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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: May 2013

5 - New Perspectives on Thorstein Veblen, the Norwegian

from Part One - Norwegian Origins and Personal Life


Although Thorstein Veblen has been recognised by former president Bill Clinton in a presidential address to King Harald of Norway as a great American thinker of Norwegian descent, it is nevertheless a sad fact that he is poorly known in Norway. Most Norwegian scholars ignore Veblen, while Veblen scholars around the world often attribute to Veblen a Norwegian identity he really did not have. Like the Roman scholars who used to attribute certain virtues to almost unknown Germanic tribes in order to contrast them with the debased behaviour of their fellow Romans, Veblen scholars have showed a tendency to insist on certain virtues of the Norwegian peasants in order to stress the corruption of their own society. Some examples will suffice to show that Norwegian peasants did not always live up to such expectations. Folklorist O. K. Ødegaard recalls that Tørkjel Tøpp, Veblen's paternal granduncle, had no mind for working, but he was tremendously talented playing the ‘Jew's harp’ and at skiing. Accordingly, Tørkjel in the summertime charmed the milk maids on the out farms by playing Jew's harp and received dairy products in return; in wintertime he would ski around to his more provident fellow parishioners to beg for food in order to feed his rapidly growing family.

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