Max Webers Protestant Ethic & The Spirit Of Capatalism

1610 words - 7 pages

Max Weber “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”

Max Webers “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” is an analysis as to the relationship between the emergence of the spirit of capitalism in the west and the ethics of Calvinism. He argues that Calvinism catalysed this creation of the capitalist spirit. His study arose when he asked himself why capitalism had emerged out of Western Europe before anywhere else in the world, even though the economic conditions seemed identical in many of these places. In this essay I will argue that this relationship between the two isn’t as paramount as Weber suggests, and in fact may be completely arbitrary. I believe this for a ...view middle of the document...

The kind of denomination one was in was unimportant, and in fact irrelevant, what was paramount was membership to any denomination that had been gained after examination & ethical probation; this gave them a legitimate claim for brotherly help in economic emergencies and was a determination of moral worth. Therefore business opportunities were decisively influenced by such legitimation.

However there was one quality that was vital for Webers explanation of the break down of the prevalent traditional economic system and the emergence of a new modern capitalist one, and this was the strong notion of predestination that Calvinists had. This idea of predestination meant they suffered from salvation anxiety and so would look for signs of their salvation, and this was done through signs of a success in their business. Therefore they would work hard, while living a frugal life so they could reinvest their profits and be even more successful. Prime moral attributes therefore were seen as self-discipline and diligence as these led to more accumulation.

The endowment of certain qualities was crucial for the development of rational modern capitalism, and not only did sect membership require this to join, one would have to prove repeatedly that he was endowed with these qualities, they were constantly and continuously bred in him. Weber stated that the strongest way of breeding traits is through “the necessity of holding one’s own in the circle of ones associates.” And this is exactly what was taking place, what people held the most dear, their social self-esteem, was used as a reason to reproduce these certain “respectable” traits, this Weber argues was crucial for these morals to have had such a powerful effect on individuals that meant they were engrained so strongly in society. Therefore it was not the ethical doctrine of the religion but the form of ethical conduct that was being practiced that was important, and this methodical, rational way of life arising from the idea of salvation allowed for the emergence of the “spirit” of modern capitalism.

It is often argued that Webers account can be seen as a criticism of Karl Marx, who was a materialist and argued that all institutions, including religious ones, are based on economic foundations and that they arose out of these economic conditions as a reflection of them in order to justify socio-economic relations and capitalism. Weber however shows the exact opposite of this, how can this religious institution be reflecting capitalism when it precedes it? He was an idealist and put forward this idea that this religious movement had fostered capitalism and acted as a stimulator to social change, far from the controlling “Opiate of the Masses” that Marx considered it to be.

Many argue that Weber ignores the role of brute force in the development of capitalism and that he is too focused on one factoring matter. However this is a unfair criticism as Weber does emphasis repeatedly that...

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