The Theory of the Leisure Class, by Thorstein Veblen

Chapter Nine

The Conservation of Archaic Traits

The institution of a leisure class has an effect not only upon social structure but also upon the individual character of the members of society. So soon as a given proclivity or a given point of view has won acceptance as an authoritative standard or norm of life it will react upon the character of the members of the society which has accepted it as a norm. It will to some extent shape their habits of thought and will exercise a selective surveillance over the development of men’s aptitudes and inclinations. This effect is wrought partly by a coercive, educational adaptation of the habits of all individuals, partly by a selective elimination of the unfit individuals and lines of descent. Such human material as does not lend itself to the methods of life imposed by the accepted scheme suffers more or less elimination as well as repression. The principles of pecuniary emulation and of industrial exemption have in this way been erected into canons of life, and have become coercive factors of some importance in the situation to which men have to adapt themselves.

These two broad principles of conspicuous waste and industrial exemption affect the cultural development both by guiding men’s habits of thought, and so controlling the growth of institutions, and by selectively conserving certain traits of human nature that conduce to facility of life under the leisure-class scheme, and so controlling the effective temper of the community. The proximate tendency of the institution of a leisure class in shaping human character runs in the direction of spiritual survival and reversion. Its effect upon the temper of a community is of the nature of an arrested spiritual development. In the later culture especially, the institution has, on the whole, a conservative trend. This proposition is familiar enough in substance, but it may to many have the appearance of novelty in its present application. Therefore a summary review of its logical grounds may not be uncalled for, even at the risk of some tedious repetition and formulation of commonplaces.

Social evolution is a process of selective adaptation of temperament and habits of thought under the stress of the circumstances of associated life. The adaptation of habits of thought is the growth of institutions. But along with the growth of institutions has gone a change of a more substantial character. Not only have the habits of men changed with the changing exigencies of the situation, but these changing exigencies have also brought about a correlative change in human nature. The human material of society itself varies with the changing conditions of life. This variation of human nature is held by the later ethnologists to be a process of selection between several relatively stable and persistent ethnic types or ethnic elements. Men tend to revert or to breed true, more or less closely, to one or another of certain types of human nature that have in their main features been fixed in approximate conformity to a situation in the past which differed from the situation of today. There are several of these relatively stable ethnic types of mankind comprised in the populations of the Western culture. These ethnic types survive in the race inheritance today, not as rigid and invariable moulds, each of a single precise and specific pattern, but in the form of a greater or smaller number of variants. Some variation of the ethnic types has resulted under the protracted selective process to which the several types and their hybrids have been subjected during the prehistoric and historic growth of culture.

This necessary variation of the types themselves, due to a selective process of considerable duration and of a consistent trend, has not been sufficiently noticed by the writers who have discussed ethnic survival. The argument is here concerned with two main divergent variants of human nature resulting from this, relatively late, selective adaptation of the ethnic types comprised in the Western culture; the point of interest being the probable effect of the situation of today in furthering variation along one or the other of these two divergent lines.

The ethnological position may be briefly summed up; and in order to avoid any but the most indispensable detail the schedule of types and variants and the scheme of reversion and survival in which they are concerned are here presented with a diagrammatic meagerness and simplicity which would not be admissible for any other purpose. The man of our industrial communities tends to breed true to one or the other of three main ethic types; the dolichocephalic-blond, the brachycephalic-brunette, and the Mediterranean — disregarding minor and outlying elements of our culture. But within each of these main ethnic types the reversion tends to one or the other of at least two main directions of variation; the peaceable or antepredatory variant and the predatory variant. The former of these two characteristic variants is nearer to the generic type in each case, being the reversional representative of its type as it stood at the earliest stage of associated life of which there is available evidence, either archaeological or psychological. This variant is taken to represent the ancestors of existing civilized man at the peaceable, savage phase of life which preceded the predatory culture, the regime of status, and the growth of pecuniary emulation. The second or predatory variant of the types is taken to be a survival of a more recent modification of the main ethnic types and their hybrids — of these types as they were modified, mainly by a selective adaptation, under the discipline of the predatory culture and the latter emulative culture of the quasi-peaceable stage, or the pecuniary culture proper.

Under the recognized laws of heredity there may be a survival from a more or less remote past phase. In the ordinary, average, or normal case, if the type has varied, the traits of the type are transmitted approximately as they have stood in the recent past — which may be called the hereditary present. For the purpose in hand this hereditary present is represented by the later predatory and the quasi-peaceable culture.

It is to the variant of human nature which is characteristic of this recent — hereditarily still existing — predatory or quasi-predatory culture that the modern civilized man tends to breed true in the common run of cases. This proposition requires some qualification so far as concerns the descendants of the servile or repressed classes of barbarian times, but the qualification necessary is probably not so great as might at first thought appear. Taking the population as a whole, this predatory, emulative variant does not seem to have attained a high degree of consistency or stability. That is to say, the human nature inherited by modern Occidental man is not nearly uniform in respect of the range or the relative strength of the various aptitudes and propensities which go to make it up. The man of the hereditary present is slightly archaic as judged for the purposes of the latest exigencies of associated life. And the type to which the modern man chiefly tends to revert under the law of variation is a somewhat more archaic human nature. On the other hand, to judge by the reversional traits which show themselves in individuals that vary from the prevailing predatory style of temperament, the ante-predatory variant seems to have a greater stability and greater symmetry in the distribution or relative force of its temperamental elements.

This divergence of inherited human nature, as between an earlier and a later variant of the ethnic type to which the individual tends to breed true, is traversed and obscured by a similar divergence between the two or three main ethnic types that go to make up the Occidental populations. The individuals in these communities are conceived to be, in virtually every instance, hybrids of the prevailing ethnic elements combined in the most varied proportions; with the result that they tend to take back to one or the other of the component ethnic types. These ethnic types differ in temperament in a way somewhat similar to the difference between the predatory and the antepredatory variants of the types; the dolicho-blond type showing more of the characteristics of the predatory temperament — or at least more of the violent disposition — than the brachycephalic-brunette type, and especially more than the Mediterranean. When the growth of institutions or of the effective sentiment of a given community shows a divergence from the predatory human nature, therefore, it is impossible to say with certainty that such a divergence indicates a reversion to the ante-predatory variant. It may be due to an increasing dominance of the one or the other of the “lower” ethnic elements in the population. Still, although the evidence is not as conclusive as might be desired, there are indications that the variations in the effective temperament of modern communities is not altogether due to a selection between stable ethnic types. It seems to be to some appreciable extent a selection between the predatory and the peaceable variants of the several types. This conception of contemporary human evolution is not indispensable to the discussion. The general conclusions reached by the use of these concepts of selective adaptation would remain substantially true if the earlier, Darwinian and Spencerian, terms and concepts were substituted. Under the circumstances, some latitude may be admissible in the use of terms. The word “type” is used loosely, to denote variations of temperament which the ethnologists would perhaps recognize only as trivial variants of the type rather than as distinct ethnic types. Wherever a closer discrimination seems essential to the argument, the effort to make such a closer discrimination will be evident from the context.

The ethnic types of today, then, are variants of the primitive racial types. They have suffered some alteration, and have attained some degree of fixity in their altered form, under the discipline of the barbarian culture. The man of the hereditary present is the barbarian variant, servile or aristocratic, of the ethnic elements that constitute him. But this barbarian variant has not attained the highest degree of homogeneity or of stability. The barbarian culture — the predatory and quasi-peaceable cultural stages — though of great absolute duration, has been neither protracted enough nor invariable enough in character to give an extreme fixity of type. Variations from the barbarian human nature occur with some frequency, and these cases of variation are becoming more noticeable today, because the conditions of modern life no longer act consistently to repress departures from the barbarian normal. The predatory temperament does not lead itself to all the purposes of modern life, and more especially not to modern industry.

Departures from the human nature of the hereditary present are most frequently of the nature of reversions to an earlier variant of the type. This earlier variant is represented by the temperament which characterizes the primitive phase of peaceable savagery. The circumstances of life and the ends of effort that prevailed before the advent of the barbarian culture, shaped human nature and fixed it as regards certain fundamental traits. And it is to these ancient, generic features that modern men are prone to take back in case of variation from the human nature of the hereditary present. The conditions under which men lived in the most primitive stages of associated life that can properly be called human, seem to have been of a peaceful kind; and the character — the temperament and spiritual attitude of men under these early conditions or environment and institutions seems to have been of a peaceful and unaggressive, not to say an indolent, cast. For the immediate purpose this peaceable cultural stage may be taken to mark the initial phase of social development. So far as concerns the present argument, the dominant spiritual feature of this presumptive initial phase of culture seems to have been an unreflecting, unformulated sense of group solidarity, largely expressing itself in a complacent, but by no means strenuous, sympathy with all facility of human life, and an uneasy revulsion against apprehended inhibition or futility of life. Through its ubiquitous presence in the habits of thought of the ante-predatory savage man, this pervading but uneager sense of the generically useful seems to have exercised an appreciable constraining force upon his life and upon the manner of his habitual contact with other members of the group.

The traces of this initial, undifferentiated peaceable phase of culture seem faint and doubtful if we look merely to such categorical evidence of its existence as is afforded by usages and views in vogue within the historical present, whether in civilized or in rude communities; but less dubious evidence of its existence is to be found in psychological survivals, in the way of persistent and pervading traits of human character. These traits survive perhaps in an especial degree among those ethic elements which were crowded into the background during the predatory culture. Traits that were suited to the earlier habits of life then became relatively useless in the individual struggle for existence. And those elements of the population, or those ethnic groups, which were by temperament less fitted to the predatory life were repressed and pushed into the background. On the transition to the predatory culture the character of the struggle for existence changed in some degree from a struggle of the group against a non-human environment to a struggle against a human environment. This change was accompanied by an increasing antagonism and consciousness of antagonism between the individual members of the group. The conditions of success within the group, as well as the conditions of the survival of the group, changed in some measure; and the dominant spiritual attitude for the group gradually changed, and brought a different range of aptitudes and propensities into the position of legitimate dominance in the accepted scheme of life. Among these archaic traits that are to be regarded as survivals from the peaceable cultural phase, are that instinct of race solidarity which we call conscience, including the sense of truthfulness and equity, and the instinct of workmanship, in its naive, non-invidious expression.

Under the guidance of the later biological and psychological science, human nature will have to be restated in terms of habit; and in the restatement, this, in outline, appears to be the only assignable place and ground of these traits. These habits of life are of too pervading a character to be ascribed to the influence of a late or brief discipline. The ease with which they are temporarily overborne by the special exigencies of recent and modern life argues that these habits are the surviving effects of a discipline of extremely ancient date, from the teachings of which men have frequently been constrained to depart in detail under the altered circumstances of a later time; and the almost ubiquitous fashion in which they assert themselves whenever the pressure of special exigencies is relieved, argues that the process by which the traits were fixed and incorporated into the spiritual make-up of the type must have lasted for a relatively very long time and without serious intermission. The point is not seriously affected by any question as to whether it was a process of habituation in the old-fashioned sense of the word or a process of selective adaptation of the race.

The character and exigencies of life, under that regime of status and of individual and class antithesis which covers the entire interval from the beginning of predatory culture to the present, argue that the traits of temperament here under discussion could scarcely have arisen and acquired fixity during that interval. It is entirely probable that these traits have come down from an earlier method of life, and have survived through the interval of predatory and quasi-peaceable culture in a condition of incipient, or at least imminent, desuetude, rather than that they have been brought out and fixed by this later culture. They appear to be hereditary characteristics of the race, and to have persisted in spite of the altered requirements of success under the predatory and the later pecuniary stages of culture. They seem to have persisted by force of the tenacity of transmission that belongs to an hereditary trait that is present in some degree in every member of the species, and which therefore rests on a broad basis of race continuity.

Such a generic feature is not readily eliminated, even under a process of selection so severe and protracted as that to which the traits here under discussion were subjected during the predatory and quasi-peaceable stages. These peaceable traits are in great part alien to the methods and the animus of barbarian life. The salient characteristic of the barbarian culture is an unremitting emulation and antagonism between classes and between individuals. This emulative discipline favors those individuals and lines of descent which possess the peaceable savage traits in a relatively slight degree. It therefore tends to eliminate these traits, and it has apparently weakened them, in an appreciable degree, in the populations that have been subject to it. Even where the extreme penalty for non-conformity to the barbarian type of temperament is not paid, there results at least a more or less consistent repression of the non-conforming individuals and lines of descent. Where life is largely a struggle between individuals within the group, the possession of the ancient peaceable traits in a marked degree would hamper an individual in the struggle for life.

Under any known phase of culture, other or later than the presumptive initial phase here spoken of, the gifts of good-nature, equity, and indiscriminate sympathy do not appreciably further the life of the individual. Their possession may serve to protect the individual from hard usage at the hands of a majority that insists on a modicum of these ingredients in their ideal of a normal man; but apart from their indirect and negative effect in this way, the individual fares better under the regime of competition in proportion as he has less of these gifts. Freedom from scruple, from sympathy, honesty and regard for life, may, within fairly wide limits, be said to further the success of the individual in the pecuniary culture. The highly successful men of all times have commonly been of this type; except those whose success has not been scored in terms of either wealth or power. It is only within narrow limits, and then only in a Pickwickian sense, that honesty is the best policy.

As seen from the point of view of life under modern civilized conditions in an enlightened community of the Western culture, the primitive, ante-predatory savage, whose character it has been attempted to trace in outline above, was not a great success. Even for the purposes of that hypothetical culture to which his type of human nature owes what stability it has — even for the ends of the peaceable savage group — this primitive man has quite as many and as conspicuous economic failings as he has economic virtues — as should be plain to any one whose sense of the case is not biased by leniency born of a fellow-feeling. At his best he is “a clever, good-for-nothing fellow.” The shortcomings of this presumptively primitive type of character are weakness, inefficiency, lack of initiative and ingenuity, and a yielding and indolent amiability, together with a lively but inconsequential animistic sense. Along with these traits go certain others which have some value for the collective life process, in the sense that they further the facility of life in the group. These traits are truthfulness, peaceableness, good-will, and a non-emulative, non-invidious interest in men and things.

With the advent of the predatory stage of life there comes a change in the requirements of the successful human character. Men’s habits of life are required to adapt themselves to new exigencies under a new scheme of human relations. The same unfolding of energy, which had previously found expression in the traits of savage life recited above, is now required to find expression along a new line of action, in a new group of habitual responses to altered stimuli. The methods which, as counted in terms of facility of life, answered measurably under the earlier conditions, are no longer adequate under the new conditions. The earlier situation was characterized by a relative absence of antagonism or differentiation of interests, the later situation by an emulation constantly increasing in relative absence of antagonism or differentiation of interests, the later situation by an emulation constantly increasing in intensity and narrowing in scope. The traits which characterize the predatory and subsequent stages of culture, and which indicate the types of man best fitted to survive under the regime of status, are (in their primary expression) ferocity, self-seeking, clannishness, and disingenuousness — a free resort to force and fraud.

Under the severe and protracted discipline of the regime of competition, the selection of ethnic types has acted to give a somewhat pronounced dominance to these traits of character, by favoring the survival of those ethnic elements which are most richly endowed in these respects. At the same time the earlier — acquired, more generic habits of the race have never ceased to have some usefulness for the purpose of the life of the collectivity and have never fallen into definitive abeyance. It may be worth while to point out that the dolicho-blond type of European man seems to owe much of its dominating influence and its masterful position in the recent culture to its possessing the characteristics of predatory man in an exceptional degree. These spiritual traits, together with a large endowment of physical energy — itself probably a result of selection between groups and between lines of descent — chiefly go to place any ethnic element in the position of a leisure or master class, especially during the earlier phases of the development of the institution of a leisure class. This need not mean that precisely the same complement of aptitudes in any individual would insure him an eminent personal success. Under the competitive regime, the conditions of success for the individual are not necessarily the same as those for a class. The success of a class or party presumes a strong element of clannishness, or loyalty to a chief, or adherence to a tenet; whereas the competitive individual can best achieve his ends if he combines the barbarian’s energy, initiative, self-seeking and disingenuousness with the savage’s lack of loyalty or clannishness. It may be remarked by the way, that the men who have scored a brilliant (Napoleonic) success on the basis of an impartial self-seeking and absence of scruple, have not uncommonly shown more of the physical characteristics of the brachycephalic-brunette than of the dolicho-blond. The greater proportion of moderately successful individuals, in a self-seeking way, however, seem, in physique, to belong to the last-named ethnic element.

The temperament induced by the predatory habit of life makes for the survival and fullness of life of the individual under a regime of emulation; at the same time it makes for the survival and success of the group if the group’s life as a collectivity is also predominantly a life of hostile competition with other groups. But the evolution of economic life in the industrially more mature communities has now begun to take such a turn that the interest of the community no longer coincides with the emulative interests of the individual. In their corporate capacity, these advanced industrial communities are ceasing to be competitors for the means of life or for the right to live — except in so far as the predatory propensities of their ruling classes keep up the tradition of war and rapine. These communities are no longer hostile to one another by force of circumstances, other than the circumstances of tradition and temperament. Their material interests — apart, possibly, from the interests of the collective good fame — are not only no longer incompatible, but the success of any one of the communities unquestionably furthers the fullness of life of any other community in the group, for the present and for an incalculable time to come. No one of them any longer has any material interest in getting the better of any other. The same is not true in the same degree as regards individuals and their relations to one another.

The collective interests of any modern community center in industrial efficiency. The individual is serviceable for the ends of the community somewhat in proportion to his efficiency in the productive employments vulgarly so called. This collective interest is best served by honesty, diligence, peacefulness, good-will, an absence of self-seeking, and an habitual recognition and apprehension of causal sequence, without admixture of animistic belief and without a sense of dependence on any preternatural intervention in the course of events. Not much is to be said for the beauty, moral excellence, or general worthiness and reputability of such a prosy human nature as these traits imply; and there is little ground of enthusiasm for the manner of collective life that would result from the prevalence of these traits in unmitigated dominance. But that is beside the point. The successful working of a modern industrial community is best secured where these traits concur, and it is attained in the degree in which the human material is characterized by their possession. Their presence in some measure is required in order to have a tolerable adjustment to the circumstances of the modern industrial situation. The complex, comprehensive, essentially peaceable, and highly organized mechanism of the modern industrial community works to the best advantage when these traits, or most of them, are present in the highest practicable degree. These traits are present in a markedly less degree in the man of the predatory type than is useful for the purposes of the modern collective life.

On the other hand, the immediate interest of the individual under the competitive regime is best served by shrewd trading and unscrupulous management. The characteristics named above as serving the interests of the community are disserviceable to the individual, rather than otherwise. The presence of these aptitudes in his make-up diverts his energies to other ends than those of pecuniary gain; and also in his pursuit of gain they lead him to seek gain by the indirect and ineffectual channels of industry, rather than by a free and unfaltering career of sharp practice. The industrial aptitudes are pretty consistently a hindrance to the individual. Under the regime of emulation the members of a modern industrial community are rivals, each of whom will best attain his individual and immediate advantage if, through an exceptional exemption from scruple, he is able serenely to overreach and injure his fellows when the chance offers.

It has already been noticed that modern economic institutions fall into two roughly distinct categories — the pecuniary and the industrial. The like is true of employments. Under the former head are employments that have to do with ownership or acquisition; under the latter head, those that have to do with workmanship or production. As was found in speaking of the growth of institutions, so with regard to employments. The economic interests of the leisure class lie in the pecuniary employments; those of the working classes lie in both classes of employments, but chiefly in the industrial. Entrance to the leisure class lies through the pecuniary employments.

These two classes of employment differ materially in respect of the aptitudes required for each; and the training which they give similarly follows two divergent lines. The discipline of the pecuniary employments acts to conserve and to cultivate certain of the predatory aptitudes and the predatory animus. It does this both by educating those individuals and classes who are occupied with these employments and by selectively repressing and eliminating those individuals and lines of descent that are unfit in this respect. So far as men’s habits of thought are shaped by the competitive process of acquisition and tenure; so far as their economic functions are comprised within the range of ownership of wealth as conceived in terms of exchange value, and its management and financiering through a permutation of values; so far their experience in economic life favors the survival and accentuation of the predatory temperament and habits of thought. Under the modern, peaceable system, it is of course the peaceable range of predatory habits and aptitudes that is chiefly fostered by a life of acquisition. That is to say, the pecuniary employments give proficiency in the general line of practices comprised under fraud, rather than in those that belong under the more archaic method of forcible seizure.

These pecuniary employments, tending to conserve the predatory temperament, are the employments which have to do with ownership — the immediate function of the leisure class proper — and the subsidiary functions concerned with acquisition and accumulation. These cover the class of persons and that range of duties in the economic process which have to do with the ownership of enterprises engaged in competitive industry; especially those fundamental lines of economic management which are classed as financiering operations. To these may be added the greater part of mercantile occupations. In their best and clearest development these duties make up the economic office of the “captain of industry.” The captain of industry is an astute man rather than an ingenious one, and his captaincy is a pecuniary rather than an industrial captaincy. Such administration of industry as he exercises is commonly of a permissive kind. The mechanically effective details of production and of industrial organization are delegated to subordinates of a less “practical” turn of mind — men who are possessed of a gift for workmanship rather than administrative ability. So far as regards their tendency in shaping human nature by education and selection, the common run of non-economic employments are to be classed with the pecuniary employments. Such are politics and ecclesiastical and military employments.

The pecuniary employments have also the sanction of reputability in a much higher degree than the industrial employments. In this way the leisure-class standards of good repute come in to sustain the prestige of those aptitudes that serve the invidious purpose; and the leisure-class scheme of decorous living, therefore, also furthers the survival and culture of the predatory traits. Employments fall into a hierarchical gradation of reputability. Those which have to do immediately with ownership on a large scale are the most reputable of economic employments proper. Next to these in good repute come those employments that are immediately subservient to ownership and financiering — such as banking and the law. Banking employments also carry a suggestion of large ownership, and this fact is doubtless accountable for a share of the prestige that attaches to the business. The profession of the law does not imply large ownership; but since no taint of usefulness, for other than the competitive purpose, attaches to the lawyer’s trade, it grades high in the conventional scheme. The lawyer is exclusively occupied with the details of predatory fraud, either in achieving or in checkmating chicanery, and success in the profession is therefore accepted as marking a large endowment of that barbarian astuteness which has always commanded men’s respect and fear. Mercantile pursuits are only half-way reputable, unless they involve a large element of ownership and a small element of usefulness. They grade high or low somewhat in proportion as they serve the higher or the lower needs; so that the business of retailing the vulgar necessaries of life descends to the level of the handicrafts and factory labor. Manual labor, or even the work of directing mechanical processes, is of course on a precarious footing as regards respectability. A qualification is necessary as regards the discipline given by the pecuniary employments. As the scale of industrial enterprise grows larger, pecuniary management comes to bear less of the character of chicanery and shrewd competition in detail. That is to say, for an ever-increasing proportion of the persons who come in contact with this phase of economic life, business reduces itself to a routine in which there is less immediate suggestion of overreaching or exploiting a competitor. The consequent exemption from predatory habits extends chiefly to subordinates employed in business. The duties of ownership and administration are virtually untouched by this qualification. The case is different as regards those individuals or classes who are immediately occupied with the technique and manual operations of production. Their daily life is not in the same degree a course of habituation to the emulative and invidious motives and maneuvers of the pecuniary side of industry. They are consistently held to the apprehension and coordination of mechanical facts and sequences, and to their appreciation and utilization for the purposes of human life. So far as concerns this portion of the population, the educative and selective action of the industrial process with which they are immediately in contact acts to adapt their habits of thought to the non-invidious purposes of the collective life. For them, therefore, it hastens the obsolescence of the distinctively predatory aptitudes and propensities carried over by heredity and tradition from the barbarian past of the race.

The educative action of the economic life of the community, therefore, is not of a uniform kind throughout all its manifestations. That range of economic activities which is concerned immediately with pecuniary competition has a tendency to conserve certain predatory traits; while those industrial occupations which have to do immediately with the production of goods have in the main the contrary tendency. But with regard to the latter class of employments it is to be noticed in qualification that the persons engaged in them are nearly all to some extent also concerned with matters of pecuniary competition (as, for instance, in the competitive fixing of wages and salaries, in the purchase of goods for consumption, etc.). Therefore the distinction here made between classes of employments is by no means a hard and fast distinction between classes of persons.

The employments of the leisure classes in modern industry are such as to keep alive certain of the predatory habits and aptitudes. So far as the members of those classes take part in the industrial process, their training tends to conserve in them the barbarian temperament. But there is something to be said on the other side. Individuals so placed as to be exempt from strain may survive and transmit their characteristics even if they differ widely from the average of the species both in physique and in spiritual make-up. The chances for a survival and transmission of atavistic traits are greatest in those classes that are most sheltered from the stress of circumstances. The leisure class is in some degree sheltered from the stress of the industrial situation, and should, therefore, afford an exceptionally great proportion of reversions to the peaceable or savage temperament. It should be possible for such aberrant or atavistic individuals to unfold their life activity on ante-predatory lines without suffering as prompt a repression or elimination as in the lower walks of life.

Something of the sort seems to be true in fact. There is, for instance, an appreciable proportion of the upper classes whose inclinations lead them into philanthropic work, and there is a considerable body of sentiment in the class going to support efforts of reform and amelioration. And much of this philanthropic and reformatory effort, moreover, bears the marks of that amiable “cleverness” and incoherence that is characteristic of the primitive savage. But it may still be doubtful whether these facts are evidence of a larger proportion of reversions in the higher than in the lower strata, even if the same inclinations were present in the impecunious classes, it would not as easily find expression there; since those classes lack the means and the time and energy to give effect to their inclinations in this respect. The prima facie evidence of the facts can scarcely go unquestioned.

In further qualification it is to be noted that the leisure class of today is recruited from those who have been successful in a pecuniary way, and who, therefore, are presumably endowed with more than an even complement of the predatory traits. Entrance into the leisure class lies through the pecuniary employments, and these employments, by selection and adaptation, act to admit to the upper levels only those lines of descent that are pecuniarily fit to survive under the predatory test. And so soon as a case of reversion to non-predatory human nature shows itself on these upper levels, it is commonly weeded out and thrown back to the lower pecuniary levels. In order to hold its place in the class, a stock must have the pecuniary temperament; otherwise its fortune would be dissipated and it would presently lose caste. Instances of this kind are sufficiently frequent. The constituency of the leisure class is kept up by a continual selective process, whereby the individuals and lines of descent that are eminently fitted for an aggressive pecuniary competition are withdraw from the lower classes. In order to reach the upper levels the aspirant must have, not only a fair average complement of the pecuniary aptitudes, but he must have these gifts in such an eminent degree as to overcome very material difficulties that stand in the way of his ascent. Barring accidents, the nouveaux arrivés are a picked body.

This process of selective admission has, of course, always been going on; ever since the fashion of pecuniary emulation set in-which is much the same as saying, ever since the institution of a leisure class was first installed. But the precise ground of selection has not always been the same, and the selective process has therefore not always given the same results. In the early barbarian, or predatory stage proper, the test of fitness was prowess, in the naive sense of the word. To gain entrance to the class, the candidate had to be gifted with clannishness, massiveness, ferocity, unscrupulousness, and tenacity of purpose. These were the qualities that counted toward the accumulation and continued tenure of wealth. The economic basis of the leisure class, then as later, was the possession of wealth; but the methods of accumulating wealth, and the gifts required for holding it, have changed in some degree since the early days of the predatory culture. In consequence of the selective process the dominant traits of the early barbarian leisure class were bold aggression, an alert sense of status, and a free resort to fraud. The members of the class held their place by tenure of prowess. In the later barbarian culture society attained settled methods of acquisition and possession under the quasi-peaceable regime of status. Simple aggression and unrestrained violence in great measure gave place to shrewd practice and chicanery, as the best approved method of accumulating wealth. A different range of aptitudes and propensities would then be conserved in the leisure class. Masterful aggression, and the correlative massiveness, together with a ruthlessly consistent sense of status, would still count among the most splendid traits of the class. These have remained in our traditions as the typical “aristocratic virtues.” But with these were associated an increasing complement of the less obtrusive pecuniary virtues; such as providence, prudence, and chicanery. As time has gone on, and the modern peaceable stage of pecuniary culture has been approached, the last-named range of aptitudes and habits has gained in relative effectiveness for pecuniary ends, and they have counted for relatively more in the selective process under which admission is gained and place is held in the leisure class.

The ground of selection has changed, until the aptitudes which now qualify for admission to the class are the pecuniary aptitudes only. What remains of the predatory barbarian traits is the tenacity of purpose or consistency of aim which distinguished the successful predatory barbarian from the peaceable savage whom he supplanted. But this trait can not be said characteristically to distinguish the pecuniarily successful upper-class man from the rank and file of the industrial classes. The training and the selection to which the latter are exposed in modern industrial life give a similarly decisive weight to this trait. Tenacity of purpose may rather be said to distinguish both these classes from two others; the shiftless ne’er do-well and the lower-class delinquent. In point of natural endowment the pecuniary man compares with the delinquent in much the same way as the industrial man compares with the good-natured shiftless dependent. The ideal pecuniary man is like the ideal delinquent in his unscrupulous conversion of goods and persons to his own ends, and in a callous disregard of the feelings and wishes of others and of the remoter effects of his actions; but he is unlike him in possessing a keener sense of status, and in working more consistently and farsightedly to a remoter end. The kinship of the two types of temperament is further shown in a proclivity to “sport” and gambling, and a relish of aimless emulation. The ideal pecuniary man also shows a curious kinship with the delinquent in one of the concomitant variations of the predatory human nature. The delinquent is very commonly of a superstitious habit of mind; he is a great believer in luck, spells, divination and destiny, and in omens and shamanistic ceremony. Where circumstances are favorable, this proclivity is apt to express itself in a certain servile devotional fervor and a punctilious attention to devout observances; it may perhaps be better characterized as devoutness than as religion. At this point the temperament of the delinquent has more in common with the pecuniary and leisure classes than with the industrial man or with the class of shiftless dependents.

Life in a modern industrial community, or in other words life under the pecuniary culture, acts by a process of selection to develop and conserve a certain range of aptitudes and propensities. The present tendency of this selective process is not simply a reversion to a given, immutable ethnic type. It tends rather to a modification of human nature differing in some respects from any of the types or variants transmitted out of the past. The objective point of the evolution is not a single one. The temperament which the evolution acts to establish as normal differs from any one of the archaic variants of human nature in its greater stability of aim — greater singleness of purpose and greater persistence in effort. So far as concerns economic theory, the objective point of the selective process is on the whole single to this extent; although there are minor tendencies of considerable importance diverging from this line of development. But apart from this general trend the line of development is not single. As concerns economic theory, the development in other respects runs on two divergent lines. So far as regards the selective conservation of capacities or aptitudes in individuals, these two lines may be called the pecuniary and the industrial. As regards the conservation of propensities, spiritual attitude, or animus, the two may be called the invidious or self-regarding and the non-invidious or economical. As regards the intellectual or cognitive bent of the two directions of growth, the former may be characterized as the personal standpoint, of conation, qualitative relation, status, or worth; the latter as the impersonal standpoint, of sequence, quantitative relation, mechanical efficiency, or use.

The pecuniary employments call into action chiefly the former of these two ranges of aptitudes and propensities, and act selectively to conserve them in the population. The industrial employments, on the other hand, chiefly exercise the latter range, and act to conserve them. An exhaustive psychological analysis will show that each of these two ranges of aptitudes and propensities is but the multiform expression of a given temperamental bent. By force of the unity or singleness of the individual, the aptitudes, animus, and interests comprised in the first-named range belong together as expressions of a given variant of human nature. The like is true of the latter range. The two may be conceived as alternative directions of human life, in such a way that a given individual inclines more or less consistently to the one or the other. The tendency of the pecuniary life is, in a general way, to conserve the barbarian temperament, but with the substitution of fraud and prudence, or administrative ability, in place of that predilection for physical damage that characterizes the early barbarian. This substitution of chicanery in place of devastation takes place only in an uncertain degree. Within the pecuniary employments the selective action runs pretty consistently in this direction, but the discipline of pecuniary life, outside the competition for gain, does not work consistently to the same effect. The discipline of modern life in the consumption of time and goods does not act unequivocally to eliminate the aristocratic virtues or to foster the bourgeois virtues. The conventional scheme of decent living calls for a considerable exercise of the earlier barbarian traits. Some details of this traditional scheme of life, bearing on this point, have been noticed in earlier chapters under the head of leisure, and further details will be shown in later chapters.

From what has been said, it appears that the leisure-class life and the leisure-class scheme of life should further the conservation of the barbarian temperament; chiefly of the quasi-peaceable, or bourgeois, variant, but also in some measure of the predatory variant. In the absence of disturbing factors, therefore, it should be possible to trace a difference of temperament between the classes of society. The aristocratic and the bourgeois virtues — that is to say the destructive and pecuniary traits — should be found chiefly among the upper classes, and the industrial virtues — that is to say the peaceable traits — chiefly among the classes given to mechanical industry.

In a general and uncertain way this holds true, but the test is not so readily applied nor so conclusive as might be wished. There are several assignable reasons for its partial failure. All classes are in a measure engaged in the pecuniary struggle, and in all classes the possession of the pecuniary traits counts towards the success and survival of the individual. Wherever the pecuniary culture prevails, the selective process by which men’s habits of thought are shaped, and by which the survival of rival lines of descent is decided, proceeds proximately on the basis of fitness for acquisition. Consequently, if it were not for the fact that pecuniary efficiency is on the whole incompatible with industrial efficiency, the selective action of all occupations would tend to the unmitigated dominance of the pecuniary temperament. The result would be the installation of what has been known as the “economic man,” as the normal and definitive type of human nature. But the “economic man,” whose only interest is the self-regarding one and whose only human trait is prudence is useless for the purposes of modern industry.

The modern industry requires an impersonal, non-invidious interest in the work in hand. Without this the elaborate processes of industry would be impossible, and would, indeed, never have been conceived. This interest in work differentiates the workman from the criminal on the one hand, and from the captain of industry on the other. Since work must be done in order to the continued life of the community, there results a qualified selection favoring the spiritual aptitude for work, within a certain range of occupations. This much, however, is to be conceded, that even within the industrial occupations the selective elimination of the pecuniary traits is an uncertain process, and that there is consequently an appreciable survival of the barbarian temperament even within these occupations. On this account there is at present no broad distinction in this respect between the leisure-class character and the character of the common run of the population.

The whole question as to a class distinction in respect to spiritual make-up is also obscured by the presence, in all classes of society, of acquired habits of life that closely simulate inherited traits and at the same time act to develop in the entire body of the population the traits which they simulate. These acquired habits, or assumed traits of character, are most commonly of an aristocratic cast. The prescriptive position of the leisure class as the exemplar of reputability has imposed many features of the leisure-class theory of life upon the lower classes; with the result that there goes on, always and throughout society, a more or less persistent cultivation of these aristocratic traits. On this ground also these traits have a better chance of survival among the body of the people than would be the case if it were not for the precept and example of the leisure class. As one channel, and an important one, through which this transfusion of aristocratic views of life, and consequently more or less archaic traits of character goes on, may be mentioned the class of domestic servants. These have their notions of what is good and beautiful shaped by contact with the master class and carry the preconceptions so acquired back among their low-born equals, and so disseminate the higher ideals abroad through the community without the loss of time which this dissemination might otherwise suffer. The saying “Like master, like man,” has a greater significance than is commonly appreciated for the rapid popular acceptance of many elements of upper-class culture.

There is also a further range of facts that go to lessen class differences as regards the survival of the pecuniary virtues. The pecuniary struggle produces an underfed class, of large proportions. This underfeeding consists in a deficiency of the necessaries of life or of the necessaries of a decent expenditure. In either case the result is a closely enforced struggle for the means with which to meet the daily needs; whether it be the physical or the higher needs. The strain of self-assertion against odds takes up the whole energy of the individual; he bends his efforts to compass his own invidious ends alone, and becomes continually more narrowly self-seeking. The industrial traits in this way tend to obsolescence through disuse. Indirectly, therefore, by imposing a scheme of pecuniary decency and by withdrawing as much as may be of the means of life from the lower classes, the institution of a leisure class acts to conserve the pecuniary traits in the body of the population. The result is an assimilation of the lower classes to the type of human nature that belongs primarily to the upper classes only. It appears, therefore, that there is no wide difference in temperament between the upper and the lower classes; but it appears also that the absence of such a difference is in good part due to the prescriptive example of the leisure class and to the popular acceptance of those broad principles of conspicuous waste and pecuniary emulation on which the institution of a leisure class rests. The institution acts to lower the industrial efficiency of the community and retard the adaptation of human nature to the exigencies of modern industrial life. It affects the prevalent or effective human nature in a conservative direction, (1) by direct transmission of archaic traits, through inheritance within the class and wherever the leisure-class blood is transfused outside the class, and (2) by conserving and fortifying the traditions of the archaic regime, and so making the chances of survival of barbarian traits greater also outside the range of transfusion of leisure-class blood.

But little if anything has been done towards collecting or digesting data that are of special significance for the question of survival or elimination of traits in the modern populations. Little of a tangible character can therefore be offered in support of the view here taken, beyond a discursive review of such everyday facts as lie ready to hand. Such a recital can scarcely avoid being commonplace and tedious, but for all that it seems necessary to the completeness of the argument, even in the meager outline in which it is here attempted. A degree of indulgence may therefore fairly be bespoken for the succeeding chapters, which offer a fragmentary recital of this kind.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/v/veblen/thorstein/leisure/chapter9.html

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