaceable savage whom he supplanted.
    • p.236
  • In point of natural endowment the pecuniary man compares with the delinquent in much the same way as the industrial man compares with the good-natured shiftless dependent. The ideal pecuniary man is like the ideal delinquent in his unscrupulous conversion of goods and persons to his own ends, and in a callous disregard of the feelings and wishes of others and of the remoter effects of his actions; but he is unlike him in possessing a keener sense of status, and in working more consistently and farsightedly to a remoter end.
    • p.237-238

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