Thorstein Veblen

Today I discovered in my files a printout of Thorstein Veblen‘s The Higher Learning In America: A Memorandum on the Conduct of Universities By Business Men (1904-1918).

From the 1916 preface:

In its earlier formulation, [my] argument necessarily drew largely on first-hand observation of the conduct of affairs at Chicago, under the administration of its first president. As is well known, the first president’s share in the management of the university was intimate, masterful and pervasive, in a very high degree; so much so that no secure line of demarcation could be drawn between the administration’s policy and the president’s personal ruling. It is true, salient features of academic policy which many observers at that time were inclined to credit to the proclivities of Chicago’s first president, have in the later course of things proved to belong to the impersonal essence of the case; having been approved by the members of the craft, and so having passed into general usage without abatement. Yet, at the time, the share of the Great Pioneer in reshaping American academic policy could scarcely have been handled in a detached way, as an impersonal phenomenon of the unfolding historical sequence. The personal note was, in fact, very greatly in evidence.

And just then, presently, that Strong Man’s life was brought to a close. So that it would unavoidably have seemed a breach of decorum to let these observations seek a hearing at that time, even after any practicable revision and excision which filial piety would enjoin. Under the rule of Nihil nisi bonum, there seemed nothing for it but a large reticence.

But swiftly, with the passage of years, events proved that much of what had appeared to be personal to the Great Pioneer was in reality intrinsic to the historical movement; so that the innovations presently lost their personal colour, and so went impersonally to augment the grand total of human achievement at large. Meanwhile general interest in the topic had nowise abated. Indeed, discussion of the academic situation was running high and in large volume, and much of it was taking such a turn — controversial, reproachful, hortatory, acrimonious — that anything in the way of a temperate survey should presumably have been altogether timely.


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