Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Thorstein Veblen, fully Thorstein Bunde Veblen, born Torsten Bunde Veblen

Norwegian-American Sociologist and Economist, Leader of the Institutional Economics Movement

"With the exception of the instinct of self-preservation, the propensity for emulation is probably the strongest and most alert and persistent of the economic motives proper."

"There are few things that so touch us with instinctive revulsion as a breach of decorum."

"Neither the tenuous things of the human spirit nor the gross material needs of human life can come in contact with this business enterprise [Big Business] in such a way as to deflect its course from the line of least resistance, which is the line of greatest present gain within the law."

"All business sagacity reduces itself in the last analysis to judicious use of sabotage"

"As a matter of selective necessity, man is an agent. He is, in his own apprehension, a centre of unfolding impulsive activity-'teleological activity.' He is an agent seeking in every act the accomplishment of some concrete, objective, impersonal end. By force of being such an agent, he is possessed of a taste for effective work, and a distaste for futile effort."

"Beauty is commonly a gratification of our sense of costliness masquerading under the name of beauty."

"Born in iniquity and conceived in sin, the spirit of nationalism has never ceased to bend human institutions to the service of dissension and distress"

"Conservatism is the maintenance of conventions already in force."

"Conspicuous consumption of valuable goods is a means of reputability to the gentleman of leisure."

"English orthography satisfies all the requirements of the canons of reputability under the law of conspicuous waste. It is archaic, cumbrous, and ineffective; its acquisition consumes much time and effort; failure to acquire it is easy of detection."

"In itself and in its consequences the life of leisure is beautiful and ennobling in all civilized men's eyes."

"In order to stand well in the eyes of the community, it is necessary to come up to a certain, somewhat indefinite, conventional standard of wealth."

"Inherited aptitudes and traits of temperament count for quite as much as length of habituation in deciding what range of habits will come to dominate any individual's scheme of life."

"In point of substantial merit the law school belongs in the modern university no more than a school of fencing or dancing"

"It is always sound business to take any obtainable net gain, at any cost and at any risk to the rest of the community"

"Invention is the mother of necessity."

"Labor wants pride and joy in doing good work, a sense of making or doing something beautiful or useful - to be treated with dignity and respect as brother and sister."

"Loud dress becomes offensive to people of taste, as evincing an undue desire to reach and impress the untrained sensibilities of the vulgar."

"No one travelling on a business trip would be missed if he failed to arrive."

"Servants should not only show a servile disposition, but it is quite as imperative that they should show a trained conformity to the canons of conspicuous subservience."

"Only individuals with an aberrant temperament can in the long run retain their self-esteem in the face of the disesteem of their fellows."

"So soon as the possession of property becomes the basis of popular esteem, therefore, it becomes also a requisite to that complacency which we call self-respect."

"The changing styles are the expression of a restless search for something which shall commend itself to our aesthetic sense; but as each innovation is subject to the selective action of the norm of conspicuous waste, the range within which innovation can take place is somewhat restricted. The innovation must not only be more beautiful, or perhaps oftener less offensive, than that which it displaces, but it must also come up to the accepted standard of expensiveness."

"The addiction to sports, therefore, in a peculiar degree marks an arrested development in man's moral nature."

"The abjectly poor, and all those person whose energies are entirely absorbed by the struggle for daily sustenance, are conservative because they cannot afford the effort of taking thought for the day after tomorrow; just as the highly prosperous are conservative because they have small occasion to be discontented with the situation as it stands today."

"The ceremonial differentiation of the dietary is best seen in the use of intoxicating beverages and narcotics. If these articles of consumption are costly, they are felt to be noble and honorific. Therefore the base classes, primarily the women, practice an enforced continence with respect to these stimulants, except in countries where they are obtainable at a very low cost. From archaic times down through all the length of the patriarchal regime it has been the office of the women to prepare and administer these luxuries, and it has been the perquisite of the men of gentle birth and breeding to consume them. Drunkenness and the other pathological consequences of the free use of stimulants therefore tend in their turn to become honorific, as being a mark, at the second remove, of the superior status of those who are able to afford the indulgence. Infirmities induced by over-indulgence are among some peoples freely recognized as manly attributes. It has even happened that the name for certain diseased conditions of the body arising from such an origin has passed into everyday speech as a synonym for noble or gentle. It is only at a relatively early stage of culture that the symptoms of expensive vice are conventionally accepted as marks of a superior status, and so tend to become virtues and command the deference of the community; but the reputability that attaches to certain expensive vices long retains so much of its force as to appreciably lesson the disapprobation visited upon the men of the wealthy or noble class for any excessive indulgence. The same invidious distinction adds force to the current disapproval of any indulgence of this kind on the part of women, minors, and inferiors. This invidious traditional distinction has not lost its force even among the more advanced peoples of today. Where the example set by the leisure class retains its imperative force in the regulation of the conventionalities, it is observable that the women still in great measure practice the same traditional continence with regard to stimulants."

"The basis on which good repute in any highly organized industrial community ultimately rests is pecuniary strength; and the means of showing pecuniary strength, and so of gaining or retaining a good name, are leisure and a conspicuous consumption of goods."

"The aesthetic serviceability of objects of beauty is not greatly nor universally heightened by possession."

"The pulpit [is] the accredited vent for the exudation of effete matter from the cultural organism."

"The quasi-peaceable gentleman of leisure, then, not only consumes of the staff of life beyond the minimum required for subsistence and physical efficiency, but his consumption also undergoes a specialization as regards the quality of the goods consumed. He consumes freely and of the best, in food, drink, narcotics, shelter, services, ornaments, apparel, weapons and accoutrements, amusements, amulets, and idols or divinities."

"The superior excellence imputed to the book, which imitates the products of antique and obsolete processes, is conceived to be chiefly a superior utility in the aesthetic respect; but it is not unusual to find a well-bred book-lover insisting that the clumsier product is also more serviceable as a vehicle of printed speech."

"The superior gratification derived from the use and contemplation of costly and supposedly beautiful products is, commonly, in great measure a gratification of our sense of costliness masquerading under the name of beauty."

"The visible imperfections of hand-wrought goods, being honorific, are accounted marks of superiority in point of beauty, or serviceability, or both."

"The walking stick serves the purpose of an advertisement that the bearer's hands are employed otherwise than in useful effort, and it therefore has utility as an evidence of leisure."

"The dog commends himself to our favor by affording play to our propensity for mastery"

"The individual's habits of thought make an organic complex, the trend of which is necessarily in the direction of serviceability to the life process. When it is attempted to assimilate systematic waste or futility, as an end in life, into this organic complex, there presently supervenes a revulsion."

"The outcome of any serious research can only be to make two questions grow where only one grew before."

"The evolution of society is substantially a process of mental adaptation on the part of individuals under the stress of circumstances which will no longer tolerate habits of thought formed under and conforming to a different set of circumstances in the past."

"These various habits of thought, or habitual expressions of life, are all phases of the single life sequence of the individual; therefore a habit formed in response to a given stimulus will necessarily affect the character of the response made to other stimuli. A modification of human nature at any one point is a modification of human nature as a whole."

""Right" and "wrong" are of course here used without conveying any rejection as to what ought or ought not to be. They are applied simply from the (morally colorless) evolutionary standpoint, and are intended to designate compatibility or incompatibility with the effective evolutionary process."

"A distinction is still habitually made between industrial and non-industrial occupations; and this modern distinction is a transmuted form of the barbarian distinction between exploit and drudgery. Such employments as warfare, politics, public worship, and public merrymaking, are felt, in the popular apprehension, to differ intrinsically from the labor that has to do with elaborating the material means of life."

"A divine assurance and an imperious complaisance, as of one habituated to require subservience and to take no thought for the morrow, is the birthright and the criterion of the gentleman at his best... this demeanor is accepted as an intrinsic attribute of superior worth, before which the base-born commoner delights to stoop and yield."

"A form of marriage resting on coercion, and... the custom of ownership... The two institutions are not distinguishable in the initial phase of their development; both arise from the desire of the successful men to put their prowess in evidence by exhibiting some durable result of their exploits. Both also minister to that propensity for mastery which pervades all predatory communities. From the ownership of women the concept of ownership extends itself to include the products of their industry, and so there arises the ownership of things as well as of persons."

"A standard of living is of the nature of habit...it acts almost solely to prevent recession from a scale of conspicuous expenditure that has once become habitual."

"A standard of life would still be possible which should admit of invidious comparison in other respects than that of opulence; as, for instance, a comparison in various directions in the manifestation of moral, physical, intellectual, or aesthetic force. Comparison in all these directions is in vogue today; and the comparison made in these respects is commonly so inextricably bound up with the pecuniary comparison as to be scarcely distinguishable from the latter...we frequently interpret as aesthetic or intellectual a difference which in substance is pecuniary only."

"A trade-secret may also be profitable to the concern which has the use of it, and the special process which it covers may be especially productive; but the same article of technological knowledge would doubtless contribute more to the total productivity of industry if it were shared freely by the industrial community at large. Such technological knowledge is an agency of production, but it is the monopoly of it that is profitable to its possessor as a special source of gain. The like applies to patent-rights, of course. Whereas monopolies of the usual kind, which control any given line of industry by charter, conspiracy, or combination of ownership, derive their special gains from their ability to restrain trade, limit the output of goods or services, and so "maintain prices.""

"All ritual has a notable tendency to reduce itself to a rehearsal of formulas."

"All that class of ceremonial observances which are classed under the general head of manners hold a more important place in the esteem of men during the stage of culture at which conspicuous leisure has the greatest vogue as a mark of reputability, than at later stages of the cultural development."

"All that considerable body of morals that clusters about the concept of an inviolable ownership is itself a psychological precipitate of the traditional meritoriousness of wealth."

"A forest growth of oak, elm, beech, butternut, hemlock, basswood, and birch is cleared off to give room for saplings of soft maple, cottonwood, and brittle willow. It is felt that the inexpensiveness of leaving the forest trees standing would derogate from the dignity that should invest an article which is intended to serve a decorative and honorific end."