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Торстейн Бунде Веблен
Thorstein Bunde Veblen
Источник: Journal of Economic Issues, Sep93, Vol. 27 Issue 3, p721, 19p
Edgell, Stephen; Townshend, Jules
No substantial agreement upon a point of knowledge or conviction is possible between persons who proceed from disparate preconceptions.
--Veblen, 1965
Except as a whole and except in the light of its postulates and aims, the Marxian system is not only not tenable, but it is not even intelligible. A discussion of a given isolated feature of the system . . . is as futile as a discussion of solids in terms of two dimensions.
--Veblen, 1969
There has been a long-standing controversy over the relationship between Marx's and Veblen's social theories. At the turn of the century, within the covers of one journal one commentator claimed that major differences existed between Marx and Veblen, whereas another emphasized the Marxian character of Veblen's economic thought [Walling 1905.; LaMont 1905]. A similar range of interpretations has persisted,[1] but the majority have concluded that "Veblen was not an 'American Marxist. 2 However, this orthodoxy has come under increasing attack, first by Arthur K. Davis, whose position on the Veblen-Marx affinity debate seems to have hardened over the years, notwithstanding his detailing of certain contrasts [Davis 1980]. In 1941, he wrote that "the similiarity of historical evolution as it is recounted by Marx and Veblen is striking indeed" [1980, 372]. In 1957, he claimed that "the core of Veblen's social theory is largely Marxian" [1957a, 27993; 1957b, 52-85], and in 1968, Davis reiterated that "certain of Veblen's core ideas are strikingly similar to those of Marx, not in terminology but in content" [1968, 304]. Finally, in 1980, he concluded that "I find little to change my assessment of Veblen's theory of social evolution, except to emphasise more strongly its Marxian character" [1980, ii].
Davis, in what amounted to a long and lone crusade against the prevailing orthodoxy, has been joined more recently by E. K. Hunt, who in a thought-provoking article claimed that "from a Marxian perspective, I find not only that the two thinkers were strikingly similar in their analyses of capitalism, but also that Veblen had a great many rich insights which complement Marxism. . . . It is my hope that this article might stimulate more intellectual interchange between the followers of Marx and Veblen."[3] While both Davis and Hunt have noted that there are differences, as well as similarities, between the social theories of Veblen and Marx, they judge that in the final analysis, Veblen "belongs to the Marxian tradition" [Davis 1980, ii]. As noted by Anne Mayhew [1987, 97198], an important and arguably regrettable implication of locating Veblen within the Marxian firmament is that Veblen's intellectual kinship to John R. Commons and institutionalism in general "is minimized."
Although Davis and Hunt discuss Veblen in relation to Marx and Marxism, this paper will concentrate solely on the Veblen-Marx relationship since this is the effective focus of Davis and Hunt. Furthermore, as Veblen observed, there are many "Marxisms" rendering a comparison between his ideas and Marxism an enormously complex and probably an ultimately unrewarding task. We will argue that:
1. While there are clear points of similarity between the
social theories of Marx and Veblen, fundamental differences
2. Davis's and Hunt's tendencies to focus mainly, but not
exclusively, on Marx's and Veblen's analyses of capitalism
obscures the irresolvable differences with respect to their
methodological and substantive approaches to history and
human nature.
3. The differences between Veblen's and Marx's analyses of
capitalism can only be properly appreciated if considered in
light of their dissimilar theoretical foundations.
4. Veblen was correct to differentiate his own thought from
Marx's, even if he occasionally did so for the wrong reasons.
Thus, this paper is offered in the spirit of Hunt's intellectual challenge and involves a critique of what is threatening to become the new orthodoxy regarding the affinity of Marx's and Veblen's ideas as represented by the arguments advanced by Davis and Hunt, thereby rescuing Veblen from Marxism for institutionalism.
Davis and Hunt on Veblen and Marx, History and Human Nature
In order to emphasize Veblen's similarity to Marx, both Davis and Hunt played down their palpably incompatible theories of history and human nature. These were precisely the two principle areas, apart from value theory, in which Veblen sought to contrast himself from Marx. Following the revisionist Eduard Bernstein, he thought that Marx's materialistic conception of history "was a transmuted framework of Hegelian dialectic" [Veblen 1969, 414], which he contrasted unfavorably with the "unteleological Darwinian concept of natural selection" [1969, 416] for "in Darwinism there is no such final or perfect term, and no definitive equilibrium" [1969, 417]. Also, according to Veblen, Marx's theory of class struggle involved an un-Darwinian conception of human nature that was "utilitarian in origin . . . and belongs to Marx by virtue of his having borrowed its elements from the system of self-interest. It is in fact a piece of hedonism" [1969, 417]. Thus, Veblen has identified two highly contrasting "preconceptions," to use his terminology-pre- and post-Darwinian science, or non-evolutionary and evolutionary economics. In underemphasizing their "preconceptions," Davis and Hunt are able to avoid the thorny question of considering the implications for Marx's and Veblen's analyses of capitalism. As will become apparent, Marx's and Veblen's sharply contrasting theories of history and human nature are highly significant in understanding why their accounts of capitalist development differ so much. In the case of Davis, he points to substantive similarities in their respective conceptions of early human history, i.e., the eras of savagery (Veblen) and primitive communism (Marx), and to how they both attach great weight to the emergence of private property. However, Davis evades analyzing their explanations of historical change by suggesting that Veblen's commitment to Darwinism was weak:
Veblen's main borrowings from Darwinism consisted of the rather vague idea of "process" and "evolution". The more specific concepts of the Darwinian school he generally overlooked, except for some rare references of the most casual sort. They found no essential place in his system [Davis 1980, 443].
Moreover, he adopts the tactic of devaluing Veblen's Darwinism: "The result of the conception of process was not at all a happy one" [Davis 1980, 443]. Thus, Davis dismisses Veblen's Darwinism as insignificant because it was not a good theory!
Yet as William Dugger has noted, "Veblen took Darwin's lesson very seriously" [1979, 426], and this is nowhere more apparent than in his rejection of Marx's teleology on explicitly Darwinian grounds. He contrasted the Darwinian idea of a "cumulative sequence of causation, opaque and unteleological" with the "assumed goal of the Marxian process of class struggle, which is conceived to cease in the economic structure of the socialistic final term" [Veblen 1969, 416-417]. Just as crucial, Veblen was within a Darwinian intellectual culture, which stressed the importance of humankind's biological endowment and of nonrational factors in explaining social behavior:
Under the Darwinian norm it must be held that man's reasoning is largely controlled by other than logical, intellectual forces; that the conclusion reached by public or class opinion is as much, or more, a matter of sentiment than of logical inference; and that the sentiment which animates men, singly or collectively, is as much, or more, an outcome of habit and native propensity as of calculated material interest. There is, for instance, no warrant in the Darwinian scheme of things for asserting a priori that the class interest of the working class will bring them to take a stand against the propertied class [Veblen 1969, 414].
Veblen also used Darwinian concepts such as struggle for existence and selective survival of the fittest (institutions), albeit in a distinctive way [Hofstadter 1945, 129-33].
The significance of Veblen's theory of human nature for his whole social theory can be indicated with reference to his explanation of the origins of private property, which he traces to the pervasiveness of the predatory instinct once an economic surplus had been created. According to Veblen, "The earliest form of ownership is an ownership of the women by the able-bodied men in the community" [1970, 33]. In due course, the concept of private property becomes generalized to include objects as well as people. This is in marked contrast to Marx, who explained private property in terms of the division of labor, in other words, as production relations [Marx and Engels 1970].
Hunt's strategy is comparable to Davis's in arguing that Veblen's Darwinism is flawed because the conclusions he derived from it-especially his alleged "racism"-lacked "significant insight" and led to "potentially dangerous speculations on the inherent differences in temperament among the various 'racial stocks' making up the human race" [Hunt 1979, 118]. Hunt also suggests that Veblen derived his normative preferences from Darwinism, "which were highly similar to those outlined in Marx's 1844 Manuscripts" [1979, 118], although he admits that they cannot be derived logically from Darwinian evolutionism since for Veblen, the "struggle for existence" was as much cultural as physiological [Harris 1934, 68]. Nevertheless, there is a superficial resemblance between Veblen's theory of workmanship and a humanistic interpretation of Marx, which places his theory of alienation at the center of his critique of capitalism [Davis 1980; Meszaros 1970].
More importantly, in order to underplay their contrasting theories of history, Hunt suggests that Veblen, along with many other commentators, misunderstood Marx. Specifically, he argues that Veblen mistakenly rejected Marx's theory of history as teleological, which was attributed to his Hegelianism, and that he erroneously adopted an Engelsian reading of the Marxian dialectic-supposedly the direct opposite of Hegel's, a materialist dialectic, and a dialectics of matter rather than an idealist dialectic. Hunt's tactic here is to avoid the issue of whether Marx's theory of history was teleological by addressing another question, namely, whether Marx had crudely inverted the Hegelian dialectic as Engels had done. Relying heavily on the authority of Lucio Colletti, who aimed to distance Marx from Hegel and whose views on this issue have been contested [Meikle 1985; Smith 1986, 148-76], he argues that Marx's dialectic was "epistemological not ontological; it was a method of thinking and not existentially inherent in matter" [Hunt 1979, 115]. Therefore, Hunt implies that since Marx's dialectic was not one of matter, no historical-teleological inference could be drawn.
Two logical objections can be raised against this argument. First, merely because Marx did not postulate a dialectic of matter does not mean that Marx's theory of history was not necessarily determinist and teleological. Indeed, for whatever reason, there is too much evidence of teleology in Marx's writings for it to be easily explained away. To quote some familiar examples:
What I did that was new was to prove . . . that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat [Marx 1952, 452. Marx's emphasis].
Capitalist production begets, with the inexorability of a law of Nature, its own negation [Marx 1970, 763].
What the bourgeoisie, therefore, produces, above all, is its own grave diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable [Marx, no date, 71].
Second, even if Marx did not posit a dialectics of matter, do we conclude that his dialectic was epistemological and not ontological? Again, such an argument would entail the dismissal of a key passage from Marx that indicates that the dialectic is both epistemological and ontological.
In its mystified form, dialectic became the fashion in Germany, because it seemed to transfigure and to glorify the existing state of things. In its rational form it is a scandal and abomination to bourgeoisdom and its doctrinaire professors, because it includes in its comprehension and affirmative recognition of the existing state of things, at the same time also, the recognition of the negation of that state, of its inevitable breaking up . . . That [economic] crisis . . . will drum dialectics even into the heads of the mushroom-upstarts of the new, holy Prusso-German Empire [Marx 1970, 20. Emphasis added].
The reason why Marx's dialectic is both epistemological and ontological is readily apparent from this long quote. A materialist dialectic is superior to Hegel's idealist dialectic, Marx argued, because it more accurately represents the ever-changing pattern of social, political, and economic reality. His form of dialectical analysis is better able to comprehend the real world. Yet, quite clearly, Marx's materialist ontology does not consist of matter in motion, as Engels had asserted [Engels 1969, 168-169], but one that arises out of "practical, human-sensuous activity," the productive activity of human beings who cooperate to transform nature in order to satisfy in the first instance their physical needs [Marx and Engels 1970, 122]. Dialectical thought, with the notion of contradiction at its center, depicts with greater veracity the contradictory character of these productive processes, especially in the well-developed commodity form of capitalism. The dialectic in its ontological form is crucial for understanding Marx's analysis of capitalism [Bhasker 1983, 125].
There is an antithesis, immanent in the commodity between use-value and value . . . the antithetical phases of the metamorphosis of the commodity are the developed forms of motion of this immanent contradiction [Marx 1970, 210. Quoted in Meikle 1985, 118].
Thus, in Capital, Marx sought systematically, through his theory of value, to demonstrate how this basic contradiction worked 'itself out.
At this point, we can introduce Marx's fundamental assumption concerning human nature, name]y, that human beings can be rational, for the significance of the dialectic in its "rational form" is that it enables them to comprehend the contradictory nature of reality as a prerequisite to changing it. Specifically, it would enable the working class to understand the contradictory nature of capitalist reality. Indeed, the "ultimate aim" of Capital was to "lay bare the economic motion of modern society" in order to "shorten and lessen the birthpangs" of its transformation into communism [Marx 1970, 10]. It is human rationality that under-pins Marx's well-known emphasis on the unity of theory and practice, in other words, his notion of "praxis":
The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-changing can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionary praxis [Marx and Engels 1970, 121].
Thus, Capital can be seen as a contribution to the revolutionary praxis of the working class in he]ping it to achieve its historic mission via an appreciation of the contradictions of modern capitalism.
Marx's portrayal of humankind as potentially rational also resolves the puzzle as to why Marx could simultaneously entertain the idea of an historical telos, with its deterministic implications, and uphold the voluntaristic and reflexive notion of praxis or practical activity. He assumes that workers-through rational thought, through reflecting on their experience of capitalism, and notably through their increasing immiseration and growing collective strength, will inevitably want and be able to overthrow it [Townshend 1989, 459-64; Cohen 1978; 1989]. Moreover, this solution to the puzzle would also unite the historical teleology in Marx, which Hunt rejects, with the individual teleology, which he accepts [1979a, 116]. It is relevant to note briefly at this juncture that Marx's conception of rationality arguably was not based on the notion of hedonistic self-interest as claimed by Veblen [1969, 417], since Marx explicitly rejected Bentham [1970, 176]. Rather, it stemmed from a need for individual and collective self-realization and for individual and collective telos, which required "an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all" [Marx and Engels, no date, 90] and to develop in accord with their "human nature."[4]
Marx, however, sought to locate this "historic mission" of the 'working class and his understanding of capitalism in a broader historical context. Thus, in the Communist Manifesto, he and Engels present the proletariat as the first potential ruling class in history to be a genuine "universal class."
All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interests of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interests of the immense majority [Marx and Engels, no date, 69].
And in Marx's famous Preface, arguably his most definitive statement on history, he suggests that the capitalist era can be considered within a wider historical sweep. The regulative principle that determines whether different modes of production-ancient, feudal, capitalist-rise and fall is whether they are conducive to the development of the productive forces. At some stage, given production relations, instead of advancing production, they become fetters.[5] Capitalist relations are no exception to this general rule. Furthermore, each mode of production creates within itself new social classes that are bearers of the new social relations of production. Again, capitalism is no exception; it generates within itself a working class-the social agent that will transcend capitalist relations. Marx's intellectual project was predicated on the notion that the working class had the capacity to be an effective source of change, which was in turn derived from the assumption of human rationality [Cohen 1989, 91]. Even if the Preface is not regarded as Marx's definitive account of history--and we stress instead his more open-ended, empirical interpretation, as some commentators have done [e.g., Sayer 1987]--we are still left with a highly teleological theory of capitalism, with its downfall being the inevitable result of its inner contradictions.
In marked contrast, Veblen does not attribute rationality to human nature, and his theory of history is shaped decisively by his ideas about human nature and evolution. He saw history, in effect, as a Manicheart struggle between two fundamental human traits-"the invidious or self-regarding and the noninvidious or economical"--that he termed predation and workmanship, respectively [Veblen 1970, 161]. More specifically, the former refers to "the aggressive assertion of force and sagacity" and involves "prowess" or "exploit," whereas the latter denotes "a sense of the merit or serviceability or efficiency and the demerit of futility, waste, or incapacity" and involves "dilligence" or "industry" [Veblen 1970, 27-29]. These two "instincts" become embodied in habits of thought, institutions, and whole cultures.
According to Veblen, different circumstances, be they technological, economic, or social, either retard or encourage these two instincts. Thus, primitive technology in the era of peaceful savagery favored workmanship because the demands of physical survival put a premium on productive effort. Once technology had developed sufficiently to create a material surplus beyond the level of subsistence, this era gave way to barbarism, and, as a consequence, the predatory instinct became dominant. In turn, this era was superseded by the quasi-peaceful stage of handicraft production, which was characterized by the decline of predation and the revival of workmanship. Finally, the handicraft era of free competition among individual craft workers gave way to the machine era of modern capitalism, and once again, predation is encouraged at the expense of workmanship.[6]
Veblen, however, as a Darwinian, refused to predict the future of this era, that is to say, whether predation would continue to prevail or the instinct of workmanship would reassert itself more fully. In other words, one could not predict how the Darwinian process of "selective adaptation" would work out, especially if social regression and cultural borrowing were also taken into account.[7]
The notion of a legitimate trend in the course of events is an extra-evolutionary preconception . . . The evolutionary point of view, therefore, leaves no place for a formulation of natural laws in terms of definitive normality, whether in economics or in any other branch of inquiry [Veblen 1969, 76].
Thus, Veblen the Darwinian rejected absolute truths that masquerade as facts and teleology as pre-modern science. In other words, people and societies evolve, but there is no way of knowing the end point of historical change. Consequently, Davis's claim that Darwinism "provided little more than the facade and outer trappings of his ideas" [Davis 1957b, 54] and Hunt's claim that Veblen was not a "real Darwinian evolutionist" [Hunt 1979a, 118] clash with the evidence of Veblen's writings and with the considered views of the vast majority of interpreters who have concluded, like Cynthia Eagle Russett, that "Weblen was a complete Darwinian" in terms of both the "doctrines" and "methods of Darwinism" [Russett 1976, 148; Murphree 1959, 311-24].
The purpose of providing these brief accounts of Marx's and Veblen's views on history and human nature, including the ontological dimension of the former's dialectic, is not only to reveal the fundamental differences regarding their "preconceptions," but also to show how they impinged on their respective analyses of capitalism-the subject of the next section. Davis and Hunt tend to neglect Marx's and Veblen's methodological and substantive presuppositions, which arguably makes comparisons of their theories of capitalism much easier.
Davis and Hunt on Veblen and Marx, Capitalism and Social Change
While Davis and Hunt make the same point about the "striking similarities" between Veblen's and Marx's analyses of capitalist development, their specific arguments, with the exception of the question of the state, are in many respects different; indeed, to some extent, they stand in contradiction to each other and therefore warrant separate consideration.
Although Davis admits differences on the issues of proletarian immiseration, the growth of class homogeneity, and over the theory of surplus value, yet nevertheless suggests that Veblen's definition of profit as "getting something for nothing" refers "to much the same thing" as Marx's theory of surplus value. Both theories contain a notion of unpaid labor [Davis 1980, 390]. This, however, is where the specific similarity ends. Veblen saw the origin of profit in the unfair exchange process under modern capitalism [Hunt 1979a, 127], whereas Marx located its source in the production process itself, which generated a surplus as a result of the distinction between labor and labor power [Marx 1970, chap. 7]. This arose in the most developed form of commodity production where labor itself became a commodity. Hence, the significance of surplus value for Marx did not lie in its "getting something for nothing," but in his understanding of the contradictions of capitalism-namely, its role in the process of capital accumulation, economic crises, and the conflict between labor and capital [Marx 1970, chaps. 17 and 24; 1974, chap. 15]. Moreover, Veblen's description of profit is linked to his theory of human nature in its predatory form and his normative preference for a culture dominated by workmanship.[8]
In the case of the inherent economic crises of capitalism, Davis (as does Hunt) holds that Veblen and Marx both viewed such crises as resulting from the conflict between profit and productivity. Again, while there are similarities here, profound differences also exist. Central to Marx's account of crises is his theory of exploitation. He postulates the tendency in the rate of profit to fall as a result of capitalists' compulsive need to increase the rate of relative surplus value through increased investment. This leads to the replacement of "living" (i.e., surplus value creating) labor or "variable capital" by "dead" labor or "constant capital" [Marx 1974, chap. 15]. This increase in the "organic composition of capital" was, for Marx, the primary cause of the falling rate of profit. On the other hand, Veblen attributed economic crises to the inherent tension between profit-oriented, predatory institutions and production-oriented, workmanship institutions, which were exacerbated by the expansion of credit [Davis 1980, 398]. Specifically, he blamed the "captains of industry" who, in order to maximize profits, routinely "sabotaged" production. Finally, not only are Marx's and Veblen's explanations quite different, they attach to them different significance. For Veblen, his account of capitalist crises in terms of the conflict between profit and productivity is merely illustrative of his theory of history and human nature-be-tween the cultures of predation and workmanship. Whereas for Marx, the falling rate of profit was "in every respect the most important law of modern political economy," which he tied explicitly into his theory of history [Marx 1973, 748]. This "law" represents:
. . . a barrier for the development of the productive powers of labour. When it has reached this point, capital, i.e. wage labour, enters into the same relation towards the development of social wealth and of the forces of production as the guild system, serfdom, slavery, and is necessarily stripped off as a fetter. The last form of servitude assumed by human activity, that of wage labour on the one side, capital on the other, is thereby cast off like a skin, and this casting-off itself is the result of the mode of production corresponding to capital; the material and mental conditions of the negation of wage labour and of capital, themselves already the negation of earlier forms of unfree social production, are themselves results of its production process [Marx 1973, 749].
Regarding the resolution of the inherent conflict between what Marx conceptualized as the forces and relations of production and what Veblen distinguished between predation and workmanship, Davis correctly notes that the socialist alternative was considered by both, but that only Veblen discussed the possibility of militaristic nationalism or fascism. He therefore suggested that one of the "two strains in Veblen's thought about the future . . . was similar to Marxism" [Davis 1980, 410]. Crucially, this conclusion overlooks the theoretical status of Marx's and Veblen's views concerning the future of capitalism in the sense that for Marx, socialism was "inevitable," whereas for Veblen the Darwinian, "the long run is something of a blind guess" [Veblen 1965, 400]. Thus, in seeking to establish the essential similarity between Marx's and Veblen's social theories, Davis tends to neglect the significance of their contrasting theories of history and human nature for their accounts of capitalist development.
Hunt, unlike Davis, concentrates more, although not exclusively, on the similarities of their respective analyses of modern capitalism, but he goes further by suggesting that where they differ, they can be seen as complementing each other.
According to Hunt, the "striking" similarities between Marx and Veblen include their views on the historical relativity of capitalism, class divisions and conflict, the essential "immorality" of business behavior, and the normality of economic crises and deprivation. In sum: "Veblen and Marx saw the social structure and economic functioning of capitalism in very similar terms" [Hunt 1979a, 128 and 132].
Hunt admits two major exceptions to this catalogue of congruity, yet maintains that their different analyses "significantly complement each other" [Hunt 1979a, 114]. First, he suggests that they "differ most drastically perhaps, in their analyses of prices and profit" but claims that both would benefit from the integration of elements from each others' theories [Hunt 1979a, 127]. Specifically, he notes that Veblen's analysis of monopolistic competition could "significantly supplement" Marx's and that without Marx's labor theory of value, "Veblen's analysis [of prices and profits] remains partial" [Hunt 1979a, 128]. Precisely how this "incorporation" could be achieved is not explained by Hunt, though he is aware that such an exercise is problematic by commenting that Veblenians might not find Marx's theory of value acceptable. Even if we overlook Veblen's well-known objection to the labor theory of value as "tautological" and Marx's equally well-known objection to the theory that profits arise from unequal exchanges [Veblen 1969, 420; Marx 1970, chap. 5], we are still left with the problem of relating a theory of imperfect competition to a value theory that underpins the falling rate of profit hypothesis. This problem is not made any easier due to Marx's and Veblen's fundamentally different accounts of the origins of profit, namely, from unpaid labor in the production process and from market forces in the sphere of exchange. On the basis of Marx's value theory, it is possible to argue that imperfect competition merely redistributes profits, rather than affects the overall rate.[9]
Hunt's second and arguably more important area of potential "incorporation" concerns Veblen's and Marx's accounts of the class struggle and its outcome under capitalism. in the context of the doubtful claim that Marx and Veblen advanced "very similar" views on the development of class conflict,[10] Hunt acknowledges that they had dramatically different prognostications about the results of this struggle. He argues that Marx was mistaken in his belief in the imminence of proletarian revolution and attributes this error to his neglect of "the social and cultural norms and mores through which workers were (and are) socialized" into the dominant capitalist values and institutions (Hunt 1979a, 132). Hunt does not ask why Marx was remiss in this regard. One answer is that his theories of history and human nature-and therefore capitalism-were radically different from Veblen's.
Aside from the teleological tenor of Marx's theory of history, we are certainly left with a teleological account of capitalism, with all its necessary, ultimately self-destructive, contradictions. We are also left with a rationalistic explanation of how and why workers will overthrow capitalism.[11] Conversely, Veblen eschewed any form of teleology and rationality. His conception of history and human nature emphasised an open-ended future and the variability of human nature. In class terms, this means that "pecuniary employments" tend to conserve predatory instincts and habits, whereas "industrial employments" tend to conserve the instinct and habits of workmanship [Veblen 1970, 155]. However, significantly for Veblen, "within the industrial occupations the selective elimination of the pecuniary traits is an uncertain process, and that there is consequently an appreciable survival of the barbarian temperament even within these occupations" [Veblen 1970, 162]. For example, Veblen notes that all classes tend to conform to the dominant class norm of conspicuous consumption [Veblen 1970, 68 and 70]. Moreover, there is the issue of low economic expectations, or as Veblen put it, "the margin for waste and error is very wide" [Veblen 1963, 120]. Hence, Veblen had far less confidence in the proletariat's hegemonic class capacities than did Marx.
It is quite impossible on Darwinian ground to foretell whether the "proletariat" will go on to establish the socialist revolution or turn aside again, and sink their force in the broad sands of patriotism [Veblen 1969, 442].
Thus, quite unlike Marx, Veblen does not present a picture of capitalism in terms of a general theory of history that contains an irresistible class conflict that will result inevitably in victory for the working class. Veblen did hold that in the long run, socialism was a possibility because the "discipline of the machine process cuts away the spiritual, institutional foundations" of capitalism, but so to was fascism [Veblen 1965, 375].
In the light of this interpretation, Hunt's presumption that Veblen's account of workers' consciousness could be used to supplement Marx's [Hunt 1979a, 132] is highly problematic. According to Veblen, there is no a priori reason concerning why workers would become revolutionaries. Indeed, his analysis could be used just as easily to criticize Marx's promethean project as to strengthen it. On Veblen's reading of the class struggle, with its emphasis on "the assimilation of the lower classes to the type of human nature that belongs primarily to the upper classes only," the invitation to activism would be fraught with an uncertainty alien to Marx's "dialectic" of praxis [Veblen 1970, 163-4]. Thus, Veblen's theory of increasing status competition, expressed in terms of a "struggle to keep up appearances," represents an alternative to Marx's theory of increasing class conflict [Veblen 1969, 399].
We have sought to demonstrate that the recent attempt to revise the Marx-Veblen relationship by Davis and Hunt should be resisted. We have argued that Marx's and Veblen's fundamental assumptions and methodologies were quite different. Thus, while there are some similarities, they are at the periphery and not at the core of their contributions and therefore not striking. Hence, although certain elements of their analyses of capitalism co-join, their views on its trajectory contrast markedly. The basic dissimilarities between Marx and Veblen therefore mean that attempts at a serious synthesis, such as along the lines suggested by Hunt, are problematic and if achieved would bear little resemblance to the original Marx or Veblen. It should be remembered that Veblen rejected both orthodox and Marxian economics and founded a tradition of evolutionary economics as an alternative to both.[12]
That they were so dissimilar can be understood with reference to the vastly different intellectual eras in which they worked; Marx within the Enlightenment as interpreted by Hegel with its faith in human rationality and belief in an ultimate historical goal, Veblen within Darwinism and its emphasis on the selective survival of instincts and rejection of teleology. They also lived in different worlds of time and space; Marx in Europe at a time of revolutionary upheaval, Veblen in America where the forces of individualism and integration seemed to be triumphant over those of solidarity and dissent.
1. For a recent summary of the debate with reference to the negative influence of Marx on Veblen, see Edgell and Tilman [1989].
2. See Corey [1937]. The majority view has been expressed by others such as Harris [1932; 1934], Rosenberg [1948], Sweezy and Huberman [1957], Noble [1968], Coser [1977], Diggins [1978], and Stabile [1984].
3. See Hunt [1979a, 113-40; 1979b, 325-327]. Davis and Hunt are not the only detailed studies of Marx and Vebien that express the minority view, but they are arguably the best known.
4. For Marx, such freedom was based on a system of "asociated producers, rationally regulating their interchange with Nature" in a way worthy of their human nature [Marx 1974, 820].
5. See Cohen [1978] for the most systematic interpretation of the Preface.
6. For a summary of Veblen's theoretical system, see Edgell [1975, 267-80].
7. On the subject of selective adaptation, see Veblen [1970] and on cultural borrowing, see Veblen [1966].
8. The normative dimension of Veblen's social thought is acknowledged by all commentators. Conversely, on the question of exploitation, Marx explicitly wished to suspend moral judgment. See Marx [1962], although Geras [1986] has argued otherwise.
9. See, for example, Rosa Luxemburg's critique of Bernstein [no date].
10. It has been argued that "in Veblen's writings the American social order emerges as a class society without class conflict" [Diggins 1978, 109].
11. Veblen's criticism of Marx on this score has been referred to as "the weakest link in his [Marx] chain of reasoning" by Harris [1932, 743] and without reference to Veblen by Lockwood [1981].
12. See Tilman [1990]. A related and important point of contrast is that Marx attempted to unite theory and practice whereas Veblen, the institutional theorist, was essentially a social critic, indeed, "the best critic of America that America has ever produced" according to Mills [Veblen 1970, vi].
Bhaskar, Roy. "Dialectics." In A Dictionary of Marxist Thought, edited by Tom Bottomore. Oxford: Blackwell, 1983.
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