Wednesday, September 01, 2004

The Theory of the Leisure Class, by Thorstein Veblen

This book spun me out. I'd always thought it was a bit of a spoof on the leisure class, but it's actually a book of philosophy. You need to concentrate quite a bit when reading it. I needed to take a deep breath each time I came to turning a page.

Basically, the book is saying that the leisure class must show its superiority through wasteful consumption. Moreover, it says this goes back to the roots of a predatory savage culture. This wasteful consumption is of course built on the back of cheap, or even slave, labour. Thorstein Veblen says the first slaves were women. Indeed, he has many interesting things to say about women.

The Theory of the Leisure Class comes across as a pretty pessimistic book. One of the class notes provided at the back asks its students to discuss whether the author morally disapproves of what he describes, even though he many times claims to be only describing what he sees as the facts of the matter. I can't help but think he does morally disapprove, and is pretty disgusted with the upper leisure classes.

Here's a good example. He describes titles of honour in cultures.

'Honourable" is "formidable"; "worthy is "prepotent". A honorific act is in the last analysis little if anything else than a recongnised successful act of aggression; and where aggression means conflict with men and beasts, the activity which comes to be especially and primarily honourable is the assertion of the strong hand.'

And again:

'Under this common sense barbarian appreciation of worth or honour, the taking of life - the killing of formidable competitors, whether brute or human - is honourable in the highest degree.'

See what I mean. Pretty gloomy stuff, eh?

Here he is on his theory of conspicuous waste��

'Conspicuous waste and conspicuous leisure are reputable because they are evidence of pecuniary strength; pecuniary strength is reputable or honorific because, in the last analysis, it argues success and superior force�.'

Despite how all our current politicians say they abhor war, they can't help but keep waging it. Here's a great quote about elites and war making.

'The enthusiasm for war, and the predatory temper of which it is the index, prevail in the largest measure among the upper classes, especially among the hereditary leisure class. Moreover, the ostensible serious occupation of the upper class is that of government, which, in point of origin and developmental content, is also a predatory occupation.'

You get the drift. He has great passages on the playing of sport, and how it is a favourite of the leisure classes because it is predatory.

All manual work is described as being dishonorable, and that's why the upper classes seek leisure.

As I said, the book was a real spin out for me. I haven't read anything like it, and it made me look at the world in a new way.

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