Theory of the Leisure Class, The

The guiding habits of thought of a devout person move on the plane of an archaic scheme of life which has outlived much of its usefulness for the economic exigencies of the collective life of today. In so far as the economic organization fits the exigencies of the collective life of today, it has outlived the regime of status, and has no use and no place for a relation of personal subserviency. So far as concerns the economic efficiency of the community, the sentiment of personal fealty, and the general habit of mind of which that sentiment is an expression, are survivals which cumber the ground and hinder an adequate adjustment of human institutions to the existing situation. The habit of mind which best lends itself to the purposes of a peaceable, industrial community, is that matter-of-fact temper which recognizes the value of material facts simply as opaque items in the mechanical sequence. It is that frame of mind which does not instinctively impute an animistic propensity to things, nor resort to preternatural intervention as an explanation of perplexing phenomena, nor depend on an unseen hand to shape the course of events to human use. To meet the requirements of the highest economic efficiency under modern conditions, the world process must habitually be apprehended in terms of quantitative, dispassionate force and sequence.

As seen from the point of view of the later economic exigencies, devoutness is, perhaps in all cases, to be looked upon as a survival from an earlier phase of associated life—a mark of arrested spiritual development. Of course it remains true that in a community where the economic structure is still substantially a system of status; where the attitude of the average of persons in the community is consequently shaped by and adapted to the relation of personal dominance and personal subservience; or where for any other reason—of tradition or of inherited aptitude—the population as a whole is strongly inclined to devout observances; there a devout habit of mind in any individual, not in excess of the average of the community, must be taken simply as a detail of the prevalent habit of life. In this light, a devout individual in a devout community can not be called a case of reversion, since he is abreast of the average of the community. But as seen from the point of view of the modern industrial situation, exceptional devoutness—devotional zeal that rises appreciably above the average pitch of devoutness in the community—may safely be set down as in all cases an atavistic trait.

It is, of course, equally legitimate to consider these phenomena from a different point of view. They may be appreciated for a different purpose, and the characterization here offered may be turned about. In speaking from the point of view of the devotional interest, or the interest of devout taste, it may, with equal cogency, be said that the spiritual attitude bred in men by the modern industrial life is unfavorable to a free development of the life of faith. It might fairly be objected to the later development of the industrial process that its discipline tends to "materialism," to the elimination of filial piety. From the aesthetic point of view, again, something to a similar purport might be said. But, however legitimate and valuable these and the like reflections may be for their purpose, they would not be in place in the present inquiry, which is exclusively concerned with the valuation of these phenomena from the economic point of view.

The grave economic significance of the anthropomorphic habit of mind and of the addiction to devout observances must serve as apology for speaking further on a topic which it can not but be distasteful to discuss at all as an economic phenomenon in a community so devout as ours. Devout observances are of economic importance as an index of a concomitant variation of temperament, accompanying the predatory habit of mind and so indicating the presence of industrially disserviceable traits. They indicate the presence of a mental attitude which has a certain economic value of its own by virtue of its influence upon the industrial serviceability of the individual. But they are also of importance more directly, in modifying the economic activities of the community, especially as regards the distribution and consumption of goods.

The most obvious economic bearing of these observances is seen in the devout consumption of goods and services. The consumption of ceremonial paraphernalia required by any cult, in the way of shrines, temples, churches, vestments, sacrifices, sacraments, holiday attire, etc., serves no immediate material end. All this material apparatus may, therefore, without implying deprecation, be broadly characterized as items of conspicuous waste. The like is true in a general way of the personal service consumed under this head; such as priestly education, priestly service, pilgrimages, fasts, holidays, household devotions, and the like. At the same time the observances in the execution of which this consumption takes place serve to extend and protract the vogue of those habits of thought on which an anthropomorphic cult rests. That is to say, they further the habits of thought characteristic of the regime of status. They are in so far an obstruction to the most effective organization of industry under modern circumstances; and are, in the first instance, antagonistic to the development of economic institutions in the direction required by the situation of today. For the present purpose, the indirect as well as the direct effects of this consumption are of the nature of a curtailment of the community's economic efficiency. In economic theory, then, and considered in its proximate consequences, the consumption of goods and effort in the service of an anthropomorphic divinity means a lowering of the vitality of the community. What may be the remoter, indirect, moral effects of this class of consumption does not admit of a succinct answer, and it is a question which can not be taken up here.

It will be to the point, however, to note the general economic character of devout consumption, in comparison with consumption for other purposes. An indication of the range of motives and purposes from which devout consumption of goods proceeds will help toward an appreciation of the value both of this consumption itself and of the general habit of mind to which it is congenial. There is a striking parallelism, if not rather a substantial identity of motive, between the consumption which goes to the service of an anthropomorphic divinity and that which goes to the service of a gentleman of leisure chieftain or patriarch—in the upper class of society during the barbarian culture. Both in the case of the chieftain and in that of the divinity there are expensive edifices set apart for the behoof of the person served. These edifices, as well as the properties which supplement them in the service, must not be common in kind or grade; they always show a large element of conspicuous waste. It may also be noted that the devout edifices are invariably of an archaic cast in their structure and fittings. So also the servants, both of the chieftain and of the divinity, must appear in the presence clothed in garments of a special, ornate character. The characteristic economic feature of this apparel is a more than ordinarily accentuated conspicuous waste, together with the secondary feature—more accentuated in the case of the priestly servants than in that of the servants or courtiers of the barbarian potentate—that this court dress must always be in some degree of an archaic fashion. Also the garments worn by the lay members of the community when they come into the presence, should be of a more expensive kind than their everyday apparel. Here, again, the parallelism between the usage of the chieftain's audience hall and that of the sanctuary is fairly well marked. In this respect there is required a certain ceremonial "cleanness" of attire, the essential feature of which, in the economic respect, is that the garments worn on these occasions should carry as little suggestion as may be of any industrial occupation or of any habitual addiction to such employments as are of material use.

This requirement of conspicuous waste and of ceremonial cleanness from the traces of industry extends also to the apparel, and in a less degree to the food, which is consumed on sacred holidays; that is to say, on days set apart—tabu—for the divinity or for some member of the lower ranks of the preternatural leisure class. In economic theory, sacred holidays are obviously to be construed as a season of vicarious leisure performed for the divinity or saint in whose name the tabu is imposed and to whose good repute the abstention from useful effort on these days is conceived to inure. The characteristic feature of all such seasons of devout vicarious leisure is a more or less rigid tabu on all activity that is of human use. In the case of fast-days the conspicuous abstention from gainful occupations and from all pursuits that (materially) further human life is further accentuated by compulsory abstinence from such consumption as would conduce to the comfort or the fullness of life of the consumer.

It may be remarked, parenthetically, that secular holidays are of the same origin, by slightly remoter derivation. They shade off by degrees from the genuinely sacred days, through an intermediate class of semi-sacred birthdays of kings and great men who have been in some measure canonized, to the deliberately invented holiday set apart to further the good repute of some notable event or some striking fact, to which it is intended to do honor, or the good fame of which is felt to be in need of repair. The remoter refinement in the employment of vicarious leisure as a means of augmenting the good repute of a phenomenon or datum is seen at its best in its very latest application. A day of vicarious leisure has in some communities been set apart as Labor Day. This observance is designed to augment the prestige of the fact of labor, by the archaic, predatory method of a compulsory abstention from useful effort. To this datum of labor-in-general is imputed the good repute attributable to the pecuniary strength put in evidence by abstaining from labor. Sacred holidays, and holidays generally, are of the nature of a tribute levied on the body of the people. The tribute is paid in vicarious leisure, and the honorific effect which emerges is imputed to the person or the fact for whose good repute the holiday has been instituted. Such a tithe of vicarious leisure is a perquisite of all members of the preternatural leisure class and is indispensable to their good fame. Un saint qu'on ne ch�me pas is indeed a saint fallen on evil days.

Besides this tithe of vicarious leisure levied on the laity, there are also special classes of persons—the various grades of priests and hierodules—whose time is wholly set apart for a similar service. It is not only incumbent on the priestly class to abstain from vulgar labor, especially so far as it is lucrative or is apprehended to contribute to the temporal well-being of mankind. The tabu in the case of the priestly class goes farther and adds a refinement in the form of an injunction against their seeking worldly gain even where it may be had without debasing application to industry. It is felt to be unworthy of the servant of the divinity, or rather unworthy the dignity of the divinity whose servant he is, that he should seek material gain or take thought for temporal matters. "Of all contemptible things a man who pretends to be a priest of God and is a priest to his own comforts and ambitions is the most contemptible." There is a line of discrimination, which a cultivated taste in matters of devout observance finds little difficulty in drawing, between such actions and conduct as conduce to the fullness of human life and such as conduce to the good fame of the anthropomorphic divinity; and the activity of the priestly class, in the ideal barbarian scheme, falls wholly on the hither side of this line. What falls within the range of economics falls below the proper level of solicitude of the priesthood in its best estate. Such apparent exceptions to this rule as are afforded, for instance, by some of the medieval orders of monks (the members of which actually labored to some useful end), scarcely impugn the rule. These outlying orders of the priestly class are not a sacerdotal element in the full sense of the term. And it is noticeable also that these doubtfully sacerdotal orders, which countenanced their members in earning a living, fell into disrepute through offending the sense of propriety in the communities where they existed.

The priest should not put his hand to mechanically productive work; but he should consume in large measure. But even as regards his consumption it is to be noted that it should take such forms as do not obviously conduce to his own comfort or fullness of life; it should conform to the rules governing vicarious consumption, as explained under that head in an earlier chapter. It is not ordinarily in good form for the priestly class to appear well fed or in hilarious spirits. Indeed, in many of the more elaborate cults the injunction against other than vicarious consumption by this class frequently goes so far as to enjoin mortification of the flesh. And even in those modern denominations which have been organized under the latest formulations of the creed, in a modern industrial community, it is felt that all levity and avowed zest in the enjoyment of the good things of this world is alien to the true clerical decorum. Whatever suggests that these servants of an invisible master are living a life, not of devotion to their master's good fame, but of application to their own ends, jars harshly on our sensibilities as something fundamentally and eternally wrong. They are a servant class, although, being servants of a very exalted master, they rank high in the social scale by virtue of this borrowed light. Their consumption is vicarious consumption; and since, in the advanced cults, their master has no need of material gain, their occupation is vicarious leisure in the full sense. "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God." It may be added that so far as the laity is assimilated to the priesthood in the respect that they are conceived to be servants of the divinity. So far this imputed vicarious character attaches also to the layman's life. The range of application of this corollary is somewhat wide. It applies especially to such movements for the reform or rehabilitation of the religious life as are of an austere, pietistic, ascetic cast—where the human subject is conceived to hold his life by a direct servile tenure from his spiritual sovereign. That is to say, where the institution of the priesthood lapses, or where there is an exceptionally lively sense of the immediate and masterful presence of the divinity in the affairs of life, there the layman is conceived to stand in an immediate servile relation to the divinity, and his life is construed to be a performance of vicarious leisure directed to the enhancement of his master's repute. In such cases of reversion there is a return to the unmediated relation of subservience, as the dominant fact of the devout attitude. The emphasis is thereby throw on an austere and discomforting vicarious leisure, to the neglect of conspicuous consumption as a means of grace.

1 of 2
2 of 2