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The Theory of the Leisure Class* by Thorstein Veblen

Part 6 out of 6

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will be in place, therefore, to point out any peculiar features
of the educational system which are traceable to the
leisure-class scheme of life, whether as regards the aim and
method of the discipline, or as regards the compass and character
of the body of knowledge inculcated. It is in learning proper,
and more particularly in the higher learning, that the influence
of leisure-class ideals is most patent; and since the purpose
here is not to make an exhaustive collation of data showing the
effect of the pecuniary culture upon education, but rather to
illustrate the method and trend of the leisure-class influence in
education, a survey of certain salient features of the higher
learning, such as may serve this purpose, is all that will be

In point of derivation and early development, learning is
somewhat closely related to the devotional function of the
community, particularly to the body of observances in which the
service rendered the supernatural leisure class expresses itself.
The service by which it is sought to conciliate supernatural
agencies in the primitive cults is not an industrially profitable
employment of the community's time and effort. It is, therefore,
in great part, to be classed as a vicarious leisure performed for
the supernatural powers with whom negotiations are carried on and
whose good-will the service and the professions of subservience
are conceived to procure. In great part, the early learning
consisted in an acquisition of knowledge and facility in the
service of a supernatural agent. It was therefore closely
analogous in character to the training required for the domestic
service of a temporal master. To a great extent, the knowledge
acquired under the priestly teachers of the primitive community
was knowledge of ritual and ceremonial; that is to say, a
knowledge of the most proper, most effective, or most acceptable
manner of approaching and of serving the preternatural agents.
What was learned was how to make oneself indispensable to these
powers, and so to put oneself in a position to ask, or even to
require, their intercession in the course of events or their
abstention from interference in any given enterprise.
Propitiation was the end, and this end was sought, in great part,
by acquiring facility in subservience. It appears to have been
only gradually that other elements than those of efficient
service of the master found their way into the stock of priestly
or shamanistic instruction.

The priestly servitor of the inscrutable powers that move in the
external world came to stand in the position of a mediator
between these powers and the common run of unrestricted humanity;
for he was possessed of a knowledge of the supernatural etiquette
which would admit him into the presence. And as commonly happens
with mediators between the vulgar and their masters, whether the
masters be natural or preternatural, he found it expedient to
have the means at hand tangibly to impress upon the vulgar the
fact that these inscrutable powers would do what he might ask of
them. Hence, presently, a knowledge of certain natural processes
which could be turned to account for spectacular effect, together
with some sleight of hand, came to be an integral part of
priestly lore. Knowledge of this kind passes for knowledge of the
"unknowable", and it owes its serviceability for the sacerdotal
purpose to its recondite character. It appears to have been from
this source that learning, as an institution, arose, and its
differentiation from this its parent stock of magic ritual and
shamanistic fraud has been slow and tedious, and is scarcely yet
complete even in the most advanced of the higher seminaries of

The recondite element in learning is still, as it has been in all
ages, a very attractive and effective element for the purpose of
impressing, or even imposing upon, the unlearned; and the
standing of the savant in the mind of the altogether
unlettered is in great measure rated in terms of intimacy with
the occult forces. So, for instance, as a typical case, even so
late as the middle of this century, the Norwegian peasants have
instinctively formulated their sense of the superior erudition of
such doctors of divinity as Luther, Malanchthon, Peder Dass, and
even so late a scholar in divinity as Grundtvig, in terms of the
Black Art. These, together with a very comprehensive list of
minor celebrities, both living and dead, have been reputed
masters in all magical arts; and a high position in the
ecclesiastical personnel has carried with it, in the apprehension
of these good people, an implication of profound familiarity with
magical practice and the occult sciences. There is a parallel
fact nearer home, similarly going to show the close relationship,
in popular apprehension, between erudition and the unknowable;
and it will at the same time serve to illustrate, in somewhat
coarse outline, the bent which leisure-class life gives to the
cognitive interest. While the belief is by no means confined to
the leisure class, that class today comprises a
disproportionately large number of believers in occult sciences
of all kinds and shades. By those whose habits of thought are not
shaped by contact with modern industry, the knowledge of the
unknowable is still felt to the ultimate if not the only true

Learning, then, set out by being in some sense a by-product of
the priestly vicarious leisure class; and, at least until a
recent date, the higher learning has since remained in some sense
a by-product or by-occupation of the priestly classes. As the
body of systematized knowledge increased, there presently arose a
distinction, traceable very far back in the history of education,
between esoteric and exoteric knowledge, the former -- so far as
there is a substantial difference between the two -- comprising
such knowledge as is primarily of no economic or industrial
effect, and the latter comprising chiefly knowledge of industrial
processes and of natural phenomena which were habitually turned
to account for the material purposes of life. This line of
demarcation has in time become, at least in popular apprehension,
the normal line between the higher learning and the lower.

It is significant, not only as an evidence of their close
affiliation with the priestly craft, but also as indicating that
their activity to a good extent falls under that category of
conspicuous leisure known as manners and breeding, that the
learned class in all primitive communities are great sticklers
for form, precedent, gradations of rank, ritual, ceremonial
vestments, and learned paraphernalia generally. This is of course
to be expected, and it goes to say that the higher learning, in
its incipient phase, is a leisure-class occupation -- more
specifically an occupation of the vicarious leisure class
employed in the service of the supernatural leisure class. But
this predilection for the paraphernalia of learning goes also to
indicate a further point of contact or of continuity between the
priestly office and the office of the savant. In point of
derivation, learning, as well as the priestly office, is largely
an outgrowth of sympathetic magic; and this magical apparatus of
form and ritual therefore finds its place with the learned class
of the primitive community as a matter of course. The ritual and
paraphernalia have an occult efficacy for the magical purpose; so
that their presence as an integral factor in the earlier phases
of the development of magic and science is a matter of
expediency, quite as much as of affectionate regard for symbolism

This sense of the efficacy of symbolic ritual, and of sympathetic
effect to be wrought through dexterous rehearsal of the
traditional accessories of the act or end to be compassed, is of
course present more obviously and in larger measure in magical
practice than in the discipline of the sciences, even of the
occult sciences. But there are, I apprehend, few persons with a
cultivated sense of scholastic merit to whom the ritualistic
accessories of science are altogether an idle matter. The very
great tenacity with which these ritualistic paraphernalia persist
through the later course of the development is evident to any one
who will reflect on what has been the history of learning in our
civilization. Even today there are such things in the usage of
the learned community as the cap and gown, matriculation,
initiation, and graduation ceremonies, and the conferring of
scholastic degrees, dignities, and prerogatives in a way which
suggests some sort of a scholarly apostolic succession. The usage
of the priestly orders is no doubt the proximate source of all
these features of learned ritual, vestments, sacramental
initiation, the transmission of peculiar dignities and virtues by
the imposition of hands, and the like; but their derivation is
traceable back of this point, to the source from which the
specialized priestly class proper came to be distinguished from
the sorcerer on the one hand and from the menial servant of a
temporal master on the other hand. So far as regards both their
derivation and their psychological content, these usages and the
conceptions on which they rest belong to a stage in cultural
development no later than that of the angekok and the rain-maker.
Their place in the later phases of devout observance, as well as
in the higher educational system, is that of a survival from a
very early animistic phase of the development of human nature.

These ritualistic features of the educational system of the
present and of the recent past, it is quite safe to say, have
their place primarily in the higher, liberal, and classic
institutions and grades of learning, rather than in the lower,
technological, or practical grades, and branches of the system.
So far as they possess them, the lower and less reputable
branches of the educational scheme have evidently borrowed these
things from the higher grades; and their continued persistence
among the practical schools, without the sanction of the
continued example of the higher and classic grades, would be
highly improbable, to say the least. With the lower and practical
schools and scholars, the adoption and cultivation of these
usages is a case of mimicry -- due to a desire to conform as far
as may be to the standards of scholastic reputability maintained
by the upper grades and classes, who have come by these accessory
features legitimately, by the right of lineal devolution.

The analysis may even be safely carried a step farther.
Ritualistic survivals and reversions come out in fullest vigor
and with the freest air of spontaneity among those seminaries of
learning which have to do primarily with the education of the
priestly and leisure classes. Accordingly it should appear, and
it does pretty plainly appear, on a survey of recent developments
in college and university life, that wherever schools founded for
the instruction of the lower classes in the immediately useful
branches of knowledge grow into institutions of the higher
learning, the growth of ritualistic ceremonial and paraphernalia
and of elaborate scholastic "functions" goes hand in hand with
the transition of the schools in question from the field of
homely practicality into the higher, classical sphere. The
initial purpose of these schools, and the work with which they
have chiefly had to do at the earlier of these two stages of
their evolution, has been that of fitting the young of the
industrious classes for work. On the higher, classical plane of
learning to which they commonly tend, their dominant aim becomes
the preparation of the youth of the priestly and the leisure
classes -- or of an incipient leisure class -- for the
consumption of goods, material and immaterial, according to a
conventionally accepted, reputable scope and method. This happy
issue has commonly been the fate of schools founded by "friends
of the people" for the aid of struggling young men, and where
this transition is made in good form there is commonly, if not
invariably, a coincident change to a more ritualistic life in the

In the school life of today, learned ritual is in a general way
best at home in schools whose chief end is the cultivation of the
"humanities". This correlation is shown, perhaps more neatly than
anywhere else, in the life-history of the American colleges and
universities of recent growth. There may be many exceptions from
the rule, especially among those schools which have been founded
by the typically reputable and ritualistic churches, and which,
therefore, started on the conservative and classical plane or
reached the classical position by a short-cut; but the general
rule as regards the colleges founded in the newer American
communities during the present century has been that so long as
the constituency from which the colleges have drawn their pupils
has been dominated by habits of industry and thrift, so long the
reminiscences of the medicine-man have found but a scant and
precarious acceptance in the scheme of college life. But so soon
as wealth begins appreciably to accumulate in the community, and
so soon as a given school begins to lean on a leisure-class
constituency, there comes also a perceptibly increased insistence
on scholastic ritual and on conformity to the ancient forms as
regards vestments and social and scholastic solemnities. So, for
instance, there has been an approximate coincidence between the
growth of wealth among the constituency which supports any given
college of the Middle West and the date of acceptance -- first
into tolerance and then into imperative vogue -- of evening dress
for men and of the dcollet for women, as the scholarly
vestments proper to occasions of learned solemnity or to the
seasons of social amenity within the college circle. Apart from
the mechanical difficulty of so large a task, it would scarcely
be a difficult matter to trace this correlation. The like is true
of the vogue of the cap and gown.

Cap and gown have been adopted as learned insignia by many
colleges of this section within the last few years; and it is
safe to say that this could scarcely have occurred at a much
earlier date, or until there had grown up a leisure-class
sentiment of sufficient volume in the community to support a
strong movement of reversion towards an archaic view as to the
legitimate end of education. This particular item of learned
ritual, it may be noted, would not only commend itself to the
leisure-class sense of the fitness of things, as appealing to the
archaic propensity for spectacular effect and the predilection
for antique symbolism; but it at the same time fits into the
leisure-class scheme of life as involving a notable element of
conspicuous waste. The precise date at which the reversion to cap
and gown took place, as well as the fact that it affected so
large a number of schools at about the same time, seems to have
been due in some measure to a wave of atavistic sense of
conformity and reputability that passed over the community at
that period.

It may not be entirely beside the point to note that in point of
time this curious reversion seems to coincide with the
culmination of a certain vogue of atavistic sentiment and
tradition in other directions also. The wave of reversion seems
to have received its initial impulse in the psychologically
disintegrating effects of the Civil War. Habituation to war
entails a body of predatory habits of thought, whereby
clannishness in some measure replaces the sense of solidarity,
and a sense of invidious distinction supplants the impulse to
equitable, everyday serviceability. As an outcome of the
cumulative action of these factors, the generation which follows
a season of war is apt to witness a rehabilitation of the element
of status, both in its social life and in its scheme of devout
observances and other symbolic or ceremonial forms. Throughout
the eighties, and less plainly traceable through the seventies
also, there was perceptible a gradually advancing wave of
sentiment favoring quasi-predatory business habits, insistence on
status, anthropomorphism, and conservatism generally. The more
direct and unmediated of these expressions of the barbarian
temperament, such as the recrudescence of outlawry and the
spectacular quasi-predatory careers of fraud run by certain
"captains of industry", came to a head earlier and were
appreciably on the decline by the close of the seventies. The
recrudescence of anthropomorphic sentiment also seems to have
passed its most acute stage before the close of the eighties. But
the learned ritual and paraphernalia here spoken of are a still
remoter and more recondite expression of the barbarian animistic
sense; and these, therefore, gained vogue and elaboration more
slowly and reached their most effective development at a still
later date. There is reason to believe that the culmination is
now already past. Except for the new impetus given by a new war
experience, and except for the support which the growth of a
wealthy class affords to all ritual, and especially to whatever
ceremonial is wasteful and pointedly suggests gradations of
status, it is probable that the late improvements and
augmentation of scholastic insignia and ceremonial would
gradually decline. But while it may be true that the cap and
gown, and the more strenuous observance of scholastic proprieties
which came with them, were floated in on this post-bellum tidal
wave of reversion to barbarism, it is also no doubt true that
such a ritualistic reversion could not have been effected in the
college scheme of life until the accumulation of wealth in the
hands of a propertied class had gone far enough to afford the
requisite pecuniary ground for a movement which should bring the
colleges of the country up to the leisure-class requirements in
the higher learning. The adoption of the cap and gown is one of
the striking atavistic features of modern college life, and at
the same time it marks the fact that these colleges have
definitely become leisure-class establishments, either in actual
achievement or in aspiration.

As further evidence of the close relation between the educational
system and the cultural standards of the community, it may be
remarked that there is some tendency latterly to substitute the
captain of industry in place of the priest, as the head of
seminaries of the higher learning. The substitution is by no
means complete or unequivocal. Those heads of institutions are
best accepted who combine the sacerdotal office with a high
degree of pecuniary efficiency. There is a similar but less
pronounced tendency to intrust the work of instruction in the
higher learning to men of some pecuniary qualification.
Administrative ability and skill in advertising the enterprise
count for rather more than they once did, as qualifications for
the work of teaching. This applies especially in those sciences
that have most to do with the everyday facts of life, and it is
particularly true of schools in the economically single-minded
communities. This partial substitution of pecuniary for
sacerdotal efficiency is a concomitant of the modern transition
from conspicuous leisure to conspicuous consumption, as the chief
means of reputability. The correlation of the two facts is
probably clear without further elaboration.

The attitude of the schools and of the learned class towards the
education of women serves to show in what manner and to what
extent learning has departed from its ancient station of priestly
and leisure-class prerogatives, and it indicates also what
approach has been made by the truly learned to the modern,
economic or industrial, matter-of-fact standpoint. The higher
schools and the learned professions were until recently tabu to
the women. These establishments were from the outset, and have in
great measure continued to be, devoted to the education of the
priestly and leisure classes.

The women, as has been shown elsewhere, were the original
subservient class, and to some extent, especially so far as
regards their nominal or ceremonial position, they have remained
in that relation down to the present. There has prevailed a
strong sense that the admission of women to the privileges of the
higher learning (as to the Eleusianin mysteries) would be
derogatory to the dignity of the learned craft. It is therefore
only very recently, and almost solely in the industrially most
advanced communities, that the higher grades of schools have been
freely opened to women. And even under the urgent circumstances
prevailing in the modern industrial communities, the highest and
most reputable universities show an extreme reluctance in making
the move. The sense of class worthiness, that is to say of
status, of a honorific differentiation of the sexes according to
a distinction between superior and inferior intellectual dignity,
survives in a vigorous form in these corporations of the
aristocracy of learning. It is felt that the woman should, in all
propriety, acquire only such knowledge as may be classed under
one or the other of two heads: (1) such knowledge as conduces
immediately to a better performance of domestic service -- the
domestic sphere; (2) such accomplishments and dexterity,
quasi-scholarly and quasi-artistic, as plainly come in under the
head of a performance of vicarious leisure. Knowledge is felt to
be unfeminine if it is knowledge which expresses the unfolding of
the learner's own life, the acquisition of which proceeds on the
learner's own cognitive interest, without prompting from the
canons of propriety, and without reference back to a master whose
comfort or good repute is to be enhanced by the employment or the
exhibition of it. So, also, all knowledge which is useful as
evidence of leisure, other than vicarious leisure, is scarcely

For an appreciation of the relation which these higher seminaries
of learning bear to the economic life of the community, the
phenomena which have been reviewed are of importance rather as
indications of a general attitude than as being in themselves
facts of first-rate economic consequence. They go to show what is
the instinctive attitude and animus of the learned class towards
the life process of an industrial community. They serve as an
exponent of the stage of development, for the industrial purpose,
attained by the higher learning and by the learned class, and so
they afford an indication as to what may fairly be looked for
from this class at points where the learning and the life of the
class bear more immediately upon the economic life and efficiency
of the community, and upon the adjustment of its scheme of life
to the requirements of the time. What these ritualistic survivals
go to indicate is a prevalence of conservatism, if not of
reactionary sentiment, especially among the higher schools where
the conventional learning is cultivated.

To these indications of a conservative attitude is to be added
another characteristic which goes in the same direction, but
which is a symptom of graver consequence that this playful
inclination to trivialities of form and ritual. By far the
greater number of American colleges and universities, for
instance, are affiliated to some religious denomination and are
somewhat given to devout observances. Their putative familiarity
with scientific methods and the scientific point of view should
presumably exempt the faculties of these schools from animistic
habits of thought; but there is still a considerable proportion
of them who profess an attachment to the anthropomorphic beliefs
and observances of an earlier culture. These professions of
devotional zeal are, no doubt, to a good extent expedient and
perfunctory, both on the part of the schools in their corporate
capacity, and on the part of the individual members of the corps
of instructors; but it can not be doubted that there is after all
a very appreciable element of anthropomorphic sentiment present
in the higher schools. So far as this is the case it must be set
down as the expression of an archaic, animistic habit of mind.
This habit of mind must necessarily assert itself to some extent
in the instruction offered, and to this extent its influence in
shaping the habits of thought of the student makes for
conservatism and reversion; it acts to hinder his development in
the direction of matter-of-fact knowledge, such as best serves
the ends of industry.

The college sports, which have so great a vogue in the reputable
seminaries of learning today, tend in a similar direction; and,
indeed, sports have much in common with the devout attitude of
the colleges, both as regards their psychological basis and as
regards their disciplinary effect. But this expression of the
barbarian temperament is to be credited primarily to the body of
students, rather than to the temper of the schools as such;
except in so far as the colleges or the college officials -- as
sometimes happens -- actively countenance and foster the growth
of sports. The like is true of college fraternities as of college
sports, but with a difference. The latter are chiefly an
expression of the predatory impulse simply; the former are more
specifically an expression of that heritage of clannishness which
is so large a feature in the temperament of the predatory
barbarian. It is also noticeable that a close relation subsists
between the fraternities and the sporting activity of the
schools. After what has already been said in an earlier chapter
on the sporting and gambling habit, it is scarcely necessary
further to discuss the economic value of this training in sports
and in factional organization and activity.

But all these features of the scheme of life of the learned
class, and of the establishments dedicated to the conservation of
the higher learning, are in a great measure incidental only. They
are scarcely to be accounted organic elements of the professed
work of research and instruction for the ostensible pursuit of
which the schools exists. But these symptomatic indications go to
establish a presumption as to the character of the work performed
-- as seen from the economic point of view -- and as to the bent
which the serious work carried on under their auspices gives to
the youth who resort to the schools. The presumption raised by
the considerations already offered is that in their work also, as
well as in their ceremonial, the higher schools may be expected
to take a conservative position; but this presumption must be
checked by a comparison of the economic character of the work
actually performed, and by something of a survey of the learning
whose conservation is intrusted to the higher schools. On this
head, it is well known that the accredited seminaries of learning
have, until a recent date, held a conservative position. They
have taken an attitude of depreciation towards all innovations.
As a general rule a new point of view or a new formulation of
knowledge have been countenanced and taken up within the schools
only after these new things have made their way outside of the
schools. As exceptions from this rule are chiefly to be mentioned
innovations of an inconspicuous kind and departures which do not
bear in any tangible way upon the conventional point of view or
upon the conventional scheme of life; as, for instance, details
of fact in the mathematico-physical sciences, and new readings
and interpretations of the classics, especially such as have a
philological or literary bearing only. Except within the domain
of the "humanities", in the narrow sense, and except so far as
the traditional point of view of the humanities has been left
intact by the innovators, it has generally held true that the
accredited learned class and the seminaries of the higher
learning have looked askance at all innovation. New views, new
departures in scientific theory, especially in new departures
which touch the theory of human relations at any point, have
found a place in the scheme of the university tardily and by a
reluctant tolerance, rather than by a cordial welcome; and the
men who have occupied themselves with such efforts to widen the
scope of human knowledge have not commonly been well received by
their learned contemporaries. The higher schools have not
commonly given their countenance to a serious advance in the
methods or the content of knowledge until the innovations have
outlived their youth and much of their usefulness -- after they
have become commonplaces of the intellectual furniture of a new
generation which has grown up under, and has had its habits of
thought shaped by, the new, extra-scholastic body of knowledge
and the new standpoint. This is true of the recent past. How far
it may be true of the immediate present it would be hazardous to
say, for it is impossible to see present-day facts in such
perspective as to get a fair conception of their relative

So far, nothing has been said of the Maecenas function of the
well-to-do, which is habitually dwelt on at some length by
writers and speakers who treat of the development of culture and
of social structure. This leisure-class function is not without
an important bearing on the higher and on the spread of knowledge
and culture. The manner and the degree in which the class
furthers learning through patronage of this kind is sufficiently
familiar. It has been frequently presented in affectionate and
effective terms by spokesmen whose familiarity with the topic
fits them to bring home to their hearers the profound
significance of this cultural factor. These spokesmen, however,
have presented the matter from the point of view of the cultural
interest, or of the interest of reputability, rather than from
that of the economic interest. As apprehended from the economic
point of view, and valued for the purpose of industrial
serviceability, this function of the well-to-do, as well as the
intellectual attitude of members of the well-to-do class, merits
some attention and will bear illustration.

By way of characterization of the Maecenas relation, it is to be
noted that, considered externally, as an economic or industrial
relation simply, it is a relation of status. The scholar under
the patronage performs the duties of a learned life vicariously
for his patron, to whom a certain repute inures after the manner
of the good repute imputed to a master for whom any form of
vicarious leisure is performed. It is also to be noted that, in
point of historical fact, the furtherance of learning or the
maintenance of scholarly activity through the Maecenas relation
has most commonly been a furtherance of proficiency in classical
lore or in the humanities. The knowledge tends to lower rather
than to heighten the industrial efficiency of the community.

Further, as regards the direct participation of the members of
the leisure class in the furtherance of knowledge, the canons of
reputable living act to throw such intellectual interest as seeks
expression among the class on the side of classical and formal
erudition, rather than on the side of the sciences that bear some
relation to the community's industrial life. The most frequent
excursions into other than classical fields of knowledge on the
part of members of the leisure class are made into the discipline
of law and the political, and more especially the administrative,
sciences. These so-called sciences are substantially bodies of
maxims of expediency for guidance in the leisure-class office of
government, as conducted on a proprietary basis. The interest
with which this discipline is approached is therefore not
commonly the intellectual or cognitive interest simply. It is
largely the practical interest of the exigencies of that relation
of mastery in which the members of the class are placed. In point
of derivation, the office of government is a predatory function,
pertaining integrally to the archaic leisure-class scheme of
life. It is an exercise of control and coercion over the
population from which the class draws its sustenance. This
discipline, as well as the incidents of practice which give it
its content, therefore has some attraction for the class apart
from all questions of cognition. All this holds true wherever and
so long as the governmental office continues, in form or in
substance, to be a proprietary office; and it holds true beyond
that limit, in so far as the tradition of the more archaic phase
of governmental evolution has lasted on into the later life of
those modern communities for whom proprietary government by a
leisure class is now beginning to pass away.

For that field of learning within which the cognitive or
intellectual interest is dominant -- the sciences properly so
called -- the case is somewhat different, not only as regards the
attitude of the leisure class, but as regards the whole drift of
the pecuniary culture. Knowledge for its own sake, the exercise
of the faculty of comprehensive without ulterior purpose, should,
it might be expected, be sought by men whom no urgent material
interest diverts from such a quest. The sheltered industrial
position of the leisure class should give free play to the
cognitive interest in members of this class, and we should
consequently have, as many writers confidently find that we do
have, a very large proportion of scholars, scientists, savants
derived from this class and deriving their incentive to
scientific investigation and speculation from the discipline of a
life of leisure. Some such result is to be looked for, but there
are features of the leisure-class scheme of life, already
sufficiently dwelt upon, which go to divert the intellectual
interest of this class to other subjects than that causal
sequence in phenomena which makes the content of the sciences.
The habits of thought which characterize the life of the class
run on the personal relation of dominance, and on the derivative,
invidious concepts of honor, worth, merit, character, and the
like. The casual sequence which makes up the subject matter of
science is not visible from this point of view. Neither does good
repute attach to knowledge of facts that are vulgarly useful.
Hence it should appear probable that the interest of the
invidious comparison with respect to pecuniary or other honorific
merit should occupy the attention of the leisure class, to the
neglect of the cognitive interest. Where this latter interest
asserts itself it should commonly be diverted to fields of
speculation or investigation which are reputable and futile,
rather than to the quest of scientific knowledge. Such indeed has
been the history of priestly and leisure-class learning so long
as no considerable body of systematized knowledge had been
intruded into the scholastic discipline from an extra-scholastic
source. But since the relation of mastery and subservience is
ceasing to be the dominant and formative factor in the
community's life process, other features of the life process and
other points of view are forcing themselves upon the scholars.
The true-bred gentleman of leisure should, and does, see the
world from the point of view of the personal relation; and the
cognitive interest, so far as it asserts itself in him, should
seek to systematize phenomena on this basis. Such indeed is the
case with the gentleman of the old school, in whom the
leisure-class ideals have suffered no disintegration; and such is
the attitude of his latter-day descendant, in so far as he has
fallen heir to the full complement of upper-class virtues. But
the ways of heredity are devious, and not every gentleman's son
is to the manor born. Especially is the transmission of the
habits of thought which characterize the predatory master
somewhat precarious in the case of a line of descent in which but
one or two of the latest steps have lain within the leisure-class
discipline. The chances of occurrence of a strong congenital or
acquired bent towards the exercise of the cognitive aptitudes are
apparently best in those members of the leisure class who are of
lower class or middle class antecedents -- that is to say, those
who have inherited the complement of aptitudes proper to the
industrious classes, and who owe their place in the leisure class
to the possession of qualities which count for more today than
they did in the times when the leisure-class scheme of life took
shape. But even outside the range of these later accessions to
the leisure class there are an appreciable number of individuals
in whom the invidious interest is not sufficiently dominant to
shape their theoretical views, and in whom the proclivity to
theory is sufficiently strong to lead them into the scientific

The higher learning owes the intrusion of the sciences in part to
these aberrant scions of the leisure class, who have come under
the dominant influence of the latter-day tradition of impersonal
relation and who have inherited a complement of human aptitudes
differing in certain salient features from the temperament which
is characteristic of the regime of status. But it owes the
presence of this alien body of scientific knowledge also in part,
and in a higher degree, to members of the industrious classes who
have been in sufficiently easy circumstances to turn their
attention to other interests than that of finding daily
sustenance, and whose inherited aptitudes and anthropomorphic
point of view does not dominate their intellectual processes. As
between these two groups, which approximately comprise the
effective force of scientific progress, it is the latter that has
contributed the most. And with respect to both it seems to be
true that they are not so much the source as the vehicle, or at
the most they are the instrument of commutation, by which the
habits of thought enforced upon the community, through contact
with its environment under the exigencies of modern associated
life and the mechanical industries, are turned to account for
theoretical knowledge.

Science, in the sense of an articulate recognition of causal
sequence in phenomena, whether physical or social, has been a
feature of the Western culture only since the industrial process
in the Western communities has come to be substantially a process
of mechanical contrivances in which man's office is that of
discrimination and valuation of material forces. Science has
flourished somewhat in the same degree as the industrial life of
the community has conformed to this pattern, and somewhat in the
same degree as the industrial interest has dominated the
community's life. And science, and scientific theory especially,
has made headway in the several departments of human life and
knowledge in proportion as each of these several departments has
successively come into closer contact with the industrial process
and the economic interest; or perhaps it is truer to say, in
proportion as each of them has successively escaped from the
dominance of the conceptions of personal relation or status, and
of the derivative canons of anthropomorphic fitness and honorific

It is only as the exigencies of modern industrial life have
enforced the recognition of causal sequence in the practical
contact of mankind with their environment, that men have come to
systematize the phenomena of this environment and the facts of
their own contact with it,in terms of causal sequence. So that
while the higher learning in its best development, as the perfect
flower of scholasticism and classicism, was a by-product of the
priestly office and the life of leisure, so modern science may be
said to be a by-product of the industrial process. Through these
groups of men, then -- investigators, savants, scientists,
inventors, speculators -- most of whom have done their most
telling work outside the shelter of the schools, the habits of
thought enforced by the modern industrial life have found
coherent expression and elaboration as a body of theoretical
science having to do with the causal sequence of phenomena. And
from this extra-scholastic field of scientific speculation,
changes of method and purpose have from time to time been
intruded into the scholastic discipline.

In this connection it is to be remarked that there is a very
perceptible difference of substance and purpose between the
instruction offered in the primary and secondary schools, on the
one hand, and in the higher seminaries of learning, on the other
hand. The difference in point of immediate practicality of the
information imparted and of the proficiency acquired may be of
some consequence and may merit the attention which it has from
time to time received; but there is more substantial difference
in the mental and spiritual bent which is favored by the one and
the other discipline. This divergent trend in discipline between
the higher and the lower learning is especially noticeable as
regards the primary education in its latest development in the
advanced industrial communities. Here the instruction is directed
chiefly to proficiency or dexterity, intellectual and manual, in
the apprehension and employment of impersonal facts, in their
casual rather than in their honorific incidence. It is true,
under the traditions of the earlier days, when the primary
education was also predominantly a leisure-class commodity, a
free use is still made of emulation as a spur to diligence in the
common run of primary schools; but even this use of emulation as
an expedient is visibly declining in the primary grades of
instruction in communities where the lower education is not under
the guidance of the ecclesiastical or military tradition. All
this holds true in a peculiar degree, and more especially on the
spiritual side, of such portions of the educational system as
have been immediately affected by kindergarten methods and

The peculiarly non-invidious trend of the kindergarten
discipline, and the similar character of the kindergarten
influence in primary education beyond the limits of the
kindergarten proper, should be taken in connection with what has
already been said of the peculiar spiritual attitude of
leisure-class womankind under the circumstances of the modern
economic situation. The kindergarten discipline is at its best --
or at its farthest remove from ancient patriarchal and
pedagogical ideals -- in the advanced industrial communities,
where there is a considerable body of intelligent and idle women,
and where the system of status has somewhat abated in rigor under
the disintegrating influence of industrial life and in the
absence of a consistent body of military and ecclesiastical
traditions. It is from these women in easy circumstances that it
gets its moral support. The aims and methods of the kindergarten
commend themselves with especial effect to this class of women
who are ill at ease under the pecuniary code of reputable life.
The kindergarten, and whatever the kindergarten spirit counts for
in modern education, therefore, is to be set down, along with the
"new-woman movement," to the account of that revulsion against
futility and invidious comparison which the leisure-class life
under modern circumstances induces in the women most immediately
exposed to its discipline. In this way it appears that, by
indirection, the institution of a leisure class here again favors
the growth of a non-invidious attitude, which may, in the long
run, prove a menace to the stability of the institution itself,
and even to the institution of individual ownership on which it

During the recent past some tangible changes have taken place in
the scope of college and university teaching. These changes have
in the main consisted in a partial displacement of the humanities
-- those branches of learning which are conceived to make for the
traditional "culture", character, tastes, and ideals -- by those
more matter-of-fact branches which make for civic and industrial
efficiency. To put the same thing in other words, those branches
of knowledge which make for efficiency (ultimately productive
efficiency) have gradually been gaining ground against those
branches which make for a heightened consumption or a lowered
industrial efficiency and for a type of character suited to the
regime of status. In this adaptation of the scheme of instruction
the higher schools have commonly been found on the conservative
side; each step which they have taken in advance has been to some
extent of the nature of a concession. The sciences have been
intruded into the scholar's discipline from without, not to say
from below. It is noticeable that the humanities which have so
reluctantly yielded ground to the sciences are pretty uniformly
adapted to shape the character of the student in accordance with
a traditional self-centred scheme of consumption; a scheme of
contemplation and enjoyment of the true, the beautiful, and the
good, according to a conventional standard of propriety and
excellence, the salient feature of which is leisure -- otium cum
dignitate. In language veiled by their own habituation to the
archaic, decorous point of view, the spokesmen of the humanities
have insisted upon the ideal embodied in the maxim, fruges
consumere nati. This attitude should occasion no surprise in the
case of schools which are shaped by and rest upon a leisure-class

The professed grounds on which it has been sought, as far as
might be, to maintain the received standards and methods of
culture intact are likewise characteristic of the archaic
temperament and of the leisure-class theory of life. The
enjoyment and the bent derived from habitual contemplation of the
life, ideals, speculations, and methods of consuming time and
goods, in vogue among the leisure class of classical antiquity,
for instance, is felt to be "higher", "nobler", "worthier", than
what results in these respects from a like familiarity with the
everyday life and the knowledge and aspirations of commonplace
humanity in a modern community, that learning the content of
which is an unmitigated knowledge of latter-day men and things is
by comparison "lower", "base", "ignoble" -- one even hears the
epithet "sub-human" applied to this matter-of-fact knowledge of
mankind and of everyday life.

This contention of the leisure-class spokesmen of the
humanities seems to be substantially sound. In point of
substantial fact, the gratification and the culture, or the
spiritual attitude or habit of mind, resulting from an habitual
contemplation of the anthropomorphism, clannishness, and
leisurely self-complacency of the gentleman of an early day, or
from a familiarity with the animistic superstitions and the
exuberant truculence of the Homeric heroes, for instance, is,
aesthetically considered, more legitimate than the corresponding
results derived from a matter-of-fact knowledge of things and a
contemplation of latter-day civic or workmanlike efficiency.
There can be but little question that the first-named habits have
the advantage in respect of aesthetic or honorific value, and
therefore in respect of the "worth" which is made the basis of
award in the comparison. The content of the canons of taste, and
more particularly of the canons of honor, is in the nature of
things a resultant of the past life and circumstances of the
race, transmitted to the later generation by inheritance or by
tradition; and the fact that the protracted dominance of a
predatory, leisure-class scheme of life has profoundly shaped the
habit of mind and the point of view of the race in the past, is a
sufficient basis for an aesthetically legitimate dominance of
such a scheme of life in very much of what concerns matters of
taste in the present. For the purpose in hand, canons of taste
are race habits, acquired through a more or less protracted
habituation to the approval or disapproval of the kind of things
upon which a favorable or unfavorable judgment of taste is
passed. Other things being equal, the longer and more unbroken
the habituation, the more legitimate is the canon of taste in
question. All this seems to be even truer of judgments regarding
worth or honor than of judgments of taste generally.

But whatever may be the aesthetic legitimacy of the derogatory
judgment passed on the newer learning by the spokesmen of the
humanities, and however substantial may be the merits of the
contention that the classic lore is worthier and results in a
more truly human culture and character, it does not concern the
question in hand. The question in hand is as to how far these
branches of learning, and the point of view for which they stand
in the educational system, help or hinder an efficient collective
life under modern industrial circumstances -- how far they
further a more facile adaptation to the economic situation of
today. The question is an economic, not an aesthetic one; and the
leisure-class standards of learning which find expression in the
deprecatory attitude of the higher schools towards matter-of-fact
knowledge are, for the present purpose, to be valued from this
point of view only. For this purpose the use of such epithets as
"noble", "base", "higher", "lower", etc., is significant only as
showing the animus and the point of view of the disputants;
whether they contend for the worthiness of the new or of the old.
All these epithets are honorific or humilific terms; that is to
say, they are terms of invidious comparison, which in the last
analysis fall under the category of the reputable or the
disreputable; that is, they belong within the range of ideas that
characterizes the scheme of life of the regime of status; that
is, they are in substance an expression of sportsmanship -- of
the predatory and animistic habit of mind; that is, they indicate
an archaic point of view and theory of life, which may fit the
predatory stage of culture and of economic organization from
which they have sprung, but which are, from the point of view of
economic efficiency in the broader sense, disserviceable

The classics, and their position of prerogative in the scheme of
education to which the higher seminaries of learning cling with
such a fond predilection, serve to shape the intellectual
attitude and lower the economic efficiency of the new learned
generation. They do this not only by holding up an archaic ideal
of manhood, but also by the discrimination which they inculcate
with respect to the reputable and the disreputable in knowledge.
This result is accomplished in two ways: (1) by inspiring an
habitual aversion to what is merely useful, as contrasted with
what is merely honorific in learning, and so shaping the tastes
of the novice that he comes in good faith to find gratification
of his tastes solely, or almost solely, in such exercise of the
intellect as normally results in no industrial or social gain;
and (2) by consuming the learner's time and effort in acquiring
knowledge which is of no use,except in so far as this learning
has by convention become incorporated into the sum of learning
required of the scholar, and has thereby affected the terminology
and diction employed in the useful branches of knowledge. Except
for this terminological difficulty -- which is itself a
consequence of the vogue of the classics of the past -- a
knowledge of the ancient languages, for instance, would have no
practical bearing for any scientist or any scholar not engaged on
work primarily of a linguistic character. Of course, all this has
nothing to say as to the cultural value of the classics, nor is
there any intention to disparage the discipline of the classics
or the bent which their study gives to the student. That bent
seems to be of an economically disserviceable kind, but this fact
-- somewhat notorious indeed -- need disturb no one who has the
good fortune to find comfort and strength in the classical lore.
The fact that classical learning acts to derange the learner's
workmanlike attitudes should fall lightly upon the apprehension
of those who hold workmanship of small account in comparison with
the cultivation of decorous ideals: Iam fides et pax et honos
pudorque Priscus et neglecta redire virtus Audet.

Owing to the circumstance that this knowledge has become part of
the elementary requirements in our system of education, the
ability to use and to understand certain of the dead languages of
southern Europe is not only gratifying to the person who finds
occasion to parade his accomplishments in this respect, but the
evidence of such knowledge serves at the same time to recommend
any savant to his audience, both lay and learned. It is currently
expected that a certain number of years shall have been spent in
acquiring this substantially useless information, and its absence
creates a presumption of hasty and precarious learning, as well
as of a vulgar practicality that is equally obnoxious to the
conventional standards of sound scholarship and intellectual

The case is analogous to what happens in the purchase of any
article of consumption by a purchaser who is not an expert judge
of materials or of workmanship. He makes his estimate of value of
the article chiefly on the ground of the apparent expensiveness
of the finish of those decorative parts and features which have
no immediate relation to the intrinsic usefulness of the article;
the presumption being that some sort of ill-defined proportion
subsists between the substantial value of an article and the
expense of adornment added in order to sell it. The presumption
that there can ordinarily be no sound scholarship where a
knowledge of the classics and humanities is wanting leads to a
conspicuous waste of time and labor on the part of the general
body of students in acquiring such knowledge. The conventional
insistence on a modicum of conspicuous waste as an incident of
all reputable scholarship has affected our canons of taste and of
serviceability in matters of scholarship in much the same way as
the same principle has influenced our judgment of the
serviceability of manufactured goods.

It is true, since conspicuous consumption has gained more and
more on conspicuous leisure as a means of repute, the
acquisition of the dead languages is no longer so imperative a
requirement as it once was, and its talismanic virtue as a
voucher of scholarship has suffered a concomitant impairment. But
while this is true, it is also true that the classics have
scarcely lost in absolute value as a voucher of scholastic
respectability, since for this purpose it is only necessary that
the scholar should be able to put in evidence some learning which
is conventionally recognized as evidence of wasted time; and the
classics lend themselves with great facility to this use. Indeed,
there can be little doubt that it is their utility as evidence of
wasted time and effort, and hence of the pecuniary strength
necessary in order to afford this waste, that has secured to the
classics their position of prerogative in the scheme of higher
learning, and has led to their being esteemed the most honorific
of all learning. They serve the decorative ends of leisure-class
learning better than any other body of knowledge, and hence they
are an effective means of reputability.

In this respect the classics have until lately had scarcely a
rival. They still have no dangerous rival on the continent of
Europe, but lately, since college athletics have won their way
into a recognized standing as an accredited field of scholarly
accomplishment, this latter branch of learning -- if athletics
may be freely classed as learning -- has become a rival of the
classics for the primacy in leisure-class education in American
and English schools. Athletics have an obvious advantage over the
classics for the purpose of leisure-class learning, since success
as an athlete presumes, not only waste of time, but also waste of
money, as well as the possession of certain highly unindustrial
archaic traits of character and temperament. In the German
universities the place of athletics and Greek-letter
fraternities, as a leisure-class scholarly occupation, has in
some measure been supplied by a skilled and graded inebriety and
a perfunctory duelling.

The leisure class and its standard of virtue -- archaism and
waste -- can scarcely have been concerned in the introduction of
the classics into the scheme of the higher learning; but the
tenacious retention of the classics by the higher schools, and
the high degree of reputability which still attaches to them, are
no doubt due to their conforming so closely to the requirements
of archaism and waste.

"Classic" always carries this connotation of wasteful and
archaic, whether it is used to denote the dead languages or the
obsolete or obsolescent forms of thought and diction in the
living language, or to denote other items of scholarly activity
or apparatus to which it is applied with less aptness. So the
archaic idiom of the English language is spoken of as "classic"
English. Its use is imperative in all speaking and writing upon
serious topics, and a facile use of it lends dignity to even the
most commonplace and trivial string of talk. The newest form of
English diction is of course never written; the sense of that
leisure-class propriety which requires archaism in speech is
present even in the most illiterate or sensational writers in
sufficient force to prevent such a lapse. On the other hand, the
highest and most conventionalized style of archaic diction is --
quite characteristically -- properly employed only in
communications between an anthropomorphic divinity and his
subjects. Midway between these extremes lies the everyday speech
of leisure-class conversation and literature.

Elegant diction, whether in writing or speaking, is an effective
means of reputability. It is of moment to know with some
precision what is the degree of archaism conventionally required
in speaking on any given topic. Usage differs appreciably from
the pulpit to the market-place; the latter, as might be expected,
admits the use of relatively new and effective words and turns of
expression, even by fastidious persons. A discriminative
avoidance of neologisms is honorific, not only because it argues
that time has been wasted in acquiring the obsolescent habit of
speech, but also as showing that the speaker has from infancy
habitually associated with persons who have been familiar with
the obsolescent idiom. It thereby goes to show his leisure-class
antecedents. Great purity of speech is presumptive evidence of
several lives spent in other than vulgarly useful occupations;
although its evidence is by no means entirely conclusive to this

As felicitous an instance of futile classicism as can well be
found, outside of the Far East, is the conventional spelling of
the English language. A breach of the proprieties in spelling is
extremely annoying and will discredit any writer in the eyes of
all persons who are possessed of a developed sense of the true
and beautiful. English orthography satisfies all the requirements
of the canons of reputability under the law of conspicuous waste.
It is archaic, cumbrous, and ineffective; its acquisition
consumes much time and effort; failure to acquire it is easy of
detection. Therefore it is the first and readiest test of
reputability in learning, and conformity to its ritual is
indispensable to a blameless scholastic life.

On this head of purity of speech, as at other points where a
conventional usage rests on the canons of archaism and waste, the
spokesmen for the usage instinctively take an apologetic
attitude. It is contended, in substance, that a punctilious use
of ancient and accredited locutions will serve to convey thought
more adequately and more precisely than would be the
straightforward use of the latest form of spoken English; whereas
it is notorious that the ideas of today are effectively expressed
in the slang of today. Classic speech has the honorific virtue of
dignity; it commands attention and respect as being the
accredited method of communication under the leisure-class scheme
of life, because it carries a pointed suggestion of the
industrial exemption of the speaker. The advantage of the
accredited locutions lies in their reputability; they are
reputable because they are cumbrous and out of date, and
therefore argue waste of time and exemption from the use and the
need of direct and forcible speech.

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