Max Weber - The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism - Tom Butler-Bowdon
Weber had studied non-Christian religions and their relationship to economics. The Protestant ethic, in contrast, involved living with your eyes on God but fully. Second, the empirical evidence disproving Weber's connection between Protestantism and the emergence of capitalism is considerable. Weber was interested in the causes of the emergence of the capitalist system. From "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism ", it appears Weber .
The pursuit of profit, trade, and commercial success dominated the life of the city-states of medieval and Renaissance Northern Italy and the towns of Flanders, not to mention the Venetian republic that exerted tremendous influence on merchant activity throughout the Mediterranean long before Throughout the s and s, the Belgian scholar Raymond de Roover penned numerous articles illustrating that, during the Middle Ages, financial transactions and banking started to take on the degree of sophistication that is commonplace today.
They also suggest that the advent of modernity actually heralded the expansion of state economic intervention and regulation in an effort to constrain economic freedom. In a similar fashion, the sociologist Rodney Stark has gathered together disparate sources of historical and economic analysis to illustrate the origins of capitalism and major breakthroughs in the theory and practice of wealth creation in the medieval period.
Here one could add that, before Adam Smith, some of the most elaborate thinking about the nature of contracts, free markets, interest, wages, and banking that developed after the Reformation was articulated in the writings of Spanish Catholic scholastic thinkers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
To be sure, much of this thinking occurred by way of side-effect rather than as a result of the systematic analysis undertaken by Smith. For as commercial relationships expanded throughout Europe in the centuries preceding and following the Reformation, there was a marked increase in the number of penitents asking their confessors for guidance about moral questions with a strong economic dimension.
What was the just price?
Protestant ethic: Contributing towards a meaningful workplace
When was a person no longer obliged to adhere to a contract? When was charging interest legitimate? When did it become usurious? What one knew about these things in the School of Salamanca was hardly less than Adam Smith knew two hundred years later, and more than most students know today.
Yet the age of absolutism, which lasted throughout most of Europe from about untilwas a rather different phenomenon. Drawing heavily on the Divine Right of Kings a theological doctrine always disputed by the Catholic Church for legitimacy, absolutism was also associated with the rise of the nation-state that began before the Reformation, but which accelerated after In terms of commercial life, absolutism manifested itself in countries such as Lutheran Prussia, Catholic France, and Orthodox Russia in the form of ever-increasing restrictions on economic freedom.
Governments began assuming more top-down direction of economic activity through subsidizing exports, imposing tariffs on imports, and mandating government monopolies of particular trade or products that were then sold or leased to groups of merchants.
Adam Smith famously called this set of economic arrangements the mercantile system. From the Age of Discovery to the late nineteenth century and in many cases beyondCatholic Latin America was largely dominated by an absolutist, mercantilist economic culture.
Even the dominant eighteenth-century Protestant power, Britain, engaged in mercantilist economic practices despite having rejected a drift toward absolutism in the previous century. It was only with the emergence of modern capitalism, he suggests, that a certain ethic grew linking moral righteousness with making money.
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism - Wikipedia
Long after all needs had been met, the capitalist did not rest, forever seeking greater profit for its own sake and as the symbol of more profound ends. Weber had studied non-Christian religions and their relationship to economics.
The Protestant ethic, in contrast, involved living with your eyes on God but fully in the world. The expression of spiritual energies through work and business obviously gave its believers tremendous economic advantage.
Capitalistic enterprise was transformed from being simply a system of economic organization, to a domain of life infused with God. The Protestant difference Weber is careful not to say that there was anything intrinsically better about the theology of Protestantism. Rather, the general outlook on life and work that the early Protestant sects — Calvinists, Methodists, Pietists, Baptists, Quakers - drew from their beliefs made them singularly well adapted to modern capitalism.
They brought to it: Many Calvinist writers had the same contempt for wealth that the Catholic ascetics did, but when you looked more closely at their writings, Weber noted, their contempt was for the enjoyment of wealth and the physical temptations that came with it.
Constant activity could drive out such temptations, therefore work could be made holy.
If it was where your spiritual energies could be expressed, then work could be your salvation. Thus, the peculiar nature of the early Protestant capitalists emerged: Catholicism had always had a degree of guilt about business and money making, but unrestricted by a bad conscience the Puritan sects became known as reliable, trustworthy and eager to please in their business dealings.
Martin Luther had discussed it, but it took the Puritan sects to make it central to their way of life. Therefore, you had to appear to be one of the elect, and this meant leading a spotless, well-ordered life of extreme self-control.
If you were successful in your work, it was a sign that you were one of the chosen. This irrational, spiritual concept ironically gave rise to a very rational brand of economic activity. The outcome, Weber notes, was that capital was freed up for systematic investment, making the rich even richer. Final comments Today we criticize ourselves from being too much a consumerist society, buying and using instead of saving and creating.
Weber is worth reading to be reminded of the true spirit of capitalism — that it is not actually about a mad rush to spend and consume, but the creation of wealth through good use of resources.
Weber describes this outlook thus: