BARD OF SAVAGERY: Thorstein Veblen and Modern Social Theory by John P. Diggins

BARD OF SAVAGERY: Thorstein Veblen and Modern Social Theory

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Coiner of the term ""conspicuous consumption,"" Thorstein Veblen is widely known for practically nothing else. Or, at best, he is an ""irritating footnote"" to intellectual history, a maverick theorist whose sardonic equation of capitalist culture with tribal ritual is cute but lightweight. Visiting Princeton Professor John P. Diggins takes issue with that appraisal in this dense but penetrable work which scrutinizes Veblen in the various lights of his personality, his era, his influence, his theories, and, especially, his theories compared with those of Marx, Weber, and many others. With so many foci, Diggins' prose blurs in spots, particularly in the ""theoretical confrontation"" passages in which Diggins expounds Veblen's view on, say, the social significance of money, compares that view with Marx's view, inserts some anthropological clarification from Franz Boas, fleshes out Veblen's idea by reference to Kant's influence on him, and, quite breathless by now, appends some editorial comments of his own. To Diggins' credit as literary stylist if not as authorial strategist, this works more often than it should. But the book breaks new ground. The literature on Veblen is relatively slim, and most of that is one-dimensional. Veblen's approach was interdisciplinary, but his few explicators ransacked his thought for only those ideas relevant to their particular fields of endeavor. Although Diggins adds nothing substantial to the knowledge of Veblen's life and often explains his theories by quoting at length other Veblenists, he does firmly place this displaced intellectual in the context of Western thought. A prize for intellectual historians and determined laymen.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1977
Publisher: Seabury