Thorstein Veblen: Science, Revolution and the Persistence of Atavistic Continuities



Those familiar with Marc Tool recognize both how important an influence Thorstein Veblen (1857–1929) is on his life work and Veblen’s significance in the formation of Tool’s own optimistic social value theory. It must be recognized, however, that the political and economic radicalism of Veblen should be counterbalanced against his cultural and institutional pessimism; he certainly viewed science and its handmaiden technology as massive determinators and indicators of progressive change, yet he remained cognizant of the retardant and even atavistic effects of politics, culture and society. It is arguable, in fact, both that, on the one hand, he did some of the most advanced theorizing in left and progressive circles as did Tool at a later date, but that, on the other, he also falls in certain respects into the camp of the cultural pessimists and the conservative futilitarians who believe humanity is trapped by “imbecile institutions.” Nevertheless, Veblen’s (1) view of scientific progress is (2) linked with his political theory which, in turn, is related to (3) his analysis of the possibilities of change, of both a progressive and atavistic nature. His view of science is a modest one; its capacity as a form of predictive inquiry is unassuming, its claims tentative and provisional at best. Yet there is no superior alternative to science as a social change process for politics, the main alternative at hand, is mostly an expression of the values and power of business enterprise and commercial civilization, while the likelihood of political revolt against capitalist culture and institutions is indeterminant in what Veblen calls the “calculable future.”


Middle Class Machine Process Political Theory Business Enterprise Machine Technology 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Public AdministrationUniversity of Nevada-Las VegasLas VegasUSA

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