Theory of the Leisure Class, The

This peculiar sexual differentiation, which tends to delegate devout observances to the women and their children, is due, at least in part, to the fact that the middle-class women are in great measure a (vicarious) leisure class. The same is true in a less degree of the women of the lower, artisan classes. They live under a regime of status handed down from an earlier stage of industrial development, and thereby they preserve a frame of mind and habits of thought which incline them to an archaic view of things generally. At the same time they stand in no such direct organic relation to the industrial process at large as would tend strongly to break down those habits of thought which, for the modern industrial purpose, are obsolete. That is to say, the peculiar devoutness of women is a particular expression of that conservatism which the women of civilized communities owe, in great measure, to their economic position. For the modern man the patriarchal relation of status is by no means the dominant feature of life; but for the women on the other hand, and for the upper middle-class women especially, confined as they are by prescription and by economic circumstances to their "domestic sphere," this relation is the most real and most formative factor of life. Hence a habit of mind favorable to devout observances and to the interpretation of the facts of life generally in terms of personal status. The logic, and the logical processes, of her everyday domestic life are carried over into the realm of the supernatural, and the woman finds herself at home and content in a range of ideas which to the man are in great measure alien and imbecile.

Still the men of this class are also not devoid of piety, although it is commonly not piety of an aggressive or exuberant kind. The men of the upper middle class commonly take a more complacent attitude towards devout observances than the men of the artisan class. This may perhaps be explained in part by saying that what is true of the women of the class is true to a less extent also of the men. They are to an appreciable extent a sheltered class; and the patriarchal relation of status which still persists in their conjugal life and in their habitual use of servants, may also act to conserve an archaic habit of mind and may exercise a retarding influence upon the process of secularization which their habits of thought are undergoing. The relations of the American middle-class man to the economic community, however, are usually pretty close and exacting; although it may be remarked, by the way and in qualification, that their economic activity frequently also partakes in some degree of the patriarchal or quasi-predatory character. The occupations which are in good repute among this class and which have most to do with shaping the class habits of thought, are the pecuniary occupations which have been spoken of in a similar connection in an earlier chapter. There is a good deal of the relation of arbitrary command and submission, and not a little of shrewd practice, remotely akin to predatory fraud. All this belongs on the plane of life of the predatory barbarian, to whom a devotional attitude is habitual. And in addition to this, the devout observances also commend themselves to this class on the ground of reputability. But this latter incentive to piety deserves treatment by itself and will be spoken of presently. There is no hereditary leisure class of any consequence in the American community, except in the South. This Southern leisure class is somewhat given to devout observances; more so than any class of corresponding pecuniary standing in other parts of the country. It is also well known that the creeds of the South are of a more old-fashioned cast than their counterparts in the North. Corresponding to this more archaic devotional life of the South is the lower industrial development of that section. The industrial organization of the South is at present, and especially it has been until quite recently, of a more primitive character than that of the American community taken as a whole. It approaches nearer to handicraft, in the paucity and rudeness of its mechanical appliances, and there is more of the element of mastery and subservience. It may also be noted that, owing to the peculiar economic circumstances of this section, the greater devoutness of the Southern population, both white and black, is correlated with a scheme of life which in many ways recalls the barbarian stages of industrial development. Among this population offenses of an archaic character also are and have been relatively more prevalent and are less deprecated than they are elsewhere; as, for example, duels, brawls, feuds, drunkenness, horse-racing, cock-fighting, gambling, male sexual incontinence (evidenced by the considerable number of mulattoes). There is also a livelier sense of honor—an expression of sportsmanship and a derivative of predatory life.

As regards the wealthier class of the North, the American leisure class in the best sense of the term, it is, to begin with, scarcely possible to speak of an hereditary devotional attitude. This class is of too recent growth to be possessed of a well-formed transmitted habit in this respect, or even of a special home-grown tradition. Still, it may be noted in passing that there is a perceptible tendency among this class to give in at least a nominal, and apparently something of a real, adherence to some one of the accredited creeds. Also, weddings, funerals, and the like honorific events among this class are pretty uniformly solemnized with some especial degree of religious circumstance. It is impossible to say how far this adherence to a creed is a bona fide reversion to a devout habit of mind, and how far it is to be classed as a case of protective mimicry assumed for the purpose of an outward assimilation to canons of reputability borrowed from foreign ideals. Something of a substantial devotional propensity seems to be present, to judge especially by the somewhat peculiar degree of ritualistic observance which is in process of development in the upper-class cults. There is a tendency perceptible among the upper-class worshippers to affiliate themselves with those cults which lay relatively great stress on ceremonial and on the spectacular accessories of worship; and in the churches in which an upper-class membership predominates, there is at the same time a tendency to accentuate the ritualistic, at the cost of the intellectual features in the service and in the apparatus of the devout observances. This holds true even where the church in question belongs to a denomination with a relatively slight general development of ritual and paraphernalia. This peculiar development of the ritualistic element is no doubt due in part to a predilection for conspicuously wasteful spectacles, but it probably also in part indicates something of the devotional attitude of the worshippers. So far as the latter is true, it indicates a relatively archaic form of the devotional habit. The predominance of spectacular effects in devout observances is noticeable in all devout communities at a relatively primitive stage of culture and with a slight intellectual development. It is especially characteristic of the barbarian culture. Here there is pretty uniformly present in the devout observances a direct appeal to the emotions through all the avenues of sense. And a tendency to return to this naive, sensational method of appeal is unmistakable in the upper-class churches of today. It is perceptible in a less degree in the cults which claim the allegiance of the lower leisure class and of the middle classes. There is a reversion to the use of colored lights and brilliant spectacles, a freer use of symbols, orchestral music and incense, and one may even detect in "processionals" and "recessionals" and in richly varied genuflexional evolutions, an incipient reversion to so antique an accessory of worship as the sacred dance. This reversion to spectacular observances is not confined to the upper-class cults, although it finds its best exemplification and its highest accentuation in the higher pecuniary and social altitudes. The cults of the lower-class devout portion of the community, such as the Southern Negroes and the backward foreign elements of the population, of course also show a strong inclination to ritual, symbolism, and spectacular effects; as might be expected from the antecedents and the cultural level of those classes. With these classes the prevalence of ritual and anthropomorphism are not so much a matter of reversion as of continued development out of the past. But the use of ritual and related features of devotion are also spreading in other directions. In the early days of the American community the prevailing denominations started out with a ritual and paraphernalia of an austere simplicity; but it is a matter familiar to every one that in the course of time these denominations have, in a varying degree, adopted much of the spectacular elements which they once renounced. In a general way, this development has gone hand in hand with the growth of the wealth and the ease of life of the worshippers and has reached its fullest expression among those classes which grade highest in wealth and repute.

The causes to which this pecuniary stratification of devoutness is due have already been indicated in a general way in speaking of class differences in habits of thought. Class differences as regards devoutness are but a special expression of a generic fact. The lax allegiance of the lower middle class, or what may broadly be called the failure of filial piety among this class, is chiefly perceptible among the town populations engaged in the mechanical industries. In a general way, one does not, at the present time, look for a blameless filial piety among those classes whose employment approaches that of the engineer and the mechanician. These mechanical employments are in a degree a modern fact. The handicraftsmen of earlier times, who served an industrial end of a character similar to that now served by the mechanician, were not similarly refractory under the discipline of devoutness. The habitual activity of the men engaged in these branches of industry has greatly changed, as regards its intellectual discipline, since the modern industrial processes have come into vogue; and the discipline to which the mechanician is exposed in his daily employment affects the methods and standards of his thinking also on topics which lie outside his everyday work. Familiarity with the highly organized and highly impersonal industrial processes of the present acts to derange the animistic habits of thought. The workman's office is becoming more and more exclusively that of discretion and supervision in a process of mechanical, dispassionate sequences. So long as the individual is the chief and typical prime mover in the process; so long as the obtrusive feature of the industrial process is the dexterity and force of the individual handicraftsman; so long the habit of interpreting phenomena in terms of personal motive and propensity suffers no such considerable and consistent derangement through facts as to lead to its elimination. But under the later developed industrial processes, when the prime movers and the contrivances through which they work are of an impersonal, non-individual character, the grounds of generalization habitually present in the workman's mind and the point of view from which he habitually apprehends phenomena is an enforced cognizance of matter-of-fact sequence. The result, so far as concerts the workman's life of faith, is a proclivity to undevout scepticism.

It appears, then, that the devout habit of mind attains its best development under a relatively archaic culture; the term "devout" being of course here used in its anthropological sense simply, and not as implying anything with respect to the spiritual attitude so characterized, beyond the fact of a proneness to devout observances. It appears also that this devout attitude marks a type of human nature which is more in consonance with the predatory mode of life than with the later-developed, more consistently and organically industrial life process of the community. It is in large measure an expression of the archaic habitual sense of personal status—the relation of mastery and subservience—and it therefore fits into the industrial scheme of the predatory and the quasi-peaceable culture, but does not fit into the industrial scheme of the present. It also appears that this habit persists with greatest tenacity among those classes in the modern communities whose everyday life is most remote from the mechanical processes of industry and which are the most conservative also in other respects; while for those classes that are habitually in immediate contact with modern industrial processes, and whose habits of thought are therefore exposed to the constraining force of technological necessities, that animistic interpretation of phenomena and that respect of persons on which devout observance proceeds are in process of obsolescence. And also—as bearing especially on the present discussion—it appears that the devout habit to some extent progressively gains in scope and elaboration among those classes in the modern communities to whom wealth and leisure accrue in the most pronounced degree. In this as in other relations, the institution of a leisure class acts to conserve, and even to rehabilitate, that archaic type of human nature and those elements of the archaic culture which the industrial evolution of society in its later stages acts to eliminate.

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