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Are you skeptical of business glories. Are you suspicious of great enrichment. Are you contemptuous of social climbing and keeping up with the Joneses and wealthy ostentation. Then you are probably a disciple of Christ in Bedlam. Whether you ever knew it or not I. Program books that have shaped our time the books discussed in the series are not necessarily great or even good but all of them have been influential book for better or worse. They. Move men to action and given shape for the 20th century. Here is the host of the University of Chicago.
First invent was the improvident imprudent rebellious and well educated son of a Norwegian carpenter. He published one of the first life size studies of modern society. The model for Eastman is lonely crowd and White's the organization. His first principle in the book called The Theory of the Leisure Class was that all upper classes are corrupted seekers after status is second principle is that everybody else hates the ruling class. Hence his conclusion is that insatiable competition is the secret of economics. Personally I think that stuff is almost as dead as the dodo bird. But across from me Stevie Smith A philosopher once at the University of Chicago a man who has been state senator and U.S. Congressman and even a professor of poetry at Syracuse University I wonder what he thinks.
Well you know I don't think I agree with you in the final assessment but I'd like to linger along the way. All right go ahead and linger. When I was an undergraduate at the University of Texas many years ago of his height and he was the inspired bible of all the young stars. Excuse me I'm shocked to hear that you're a Texan I don't know where I stand now relative to you but go ahead. You've hardly begun to live when you put it that way. I've read The Theory of the leisure class and I frankly and simply for all Average didn't understand it. And then one day I had to make a report on the hour's notice of another of these books I never read and reading in and I our I understood it much better than I did the book I'd spent weeks upon. I'm not surprised I've had the same experience. Well I think there's an explanation for it that bears on our discussion of the book. I do too I wonder if we have the same explanation that BN was an artist as well as a theory Titian's other say. And I think that from the point of view of a stylist and I believe this is the reason he had great
influence as a work of art not as a work of social science. I'm sure you don't mean that he's had an influence as an artist I suppose you mean that he's had his influence on social scientists and economists because he was such an able rhetoricians Well I mean more than that though I mean that too. I think that anybody who can get people to look at his vision of a reconstructed society is an artist and the bloom is a superball artist and as an artist he is very rewarding to be read someone's by someone's word by word. But if you do in that way you will wonder all Dow what's it all about you know the very rapidly you say oh I see what the thesis is and this is his way of developing it. Paragraph by paragraph. You know I wouldn't agree with you you make him sound like one of Plato's bad poets the man who doesn't have the truth but says the untrue so well that it's believed. I have another explanation see what you think of it if you don't mind please. I find you here. I find the secret in this imprudence and rebelliousness I think he was a man who
failed to make the grade. I know this sounds like red blooded American ism but I'm not ashamed of it. I think it's simply a man who failed to make the grade because of his imprudence and rebelliousness and consequently wrote a book in order to condemn the people he didn't become like well this doesn't mean however that he wasn't very sincere in his vision of a reconstructed society. That's true and it doesn't mean that he wasn't very talented and very astute in super inducing a respect for that. Let me show you what I mean Matt All right certainly two or three sentences from him. He is oftentimes the term invidious. He doesn't do it it was all a waste everything. Yeah sure. In making use of the term invidious it may perhaps be necessary to remark there is no intention to extol our deep pre-shared are to command our deplore any of the phenomena which a word is used to describe. The word invidious is years in the technical sense as describing a comparison of persons with a view to raiding and grabbing them in respect of relative worth and all the time
this is exactly what he's doing making and that is compassion but he doesn't mean invidious near the end that is. Well you know that phrase rate rating in grading is one that I picked up in your home state. There are the university campuses are talked about as rating dating campuses. If you mean that this is the start that this sort of thing is the effect of Dylan's work I'm against him even more but I know you don't but look seriously what do you think has been the influence regardless of why and how. Well I think his influence has been that of an artist. He thought his disaffection he finds the unfulfilled hopes in young people and he draws such a beautiful picture with irony and satire and all the rest of the society that might be but which is not. And he's become as a little rotter rather than a social scientist tremendously influential. Well where do you find the consequences of this influence granted in some sense or other he inspires some few young who read him.
What do they then go and do that can be credited to verbal Well in terms of economics and social science I'd say his influence is only through men like Howard Scott and tech not prosy which doesn't count for very much. But the fact that the man wrote a number of books that are hard to read that these books are coming back you've got one edition here of the theory of the leisure and I've got this 50 cent EDITION. He's still very widely read everybody takes a position of their after this is tremendous influence you know and it's his style. Well how is it only true that he's being read and of course there's a nice irony in the fact that in spite of contrary to his version of the notion of conspicuous waste we can buy the book for half a buck. What do you grant then I'll grant you this that people are reading it and reading and perhaps are inspired to something or other though not to what he hoped they would be inspired to. What do you let's talk a little bit about the things that he himself saw and what he hoped to do about it. Let me tell you a brief story and then some friend of mine think he was doing me a favor last year sent a speech on retirement which I made to
Syracuse University the Saturday Review I did not think about this without any title at all. It came out under the title leisure of the theory class. Not bad especially since Babylon has a last nasty chapter about Professor It was so good I wished I'd thought it up myself but I I want to ask you and I'm turned I think this will get us in the heart of it. You know it says the theory of the leisure time. I didn't want to what is the theory of the leisure class. I don't believe I could answer that question so I asked for information. Well you're asking me for that dirty kind of nut shell that I'm afraid. But I'll try to give it. I will take it piece by piece in the kernel want you. Let's see. I'll say it this way. Number one everybody wants to be to look bigger than everybody else. The easiest way to look bigger in our world is to make a lot of money and then prove that you've got a lot of money by wasting it as directly as you can. You're wasted by buying a car that's bigger than you can use by
having a lot of servants who don't have enough work to do by decking your wives with jewelry and send them four times a year instead of once to Miami etc and haven't got the leisure yet and to walk around as if you had nothing to do that you had to do but could choose to do only what you wanted to do. Was this what I found so hard in the Army as a colonel getting used to not carrying bottles. And never going ahead of the general sense I was only a colonel but always going ahead of a major and Captain was I think delving in this kind of ostentatious I think half of it was in so far as you didn't carry bundles and made your wife or a sergeant or a buck private do it you were you were following out the picture in so far as you didn't try to undercut your general and get to be one yourself. I think you were being a.. Well the military I meant is theory class are we professors members of the theory.
Oh we're members of a theory class and the leisure class according to that and all we are as a matter of fact nothing but valets of a high sort. We're the servants of the leisure class and universities are their instrument. He was a professor even if you know all that he was although he was a fired professor. His leisure was involuntary self and he didn't flout it. Right this is what I meant by the imprudence but seriously is it your view that the modern dominant class in this country home I supposed to be the industrialist. Do you think he is a man who is still working for and busily doing this sort of conspicuous waste an exhibition I think if that is how I stick myself if you want my honest opinion about other you mean Stickley wrong wrong but I think another thing also and that is that at the very things that he despises and this praises are to make great goods there already those such as well such as earning a living such as getting money enough to buy a bigger car such as competition. These are goods in the war these are the evils and he said he
treats them and they disagree is the always the ideal society would be this is I know what you want in a competition. Well I would certainly agree with you on one of these I'm sure that neither you nor I nor any serious man ever thought that competition could be done away with as far as men are men as long as men are men. But aren't there kinds of competition and competitions for better and worse things and isn't really talking against what may have been true. It's a competition for very bad things merely for status. Well as a smith I'm really opposed to keeping up with the Joneses but I'm not opposed to bypassing the Joneses. Now that one's a little crypt and what he described as an evil always was always a form of the good it seemed to me from invidious extended I don't mind people showing where they stand by the way they dress the year. No I don't I hate to see a wealthy man go out like a trap. I think I'd hate to see anybody going along like a tramp but I also not sure that I love to see a wealthy man going along in 14 more automobiles than he
needs and isn't that what he's talking about. I think they have been that I never understood the joke of the bum who was drunk and lying in the gutter and saw a wealthy man come out well dressed from a Polish get in the car and drive off in a bomb said there but for me to lie that is not bad in short you're saying that what is inveighing against is nothing more nor less than something inherent in human nature not merely an evolution from an accident as I mean either in its sublimated farmers in its direct form the very stuff of which the good life is made not only that life is made. Well where would you place craftsmanship in the good life craftsmanship being the sort of thing that opposes to what he says are the behaviors and tendencies. The leisure class I would place it quite as high as he does but I wouldn't rob it of the fruits of its toil because you can both be skilled and have a good living at the same time because you are a scale he that somehow if you got a good living and good indication now that you are at a good price.
There I think I would entirely agree with you there is no reason in the world it seems to me why you can't enjoy yourself and do something and make something too. And yet through and through the ages I think Beverly nearly is one of a long strain sort of left handed Puritan who thinks that you can't do both. What is your reaction to that either. I agree with that he was he was a stylist I go back to say it again and he didn't take the responsibility for this radical revision of human society if he had bothered that a Marxist. I've been in favor of the states in a fair use of what he thought some out of magic with engineers or crafts and some out what common govern society without any of the bad consequences that democratic government care. And this is just silly. So I suppose our moral has got to be that he had influence insofar as he told people that there were wrongs to be righted. Oh.
Impetus a program about books that have shaped our time. Your host was Joseph J Schwab professor of the natural sciences at the University of Chicago. Tonight his guest was TV Smith professor emeritus of philosophy Syracuse University. They discussed the theory of the leisure class by Thorsten people an. Impetus is presented by the public affairs department of BBM in cooperation with the University of Chicago and is produced by Lynch. This is d n a e b Radio Network.
Theory of the Leisure Class
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University of Chicago
WBBM (Radio station : Chicago, Ill.)
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program features host Joseph J. Schwab and guest T.V. Smith discussing "The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions" by Thorstein Veblen.
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A program about books that have given shape to the 20th century.
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Announcer: Kuralt, Charles, 1934-1997
Guest: Smith, Thomas Vernor, 1890-1964
Host: Schwab, Joseph Jackson, 1909-
Producer: Tangley, Ralph
Producing Organization: University of Chicago
Producing Organization: WBBM (Radio station : Chicago, Ill.)
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 59-27-1 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:14:30
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Chicago: “Impetus; Theory of the Leisure Class,” 1959-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed July 19, 2024,
MLA: “Impetus; Theory of the Leisure Class.” 1959-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. July 19, 2024. <>.
APA: Impetus; Theory of the Leisure Class. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from