The Theory of the Leisure Class, by Thorstein Veblen

Chapter Thirteen

Survivals of the Non–Invidious Interests

In an increasing proportion as time goes on, the anthropomorphic cult, with its code of devout observations, suffers a progressive disintegration through the stress of economic exigencies and the decay of the system of status. As this disintegration proceeds, there come to be associated and blended with the devout attitude certain other motives and impulses that are not always of an anthropomorphic origin, nor traceable to the habit of personal subservience. Not all of these subsidiary impulses that blend with the habit of devoutness in the later devotional life are altogether congruous with the devout attitude or with the anthropomorphic apprehension of the sequence of phenomena. The origin being not the same, their action upon the scheme of devout life is also not in the same direction. In many ways they traverse the underlying norm of subservience or vicarious life to which the code of devout observations and the ecclesiastical and sacerdotal institutions are to be traced as their substantial basis. Through the presence of these alien motives the social and industrial regime of status gradually disintegrates, and the canon of personal subservience loses the support derived from an unbroken tradition. Extraneous habits and proclivities encroach upon the field of action occupied by this canon, and it presently comes about that the ecclesiastical and sacerdotal structures are partially converted to other uses, in some measure alien to the purposes of the scheme of devout life as it stood in the days of the most vigorous and characteristic development of the priesthood.

Among these alien motives which affect the devout scheme in its later growth, may be mentioned the motives of charity and of social good-fellowship, or conviviality; or, in more general terms, the various expressions of the sense of human solidarity and sympathy. It may be added that these extraneous uses of the ecclesiastical structure contribute materially to its survival in name and form even among people who may be ready to give up the substance of it. A still more characteristic and more pervasive alien element in the motives which have gone to formally uphold the scheme of devout life is that non-reverent sense of aesthetic congruity with the environment, which is left as a residue of the latter-day act of worship after elimination of its anthropomorphic content. This has done good service for the maintenance of the sacerdotal institution through blending with the motive of subservience. This sense of impulse of aesthetic congruity is not primarily of an economic character, but it has a considerable indirect effect in shaping the habit of mind of the individual for economic purposes in the later stages of industrial development; its most perceptible effect in this regard goes in the direction of mitigating the somewhat pronounced self-regarding bias that has been transmitted by tradition from the earlier, more competent phases of the regime of status. The economic bearing of this impulse is therefore seen to transverse that of the devout attitude; the former goes to qualify, if not eliminate, the self-regarding bias, through sublation of the antithesis or antagonism of self and notself; while the latter, being and expression of the sense of personal subservience and mastery, goes to accentuate this antithesis and to insist upon the divergence between the self-regarding interest and the interests of the generically human life process.

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.

It is plain that these aptitudes and habits of life to which they give rise where circumstances favor their expression, or where they assert themselves in a dominant way, run counter to the leisure-class scheme of life; but it is not clear that life under the leisure-class scheme, as seen in the later stages of its development, tends consistently to the repression of these aptitudes or to exemption from the habits of thought in which they express themselves. The positive discipline of the leisure-class scheme of life goes pretty much all the other way. In its positive discipline, by prescription and by selective elimination, the leisure-class scheme favors the all-pervading and all-dominating primacy of the canons of waste and invidious comparison at every conjuncture of life. But in its negative effects the tendency of the leisure-class discipline is not so unequivocally true to the fundamental canons of the scheme. In its regulation of human activity for the purpose of pecuniary decency the leisure-class canon insists on withdrawal from the industrial process. That is to say, it inhibits activity in the directions in which the impecunious members of the community habitually put forth their efforts. Especially in the case of women, and more particularly as regards the upper-class and upper-middle-class women of advanced industrial communities, this inhibition goes so far as to insist on withdrawal even from the emulative process of accumulation by the quasi-predator methods of the pecuniary occupations.

The pecuniary or the leisure-class culture, which set out as an emulative variant of the impulse of workmanship, is in its latest development beginning to neutralize its own ground, by eliminating the habit of invidious comparison in respect of efficiency, or even of pecuniary standing. On the other hand, the fact that members of the leisure class, both men and women, are to some extent exempt from the necessity of finding a livelihood in a competitive struggle with their fellows, makes it possible for members of this class not only to survive, but even, within bounds, to follow their bent in case they are not gifted with the aptitudes which make for success in the competitive struggle. That is to say, in the latest and fullest development of the institution, the livelihood of members of this class does not depend on the possession and the unremitting exercise of those aptitudes are therefore greater in the higher grades of the leisure class than in the general average of a population living under the competitive system.

In an earlier chapter, in discussing the conditions of survival of archaic traits, it has appeared that the peculiar position of the leisure class affords exceptionally favorable chances for the survival of traits which characterize the type of human nature proper to an earlier and obsolete cultural stage. The class is sheltered from the stress of economic exigencies, and is in this sense withdrawn from the rude impact of forces which make for adaptation to the economic situation. The survival in the leisure class, and under the leisure-class scheme of life, of traits and types that are reminiscent of the predatory culture has already been discussed. These aptitudes and habits have an exceptionally favorable chance of survival under the leisure-class regime. Not only does the sheltered pecuniary position of the leisure class afford a situation favorable to the survival of such individuals as are not gifted with the complement of aptitudes required for serviceability in the modern industrial process; but the leisure-class canons of reputability at the same time enjoin the conspicuous exercise of certain predatory aptitudes. The employments in which the predatory aptitudes find exercise serve as an evidence of wealth, birth, and withdrawal from the industrial process. The survival of the predatory traits under the leisure-class culture is furthered both negatively, through the industrial exemption of the class, and positively, through the sanction of the leisure-class canons of decency.

With respect to the survival of traits characteristic of the ante-predatory savage culture the case is in some degree different. The sheltered position of the leisure class favors the survival also of these traits; but the exercise of the aptitudes for peace and good-will does not have the affirmative sanction of the code of proprieties. Individuals gifted with a temperament that is reminiscent of the ante-predatory culture are placed at something of an advantage within the leisure class, as compared with similarly gifted individuals outside the class, in that they are not under a pecuniary necessity to thwart these aptitudes that make for a non-competitive life; but such individuals are still exposed to something of a moral constraint which urges them to disregard these inclinations, in that the code of proprieties enjoins upon them habits of life based on the predatory aptitudes. So long as the system of status remains intact, and so long as the leisure class has other lines of non-industrial activity to take to than obvious killing of time in aimless and wasteful fatigation, so long no considerable departure from the leisure-class scheme of reputable life is to be looked for. The occurrence of non-predatory temperament with the class at that stage is to be looked upon as a case of sporadic reversion. But the reputable non-industrial outlets for the human propensity to action presently fail, through the advance of economic development, the disappearance of large game, the decline of war, the obsolescence of proprietary government, and the decay of the priestly office. When this happens, the situation begins to change. Human life must seek expression in one direction if it may not in another; and if the predatory outlet fails, relief is sought elsewhere.

As indicated above, the exemption from pecuniary stress has been carried farther in the case of the leisure-class women of the advanced industrial communities than in that of any other considerable group of persons. The women may therefore be expected to show a more pronounced reversion to a non-invidious temperament than the men. But there is also among men of the leisure class a perceptible increase in the range and scope of activities that proceed from aptitudes which are not to be classed as self-regarding, and the end of which is not an invidious distinction. So, for instance, the greater number of men who have to do with industry in the way of pecuniarily managing an enterprise take some interest and some pride in seeing that the work is well done and is industrially effective, and this even apart from the profit which may result from any improvement of this kind. The efforts of commercial clubs and manufacturers’ organizations in this direction of non-invidious advancement of industrial efficiency are also well know.

The tendency to some other than an invidious purpose in life has worked out in a multitude of organizations, the purpose of which is some work of charity or of social amelioration. These organizations are often of a quasi-religious or pseudo-religious character, and are participated in by both men and women. Examples will present themselves in abundance on reflection, but for the purpose of indicating the range of the propensities in question and of characterizing them, some of the more obvious concrete cases may be cited. Such, for instance, are the agitation for temperance and similar social reforms, for prison reform, for the spread of education, for the suppression of vice, and for the avoidance of war by arbitration, disarmament, or other means; such are, in some measure, university settlements, neighborhood guilds, the various organizations typified by the Young Men’s Christian Association and Young People’s Society for Christian Endeavor, sewing-clubs, art clubs, and even commercial clubs; such are also, in some slight measure, the pecuniary foundations of semi-public establishments for charity, education, or amusement, whether they are endowed by wealthy individuals or by contributions collected from persons of smaller means — in so far as these establishments are not of a religious character.

It is of course not intended to say that these efforts proceed entirely from other motives than those of a self-regarding kind. What can be claimed is that other motives are present in the common run of cases, and that the perceptibly greater prevalence of effort of this kind under the circumstances of the modern industrial life than under the unbroken regime of the principle of status, indicates the presence in modern life of an effective scepticism with respect to the full legitimacy of an emulative scheme of life. It is a matter of sufficient notoriety to have become a commonplace jest that extraneous motives are commonly present among the incentives to this class of work — motives of a self-regarding kind, and especially the motive of an invidious distinction. To such an extent is this true, that many ostensible works of disinterested public spirit are no doubt initiated and carried on with a view primarily to the enhance repute or even to the pecuniary gain, of their promoters. In the case of some considerable groups of organizations or establishments of this kind the invidious motive is apparently the dominant motive both with the initiators of the work and with their supporters. This last remark would hold true especially with respect to such works as lend distinction to their doer through large and conspicuous expenditure; as, for example, the foundation of a university or of a public library or museum; but it is also, and perhaps equally, true of the more commonplace work of participation in such organizations. These serve to authenticate the pecuniary reputability of their members, as well as gratefully to keep them in mind of their superior status by pointing the contrast between themselves and the lower-lying humanity in whom the work of amelioration is to be wrought; as, for example, the university settlement, which now has some vogue. But after all allowances and deductions have been made, there is left some remainder of motives of a non-emulative kind. The fact itself that distinction or a decent good fame is sought by this method is evidence of a prevalent sense of the legitimacy, and of the presumptive effectual presence, of a non-emulative, non-invidious interest, as a consistent factor in the habits of thought of modern communities.

In all this latter-day range of leisure-class activities that proceed on the basis of a non-invidious and non-religious interest, it is to be noted that the women participate more actively and more persistently than the men — except, of course, in the case of such works as require a large expenditure of means. The dependent pecuniary position of the women disables them for work requiring large expenditure. As regards the general range of ameliorative work, the members of the priesthood or clergy of the less naively devout sects, or the secularized denominations, are associated with the class of women. This is as the theory would have it. In other economic relations, also, this clergy stands in a somewhat equivocal position between the class of women and that of the men engaged in economic pursuits. By tradition and by the prevalent sense of the proprieties, both the clergy and the women of the well-to-do classes are placed in the position of a vicarious leisure class; with both classes the characteristic relation which goes to form the habits of thought of the class is a relation of subservience — that is to say, an economic relation conceived in personal terms; in both classes there is consequently perceptible a special proneness to construe phenomena in terms of personal relation rather than of causal sequence; both classes are so inhibited by the canons of decency from the ceremonially unclean processes of the lucrative or productive occupations as to make participation in the industrial life process of today a moral impossibility for them. The result of this ceremonial exclusion from productive effort of the vulgar sort is to draft a relatively large share of the energies of the modern feminine and priestly classes into the service of other interests than the self-regarding one. The code leaves no alternative direction in which the impulse to purposeful action may find expression. The effect of a consistent inhibition on industrially useful activity in the case of the leisure-class women shows itself in a restless assertion of the impulse to workmanship in other directions than that of business activity. As has been noticed already, the everyday life of the well-to-do women and the clergy contains a larger element of status than that of the average of the men, especially than that of the men engaged in the modern industrial occupations proper. Hence the devout attitude survives in a better state of preservation among these classes than among the common run of men in the modern communities. Hence an appreciable share of the energy which seeks expression in a non-lucrative employment among these members of the vicarious leisure classes may be expected to eventuate in devout observances and works of piety. Hence, in part, the excess of the devout proclivity in women, spoken of in the last chapter. But it is more to the present point to note the effect of this proclivity in shaping the action and coloring the purposes of the non-lucrative movements and organizations here under discussion. Where this devout coloring is present it lowers the immediate efficiency of the organizations for any economic end to which their efforts may be directed. Many organizations, charitable and ameliorative, divide their attention between the devotional and the secular well-being of the people whose interests they aim to further. It can scarcely be doubted that if they were to give an equally serious attention and effort undividedly to the secular interests of these people, the immediate economic value of their work should be appreciably higher than it is. It might of course similarly be said, if this were the place to say it, that the immediate efficiency of these works of amelioration for the devout might be greater if it were not hampered with the secular motives and aims which are usually present.

Some deduction is to be made from the economic value of this class of non-invidious enterprise, on account of the intrusion of the devotional interest. But there are also deductions to be made on account of the presence of other alien motives which more or less broadly traverse the economic trend of this non-emulative expression of the instinct of workmanship. To such an extent is this seen to be true on a closer scrutiny, that, when all is told, it may even appear that this general class of enterprises is of an altogether dubious economic value — as measured in terms of the fullness or facility of life of the individuals or classes to whose amelioration the enterprise is directed. For instance, many of the efforts now in reputable vogue for the amelioration of the indigent population of large cities are of the nature, in great part, of a mission of culture. It is by this means sought to accelerate the rate of speed at which given elements of the upper-class culture find acceptance in the everyday scheme of life of the lower classes. The solicitude of “settlements,” for example, is in part directed to enhance the industrial efficiency of the poor and to teach them the more adequate utilization of the means at hand; but it is also no less consistently directed to the inculcation, by precept and example, of certain punctilios of upper-class propriety in manners and customs. The economic substance of these proprieties will commonly be found on scrutiny to be a conspicuous waste of time and goods. Those good people who go out to humanize the poor are commonly, and advisedly, extremely scrupulous and silently insistent in matters of decorum and the decencies of life. They are commonly persons of an exemplary life and gifted with a tenacious insistence on ceremonial cleanness in the various items of their daily consumption. The cultural or civilizing efficacy of this inculcation of correct habits of thought with respect to the consumption of time and commodities is scarcely to be overrated; nor is its economic value to the individual who acquires these higher and more reputable ideals inconsiderable. Under the circumstances of the existing pecuniary culture, the reputability, and consequently the success, of the individual is in great measure dependent on his proficiency in demeanor and methods of consumption that argue habitual waste of time and goods. But as regards the ulterior economic bearing of this training in worthier methods of life, it is to be said that the effect wrought is in large part a substitution of costlier or less efficient methods of accomplishing the same material results, in relations where the material result is the fact of substantial economic value. The propaganda of culture is in great part an inculcation of new tastes, or rather of a new schedule of proprieties, which have been adapted to the upper-class scheme of life under the guidance of the leisure-class formulation of the principles of status and pecuniary decency. This new schedule of proprieties is intruded into the lower-class scheme of life from the code elaborated by an element of the population whose life lies outside the industrial process; and this intrusive schedule can scarcely be expected to fit the exigencies of life for these lower classes more adequately than the schedule already in vogue among them, and especially not more adequately than the schedule which they are themselves working out under the stress of modern industrial life.

All this of course does not question the fact that the proprieties of the substituted schedule are more decorous than those which they displace. The doubt which presents itself is simply a doubt as to the economic expediency of this work of regeneration — that is to say, the economic expediency in that immediate and material bearing in which the effects of the change can be ascertained with some degree of confidence, and as viewed from the standpoint not of the individual but of the facility of life of the collectivity. For an appreciation of the economic expediency of these enterprises of amelioration, therefore, their effective work is scarcely to be taken at its face value, even where the aim of the enterprise is primarily an economic one and where the interest on which it proceeds is in no sense self-regarding or invidious. The economic reform wrought is largely of the nature of a permutation in the methods of conspicuous waste.

But something further is to be said with respect to the character of the disinterested motives and canons of procedure in all work of this class that is affected by the habits of thought characteristic of the pecuniary culture; and this further consideration may lead to a further qualification of the conclusions already reached. 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 organized 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. One may meritoriously show a quantitative interest in the well-being of the vulgar, through subscriptions or through work on managing committees and the like. One may, perhaps even more meritoriously, show solicitude in general and in detail for the cultural welfare of the vulgar, in the way of contrivances for elevating their tastes and affording them opportunities for spiritual amelioration. But one should not betray an intimate knowledge of the material circumstances of vulgar life, or of the habits of thought of the vulgar classes, such as would effectually direct the efforts of these organizations to a materially useful end. This reluctance to avow an unduly intimate knowledge of the lower-class conditions of life in detail of course prevails in very different degrees in different individuals; but there is commonly enough of it present collectively in any organization of the kind in question profoundly to influence its course of action. By its cumulative action in shaping the usage and precedents of any such body, this shrinking from an imputation of unseemly familiarity with vulgar life tends gradually to set aside the initial motives of the enterprise, in favor of certain guiding principles of good repute, ultimately reducible to terms of pecuniary merit. So that in an organization of long standing the initial motive of furthering the facility of life in these classes comes gradually to be an ostensible motive only, and the vulgarly effective work of the organization tends to obsolescence.

What is true of the efficiency of organizations for non-invidious work in this respect is true also as regards the work of individuals proceeding on the same motives; though it perhaps holds true with more qualification for individuals than for organized enterprises. The habit of gauging merit by the leisure-class canons of wasteful expenditure and unfamiliarity with vulgar life, whether on the side of production or of consumption, is necessarily strong in the individuals who aspire to do some work of public utility. And if the individual should forget his station and turn his efforts to vulgar effectiveness, the common sense of the community-the sense of pecuniary decency — would presently reject his work and set him right. An example of this is seen in the administration of bequests made by public-spirited men for the single purpose (at least ostensibly) of furthering the facility of human life in some particular respect. The objects for which bequests of this class are most frequently made at present are most frequently made at present are schools, libraries, hospitals, and asylums for the infirm or unfortunate. The avowed purpose of the donor in these cases is the amelioration of human life in the particular respect which is named in the bequest; but it will be found an invariable rule that in the execution of the work not a little of other motives, frequency incompatible with the initial motive, is present and determines the particular disposition eventually made of a good share of the means which have been set apart by the bequest. Certain funds, for instance, may have been set apart as a foundation for a foundling asylum or a retreat for invalids. The diversion of expenditure to honorific waste in such cases is not uncommon enough to cause surprise or even to raise a smile. An appreciable share of the funds is spent in the construction of an edifice faced with some aesthetically objectionable but expensive stone, covered with grotesque and incongruous details, and designed, in its battlemented walls and turrets and its massive portals and strategic approaches, to suggest certain barbaric methods of warfare. The interior of the structure shows the same pervasive guidance of the canons of conspicuous waste and predatory exploit. The windows, for instance, to go no farther into detail, are placed with a view to impress their pecuniary excellence upon the chance beholder from the outside, rather than with a view to effectiveness for their ostensible end in the convenience or comfort of the beneficiaries within; and the detail of interior arrangement is required to conform itself as best it may to this alien but imperious requirement of pecuniary beauty.

In all this, of course, it is not to be presumed that the donor would have found fault, or that he would have done otherwise if he had taken control in person; it appears that in those cases where such a personal direction is exercised — where the enterprise is conducted by direct expenditure and superintendence instead of by bequest — the aims and methods of management are not different in this respect. Nor would the beneficiaries, or the outside observers whose ease or vanity are not immediately touched, be pleased with a different disposition of the funds. It would suit no one to have the enterprise conducted with a view directly to the most economical and effective use of the means at hand for the initial, material end of the foundation. All concerned, whether their interest is immediate and self-regarding, or contemplative only, agree that some considerable share of the expenditure should go to the higher or spiritual needs derived from the habit of an invidious comparison in predatory exploit and pecuniary waste. But this only goes to say that the canons of emulative and pecuniary reputability so far pervade the common sense of the community as to permit no escape or evasion, even in the case of an enterprise which ostensibly proceeds entirely on the basis of a non-invidious interest.

It may even be that the enterprise owes its honorific virtue, as a means of enhancing the donor’s good repute, to the imputed presence of this non-invidious motive; but that does not hinder the invidious interest from guiding the expenditure. The effectual presence of motives of an emulative or invidious origin in non-emulative works of this kind might be shown at length and with detail, in any one of the classes of enterprise spoken of above. Where these honorific details occur, in such cases, they commonly masquerade under designations that belong in the field of the aesthetic, ethical or economic interest. These special motives, derived from the standards and canons of the pecuniary culture, act surreptitiously to divert effort of a non-invidious kind from effective service, without disturbing the agent’s sense of good intention or obtruding upon his consciousness the substantial futility of his work. Their effect might be traced through the entire range of that schedule of non-invidious, meliorative enterprise that is so considerable a feature, and especially so conspicuous a feature, in the overt scheme of life of the well-to-do. But the theoretical bearing is perhaps clear enough and may require no further illustration; especially as some detailed attention will be given to one of these lines of enterprise — the establishments for the higher learning — in another connection.

Under the circumstances of the sheltered situation in which the leisure class is placed there seems, therefore, to be something of a reversion to the range of non-invidious impulses that characterizes the ante-predatory savage culture. The reversion comprises both the sense of workmanship and the proclivity to indolence and good-fellowship. But in the modern scheme of life canons of conduct based on pecuniary or invidious merit stand in the way of a free exercise of these impulses; and the dominant presence of these canons of conduct goes far to divert such efforts as are made on the basis of the non-invidious interest to the service of that invidious interest on which the pecuniary culture rests. The canons of pecuniary decency are reducible for the present purpose to the principles of waste, futility, and ferocity. The requirements of decency are imperiously present in meliorative enterprise as in other lines of conduct, and exercise a selective surveillance over the details of conduct and management in any enterprise. By guiding and adapting the method in detail, these canons of decency go far to make all non-invidious aspiration or effort nugatory. The pervasive, impersonal, uneager principle of futility is at hand from day to day and works obstructively to hinder the effectual expression of so much of the surviving ante-predatory aptitudes as is to be classed under the instinct of workmanship; but its presence does not preclude the transmission of those aptitudes or the continued recurrence of an impulse to find expression for them.

In the later and farther development of the pecuniary culture, the requirement of withdrawal from the industrial process in order to avoid social odium is carried so far as to comprise abstention from the emulative employments. At this advanced stage the pecuniary culture negatively favors the assertion of the non-invidious propensities by relaxing the stress laid on the merit of emulative, predatory, or pecuniary occupations, as compared with those of an industrial or productive kind. As was noticed above, the requirement of such withdrawal from all employment that is of human use applies more rigorously to the upper-class women than to any other class, unless the priesthood of certain cults might be cited as an exception, perhaps more apparent than real, to this rule. The reason for the more extreme insistence on a futile life for this class of women than for the men of the same pecuniary and social grade lies in their being not only an upper-grade leisure class but also at the same time a vicarious leisure class. There is in their case a double ground for a consistent withdrawal from useful effort.

It has been well and repeatedly said by popular writers and speakers who reflect the common sense of intelligent people on questions of social structure and function that the position of woman in any community is the most striking index of the level of culture attained by the community, and it might be added, by any given class in the community. This remark is perhaps truer as regards the stage of economic development than as regards development in any other respect. At the same time the position assigned to the woman in the accepted scheme of life, in any community or under any culture, is in a very great degree an expression of traditions which have been shaped by the circumstances of an earlier phase of development, and which have been but partially adapted to the existing economic circumstances, or to the existing exigencies of temperament and habits of mind by which the women living under this modern economic situation are actuated.

The fact has already been remarked upon incidentally in the course of the discussion of the growth of economic institutions generally, and in particular in speaking of vicarious leisure and of dress, that the position of women in the modern economic scheme is more widely and more consistently at variance with the promptings of the instinct of workmanship than is the position of the men of the same classes. It is also apparently true that the woman’s temperament includes a larger share of this instinct that approves peace and disapproves futility. It is therefore not a fortuitous circumstance that the women of modern industrial communities show a livelier sense of the discrepancy between the accepted scheme of life and the exigencies of the economic situation.

The several phases of the “woman question” have brought out in intelligible form the extent to which the life of women in modern society, and in the polite circles especially, is regulated by a body of common sense formulated under the economic circumstances of an earlier phase of development. It is still felt that woman’s life, in its civil, economic, and social bearing, is essentially and normally a vicarious life, the merit or demerit of which is, in the nature of things, to be imputed to some other individual who stands in some relation of ownership or tutelage to the woman. So, for instance, any action on the part of a woman which traverses an injunction of the accepted schedule of proprieties is felt to reflect immediately upon the honor of the man whose woman she is. There may of course be some sense of incongruity in the mind of any one passing an opinion of this kind on the woman’s frailty or perversity; but the common-sense judgment of the community in such matters is, after all, delivered without much hesitation, and few men would question the legitimacy of their sense of an outraged tutelage in any case that might arise. On the other hand, relatively little discredit attaches to a woman through the evil deeds of the man with whom her life is associated.

The good and beautiful scheme of life, then — that is to say the scheme to which we are habituated — assigns to the woman a “sphere” ancillary to the activity of the man; and it is felt that any departure from the traditions of her assigned round of duties is unwomanly. If the question is as to civil rights or the suffrage, our common sense in the matter — that is to say the logical deliverance of our general scheme of life upon the point in question — says that the woman should be represented in the body politic and before the law, not immediately in her own person, but through the mediation of the head of the household to which she belongs. It is unfeminine in her to aspire to a self-directing, self-centered life; and our common sense tells us that her direct participation in the affairs of the community, civil or industrial, is a menace to that social order which expresses our habits of thought as they have been formed under the guidance of the traditions of the pecuniary culture. “All this fume and froth of ‘emancipating woman from the slavery of man’ and so on, is, to use the chaste and expressive language of Elizabeth Cady Stanton inversely, ‘utter rot.’ The social relations of the sexes are fixed by nature. Our entire civilization — that is whatever is good in it — is based on the home.” The “home” is the household with a male head. This view, but commonly expressed even more chastely, is the prevailing view of the woman’s status, not only among the common run of the men of civilized communities, but among the women as well. Women have a very alert sense of what the scheme of proprieties requires, and while it is true that many of them are ill at ease under the details which the code imposes, there are few who do not recognize that the existing moral order, of necessity and by the divine right of prescription, places the woman in a position ancillary to the man. In the last analysis, according to her own sense of what is good and beautiful, the woman’s life is, and in theory must be, an expression of the man’s life at the second remove.

But in spite of this pervading sense of what is the good and natural place for the woman, there is also perceptible an incipient development of sentiment to the effect that this whole arrangement of tutelage and vicarious life and imputation of merit and demerit is somehow a mistake. Or, at least, that even if it may be a natural growth and a good arrangement in its time and place, and in spite of its patent aesthetic value, still it does not adequately serve the more everyday ends of life in a modern industrial community. Even that large and substantial body of well-bred, upper and middle-class women to whose dispassionate, matronly sense of the traditional proprieties this relation of status commends itself as fundamentally and eternally right-even these, whose attitude is conservative, commonly find some slight discrepancy in detail between things as they are and things as they should be in this respect. But that less manageable body of modern women who, by force of youth, education, or temperament, are in some degree out of touch with the traditions of status received from the barbarian culture, and in whom there is, perhaps, an undue reversion to the impulse of self-expression and workmanship — these are touched with a sense of grievance too vivid to leave them at rest.

In this “New–Woman” movement — as these blind and incoherent efforts to rehabilitate the woman’s preglacial standing have been named — there are at least two elements discernible, both of which are of an economic character. These two elements or motives are expressed by the double watchword, “Emancipation” and “Work.” Each of these words is recognized to stand for something in the way of a wide-spread sense of grievance. The prevalence of the sentiment is recognized even by people who do not see that there is any real ground for a grievance in the situation as it stands today. It is among the women of the well-to-do classes, in the communities which are farthest advanced in industrial development, that this sense of a grievance to be redressed is most alive and finds most frequent expression. That is to say, in other words, there is a demand, more or less serious, for emancipation from all relation of status, tutelage, or vicarious life; and the revulsion asserts itself especially among the class of women upon whom the scheme of life handed down from the regime of status imposes with least litigation a vicarious life, and in those communities whose economic development has departed farthest from the circumstances to which this traditional scheme is adapted. The demand comes from that portion of womankind which is excluded by the canons of good repute from all effectual work, and which is closely reserved for a life of leisure and conspicuous consumption.

More than one critic of this new-woman movement has misapprehended its motive. The case of the American “new woman” has lately been summed up with some warmth by a popular observer of social phenomena: “She is petted by her husband, the most devoted and hard-working of husbands in the world. . . . She is the superior of her husband in education, and in almost every respect. She is surrounded by the most numerous and delicate attentions. Yet she is not satisfied. . . . The Anglo–Saxon ‘new woman’ is the most ridiculous production of modern times, and destined to be the most ghastly failure of the century.” Apart from the deprecation — perhaps well placed — which is contained in this presentment, it adds nothing but obscurity to the woman question. The grievance of the new woman is made up of those things which this typical characterization of the movement urges as reasons why she should be content. She is petted, and is permitted, or even required, to consume largely and conspicuously — vicariously for her husband or other natural guardian. She is exempted, or debarred, from vulgarly useful employment — in order to perform leisure vicariously for the good repute of her natural (pecuniary) guardian. These offices are the conventional marks of the unfree, at the same time that they are incompatible with the human impulse to purposeful activity. But the woman is endowed with her share-which there is reason to believe is more than an even share — of the instinct of workmanship, to which futility of life or of expenditure is obnoxious. She must unfold her life activity in response to the direct, unmediated stimuli of the economic environment with which she is in contact. The impulse is perhaps stronger upon the woman than upon the man to live her own life in her own way and to enter the industrial process of the community at something nearer than the second remove.

So long as the woman’s place is consistently that of a drudge, she is, in the average of cases, fairly contented with her lot. She not only has something tangible and purposeful to do, but she has also no time or thought to spare for a rebellious assertion of such human propensity to self-direction as she has inherited. And after the stage of universal female drudgery is passed, and a vicarious leisure without strenuous application becomes the accredited employment of the women of the well-to-do classes, the prescriptive force of the canon of pecuniary decency, which requires the observance of ceremonial futility on their part, will long preserve high-minded women from any sentimental leaning to self-direction and a “sphere of usefulness.” This is especially true during the earlier phases of the pecuniary culture, while the leisure of the leisure class is still in great measure a predatory activity, an active assertion of mastery in which there is enough of tangible purpose of an invidious kind to admit of its being taken seriously as an employment to which one may without shame put one’s hand. This condition of things has obviously lasted well down into the present in some communities. It continues to hold to a different extent for different individuals, varying with the vividness of the sense of status and with the feebleness of the impulse to workmanship with which the individual is endowed. But where the economic structure of the community has so far outgrown the scheme of life based on status that the relation of personal subservience is no longer felt to be the sole “natural” human relation; there the ancient habit of purposeful activity will begin to assert itself in the less conformable individuals against the more recent, relatively superficial, relatively ephemeral habits and views which the predatory and the pecuniary culture have contributed to our scheme of life. These habits and views begin to lose their coercive force for the community or the class in question so soon as the habit of mind and the views of life due to the predatory and the quasi-peaceable discipline cease to be in fairly close accord with the later-developed economic situation. This is evident in the case of the industrious classes of modern communities; for them the leisure-class scheme of life has lost much of its binding force, especially as regards the element of status. But it is also visibly being verified in the case of the upper classes, though not in the same manner.

The habits derived from the predatory and quasi-peaceable culture are relatively ephemeral variants of certain underlying propensities and mental characteristics of the race; which it owes to the protracted discipline of the earlier, proto-anthropoid cultural stage of peaceable, relatively undifferentiated economic life carried on in contact with a relatively simple and invariable material environment. When the habits superinduced by the emulative method of life have ceased to enjoy the section of existing economic exigencies, a process of disintegration sets in whereby the habits of thought of more recent growth and of a less generic character to some extent yield the ground before the more ancient and more pervading spiritual characteristics of the race.

In a sense, then, the new-woman movement marks a reversion to a more generic type of human character, or to a less differentiated expression of human nature. It is a type of human nature which is to be characterized as proto-anthropoid, and, as regards the substance if not the form of its dominant traits, it belongs to a cultural stage that may be classed as possibly sub-human. The particular movement or evolutional feature in question of course shares this characterization with the rest of the later social development, in so far as this social development shows evidence of a reversion to the spiritual attitude that characterizes the earlier, undifferentiated stage of economic revolution. Such evidence of a general tendency to reversion from the dominance of the invidious interest is not entirely wanting, although it is neither plentiful nor unquestionably convincing. The general decay of the sense of status in modern industrial communities goes some way as evidence in this direction; and the perceptible return to a disapproval of futility in human life, and a disapproval of such activities as serve only the individual gain at the cost of the collectivity or at the cost of other social groups, is evidence to a like effect. There is a perceptible tendency to deprecate the infliction of pain, as well as to discredit all marauding enterprises, even where these expressions of the invidious interest do not tangibly work to the material detriment of the community or of the individual who passes an opinion on them. It may even be said that in the modern industrial communities the average, dispassionate sense of men says that the ideal character is a character which makes for peace, good-will, and economic efficiency, rather than for a life of self-seeking, force, fraud, and mastery.

The influence of the leisure class is not consistently for or against the rehabilitation of this proto-anthropoid human nature. So far as concerns the chance of survival of individuals endowed with an exceptionally large share of the primitive traits, the sheltered position of the class favors its members directly by withdrawing them from the pecuniary struggle; but indirectly, through the leisure-class canons of conspicuous waste of goods and effort, the institution of a leisure class lessens the chance of survival of such individuals in the entire body of the population. The decent requirements of waste absorb the surplus energy of the population in an invidious struggle and leave no margin for the non-invidious expression of life. The remoter, less tangible, spiritual effects of the discipline of decency go in the same direction and work perhaps more effectually to the same end. The canons of decent life are an elaboration of the principle of invidious comparison, and they accordingly act consistently to inhibit all non-invidious effort and to inculcate the self-regarding attitude.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/v/veblen/thorstein/leisure/chapter13.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 18:24