Veblen's Industrial Theory of Secularization

"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 characterised, 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 emulate."

--Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1994), pp. 330-31 (emphasis added).

Translation (at a guess): People who make things are less inclined to devotion than people who try to possess things that they have not made themselves as a way of holding status over the people who make things. The more society is given over to making things, the less devout people will be.

Study question: Is Veblen right about the relationship between industry and devotion? If so, is he also right about the value of making things as such? Is there a place for beauty in his theory of workmanship, or is the appreciation for beauty simply an artifact of invidious emulation?


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