I Cittadini interessati possono scaricare l'intero testo dalla prima pagina

.pdf 42,2 Mb



The Theory of the Leisure Class by Thorstein Veblen - 1899

Chapter X torna a Indice

Modern Survivals of Prowess

The leisure class lives by the industrial community rather
than in it. Its relations to industry are of a pecuniary rather
than an industrial kind. Admission to the class is gained by
exercise of the pecuniary aptitudes -- aptitudes for acquisition
rather than for serviceability. There is, therefore, a continued
selective sifting of the human material that makes up the leisure
class, and this selection proceeds on the ground of fitness for
pecuniary pursuits. But the scheme of life of the class is in
large part a heritage from the past, and embodies much of the
habits and ideals of the earlier barbarian period. This archaic,
barbarian scheme of life imposes itself also on the lower orders,
with more or less mitigation. In its turn the scheme of life, of
conventions, acts selectively and by education to shape the human
material, and its action runs chiefly in the direction of
conserving traits, habits, and ideals that belong to the early
barbarian age -- the age of prowess and predatory life.
The most immediate and unequivocal expression of that
archaic human nature which characterizes man in the predatory
stage is the fighting propensity proper. In cases where the
predatory activity is a collective one, this propensity is
frequently called the martial spirit, or, latterly, patriotism.
It needs no insistence to find assent to the proposition that in
the countries of civilized Europe the hereditary leisure class is
endowed with this martial spirit in a higher degree than the
middle classes. Indeed, the leisure class claims the distinction
as a matter of pride, and no doubt with some grounds. War is
honorable, and warlike prowess is eminently honorific in the eyes
of the generality of men; and this admiration of warlike prowess
is itself the best voucher of a predatory temperament in the
admirer of war. The enthusiasm for war, and the predatory temper
of which it is the index, prevail in the largest measure among
the upper classes, especially among the hereditary leisure class.
Moreover, the ostensible serious occupation of the upper class is
that of government, which, in point of origin and developmental
content, is also a predatory occupation.
The only class which could at all dispute with the
hereditary leisure class the honor of an habitual bellicose frame
of mind is that of the lower-class delinquents. In ordinary
times, the large body of the industrial classes is relatively
apathetic touching warlike interests. When unexcited, this body
of the common people, which makes up the effective force of the
industrial community, is rather averse to any other than a
defensive fight; indeed, it responds a little tardily even to a
provocation which makes for an attitude of defense. In the more
civilized communities, or rather in the communities which have
reached an advanced industrial development, the spirit of warlike
aggression may be said to be obsolescent among the common people.
This does not say that there is not an appreciable number of
individuals among the industrial classes in whom the martial
spirit asserts itself obtrusively. Nor does it say that the body
of the people may not be fired with martial ardor for a time
under the stimulus of some special provocation, such as is seen
in operation today in more than one of the countries of Europe,
and for the time in America. But except for such seasons of
temporary exaltation, and except for those individuals who are
endowed with an archaic temperament of the predatory type,
together with the similarly endowed body of individuals among the
higher and the lowest classes, the inertness of the mass of any
modern civilized community in this respect is probably so great
as would make war impracticable, except against actual invasion.
The habits and aptitudes of the common run of men make for an
unfolding of activity in other, less picturesque directions than
that of war.
This class difference in temperament may be due in part to a
difference in the inheritance of acquired traits in the several
classes, but it seems also, in some measure, to correspond with a
difference in ethnic derivation. The class difference is in this
respect visibly less in those countries whose population is
relatively homogeneous, ethnically, than in the countries where
there is a broader divergence between the ethnic elements that
make up the several classes of the community. In the same
connection it may be noted that the later accessions to the
leisure class in the latter countries, in a general way, show
less of the martial spirit than contemporary representatives of
the aristocracy of the ancient line. These nouveaux arrivés have
recently emerged from the commonplace body of the population and
owe their emergence into the leisure class to the exercise of
traits and propensities which are not to be classed as prowess in
the ancient sense.
Apart from warlike activity proper, the institution of the
duel is also an expression of the same superior readiness for
combat; and the duel is a leisure-class institution. The duel is
in substance a more or less deliberate resort to a fight as a
final settlement of a difference of opinion. In civilized
communities it prevails as a normal phenomenon only where there
is an hereditary leisure class, and almost exclusively among that
class. The exceptions are (1) military and naval officers who are
ordinarily members of the leisure class, and who are at the same
time specially trained to predatory habits of mind and (2) the
lower-class delinquents -- who are by inheritance, or training,
or both, of a similarly predatory disposition and habit. It is
only the high-bred gentleman and the rowdy that normally resort
to blows as the universal solvent of differences of opinion. The
plain man will ordinarily fight only when excessive momentary
irritation or alcoholic exaltation act to inhibit the more
complex habits of response to the stimuli that make for
provocation. He is then thrown back upon the simpler, less
differentiated forms of the instinct of self-assertion; that is
to say, he reverts temporarily and without reflection to an
archaic habit of mind.
This institution of the duel as a mode of finally settling
disputes and serious questions of precedence shades off into the
obligatory, unprovoked private fight, as a social obligation due
to one's good repute. As a leisure-class usage of this kind we
have, particularly, that bizarre survival of bellicose chivalry,
the German student duel. In the lower or spurious leisure class
of the delinquents there is in all countries a similar, though
less formal, social obligation incumbent on the rowdy to assert
his manhood in unprovoked combat with his fellows. And spreading
through all grades of society, a similar usage prevails among the
boys of the community. The boy usually knows to nicety, from day
to day, how he and his associates grade in respect of relative
fighting capacity; and in the community of boys there is
ordinarily no secure basis of reputability for any one who, by
exception, will not or can not fight on invitation.
All this applies especially to boys above a certain somewhat
vague limit of maturity. The child's temperament does not
commonly answer to this description during infancy and the years
of close tutelage, when the child still habitually seeks contact
with its mother at every turn of its daily life. During this
earlier period there is little aggression and little propensity
for antagonism. The transition from this peaceable temper to the
predaceous, and in extreme cases malignant, mischievousness of
the boy is a gradual one, and it is accomplished with more
completeness, covering a larger range of the individual's
aptitudes, in some cases than in others. In the earlier stage of
his growth, the child, whether boy or girl, shows less of
initiative and aggressive self-assertion and less of an
inclination to isolate himself and his interests from the
domestic group in which he lives, and he shows more of
sensitiveness to rebuke, bashfulness, timidity, and the need of
friendly human contact. In the common run of cases this early
temperament passes, by a gradual but somewhat rapid obsolescence
of the infantile features, into the temperament of the boy
proper; though there are also cases where the predaceous futures
of boy life do not emerge at all, or at the most emerge in but a
slight and obscure degree.
In girls the transition to the predaceous stage is seldom
accomplished with the same degree of completeness as in boys; and
in a relatively large proportion of cases it is scarcely
undergone at all. In such cases the transition from infancy to
adolescence and maturity is a gradual and unbroken process of the
shifting of interest from infantile purposes and aptitudes to the
purposes, functions, and relations of adult life. In the girls
there is a less general prevalence of a predaceous interval in
the development; and in the cases where it occurs, the predaceous
and isolating attitude during the interval is commonly less
In the male child the predaceous interval is ordinarily
fairly well marked and lasts for some time, but it is commonly
terminated (if at all) with the attainment of maturity. This last
statement may need very material qualification. The cases are by
no means rare in which the transition from the boyish to the
adult temperament is not made, or is made only partially --
understanding by the "adult" temperament the average temperament
of those adult individuals in modern industrial life who have
some serviceability for the purposes of the collective life
process, and who may therefore be said to make up the effective
average of the industrial community.
The ethnic composition of the European populations varies.
In some cases even the lower classes are in large measure made up
of the peace-disturbing dolicho-blond; while in others this
ethnic element is found chiefly among the hereditary leisure
class. The fighting habit seems to prevail to a less extent among
the working-class boys in the latter class of populations than
among the boys of the upper classes or among those of the
populations first named.
If this generalization as to the temperament of the boy
among the working classes should be found true on a fuller and
closer scrutiny of the field, it would add force to the view that
the bellicose temperament is in some appreciable degree a race
characteristic; it appears to enter more largely into the make-up
of the dominant, upper-class ethnic type -- the dolicho-blond --
of the European countries than into the subservient, lower-class
types of man which are conceived to constitute the body of the
population of the same communities.
The case of the boy may seem not to bear seriously on the
question of the relative endowment of prowess with which the
several classes of society are gifted; but it is at least of some
value as going to show that this fighting impulse belongs to a
more archaic temperament than that possessed by the average adult
man of the industrious classes. In this, as in many other
features of child life, the child reproduces, temporarily and in
miniature, some of the earlier phases of the development of adult
man. Under this interpretation, the boy's predilection for
exploit and for isolation of his own interest is to be taken as a
transient reversion to the human nature that is normal to the
early barbarian culture -- the predatory culture proper. In this
respect, as in much else, the leisure-class and the
delinquent-class character shows a persistence into adult life of
traits that are normal to childhood and youth, and that are
likewise normal or habitual to the earlier stages of culture.
Unless the difference is traceable entirely to a fundamental
difference between persistent ethnic types, the traits that
distinguish the swaggering delinquent and the punctilious
gentleman of leisure from the common crowd are, in some measure,
marks of an arrested spiritual development. They mark an immature
phase, as compared with the stage of development attained by the
average of the adults in the modern industrial community. And it
will appear presently that the puerile spiritual make-up of these
representatives of the upper and the lowest social strata shows
itself also in the presence of other archaic traits than this
proclivity to ferocious exploit and isolation.
As if to leave no doubt about the essential immaturity of
the fighting temperament, we have, bridging the interval between
legitimate boyhood and adult manhood, the aimless and playful,
but more or less systematic and elaborate, disturbances of the
peace in vogue among schoolboys of a slightly higher age. In the
common run of cases, these disturbances are confined to the
period of adolescence. They recur with decreasing frequency and
acuteness as youth merges into adult life, and so they reproduce,
in a general way, in the life of the individual, the sequence by
which the group has passed from the predatory to a more settled
habit of life. In an appreciable number of cases the spiritual
growth of the individual comes to a close before he emerges from
this puerile phase; in these cases the fighting temper persists
through life. Those individuals who in spiritual development
eventually reach man's estate, therefore, ordinarily pass through
a temporary archaic phase corresponding to the permanent
spiritual level of the fighting and sporting men. Different
individuals will, of course, achieve spiritual maturity and
sobriety in this respect in different degrees; and those who fail
of the average remain as an undissolved residue of crude humanity
in the modern industrial community and as a foil for that
selective process of adaptation which makes for a heightened
industrial efficiency and the fullness of life of the
collectivity. This arrested spiritual development may express
itself not only in a direct participation by adults in youthful
exploits of ferocity, but also indirectly in aiding and abetting
disturbances of this kind on the part of younger persons. It
thereby furthers the formation of habits of ferocity which may
persist in the later life of the growing generation, and so
retard any movement in the direction of a more peaceable
effective temperament on the part of the community. If a person
so endowed with a proclivity for exploits is in a position to
guide the development of habits in the adolescent members of the
community, the influence which he exerts in the direction of
conservation and reversion to prowess may be very considerable.
This is the significance, for instance, of the fostering care
latterly bestowed by many clergymen and other pillars of society
upon "boys' brigades" and similar pseudo-military organizations.
The same is true of the encouragement given to the growth of
"college spirit," college athletics, and the like, in the higher
institutions of learning.
These manifestations of the predatory temperament are all to
be classed under the head of exploit. They are partly simple and
unreflected expressions of an attitude of emulative ferocity,
partly activities deliberately entered upon with a view to
gaining repute for prowess. Sports of all kinds are of the same
general character, including prize-fights, bull-fights,
athletics, shooting, angling, yachting, and games of skill, even
where the element of destructive physical efficiency is not an
obtrusive feature. Sports shade off from the basis of hostile
combat, through skill, to cunning and chicanery, without its
being possible to draw a line at any point. The ground of an
addiction to sports is an archaic spiritual constitution -- the
possession of the predatory emulative propensity in a relatively
high potency, A strong proclivity to adventuresome exploit and to
the infliction of damage is especially pronounced in those
employments which are in colloquial usage specifically called
It is perhaps truer, or at least more evident, as regards
sports than as regards the other expressions of predatory
emulation already spoken of, that the temperament which inclines
men to them is essentially a boyish temperament. The addiction to
sports, therefore, in a peculiar degree marks an arrested
development of the man's moral nature. This peculiar boyishness
of temperament in sporting men immediately becomes apparent when
attention is directed to the large element of make-believe that
is present in all sporting activity. Sports share this character
of make-believe with the games and exploits to which children,
especially boys, are habitually inclined. Make-believe does not
enter in the same proportion into all sports, but it is present
in a very appreciable degree in all. It is apparently present in
a larger measure in sportsmanship proper and in athletic contests
than in set games of skill of a more sedentary character;
although this rule may not be found to apply with any great
uniformity. It is noticeable, for instance, that even very
mild-mannered and matter-of-fact men who go out shooting are apt
to carry an excess of arms and accoutrements in order to impress
upon their own imagination the seriousness of their undertaking.
These huntsmen are also prone to a histrionic, prancing gait and
to an elaborate exaggeration of the motions, whether of stealth
or of onslaught, involved in their deeds of exploit. Similarly in
athletic sports there is almost invariably present a good share
of rant and swagger and ostensible mystification -- features
which mark the histrionic nature of these employments. In all
this, of course, the reminder of boyish make-believe is plain
enough. The slang of athletics, by the way, is in great part made
up of extremely sanguinary locutions borrowed from the
terminology of warfare. Except where it is adopted as a necessary
means of secret communication, the use of a special slang in any
employment is probably to be accepted as evidence that the
occupation in question is substantially make-believe.
A further feature in which sports differ from the duel and
similar disturbances of the peace is the peculiarity that they
admit of other motives being assigned for them besides the
impulses of exploit and ferocity. There is probably little if any
other motive present in any given case, but the fact that other
reasons for indulging in sports are frequently assigned goes to
say that other grounds are sometimes present in a subsidiary way.
Sportsmen -- hunters and anglers -- are more or less in the habit
of assigning a love of nature, the need of recreation, and the
like, as the incentives to their favorite pastime. These motives
are no doubt frequently present and make up a part of the
attractiveness of the sportsman's life; but these can not be the
chief incentives. These ostensible needs could be more readily
and fully satisfied without the accompaniment of a systematic
effort to take the life of those creatures that make up an
essential feature of that "nature" that is beloved by the
sportsman. It is, indeed, the most noticeable effect of the
sportsman's activity to keep nature in a state of chronic
desolation by killing off all living thing whose destruction he
can compass.
Still, there is ground for the sportsman's claim that under
the existing conventionalities his need of recreation and of
contact with nature can best be satisfied by the course which he
takes. Certain canons of good breeding have been imposed by the
prescriptive example of a predatory leisure class in the past and
have been somewhat painstakingly conserved by the usage of the
latter-day representatives of that class; and these canons will
not permit him, without blame, to seek contact with nature on
other terms. From being an honorable employment handed down from
the predatory culture as the highest form of everyday leisure,
sports have come to be the only form of outdoor activity that has
the full sanction of decorum. Among the proximate incentives to
shooting and angling, then, may be the need of recreation and
outdoor life. The remoter cause which imposes the necessity of
seeking these objects under the cover of systematic slaughter is
a prescription that can not be violated except at the risk of
disrepute and consequent lesion to one's self-respect.
The case of other kinds of sport is somewhat similar. Of
these, athletic games are the best example. Prescriptive usage
with respect to what forms of activity, exercise, and recreation
are permissible under the code of reputable living is of course
present here also. Those who are addicted to athletic sports, or
who admire them, set up the claim that these afford the best
available means of recreation and of "physical culture." And
prescriptive usage gives countenance to the claim. The canons of
reputable living exclude from the scheme of life of the leisure
class all activity that can not be classed as conspicuous
leisure. And consequently they tend by prescription to exclude it
also from the scheme of life of the community generally. At the
same time purposeless physical exertion is tedious and
distasteful beyond tolerance. As has been noticed in another
connection, recourse is in such a case had to some form of
activity which shall at least afford a colorable pretense of
purpose, even if the object assigned be only a make-believe.
Sports satisfy these requirements of substantial futility
together with a colorable make-believe of purpose. In addition to
this they afford scope for emulation, and are attractive also on
that account. In order to be decorous, an employment must conform
to the leisure-class canon of reputable waste; at the same time
all activity, in order to be persisted in as an habitual, even if
only partial, expression of life, must conform to the generically
human canon of efficiency for some serviceable objective end. The
leisure-class canon demands strict and comprehensive futility,
the instinct of workmanship demands purposeful action. The
leisure-class canon of decorum acts slowly and pervasively, by a
selective elimination of all substantially useful or purposeful
modes of action from the accredited scheme of life; the instinct
of workmanship acts impulsively and may be satisfied,
provisionally, with a proximate purpose. It is only as the
apprehended ulterior futility of a given line of action enters
the reflective complex of consciousness as an element essentially
alien to the normally purposeful trend of the life process that
its disquieting and deterrent effect on the consciousness of the
agent is wrought.
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. But
this revulsion of the organism may be avoided if the attention
can be confined to the proximate, unreflected purpose of
dexterous or emulative exertion. Sports -- hunting, angling,
athletic games, and the like -- afford an exercise for dexterity
and for the emulative ferocity and astuteness characteristic of
predatory life. So long as the individual is but slightly gifted
with reflection or with a sense of the ulterior trend of his
actions so long as his life is substantially a life of naive
impulsive action -- so long the immediate and unreflected
purposefulness of sports, in the way of an expression of
dominance, will measurably satisfy his instinct of workmanship.
This is especially true if his dominant impulses are the
unreflecting emulative propensities of the predaceous
temperament. At the same time the canons of decorum will commend
sports to him as expressions of a pecuniarily blameless life. It
is by meeting these two requirements, of ulterior wastefulness
and proximate purposefulness, that any given employment holds its
place as a traditional and habitual mode of decorous recreation.
In the sense that other forms of recreation and exercise are
morally impossible to persons of good breeding and delicate
sensibilities, then, sports are the best available means of
recreation under existing circumstances.
But those members of respectable society who advocate
athletic games commonly justify their attitude on this head to
themselves and to their neighbors on the ground that these games
serve as an invaluable means of development. They not only
improve the contestant's physique, but it is commonly added that
they also foster a manly spirit, both in the participants and in
the spectators. Football is the particular game which will
probably first occur to any one in this community when the
question of the serviceability of athletic games is raised, as
this form of athletic contest is at present uppermost in the mind
of those who plead for or against games as a means of physical or
moral salvation. This typical athletic sport may, therefore,
serve to illustrate the bearing of athletics upon the development
of the contestant's character and physique. It has been said, not
inaptly, that the relation of football to physical culture is
much the same as that of the bull-fight to agriculture.
Serviceability for these lusory institutions requires sedulous
training or breeding. The material used, whether brute or human,
is subjected to careful selection and discipline, in order to
secure and accentuate certain aptitudes and propensities which
are characteristic of the ferine state, and which tend to
obsolescence under domestication. This does not mean that the
result in either case is an all around and consistent
rehabilitation of the ferine or barbarian habit of mind and body.
The result is rather a one-sided return to barbarism or to the
feroe natura -- a rehabilitation and accentuation of those ferine
traits which make for damage and desolation, without a
corresponding development of the traits which would serve the
individual's self-preservation and fullness of life in a ferine
environment. The culture bestowed in football gives a product of
exotic ferocity and cunning. It is a rehabilitation of the early
barbarian temperament, together with a suppression of those
details of temperament, which, as seen from the standpoint of the
social and economic exigencies, are the redeeming features of the
savage character.
The physical vigor acquired in the training for athletic
games -- so far as the training may be said to have this effect
-- is of advantage both to the individual and to the
collectivity, in that, other things being equal, it conduces to
economic serviceability. The spiritual traits which go with
athletic sports are likewise economically advantageous to the
individual, as contradistinguished from the interests of the
collectivity. This holds true in any community where these traits
are present in some degree in the population. Modern competition
is in large part a process of self-assertion on the basis of
these traits of predatory human nature. In the sophisticated form
in which they enter into the modern, peaceable emulation, the
possession of these traits in some measure is almost a necessary
of life to the civilized man. But while they are indispensable to
the competitive individual, they are not directly serviceable to
the community. So far as regards the serviceability of the
individual for the purposes of the collective life, emulative
efficiency is of use only indirectly if at all. Ferocity and
cunning are of no use to the community except in its hostile
dealings with other communities; and they are useful to the
individual only because there is so large a proportion of the
same traits actively present in the human environment to which he
is exposed. Any individual who enters the competitive struggle
without the due endowment of these traits is at a disadvantage,
somewhat as a hornless steer would find himself at a disadvantage
in a drove of horned cattle.
The possession and the cultivation of the predatory traits
of character may, of course, be desirable on other than economic
grounds. There is a prevalent aesthetic or ethical predilection
for the barbarian aptitudes, and the traits in question minister
so effectively to this predilection that their serviceability in
the aesthetic or ethical respect probably offsets any economic
unserviceability which they may give. But for the present purpose
that is beside the point. Therefore nothing is said here as to
the desirability or advisability of sports on the whole, or as to
their value on other than economic grounds.
In popular apprehension there is much that is admirable in
the type of manhood which the life of sport fosters. There is
self-reliance and good-fellowship, so termed in the somewhat
loose colloquial use of the words. From a different point of view
the qualities currently so characterized might be described as
truculence and clannishness. The reason for the current approval
and admiration of these manly qualities, as well as for their
being called manly, is the same as the reason for their
usefulness to the individual. The members of the community, and
especially that class of the community which sets the pace in
canons of taste, are endowed with this range of propensities in
sufficient measure to make their absence in others felt as a
shortcoming, and to make their possession in an exceptional
degree appreciated as an attribute of superior merit. The traits
of predatory man are by no means obsolete in the common run of
modern populations. They are present and can be called out in
bold relief at any time by any appeal to the sentiments in which
they express themselves -- unless this appeal should clash with
the specific activities that make up our habitual occupations and
comprise the general range of our everyday interests. The common
run of the population of any industrial community is emancipated
from these, economically considered, untoward propensities only
in the sense that, through partial and temporary disuse, they
have lapsed into the background of sub-conscious motives. With
varying degrees of potency in different individuals, they remain
available for the aggressive shaping of men's actions and
sentiments whenever a stimulus of more than everyday intensity
comes in to call them forth. And they assert themselves forcibly
in any case where no occupation alien to the predatory culture
has usurped the individual's everyday range of interest and
sentiment. This is the case among the leisure class and among
certain portions of the population which are ancillary to that
class. Hence the facility with which any new accessions to the
leisure class take to sports; and hence the rapid growth of
sports and of the sporting sentient in any industrial community
where wealth has accumulated sufficiently to exempt a
considerable part of the population from work.
A homely and familiar fact may serve to show that the
predaceous impulse does not prevail in the same degree in all
classes. Taken simply as a feature of modern life, the habit of
carrying a walking-stick may seem at best a trivial detail; but
the usage has a significance for the point in question. The
classes among whom the habit most prevails -- the classes with
whom the walking-stick is associated in popular apprehension --
are the men of the leisure class proper, sporting men, and the
lower-class delinquents. To these might perhaps be added the men
engaged in the pecuniary employments. The same is not true of the
common run of men engaged in industry and it may be noted by the
way that women do not carry a stick except in case of infirmity,
where it has a use of a different kind. The practice is of course
in great measure a matter of polite usage; but the basis of
polite usage is, in turn, the proclivities of the class which
sets the pace in polite usage. 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. But it is also a weapon, and it meets a
felt need of barbarian man on that ground. The handling of so
tangible and primitive a means of offense is very comforting to
any one who is gifted with even a moderate share of ferocity.
The exigencies of the language make it impossible to avoid
an apparent implication of disapproval of the aptitudes,
propensities, and expressions of life here under discussion. It
is, however, not intended to imply anything in the way of
deprecation or commendation of any one of these phases of human
character or of the life process. The various elements of the
prevalent human nature are taken up from the point of view of
economic theory, and the traits discussed are gauged and graded
with regard to their immediate economic bearing on the facility
of the collective life process. That is to say, these phenomena
are here apprehended from the economic point of view and are
valued with respect to their direct action in furtherance or
hindrance of a more perfect adjustment of the human collectivity
to the environment and to the institutional structure required by
the economic situation of the collectivity for the present and
for the immediate future. For these purposes the traits handed
down from the predatory culture are less serviceable than might
be. Although even in this connection it is not to be overlooked
that the energetic aggressiveness and pertinacity of predatory
man is a heritage of no mean value. The economic value -- with
some regard also to the social value in the narrower sense -- of
these aptitudes and propensities is attempted to be passed upon
without reflecting on their value as seen from another point of
view. When contrasted with the prosy mediocrity of the latter-day
industrial scheme of life, and judged by the accredited standards
of morality, and more especially by the standards of aesthetics
and of poetry, these survivals from a more primitive type of
manhood may have a very different value from that here assigned
them. But all this being foreign to the purpose in hand, no
expression of opinion on this latter head would be in place here.
All that is admissible is to enter the caution that these
standards of excellence, which are alien to the present purpose,
must not be allowed to influence our economic appreciation of
these traits of human character or of the activities which foster
their growth. This applies both as regards those persons who
actively participate in sports and those whose sporting
experience consists in contemplation only. What is here said of
the sporting propensity is likewise pertinent to sundry
reflections presently to be made in this connection on what would
colloquially be known as the religious life.
The last paragraph incidentally touches upon the fact that
everyday speech can scarcely be employed in discussing this class
of aptitudes and activities without implying deprecation or
apology. The fact is significant as showing the habitual attitude
of the dispassionate common man toward the propensities which
express themselves in sports and in exploit generally. And this
is perhaps as convenient a place as any to discuss that undertone
of deprecation which runs through all the voluminous discourse in
defense or in laudation of athletic sports, as well as of other
activities of a predominantly predatory character. The same
apologetic frame of mind is at least beginning to be observable
in the spokesmen of most other institutions handed down from the
barbarian phase of life. Among these archaic institutions which
are felt to need apology are comprised, with others, the entire
existing system of the distribution of wealth, together with the
resulting class distinction of status; all or nearly all forms of
consumption that come under the head of conspicuous waste; the
status of women under the patriarchal system; and many features
of the traditional creeds and devout observances, especially the
exoteric expressions of the creed and the naive apprehension of
received observances. What is to be said in this connection of
the apologetic attitude taken in commending sports and the
sporting character will therefore apply, with a suitable change
in phraseology, to the apologies offered in behalf of these
other, related elements of our social heritage.
There is a feeling -- usually vague and not commonly avowed
in so many words by the apologist himself, but ordinarily
perceptible in the manner of his discourse -- that these sports,
as well as the general range of predaceous impulses and habits of
thought which underlie the sporting character, do not altogether
commend themselves to common sense. "As to the majority of
murderers, they are very incorrect characters." This aphorism
offers a valuation of the predaceous temperament, and of the
disciplinary effects of its overt expression and exercise, as
seen from the moralist's point of view. As such it affords an
indication of what is the deliverance of the sober sense of
mature men as to the degree of availability of the predatory
habit of mind for the purposes of the collective life. It is felt
that the presumption is against any activity which involves
habituation to the predatory attitude, and that the burden of
proof lies with those who speak for the rehabilitation of the
predaceous temper and for the practices which strengthen it.
There is a strong body of popular sentiment in favor of
diversions and enterprises of the kind in question; but there is
at the same time present in the community a pervading sense that
this ground of sentiment wants legitimation. The required
legitimation is ordinarily sought by showing that although sports
are substantially of a predatory, socially disintegrating effect;
although their proximate effect runs in the direction of
reversion to propensities that are industrially disserviceable;
yet indirectly and remotely -- by some not readily comprehensible
process of polar induction, or counter-irritation perhaps --
sports are conceived to foster a habit of mind that is
serviceable for the social or industrial purpose. That is to say,
although sports are essentially of the nature of invidious
exploit, it is presumed that by some remote and obscure effect
they result in the growth of a temperament conducive to
non-invidious work. It is commonly attempted to show all this
empirically or it is rather assumed that this is the empirical
generalization which must be obvious to any one who cares to see
it. In conducting the proof of this thesis the treacherous ground
of inference from cause to effect is somewhat shrewdly avoided,
except so far as to show that the "manly virtues" spoken of above
are fostered by sports. But since it is these manly virtues that
are (economically) in need of legitimation, the chain of proof
breaks off where it should begin. In the most general economic
terms, these apologies are an effort to show that, in spite of
the logic of the thing, sports do in fact further what may
broadly be called workmanship. So long as he has not succeeded in
persuading himself or others that this is their effect the
thoughtful apologist for sports will not rest content, and
commonly, it is to be admitted, he does not rest content. His
discontent with his own vindication of the practice in question
is ordinarily shown by his truculent tone and by the eagerness
with which he heaps up asseverations in support of his position.
But why are apologies needed? If there prevails a body of
popular sentient in favor of sports, why is not that fact a
sufficient legitimation? The protracted discipline of prowess to
which the race has been subjected under the predatory and
quasi-peaceable culture has transmitted to the men of today a
temperament that finds gratification in these expressions of
ferocity and cunning. So, why not accept these sports as
legitimate expressions of a normal and wholesome human nature?
What other norm is there that is to be lived up to than that
given in the aggregate range of propensities that express
themselves in the sentiments of this generation, including the
hereditary strain of prowess? The ulterior norm to which appeal
is taken is the instinct of workmanship, which is an instinct
more fundamental, of more ancient prescription, than the
propensity to predatory emulation. The latter is but a special
development of the instinct of workmanship, a variant, relatively
late and ephemeral in spite of its great absolute antiquity. The
emulative predatory impulse -- or the instinct of sportsmanship,
as it might well be called -- is essentially unstable in
comparison with the primordial instinct of workmanship out of
which it has been developed and differentiated. Tested by this
ulterior norm of life, predatory emulation, and therefore the
life of sports, falls short.
The manner and the measure in which the institution of a
leisure class conduces to the conservation of sports and
invidious exploit can of course not be succinctly stated. From
the evidence already recited it appears that, in sentient and
inclinations, the leisure class is more favorable to a warlike
attitude and animus than the industrial classes. Something
similar seems to be true as regards sports. But it is chiefly in
its indirect effects, though the canons of decorous living, that
the institution has its influence on the prevalent sentiment with
respect to the sporting life. This indirect effect goes almost
unequivocally in the direction of furthering a survival of the
predatory temperament and habits; and this is true even with
respect to those variants of the sporting life which the higher
leisure-class code of proprieties proscribes; as, e.g.,
prize-fighting, cock-fighting, and other like vulgar expressions
of the sporting temper. Whatever the latest authenticated
schedule of detail proprieties may say, the accredited canons of
decency sanctioned by the institution say without equivocation
that emulation and waste are good and their opposites are
disreputable. In the crepuscular light of the social nether
spaces the details of the code are not apprehended with all the
facility that might be desired, and these broad underlying canons
of decency are therefore applied somewhat unreflectingly, with
little question as to the scope of their competence or the
exceptions that have been sanctioned in detail.
Addiction to athletic sports, not only in the way of direct
participation, but also in the way of sentiment and moral
support, is, in a more or less pronounced degree, a
characteristic of the leisure class; and it is a trait which that
class shares with the lower-class delinquents, and with such
atavistic elements throughout the body of the community as are
endowed with a dominant predaceous trend. Few individuals among
the populations of Western civilized countries are so far devoid
of the predaceous instinct as to find no diversion in
contemplating athletic sports and games, but with the common run
of individuals among the industrial classes the inclination to
sports does not assert itself to the extent of constituting what
may fairly be called a sporting habit. With these classes sports
are an occasional diversion rather than a serious feature of
life. This common body of the people can therefore not be said to
cultivate the sporting propensity. Although it is not obsolete in
the average of them, or even in any appreciable number of
individuals, yet the predilection for sports in the commonplace
industrial classes is of the nature of a reminiscence, more or
less diverting as an occasional interest, rather than a vital and
permanent interest that counts as a dominant factor in shaping
the organic complex of habits of thought into which it enters.
As it manifests itself in the sporting life of today, this
propensity may not appear to be an economic factor of grave
consequence. Taken simply by itself it does not count for a great
deal in its direct effects on the industrial efficiency or the
consumption of any given individual; but the prevalence and the
growth of the type of human nature of which this propensity is a
characteristic feature is a matter of some consequence. It
affects the economic life of the collectivity both as regards the
rate of economic development and as regards the character of the
results attained by the development. For better or worse, the
fact that the popular habits of thought are in any degree
dominated by this type of character can not but greatly affect
the scope, direction, standards, and ideals of the collective
economic life, as well as the degree of adjustment of the
collective life to the environment.
Something to a like effect is to be said of other traits
that go to make up the barbarian character. For the purposes of
economic theory, these further barbarian traits may be taken as
concomitant variations of that predaceous temper of which prowess
is an expression. In great measure they are not primarily of an
economic character, nor do they have much direct economic
bearing. They serve to indicate the stage of economic evolution
to which the individual possessed of them is adapted. They are of
importance, therefore, as extraneous tests of the degree of
adaptation of the character in which they are comprised to the
economic exigencies of today, but they are also to some extent
important as being aptitudes which themselves go to increase or
diminish the economic serviceability of the individual.
As it finds expression in the life of the barbarian, prowess
manifests itself in two main directions -- force and fraud. In
varying degrees these two forms of expression are similarly
present in modern warfare, in the pecuniary occupations, and in
sports and games. Both lines of aptitudes are cultivated and
strengthened by the life of sport as well as by the more serious
forms of emulative life. Strategy or cunning is an element
invariably present in games, as also in warlike pursuits and in
the chase. In all of these employments strategy tends to develop
into finesse and chicanery. Chicanery, falsehood, browbeating,
hold a well-secured place in the method of procedure of any
athletic contest and in games generally. The habitual employment
of an umpire, and the minute technical regulations governing the
limits and details of permissible fraud and strategic advantage,
sufficiently attest the fact that fraudulent practices and
attempts to overreach one's opponents are not adventitious
features of the game. In the nature of the case habituation to
sports should conduce to a fuller development of the aptitude for
fraud; and the prevalence in the community of that predatory
temperament which inclines men to sports connotes a prevalence of
sharp practice and callous disregard of the interests of others,
inDividually and collectively. Resort to fraud, in any guise and
under any legitimation of law or custom, is an expression of a
narrowly self-regarding habit of mind. It is needless to dwell at
any length on the economic value of this feature of the sporting
In this connection it is to be noteD that the most obvious
characteristic of the physiognomy affected by athletic and other
sporting men is that of an extreme astuteness. The gifts and
exploits of Ulysses are scarcely second to those of Achilles,
either in their substantial furtherance of the game or in the
éclat which they give the astute sporting man among his
associates. The pantomime of astuteness is commonly the first
step in that assimilation to the professional sporting man which
a youth undergoes after matriculation in any reputable school, of
the secondary or the higher education, as the case may be. And
the physiognomy of astuteness, as a decorative feature, never
ceases to receive the thoughtful attention of men whose serious
interest lies in athletic games, races, or other contests of a
similar emulative nature. As a further indication of their
spiritual kinship, it may be pointed out that the members of the
lower delinquent class usually show this physiognomy of
astuteness in a marked degree, and that they very commonly show
the same histrionic exaggeration of it that is often seen in the
young candidate for athletic honors. This, by the way, is the
most legible mark of what is vulgarly called "toughness" in
youthful aspirants for a bad name.
The astute man, it may be remarked, is of no economic value
to the community -- unless it be for the purpose of sharp
practice in dealings with other communities. His functioning is
not a furtherance of the generic life process. At its best, in
its direct economic bearing, it is a conversion of the economic
substance of the collectivity to a growth alien to the collective
life process -- very much after the analogy of what in medicine
would be called a benign tumor, with some tendency to transgress
the uncertain line that divides the benign from the malign
growths. The two barbarian traits, ferocity and astuteness, go to
make up the predaceous temper or spiritual attitude. They are the
expressions of a narrowly self-regarding habit of mind. Both are
highly serviceable for individual expediency in a life looking to
invidious success. Both also have a high aesthetic value. Both
are fostered by the pecuniary culture. But both alike are of no
use for the purposes of the collective life.