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Thorstein Veblen on the Intellectual Pre-eminence of Jews: Beyond the Myth of Veblen’s ‘Social Marginality’

Tiziana Foresti

A chapter in A Research Annual, 2014, vol. 32, pp 63-81 from Emerald Publishing Ltd

Abstract: Abstract In his 1919 article ‘The Intellectual Pre-eminence of Jews in Modern Europe’, Thorstein Veblen addressed the subject of Jewish intellectual creativity. Specifically, Veblen traced Jewish overrepresentation in the ranks of leading scientists and scholars back to their hyphenate status between their own community and gentile society. This essay has generally been neglected by Veblen scholars as puzzling or pointless in comparison with his preceding works, in which he developed his institutional-evolutionary economics. Moreover, the allegoric reading of Veblen’s image of the ‘renegade Jew’ as a representation of his own social and academic marginalization has overshadowed the scientific relevance of his analysis of Jewish intellectual creativity. The present article attempts both to take this 1919 essay seriously and to place it firmly within the context of his preceding literary productions. Specifically, this essay shows how Veblen’s view of Jewish intellectual creativity as the product of an enduring dynamic of Jewish–gentile relations is consistent with his ideas on the mechanism of development and reinforcement of institutions developed in his writings published between 1898 and 1914. The present chapter also suggests that Veblen reversed anti-Semitic arguments about the so-called ‘Jewish type’ in a pro-Semitic direction. In this respect, Edward Alsworth Ross’s explanation of the supposed characteristics of the Jewish people is taken as one hallmark of the racial thought of the American Progressive Era.

Keywords: Veblen; American Progressive Era; racial thought; Ross; B1; B15; B31 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2014
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