Veblen acknowledges that a great deal of change has occurred over time. However, he maintains that in the quasi-peaceable period, the gentleman of leisure may no longer just be successful, aggressive, strong and resourceful. He must cultivate his tastes and develop a nice discrimination in consumable goods: beverages, trinkets, apparel, architecture, weapons, games, dancers and narcotics. The cultivation of this aesthetic faculty requires time and application, making it an arduous business to live a life of ‘ostensible leisure in a becoming way.’
Of course, consumption must be done in good form, hence the need for all those good manners we discussed earlier. High-bred manners conform to the norm of conspicuous leisure and conspicuous consumption.
As a gentleman’s wealth accumulates, he will be unable to sufficiently put his opulence in evidence. He will need the help of friends and competitors. They rescue him by receiving valuable gifts and attending expensive feasts and entertainments, such as a potlatch (a new word for me) or a ball. The competitor – the person whom the gentleman wishes to impress or show up – thus becomes a means to the end by consuming vicariously for his host at the same time he serves to witness the excessive consumption of goods provided by the host, who is also busy demonstrating his facility in etiquette. Veblen concedes that such festivities probably originated with the motive of congeniality or religious purposes (or to raise money for charity), but maintains that they also serve an invidious purpose.
If all this sounds too cynical to countenance, I recommend the book Fortune's Children: The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt (by Arthur T. Vanderbilt II).
In the next post, we’ll consider the utility of wearing uniforms.