Beelingo.com

Theory of the Leisure Class, The

Chapter Thirteen ~~ Survivals of the Non-Invidious Interests

In an increasing proportion as time goes on, the anthropomorphic cult, with its code of devout observations, suffers a progressive disintegration through the stress of economic exigencies and the decay of the system of status. As this disintegration proceeds, there come to be associated and blended with the devout attitude certain other motives and impulses that are not always of an anthropomorphic origin, nor traceable to the habit of personal subservience. Not all of these subsidiary impulses that blend with the habit of devoutness in the later devotional life are altogether congruous with the devout attitude or with the anthropomorphic apprehension of the sequence of phenomena. The origin being not the same, their action upon the scheme of devout life is also not in the same direction. In many ways they traverse the underlying norm of subservience or vicarious life to which the code of devout observations and the ecclesiastical and sacerdotal institutions are to be traced as their substantial basis. Through the presence of these alien motives the social and industrial regime of status gradually disintegrates, and the canon of personal subservience loses the support derived from an unbroken tradition. Extraneous habits and proclivities encroach upon the field of action occupied by this canon, and it presently comes about that the ecclesiastical and sacerdotal structures are partially converted to other uses, in some measure alien to the purposes of the scheme of devout life as it stood in the days of the most vigorous and characteristic development of the priesthood.

Among these alien motives which affect the devout scheme in its later growth, may be mentioned the motives of charity and of social good-fellowship, or conviviality; or, in more general terms, the various expressions of the sense of human solidarity and sympathy. It may be added that these extraneous uses of the ecclesiastical structure contribute materially to its survival in name and form even among people who may be ready to give up the substance of it. A still more characteristic and more pervasive alien element in the motives which have gone to formally uphold the scheme of devout life is that non-reverent sense of aesthetic congruity with the environment, which is left as a residue of the latter-day act of worship after elimination of its anthropomorphic content. This has done good service for the maintenance of the sacerdotal institution through blending with the motive of subservience. This sense of impulse of aesthetic congruity is not primarily of an economic character, but it has a considerable indirect effect in shaping the habit of mind of the individual for economic purposes in the later stages of industrial development; its most perceptible effect in this regard goes in the direction of mitigating the somewhat pronounced self-regarding bias that has been transmitted by tradition from the earlier, more competent phases of the regime of status. The economic bearing of this impulse is therefore seen to transverse that of the devout attitude; the former goes to qualify, if not eliminate, the self-regarding bias, through sublation of the antithesis or antagonism of self and not-self; while the latter, being and expression of the sense of personal subservience and mastery, goes to accentuate this antithesis and to insist upon the divergence between the self-regarding interest and the interests of the generically human life process.

This non-invidious residue of the religious life—the sense of communion with the environment, or with the generic life process—as well as the impulse of charity or of sociability, act in a pervasive way to shape men's habits of thought for the economic purpose. But the action of all this class of proclivities is somewhat vague, and their effects are difficult to trace in detail. So much seems clear, however, as that the action of this entire class of motives or aptitudes tends in a direction contrary to the underlying principles of the institution of the leisure class as already formulated. The basis of that institution, as well as of the anthropomorphic cults associated with it in the cultural development, is the habit of invidious comparison; and this habit is incongruous with the exercise of the aptitudes now in question. The substantial canons of the leisure-class scheme of life are a conspicuous waste of time and substance and a withdrawal from the industrial process; while the particular aptitudes here in question assert themselves, on the economic side, in a deprecation of waste and of a futile manner of life, and in an impulse to participation in or identification with the life process, whether it be on the economic side or in any other of its phases or aspects.

It is plain that these aptitudes and habits of life to which they give rise where circumstances favor their expression, or where they assert themselves in a dominant way, run counter to the leisure-class scheme of life; but it is not clear that life under the leisure-class scheme, as seen in the later stages of its development, tends consistently to the repression of these aptitudes or to exemption from the habits of thought in which they express themselves. The positive discipline of the leisure-class scheme of life goes pretty much all the other way. In its positive discipline, by prescription and by selective elimination, the leisure-class scheme favors the all-pervading and all-dominating primacy of the canons of waste and invidious comparison at every conjuncture of life. But in its negative effects the tendency of the leisure-class discipline is not so unequivocally true to the fundamental canons of the scheme. In its regulation of human activity for the purpose of pecuniary decency the leisure-class canon insists on withdrawal from the industrial process. That is to say, it inhibits activity in the directions in which the impecunious members of the community habitually put forth their efforts. Especially in the case of women, and more particularly as regards the upper-class and upper-middle-class women of advanced industrial communities, this inhibition goes so far as to insist on withdrawal even from the emulative process of accumulation by the quasi-predator methods of the pecuniary occupations.

The pecuniary or the leisure-class culture, which set out as an emulative variant of the impulse of workmanship, is in its latest development beginning to neutralize its own ground, by eliminating the habit of invidious comparison in respect of efficiency, or even of pecuniary standing. On the other hand, the fact that members of the leisure class, both men and women, are to some extent exempt from the necessity of finding a livelihood in a competitive struggle with their fellows, makes it possible for members of this class not only to survive, but even, within bounds, to follow their bent in case they are not gifted with the aptitudes which make for success in the competitive struggle. That is to say, in the latest and fullest development of the institution, the livelihood of members of this class does not depend on the possession and the unremitting exercise of those aptitudes are therefore greater in the higher grades of the leisure class than in the general average of a population living under the competitive system.

In an earlier chapter, in discussing the conditions of survival of archaic traits, it has appeared that the peculiar position of the leisure class affords exceptionally favorable chances for the survival of traits which characterize the type of human nature proper to an earlier and obsolete cultural stage. The class is sheltered from the stress of economic exigencies, and is in this sense withdrawn from the rude impact of forces which make for adaptation to the economic situation. The survival in the leisure class, and under the leisure-class scheme of life, of traits and types that are reminiscent of the predatory culture has already been discussed. These aptitudes and habits have an exceptionally favorable chance of survival under the leisure-class regime. Not only does the sheltered pecuniary position of the leisure class afford a situation favorable to the survival of such individuals as are not gifted with the complement of aptitudes required for serviceability in the modern industrial process; but the leisure-class canons of reputability at the same time enjoin the conspicuous exercise of certain predatory aptitudes. The employments in which the predatory aptitudes find exercise serve as an evidence of wealth, birth, and withdrawal from the industrial process. The survival of the predatory traits under the leisure-class culture is furthered both negatively, through the industrial exemption of the class, and positively, through the sanction of the leisure-class canons of decency.

With respect to the survival of traits characteristic of the ante-predatory savage culture the case is in some degree different. The sheltered position of the leisure class favors the survival also of these traits; but the exercise of the aptitudes for peace and good-will does not have the affirmative sanction of the code of proprieties. Individuals gifted with a temperament that is reminiscent of the ante-predatory culture are placed at something of an advantage within the leisure class, as compared with similarly gifted individuals outside the class, in that they are not under a pecuniary necessity to thwart these aptitudes that make for a non-competitive life; but such individuals are still exposed to something of a moral constraint which urges them to disregard these inclinations, in that the code of proprieties enjoins upon them habits of life based on the predatory aptitudes. So long as the system of status remains intact, and so long as the leisure class has other lines of non-industrial activity to take to than obvious killing of time in aimless and wasteful fatigation, so long no considerable departure from the leisure-class scheme of reputable life is to be looked for. The occurrence of non-predatory temperament with the class at that stage is to be looked upon as a case of sporadic reversion. But the reputable non-industrial outlets for the human propensity to action presently fail, through the advance of economic development, the disappearance of large game, the decline of war, the obsolescence of proprietary government, and the decay of the priestly office. When this happens, the situation begins to change. Human life must seek expression in one direction if it may not in another; and if the predatory outlet fails, relief is sought elsewhere.

As indicated above, the exemption from pecuniary stress has been carried farther in the case of the leisure-class women of the advanced industrial communities than in that of any other considerable group of persons. The women may therefore be expected to show a more pronounced reversion to a non-invidious temperament than the men. But there is also among men of the leisure class a perceptible increase in the range and scope of activities that proceed from aptitudes which are not to be classed as self-regarding, and the end of which is not an invidious distinction. So, for instance, the greater number of men who have to do with industry in the way of pecuniarily managing an enterprise take some interest and some pride in seeing that the work is well done and is industrially effective, and this even apart from the profit which may result from any improvement of this kind. The efforts of commercial clubs and manufacturers' organizations in this direction of non-invidious advancement of industrial efficiency are also well know.

The tendency to some other than an invidious purpose in life has worked out in a multitude of organizations, the purpose of which is some work of charity or of social amelioration. These organizations are often of a quasi-religious or pseudo-religious character, and are participated in by both men and women. Examples will present themselves in abundance on reflection, but for the purpose of indicating the range of the propensities in question and of characterizing them, some of the more obvious concrete cases may be cited. Such, for instance, are the agitation for temperance and similar social reforms, for prison reform, for the spread of education, for the suppression of vice, and for the avoidance of war by arbitration, disarmament, or other means; such are, in some measure, university settlements, neighborhood guilds, the various organizations typified by the Young Men's Christian Association and Young People's Society for Christian Endeavor, sewing-clubs, art clubs, and even commercial clubs; such are also, in some slight measure, the pecuniary foundations of semi-public establishments for charity, education, or amusement, whether they are endowed by wealthy individuals or by contributions collected from persons of smaller means—in so far as these establishments are not of a religious character.

It is of course not intended to say that these efforts proceed entirely from other motives than those of a self-regarding kind. What can be claimed is that other motives are present in the common run of cases, and that the perceptibly greater prevalence of effort of this kind under the circumstances of the modern industrial life than under the unbroken regime of the principle of status, indicates the presence in modern life of an effective scepticism with respect to the full legitimacy of an emulative scheme of life. It is a matter of sufficient notoriety to have become a commonplace jest that extraneous motives are commonly present among the incentives to this class of work—motives of a self-regarding kind, and especially the motive of an invidious distinction. To such an extent is this true, that many ostensible works of disinterested public spirit are no doubt initiated and carried on with a view primarily to the enhance repute or even to the pecuniary gain, of their promoters. In the case of some considerable groups of organizations or establishments of this kind the invidious motive is apparently the dominant motive both with the initiators of the work and with their supporters. This last remark would hold true especially with respect to such works as lend distinction to their doer through large and conspicuous expenditure; as, for example, the foundation of a university or of a public library or museum; but it is also, and perhaps equally, true of the more commonplace work of participation in such organizations. These serve to authenticate the pecuniary reputability of their members, as well as gratefully to keep them in mind of their superior status by pointing the contrast between themselves and the lower-lying humanity in whom the work of amelioration is to be wrought; as, for example, the university settlement, which now has some vogue. But after all allowances and deductions have been made, there is left some remainder of motives of a non-emulative kind. The fact itself that distinction or a decent good fame is sought by this method is evidence of a prevalent sense of the legitimacy, and of the presumptive effectual presence, of a non-emulative, non-invidious interest, as a consistent factor in the habits of thought of modern communities.


1 of 2
2 of 2