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Theory of the Leisure Class, The

A doubt will present itself as to the full legitimacy of this characterization of the sacerdotal scheme of life, on the ground that a considerable proportion of the modern priesthood departs from the scheme in many details. The scheme does not hold good for the clergy of those denominations which have in some measure diverged from the old established schedule of beliefs or observances. These take thought, at least ostensibly or permissively, for the temporal welfare of the laity, as well as for their own. Their manner of life, not only in the privacy of their own household, but often even before the public, does not differ in an extreme degree from that of secular-minded persons, either in its ostensible austerity or in the archaism of its apparatus. This is truest for those denominations that have wandered the farthest. To this objection it is to be said that we have here to do not with a discrepancy in the theory of sacerdotal life, but with an imperfect conformity to the scheme on the part of this body of clergy. They are but a partial and imperfect representative of the priesthood, and must not be taken as exhibiting the sacerdotal scheme of life in an authentic and competent manner. The clergy of the sects and denominations might be characterized as a half-caste priesthood, or a priesthood in process of becoming or of reconstitution. Such a priesthood may be expected to show the characteristics of the sacerdotal office only as blended and obscured with alien motives and traditions, due to the disturbing presence of other factors than those of animism and status in the purposes of the organizations to which this non-conforming fraction of the priesthood belongs.

Appeal may be taken direct to the taste of any person with a discriminating and cultivated sense of the sacerdotal proprieties, or to the prevalent sense of what constitutes clerical decorum in any community at all accustomed to think or to pass criticism on what a clergyman may or may not do without blame. Even in the most extremely secularized denominations, there is some sense of a distinction that should be observed between the sacerdotal and the lay scheme of life. There is no person of sensibility but feels that where the members of this denominational or sectarian clergy depart from traditional usage, in the direction of a less austere or less archaic demeanor and apparel, they are departing from the ideal of priestly decorum. There is probably no community and no sect within the range of the Western culture in which the bounds of permissible indulgence are not drawn appreciably closer for the incumbent of the priestly office than for the common layman. If the priest's own sense of sacerdotal propriety does not effectually impose a limit, the prevalent sense of the proprieties on the part of the community will commonly assert itself so obtrusively as to lead to his conformity or his retirement from office.

Few if any members of any body of clergy, it may be added, would avowedly seek an increase of salary for gain's sake; and if such avowal were openly made by a clergyman, it would be found obnoxious to the sense of propriety among his congregation. It may also be noted in this connection that no one but the scoffers and the very obtuse are not instinctively grieved inwardly at a jest from the pulpit; and that there are none whose respect for their pastor does not suffer through any mark of levity on his part in any conjuncture of life, except it be levity of a palpably histrionic kind—a constrained unbending of dignity. The diction proper to the sanctuary and to the priestly office should also carry little if any suggestion of effective everyday life, and should not draw upon the vocabulary of modern trade or industry. Likewise, one's sense of the proprieties is readily offended by too detailed and intimate a handling of industrial and other purely human questions at the hands of the clergy. There is a certain level of generality below which a cultivated sense of the proprieties in homiletical discourse will not permit a well-bred clergyman to decline in his discussion of temporal interests. These matters that are of human and secular consequence simply, should properly be handled with such a degree of generality and aloofness as may imply that the speaker represents a master whose interest in secular affairs goes only so far as to permissively countenance them.

It is further to be noticed that the non-conforming sects and variants whose priesthood is here under discussion, vary among themselves in the degree of their conformity to the ideal scheme of sacerdotal life. In a general way it will be found that the divergence in this respect is widest in the case of the relatively young denominations, and especially in the case of such of the newer denominations as have chiefly a lower middle-class constituency. They commonly show a large admixture of humanitarian, philanthropic, or other motives which can not be classed as expressions of the devotional attitude; such as the desire of learning or of conviviality, which enter largely into the effective interest shown by members of these organizations. The non-conforming or sectarian movements have commonly proceeded from a mixture of motives, some of which are at variance with that sense of status on which the priestly office rests. Sometimes, indeed, the motive has been in good part a revulsion against a system of status. Where this is the case the institution of the priesthood has broken down in the transition, at least partially. The spokesman of such an organization is at the outset a servant and representative of the organization, rather than a member of a special priestly class and the spokesman of a divine master. And it is only by a process of gradual specialization that, in succeeding generations, this spokesman regains the position of priest, with a full investiture of sacerdotal authority, and with its accompanying austere, archaic and vicarious manner of life. The like is true of the breakdown and redintegration of devout ritual after such a revulsion. The priestly office, the scheme of sacerdotal life, and the schedule of devout observances are rehabilitated only gradually, insensibly, and with more or less variation in details, as a persistent human sense of devout propriety reasserts its primacy in questions touching the interest in the preternatural—and it may be added, as the organization increases in wealth, and so acquires more of the point of view and the habits of thought of a leisure class.

Beyond the priestly class, and ranged in an ascending hierarchy, ordinarily comes a superhuman vicarious leisure class of saints, angels, etc.—or their equivalents in the ethnic cults. These rise in grade, one above another, according to elaborate system of status. The principle of status runs through the entire hierarchical system, both visible and invisible. The good fame of these several orders of the supernatural hierarchy also commonly requires a certain tribute of vicarious consumption and vicarious leisure. In many cases they accordingly have devoted to their service sub-orders of attendants or dependents who perform a vicarious leisure for them, after much the same fashion as was found in an earlier chapter to be true of the dependent leisure class under the patriarchal system.

It may not appear without reflection how these devout observances and the peculiarity of temperament which they imply, or the consumption of goods and services which is comprised in the cult, stand related to the leisure class of a modern community, or to the economic motives of which that class is the exponent in the modern scheme of life to this end a summary review of certain facts bearing on this relation will be useful. It appears from an earlier passage in this discussion that for the purpose of the collective life of today, especially so far as concerns the industrial efficiency of the modern community, the characteristic traits of the devout temperament are a hindrance rather than a help. It should accordingly be found that the modern industrial life tends selectively to eliminate these traits of human nature from the spiritual constitution of the classes that are immediately engaged in the industrial process. It should hold true, approximately, that devoutness is declining or tending to obsolescence among the members of what may be called the effective industrial community. At the same time it should appear that this aptitude or habit survives in appreciably greater vigor among those classes which do not immediately or primarily enter into the community's life process as an industrial factor.

It has already been pointed out that these latter classes, which live by, rather than in, the industrial process, are roughly comprised under two categories (1) the leisure class proper, which is shielded from the stress of the economic situation; and (2) the indigent classes, including the lower-class delinquents, which are unduly exposed to the stress. In the case of the former class an archaic habit of mind persists because no effectual economic pressure constrains this class to an adaptation of its habits of thought to the changing situation; while in the latter the reason for a failure to adjust their habits of thought to the altered requirements of industrial efficiency is innutrition, absence of such surplus of energy as is needed in order to make the adjustment with facility, together with a lack of opportunity to acquire and become habituated to the modern point of view. The trend of the selective process runs in much the same direction in both cases.

From the point of view which the modern industrial life inculcates, phenomena are habitually subsumed under the quantitative relation of mechanical sequence. The indigent classes not only fall short of the modicum of leisure necessary in order to appropriate and assimilate the more recent generalizations of science which this point of view involves, but they also ordinarily stand in such a relation of personal dependence or subservience to their pecuniary superiors as materially to retard their emancipation from habits of thought proper to the regime of status. The result is that these classes in some measure retain that general habit of mind the chief expression of which is a strong sense of personal status, and of which devoutness is one feature.

In the older communities of the European culture, the hereditary leisure class, together with the mass of the indigent population, are given to devout observances in an appreciably higher degree than the average of the industrious middle class, wherever a considerable class of the latter character exists. But in some of these countries, the two categories of conservative humanity named above comprise virtually the whole population. Where these two classes greatly preponderate, their bent shapes popular sentiment to such an extent as to bear down any possible divergent tendency in the inconsiderable middle class, and imposes a devout attitude upon the whole community.

This must, of course, not be construed to say that such communities or such classes as are exceptionally prone to devout observances tend to conform in any exceptional degree to the specifications of any code of morals that we may be accustomed to associate with this or that confession of faith. A large measure of the devout habit of mind need not carry with it a strict observance of the injunctions of the Decalogue or of the common law. Indeed, it is becoming somewhat of a commonplace with observers of criminal life in European communities that the criminal and dissolute classes are, if anything, rather more devout, and more naively so, than the average of the population. It is among those who constitute the pecuniary middle class and the body of law-abiding citizens that a relative exemption from the devotional attitude is to be looked for. Those who best appreciate the merits of the higher creeds and observances would object to all this and say that the devoutness of the low-class delinquents is a spurious, or at the best a superstitious devoutness; and the point is no doubt well taken and goes directly and cogently to the purpose intended. But for the purpose of the present inquiry these extra-economic, extra-psychological distinctions must perforce be neglected, however valid and however decisive they may be for the purpose for which they are made.

What has actually taken place with regard to class emancipation from the habit of devout observance is shown by the latter-day complaint of the clergy—that the churches are losing the sympathy of the artisan classes, and are losing their hold upon them. At the same time it is currently believed that the middle class, commonly so called, is also falling away in the cordiality of its support of the church, especially so far as regards the adult male portion of that class. These are currently recognized phenomena, and it might seem that a simple reference to these facts should sufficiently substantiate the general position outlined. Such an appeal to the general phenomena of popular church attendance and church membership may be sufficiently convincing for the proposition here advanced. But it will still be to the purpose to trace in some detail the course of events and the particular forces which have wrought this change in the spiritual attitude of the more advanced industrial communities of today. It will serve to illustrate the manner in which economic causes work towards a secularization of men's habits of thought. In this respect the American community should afford an exceptionally convincing illustration, since this community has been the least trammelled by external circumstances of any equally important industrial aggregate.

After making due allowance for exceptions and sporadic departures from the normal, the situation here at the present time may be summarized quite briefly. As a general rule the classes that are low in economic efficiency, or in intelligence, or both, are peculiarly devout—as, for instance, the Negro population of the South, much of the lower-class foreign population, much of the rural population, especially in those sections which are backward in education, in the stage of development of their industry, or in respect of their industrial contact with the rest of the community. So also such fragments as we possess of a specialized or hereditary indigent class, or of a segregated criminal or dissolute class; although among these latter the devout habit of mind is apt to take the form of a naive animistic belief in luck and in the efficacy of shamanistic practices perhaps more frequently than it takes the form of a formal adherence to any accredited creed. The artisan class, on the other hand, is notoriously falling away from the accredited anthropomorphic creeds and from all devout observances. This class is in an especial degree exposed to the characteristic intellectual and spiritual stress of modern organized industry, which requires a constant recognition of the undisguised phenomena of impersonal, matter-of-fact sequence and an unreserved conformity to the law of cause and effect. This class is at the same time not underfed nor over-worked to such an extent as to leave no margin of energy for the work of adaptation.

The case of the lower or doubtful leisure class in America—the middle class commonly so called—is somewhat peculiar. It differs in respect of its devotional life from its European counterpart, but it differs in degree and method rather than in substance. The churches still have the pecuniary support of this class; although the creeds to which the class adheres with the greatest facility are relatively poor in anthropomorphic content. At the same time the effective middle-class congregation tends, in many cases, more or less remotely perhaps, to become a congregation of women and minors. There is an appreciable lack of devotional fervor among the adult males of the middle class, although to a considerable extent there survives among them a certain complacent, reputable assent to the outlines of the accredited creed under which they were born. Their everyday life is carried on in a more or less close contact with the industrial process.


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