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  1. The Person
  3. Veblen drew a fine self-portrait in an essay entitled, "The Intellectual Pre-eminence of Jews in Modern Europe," which he wrote toward the end of hiscareer. He says there that the Jewish man of ideas is saved from being intel-lectually passive "at the cost of losing his secure place in the scheme of con-ventions into which he has been born and . . . of finding no similarly secureplace in the scheme of gentile conventions into which he is thrown." As aconsequence, "he becomes a disturber of the intellectual peace, but at the costof becoming an intellectual wayfaring man, a wanderer in the intellectual no-man's-land, seeking another place to rest, farther along the road, somewhereover the horizon. [Such Jews] are neither a complaisant nor a contented lot,these aliens of the uneasy feet." Nothing could better characterize Veblen'sown life. Intentionally or not, he summed up in this passage the price andthe glory of his career.
  4. A Marginal Norwegian
  6. Thorstein Veblen was born on a frontier farm in Wisconsin on July 30,1857. He was a son of the Middle Border that produced in his generationLester Ward, Frederick Jackson Turner, Vernon Parrington, and CharlesBeard, all men who, like himself, were to mount an assault against the re-ceived wisdom of the intellectual establishment of the East. But unlike theseother men, Veblen was almost as much a stranger to the culture of the Mid-west as he was to that of the East.
  8. Veblen was the sixth of twelve children of Norwegian immigrants, his par-ents, Thomas Anderson Veblen and Kari Bunde Veblen, having come to Americaten years before his birth. They were of old Norwegian peasant stock, but hadhad a very hard time as children of tenant farmers in the old country. Veblen'spaternal grandfather had been tricked out of his right to the family farm andhad fallen from the honored status of farm owner to that of a despised tenant.His mother's father had likewise been forced to sell his farm in order to meetlawyers' fees and, crushed by this loss, had died still a young man, leavingVeblen's mother an orphan at the age of five.
  10. After Veblen's parents emigrated to America to settle first in Wisconsinand then in Minnesota, they encountered obstacles similar to those faced bytheir parents in Norway. Land speculators drove them off their first landclaim; in their second venture they were forced to sell half their land in orderto pay usurious interest rates. Hatred of tricksters, speculators, and shysterlawyers ran deep in the family tradition and found characteristic expressionin much of Veblen's later writing.
  12. Despite such obstacles, the Veblens managed through hard work, thrift,and single-minded devotion to the agricultural task at hand to acquire a self-sufficient farmstead in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, where Thorstein was born.When he was eight years old, the family moved to a larger farm on theprairie lands of Wheeling Township in Minnesota. There his father became aleading farmer in the homogeneous Norwegian community, which, like otherNorwegian farming communities, lived in almost complete isolation from the sur-rounding world. Norwegian immigrants seldom met Yankees, except for busi-ness reasons or at political conventions. Frugal, hard-working and somewhatdour men piously following the prescriptions of their Lutheran religion, theyhad contempt for the loose ways of the Yankees and saw in them the repre-sentatives of a shallow, pleasure-loving, impious civilization. To the Norwe-gians, the Yankees seemed to be speculators, wheelers and dealers all, menwho couldn't be trusted, and whose ways were not only foreign but abhorrent.These sentiments also later found their way into Veblen's writings.
  14. Although Veblen's parents were deeply rooted in the Norwegian com-munity and its traditional ways, they were nevertheless atypical. Their pious-ness notwithstanding, they refused to take part in sectarian quarrels overquestions of theology or church government, which tended to split these com-munities. Thomas Veblen minded his own affairs and was respected in thecommunity as a man of judgment and intelligence who, however, showedan unusual independence of conduct.
  16. The son, quite early, took after the father. Children and elders alike wereimpressed by his precocious intelligence but found his almost compulsivelyindependent ways unsettling. In his early youth, he had fist fights with theboys, teased the girls, and pestered the older people. In his adolescent years,he sublimated aggression into sarcasm, corrosive wit, and scepticism. Whenthe time came for his confirmation, he submitted to the rite but made it clearthat he had already lost the faith. All in all, Veblen was as maladjusted in theNorwegian community and as alien to its life styles as he was later to be inthe American milieu.
  18. From Coser, 1977:275-276.
  20. It is hard to say what would have become of him had he stayed in theNorwegian settlement. As it was, his father, now relatively well-to-do, decidedthat the road to self-improvement was through education. He would notexploit his children on the farm, as was the wont throughout the community,but he sent them to the higher institutions of learning of alien America. In1874, when he found that the local preacher considered his son Thorstein asuitable candidate for the ministry, he decided that the boy should enternearby Carleton College. Thorstein himself was not consulted. He was sum-moned from the field and placed in the family buggy with his baggage alreadypacked. The first he learned that he was to enter Carleton was when he arrivedthere; then he was told that he was to live in a log cabin his father had builtfor his children on the edge of the campus. For seventeen years, ThorsteinVeblen had lived in a cultural enclave, speaking little or no English; now hewas suddenly being projected into the surrounding American culture fromwhich he had been almost completely insulated.
  22. Carleton College had been founded just a few years before Veblen'sarrival by Congregationalists who attempted to build on the prairies of Minne-sota a replica of New England gentility. It was a thoroughly Christian andearnestly evangelical school where intemperance, profanity, and the use oftobacco were strictly forbidden, as was "all Sabbath and evening associationbetween the sexes, except by special permission." In teaching, the classics,moral philosophy, and religion were stressed and the natural sciences wereslighted. English literature was taught during one quarter of the senior yearonly, and American history was not taught at all. The really importantcourses were those in moral philosophy. The reigning doctrine was ScottishCommon Sense, as first expounded by Thomas Reid and developed by SirWilliam Hamilton. This safe philosophy cast no doubts upon the literal in-terpretation of the Bible and religious orthodoxy and was meant to counterthe scepticism of Hume and his school. Reid taught that fundamental andself-evident truths were enshrined in the common sense of mankind and that"anything manifestly contrary to them is what we call absurd."
  24. Quite predictably Veblen, already a village sceptic at home, took badly tothe spirit of Carleton. He spent six years there, but the education he acquiredstemmed in the main from his voracious independent reading rather than fromhis teachers. The only faculty man who seems to have impressed him wasJohn Bates Clark, in later years a major figure in economics at Columbia, butat that time a professor of odds and ends who taught everything from Englishcomposition and moral philosophy to political economy. Clark, whose melioris-tic and mildly socialist ideas appealed to Veblen, was probably the only teacherwho liked this youth with a "mind clothed in sardonic humour," as a facultymember described it. That Norwegian bull in the genteel china shop of NewEngland culture disturbed his elders no end. Refusing to take seriously all thepieties he was supposed to absorb, he defended himself by mordant wit, cor-rosive satire, and just plain cussedness.
  26. The dignitaries of Carlton were undoubtedly relieved when Veblen gradu-ated in 1880. Although he is probably Carleton's most famous alumnus, to thisday there is no hall or building named in his honor--not even a plaque com-memorating him on campus. Veblen, in his turn, was glad his Carleton dayswere over. While he had fun delivering a "Plea for Cannibalism" before thefaculty and students earnestly concerned with the conversion of the heathen,or pronouncing an "Apology for a Toper" before scandalized teetotalers, suchprankishness was really only a desperate defense against his repugnant sur-roundings. He left Carleton with a fine, mainly self-acquired, education, andwith an enduring love of his fellow student, Ellen Rolfe, the niece of thepresident, whom he was to marry a few years later.
  28. From Coser, 1977:276-278.
  30. After his graduation, Veblen tried his hand teaching at Monona Academyin Madison, Wisconsin, but the atmosphere at this Norwegian school provedas oppressive as that of Carleton. Rent by theological disputes over predestina-tion, election, and strong church authority, subjects totally uncongenial to Veb-len, the school closed permanently at the end of the year. When one of hisbrothers, Andrew, father of the famous mathematician Oswald Veblen, decidedto study mathematics at Johns Hopkins, Thorstein accompanied him to Balti-more, expecting to study philosophy. Thus began what Bernard Rosenberg hascalled "a torturous apprenticeship in academic maladaptation.''
  32. When Veblen came East, his thoughts had already been shaped by theagrarian unrest and radicalism that had swept over the Midwest soon after theend of the Civil War. Moreover, when a German exile of the 1848 revolutionhad opened his library to him, Veblen became acquainted with Kant, Mill,Hume, Rousseau, Spencer, Huxley, and Tyndall--great intellects who hadnot been discussed in the lecture halls of Carleton. Egalitarian and radical inhis outlook, Veblen once again felt alien in the leisurely culture of the Souththat prevailed in Baltimore and at Johns Hopkins. Lonely, homesick, and shortof money, he was moreover intellectually ill-disposed toward the philosophyofferings of that school. He took three courses with George S. Morris butwas not impressed by this Hegelian philosopher, who felt that conventionalmanners and morals might find an even better defender in Hegel than in pre-vailing Scottish Common Sense. Veblen attended a course in political economywith a young man, Richard T. Ely, who was to become one of the main repre-sentatives of the new reform-oriented economics. But neither man cared forthe other. To judge from Veblen's later writings, the only man to have madesome impact on him was a temporary lecturer in logic named Charles SandersPeirce, who had already written a series of papers emphasizing that "thewhole function of thought is to produce habits of action."
  34. When Veblen failed to receive a scholarship at Johns Hopkins, he decidedto transfer to Yale to study philosophy under its president, the Reverend NoahPorter. At Yale, as almost everywhere else, philosophy was still considered thehandmaiden of theology, and Veblen, the agnostic, found himself amongdivinity students, most of whom were preparing to teach the gospel. As ameans of defense, Veblen accentuated his sardonic attitudes and distance-creat-ing techniques, and he cultivated an air of complete aloofness and worldly-wise scepticism. Even those whom he managed to befriend later said that theyfound him trying, though stimulating.
  36. At this time the intellectual atmosphere at Yale was charged by epic battlesbetween its president, Noah Porter, a man still deeply steeped in the pieties ofNew England transcendentalism, and the sociologist William Graham Sum-ner, who preached the gospel of Herbert Spencer. Sumner relentlessly foughtin the name of science and evolution, of Darwin and Spencer, against thetheological features of the school. A month before Veblen left Yale, Sumnerwas victorious and the whole curriculum of Yale was revamped. Science wonover religion.
  38. Veblen found himself attracted to Sumner as he had never been attractedto any of his other teachers. In later years he was to dissect Sumner's conserva-tive economics in class, but, according to Dorfman, Sumner was "the only manfor whom he expressed . . . a deep and unqualified admiration." What at-tracted him was not only Sumner's Spencerian and evolutionary thought, buthis independence of mind, his refusal to go along with the crowd, his com-bative individualism. To be sure, the man who was to write withering attackson the predacious characteristics of captains of industry was hardly impressedby the views of a teacher who saw in these men the flowers of civilization.Veblen could not accept Sumner's doctrine, but he loved the man and partlymodeled himself after his image. He also managed to be on excellent termswith the Reverend Porter, under whom he did most of his work and whosupervised his dissertation. Locally he was known as "Porter's chum." Porteresteemed Veblen's superior intelligence even though he must have been madeuneasy by Veblen's conspicuous lack of reverence.
  40. Veblen specialized in work on Kant and the post-Kantians, his first aca-demic paper being on Kant's Critique of Judgment. He was considered byPorter and some of his other teachers to be a highly intelligent, cultivated,though unconventional, young philosopher. But after he had received hisdoctorate, it became apparent that nobody was willing to give him an aca-demic position. College teachers, especially those in philosophy, were mainlyrecruited from the ranks of the divinity school. No faculty wanted a "Norskie,"especially one around whom there seemed to hover a cloud of agnosticism orworse. After having spent two and a half years at Yale, Veblen returned homedefeated and bitter. He now had a Ph.D. but no source of income or hope fora position.
  42. Back on the farm, Veblen claimed that he was ill and needed special care.His brothers were inclined to believe that he was just plain loafing--a sin notlightly forgiven among Norwegian farm folk. In the meantime, Veblen readeverything he could lay his hands on, roamed the woods, indulged in desultorybotanical studies, did some hack writing for Eastern papers, and seemed todrift into a life of permanent dilettantism.
  44. In 1888, Veblen married Ellen Rolfe, the daughter of one of the leadingfamilies of the Middle West. Her father, a grain-elevator and railroad magnate,was appalled that his daughter was marrying a shiftless atheistic son of Norwe-gian immigrants. But he made the best of it and allowed the young couple tosettle on one of his Iowa farms. Veblen now made a few half-hearted attemptsto gain a teaching position, but all these moves proved to be of no avail. In themeantime he and his wife followed news of the radical agrarian movementthat swept the Middle West with passionate concern. Together they readEdward Bellamy's socialist utopia, Looking Backward , which had just beenpublished. Ellen Rolfe wrote later that "this was the turning point in ourlives." In his Iowa retreat, Veblen immersed himself deeply in the study ofeconomics, both the orthodox and the heterodox variety. Looking at the passingscene of agrarian and labor unrest, of increasing radicalization among farmersand workmen alike, he began to feel that economics might provide answers tothe crisis. After ten years of frustration and idle drifting, Veblen finally decidedto return East to study economics, registering at Cornell in the winter term of 1891.
  46. The professor in charge of economics at Cornell, J. Laurence Laughlin,was sitting in his study when an anemic-looking man wearing a coonskin capand corduroy trousers entered and announced: "I am Thorstein Veblen."Laughlin became so impressed with Veblen that he secured a special universitygrant for him, even though all regular fellowships had already been filled.Heartened by this modest encouragement, Veblen now began to get down tothe business of serious writing. His first paper in economics, "Some NeglectedPoints in the Theory of Socialism," adumbrated his later interest. It was anattempt to use Spencerian evolutionary method while arguing against Spencerthat without the abolition of private property and free competition the crisisof the current industrial order could not be overcome. Several fairly technicalpapers for The Quarterly Journal of Economics followed in short order. Veb-len's mentor, Laughlin, thought so highly of them that he arranged for afellowship for Veblen at the new University of Chicago, where Laughlin hadjust been appointed head professor of economics.
  48. The University of Chicago, where Veblen stayed from 1892 to 1906,provided the most congenial academic setting he was ever to find. The aggres-sive president, William Rainey Harper, had managed in a few years to attracta most distinguished faculty, and Veblen found a number of colleagues withwhom he could engage in lively interchange. John Dewey in philosophy,William I. Thomas in sociology, Jacques Loeb in physiology, to name just afew, influenced him deeply and in turn were stimulated by him. Veblen laterwrote a venomous portrait of Harper as a prime example of those "captains oferudition" who prostitute genuine scholarship in their drive for competitivestanding in the academic world. There was much truth in what Veblen said,but it must be acknowledged that, no matter how autocratic his administra-tion, no matter what questionable methods Harper may have used to extractever increasing funds from the University's founder, John D. Rockefeller, heattracted a first-rate faculty to Chicago and so made it possible for Veblen toenjoy the company of peers and colleagues that he could genuinely respect.
  50. This is not to say that Veblen's Chicago career was without difficulties. Al-though he soon took over the editorship of The Journal of Political Economy,which Laughlin had founded soon after their arrival, Veblen was not originally amember of the faculty, but only a tutor. It was not until three years aftercoming to the University that he was promoted, at the age of 38, to instructor.His promotion to assistant professor had to wait another five years. There werea number of reasons for this academic neglect. Veblen was unorthodox in histhinking, in his teaching, and in his love life.
  52. Veblen now wrote profusely, but his many brilliant contributions to TheJournal of Political Economy were scarcely of a sort to please the more staidmembers of his academic audience. They were, in fact, fierce assaults uponprevailing utilitarian and classic doctrine in economics, and upon the customand use of capitalist enterprise in the United States and elsewhere. Rangingwidely over the fields of history, anthropology, sociology, and economics,Veblen proceeded with mordant wit and sarcasm to undermine the receivedwisdom of economic theory. Whether reviewing books by Sombart or Schmol-ler, by Marx or Labriola, whether writing a fundamental paper such as the oneentitled "Why Is Economics Not an Evolutionary Science?" Veblen was single-minded in his iconoclastic enterprise of demolishing conventional ideas ineconomics and the social sciences generally.
  54. Veblen's teaching methods were even more unorthodox than his writings.He seemed to make a deliberate effort to discourage students from taking hiscourses. His lectures were wide ranging, and he usually presented the materialin a rambling and unorganized manner. As a result, his audience never quiteknew what to expect next. One of his former students describes his teachingthus:
  56.     He would come into the classroom with a half-dozen books under hisarm, sit down bashfully behind his desk, and commence mumbling throughhis whiskers the characteristic economic blasphemies for which he wasfamous. His inimitable wit played over the field and made what might havebeen a rather dreary exercise something to chuckle over. Judged by con-ventional standards, he was the world's worst teacher. He seldom knew atthe beginning of the hour what he would say or where he would arrive atits end. . . . I felt that these mumbling lectures were a good deal of a boreto him except for the opportunity they afforded him for flashes of wit andirony, and he took little interest in the question of whether his students werereading lessons and doing work in the course or not.
  58. Veblen found the task of evaluating students or grading papers pro-foundly distasteful and as a consequence usually gave the whole class, as thespirit moved him, either a C or a B. When students tried to pin him downand asked him to say in plain language what he meant by his oracular andillusive pronouncements, he usually brushed them off with a sardonic smileand a witty remark. When pressed hard, he would say: "Well, you know, Ireally don't think I quite understand it myself."
  60. Despite all these calculated maneuvers to rebuff student interest, Veblenacquired some of his most distinguished followers--among them, WesleyMitchell, Robert Hoxie, and H. J. Davenport--in the Chicago days. Theseand a few others learned not to be put off by his manners and quirks andto reach down to the serious core of his teaching. But the bulk of his studentscouldn't make sense of his lectures, especially when their quest for certaintywas met with Veblen's studied elusiveness. Wesley Mitchell has written thatVeblen "took a naughty delight in making people squirm." As a result, hisclasses were large for the first few days, but soon only a handful remained.Students were not an audience that Veblen appreciated.
  62. Veblen was unorthodox in his teaching and in his writing, but whatshocked the university administration and many older colleagues profoundlywas his unorthodox love life. Women were much attracted to him, and storiesabout his affairs and escapades soon were bandied around in scandalized fac-ulty gatherings. Mrs. Veblen was much perturbed by these affairs andthreatened to leave him. Matters were not made easier by his habit of leavingin his pockets the letters he received from his female admirers. In all theseaffairs, Veblen was more the pursued than the pursuer. "What is one to dowhen a woman moves in on you?" he once complained. He remarked, some-what later, that "the president doesn't approve of my domestic arrangements.Nor do I." Nevertheless, his amatory escapades, even more than his scholarlyunorthodoxy and his unconventional teaching, made him an outcast in theuniversity's inner circles and eventually led to his dismissal.
  64. In the Chicago days, Veblen pursued a kind of double-barreled strategy:he would alienate most students and faculty while at the same time buildinga close intellectual companionship with a chosen group of congenial colleagues.When his first and still most widely read book, The Theory of the LeisureClass, was published in 1899, the influence of such Chicago men as JacquesLoeb, Franz Boas, and William I. Thomas could be traced on virtually everypage.
  66. The Theory of the Leisure Class helped bring Veblen to the attention of abroader public than he had enjoyed so far. It brought him a circle of admirerswho hailed the book as an epoch-making achievement. Lester Ward, the deanof American sociology, praised it highly, as did William D. Howells, the deanof American letters. Veblen was now an intellectual force to be reckoned with.His next book, The Theory of Business Enterprise (1904), perhaps his mostsystematic critique of American business, received a somewhat less enthusiasticresponse. Conservative critics complained about his destructiveness, his amor-alism, and his lack of appreciation for the virtues of free enterprise. Manyradicals, appreciative of his critique of capitalism, were nevertheless unhappyabout his rejection of Marxism. Others complained about his involuted styleand lack of clarity. Yet critics and admirers seemed to agree that Vebleniandoctrine was now an established feature on the intellectual scene.
  68. As his fame outside the university grew, his life inside it became wellnigh impossible. When Veblen returned from a trip to Europe in 1904, duringwhich he had been accompanied by a female companion who was clearly nothis wife, he was asked by the university authorities to sign a paper declaringthat he would have no further relations with the woman involved. He repliedthat he was not in the habit of promising not to do what he was not ac-customed to doing. His days at Chicago were now numbered. He made effortsto secure a variety of appointments, among others to the Library of Congress,but all these efforts failed. Finally, Stanford University offered him an Associ-ate Professorship at a relatively high salary, and he joined its staff in 1906.
  70. Veblen stayed at Stanford a little more than three years. His style of life,of morality, and of expression continued to be as unconventional as it had beenin Chicago. His wife, who had left him for a time, returned to him in PaloAlto, but the marriage was clearly on the rocks. Matters were not made easierwhen one of his Chicago admirers wrote him that she wanted to be the motherof a great man's children. Mrs. Veblen left him again. When his amatoryadventures could no longer be covered up, the administration forced him toresign in December 1909.
  72. Veblen did not make the close intellectual friends at Stanford that he didat Chicago. The major elements of his "system," if such it can be called, hadbeen set down in the Chicago days. His subsequent books, beginning withThe Instinct of Workmanship (1914) on which he was working at Stanford,are, with one exception, only elaborations of previous lines of thought. Veblenprobably was therefore less eager for intellectual stimulation than he had beenearlier. He was as distant and aloof at Stanford as he had been at Chicago, butapparently made less of an effort to gather around himself a chosen few intel-lectual peers.
  74. After having been forced to resign at Stanford, Veblen applied for a posi-tion at various schools. But the known circumstances of his severance fromStanford led every administration that was approached to recoil. Veblen was amarked man. To have offended the academic proprieties twice in a row wasjust too much. Finally, a former student, H. J. Davenport, came to the rescueand persuaded the president of the University of Missouri to offer Veblen aposition in its School of Commerce, of which Davenport was dean. EllenRolfe Veblen now secured a divorce and, as a result, the president of Stanford,in a recommendation to make the temporary appointment permanent, wroteto the president of the University of Missouri that he saw no reason why Veb-len should not be retained since he had now straightened out his matrimonialaffairs. In 19I4 Veblen married his second wife, Anne Fessenden Bradley, adivorcee whom he had known at Chicago and Stanford. The new Mrs. Veb-len, far less educated than the first, did all his typing, washed all the laundryand sewed all the clothes for her two daughters from an earlier marriage. Sheseems to have been totally devoted to Veblen, and being a radical like him, shewas wholeheartedly in favor of "the movement," forever discussing the virtuesof Socialism with the conventional faculty wives. She was also in full agree-ment with her husband's rather original ideas in regard to household duties.For example, the making of beds was considered a useless ceremonial; thecovers were merely turned down over the foot of the bed so that they couldbe easily drawn up at night. Dishes were washed only when the total supplywas exhausted; then they were stacked in a tub, a hose turned on them, and,after the water had been drained off, they were left to dry. Veblen alsoadvocated, though he stopped short of practicing, the making of clothes out ofdiscardable paper.
  76. Although Veblen was coddled and indulged by a number of his formerstudents now on the staff of the University of Missouri, he lacked the widerintellectual companionship he had enjoyed at Chicago and, to a degree, atStanford. Neither faculty nor students at the University of Missouri were ofthe quality that Veblen had been accustomed to; as a result, he withdrew evenmore. As his health grew poorer and he began to feel the weight of years, hiscourses became even less organized than before, and his contempt for his stu-dents deepened. The university authorities were flattered to have attracted aman of his reputation, but they felt he was not contributing fully. As a result,he never got a permanent position and remained a lecturer, whose appoint-ment had to be renewed annually, during the entire seven years of his stay.His Stanford salary had been $3000; at Missouri he was paid under $2000in his first few years and received only $2400 in 1917, just before he left.
  78. While at Missouri, Veblen completed his third book, The Instinct ofWorkmanship, and soon after the beginning of World War I, he publishedhis Imperial Germany and the Industrial Revolution, one of his more importantworks. Soon after, there followed, An Inquiry into the Nature of the Peace (1918), a less significant and more ephemeral book. In the same year, hefinally published his savage onslaught on the structure and operation of theAmerican university, The Higher Learning in America, most of which hadbeen put to paper in the Chicago days. The books that followed were eithercollections of previously published papers or restatements usually in somewhatmore high-flown language, of points he had made before. These books includedThe Vested Interests and the Common Man (1919), The Place of Science inModern Civilization (1919), The Engineers and the Price System (1921) andAbsentee Ownership and Business Enterprise in Recent Times (1923).
  80. A Marginal Freelance
  82. In 1917, when questions of war and peace assumed foremost importancein the minds of many American intellectuals, Veblen resolved to move toWashington to be nearer to the center of events. In the fall of 1917 PresidentWilson had asked Colonel House to bring together an academic study groupto discuss the terms of a possible peace settlement. Veblen prepared severalmemoranda for this inquiry, but his contributions seem not to have been muchappreciated. Soon, however, he was given another opportunity to serve theadministration. Having been granted a leave of absence from Missouri, hejoined the Food Administration as a special investigator. But his time ingovernment service was short and nasty: he was as little concerned with pleas-ing governmental bureaucrats as he had been with placating their academiccounterparts. Veblen was put to work investigating methods for alleviatingthe manpower shortage in the Midwest, which was impeding the harvest. Hesuggested that the despised Industrial Workers of the World, the antiwarsyndicalist and radical organization that had been persecuted by the govern-ment, be used for harvesting. He proposed that members of the I.W.W. beenrolled under officers of their own choice as members of a collective laborforce. In this way agricultural productiveness would be enhanced, and thepersecution of the I.W.W. would cease. As might be expected, the proposalwas received with a combination of hostility and indifference, as was anothermemorandum that suggested how the shortage of sales personnel in retailestablishments could be overcome. The administration need only install afarm-marketing and retail-distribution system under the parcel-post divisionof the Post Office to avoid the waste resulting from an excessive number ofretail outlets. It must be conceded that a man who suggested to the administra-tion that his plans would lead to a reduction of the parasitic population ofcountry towns by nine tenths, and a consequent increase in the available laborsupply, was not exactly attuned to the political realities of governmental policy-making. Veblen's sojourn among the Washington bureaucrats ended ratherabruptly, having lasted less than five months.
  84. During the war, Veblen's influence among a small group of left-wingintellectuals and progressive academics began to grow. Francis Hackett, theliterary editor of The New Republic, lost no opportunity to praise his work.Graham Wallas, in a review of Imperial Germany, called its author a genius.Max Weber and Werner Sombart had earlier expressed their appreciation ofhis work. Professor Frederick W. Taussig of Harvard called his Instinct ofWorkmanship a "brilliant and original book, like everything that comes fromhis pen," and Alvin Johnson spoke of the "sheer intellectual power of theauthor." Radicals like Floyd Dell wrote that his The Nature of the Peace"should result in his being either appointed to the President's War Council, orput in jail for treason."
  86. What Dell wrote in jest proved to be not so far from reality. In view of theobscurity of Veblen's approach, the Postmaster of the City of New York ruledthat Imperial Germany could not be mailed since it fell under the provisionsof the Espionage Act, while the official governmental propaganda agency, theCommittee on Public Information, believed it to be excellent war propaganda.Some government bureaus thought the book damaging to America, while,others thought it damaging to Germany.
  88. In the fall of 1918, Veblen moved to New York to become an editor ofThe Dial, as well as a key contributor to it. The magazine, which RalphWaldo Emerson had founded, was now proposing to devote itself to mattersof international reconstruction and to the reform of industry and education.Although the masthead included other major figures, John Dewey and Ran-dolph Bourne among them, the magazine was soon referred to as the "Veblen-ian Dial." For a year or two, and despite personal tragedy--his wife had apsychotic breakdown and had to be removed to a sanitarium--Veblen nowexperienced for the first time the pleasures of being an intellectual celebrity.Fame, which had eluded him for so long, now came to the man of sixty.
  90. Veblen's articles for The Dial, more savage and mordant even than hisearlier writing, fitted perfectly the disillusioned mood that gripped the liberalworld after the failure of Wilsonianism. Moreover, Veblen, who had up to thispoint always maintained the mask of the objective observer, now advocateda thoroughgoing revamping of the whole structure of American society. Hiswritings in The Dial lacked the precision of his earlier work, but they madeup for this by an impassioned rhetoric. Moreover, the man who had alwaysheld Marx at a distance, now praised the Russian Revolution. "The Bolshevistscheme of ideas," he wrote, "comes easy to the common man." He felt thatsalvation from the messy anarchy of predatory capitalism would come throughthe matter-of-fact expertise of engineers; he called, perhaps somewhat tongue-in-cheek, for a Soviet of Engineers.
  92. These savage onslaughts on the established order gained Veblen manynew admirers, while making some of his old friends uncomfortable. WaltonHamilton wrote that Veblen had better return to his work as a "certifiedeconomist," while Randolph Bourne and Maxwell Anderson felt that Veblen'sideas were seminal and permeated the whole intellectual atmosphere. Thefinal accolade came when the great curmudgeon of American letters, H. L.Mencken, as conservative in his political views as he was radical in his culturalcriticism, honored Veblen with a fierce assault: "In a few months," he wrote,"almost in a few days, he was all over The Nation, The Dial, The New Repub-lic and the rest of them, and his books and pamphlets began to pour from thepresses. . . . Everyone of intellectual pretensions read his works. . . Therewere Veblenists, Veblen clubs, Veblen remedies for all the sorrows of theworld. There were even, in Chicago, Veblen girls--perhaps Gibson girls grownmiddle-aged and despairing." Mencken felt that this Veblen adulation was allso much hokum. He considered Veblen's writing intolerably bad, and histhinking "loose, flabby, cocksure, and preposterous."
  94. Mencken predicted that the Veblen vogue would soon subside. He provedto be correct. The mood of revolt that had followed the failure of Wilsonianismsoon subsided. Some leading intellectuals left in despair for exile in Europe,but the majority made their peace with America or drowned their anxieties inthe pleasure-seeking whirl of the Jazz Age. Radicals were hounded and perse-cuted by the notorious Lusk Committee of the New York State Legislature andby the infamous raids of Attorney-General Mitchell Palmer, who led the man-hunt against those suspected of sympathy with the Russian Revolution.
  96. Veblen's career at The Dial came to an end after one year, when it wasturned Into a literary magazine. The newly organized New School for SocialResearch now offered him refuge. It boasted an eminent faculty includingCharles Beard, James Harvey Robinson, Wesley Mitchell, Harold Laski,Alexander Goldenweiser, and Horace Kallen, and promised to become thefountainhead of revolutionary departures in American education. Veblen hada fairly comfortable position there. His salary of $6000 was mainly contributedby a former student from the Chicago days who admired him greatly. Heagain offered his by now-famous course on "Economic Factors in Civilization";he also worked on articles that continued The Dial series and were now pub-lished by another radical publication, The Freeman, and prepared his last bookAbsentee Ownership. But he was becoming increasingly tired. He was now inhis middle sixties, and age began to make itself felt.
  98. Two ironic incidents from this last period of his life are worth recounting.The editor of a leading Jewish magazine approached Veblen and asked himto write a paper discussing whether Jewish intellectual productivity would beincreased if the Jews were given a land of their own and Jewish intellectualswere released from the taboos and restrictions that impeded them in the gentileworld. Veblen accepted, and delivered his essay on "The Intellectual Pre-eminence of the Jews," in which he argued that the intellectual achievement ofthe Jews was due to their marginal status and persecuted role in an alienworld, and that their springs of creativity would dry up should they become apeople like any other in their own homeland. Needless to say, the essay was notpublished by the editor who had commissioned it. It appeared instead in ThePolitical Science Quarterly of Columbia University.
  100. A few years later, some of Veblen's admirers urged his nomination forthe presidency of the American Economic Association. Conservative membersof the old school objected. After a long academic wrangle it was decided thathe would be nominated, provided that he would consent to become a memberof the Association. Veblen refused. "They didn't offer it to me when I neededit," he said.
  102. In the middle twenties, although he had attracted new admirers and dis-ciples, Veblen felt increasingly lonely in New York. He had some desultorycontact with the leaders of what was to become the short-lived technocraticmovement, but none of this seemed to satisfy him. When meeting with friendsor foreign visitors, he often remained silent throughout the encounter. "His pro-tective mechanism of silence had become his master," says Dorfman. He be-came increasingly helpless in practical matters and relied almost entirely on theprotection of his friends. Ellen Rolfe died in May, 1926. In 1927 Veblen decidedto return to California in the company of his stepdaughter Becky. He pre-tended to himself that this was only a temporary visit, but probably knewthere would be no return.
  104. Back in Palo Alto, Veblen lived for a year in an old town shack that he stillowned from his Stanford days. He later moved into his mountain cabin in theadjacent hills, where he lived in almost total isolation. Eager for conversation,he felt altogether lonely and neglected. Everyone, he thought, had forgottenhim. Worried about his financial situation, he tried (and failed) to recoup hisinvestments in the collapsing raisin industry. Absentee ownership did notprofit him.
  106. In the summer of 1929, Veblen made plans to return East, but a relativepersuaded him that his ill health would not allow this. On August 3, 1929, hedied of heart disease.
  108. As the depression struck America in the year of Veblen's death, he wassuddenly rediscovered. Some of his admirers and disciples, including RexfordTugwell, A. A. Berle, Thurman Arnold, and Felix Frankfurter, became lead-ing members of Roosevelt's braintrust or intellectual spokesmen for the NewDeal. They all attempted to apply Veblenian doctrine to the social and eco-nomic reconstruction, which was now the order of the day. Leading left-wingspokesmen and publicists such as Stuart Chase, John Chamberlain, and MaxLerner spread Veblen's message. William Ogburn and Robert Lynd incorpo-rated his thought into the fabric of their sociological investigations. In 1938,when a number of leading intellectuals were queried by the editors of TheNew Republic to name "The Books that Changed [Their] Minds'' Veblen'sname came first on the list. At the time of his death, the total sales of his tenbooks was approximately 4o,ooo copies. Over half of this was represented byThe Theory of the Leisure Class, the only book by which he was then re-membered. Between February 1930 and September 1934, his books sold about4,000 copies. Today most of them are available in paperback, and The Theoryof the Leisure Class has become a perennial best-seller in a variety of inex-pensive editions. Veblen paid a heavy penalty for having taken the leadtwenty years too soon.
  110. From Coser, 1977:285-289.
  112. The Work
  114. There are at least three Thorstein Veblens: first, the seriously un-serious, reverently irreverent, amoral moralist whose iconoclastic assault onthe received pieties of America place him in the front ranks of social critics.Second, there is the economist whose institutional economics and meticulousanatomy of American high finance and business enterprise have earned himseveral generations of distinguished followers and a permanent niche amongthe greats of political economy. Finally, there is the sociologist to whom weowe theories of socially induced motivations, of the social determinants ofknowledge, and of social change. This account will be concerned mainly withthe third Veblen.
  116. It is difficult to summarize the major aspects of Veblen's thought not onlybecause he wrote in a complicated, illusive, and polysyllabic style, but also be-cause he lacked a systematic exposition and deliberately attempted to pass onhis highly charged value judgments as statements of fact.
  118. In a writer like Marx it is relatively easy to distinguish analysis fromprophecy, and normative from scientific judgment; not so with Veblen. Al-though he used to repeat to his students, "We are interested in what is, not inwhat ought to be," even the casual reader will soon discover that behind thescientific stance were hidden strong moral impulses. For example, it is hardto take him seriously when he insists that he uses the term "waste" in aneutral sense, and that "it is not to be taken in an odious sense, as implying anillegitimate expenditure of human products or of human life." Nor is hisuse of what Kenneth Burke has termed a perspective through incongruity,innocent of moral connotations, as when he compares the livery of servantswith the vestments of the priest, "a body servant, constructively in attendanceupon the person of the divinity whose livery he wears." When Veblen deliber-ately links words with respectable and dishonorable meanings such as "trainedincapacity," "business sabotage," "blameless cupidity," "conscientious withhold-ing of efficiency," "collusive sobriety" or "sagacious restriction of output," heuses these balanced opposites to pass moral judgment under the protectivecoloration of detached description. Veblen belonged to the company of Swiftas well as to that of Marx.
  120. These are some of the difficulties in attempting to separate the sub-stantive content of Veblen's thought from its ethical husk. But the obstaclesare not insurmountable, although, incidentally, Veblen himself would hardlyhave approved of the enterprise.
  122. From Coser, 1977:263-264.
  124. The General Approach
  126. Veblen's point of departure was a critical dissection of the doctrines of theclassic economists in the light of evolutionary and sociological reasoning. Heobjected to the notion that the "laws" they had constructed were timelessgeneralizations and contended instead that the economic behavior of men, likeany other human activity, had to be analyzed in terms of the social contextin which it was imbedded. He further objected to the deriving of economicbehavior from alleged utilitarian and hedonistic propensities generic to man-kind. The categories of the classical economists, he argued, could be appliedonly to special historical circumstances and in very restricted contexts. Thus,primitive economic behavior could not be understood in terms of Ricardiannotions. "A gang of Aleutian Islanders,' Veblen wrote derisively, "slashingabout in the wrack and surf with rakes and magical incantations for the cap-ture of shell-fish are held, in point of taxonomic reality, to be engaged in afeat of hedonistic equilibration in rent, wages, and interest."
  128.     "The hedonistic conception of man," Veblen argued bitingly, "is that ofa lightning calculator of pleasures and pains, who oscillates like a homogenousglobule of desire of happiness under the impulse of stimuli that shift himabout the area, but leave him intact. He has neither antecedent nor conse-quence. He is an isolated, definitive human datum.... Self-imposed inelemental space, he spins symrnetrically about his own spiritual axis....The hedonistic man is not a prime mover. He is not the seat of a process ofliving."
  130. In contrast to an obsolete economics that centers attention upon allegedtranshistorical laws and utilitarian or hedonistic calculations, Veblen urged anew economics that is historical, or, to use his own terminology, evolutionary,and that is based on an activistic conception of man. "It is the characteristicof man to do something.... He is not simply a bundle of desires that are tobe saturated . . . but rather a coherent structure of propensities and habitswhich seek realization and expression in an unfolding activity." The economiclife history of the individual "is a cumulative process of adaptations of meansto ends." What is true of the individual is true of the community. It too iscontinually engaged in an active process of adaptation of economic means toeconomic ends. "Evolutionary economics must be the theory of a process ofcultural growth as determined by the economic interest, a theory, of a cumula-tive sequence of economic institutions stated in terms of the process itself."
  132. Veblen conceived of the evolution of mankind in Spencerian or Darwinianfashion as a process of selective adaptation to the environment. According, tohim, there was no goal to historical evolution as the Hegelians and Marxistshad claimed, but rather "a scheme of blindly cumulative causation, in whichthere is no trend, no final term, no consummation.''
  134. Human evolution, Veblen argued, involved above all the invention anduse of ever more effective technologies. "The process of cumulative changethat is to be accounted for is the sequence of change in the methods of doingthings--the methods of dealing with the material means of life." Hence, "thestate of the industrial arts" ultimately determined the state of adaptation ofman to his natural environment. Technology, moreover, likewise determinedman's adjustment to his social environment.
  136. A man's position in the technological and economic sphere, Veblen argued,determines his outlook and his habits of thought. Similarly, habits and customs,ways of acting and ways of thinking grow within communities as they areengaged in their struggle to wrest a livelihood from nature. Such habits andcustoms in their turn crystallize over time into institutional molds into whichcommunities attempt to press their component members. Institutions areclusters of habits and customs that are sanctioned by the community. An in-stitution "is of the nature of a usage which has become axiomatic and indis-pensable by habituation and general acceptance." The evolution of humansocieties, contended Veblen, must be seen as "a process of natural selection ofinstitutions." "Institutions are not only themselves the result of a selectiveand adaptive process which shapes the prevailing or dominant types of spiritualattitude and aptitudes; they are at the same time special methods of life andhuman relations.''
  138. Hence, the scheme of man's social evolution is to Veblen essentially a pat-tern of institutional change rooted in the development of the industrial arts.Four main stages of evolution are distinguished: the peaceful savage economyof neolithic times; the predatory barbarian economy in which the institutionsof warfare, property, masculine prowess and the leisure class originated; thepremodern period of handicraft economy; and finally the modern era domi-nated by the machine. Much of this, especially the distinction between savageryand barbarism, was based on conjectural history. But Veblen accepted it,despite his often caustic remarks about such history. When a student onceasked him what he considered the difference between real and conjecturalhistory, he answered that the relation was about the same as that between areal horse and a sawhorse.
  140. Veblen's theory of evolutionary stages may well be relegated to the museumof antiquities, but his more general theory of technological determination,though often blended with one or another form of Marxism, has continued toexert influence among contemporary social scientists. Much current work inanthropology is still informed by his view--for example, that "A study of . . .primitive cultures . . . shows a close correlation between the material (in-dustrial and pecuniary) life of any given people and their civic, domestic, andreligious scheme of life; the myths and the religious cult reflect the characterof these other--especially the economic and domestic--institutions in a pecu-liarly naive and truthful manner." The main thrust of Veblen's work, how-ever, does not come in his anthropological studies but rather in his discussionof contemporary or near-contemporary society. Here his distinction betweenindustrial and pecuniary types of employment is crucial.
  142. Veblen's central idea in regard to the modern capitalist world is that it isbased on an irremediable opposition between business and industry, ownershipand technology, pecuniary and industrial employment--between those whomake goods and those who make money, between workmanship and salesman-ship. This distinction served Veblen as a major weapon in his attack againstthe prevailing scheme of things in America, and against prevailing evolutionarydoctrine. His fellow evolutionists, men like his former teacher Sumner, arguedthat the leading industrialists and men of finance, having shown in the com-petitive struggle that they were "the fittest," had to be regarded as the flowersof modern civilization. Veblen argued that, far from being the fittest agents ofevolutionary advancement, men engaged in pecuniary activities were parasitesgrowing fat on the technological leadership and innovation of other men."The leisure class lives by the industrial community rather than in it.'' The"captains of industry" made no industrial contribution and therefore had noprogressive function in the evolutionary process; rather, they retarded and dis-torted it.
  144. Veblen adapted the Spencerian distinction between militant and industrialsocieties to his own uses. Whereas Spencer had argued that businessmen wereengaged in a peaceful way of life, which stood in opposition to that of themilitant warrior, Veblen insisted that the "captains of industry" were onlypursuing the predatory ways of their militant forebears under new circum-stances. American robber barons were as eager to exploit the underlying popula-tion as had been their medieval ancestors. The price system in which business-men and speculators were involved only hampered and impeded the system ofindustrial arts and so delayed the forward course of mankind's evolutionaryadvancement. The differential income businessmen derive from their positionin the price system is far from a reward for creative entrepreneurship butrather a ransom exacted from the underlying productive population. The in-stitution of absentee ownership, the foundation of the modern price system,creates perpetual crises and competitive anarchy leading to the "sabotage" ratherthan the advancement of production.
  146. In tune with his overall theory of technological determinants of thought,Veblen argued that positions in the spheres of industrial or of pecuniary em-ployment respectively fostered radically different casts of mind or habits ofthought. Those in pecuniary employment were inclined toward an "animisticbent," that is, they thought in magical categories. Those involved in industrialemployment, on the other hand, were impelled to think in rational, matter-of-fact terms. Magical and animistic types of reasoning are at variance with therequirements of modern industrial societies; such reasoning is partly a survivalfrom earlier barbaric conditions of life and partly a response to the existentialconditions of those who continue to depend on luck in their speculative ma-nipulations. Modern industry depends on rationality and, in turn, fosters it."In the modern industrial communities, industry is, to a constantly increasingextent, being organized in a comprehensive system of organs and functionsmutually conditioning one another; and therefore freedom from all bias in thecausal apprehension of phenomena grows constantly more requisite to efficiencyon the part of men concerned in industry.''
  148. Veblen believed that the major disciplining agent in the modern worldwas the machine process of production. "The machine technology," he rea-soned, "rests on a knowledge of impersonal, material cause and effect....Within the range of this machine-guided work, and within the range of modernlife so far as it is guided by the machine process, the cause of things is givenmechanically, impersonally, and the resultant discipline is a discipline in thehandling of impersonal facts for mechanical effect. It inculcates thinking interms of opaque, impersonal cause and effect, to the neglect of those norms ofvalidity that rest on usage and on the conventional standards handed down byusage.'' This being the case, Veblen argued further, the future evolution ofmankind depended on those whose minds had been disciplined by involvementin the industrial arts and in the machine process. Further evolutionary ad-vances could be expected only if the habits inculcated by the disciplinaryeffects of the machine prevailed over the predatory life-styles and the magicaland animistic casts of thought of those involved in pecuniary employment.
  150. From Coser, 1977:264-268.
  152. Anatomy of Competition
  154. Veblen's work is especially noteworthy when he analyzes and dissects thehabits of thought and modes of conduct that underlie competitive relationsbetween social actors. He advanced a sophisticated theory of the social sourcesof competitiveness in human affairs. Self-esteem, he argued, is only a reflectionof the esteem accorded by one's fellows. Consequently, when such esteem is notforthcoming because a person has failed to excel in prized competitive en-deavors, he suffers from a loss of self-esteem. The drive for ever-renewed exer-tion in a competitive culture is therefore rooted in the fear of loss of self-esteem.
  156.     Those members of the community who fall short of [a] somewhat in-definite, normal degree of prowess or of property suffer in the esteem of theirfellow-men; and consequently they also suffer in their own esteem since theusual basis of self-respect is the respect accorded by one's neighbors. Onlyindividuals with an aberrant temperament can in the long run retain theirself-esteem in the face of the disesteem of their fellows. . . . So soon as thepossession of property becomes the basis of popular esteem, it becomes also arequisite to that complacency which we call self-respect.
  158. In a competitive culture, where men judge their worth in comparison withthat of their fellows they are bound to a perpetually revolving Ixion's wheelbecause they constantly aspire to outdo their neighbors.
  160.     As fast as a person makes new acquisitions, and becomes accustomed tothe new standard of wealth, the new standard forthwith ceases to afford ap-preciably greater satisfaction than the earlier standard did. . . the end soughtby accumulation is to rank high in comparison with the rest of the com-munity in point of pecuniary strength. So long as the comparison is dis-tinctly unfavorable to himself, the normal, average individual will live inchronic dissatisfaction with his present lot; and when he has reached whatmay be called the normal pecuniary standard of the community, or of hisclass in the community, this chronic dissatisfaction will give place to a rest-less straining to place a wider and ever widening pecuniary interval betweenhimself and the average standard.
  162. Veblen is at his best when he analyzes the various means by which menattempt to symbolize their high standing in the continuous struggle for com-petitive advantage. Conspicuous consumption, conspicuous leisure, conspicuousdisplay of symbols of high standing are to Veblen some of the means by whichmen attempt to excel their neighbors and so attain heightened self-evaluation"High-bred manners and ways of living are items of conformity to the normof conspicuous leisure and conspicuous consumption. . . . Conspicuous con-sumption of valuable goods is a means of reputability to the gentlemen ofleisure" "With the inheritance of gentility goes the inheritance of obligatoryleisure." Conspicuous consumption or conspicuous leisure need not necessarilybe engaged in directly by those in search of heightened competitive standing. Rather, such characteristic life-styles may be displayed by persons who aredependent on the head of a household--his wife and servants, for example--toenhance the status of the master. In the modern world, the head of the middle-class household has been forced by economic circumstances to gain a livelihoodin an occupation, "but the middle-class wife still carries on the business ofvicarious leisure, for the good name of the household and its master." Theliveried servant displays his multi-colored coat of servitude not to improve hisown image but rather to symbolize that of his master.
  164. In the aristocratic age, "the age of barbarism," such characteristically"wasteful" styles of competitive display were limited to the leisure class, thetop of the social pyramid. Now, Veblen contended, they tend to permeate thewhole social structure. Each class copies the life-styles of its superordinates tothe extent of its ability. "The result is that the members of each stratum acceptas their ideal of decency the scheme of life invoked in the next higher stratum,and bend their energies to live up to that ideal." "The canon of reputability"must adapt itself to the economic circumstances and the traditions of eachparticular class, but it permeates all society to greater or less degrees. Thoughoriginating among the leisure class, it characterizes the total culture and shapesits characteristic life-style. This is why even the poor, though they are physicallybetter off in modern society than their forebears were in their time, suffermore. "The existing system has not made. . . the industrious poor poorer asmeasured absolutely but it does tend to make them relatively poorer, intheir own eyes . . . and . . . that is what seems to count." Clearly, Veblen,like others before and after him, had in effect come upon the idea of "relativedeprivation."
  166. In Veblen's opinion the simplistic notions of human motivation on whichclassical economics rest cannot serve to explain the springs of action of man inmodern pecuniary civilization. It is not the propensity to save or to truck andbarter that animates man in the modern world, but the propensity to excel hisneighbor. The struggle for competitive standing becomes a basic datum if oneis to understand the institutional framework of modern economic behavior.
  168. From Coser, 1977:268-269.
  170. Sociology of Knowledge
  172. Throughout his writings Veblen emphasized the ways in which habits ofthought are an outcome of habits of life and stressed the dependence ofthought styles on the organization of the community. "The scheme of thoughtor of knowledge," he wrote, "is in good part a reverberation of the schemes oflife."
  174. In his anthropological writings, Veblen makes a sharp distinction betweenpeaceable agricultural communities in the age of savagery and the predatorylife of pastoral people. He relates their different life-styles to characteristicallydifferent religious orientations. In agricultural societies one is likely to find apolytheistic theology as a replica of the various powers of nature. "The relationof the deities to mankind is likely to be that of consanguinity, and as if toemphasize the peaceable noncoercive character of the divine order of things,the deities are in the main very apt to be females. The matter of interests dealtwith in the cosmological theories are chiefly matters of the livelihood of thepeople." By contrast, predatory cultures, with their more centralized authority-structures and their warrior chiefs, will tend to have monotheistic religioussystems, and there will be an emphasis on the arbitrary schemes of divinegovernment. "Such a people will adopt male deities, in the main, and willimpute to them a coercive, imperious, arbitrary animus and a degree ofprincely dignity."
  176. Veblen distinguishes between earlier stages of human evolution, whenwhole communities exhibited characteristic habits of thoughts, and later stages,when human societies have differentiated into distinct strata, with distinctoccupational roles emerging. Here different habits of thought exist side by sideand are associated with location in the class and occupational structure. "Thepecuniary employments call into action chiefly [the invidious] aptitudes andpropensities, and act selectively to conserve them in the population. The in-dustrial employments, on the other hand, chiefly exercise the [noninvidious oreconomical attitudes], and act to conserve them.'' Pecuniary employmentsfoster magical beliefs in luck; the industrial arts foster rationality.
  178. Veblen argues that habits of thought, which arise in tune with a man'sposition in the social and occupational order, find their reflection in types ofknowledge as well as in behavior. "The scheme of life which men perforceadopt under the exigencies of an industrial situation shapes their habit ofthought on the side of their behavior.... Each individual is but a singlecomplex of habits of thought, and the same psychical mechanism that expressesitself in one direction as conduct expresses itself in another direction as knowl-edge."
  180. These are, of course, fairly general statements, and Veblen never attemptedto verify them in a systematic manner. Yet throughout his work he providestelling illustrations. For example, Veblen had a very keen eye for instances ofmaladaptation--of dysfunctions as the modern sociologist would call them--that arise from a lack of congruity between habits of thought and occupationalor technological settings. His notion of "trained incapacity" indicates one suchinstance of maladaptation. This applies to a person who has been so thoroughlytrained for one occupational setting that he finds it impossible to operate effec-tively in a different situation; the very effectiveness of his training in the pastleads to inappropriate behavior in the present.
  182. Veblen not only stressed how habits of thought arise from social and oc-cupational placement, but he also advanced a theory of the social determinantsof cognitive interests. He accounted for the tendency of the leisure class to bedrawn to classical studies, law, and politics, rather than to the natural sciencesbecause of the pragmatic interests of its members. "The interest with which[a] discipline is approached is therefore not commonly the intellectual orcognitive interest simply. It is largely the practical interest of the exigencies ofthat relation of mastery in which the members of the class are placed." ForVeblen, science and scientific attitudes are rooted in material exigencies; onlythose members of the community who are engaged in the industrial arts arein tune with such exigencies and hence are drawn to the study of the sciences.
  184. These examples suggest that Veblen was already engaged in an analysisof what are in effect the latent functions of a wide range of types of conductand habits of thought. Robert K. Merton drew upon Veblen as well as on along line of previous theorists when he formulated the notions of latent andmanifest functions. Merton also pointed out that Veblen's gift for seeing para-doxical, ironic, and satiric aspects of social life predisposed him to pay attentionto latent functions.
  186. From Coser, 1977:270-271.
  188. Functional Analysis
  190. When Veblen describes the various manifestations of the pattern of con-spicuous consumption, he is always at pains to ferret out their latent functions.Manifestly, candles are meant to provide light and automobiles are means oftransportation. But under the pecuniary scheme they serve the latent functionof indicating and enhancing status. Candle light at dinner indicates that thehost makes claims to a style of gracious living that is peculiar to the upperclass; one drives a Cadillac to indicate that he belongs to a stratum superiorto that of Chevrolet owners; one serves caviar to symbolize a refinement ofthe palate that is the mark of a gentleman. Patterns of consumption, and pat-terns of conduct generally, must never be explained in terms of manifest func-tions alone but must be seen as having the latent function of enhancingstatus. In some cases, indeed, no manifest function may be served at all andthe pattern can be explained only by status enhancement. The Chinese man-darin, when asked why he cultivates long fingernails, might answer that "thisis the custom"; the analyst, however, will conclude that the man who cultivateslong fingernails cannot possibly work with his hands and must thereforeoccupy an honorific position.
  192. One last example will suffice. When Veblen spoke of the prevalenceamong journeyman printers of dram-drinking, "treating," and smoking inpublic places, a pattern apparently quite marked in his day, he gave a func-tional explanation in terms of the conditions of life of such men. The membersof this occupation, he explained, have a higher rate of geographic and em-ployment mobility than most others. As a consequence, "these men are con-stantly thrown in contact with new groups of acquaintances, with whom therelations established are transient or ephemeral, but whose good opinion isvalued none the less for the time being." Hence, a journeyman's ability toconsume in an ostentatious manner in company and to treat his fellows maybe conceived as serving to establish quick contact and to enhance his status intheir eyes. The capacity to "give" to others elicits deference and admiration ina transient environment where other symbolizations of status, such as highstanding in the residential neighborhood, are not available.
  194. From Coser, 1977:271-272.
  196. The Theory of Social Change
  198. Veblen's theory of social change is essentially a technological theory ofhistory. He believed that in the last analysis the"state of the industrial arts,"that is, the technology available to a society, determines the character of itsculture. Invention was the mother of necessity. Yet this influence of technology,while crucial, was to Veblen by no means immediate and direct. A newtechnology does not automatically bring forth new systems of laws, new moralattitudes, or new types of education. Rather, it challenges old institutions andevokes their resistance. "Institutions are products of the past process, areadapted to past circumstances, and are therefore never in full accord with therequirements of the present." Those who have a "vested interest'' in the oldorder will bend every effort to maintain old institutions even when they areno longer in tune with technological developments. The characteristic attitudeof those advocates of the status quo "may be summed up in the maxim: 'What-ever is, is right;' whereas the law of natural selection as applied to humaninstitutions, gives the axiom: 'Whatever is, is wrong." In the end, Veblenbelieved, a new technology erodes vested ideas, overcomes vested interests, andreshapes institutions in accord with its own needs. But this process may takeconsiderable time, and in that time lag--when, for example, an industrialsociety is still governed by legal and moral rules dating from the handicraftera--society suffers from the waste that is brought about by the lack of cor-respondence between its institutions and its technology.
  200. In periods of transition between an old order and one about to be born,social conflicts are likely to be accentuated. In contrast to Marx, Veblen didnot conceive of the class struggle as the motor of history. He saw as the shap-ing force of history the clash between advancing technology and retarding in-stitutions. Only during periods when this clash was particularly acute did heexpect an exacerbation of class antagonisms between those engaged in thepecuniary employments, who had vested interest in things as they were, andthose in industrial employments who were in tune with the technological de-mands of the hour.
  202. Although he was beholden to a general evolutionary doctrine, Veblen didnot believe in unilinear evolution. He was acutely aware of what later theoristscalled "the skipping of evolutionary stages"; hence he focused attention on"the advantage of borrowing the technological arts rather than developing themby home growth." When technologies are borrowed from another society,Veblen argued, they "do not carry over the fringe of other cultural elementsthat have grown up about them in the course of their development and use."Technological elements can therefore be acquired ready-made and they do notcarry the institutional ballast with which they were freighted in the countryof origin. Thus the Germans took over British machine technology "withoutthe fault of its qualities." While in England older institutions still hamperedand impeded this technology and older and newer technological techniquesand processes existed side by side, the Germans took over the more advancedtechnologies and applied them to the fullest in an environment unimpeded byvested interests. These observations seem especially pertinent today in the lightof the problems faced by developing societies.
  204. While borrowing may help to accelerate the evolutionary growth of theborrowing country, it leads to relative decline in the competitive positionof the country of origin. This is "the penalty of taking the lead." An industrialsystem like that of England, which "has been long engaged in a course of im-provement, extension, innovation and specialization, will in the past havecommitted itself to what was at the time an adequate scale of appliancesand schedule of processes." But such established equipment will be out ofdate as the industrial process proceeds. Hence obsolescent technologies arelikely to exist alongside new equipment. There will be improvements, adapta-tions, and repairs but also a "fatal reluctance or inability to overcome thisall-pervading depreciation by obsolescence." The railroads of Great Britain,for example, were built with too narrow a gauge and the "terminal facilities,tracks, shunting facilities, and all the means of handling freight . . . are alladapted to the bobtailed car." From the point of view of the community atlarge all this equipment should be discarded, but since it is still profitable thecaptains of the railroad industry have a vested interest in maintaining it,thereby contributing to the industrial decadence of England. "All this does notmean that the British have sinned against the canons of technology. It is onlythat they are paying the penalty for having been thrown into the lead and sohaving shown the way."
  206. Veblen wrote this when England was governed by Lloyd George, andGermany was ruled by the Kaiser. But fifty years later, the England of PrimeMinister Edward Heath and the Germany of Chancellor Willy Brandt stillseem subject to the same forces; and the contemporary development of Japanfurnishes even stronger evidence for Veblen's far-reaching prescience.
  208. The preceding pages have not touched upon a number of Vebleniannotions, in particular his theory of "instincts." This omission is deliberate."The instinct of workmanship," "the parental bent," or "the instinct of idlecuriosity"--concepts Veblen used to "explain" the concern for a job well done,the solicitude for one's offspring, and the motive force for scientific curiosityrespectively--are vague and unsatisfactory. Veblen introduced them as a kindof deus ex machina when he wished to defend a practice or behavior patternhe liked to see maintained, even though his "instincts" are not meant to denoteunchangeable biological impulses but rather prepotent propensities subject tocultural conditioning and modification. Veblen, like all instinct theorists, wasprone to infer the operation of instincts from observed behavior--which theseinstincts were then supposed to explain. This device has little scientific utility.
  210. What is likely to endure in Veblen's sociological work is not the theoryof instincts but his theory of the socially induced motivations for competitivebehavior, his acute ferreting out of latent functions, and certain elements of histechnological interpretation of history and of his theory of the lag betweentechnological and institutional development. It is likely that analysts of theprocess of "modernization" will still be making use of his notions about the"advantage of borrowing" and the "penalty of taking the lead" when hisdoctrine of instinct will long have been forgotten.
  212. From Coser, 1977:272-274.
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