Critics & Crusaders: A Century of American Protest

By Charles A. Madison | Go to book overview

THORSTEIN VEBLEN


ICONOCLASTIC ECONOMIST

ONE of our foremost social thinkers, deeply interested in man's welfare, Thorstein Veblen never crossed the periphery of American life. One of our most original economists, providing new leads in basic theory for an entire generation, he was at best merely tolerated in the universities in which he taught and received neither the advancement nor the honors commensurate with his contributions to knowledge. A stylist of extraordinary power, a phrase-maker of remarkable felicity, a master of ironic indirection, he produced books that are little read because he is reputed to be a ponderous and prolix writer.

Nor did Veblen ever seek the leadership that was his by virtue of his acutely original mind. There was indeed something perverse in his character which led him to intensify his peculiarities and to conceal his feelings under a mask of impassive aloofness. Outwardly he appeared indifferent to friends, uninterested in his students, and unconcerned with the world around him. Except to a few intimates he seemed nearly always companioned by loneliness and mastered by silence. It was only in his writings that his towering intellect found free scope; there his pointed irony punctured the inflated fallacies of our business economy. His analyses of the capitalistic structure show that breadth of perception and critical acumen which have made him unique among modern economists.

The fact that Veblen was a "Norskie" at a time when Norwegians were still the butt of popular humor goes far to explain the

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