The Leisure Class
Communities that are without a defined leisure class resemble one another also in certain other features of their social structure and manner of life. They are small groups and of simple (archaic) structure; they are commonly peaceable and sedentary; they are poor; and individual ownership is not a dominant feature of their economic system. ... The most notable trait common to members of such communities is a certain amiable inefficiency when confronted with force or fraud.
Cultural traits of communities at low stage of development indicates that the institution of a leisure class emerged during the transition from a peaceable to the consistently warlike habit of life. (I) the community must be of predatory habit of life; men must be habituated to the infliction of injury by force and stratagem; (II) subsistence must be obtainable on sufficiently easy terms to admit exemption of a considerable portion of the community from steady application to a routine of labour (discrimination between employments).
The habit of distinguishing and classifying the various purposes and directions of activity prevails indispensable in reaching a working theory or scheme of life. The grounds for discrimination, and the norm of procedure in classifying the facts, therefore, progressively change as the growth of culture proceeds; apprehended changes recognized as the salient and decisive features of a class of activities or of social class at one stage of culture will not retain the same relative importance for the purposes of classification at any subsequent stage.
But the stage of standards and points of view is gradual only, and it seldom results in the subversion or entire suppression of a standpoint once accepted.
The distinctions between exploit and drudgery coincides with a difference between the sexes. The sexes differ, not only in stature and muscular force, but perhaps even more decisively in temperament, and this must early have given rise to a corresponding division of labour... it appears, in fact, to be relatively slight and inconsequential... But as soon as a differentiation of function has well begun on the lines marked out by this difference in physique and animus, the original difference between the sexes will widen. A cumulative process of selective adaptation to the new distribution of employment will set in.
Hunting and fighting are both of a predatory nature... Their aggressive assertion of force and sagacity differs obviously from the women's assiduous and uneventful shaping of materials; in its best development and widest divergence, any effort that does not involve an assertion of prowess comes to be unworthy of the man. As the tradition gains consistency, the common sense of the community erects it into a canon of conduct; it becomes the able-bodied man's accredited office in the social economy to kill, to destroy such competitors in the struggle for existence as attempt to resist or elude him, to overcome and reduce to subservience those alien forces that assert themselves refractorily in the environment.
The concept of dignity, worth, or honor, as applied either to persons or conduct, is of first-rate consequence in the development of classes and of class distinctions.
Wherever the circumstances or traditions of life lead to an habitual comparison of one person with another in point of efficiency, the instinct of workmanship works out in an emulative (demonstration of force) or invidious comparison of persons... visible success becomes an end sought for its own utility as a basis of esteem.
During that primitive phase of social development the efficiency of the individual can be shown chiefly and most consistently in some employment that goes to further the life of the group. At the same time the incentive to emulation is not strong, nor is the scope for emulation large.
When the community passes from peaceable savagery to a predatory phase of life, the conditions of emulation change. The opportunity and the incentive to emulation increase greatly in scope and urgency. Tangible evidences of prowess - trophies - find a place in men's habits of thought as an essential feature of the paraphernalia of life. The accredited, worthy form of self-assertion is contest.
(...) "honorable" seems to connote nothing else than assertion of superior force. A honorific act is in the last analysis little if anything else than a recognized successful act of aggression. The naive, archaic habit of construing all manifestations of force in terms of personality or "will power" greatly fortifies this conventional exaltation of the strong hand. Honorific epithets commonly bear the stamp of this unsophisticated sense of honor.
The handling of the tools and implements of industry falls beneath the dignity of the able-bodied man.
The question is not as to the occurrence of combat, occasional or sporadic; it is a question of an habitual bellicose frame of mind - a prevalent habit of judging facts and events from the point of view of the fight.
The change in spiritual attitude is the outgrowth of a change in the material facts of the life of the group... Predation cannot become habitual, conventional resource of any group or any class until industrial methods (the growth of technical knowledge and the use of tools) have been developed to such a degree of efficiency as to leave a margin worth fighting for.
Status and Servants
[The] term "leisure", as here used, connotes non-productive consumption of time. (I) from a sense of unworthiness of productive work, and (II) as an evidence of pecuniary ability to afford a life of idleness. The gentleman of leisure, for the sake of good name, should find some means of putting in evidence the leisure that is not spent in the sight of spectators... through the exhibition of some tangible, lasting results.
The lasting evidence of productive labour is its material product. The criteria of a past performance of leisure therefore commonly take the form of "immaterial" goods... quasi-scholarly or quasi-artistic accomplishments and a knowledge of processes and incidents which do not conduce directly to the furtherance of human life. The initial motive from which acquisition proceeded, and through which they first came into vogue, may have been something quite different from the wish to show that one's time had not been spent in industrial employment; but unless these accomplishments had approved themselves as serviceable evidence of an unproductive expenditure of time, they would not have held their place as conventional accomplishments of the leisure class.
Formal and ceremonial observances classed under the general head of manners hold a more important place in the esteem of men as a mark of reputability (intrinsic worth). The decay of the ceremonial code - the vulgarisation of life - among the industrial classes (busy people) testifies to the fact that decorum is a product and an exponent of leisure-class life and thrives in full measure only under a régime of status. Manners, we are told, are in part an elaboration of gesture, and in part they are symbolical and conventionalized survivals... an expression of the relation of status - a symbolic pantomime of mastery and of subservience. All punctilios of conduct and the assiduity with which the ceremonial observance of rank and titles is attended approaches closely to the ideal set by the barbarian of the quasi-peaceable nomadic culture.
Deviations from the code of decorum have become instrinsically to all men.
[the cultivation of decorum] it is worthy of notice that the possibility of producing pathological and other idiosyncrasies of person and manner by shrewd mimicry and a systematic drill have been turned to account in the deliberate production of a cultured class.
There are measurable degrees of conformity to the latest accredited code of the punctilios. Differences between one person and another can be compared. The award of reputability is commonly made on the ground of conformity to the accepted canons of taste... which indeed are constantly undergoing change and revision to bring them closer with its requirements... they are variations of form and expression, not of substance.
Properties are expressions of status. Our bearing in a relation of status is often greatly modified and softened from the original expression of crude dominance. It is among [those] who have no superiors and few peers, that decorum finds its fullest and maturest expression; which serves as a canon of conduct for the classes beneath.
There is reason to believe that the institution of ownership has begun with the ownership of persons, primarily women. The incentives to acquiring such property have apparently been: (1) a propensity for dominance and coercion; (2) the utility of these persons as evidence of the prowess of their owner; (3) the utility of their services.
(...) the altered circumstances of life accentuate the utility of servants. (...) the basis system... The great, pervading human relation is that of master and servant.
(...) personal service, including domestic duties, come gradually to be exempted from productive industry carried on for gain.
This process [of progressive exemption]... will commonly begin with the exemption of the wife, or chief wife. (...) ordinarily of gentle blood, ... ennobled by protracted contact with accumulated wealth or unbroken prerogative [... chief mark of gentility]. The woman of these antecedents is preferred in marriage, both for the sake of resulting alliance with her powerful relatives and because a superior worth is felt to inhere in blood. As the industrial development goes on and property becomes massed in relatively fewer hands, the conventional standard of wealth of upper class rises. The same tendency to exemption from handicraft, and in the course of time from menial domestic employments, will then assert itself as regards the other wives, if such there are, and also regards other servants in immediate attendance upon the person of their master.
It is true, the care of the continually increasing household apparatus may require added labour; but since the apparatus is commonly increased in order to serve as a means of good repute rather than as a means of comfort, this qualification is not of great weight. (...) the office of such domestics regularly tends to include fewer duties, and their services tends in the end to become a nominal only. So that the utility of these comes to consist, in great part, of their conspicuous exemptions from productive labour and in the evidence which this exemption affords of their master's wealth and power.
(...) much of the services classed as household cares in modern everyday life, and many "utilities" required for a comfortable existence by civilized man, are of ceremonial character. (...) they are imperative and requisite because we have been taught to require them under pain of ceremonial uncleanness or unworthiness.
The vicarious leisure performed by housewives and menials, under the head of household cares, may frequently develop into drudgery, especially where the competition for reputability is close and strenuous. This is frequently the case in modern life. (...) the domestic service which comprises the duties of this servant class might aptly be designated as wasted effort, rather than as vicarious leisure. (...) these occupations are chiefly useful as a method of imputing pecuniary responsibility to the master or to the household on the ground that a given amount of time and effort is conspicuously wasted in that behalf.
Domestic service might be said to be a spiritual rather than mechanical function. Gradually there grows up an elaborate system of good form, specifically regulating the manner in which this vicarious leisure of the servant class is to be performed. Any departure from these canons of form is to be deprecated, not so much because it evinces a shortcoming in mechanical efficiency, or even that it shoes an absence of the servile attitude and temperament, but because, in last analysis, it shows the absence of special training.
As the standard of wealth recognized by common consent advances, the possession and exploitation of servants as a means of showing superfluity undergoes a refinement. There supervenes a division of labour among the servants or dependents whose life is spent in maintaining the honor of the gentleman of leisure. So that, while one group produces goods for him, another group, usually headed by the wife, or chief wife, consumes for him in conspicuous leisure; thereby putting in evidence his ability to sustain large pecuniary damage without impairing his superior opulence.
This somewhat idealized and diagrammatic outline of the development and nature of domestic service comes nearest to being true for that cultural stage which has here been named the "quasi-peaceable" stage of industry. In cultural sequence, the quasi-peaceable stage follows the predatory stage proper, the two being successive phases of barbarian life. (...) life at this stage still has too much coercion and class antagonism to be called peaceable in the full sense of the word. (...) it might as well be named the stage of status.