Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
The Theory of the Leisure Class is Thorstein Veblen’s first and best-known book. In all his writings, he offers an approach to social commentary that tends to invert much of the conventional economic wisdom of his day. On the surface, his style of writing is flat and unemotional, and often pedantic. However, the cumulative effect results in powerful social criticism. He often casts his writings (certainly The Theory of the Leisure Class) in the mode of anthropological commentaries, drawing on illustrations from many times and places beyond his own (but without explicit source references). He also stresses the evolutionary character of social institutions, in a somewhat Darwinian mode.
Veblen does not directly identify the leisure class with the rich, but the overlap is substantial. Where class distinctions have been strongly observed, he argues, the upper classes do not engage in “industrial occupations”—the most basic types of useful work. Instead, their occupations—which include government employ, warfare, religion, and sports—are considered highly honorable. The most honorable activities tend to involve what Veblen calls exploit—physical prowess, as in hunting or warfare or sports, or exercising authority over others, as in civic leadership. Traditionally, these honorable activities have been associated with men. Contrasting activities—drudgery—tend to be associated with women.
(The entire section is 1496 words.)
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