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Max Weber: Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

Essay 2010 13 Seiten

Politik - Internationale Politik - Allgemeines und Theorien


Table of Content

I. Introduction

II. Part I: The Problem
1. Religious Affiliation And Social Stratification
2. The Spirit of Capitalism
3. Luther's Conception of the Calling: Task of the Investigation

III. Part II.: The Practical Ethics of the Ascetic Branches of Protestantism
4. Religious Foundations of Worldly Asceticism
A. Calvinism
B. Pietism
C. Methodism
D. The Baptist Sects
5. Asceticism and the Spirit of Capitalism

III. Critical Conclusion

I. Introduction

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, written by Max Weber, is one of the most important works he wrote, especially in the realm of Sociology and Religious Sociology.

The following work is build up in accordance to the structure of the book, which is divided into two parts, namely, first the consideration of religious affiliation and social stratification, further on the 'spirit of capitalism' and finally the examination of Luther's concept of calling. In part two Weber describes various foundations of worldly asceticism, like Calvinism, Pietism, Methodism and Baptism, before he comes to the conclusionally chapter, in which he debates the connection between asceticism and the 'spirit of capitalism'. In the critical conclusion of this work, I will examine my point of view in regarding to the former described content of his book. Further I want to mention out, that after the publishing of his book in English in 1930 a lot of criticism was perpetrated. That means, that most of my own critics are congruent to other scientists.

II. Part I: The Problem

1. Religious Affiliation And Social Stratification

Max Weber's main assumption in his first chapter says, that “ (...) business leader and owners of capital, as well as the higher grades of skilled labour, and even more the higher technically and commercially trained personnel of modern enterprises, are overwhelmingly Protestant. ” (Weber1930:3 )_ That should not only be seen in connection to religion and nationality, but especially in religious affiliation through the social stratification. Therefore Weber recognized, that there is a bigger participation of Protestants in the ownership of capital, as Catholics have. This is related to the already inherited wealth and in particular to the education of one's child, which is coined by the belief of it's parents.

But there is still a d ifference remained, even when we eliminate the effects of education and inherited wealth. So Catholics tend toward humanistic education, Protestants tend more to practical as well as they are more involved into labour in factories, especially in upper ranks. Catholics remain more often in the area of handicraft labour. Also Protestants have shown a certain tendency “ (...) both as ruling classes and as ruled, both as majority and as minority, ( … ) to develop economic rationalism which cannot be observed to the same extent among Catholics either in the one situation or in the other. ” (id.:7). According to that assumption, there have to be some differences in the religious affiliation and it's character.

Catholic other-worldliness ascetic versus Protestant materialism? The Catholic is more quiet, while the Protestant wants to eat well? These are only prejudices, disappearing trough their closer consideration, for example throughout the history and various Christian nations , s o Weber. Moreover there have to be the question, if the issue between “ (...) other worldliness, asceticism, and ecclesiastical piety on the one side, and participation in capitalistic acquisition on the other (...) ” (id.:9) is in fact markable through it intimate relationship.

It was not a too much ecclesiastical control of one's life, but a too less one, which was criticized by the reformers in economic highly developed countries in the 16th century. Does this mean, that the successful catholic enterprisers were only successful as a r eaction of the prescribed asceticism? Obviously not, because there is too often a relation between economical dynamic and religion, manifesting itself in social groups, not only in single persons. Therefore Max Weber build up t he question: “ ( … ) why were the districts of highest economic development at the same time particulary favourable to a revolution in the church? ” (id.:4).

2. The Spirit of Capitalism

Max Weber starts here not with a definition of the title, as one might be expect, but with an explanation why he is not willing to build up one at the beginning. According to him the definition is a historical individual, which can only be understood and build up in the context of reality and history and therefore can be defined as a conclusion at the end of the consideration and examination of one topic.

Nevertheless there have to be a provisional description, which Weber shows according to Benjamin Franklin's explanation of capitalism in sense of an ethos. Franklin explains a moral way of life for the purpose of the recognized credit of the honest man and “ (...) the duty of the individual toward the increase of his capital, which is assumed as an end in itself. ” (id.:17). He furthermore postulate, that money, which is not earned by someone, notwithstanding it could have been earned, are costs of the leisure time and that frugality, as well as industry, are the safest way to reach wealth. These actions, namely honesty, punctuality, industry and frugality, are virtues, because they are useful in order to assure credit. This definition of virtues are a symbol of Franklin's utilitarianistic worldview.

Franklin also claims, that the usefulness of virtues are an apparentness of God and therefore the earning of money has to be seen as “ (...) the result and the expression of virtue and proficiency in a calling (...) ” (id.:19). Weber instead shows that Franklin sees the action of earning money only as a selfish action.

This ethic of Franklin is the essence which differs the spirit of the present- day capitalism from the spirit of the to-day capitalism. The central aspect on i t is the will to earn more and more money, “ (...) combined with the strict avoidance of all spontaneous enjoyment of life ( … ) [and] (..) it is thought of so purely as an end in itself, that from the point of view of happiness of, or utility to, the single individual, it appears entirely transcendental and absolutely irrational. ” (id.:18). Therefore the to-day capitalism is marked by it's domination throughout economic life, while capitalistic acquisition (auri sacra fames), which is individual, universal, ahistoric and finally therefore no pure aspect of the difference between present- and to-day capitalism.

Moreover the capitalism has to negotiate the traditionalism, because the capitalistic acquisition is connected to it. The traditional moral way of working let men or women earn as much as they need, not as much as it is possible. It is not a wish 'by nature', so Weber, but to earn as much as it is enough to cover one's traditional needs.

Hence the modern capitalism increased the intensity of work, for example through the system of piece-rates, in order to increase the productivity. But the resistance of tradition brought not the wished aim, which should increase the productivity in order to earn more money. Thereupon the idea had changed and enterprises decreased wages.

This could also be seen in the case of enterprises which had a capitalistic form, but also a traditional character. These enterprises had a traditional spirit, because their employees were ensouled by it. But when the spirit of modern capitalism came, enterprises began to investigate their profit in order to earn more and to expanse. A new rationalistic ethic rose up, w ith qualities, which were quite different “ (...) from those adapted to the traditionalism of the past. ” (id.:31).

Furthermore Weber points out, that a relation between conduct and religious belief is negative and the people feel “ (...) indifferent, if not hostile, to Church. ” (id.:32). The religious connection was now replaced by one's idea of it's own happiness, achievable through one's “ (...) sake of his business, instead of a reverse. ” (id.:31). Consequently also one worker's attitude and motivation has changed, while recognizing, that he or she is no l onger working for him- or herself, but for each enterprise, for the capitalistic system.

3. Luther's Conception of the Calling: Task of the Investigation

One of the main aspects of Weber's theory about the protestantic ethic is Luther's concept of calling. Weber sees a new religious interpretation of calling in Luther's Bible translation. There he translate the Greek word, as well as a part of Jesus Sirach, with the word 'calling' (german: Beruf). Weber interpretate this translation as an active calling to the Protestantic Christianism: “ (...) the valuation of the fulfilment of duty in worldly affairs as the highest form which the moral activity of the individual could assume. ” (id.:40). It can be seen, that there was a transformation into a more 'now'- related worldview, connected with a capitalistic claim . “ The only way of living acceptably to God ( … ) is the fulfilment of the obligations imposed upon the individual by his position in the world. That was his calling. ” (id.:40).



ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
475 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Istanbul Teknik Üniversitesi
Max Weber Capitalism Spirit of Capitalism Protestant Ethic Martin Luther Pietism Calvinism Baptist Ascetism



Titel: Max Weber: Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism