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Theory of the Leisure Class, The

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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