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Correcting the history about Thorstein Bunde Veblen


Essays by Jonathan Larson

The first three essays were used as hand-outs during various guided tours of the Veblen farmhouse in Minnesota DURING THE RESTORATION. The last covers the same material but was written 10 years later.

They are examples of what the farmhouse restoration itself was teaching us-- while it was going on.

A Prophet Without Honor

In 1976, the British Broadcasting Company aired a series hosted by John Kenneth Galbraith of Harvard University on the subject of political economics which included scenes from the Rice County farm. In much of the English-speaking world, the BBC is the final authority on matters of fact. As a result, Veblen's reputation roughly tracks Galbraith's high opinion of his work in many parts of the globe.

The Missing Footnotes

National historic designation is granted to buildings for two reasons--architectural interest or the significance of an occupant. Historic designation was granted to the farm because Thorstein lived there, yet it could have easily been considered architecturally significant. The house is believed to be the best remaining example of Norwegian immigrant design. Understanding the implications of this assigned historical status has shed considerable light on the writings of Veblen.

Who was Thorstein Veblen?
and why should anyone care?

Some have claimed that Thorstein Veblen was the "last man to know everything"--an assertion even he would have disputed. But it is obvious that he certainly did his homework--his Ph. D. from Yale University was in Moral Philosophy (his doctoral thesis was on Immanuel Kant) and he spoke 25 languages while understanding history, literature, art, science, technology, devout observances, pedagogy, agriculture, labor relations, and industrial development at a near-expert or expert level.

The Lessons from the Veblen Farm:
the Origins of Thorstein Veblen's Social Thought

In the USA, the most significant non-Marxist critique of late 19th century capitalism was penned by Thorstein Veblen.  Veblen’s reputation over the years has been besmirched by defenders of the status quo from the FBI to the hacks of academe.  He was called “the man from Mars” by his most famous biographer.  In spite of the fact that there is not a scintilla of evidence from his writings, Veblen has even been called a “Marxist” by the clueless who assume that everyone who lived after Marx and found something wrong with capitalism MUST have been influenced by him.

ITVA Papers 1996


From May 30 - June 1, 1996

The International Thorstein Veblen Association (ITVA) met at Carleton College in Northfield Minnesota to exchange scholarly papers and discuss the findings of the Veblen Farmsite restoration in nearby Nerstrand. The following are the best papers concerning correcting the historical record.

Tanaka Toshihiro
School of Economics
Kwansei Gakuin University



History of Veblen studies in Japan might be generally viewed by dividing it into the following two periods. The first period is the years to 1945 from 1920's, introductory period before the Second World War. The second is the years to the present from 1945 which is said to be that of a full-scale study after the Second World War. This period might be subdivided into following four stages. 1) The beginning of a full-scale study (1945-1960's). 2) The development of it (1970's-1980's). 3) Its recent further deepening of understanding in 1990's. 4) Veblen studies viewed especially in relation to the studies of the institutional economics particularly Mitchell and Commons (l980's-1990's).


Stephen Edgell
Department of Sociology
Institute for Social Research
University of Salford
Salford M5 4WT



The purpose of this paper is to reassess Veblen's theory of conspicuous consumption in the light of nigh on a century of commentary. Interestingly, among the three major previous 'centennial' publications which celebrate the hundredth anniversary of either Veblen's birth (Dowd 1958; Monthly Review 1957) or the founding of Carleton College (Qualey 1968), a mere single contribution was concerned with the TLC, or more precisely, the theory of conspicuous consumption (Baran 1957). Yet, the TLC is 'the only work of nineteenth Century American sociology still widely referenced' (Fine 1994: 461; see also Galbraith 1977), which suggests that this reassessment is not before time nor without promise. It is also not lacking in pitfalls since commentators, whatever their view about the substance of Veblen's works, invariably note that his prose style is less than conducive to unambiguous interpretation.


Sylvia E. Bartley
Noyo Hill House
Fort Bragg, California



The years 1918-1919 were the period of Thorstein Veblen's greatest public exposure, during which he served briefly in Woodrow Wilson's Food Administration, then as an editor of The Dial magazine in New York City. Veblen viewed Wilson's internationalist posture as a rare opening to call for fundamental changes in national policy, the only time in his life that he sought direct entree to the world of politics. Finding mostly deaf ears within the government, he turned to an agitated public opinion in the periodical press. Shunned by most political insiders, he chose to disseminate his sharply critical analyses of national and world affairs in the pages of The Dial and The Freeman, and in so doing found the largest audience he would ever know.


Russell H. Bartley
Department of History
University of



In our previous research on Thorstein Veblen's connection to Washington Island, Wisconsin, we suggested that there were significant lacunae in the biographical record of the legendary scholar and that, despite the ponderous legacy of the late Joseph Dorfman,2 much remains to be discovered about the man Veblen was. Indeed, it seemed to us, there were grievous faults in Dorfman's imposing work which, overshadowed by sheer scholarly mass, had entered the literature on Veblen as accepted truths--truths that did not necessarily tolerate close scrutiny; that in the half century since Veblen's death had often grotesquely distorted his persona; and which, perhaps, had also prejudiced critical appraisals of Veblen's place in the intellectual history of the past hundred years.



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