Thorstein Veblen and His Critics, 1891-1963

Thorstein Veblen and His Critics, 1891-1963: Conservative, Liberal, and Radical Perspectives

RICK TILMAN
Copyright Date: 1992
Pages: 378
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7ztf54
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    Thorstein Veblen and His Critics, 1891-1963
    Book Description:

    The influential economist and philosopher Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929) was one of the most original and penetrating critics of American culture and institutions, and his work attracted and still attracts the attention of scholars from a wide range of political viewpoints and scholarly disciplines. Focusing on the doctrinal and theoretical facets of Veblen's political economy, this book offers a study not only of his ideas but also of the way his critics have responded to them. Rick Tilman assesses the weight of the critics' reactions, both positive and negative, as well as exposing their sometimes mistaken interpretations of Veblen's work. As he scrutinizes the ideologies of the conservatives, liberals, and radicals who commented on Veblen, he portrays the diversity of social theory in the first half of the twentieth century. Beginning with the first criticism of Veblen's work during the presidency of Benjamin Harrison and concluding with Daniel Bell's attack on him during the Kennedy administration, the book emphasizes those critics who systematically confronted the doctrinal structure of Veblen's thought and believed that they perceived in it fundamental weaknesses. But even the most negatively inclined--such as Paul Baran, Irving Fisher, and Talcott Parsons--admitted some of Veblen's strengths. Ironically, his supporters at times stripped his work of much of its potential for political and moral enlightenment without intending to do so.

    Originally published in 1992.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6286-3
    Subjects: Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. FOREWORD
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Warren J. Samuels

    THORSTEIN VEBLEN (1857–1929) was arguably the most original and penetrating economist and social critic that the United States has produced. His analyses dealt with fundamental social mores; fundamental social, economic, and political processes; and the fundamental belief system that underlies individual behavior, public policy, and social science analysis. A critic of the market economy as he found it developing at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries and of the ideas of economic orthodoxy in the form and with the content then characteristic of the discipline, Veblen was one of the first to identify...

  4. PREFACE
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xix-2)
  6. Chapter One VEBLEN: THE MAN AND HIS CRITICS
    (pp. 3-17)

    THE CRITICAL writing on Thorstein Veblen (1857–1929) that began to appear around the turn of the twentieth century continues unabated up to the present time. Although critics and commentators disagree about the significance of his work, interest in Veblen has not declined. Mostly reared in Scandinavian-Lutheran communities in the Midwest, he was the fourth son of Norwegian immigrant farmers who raised a large family, most of whom received higher education. Several of the Veblen children went to Carleton College in Minnesota; there Thorstein obtained his training in economics and philosophy under John Bates Clark, who later became a prominent...

  7. Chapter Two CONSERVATIVE CRITICS: THE EARLY PERIOD
    (pp. 18-46)

    CONSERVATIVE economists have occasionally praised Thorstein Veblen for his brilliance and encyclopedic learning. John Cummings (1899), Irving Fisher (1909), and Richard Teggart (1932), mostly conceded his massive, if iconoclastic, intellect and his enormous erudition. Yet they ultimately found little of substantive value in his work in economics or the other social studies. Considered as a study in comparative ideology, the sharp contrast between Veblen and his conservative critics suggests the unlikelihood of reaching agreement on fundamental issues in political economy. The reader is thus forewarned that the points that separate Veblen from his conservative opponents are perennial areas of conflict...

  8. Chapter Three CONSERVATIVE CRITICS: THE CHICAGOITES
    (pp. 47-70)

    TWO CONSERVATIVE economists who were critical of Veblen were also colleagues at the University of Chicago. They were Frank Knight (1885–1972) and Abram Harris (1899–1963). Knight was an ideological opponent of institutional economics, and his critique of it exemplifies the doctrinal structure of his own brand of political conservatism and neoclassical economics. Unfortunately, he never systematically treated Veblen’s ideas as such in an article or book, and his scattered comments about him were written over a period of nearly sixty years. In order to present a coherent analysis of Knight’s critique of Veblen, his thoughts must be collected...

  9. Chapter Four CONSERVATIVE CRITICS: THE RELIGIOUS ASSAULT
    (pp. 71-87)

    THE MOST detailed study of Veblen’s work is by Lev Dobriansky.¹ It is also the only significant analysis of him in English that systematically displays the doctrinal bias of Roman Catholicism.² For that reason alone, it is of concern to Veblen scholars who are also interested in the study of comparative ideology. Dobriansky (b. 1918), once a professor of economics at Georgetown and U.S. Ambassador to the Bahamas from 1982 to 1986, may be regarded as one of Veblen’s conservative critics not because he was a perfect specimen of that ideological type but because he shared much of the doctrinal...

  10. Chapter Five LIBERAL CRITICS: THE PROGRESSIVES
    (pp. 88-113)

    AMERICAN progressivism, at least as a coherent domestic political reform movement, largely ended with the declaration of war in April 1917 on the Central Powers, and most domestic intellectuals supported the Wilson administration’s policies. In this respect, they were like European intellectuals, writers, artists, and scientists, even those with left-wing views, who displayed an “almost manic bellicosity” at the beginning of the First World War.¹ Overwhelming and uncritical support to the governments and armies of their own nations was forthcoming and little effort was made to be objective about the origins of the hurricane of war blowing from the Balkan...

  11. Chapter Six LIBERAL CRITICS: THE INSTITUTIONALISTS
    (pp. 114-152)

    ALTHOUGH Veblen was the single most influential figure in the development of institutional economics, other institutional economists in the earlier part of this century did not hesitate to criticize both his theoretical position and his occasional policy prescriptions. Paul Homan, John Commons, Wesley Mitchell, and John Maurice Clark are all examples of holistic, heterodox, or institutional economists who, although influenced by Veblen, nevertheless, developed a coherent critique of him detailed enough to be worth analyzing. All were politically more conservative than the radical Veblen and thought of themselves as liberals or Progressives. All, at the time they wrote on Veblen,...

  12. Chapter Seven LIBERAL CRITICS: THE NEOINSTITUTIONALISTS
    (pp. 153-162)

    MOST “neoinstitutionalists,” meaning those institutional economists who did the bulk of their writing after World War II, were not very critical of Veblen’s work. Instead, they were more concerned to defend him from critics and more interested in explicating his theories than engaging in doctrinal confrontation with him. What distinguishes neoinstitutionalists Clarence Ayres (1891–1972) and Allan Gruchy (1906–1990) long-time professors of economics at Texas and Maryland, respectively, from other neoinstitutionalists is that they were significantly critical of Veblenian theory and doctrine.¹ Ayres and Gruchy, particularly the latter, found spongy, incomplete, or erroneous claims in the corpus Vebleniana and,...

  13. Chapter Eight LIBERAL CRITICS: HARVARD AND COLUMBIA STYLE
    (pp. 163-189)

    TALCOTT PARSONS, David Riesman, Daniel Bell, Pitirim Sorokin, Robert Merton, and Louis Schneider, six eminent Harvard- or Columbia-trained or -affiliated sociologists, all assessed Thorstein Veblen’s contributions to social theory at some point in their careers. Parsons mostly wrote about him in the 1930s and 1940s; Riesman analyzed his life and thought in the 1950s as did Merton; Schneider wrote about him throughout his career; Bell focused on him briefly in the early 1960s; and Sorokin casually alludes to his work on many occasions. All except the conservative Sorokin were political liberals at the time they wrote and, ultimately, all except...

  14. Chapter Nine RADICAL CRITICS: THE FRANKFURT SCHOOL
    (pp. 190-205)

    MOST OF THE scholars attached to the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research found it necessary to leave Germany after the Nazi Revolution. Three of the most important of them emigrated to the United States and, subsequently, evinced some interest in Thorstein Veblen and institutional economics. They were Herbert Marcuse (1898–1979), Max Horkheimer (1895–1973), and, most important in terms of understanding Veblen scholarship, Theodor Adorno (1903–1969).

    In recent years, the critical theory of the Frankfurt School has attracted wide notice in scholarly journals in the Anglo-Saxon world. In the 1960s, one member of the school, Herbert Marcuse, received...

  15. Chapter Ten RADICAL CRITICS: THE MONTHLY REVIEW
    (pp. 206-233)

    SINCE ITS founding by Paul Sweezy and Leo Huberman in 1949, theMonthly Reviewhas been a politically independent organ of the extreme left in the United States. Started to both combat the Cold War and promote socialist doctrine, the journal had an explicitly Marxist orientation. It differed in several ways from the other two left-leaning journals whose audience also consisted mostly of radical and left-liberal intellectuals.

    It was distinguishable from the other Marxist journal,Science and Society, in that it was a monthly rather than a quarterly, and its format and substantive content were more polemical than scholarly. However,...

  16. Chapter Eleven RADICAL CRITICS: MARXISM, TROTSKYISM, AND SOCIAL DEMOCRACY
    (pp. 234-258)

    BY THE mid-1950s, there were only three principal clusters of independent left intellectuals remaining in the United States. One was an amorphous group headed by Bernhard Stern, who wrote forScience and Society. Another were the already-mentioned Marxists who wrote forMonthly Review, while a third were the anti-Stalinist democratic socialists gathered around the New York-based journalDissent, which was started in 1954. The latter included such figures as Irving Howe, Lewis Coser, and a professor of sociology at the New School for Social Research, Bernard Rosenberg. In addition to these three clusters of radical intellectuals, there were remnants of...

  17. Chapter Twelve THE IDEOLOGICAL USE AND ABUSE OF THORSTEIN VEBLEN
    (pp. 259-286)

    THOMAS SOWELL argued that political economists and social philosophers are divisible into two camps. There are those whose vision is “constrained,” such as Adam Smith, Edmund Burke, and, more recently, Friedrich Von Hayek and Milton Friedman; and those whose vision is unconstrained: Tom Paine, William Godwin, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Karl Marx, and, of course, Thorstein Veblen.¹ To Sowell, a vision was a “pre-analytic cognitive act” and

    The unconstrained vision promotes pursuit of the highest ideals and the best solutions. By contrast, the constrained vision sees the best as the enemy of the good—a vain attempt to reach the unattainable being...

  18. NOTES
    (pp. 287-344)
  19. ARCHIVES CONSULTED
    (pp. 345-350)
  20. INDEX
    (pp. 351-356)