The Values of Veblen: A Critical Appraisal

The Values of Veblen: A Critical Appraisal

The Values of Veblen: A Critical Appraisal

The Values of Veblen: A Critical Appraisal

Excerpt

A great writer and thinker has to stand the test of each new challenging generation that follows him and tries on his ideas for size and fit. What was temporary or irrelevant gets cast aside, what is viable is seized upon, and given fresh life and new meaning. That has happened to Thorstein Veblen, and that is what this book by Bernard Rosenberg is about.

It is a book for mid-century America in that the institutions and conditions and social thought of the America of the 1950's serve as a back-drop against which the figure of Veblen and his ideas is projected. And the remarkable fact that emerges from this study is that the figure has shrunk so little. Veblen is still one of the giants to reckon with, and his formulations are still very relevant to this time and this place.

It is not an easy grilling that Veblen gets in the pages that follow. This book is a sympathetic one only in the sense that the leaning of the author's values is in the same direction as Veblen's. But the critical process through which the Veblen theories are sifted is a fiercely exacting one. Having worked with Bernard Rosenberg I can testify both joyfully and ruefully that his is one of the most mordant and brilliant minds among the younger social scientists, and that he delights in carving into little pieces the sacred cows of the academic world. In that sense he writes in the spirit in which Veblen wrote, and is himself the same kind of a man-on-the-margin of his society, which makes for critical detachment from its ruling gods and values.

I do not say that Rosenberg's Veblen is in all respects identical with my Veblen. I should myself change some of the proportions of the figure, and some of the lights and shadows, and I have elsewhere recorded my own evaluations of Veblen. But the fact that Veblen could be a different figure to so many of us--to the social reform generation of the turn of the century, the young radicals of the Twenties, the Marxists and New Dealers of the Thirties, and the post-war (or inter-war?) generation of the Forties and Fifties, is an index of the inner give of his ideas. He has meant different things to Alvin Johnson, Wesley Mitchell and Walton Hamilton, to Randolph Bourne and John Dos Passos, to John R. Commons and Charles A. Beard, to Abram Harris and Arthur K. Davis . . .

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