Friday, June 17, 2022

Notes on Thorstein Veblen's The Theory of the Leisure Class

The Theory of the Leisure Class by Thorstein Veblen
Mineola, NY: Dover, 1994 (ISBN 0-486-28062-4)

(page 20) So soon as the possession of property becomes the basis of popular esteem, therefore, it becomes also a requisite to that complacency which we call self-respect.

(21) … 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… pecuniary standing...

(22) An invidious comparison is a process of valuation of persons in respect of worth.

(28) It has already been remarked that the term “leisure,” as here used, does not connote indolence or quiescence. What it connotes is non-productive consumption of time. Time is consumed non-productively (1) from a sense of the unworthiness of productive work, and (2) as an evidence of pecuniary ability to afford a life of idleness.

(49) So, those offices which are by right the proper employment of the leisure class are noble; such as government, fighting, hunting, the care of arms and accoutrements, and the like, - in short, those which may be classed as ostensibly predatory employments.

(53) … pecuniary decency*… conspicuous consumption…

(54) It is not that the city population is by nature much more eager for the peculiar complacency that comes of a conspicuous consumption, nor has the rural population less regard for pecuniary decency.

(60) *In order to be reputable it must be wasteful.

(71) The caution has already been repeated more than once, that while the regulating norm of consumption is in large part the requirement of conspicuous waste, it must not be understood that the motive on which the consumer acts in any given case is the principle in its bald, unsophisticated form.

(94) 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 servicibility for their ostensible mechanical purpose are honorific.

(100) … the canon [of conspicuous consumption] 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.

(108) The standard of reputability requires that dress should show wasteful expenditure; but all wastefulness is offensive to native taste. The psychological law has already been pointed out that all men - and women perhaps even in a higher degree - abhor futility, whether of effort or of expenditure, - much as Nature was once said to abhor a vacuum. But the principle of conspicuous waste requires an obviously futile expenditure; and the resulting conspicuous expensiveness of dress is therefore intrinsically ugly.

(122) Except for the fear of offending that chauvinistic patriotism which is so characteristic a feature of the predatory culture, and the presence of which is frequently the most striking mark of reversion in modern communities, the case of the American colonies might be cited as an example of such a reversion on an unusually large scale, though it was not a reversion of very large scope.

(123) The leisure class is the conservative class.

… 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.

(124) Innovation is bad form.

Editorial Comment: Innovation now conspicuously consumed and consuming

(142) Mercantile pursuits are only half-way reputable, unless they involve a large element of ownership and a small element of usefulness.

(152) Moreover, the ostensible serious occupation of the upper class is that of government, which, in point of origin and developmental content, is also a predatory occupation.

(153) It is only the high-bred gentleman and the rowdy that normally resort to blows as the universal solvent of differences of opinion.

(157) It is noticeable, for instance, that even very mild-mannered and matter-of-fact men who go out shooting are apt to carry an excess of arms and accoutrements in order to impress upon their own imagination the seriousness of their undertaking. These huntsmen are also prone to histrionic, prancing gait and to an elaborate exaggeration of the motions, whether of stealth or on onslaught, involved in their deeds of exploit.

… Except where it is adopted as a necessary means of secret communication, the use of a special slang in any employment is probably to be accepted as evidence that the occupation in question is substantially make-believe.

(165) From the evidence already recited it appears that, in sentiment and inclinations, the leisure class is more favourable to a warlike attitude and animus than the industrial classes.

(181) Indeed, it is somewhat insistently claimed as a meritorious feature of sporting life that the habitual participants in athletic games are in some degree peculiarly given to devout practices.

(184) The predatory habit of mind involves an accentuated sense of personal dignity and of the relative standing of individuals. The social structure in which the predatory habit has been the dominant factor in the shaping of institutions is a structure based on status. The pervading norm in the predatory community’s scheme of life is the relation of superior and inferiors, noble and base, dominant and subservient persons and classes, master and slave. The anthropomorphic cults have come down from that stage of industrial development and have been shaped by the same scheme of economic differentiation, - a differentiation into consumer and producer, - and they are pervaded by the same dominant principle of mastery and subservience.

(189) It is not only incumbent on the priestly class to abstain from vulgar labour, especially so far as it is lucrative or is apprehended to contribute to the temporal well-being of mankind.
Editorial Comment: Monastic work rules of basic labor and service may contradict as does history of alternatives like Mondragon cooperatives

(204) This non-invidious residue of the religious life, - the sense of communion with the environment, or with the generic life process, - as well as the impulse of charity or of sociability, act in a pervasive way to shape men’s habits of thought for the economic purpose. But the action of all this class of proclivities is somewhat vague, and their effects are difficult to trace in detail. So much seems clear, however, as that the action of this entire class of motives or aptitudes tends in a direction contrary to the underlying principles of the institution of the leisure class as already formulated. The basis of that institution, as well as of the anthropomorphic cults associated with it in the cultural development, is the habit of invidious comparison; and this habit is incongruous with the exercise of the aptitudes now in question. The substantial canons of the leisure-class scheme of life are a conspicuous waste of time and substance and a withdrawal from the industrial process; while the particular aptitudes here in question assert themselves, on the economic side, in a deprecation of waste and of a futile manner of life, and in an impulse to participation in or identification with the life process, whether it be on the economic side or in any other of its phases or aspects.

(211) As has been seen in an earlier chapter, the canons of reputability or decency under the pecuniary culture insist on habitual futility of effort as the mark of a pecuniarily blameless life. There results not only a habit of disesteem of useful occupations, but there results also what is of more decisive consequence in guiding the action of any organised body of people that lays claim to social good repute. There is a tradition which requires that one should not be vulgarly familiar with any of the processes or details that have to do with the material necessities of life.

(228) … the leisure-class sense of the fitness of things, as appealing to the archaic propensity for spectacular effect and the predilection for antique symbolism…
NB: Society of the Spectacle

(234) In point of derivation, the office of government is a predatory function, pertaining integrally to the archaic leisure-class scheme of life. It is an exercise of control and coercion over the population from which the class draws its sustenance.

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