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The Theory of the Leisure Class

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The Theory of the Leisure Class

Dover Publications,

15 Minuten Lesezeit
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Audio & Text

Was ist drin?

This slow but classic tale of the rising American leisure class still deserves its sociological and economic rank.

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  • Innovative


This may not be a book to read for recreation, unless you like 1890s verbal locutions, but there are other reasons to read it. The emergence of the economic analysis of Western society might intrigue you. You might discover the origins of such still useful terms as "leisure class" and "conspicuous consumption," among others. You might be curious about author Thorstein Veblen’s status-conscious, anachronistic world of working men and idle wives, which reflects upper-class society in his day. Published in 1899, this is a classic in sociology and economic literature, although it is a veritable dreadnought of density. It discusses property, ownership, status and leisure in a turn-of-the-last-century American context. Though scholars call it a "satire," the book is hardly witty or ironic. Instead, it is a stolid analytical daguerreotype of a world long gone. getAbstract suggests that if you tackle Veblen’s old-fashioned, slow-flowing prose, you should do it for the background you may glean and the scholarly satisfaction you may feel when you are done. Instead of Alexander Pope’s, "What oft was thought but ne’er so well expressed," this book presents what oft was said and usually better, but not as early.


Origins of a Leisure Class

In feudal cultures, the upper classes did not engage in industrial occupations. The medieval elite belonged to the leisure class. Noblemen regarded very few pursuits as honorable, most notably warfare and the priesthood. The actual productive work was done, primarily, by women and menials.

This social order has its roots in the ancient origins of civilization. Only a few cultures lack a leisure class. Other than some bushmen, some Eskimos and a few other remote, primitive groups, most societies distinguish between those who work productively and those who do not, and award higher status to the latter. These rudimentary cultures do not seem to recognize individual property ownership. They are peaceful and friendly, not predatory. They do not rely upon warfare, or the warlike virtues of cunning, violence and deception. Their people seem bewildered and helpless when confronted by fraud or by force.

A society’s development of a leisure class may depend on a predatory mode of life. Groups that live by hunting or war must value and reward violence. Being stronger, men are the ones who hunt and make war. Their reward includes the women of ...

About the Author

Thorstein Veblen taught at the University of Chicago, Stanford University and the University of Missouri before co-founding the New School for Social Research in New York.

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