On The Rack


The high point of the Christmas Scribner's is a critique on Thorstein Veblen by Ernest Sutherland Bates. Mr. Bates has been charmed away from the truth, one feels, by a romantic sympathy for the immigrant Scandinavian, for his racial humiliation by the native Americans of Minnesota and Wisconsin. This is supposed to explain much of Veblen's vitriol as a critic of the economic society in which he lived and of the leisure class which is its characteristic by-product. If it were so, it might explain the vitriol very well, but Mr. Bates has gone no farther than assumption, and against his assumption stand the steep national pride of the Norwegian and the Dane, the Scandinavian acquiescence in a strong domestic leisure class, and an appreciation of luxury that yields to that of no European race.

It would seem nearer to the truth to assign Veblen's vitriol to clear eyes and a sharp critical talent. More than any other man of the twentieth century, Veblen pierced the syllogized "classical economics" with its ridiculous labor equations and its mumbo jumbo on the credit system. It is through no fault of his that these things persist in the colleges of the nation, for much of his energy was spent in attempting to force them out. Mr. Bates remarks that he was handicapped, in his later years, by a delusion of prophecy that made him see himself as the Marx of the American working class, a role for which he was unfitted by temperament and by real inclination. Mr. H. L. Mencken had already remarked a handicap almost as important, the unprecedented style in which Veblen smothered and tortured his thought. Labor manifestoes cannot follow the Latinity of Samuel Johnson and the fugue motives of DeQuincey if they are to capture the hearts and imaginations of coal miners.

For the rest, Scribner's is conventional Christmas, with the exception of a disappointing analysis of consumers by Stuart Chase and an involved labor-N.R.A. tract by Benjamin Stolberg. There is intellectual nostalgia from Edmund Wilson, and then holly gets under way with the Abbe Dimnet, James Gould Cozzens, and reviews by William Lyon Phelps. Mr. Phelps, as usual, finds all right with the world; the Abbe has played forerunner by finding that God's in His Heaven.