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The Theory of the Leisure Class* by Thorstein Veblen

Part 3 out of 6

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other hand, which come in under this head, and which are of so
concrete and specific a character as to admit of itemized
appreciation. It is more or less a rule that in communities which
are at the stage of economic development at which women are
valued by the upper class for their service, the ideal of female
beauty is a robust, large-limbed woman. The ground of
appreciation is the physique, while the conformation of the face
is of secondary weight only. A well-known instance of this ideal
of the early predatory culture is that of the maidens of the
Homeric poems.

This ideal suffers a change in the succeeding development, when,
in the conventional scheme, the office of the high-class wife
comes to be a vicarious leisure simply. The ideal then includes
the characteristics which are supposed to result from or to go
with a life of leisure consistently enforced. The ideal accepted
under these circumstances may be gathered from
descriptions of beautiful women by poets and writers of the
chivalric times. In the conventional scheme of those days ladies
of high degree were conceived to be in perpetual tutelage, and to
be scrupulously exempt from all useful work. The resulting
chivalric or romantic ideal of beauty takes cognizance chiefly of
the face, and dwells on its delicacy, and on the delicacy of the
hands and feet, the slender figure, and especially the slender
waist. In the pictured representations of the women of that time,
and in modern romantic imitators of the chivalric thought and
feeling, the waist is attenuated to a degree that implies extreme
debility. The same ideal is still extant among a considerable
portion of the population of modern industrial communities; but
it is to be said that it has retained its hold most tenaciously
in those modern communities which are least advanced in point of
economic and civil development, and which show the most
considerable survivals of status and of predatory institutions.
That is to say, the chivalric ideal is best preserved in those
existing communities which are substantially least modern.
Survivals of this lackadaisical or romantic ideal occur freely in
the tastes of the well-to-do classes of Continental countries.
In modern communities which have reached the higher levels of
industrial development, the upper leisure class has
accumulated so great a mass of wealth as to place its women above
all imputation of vulgarly productive labor. Here the status of
women as vicarious consumers is beginning to lose its place in
the sections of the body of the people; and as a consequence the
ideal of feminine beauty is beginning to change back again from
the infirmly delicate, translucent, and hazardously slender, to a
woman of the archaic type that does not disown her hands and
feet, nor, indeed, the other gross material facts of her person.
In the course of economic development the ideal of beauty among
the peoples of the Western culture has shifted from the woman of
physical presence to the lady, and it is beginning to shift back
again to the woman; and all in obedience to the changing
conditions of pecuniary emulation. The exigencies of emulation at
one time required lusty slaves; at another time they required a
conspicuous performance of vicarious leisure and consequently an
obvious disability; but the situation is now beginning to outgrow
this last requirement, since, under the higher efficiency of
modern industry, leisure in women is possible so far down the
scale of reputability that it will no longer serve as a
definitive mark of the highest pecuniary grade.

Apart from this general control exercised by the norm of
conspicuous waste over the ideal of feminine beauty, there are
one or two details which merit specific mention as showing how it
may exercise an extreme constraint in detail over men's sense of
beauty in women. It has already been noticed that at the stages
of economic evolution at which conspicuous leisure is much
regarded as a means of good repute, the ideal requires delicate
and diminutive bands and feet and a slender waist. These
features, together with the other, related faults of structure
that commonly go with them, go to show that the person so
affected is incapable of useful effort and must therefore be
supported in idleness by her owner. She is useless and expensive,
and she is consequently valuable as evidence of pecuniary
strength. It results that at this cultural stage women take
thought to alter their persons, so as to conform more nearly to
the requirements of the instructed taste of the time; and under
the guidance of the canon of pecuniary decency, the men find the
resulting artificially induced pathological features attractive.
So, for instance, the constricted waist which has had so wide and
persistent a vogue in the communities of the Western culture, and
so also the deformed foot of the Chinese. Both of these are
mutilations of unquestioned repulsiveness to the untrained sense.
It requires habituation to become reconciled to them. Yet there
is no room to question their attractiveness to men into whose
scheme of life they fit as honorific items sanctioned by the
requirements of pecuniary reputability. They are items of
pecuniary and cultural beauty which have come to do duty as
elements of the ideal of womanliness.

The connection here indicated between the aesthetic value and the
invidious pecuniary value of things is of course not present in
the consciousness of the valuer. So far as a person, in forming a
judgment of taste, takes thought and reflects that the object of
beauty under consideration is wasteful and
reputable, and therefore may legitimately be accounted beautiful;
so far the judgment is not a bona fide judgment of taste and does
not come up for consideration in this connection. The connection
which is here insisted on between the reputability and the
apprehended beauty of objects lies through the effect which the
fact of reputability has upon the valuer's habits of thought. He
is in the habit of forming judgments of value of various
kinds-economic, moral, aesthetic, or reputable concerning the
objects with which he has to do, and his attitude of commendation
towards a given object on any other ground will affect the degree
of his appreciation of the object when he comes to value it for
the aesthetic purpose. This is more particularly true as regards
valuation on grounds so closely related to the aesthetic ground
as that of reputability. The valuation for the aesthetic purpose
and for the purpose of repute are not held apart as distinctly as
might be. Confusion is especially apt to arise between these two
kinds of valuation, because the value of objects for repute is
not habitually distinguished in speech by the use of a special
descriptive term. The result is that the terms in familiar use to
designate categories or elements of beauty are applied to cover
this unnamed element of pecuniary merit, and the corresponding
confusion of ideas follows by easy consequence. The demands of
reputability in this way coalesce in the popular apprehension
with the demands of the sense of beauty, and beauty which is not
accompanied by the accredited marks of good repute is not
accepted. But the requirements of pecuniary reputability and
those of beauty in the naive sense do not in any appreciable
degree coincide. The elimination from our surroundings of the
pecuniarily unfit, therefore, results in a more or less thorough
elimination of that considerable range of elements of beauty
which do not happen to conform to the pecuniary requirement.
The underlying norms of taste are of very ancient growth,
probably far antedating the advent of the pecuniary institutions
that are here under discussion. Consequently, by force of the
past selective adaptation of men's habits of thought, it happens
that the requirements of beauty, simply, are for the most part
best satisfied by inexpensive contrivances and structures which
in a straightforward manner suggest both the office which they
are to perform and the method of serving their end. It may be in
place to recall the modern psychological position. Beauty of form
seems to be a question of facility of apperception. The
proposition could perhaps safely be made broader than this. If
abstraction is made from association, suggestion, and
"expression," classed as elements of beauty, then beauty in any
perceived object means that the mid readily unfolds its
apperceptive activity in the directions which the object in
question affords. But the directions in which activity readily
unfolds or expresses itself are the directions to which long and
close habituation has made the mind prone. So far as concerns the
essential elements of beauty, this habituation is an habituation
so close and long as to have induced not only a proclivity to the
apperceptive form in question, but an adaptation of physiological
structure and function as well. So far as the economic interest
enters into the constitution of beauty, it enters as a suggestion
or expression of adequacy to a purpose, a manifest and readily
inferable subservience to the life process. This expression of
economic facility or economic serviceability in any object --
what may be called the economic beauty of the object-is best
sewed by neat and unambiguous suggestion of its office and its
efficiency for the material ends of life.

On this ground, among objects of use the simple and
unadorned article is aesthetically the best. But since the
pecuniary canon of reputability rejects the inexpensive in
articles appropriated to individual consumption, the satisfaction
of our craving for beautiful things must be sought by way of
compromise. The canons of beauty must be circumvented by some
contrivance which will give evidence of a reputably wasteful
expenditure, at the same time that it meets the demands of our
critical sense of the useful and the beautiful, or at least meets
the demand of some habit which has come to do duty in place of
that sense. Such an auxiliary sense of taste is the sense of
novelty; and this latter is helped out in its surrogateship by
the curiosity with which men view ingenious and puzzling
contrivances. Hence it comes that most objects alleged to be
beautiful, and doing duty as such, show considerable ingenuity of
design and are calculated to puzzle the beholder -- to bewilder
him with irrelevant suggestions and hints of the improbable -- at
the same time that they give evidence of an expenditure of labor
in excess of what would give them their fullest efficency for
their ostensible economic end.

This may be shown by an illustration taken from outside the range
of our everyday habits and everyday contact, and so outside the
range of our bias. Such are the remarkable feather mantles of
Hawaii, or the well-known cawed handles of the ceremonial adzes
of several Polynesian islands. These are undeniably beautiful,
both in the sense that they offer a pleasing composition of form,
lines, and color, and in the sense that they evince great skill
and ingenuity in design and construction. At the same time the
articles are manifestly ill fitted to serve any other economic
purpose. But it is not always that the evolution of ingenious and
puzzling contrivances under the guidance of the canon of wasted
effort works out so happy a result. The result is quite as often
a virtually complete suppression of all elements that would bear
scrutiny as expressions of beauty, or of serviceability, and the
substitution of evidences of misspent ingenuity and labor, backed
by a conspicuous ineptitude; until many of the objects with which
we surround ourselves in everyday life, and even many articles of
everyday dress and ornament, are such as would not be tolerated
except under the stress of prescriptive tradition. Illustrations
of this substitution of ingenuity and expense in place of beauty
and serviceability are to be seen, for instance, in domestic
architecture, in domestic art or fancy work, in various articles
of apparel, especially of feminine and priestly apparel.

The canon of beauty requires expression of the generic. The
"novelty" due to the demands of conspicuous waste traverses this
canon of beauty, in that it results in making the physiognomy of
our objects of taste a congeries of idiosyncrasies; and the
idiosyncrasies are, moreover, under the selective surveillance of
the canon of expensiveness.

This process of selective adaptation of designs to the end of
conspicuous waste, and the substitution of pecuniary beauty for
aesthetic beauty, has been especially effective in the
development of architecture. It would be extremely difficult to
find a modern civilized residence or public building which can
claim anything better than relative inoffensiveness in the eyes
of anyone who will dissociate the elements of beauty from those
of honorific waste. The endless variety of fronts presented by
the better class of tenements and apartment houses in our cities
is an endless variety of architectural distress and of
suggestions of expensive discomfort. Considered as objects of
beauty, the dead walls of the sides and back of these structures,
left untouched by the hands of the artist, are commonly the best
feature of the building.

What has been said of the influence of the law of
conspicuous waste upon the canons of taste will hold true, with
but a slight change of terms, of its influence upon our notions
of the serviceability of goods for other ends than the aesthetic
one. Goods are produced and consumed as a means to the fuller
unfolding of human life; and their utility consists, in the first
instance, in their efficiency as means to this end. The end is,
in the first instance, the fullness of life of the individual,
taken in absolute terms. But the human proclivity to emulation
has seized upon the consumption of goods as a means to an
invidious comparison, and has thereby invested constable goods
with a secondary utility as evidence of relative ability to pay.
This indirect or secondary use of consumable goods lends an
honorific character to consumption and presently also to the
goods which best serve the emulative end of consumption. The
consumption of expensive goods is meritorious, and the goods
which contain an appreciable element of cost in excess of what
goes to give them serviceability for their ostensible mechanical
purpose are honorific. The marks of superfluous costliness in the
goods are therefore marks of worth -- of high efficency for the
indirect, invidious end to be served by their consumption; and
conversely, goods are humilific, and therefore unattractive, if
they show too thrifty an adaptation to the mechanical end sought
and do not include a margin of expensiveness on which to rest a
complacent invidious comparison. This indirect utility gives much
of their value to the "better" grades of goods. In order to
appeal to the cultivated sense of utility, an article must
contain a modicum of this indirect utility.

While men may have set out with disapproving an inexpensive
manner of living because it indicated inability to spend much,
and so indicated a lack of pecuniary success, they end by falling
into the habit of disapproving cheap things as being
intrinsically dishonorable or unworthy because they are cheap. As
time has gone on, each succeeding generation has received this
tradition of meritorious expenditure from the generation before
it, and has in its turn further elaborated and fortified the
traditional canon of pecuniary reputability in goods consumed;
until we have finally reached such a degree of conviction as to
the unworthiness of all inexpensive things, that we have no
longer any misgivings in formulating the maxim, "Cheap and
nasty." So thoroughly has the habit of approving the expensive
and disapproving the inexpensive been ingrained into our thinking
that we instinctively insist upon at least some measure of
wasteful expensiveness in all our consumption, even in the case
of goods which are consumed in strict privacy and without the
slightest thought of display. We all feel, sincerely and without
misgiving, that we are the more lifted up in spirit for having,
even in the privacy of our own household, eaten our daily meal by
the help of hand-wrought silver utensils, from hand-painted china
(often of dubious artistic value) laid on high-priced table
linen. Any retrogression from the standard of living which we are
accustomed to regard as worthy in this respect is felt to be a
grievous violation of our human dignity. So, also, for the last
dozen years candles have been a more pleasing source of light at
dinner than any other. Candlelight is now softer, less
distressing to well-bred eyes, than oil, gas, or electric light.
The same could not have been said thirty years ago, when candles
were, or recently had been, the cheapest available light for
domestic use. Nor are candles even now found to give an
acceptable or effective light for any other than a ceremonial

A political sage still living has summed up the conclusion of
this whole matter in the dictum: "A cheap coat makes a cheap
man," and there is probably no one who does not feel the
convincing force of the maxim.

The habit of looking for the marks of superfluous
expensiveness in goods, and of requiring that all goods should
afford some utility of the indirect or invidious sort, leads to a
change in the standards by which the utility of goods is gauged.
The honorific element and the element of brute efficiency are not
held apart in the consumer's appreciation of commodities, and the
two together go to make up the unanalyzed aggregate
serviceability of the goods. Under the resulting standard of
serviceability, no article will pass muster on the strength of
material sufficiency alone. In order to completeness and full
acceptability to the consumer it must also show the honorific
element. It results that the producers of articles of consumption
direct their efforts to the production of goods that shall meet
this demand for the honorific element. They will do this with all
the more alacrity and effect, since they are themselves under the
dominance of the same standard of worth in goods, and would be
sincerely grieved at the sight of goods which lack the proper
honorific finish. Hence it has come about that there are today no
goods supplied in any trade which do not contain the honorific
element in greater or less degree. Any consumer who might,
Diogenes-like, insist on the elimination of all honorific or
wasteful elements from his consumption, would be unable to supply
his most trivial wants in the modern market. Indeed, even if he
resorted to supplying his wants directly by his own efforts, he
would find it difficult if not impossible to divest himself of
the current habits of thought on this head; so that he could
scarcely compass a supply of the necessaries of life for a day's
consumption without instinctively and by oversight incorporating
in his home-made product something of this honorific,
quasi-decorative element of wasted labor.

It is notorious that in their selection of serviceable goods in
the retail market purchasers are guided more by the finish and
workmanship of the goods than by any marks of substantial
serviceability. Goods, in order to sell, must have some
appreciable amount of labor spent in giving them the marks of
decent expensiveness, in addition to what goes to give them
efficiency for the material use which they are to serve. This
habit of making obvious costliness a canon of serviceability of
course acts to enhance the aggregate cost of articles of
consumption. It puts us on our guard against cheapness by
identifying merit in some degree with cost. There is ordinarily a
consistent effort on the part of the consumer to obtain goods of
the required serviceability at as advantageous a bargain as may
be; but the conventional requirement of obvious costliness, as a
voucher and a constituent of the serviceability of the goods,
leads him to reject as under grade such goods as do not contain a
large element of conspicuous waste.

It is to be added that a large share of those features of
consumable goods which figure in popular apprehension as marks of
serviceability, and to which reference is here had as elements of
conspicuous waste, commend themselves to the consumer also on
other grounds than that of expensiveness alone. They usually give
evidence of skill and effective workmanship, even if they do not
contribute to the substantial serviceability of the goods; and it
is no doubt largely on some such ground that any particular mark
of honorific serviceability first comes into vogue and afterward
maintains its footing as a normal constituent element of the
worth of an article. A display of efficient workmanship is
pleasing simply as such, even where its remoter, for the time
unconsidered, outcome is futile. There is a gratification of the
artistic sense in the contemplation of skillful work. But it is
also to be added that no such evidence of skillful workmanship,
or of ingenious and effective adaptation of means to an end,
will, in the long run, enjoy the approbation of the modern
civilized consumer unless it has the sanction of the Canon of
conspicuous waste.

The position here taken is enforced in a felicitous manner by the
place assigned in the economy of consumption to machine products.
The point of material difference between machine-made goods and
the hand-wrought goods which serve the same purposes is,
ordinarily, that the former serve their primary purpose more
adequately. They are a more perfect product -- show a more
perfect adaptation of means to end. This does not save them from
disesteem and deprecation, for they fall short under the test of
honorific waste. Hand labor is a more wasteful method of
production; hence the goods turned out by this method are more
serviceable for the purpose of pecuniary reputability; hence the
marks of hand labor come to be honorific, and the goods which
exhibit these marks take rank as of higher grade than the
corresponding machine product. Commonly, if not invariably, the
honorific marks of hand labor are certain imperfections and
irregularities in the lines of the hand-wrought article, showing
where the workman has fallen short in the execution of the
design. The ground of the superiority of hand-wrought goods,
therefore, is a certain margin of crudeness. This margin must
never be so wide as to show bungling workmanship, since that
would be evidence of low cost, nor so narrow as to suggest the
ideal precision attained only by the machine, for that would be
evidence of low cost.

The appreciation of those evidences of honorific crudeness to
which hand-wrought goods owe their superior worth and charm in
the eyes of well-bred people is a matter of nice discrimination.
It requires training and the formation of right habits of thought
with respect to what may be called the physiognomy of goods.
Machine-made goods of daily use are often admired and preferred
precisely on account of their excessive perfection by the vulgar
and the underbred who have not given due thought to the
punctilios of elegant consumption. The ceremonial inferiority of
machine products goes to show that the perfection of skill and
workmanship embodied in any costly innovations in the finish of
goods is not sufficient of itself to secure them acceptance and
permanent favor. The innovation must have the support of the
canon of conspicuous waste. Any feature in the physiognomy of
goods, however pleasing in itself, and however well it may
approve itself to the taste for effective work, will not be
tolerated if it proves obnoxious to this norm of pecuniary

The ceremonial inferiority or uncleanness in consumable goods due
to "commonness," or in other words to their slight cost of
production, has been taken very seriously by many persons. The
objection to machine products is often formulated as an objection
to the commonness of such goods. What is common is within the
(pecuniary) reach of many people. Its consumption is therefore
not honorific, since it does not serve the purpose of a favorable
invidious comparison with other consumers. Hence the consumption,
or even the sight of such goods, is inseparable from an odious
suggestion of the lower levels of human life, and one comes away
from their contemplation with a pervading sense of meanness that
is extremely distasteful and depressing to a person of
sensibility. In persons whose tastes assert themselves
imperiously, and who have not the gift, habit, or incentive to
discriminate between the grounds of their various judgments of
taste, the deliverances of the sense of the honorific coalesce
with those of the sense of beauty and of the sense of
serviceability -- in the manner already spoken of; the resulting
composite valuation serves as a judgment of the object's beauty
or its serviceability, according as the valuer's bias or interest
inclines him to apprehend the object in the one or the other of
these aspects. It follows not infrequently that the marks of
cheapness or commonness are accepted as definitive marks of
artistic unfitness, and a code or schedule of aesthetic
proprieties on the one hand, and of aesthetic abominations on the
other, is constructed on this basis for guidance in questions of

As has already been pointed out, the cheap, and therefore
indecorous, articles of daily consumption in modern industrial
communities are commonly machine products; and the generic
feature of the physiognomy of machine-made goods as compared with
the hand-wrought article is their greater perfection in
workmanship and greater accuracy in the detail execution of the
design. Hence it comes about that the visible imperfections of
the hand-wrought goods, being honorific, are accounted marks of
superiority in point of beauty, or serviceability, or both. Hence
has arisen that exaltation of the defective, of which John Ruskin
and William Morris were such eager spokesmen in their time; and
on this ground their propaganda of crudity and wasted effort has
been taken up and carried forward since their time. And hence
also the propaganda for a return to handicraft and household
industry. So much of the work and speculations of this group of
men as fairly comes under the characterization here given would
have been impossible at a time when the visibly more perfect
goods were not the cheaper.

It is of course only as to the economic value of this school of
aesthetic teaching that anything is intended to be said or can be
said here. What is said is not to be taken in the sense of
depreciation, but chiefly as a characterization of the tendency
of this teaching in its effect on consumption and on the
production of consumable goods.

The manner in which the bias of this growth of taste has worked
itself out in production is perhaps most cogently
exemplified in the book manufacture with which Morris busied
himself during the later years of his life; but what holds true
of the work of the Kelmscott Press in an eminent degree, holds
true with but slightly abated force when applied to latter-day
artistic book-making generally -- as to type, paper,
illustration, binding materials, and binder's work. The claims to
excellence put forward by the later products of the bookmaker's
industry rest in some measure on the degree of its approximation
to the crudities of the time when the work of book-making was a
doubtful struggle with refractory materials carried on by means
of insufficient appliances. These products, since they require
hand labor, are more expensive; they are also less convenient for
use than the books turned out with a view to serviceability
alone; they therefore argue ability on the part of the purchaser
to consume freely, as well as ability to waste time and effort.
It is on this basis that the printers of today are returning to
"old-style," and other more or less obsolete styles of type which
are less legible and give a cruder appearance to the page than
the "modern." Even a scientific periodical, with ostensibly no
purpose but the most effective presentation of matter with which
its science is concerned, will concede so much to the demands of
this pecuniary beauty as to publish its scientific discussions in
oldstyle type, on laid paper, and with uncut edges. But books
which are not ostensibly concerned with the effective
presentation of their contents alone, of course go farther in
this direction. Here we have a somewhat cruder type, printed on
hand-laid, deckel-edged paper, with excessive margins and uncut
leaves, with bindings of a painstaking crudeness and elaborate
ineptitude. The Kelmscott Press reduced the matter to an
absurdity -- as seen from the point of view of brute
serviceability alone -- by issuing books for modern use, edited
with the obsolete spelling, printed in black-letter, and bound in
limp vellum fitted with thongs. As a further characteristic
feature which fixes the economic place of artistic book-making,
there is the fact that these more elegant books are, at their
best, printed in limited editions. A limited edition is in effect
a guarantee -- somewhat crude, it is true -- that this book is
scarce and that it therefore is costly and lends pecuniary
distinction to its consumer.

The special attractiveness of these book-products to the
book-buyer of cultivated taste lies, of course, not in a
conscious, naive recognition of their costliness and superior
clumsiness. Here, as in the parallel case of the superiority of
hand-wrought articles over machine products, the conscious ground
of preference is an intrinsic excellence imputed to the costlier
and more awkward article. The superior excellence imputed to the
book which imitates the products of antique and obsolete
processes is conceived to be chiefly a superior utility in the
aesthetic respect; but it is not unusual to find a well-bred
book-lover insisting that the clumsier product is also more
serviceable as a vehicle of printed speech. So far as regards the
superior aesthetic value of the decadent book, the chances are
that the book-lover's contention has some ground. The book is
designed with an eye single to its beauty, and the result is
commonly some measure of success on the part of the designer.
What is insisted on here, however, is that the canon of taste
under which the designer works is a canon formed under the
surveillance of the law of conspicuous waste, and that this law
acts selectively to eliminate any canon of taste that does not
conform to its demands. That is to say, while the decadent book
may be beautiful, the limits within which the designer may work
are fixed by requirements of a non-aesthetic kind. The product,
if it is beautiful, must also at the same time be costly and ill
adapted to its ostensible use. This mandatory canon of taste in
the case of the book-designer, however, is not shaped entirely by
the law of waste in its first form; the canon is to some extent
shaped in conformity to that secondary expression of the
predatory temperament, veneration for the archaic or obsolete,
which in one of its special developments is called classicism.
In aesthetic theory it might be extremely difficult, if not quite
impracticable, to draw a line between the canon of
classicism, or regard for the archaic, and the canon of beauty.
For the aesthetic purpose such a distinction need scarcely be
drawn, and indeed it need not exist. For a theory of taste the
expression of an accepted ideal of archaism, on whatever basis it
may have been accepted, is perhaps best rated as an element of
beauty; there need be no question of its legitimation. But for
the present purpose -- for the purpose of determining what
economic grounds are present in the accepted canons of taste and
what is their significance for the distribution and consumption
of goods -- the distinction is not similarly beside the point.
The position of machine products in the civilized scheme of
consumption serves to point out the nature of the relation which
subsists between the canon of conspicuous waste and the code of
proprieties in consumption. Neither in matters of art and taste
proper, nor as regards the current sense of the serviceability of
goods, does this canon act as a principle of innovation or
initiative. It does not go into the future as a creative
principle which makes innovations and adds new items of
consumption and new elements of cost. The principle in question
is, in a certain sense, a negative rather than a positive law. It
is a regulative rather than a creative principle. It very rarely
initiates or originates any usage or custom directly. Its action
is selective only. Conspicuous wastefulness does not directly
afford ground for variation and growth, but conformity to its
requirements is a condition to the survival of such innovations
as may be made on other grounds. In whatever way usages and
customs and methods of expenditure arise, they are all subject to
the selective action of this norm of reputability; and the degree
in which they conform to its requirements is a test of their
fitness to survive in the competition with other similar usages
and customs. Other thing being equal, the more obviously wasteful
usage or method stands the better chance of survival under this
law. The law of conspicuous waste does not account for the origin
of variations, but only for the persistence of such forms as are
fit to survive under its dominance. It acts to conserve the fit,
not to originate the acceptable. Its office is to prove all
things and to hold fast that which is good for its purpose.

Chapter Seven

Dress as an Expression of the Pecuniary Culture

It will in place, by way of illustration, to show in some detail
how the economic principles so far set forth apply to everyday
facts in some one direction of the life process. For this purpose
no line of consumption affords a more apt
illustration than expenditure on dress. It is especially the rule
of the conspicuous waste of goods that finds expression in dress,
although the other, related principles of pecuniary repute are
also exemplified in the same contrivances. Other methods of
putting one's pecuniary standing in evidence serve their end
effectually, and other methods are in vogue always and
everywhere; but expenditure on dress has this advantage over most
other methods, that our apparel is always in evidence and affords
an indication of our pecuniary standing to all observers at the
first glance. It is also true that admitted expenditure for
display is more obviously present, and is, perhaps, more
universally practiced in the matter of dress than in any other
line of consumption. No one finds difficulty in assenting to the
commonplace that the greater part of the expenditure incurred by
all classes for apparel is incurred for the sake of a respectable
appearance rather than for the protection of the person. And
probably at no other point is the sense of shabbiness so keenly
felt as it is if we fall short of the standard set by social
usage in this matter of dress. It is true of dress in even a
higher degree than of most other items of consumption, that
people will undergo a very considerable degree of privation in
the comforts or the necessaries of life in order to afford what
is considered a decent amount of wasteful consumption; so that it
is by no means an uncommon occurrence, in an inclement climate,
for people to go ill clad in order to appear well dressed. And
the commercial value of the goods used for clotting in any modern
community is made up to a much larger extent of the
fashionableness, the reputability of the goods than of the
mechanical service which they render in clothing the person of
the wearer. The need of dress is eminently a "higher" or
spiritual need.

This spiritual need of dress is not wholly, nor even
chiefly, a naive propensity for display of expenditure. The law
of conspicuous waste guides consumption in apparel, as in other
things, chiefly at the second remove, by shaping the canons of
taste and decency. In the common run of cases the conscious
motive of the wearer or purchaser of conspicuously wasteful
apparel is the need of conforming to established usage, and of
living up to the accredited standard of taste and reputability.
It is not only that one must be guided by the code of proprieties
in dress in order to avoid the mortification that comes of
unfavorable notice and comment, though that motive in itself
counts for a great deal; but besides that, the requirement of
expensiveness is so ingrained into our habits of thought in
matters of dress that any other than expensive apparel is
instinctively odious to us. Without reflection or analysis, we
feel that what is inexpensive is unworthy. "A cheap coat makes a
cheap man." "Cheap and nasty" is recognized to hold true in dress
with even less mitigation than in other lines of consumption. On
the ground both of taste and of serviceability, an inexpensive
article of apparel is held to be inferior, under the maxim "cheap
and nasty." We find things beautiful, as well as serviceable,
somewhat in proportion as they are costly. With few and
inconsequential exceptions, we all find a costly hand-wrought
article of apparel much preferable, in point of beauty and of
serviceability, to a less expensive imitation of it, however
cleverly the spurious article may imitate the costly original;
and what offends our sensibilities in the spurious article is not
that it falls short in form or color, or, indeed, in visual
effect in any way. The offensive object may be so close an
imitation as to defy any but the closest scrutiny; and yet so
soon as the counterfeit is detected, its aesthetic value, and its
commercial value as well, declines precipitately. Not only that,
but it may be asserted with but small risk of contradiction that
the aesthetic value of a detected counterfeit in dress declines
somewhat in the same proportion as the counterfeit is cheaper
than its original. It loses caste aesthetically because it falls
to a lower pecuniary grade.

But the function of dress as an evidence of ability to pay does
not end with simply showing that the wearer consumes
valuable goods in excess of what is required for physical
comfort. Simple conspicuous waste of goods is effective and
gratifying as far as it goes; it is good prima facie evidence of
pecuniary success, and consequently prima facie evidence of
social worth. But dress has subtler and more far-reaching
possibilities than this crude, first-hand evidence of wasteful
consumption only. If, in addition to showing that the wearer can
afford to consume freely and uneconomically, it can also be shown
in the same stroke that he or she is not under the necessity of
earning a livelihood, the evidence of social worth is enhanced in
a very considerable degree. Our dress, therefore, in order to
serve its purpose effectually, should not only he expensive, but
it should also make plain to all observers that the wearer is not
engaged in any kind of productive labor. In the evolutionary
process by which our system of dress has been elaborated into its
present admirably perfect adaptation to its purpose, this
subsidiary line of evidence has received due attention. A
detailed examination of what passes in popular apprehension for
elegant apparel will show that it is contrived at every point to
convey the impression that the wearer does not habitually put
forth any useful effort. It goes without saying that no apparel
can be considered elegant, or even decent, if it shows the effect
of manual labor on the part of the wearer, in the way of soil or
wear. The pleasing effect of neat and spotless garments is
chiefly, if not altogether, due to their carrying the suggestion
of leisure-exemption from personal contact with industrial
processes of any kind. Much of the charm that invests the
patent-leather shoe, the stainless linen, the lustrous
cylindrical hat, and the walking-stick, which so greatly enhance
the native dignity of a gentleman, comes of their pointedly
suggesting that the wearer cannot when so attired bear a hand in
any employment that is directly and immediately of any human use.
Elegant dress serves its purpose of elegance not only in that it
is expensive, but also because it is the insignia of leisure. It
not only shows that the wearer is able to consume a relatively
large value, but it argues at the same time that he consumes
without producing.

The dress of women goes even farther than that of men in the way
of demonstrating the wearer's abstinence from productive
employment. It needs no argument to enforce the generalization
that the more elegant styles of feminine bonnets go even farther
towards making work impossible than does the man's high hat. The
woman's shoe adds the so-called French heel to the evidence of
enforced leisure afforded by its polish; because this high heel
obviously makes any, even the simplest and most necessary manual
work extremely difficult. The like is true even in a higher
degree of the skirt and the rest of the drapery which
characterizes woman's dress. The substantial reason for our
tenacious attachment to the skirt is just this; it is expensive
and it hampers the wearer at every turn and incapacitates her for
all useful exertion. The like is true of the feminine custom of
wearing the hair excessively long.

But the woman's apparel not only goes beyond that of the modern
man in the degree in which it argues exemption from labor; it
also adds a peculiar and highly characteristic feature which
differs in kind from anything habitually practiced by the men.
This feature is the class of contrivances of which the corset is
the typical example. The corset is, in economic theory,
substantially a mutilation, undergone for the purpose of lowering
the subject's vitality and rendering her permanently and
obviously unfit for work. It is true, the corset impairs the
personal attractions of the wearer, but the loss suffered on that
score is offset by the gain in reputability which comes of her
visibly increased expensiveness and infirmity. It may broadly be
set down that the womanliness of woman's apparel resolves itself,
in point of substantial fact, into the more effective hindrance
to useful exertion offered by the garments peculiar to women.
This difference between masculine and feminine apparel is here
simply pointed out as a characteristic feature. The ground of its
occurrence will be discussed presently.

So far, then, we have, as the great and dominant norm of dress,
the broad principle of conspicuous waste. Subsidiary to this
principle, and as a corollary under it, we get as a second norm
the principle of conspicuous leisure. In dress construction this
norm works out in the shape of divers contrivances going to show
that the wearer does not and, as far as it may conveniently be
shown, can not engage in productive labor. Beyond these two
principles there is a third of scarcely less constraining force,
which will occur to any one who reflects at all on the subject.
Dress must not only be conspicuously expensive and inconvenient,
it must at the same time be up to date. No explanation at all
satisfactory has hitherto been offered of the phenomenon of
changing fashions. The imperative requirement of dressing in the
latest accredited manner, as well as the fact that this
accredited fashion constantly changes from season to season, is
sufficiently familiar to every one, but the theory of this flux
and change has not been worked out. We may of course say, with
perfect consistency and truthfulness, that this principle of
novelty is another corollary under the law of conspicuous waste.
Obviously, if each garment is permitted to serve for but a brief
term, and if none of last season's apparel is carried over and
made further use of during the present season, the wasteful
expenditure on dress is greatly increased. This is good as far as
it goes, but it is negative only. Pretty much all that this
consideration warrants us in saying is that the norm of
conspicuous waste exercises a controlling surveillance in all
matters of dress, so that any change in the fashions must
conspicuous waste exercises a controlling surveillance in all
matters of dress, so that any change in the fashions must conform
to the requirement of wastefulness; it leaves unanswered the
question as to the motive for making and accepting a change in
the prevailing styles, and it also fails to explain why
conformity to a given style at a given time is so imperatively
necessary as we know it to be.

For a creative principle, capable of serving as motive to
invention and innovation in fashions, we shall have to go back to
the primitive, non-economic motive with which apparel originated
-- the motive of adornment. Without going into an extended
discussion of how and why this motive asserts itself under the
guidance of the law of expensiveness, it may be stated broadly
that each successive innovation in the fashions is an effort to
reach some form of display which shall be more acceptable to our
sense of form and color or of effectiveness, than that which it
displaces. The changing styles are the expression of a restless
search for something which shall commend itself to our aesthetic
sense; but as each innovation is subject to the selective action
of the norm of conspicuous waste, the range within which
innovation can take place is somewhat restricted. The innovation
must not only be more beautiful, or perhaps oftener less
offensive, than that which it displaces, but it must also come up
to the accepted standard of expensiveness.

It would seem at first sight that the result of such an
unremitting struggle to attain the beautiful in dress should be a
gradual approach to artistic perfection. We might naturally
expect that the fashions should show a well-marked trend in the
direction of some one or more types of apparel eminently becoming
to the human form; and we might even feel that ge have
substantial ground for the hope that today, after all the
ingenuity and effort which have been spent on dress these many
years, the fashions should have achieved a relative perfection
and a relative stability, closely approximating to a permanently
tenable artistic ideal. But such is not the case. It would be
very hazardous indeed to assert that the styles of today are
intrinsically more becoming than those of ten years ago, or than
those of twenty, or fifty, or one hundred years ago. On the other
hand, the assertion freely goes uncontradicted that styles in
vogue two thousand years ago are more becoming than the most
elaborate and painstaking constructions of today.

The explanation of the fashions just offered, then, does not
fully explain, and we shall have to look farther. It is well
known that certain relatively stable styles and types of costume
have been worked out in various parts of the world; as, for
instance, among the Japanese, Chinese, and other Oriental
nations; likewise among the Greeks, Romans, and other Eastern
peoples of antiquity so also, in later times, among the, peasants
of nearly every country of Europe. These national or popular
costumes are in most cases adjudged by competent critics to be
more becoming, more artistic, than the fluctuating styles of
modern civilized apparel. At the same time they are also, at
least usually, less obviously wasteful; that is to say, other
elements than that of a display of expense are more readily
detected in their structure.

These relatively stable costumes are, commonly, pretty strictly
and narrowly localized, and they vary by slight and systematic
gradations from place to place. They have in every case been
worked out by peoples or classes which are poorer than we, and
especially they belong in countries and localities and times
where the population, or at least the class to which the costume
in question belongs, is relatively homogeneous, stable, and
immobile. That is to say, stable costumes which will bear the
test of time and perspective are worked out under circumstances
where the norm of conspicuous waste asserts itself less
imperatively than it does in the large modern civilized cities,
whose relatively mobile wealthy population today sets the pace in
matters of fashion. The countries and classes which have in this
way worked out stable and artistic costumes have been so placed
that the pecuniary emulation among them has taken the direction
of a competition in conspicuous leisure rather than in
conspicuous consumption of goods. So that it will hold true in a
general way that fashions are least stable and least becoming in
those communities where the principle of a conspicuous waste of
goods asserts itself most imperatively, as among ourselves. All
this points to an antagonism between expensiveness and artistic
apparel. In point of practical fact, the norm of conspicuous
waste is incompatible with the requirement that dress should be
beautiful or becoming. And this antagonism offers an explanation
of that restless change in fashion which neither the canon of
expensiveness nor that of beauty alone can account for.

The standard of reputability requires that dress should show
wasteful expenditure; but all wastefulness is offensive to native
taste. The psychological law has already been pointed out that
all men -- and women perhaps even in a higher degree abhor
futility, whether of effort or of expenditure -- much as Nature
was once said to abhor a vacuum. But the principle of conspicuous
waste requires an obviously futile expenditure; and the resulting
conspicuous expensiveness of dress is therefore intrinsically
ugly. Hence we find that in all innovations in dress, each added
or altered detail strives to avoid condemnation by showing some
ostensible purpose, at the same time that the requirement of
conspicuous waste prevents the purposefulness of these
innovations from becoming anything more than a somewhat
transparent pretense. Even in its freest flights, fashion rarely
if ever gets away from a simulation of some ostensible use. The
ostensible usefulness of the fashionable details of dress,
however, is always so transparent a make-believe, and their
substantial futility presently forces itself so baldly upon our
attention as to become unbearable, and then we take refuge in a
new style. But the new style must conform to the requirement of
reputable wastefulness and futility. Its futility presently
becomes as odious as that of its predecessor; and the only remedy
which the law of waste allows us is to seek relief in some new
construction, equally futile and equally untenable. Hence the
essential ugliness and the unceasing change of fashionable

Having so explained the phenomenon of shifting fashions, the next
thing is to make the explanation tally with everyday facts. Among
these everyday facts is the well-known liking which all men have
for the styles that are in vogue at any given time. A new style
comes into vogue and remains in favor for a season, and, at least
so long as it is a novelty, people very generally find the new
style attractive. The prevailing fashion is felt to be beautiful.
This is due partly to the relief it affords in being different
from what went before it, partly to its being
reputable. As indicated in the last chapter, the canon of
reputability to some extent shapes our tastes, so that under its
guidance anything will be accepted as becoming until its novelty
wears off, or until the warrant of reputability is transferred to
a new and novel structure serving the same general purpose. That
the alleged beauty, or "loveliness," of the styles in vogue at
any given time is transient and spurious only is attested by the
fact that none of the many shifting fashions will bear the test
of time. When seen in the perspective of half-a-dozen years or
more, the best of our fashions strike us as grotesque, if not
unsightly. Our transient attachment to whatever happens to be the
latest rests on other than aesthetic grounds, and lasts only
until our abiding aesthetic sense has had time to assert itself
and reject this latest indigestible contrivance.

The process of developing an aesthetic nausea takes more or less
time; the length of time required in any given case being
inversely as the degree of intrinsic odiousness of the style in
question. This time relation between odiousness and instability
in fashions affords ground for the inference that the more
rapidly the styles succeed and displace one another, the more
offensive they are to sound taste. The presumption, therefore, is
that the farther the community, especially the wealthy classes of
the community, develop in wealth and mobility and in the range of
their human contact, the more imperatively will the law of
conspicuous waste assert itself in matters of dress, the more
will the sense of beauty tend to fall into abeyance or be
overborne by the canon of pecuniary reputability, the more
rapidly will fashions shift and change, and the more grotesque
and intolerable will be the varying styles that successively come
into vogue.

There remains at least one point in this theory of dress yet to
be discussed. Most of what has been said applies to men's attire
as well as to that of women; although in modern times it applies
at nearly all points with greater force to that of women. But at
one point the dress of women differs substantially from that of
men. In woman's dress there is obviously greater
insistence on such features as testify to the wearer's exemption
from or incapacity for all vulgarly productive employment. This
characteristic of woman's apparel is of interest, not only as
completing the theory of dress, but also as confirming what has
already been said of the economic status of women, both in the
past and in the present.

As has been seen in the discussion of woman's status under the
heads of Vicarious Leisure and Vicarious Consumption, it has in
the course of economic development become the office of the woman
to consume vicariously for the head of the household; and her
apparel is contrived with this object in view. It has come about
that obviously productive labor is in a peculiar degree
derogatory to respectable women, and therefore special pains
should be taken in the construction of women's dress, to impress
upon the beholder the fact (often indeed a fiction) that the
wearer does not and can not habitually engage in useful work.
Propriety requires respectable women to abstain more consistently
from useful effort and to make more of a show of leisure than the
men of the same social classes. It grates painfully on our nerves
to contemplate the necessity of any well-bred woman's earning a
livelihood by useful work. It is not "woman's sphere." Her sphere
is within the household, which she should "beautify," and of
which she should be the "chief ornament." The male head of the
household is not currently spoken of as its ornament. This
feature taken in conjunction with the other fact that propriety
requires more unremitting attention to expensive display in the
dress and other paraphernalia of women, goes to enforce the view
already implied in what has gone before. By virtue of its descent
from a patriarchal past, our social system makes it the woman's
function in an especial degree to put in evidence her household's
ability to pay. According to the modern civilized scheme of life,
the good name of the household to which she belongs should be the
special care of the woman; and the system of honorific
expenditure and conspicuous leisure by which this good name is
chiefly sustained is therefore the woman's sphere. In the ideal
scheme, as it tends to realize itself in the life of the higher
pecuniary classes, this attention to conspicuous waste of
substance and effort should normally be the sole economic
function of the woman.

At the stage of economic development at which the women were
still in the full sense the property of the men, the performance
of conspicuous leisure and consumption came to be part of the
services required of them. The women being not their own masters,
obvious expenditure and leisure on their part would redound to
the credit of their master rather than to their own credit; and
therefore the more expensive and the more obviously unproductive
the women of the household are, the more creditable and more
effective for the purpose of reputability of the household or its
head will their life be. So much so that the women have been
required not only to afford evidence of a life of leisure, but
even to disable themselves for useful activity.

It is at this point that the dress of men falls short of that of
women, and for sufficient reason. 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; therefore the evidence of waste and leisure put forth by
any individual in his own behalf cannot consistently take such a
form or be carried to such a pitch as to argue incapacity or
marked discomfort on his part; as the exhibition would in that
case show not superior force, but inferiority, and so defeat its
own purpose. So, then, wherever wasteful expenditure and the show
of abstention from effort is normally, or on an average, carried
to the extent of showing obvious discomfort or voluntarily
induced physical disability. There the immediate inference is
that the individual in question does not perform this wasteful
expenditure and undergo this disability for her own personal gain
in pecuniary repute, but in behalf of some one else to whom she
stands in a relation of economic dependence; a relation which in
the last analysis must, in economic theory, reduce itself to a
relation of servitude.

To apply this generalization to women's dress, and put the matter
in concrete terms: the high heel, the skirt, the
impracticable bonnet, the corset, and the general disregard of
the wearer's comfort which is an obvious feature of all civilized
women's apparel, are so many items of evidence to the effect that
in the modern civilized scheme of life the woman is still, in
theory, the economic dependent of the man -- that, perhaps in a
highly idealized sense, she still is the man's chattel. The
homely reason for all this conspicuous leisure and attire on the
part of women lies in the fact that they are servants to whom, in
the differentiation of economic functions, has been delegated the
office of putting in evidence their master's ability to pay.
There is a marked similarity in these respects between the
apparel of women and that of domestic servants, especially
liveried servants. In both there is a very elaborate show of
unnecessary expensiveness, and in both cases there is also a
notable disregard of the physical comfort of the wearer. But the
attire of the lady goes farther in its elaborate insistence on
the idleness, if not on the physical infirmity of the wearer,
than does that of the domestic. And this is as it should be; for
in theory, according to the ideal scheme of the pecuniary
culture, the lady of the house is the chief menial of the

Besides servants, currently recognized as such, there is at least
one other class of persons whose garb assimilates them to the
class of servants and shows many of the features that go to make
up the womanliness of woman's dress. This is the priestly class.
Priestly vestments show, in accentuated form, all the features
that have been shown to be evidence of a servile status and a
vicarious life. Even more strikingly than the everyday habit of
the priest, the vestments, properly so called, are ornate,
grotesque, inconvenient, and, at least ostensibly, comfortless to
the point of distress. The priest is at the same time expected to
refrain from useful effort and, when before the public eye, to
present an impassively disconsolate countenance, very much after
the manner of a well-trained domestic servant. The shaven face of
the priest is a further item to the same effect. This
assimilation of the priestly class to the class of body servants,
in demeanor and apparel, is due to the similarity of the two
classes as regards economic function. In economic theory, the
priest is a body servant, constructively in
attendance upon the person of the divinity whose livery he wears.
His livery is of a very expensive character, as it should be in
order to set forth in a beseeming manner the dignity of his
exalted master; but it is contrived to show that the wearing of
it contributes little or nothing to the physical comfort of the
wearer, for it is an item of vicarious consumption, and the
repute which accrues from its consumption is to be imputed to the
absent master, not to the servant.

The line of demarcation between the dress of women, priests, and
servants, on the one hand, and of men, on the other hand, is not
always consistently observed in practice, but it will
scarcely be disputed that it is always present in a more or less
definite way in the popular habits of thought. There are of
course also free men, and not a few of them, who, in their blind
zeal for faultless reputable attire, transgress the theoretical
line between man's and woman's dress, to the extent of arraying
themselves in apparel that is obviously designed to vex the
mortal frame; but everyone recognizes without hesitation that
such apparel for men is a departure from the normal. We are in
the habit of saying that such dress is "effeminate"; and one
sometimes hears the remark that such or such an exquisitely
attired gentleman is as well dressed as a footman.

Certain apparent discrepancies under this theory of dress merit a
more detailed examination, especially as they mark a more or less
evident trend in the later and maturer development of dress. The
vogue of the corset offers an apparent exception from the rule of
which it has here been cited as an illustration. A closer
examination, however, will show that this apparent
exception is really a verification of the rule that the vogue of
any given element or feature in dress rests on its utility as an
evidence of pecuniary standing. It is well known that in the
industrially more advanced communities the corset is employed
only within certain fairly well defined social strata. The women
of the poorer classes, especially of the rural population, do not
habitually use it, except as a holiday luxury. Among these
classes the women have to work hard, and it avails them little in
the way of a pretense of leisure to so crucify the flesh in
everyday life. The holiday use of the contrivance is due to
imitation of a higher-class canon of decency. Upwards from this
low level of indigence and manual labor, the corset was until
within a generation or two nearly indispensable to a socially
blameless standing for all women, including the wealthiest and
most reputable. This rule held so long as there still was no
large class of people wealthy enough to be above the imputation
of any necessity for manual labor and at the same time large
enough to form a self-sufficient, isolated social body whose mass
would afford a foundation for special rules of conduct within the
class, enforced by the current opinion of the class alone. But
now there has grown up a large enough leisure class possessed of
such wealth that any aspersion on the score of enforced manual
employment would be idle and harmless calumny; and the corset has
therefore in large measure fallen into disuse within this class.
The exceptions under this rule of exemption from the corset are
more apparent than real. They are the wealthy classes of
countries with a lower industrial structure -- nearer the
archaic, quasi-industrial type -- together with the later
accessions of the wealthy classes in the more advanced industrial
communities. The latter have not yet had time to divest
themselves of the plebeian canons of taste and of reputability
carried over from their former, lower pecuniary grade. Such
survival of the corset is not infrequent among the higher social
classes of those American cities, for instance, which have
recently and rapidly risen into opulence. If the word be used as
a technical term, without any odious implication, it may be said
that the corset persists in great measure through the period of
snobbery -- the interval of uncertainty and of transition from a
lower to the upper levels of pecuniary culture. That is to say,
in all countries which have inherited the corset it continues in
use wherever and so long as it serves its purpose as an evidence
of honorific leisure by arguing physical disability in the
wearer. The same rule of course applies to other mutilations and
contrivances for decreasing the visible efficiency of the

Something similar should hold true with respect to divers items
of conspicuous consumption, and indeed something of the kind does
seem to hold to a slight degree of sundry features of dress,
especially if such features involve a marked discomfort or
appearance of discomfort to the wearer. During the past one
hundred years there is a tendency perceptible, in the development
of men's dress especially, to discontinue methods of expenditure
and the use of symbols of leisure which must have been irksome,
which may have served a good purpose in their time, but the
continuation of which among the upper classes today would be a
work of supererogation; as, for instance, the use of powdered
wigs and of gold lace, and the practice of constantly shaving the
face. There has of late years been some slight recrudescence of
the shaven face in polite society, but this is probably a
transient and unadvised mimicry of the fashion imposed upon body
servants, and it may fairly be expected to go the way of the
powdered wig of our grandfathers.

These indices and others which resemble them in point of the
boldness with which they point out to all observers the habitual
uselessness of those persons who employ them, have been replaced
by other, more dedicate methods of expressing the same fact;
methods which are no less evident to the trained eyes of that
smaller, select circle whose good opinion is chiefly sought. The
earlier and cruder method of advertisement held its ground so
long as the public to which the exhibitor had to appeal comprised
large portions of the community who were not trained to detect
delicate variations in the evidences of wealth and leisure. The
method of advertisement undergoes a refinement when a
sufficiently large wealthy class has developed, who have the
leisure for acquiring skill in interpreting the subtler signs of
expenditure. "Loud" dress becomes offensive to people of taste,
as evincing an undue desire to reach and impress the untrained
sensibilities of the vulgar. To the individual of high breeding,
it is only the more honorific esteem accorded by the cultivated
sense of the members of his own high class that is of material
consequence. Since the wealthy leisure class has grown so large,
or the contact of the leisure-class individual with members of
his own class has grown so wide, as to constitute a human
environment sufficient for the honorific purpose, there arises a
tendency to exclude the baser elements of the population from the
scheme even as spectators whose applause or mortification should
be sought. The result of all this is a refinement of methods, a
resort to subtler contrivances, and a spiritualization of the
scheme of symbolism in dress. And as this upper leisure class
sets the pace in all matters of decency, the result for the rest
of society also is a gradual amelioration of the scheme of dress.
As the community advances in wealth and culture, the ability to
pay is put in evidence by means which require a progressively
nicer discrimination in the beholder. This nicer discrimination
between advertising media is in fact a very large element of the
higher pecuniary culture.

Chapter Eight

Industrial Exemption and Conservatism

The life of man in society, just like the life of other species,
is a struggle for existence, and therefore it is a process of
selective adaptation. The evolution of social
structure has been a process of natural selection of
institutions. The progress which has been and is being made in
human institutions and in human character may be set down,
broadly, to a natural selection of the fittest habits of thought
and to a process of enforced adaptation of individuals to an
environment which has progressively changed with the growth of
the community and with the changing institutions under which men
have lived. Institutions are not only themselves the result of a
selective and adaptive process which shapes the prevailing or
dominant types of spiritual attitude and aptitudes; they are at
the same time special methods of life and of human relations, and
are therefore in their turn efficient factors of selection. So
that the changing institutions in their turn make for a further
selection of individuals endowed with the fittest temperament,
and a further adaptation of individual temperament and habits to
the changing environment through the formation of new

The forces which have shaped the development of human life and
of social structure are no doubt ultimately reducible to terms of
living tissue and material environment; but proximately for the
purpose in hand, these forces may best be stated in terms of an
environment, partly human, partly non-human, and a human subject
with a more or less definite physical and intellectual
constitution. Taken in the aggregate or average, this human
subject is more or less variable; chiefly, no doubt, under a rule
of selective conservation of favorable variations. The selection
of favorable variations is perhaps in great measure a selective
conservation of ethnic types. In the life history of any
community whose population is made up of a mixture of divers
ethnic elements, one or another of several persistent and
relatively stable types of body and of temperament rises into
dominance at any given point. The situation, including the
institutions in force at any given time, will favor the survival
and dominance of one type of character in preference to another;
and the type of man so selected to continue and to further
elaborate the institutions handed down from the past will in some
considerable measure shape these institutions in his own
likeness. But apart from selection as between relatively stable
types of character and habits of mind, there is no doubt
simultaneously going on a process of selective adaptation of
habits of thought within the general range of aptitudes which is
characteristic of the dominant ethnic type or types. There may be
a variation in the fundamental character of any population by
selection between relatively stable types; but there is also a
variation due to adaptation in detail within the range of the
type, and to selection between specific habitual views regarding
any given social relation or group of relations.

For the present purpose, however, the question as to the nature
of the adaptive process -- whether it is chiefly a
selection between stable types of temperament and character, or
chiefly an adaptation of men's habits of thought to changing
circumstances -- is of less importance than the fact that, by one
method or another, institutions change and develop. Institutions
must change with changing circumstances, since they are of the
nature of an habitual method of responding to the stimuli which
these changing circumstances afford. The development of these
institutions is the development of society. The institutions are,
in substance, prevalent habits of thought with respect to
particular relations and particular functions of the individual
and of the community; and the scheme of life, which is made up of
the aggregate of institutions in force at a given time or at a
given point in the development of any society, may, on the
psychological side, be broadly characterized as a prevalent
spiritual attitude or a prevalent theory of life. As regards its
generic features, this spiritual attitude or theory of life is in
the last analysis reducible to terms of a prevalent type of

The situation of today shapes the institutions of tomorrow
through a selective, coercive process, by acting upon men's
habitual view of things, and so altering or fortifying a point of
view or a mental attitude banded down from the past. The
institutions -- that is to say the habits of thought -- under the
guidance of which men live are in this way received from an
earlier time; more or less remotely earlier, but in any event
they have been elaborated in and received from the past.
Institutions are products of the past process, are adapted to
past circumstances, and are therefore never in full accord with
the requirements of the present. In the nature of the case, this
process of selective adaptation can never catch up with the
progressively changing situation in which the community finds
itself at any given time; for the environment, the situation, the
exigencies of life which enforce the adaptation and exercise the
selection, change from day to day; and each successive situation
of the community in its turn tends to obsolescence as soon as it
has been established. When a step in the development has been
taken, this step itself constitutes a change of situation which
requires a new adaptation; it becomes the point of departure for
a new step in the adjustment, and so on interminably.

It is to be noted then, although it may be a tedious truism,
that the institutions of today -- the present accepted scheme of
life -- do not entirely fit the situation of today. At the same
time, men's present habits of thought tend to persist
indefinitely, except as circumstances enforce a change. These
institutions which have thus been handed down, these habits of
thought, points of view, mental attitudes and aptitudes, or what
not, are therefore themselves a conservative factor. This is the
factor of social inertia, psychological inertia, conservatism.
Social structure changes, develops, adapts itself to an altered
situation, only through a change in the habits of thought of the
several classes of the community, or in the last analysis,
through a change in the habits of thought of the individuals
which make up the community. The evolution of society is
substantially a process of mental adaptation on the part of
individuals under the stress of circumstances which will no
longer tolerate habits of thought formed under and conforming to
a different set of circumstances in the past. For the immediate
purpose it need not be a question of serious importance whether
this adaptive process is a process of selection and survival of
persistent ethnic types or a process of individual adaptation and
an inheritance of acquired traits.

Social advance, especially as seen from the point of view of
economic theory, consists in a continued progressive approach to
an approximately exact "adjustment of inner relations to outer
relations", but this adjustment is never definitively
established, since the "outer relations" are subject to constant
change as a consequence of the progressive change going on in the
"inner relations." But the degree of approximation may be
greater or less, depending on the facility with which an
adjustment is made. A readjustment of men's habits of thought to
conform with the exigencies of an altered situation is in any
case made only tardily and reluctantly, and only under the
coercion exercised by a stipulation which has made the accredited
views untenable. The readjustment of institutions and habitual
views to an altered environment is made in response to pressure
from without; it is of the nature of a response to stimulus.
Freedom and facility of readjustment, that is to say capacity for
growth in social structure, therefore depends in great measure on
the degree of freedom with which the situation at any given time
acts on the individual members of the community-the degree of
exposure of the individual members to the constraining forces of
the environment. If any portion or class of society is sheltered
from the action of the environment in any essential respect, that
portion of the community, or that class, will adapt its views and
its scheme of life more tardily to the altered general situation;
it will in so far tend to retard the process of social
transformation. The wealthy leisure class is in such a sheltered
position with respect to the economic forces that make for change
and readjustment. And it may be said that the forces which make
for a readjustment of institutions, especially in the case of a
modern industrial community, are, in the last analysis, almost
entirely of an economic nature.

Any community may be viewed as an industrial or economic
mechanism, the structure of which is made up of what is called
its economic institutions. These institutions are habitual
methods of carrying on the life process of the community in
contact with the material environment in which it lives. When
given methods of unfolding human activity in this given
environment have been elaborated in this way, the life of the
community will express itself with some facility in these
habitual directions. The community will make use of the forces of
the environment for the purposes of its life according to methods
learned in the past and embodied in these institutions. But as
population increases, and as men's knowledge and skill in
directing the forces of nature widen, the habitual methods of
relation between the members of the group, and the habitual
method of carrying on the life process of the group as a whole,
no longer give the same result as before; nor are the resulting
conditions of life distributed and apportioned in the same manner
or with the same effect among the various members as before. If
the scheme according to which the life process of the group was
carried on under the earlier conditions gave approximately the
highest attainable result -- under the circumstances -- in the
way of efficiency or facility of the life process of the group;
then the same scheme of life unaltered will not yield the highest
result attainable in this respect under the altered conditions.
Under the altered conditions of population, skill, and knowledge,
the facility of life as carried on according to the traditional
scheme may not be lower than under the earlier conditions; but
the chances are always that it is less than might be if the
scheme were altered to suit the altered conditions.

The group is made up of individuals, and the group's life is the
life of individuals carried on in at least ostensible
severalty. The group's accepted scheme of life is the consensus
of views held by the body of these individuals as to what is
right, good, expedient, and beautiful in the way of human life.
In the redistribution of the conditions of life that comes of the
altered method of dealing with the environment, the outcome is
not an equable change in the facility of life throughout the
group. The altered conditions may increase the facility of life
for the group as a whole, but the redistribution will usually
result in a decrease of facility or fullness of life for some
members of the group. An advance in technical methods, in
population, or in industrial organization will require at least
some of the members of the community to change their habits of
life, if they are to enter with facility and effect into the
altered industrial methods; and in doing so they will be unable
to live up to the received notions as to what are the right and
beautiful habits of life.

Any one who is required to change his habits of life and his
habitual relations to his fellow men will feel the discrepancy
between the method of life required of him by the newly arisen
exigencies, and the traditional scheme of life to which he is
accustomed. It is the individuals placed in this position who
have the liveliest incentive to reconstruct the received scheme
of life and are most readily persuaded to accept new standards;
and it is through the need of the means of livelihood that men
are placed in such a position. The pressure exerted by the
environment upon the group, and making for a readjustment of the
group's scheme of life, impinges upon the members of the group in
the form of pecuniary exigencies; and it is owing to this fact --
that external forces are in great part translated into the form
of pecuniary or economic exigencies -- it is owing to this fact
that we can say that the forces which count toward a readjustment
of institutions in any modern industrial community are chiefly
economic forces; or more specifically, these forces take the form
of pecuniary pressure. Such a readjustment as is here
contemplated is substantially a change in men's views as to what
is good and right, and the means through which a change is
wrought in men's apprehension of what is good and right is in
large part the pressure of pecuniary exigencies.

Any change in men's views as to what is good and right in human
life make its way but tardily at the best. Especially is this
true of any change in the direction of what is called progress;
that is to say, in the direction of divergence from the archaic
position -- from the position which may be accounted the point of
departure at any step in the social evolution of the community.
Retrogression, reapproach to a standpoint to which the race has
been long habituated in the past, is easier. This is especially
true in case the development away from this past standpoint has
not been due chiefly to a substitution of an ethnic type whose
temperament is alien to the earlier standpoint.
The cultural stage which lies immediately back of the present in
the life history of Western civilization is what has here been
called the quasi-peaceable stage. At this quasi-peaceable stage
the law of status is the dominant feature in the scheme of life.
There is no need of pointing out how prone the men of today are
to revert to the spiritual attitude of mastery and of personal
subservience which characterizes that stage. It may rather be
said to be held in an uncertain abeyance by the economic
exigencies of today, than to have been definitely supplanted by a
habit of mind that is in full accord with these later-developed
exigencies. The predatory and quasi-peaceable stages of economic
evolution seem to have been of long duration in life history of
all the chief ethnic elements which go to make up the populations
of the Western culture. The temperament and the propensities
proper to those cultural stages have, therefore, attained such a
persistence as to make a speedy reversion to the broad features
of the corresponding psychological constitution inevitable in the
case of any class or community which is removed from the action
of those forces that make for a maintenance of the
later-developed habits of thought.

It is a matter of common notoriety that when individuals, or
even considerable groups of men, are segregated from a higher
industrial culture and exposed to a lower cultural environment,
or to an economic situation of a more primitive character, they
quickly show evidence of reversion toward the spiritual features
which characterize the predatory type; and it seems probable that
the dolicho-blond type of European man is possessed of a greater
facility for such reversion to barbarism than the other ethnic
elements with which that type is associated in the Western
culture. Examples of such a reversion on a small scale abound in
the later history of migration and colonization. Except for the
fear of offending that chauvinistic patriotism which is so
characteristic a feature of the predatory culture, and the
presence of which is frequently the most striking mark of
reversion in modern communities, the case of the American
colonies might be cited as an example of such a reversion on an
unusually large scale, though it was not a reversion of very
large scope.

The leisure class is in great measure sheltered from
the stress of those economic exigencies which prevail in any
modern, highly organized industrial community. The exigencies of
the struggle for the means of life are less exacting for this
class than for any other; and as a consequence of this privileged
position we should expect to find it one of the least responsive
of the classes of society to the demands which the situation
makes for a further growth of institutions and a readjustment to
an altered industrial situation. The leisure class is the
conservative class. The exigencies of the general economic
situation of the community do not freely or directly impinge upon
the members of this class. They are not required under penalty of
forfeiture to change their habits of life and their theoretical
views of the external world to suit the demands of an altered
industrial technique, since they are not in the full sense an
organic part of the industrial community. Therefore these
exigencies do not readily produce, in the members of this class,
that degree of uneasiness with the existing order which alone can
lead any body of men to give up views and methods of life that
have become habitual to them. The office of the leisure class in
social evolution is to retard the movement and to conserve what
is obsolescent. This proposition is by no means novel; it has
long been one of the commonplaces of popular opinion.

The prevalent conviction that the wealthy class is by nature
conservative has been popularly accepted without much aid from
any theoretical view as to the place and relation of that class
in the cultural development. When an explanation of this class
conservatism is offered, it is commonly the invidious one that
the wealthy class opposes innovation because it has a vested
interest, of an unworthy sort, in maintaining the present
conditions. The explanation here put forward imputes no unworthy
motive. The opposition of the class to changes in the cultural
scheme is instinctive, and does not rest primarily on an
interested calculation of material advantages; it is an
instinctive revulsion at any departure from the accepted way of
doing and of looking at things -- a revulsion common to all men
and only to be overcome by stress of circumstances. All change in
habits of life and of thought is irksome. The difference in this
respect between the wealthy and the common run of mankind lies
not so much in the motive which prompts to conservatism as in the
degree of exposure to the economic forces that urge a change. The
members of the wealthy class do not yield to the demand for
innovation as readily as other men because they are not
constrained to do so.

This conservatism of the wealthy class is so obvious a feature
that it has even come to be recognized as a mark of
respectability. Since conservatism is a characteristic of the
wealthier and therefore more reputable portion of the community,
it has acquired a certain honorific or decorative value. It has
become prescriptive to such an extent that an adherence to
conservative views is comprised as a matter of course in our
notions of respectability; and it is imperatively incumbent on
all who would lead a blameless life in point of social repute.
Conservatism, being an upper-class characteristic, is decorous;
and conversely, innovation, being a lower-class phenomenon, is
vulgar. The first and most unreflected element in that
instinctive revulsion and reprobation with which we turn from all
social innovators is this sense of the essential vulgarity of the
thing. So that even in cases where one recognizes the substantial
merits of the case for which the innovator is spokesman -- as may
easily happen if the evils which he seeks to remedy are
sufficiently remote in point of time or space or personal contact
-- still one cannot but be sensible of the fact that the
innovator is a person with whom it is at least distasteful to be
associated, and from whose social contact one must shrink.
Innovation is bad form.

The fact that the usages, actions, and views of the
well-to-do leisure class acquire the character of a prescriptive
canon of conduct for the rest of society, gives added weight and
reach to the conservative influence of that class. It makes it
incumbent upon all reputable people to follow their lead. So
that, by virtue of its high position as the avatar of good form,
the wealthier class comes to exert a retarding influence upon
social development far in excess of that which the simple
numerical strength of the class would assign it. Its prescriptive
example acts to greatly stiffen the resistance of all other
classes against any innovation, and to fix men's affections upon
the good institutions handed down from an earlier generation.
There is a second way in which the influence of the leisure class
acts in the same direction, so far as concerns hindrance to the
adoption of a conventional scheme of life more in accord with the
exigencies of the time. This second method of upper-class guidance
is not in strict consistency to be brought under the same
category as the instinctive conservatism and aversion to new
modes of thought just spoken of; but it may as well be dealt with
here, since it has at least this much in common with the
conservative habit of mind that it acts to retard innovation and
the growth of social structure. The code of proprieties,
conventionalities, and usages in vogue at any given time and
among any given people has more or less of the character of an
organic whole; so that any appreciable change in one point of the
scheme involves something of a change or readjustment at other
points also, if not a reorganization all along the line. When a
change is made which immediately touches only a minor point in
the scheme, the consequent derangement of the structure of
conventionalities may be inconspicuous; but even in such a case
it is safe to say that some derangement of the general scheme,
more or less far-reaching, will follow. On the other hand, when
an attempted reform involves the suppression or thorough-going
remodelling of an institution of first-rate importance in the
conventional scheme, it is immediately felt that a serious
derangement of the entire scheme would result; it is felt that a
readjustment of the structure to the new form taken on by one of
its chief elements would be a painful and tedious, if not a
doubtful process.

In order to realize the difficulty which such a radical change in
any one feature of the conventional scheme of life would involve,
it is only necessary to suggest the suppression of the monogamic
family, or of the agnatic system of consanguinity, or of private
property, or of the theistic faith, in any country of the Western
civilization; or suppose the suppression of ancestor worship in
China, or of the caste system in india, or of slavery in Africa,
or the establishment of equality of the sexes in Mohammedan
countries. It needs no argument to show that the derangement of
the general structure of conventionalities in any of these cases
would be very considerable. In order to effect such an innovation
a very far-reaching alteration of men's habits of thought would
be involved also at other points of the scheme than the one
immediately in question. The aversion to any such innovation
amounts to a shrinking from an essentially alien scheme of life.

The revulsion felt by good people at any proposed departure from
the accepted methods of life is a familiar fact of everyday
experience. It is not unusual to hear those persons who dispense
salutary advice and admonition to the community express
themselves forcibly upon the far-reaching pernicious effects
which the community would suffer from such relatively slight
changes as the disestablishment of the Anglican Church, an
increased facility of divorce, adoption of female suffrage,
prohibition of the manufacture and sale of intoxicating
beverages, abolition or restriction of inheritances, etc. Any one
of these innovations would, we are told, "shake the social
structure to its base," "reduce society to chaos," "subvert the
foundations of morality," "make life intolerable," "confound the
order of nature," etc. These various locutions are, no doubt, of
the nature of hyperbole; but, at the same time, like all
overstatement, they are evidence of a lively sense of the gravity
of the consequences which they are intended to describe. The
effect of these and like innovations in deranging the accepted
scheme of life is felt to be of much graver consequence than the
simple alteration of an isolated item in a series of contrivances
for the convenience of men in society. What is true in so obvious
a degree of innovations of first-rate importance is true in a
less degree of changes of a smaller immediate importance. The
aversion to change is in large part an aversion to the bother of
making the readjustment which any given change will necessitate;
and this solidarity of the system of institutions of any given
culture or of any given people strengthens the instinctive
resistance offered to any change in men's habits of thought, even
in matters which, taken by themselves, are of minor importance.
A consequence of this increased reluctance, due to the
solidarity of human institutions, is that any innovation calls
for a greater expenditure of nervous energy in making the
necessary readjustment than would otherwise be the case. It is
not only that a change in established habits of thought is
distasteful. The process of readjustment of the accepted theory
of life involves a degree of mental effort -- a more or less
protracted and laborious effort to find and to keep one's
bearings under the altered circumstances. This process requires a
certain expenditure of energy, and so presumes, for its
successful accomplishment, some surplus of energy beyond that
absorbed in the daily struggle for subsistence. Consequently it
follows that progress is hindered by underfeeding and excessive
physical hardship, no less effectually than by such a luxurious
life as will shut out discontent by cutting off the occasion for
it. The abjectly poor, and all those persons whose energies are
entirely absorbed by the struggle for daily sustenance, are
conservative because they cannot afford the effort of taking
thought for the day after tomorrow; just as the highly prosperous
are conservative because they have small occasion to be
discontented with the situation as it stands today.

From this proposition it follows that the institution of a
leisure class acts to make the lower classes conservative by
withdrawing from them as much as it may of the means of
sustenance, and so reducing their consumption, and consequently
their available energy, to such a point as to make them incapable
of the effort required for the learning and adoption of new
habits of thought. The accumulation of wealth at the upper end of
the pecuniary scale implies privation at the lower end of the
scale. It is a commonplace that, wherever it occurs, a
considerable degree of privation among the body of the people is
a serious obstacle to any innovation.

This direct inhibitory effect of the unequal distribution of
wealth is seconded by an indirect effect tending to the same
result. As has already been seen, the imperative example set by
the upper class in fixing the canons of reputability fosters the
practice of conspicuous consumption. The prevalence of
conspicuous consumption as one of the main elements in the
standard of decency among all classes is of course not traceable
wholly to the example of the wealthy leisure class, but the
practice and the insistence on it are no doubt strengthened by
the example of the leisure class. The requirements of decency in
this matter are very considerable and very imperative; so that
even among classes whose pecuniary position is sufficiently
strong to admit a consumption of goods considerably in excess of
the subsistence minimum, the disposable surplus left over after
the more imperative physical needs are satisfied is not
infrequently diverted to the purpose of a conspicuous decency,
rather than to added physical comfort and fullness of life.
Moreover, such surplus energy as is available is also likely to
be expended in the acquisition of goods for conspicuous
consumption or conspicuous boarding. The result is that the
requirements of pecuniary reputability tend (1) to leave but a
scanty subsistence minimum available for other than conspicuous
consumption, and (2) to absorb any surplus energy which may be
available after the bare physical necessities of life have been
provided for. The outcome of the whole is a strengthening of the
general conservative attitude of the community. The institution
of a leisure class hinders cultural development immediately (1)
by the inertia proper to the class itself, (2) through its
prescriptive example of conspicuous waste and of conservatism,
and (3) indirectly through that system of unequal distribution of
wealth and sustenance on which the institution itself rests.
To this is to be added that the leisure class has also a material
interest in leaving things as they are. Under the circumstances
prevailing at any given time this class is in a privileged
position, and any departure from the existing order may be
expected to work to the detriment of the class rather than the
reverse. The attitude of the class, simply as influenced by its
class interest, should therefore be to let well-enough alone.
This interested motive comes in to supplement the strong
instinctive bias of the class, and so to render it even more
consistently conservative than it otherwise would be.

All this, of course, has nothing to say in the way of eulogy or
deprecation of the office of the leisure class as an exponent and
vehicle of conservatism or reversion in social structure. The
inhibition which it exercises may be salutary or the reverse.
Wether it is the one or the other in any given case is a question
of casuistry rather than of general theory. There may be truth in
the view (as a question of policy) so often expressed by the
spokesmen of the conservative element, that without some such
substantial and consistent resistance to innovation as is offered
by the conservative well-to-do classes, social innovation and
experiment would hurry the community into untenable and
intolerable situations; the only possible result of which would
be discontent and disastrous reaction. All this, however, is
beside the present argument.

But apart from all deprecation, and aside from all question as to
the indispensability of some such check on headlong innovation,
the leisure class, in the nature of things, consistently acts to
retard that adjustment to the environment which is called social
advance or development. The characteristic attitude of the class
may be summed up in the maxim: "Whatever is, is right" whereas
the law of natural selection, as applied to human institutions,
gives the axiom: "Whatever is, is wrong." Not that the
institutions of today are wholly wrong for the purposes of the
life of today, but they are, always and in the nature of things,
wrong to some extent. They are the result of a more or less
inadequate adjustment of the methods of living to a situation
which prevailed at some point in the past development; and they
are therefore wrong by something more than the interval which
separates the present situation from that of the past. "Right"
and "wrong" are of course here used without conveying any
rejection as to what ought or ought not to be. They are applied
simply from the (morally colorless) evolutionary standpoint, and
are intended to designate compatibility or incompatibility with
the effective evolutionary process. The institution of a leisure
class, by force or class interest and instinct, and by precept
and prescriptive example, makes for the perpetuation of the
existing maladjustment of institutions, and even favors a
reversion to a somewhat more archaic scheme of life; a scheme
which would be still farther out of adjustment with the
exigencies of life under the existing situation even than the
accredited, obsolescent scheme that has come down from the
immediate past.

But after all has been said on the head of conservation of the
good old ways, it remains true that institutions change and
develop. There is a cumulative growth of customs and habits of
thought; a selective adaptation of conventions and methods of
life. Something is to be said of the office of the leisure class
in guiding this growth as well as in retarding it; but little can
be said here of its relation to institutional growth except as it
touches the institutions that are primarily and immediately of an
economic character. These institutions -- the economic structure
-- may be roughly distinguished into two classes or categories,
according as they serve one or the other of two divergent
purposes of economic life.

To adapt the classical terminology, they are institutions of
acquisition or of production; or to revert to terms already
employed in a different connection in earlier chapters, they are
pecuniary or industrial institutions; or in still other terms,
they are institutions serving either the invidious or the
non-invidious economic interest. The former category have to do
with "business," the latter with industry, taking the latter word
in the mechanical sense. The latter class are not often
recognized as institutions, in great part because they do not
immediately concern the ruling class, and are, therefore, seldom
the subject of legislation or of deliberate convention. When they
do receive attention they are commonly approached from the
pecuniary or business side; that being the side or phase of
economic life that chiefly occupies men's deliberations in our
time, especially the deliberations of the upper classes. These
classes have little else than a business interest in things
economic, and on them at the same time it is chiefly incumbent to
deliberate upon the community's affairs.

The relation of the leisure (that is, propertied non-industrial)
class to the economic process is a pecuniary relation -- a
relation of acquisition, not of production; of exploitation, not
of serviceability. Indirectly their economic office may, of
course, be of the utmost importance to the economic life process;
and it is by no means here intended to depreciate the economic
function of the propertied class or of the captains of industry.
The purpose is simply to point out what is the nature of the
relation of these classes to the industrial process and to
economic institutions. Their office is of a parasitic character,
and their interest is to divert what substance they may to their
own use, and to retain whatever is under their hand. The
conventions of the business world have grown up under the
selective surveillance of this principle of predation or
parasitism. They are conventions of ownership; derivatives, more
or less remote, of the ancient predatory culture. But these
pecuniary institutions do not entirely fit the situation of
today, for they have grown up under a past situation differing
somewhat from the present. Even for effectiveness in the
pecuniary way, therefore, they are not as apt as might be. The
changed industrial life requires changed methods of acquisition;
and the pecuniary classes have some interest in so adapting the
pecuniary institutions as to give them the best effect for
acquisition of private gain that is compatible with the
continuance of the industrial process out of which this gain
arises. Hence there is a more or less consistent trend in the
leisure-class guidance of institutional growth, answering to the
pecuniary ends which shape leisure-class economic life.

The effect of the pecuniary interest and the pecuniary habit of
mind upon the growth of institutions is seen in those
enactments and conventions that make for security of property,
enforcement of contracts, facility of pecuniary transactions,
vested interests. Of such bearing are changes affecting
bankruptcy and receiverships, limited liability, banking and
currency, coalitions of laborers or employers, trusts and pools.
The community's institutional furniture of this kind is of
immediate consequence only to the propertied classes, and in
proportion as they are propertied; that is to say, in proportion
as they are to be ranked with the leisure class. But indirectly
these conventions of business life are of the gravest consequence
for the industrial process and for the life of the community. And
in guiding the institutional growth in this respect, the
pecuniary classes, therefore, serve a purpose of the most serious
importance to the community, not only in the conservation of the
accepted social scheme, but also in shaping the industrial
process proper. The immediate end of this pecuniary institutional
structure and of its amelioration is the greater facility of
peaceable and orderly exploitation; but its remoter effects far
outrun this immediate object. Not only does the more facile
conduct of business permit industry and extra-industrial life to
go on with less perturbation; but the resulting elimination of
disturbances and complications calling for an exercise of astute
discrimination in everyday affairs acts to make the pecuniary
class itself superfluous. As fast as pecuniary transactions are
reduced to routine, the captain of industry can be dispensed
with. This consummation, it is needless to say, lies yet in the
indefinite future. The ameliorations wrought in favor of the
pecuniary interest in modern institutions tend, in another field,
to substitute the "soulless" joint-stock corporation for the
captain, and so they make also for the dispensability, of the
great leisure-class function of ownership. Indirectly, therefore,
the bent given to the growth of economic institutions by the
leisure-class influence is of very considerable industrial

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

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

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