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Essay on Thorstein Veblen and the Italian hedonist society


Thorstein Bunde Veblen

"The Theory of the Leisure Class"


 Thorstein Bunde Veblen (1857-1929) Norwegian-American sociologist and economist








Thorstein Veblen survives today as living giant whereas Karl Marx fades away into the oblivion of history along with all those hollow words which the naiive and the pretentious have written about him.






Our present civilisation belongs to the conspicuous consumer and it will collapse without him: this is the dilemma of that small thinking and working minority who moves the wheels of the world.







In Italy in particular, but not only there, people who operate at the apex of society, be these "intellectuals", writers, specialists in all branches of science, politics economics philosophers, etc. share the same taste and aesthetic values, and would do the same things, dress the same way, live in the same houses, practice the same sports, if they could afford it. This is why the Italian self appointed "intellectual" hasd no credibility abroad or among the thinking minority at home.






Italian politicians, no matter to what party they belong to, share an identical world view, id identical wishes and desires. The fact that you will find them all -or all those who can afford it- in Cortina in winter and in Portofino or Capalbio in Summer proves this unquestionably.























“… The term “leisure”, as here used, does not connote indolence or quiescence. What it connotes is non productive consumption of time” Thorstein Veblen.

A “leisure class”, made up of “conspicuous consumers” whose taste is of a “pecuniary nature” is what the workers and the peasants of Italy have joined or are joining.

The society, which we now enjoy in Italy and also elsewhere, displays opposite standards of taste and economic and civil morals to that which is left behind and to which I feel I still belong as the last representative. I am a living fossil.

I am not entitled to judge whether the joining of the leisure class represents an improvement, i.e. “progress”, or a drawback, a return to barbarism, but my choice speaks for itself.

Thorstein Veblen thought that the traits he described in his “The Theory of the Leisure Class” were the traits of a barbarian society, and there is little doubt in my mind that they are such.

Although Veblen’s systematization and classifications are embedded in 19th century evolutionism, and full of tongue-in-cheek humour , his observations of people’s social behaviour were extremely accurate.

He would not have imagined that such class as constituted a minority in 1899 would be a dominant majority one hundred years later.

That class, the “Leisure Class”, was in his view parasitical and therefore a burden on the productive majority, it could not therefore grow and become dominant, the resources would simply not be there.

Veblen failed to realize that an industrial civilization actually needs masses of ‘uncritical predictable conspicuous consumers’ to thrive and grow.

Mechanization and automation would provide for the lack of manual work. Money would be generated by a sophisticated system of management of supply and demand. Simple as this realization may seem today, it did not occur in the minds to any of the early social theorists, and it did not occur to Veblen either.

In my own lifetime I have witnessed a social transformation, a metamorphosis, a ‘class trasmigration’, which no one had predicted.

This is the transformation of an old agrarian society, with its roots in proto-history, into a proletarian society, into a society of hedonistic “Conspicuous Consumers”, very similar to that minority class called by Thorstein Veblen the “Leisure Class”.

 Let us see what are, in my own view, Veblen’s most significant observations concerning the archaic prototype of the majority class of today, and be astonished:

(Pecuniary Emulation) “In the nature of the case, the desire for wealth can scarcely be satiated in any individual instance, and evidently a satiation of the average or general desire for wealth is out of the question. “If, as is sometimes assumed, the incentive to accumulation were the want of subsistence or of physical comfort, then the aggregate economic wants of a community might conceivably be satisfied at some point in the advance of industrial efficiency; but since the struggle is substantially a race for reputability on the basis of an invidious comparison, no approach to a definitive attainment is possible.”…

…“The desire for added comfort and security from want is present as a motive at every stage of the process of accumulation in a modern industrial community; although the standard of sufficiency in these respects is in turn greatly affected by the habit of pecuniary emulation. To a great extent this emulation shapes the methods and selects the objects of expenditure for personal comfort and decent livelihood”…

…”Purposeful effort comes to mean, primarily, effort directed to or resulting in a more creditable showing of accumulated wealth. Among the motives which lead men to accumulate wealth, the primacy, both in scope and intensity, therefore, continues to belong to this motive of pecuniary emulation.”…

(Conspicuous Leisure)“In order to gain and hold the esteem of men it is not sufficient merely to possess wealth or power. The wealth or power must be put in evidence.”

“The performance of labour has been accepted as a conventional evidence of inferior force; therefore it comes itself, by a mental short-cut, to be regarded as intrinsically base”

“The normal and characteristic occupations of the class in this mature phase of its life history are in form very much the same as in its earlier days. These occupations are government, war, sport, and devout observance.”

“Abstention from labour is not only a honorific or meritorious act, but it presently comes to be a requisite of decency.”

Abstention from labour is the conventional evidence of wealth and is therefore the conventional mark of social standing.”

“It then presently becomes impracticable to accumulate wealth by simple seizure, and in logical consistency, acquisition by industry is equally impossible for high-minded and impecunious men. The alternative open to them is beggary or privation. Wherever the canon of conspicuous leisure has a chance undisturbed to work out its tendency, there will therefore emerge a secondary, and in a sense spurious leisure class- abjectly poor and living a precarious life of want and discomfort, but morally unable to stoop to gainful pursuits."

“This pervading sense of the indignity of the slightest manual labour is familiar to all civilized peoples, as well as to peoples of a less advanced pecuniary culture.”

“Time is consumed non-productively 1) from a sense of the unworthiness of productive work 2) as an evidence of pecuniary activity to afford a life of idleness.”

“…this conspicuous leisure of which decorum is a ramification grows gradually into a laborious drill in deportment and an education in taste and discrimination as to what articles of consumption are decorous and what are the decorous methods of consuming them.”

“…gentle blood is blood which has been ennobled by protracted contact with accumulated wealth or unbroken prerogative. The woman with these antecedents is preferred in marriage, both for the sake of a resulting alliance with her powerful relatives and because a superior worth is felt to inhere in blood which has been associated with many goods and great power.”.......

G.C. Malta 1999


I would like to invite every person, from the conspicuous consumers to the spartan, to read an important book just published in the USA: "TOO MUCH FOR OUR OWN GOOD, The Consumeritis Epidemic and Good Movies", by Harrison Sheppard and Alex Aris, published by Arisatotle & Alexander Press, San Francisco 2006   -  - US $ 25.00

This book deals with the gravest problem of our time: sensless consumerism. This  is defined "a pathological condition of epidemic proportions... It is characterized by personal addiction to the purchase of consumer goods abd services beyond what is needed to satisfy personal needs broadly understood, and often beyond the victim's financial means...""

Let me help you to observe that, once again, America leads the world in getting over a global disease of its own making, whereas its critics who emulate the American way of life whilst criticising the politics which make it possible, remain, as always, trailing behind and looking ridiculous.


Giovanni , Fenruary 2009

G.C.  Bibbiena 2007