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Theory of the Leisure Class, The

Chapter Nine ~~ The Conservation of Archaic Traits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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