[ Tiffany Peacock. Image: Oliver Hammond ]

Higher Education

In the final chapter of The Theory of the Leisure Class, Veblen takes aim at the academic world. He proposes that higher education (as distinguished from practical education) is little more than a form of conspicuous leisure, with the study of the classics esteemed most highly precisely because it is the least practical of all educational pursuits.

"the classics [serve] as a voucher of scholastic respectability, since for this purpose it is only necessary that the scholar should be able to put in evidence some learning which is conventionally recognized as evidence of wasted time; and the classics lend themselves with great facility to this use....They serve the decorative ends of leisure-class learning better than any other body of knowledge, and hence they are an effective means of reputability."

Thorstein Veblen (1899; Ch.14)

As effective as the classics may be in this regard, Veblen notes that the ever-ingenuous Americans and British have found a good alternative to classical learning as a way of squandering the oportunity of an education: fraternities and athletics.
"college athletics have won their way into a recognized standing as an accredited field of scholarly accomplishment, [and] this latter branch of learning -- if athletics may be freely classed as learning -- has become a rival of the classics for the primacy in leisure-class education in American and English schools. Athletics have an obvious advantage over the classics for the purpose of leisure-class learning, since success as an athlete presumes, not only waste of time, but also waste of money....In the German universities the place of athletics and Greek-letter fraternities, as a leisure-class scholarly occupation, has in some measure been supplied by a skilled and graded inebriety and a perfunctory duelling."

Thorstein Veblen (1899; Ch.14)