Weber is considered as one of the key founders of social theory even through modern and classical theory and ‘the protestant work ethic and the spirit of capitalism’ was arguably one of the most important texts in sociology. Since it was originally published in 1905 the ongoing critical debate of Weber’s work is yet to abate; “Alasdair MacIntyre once wrote that ‘The present age and its presentation of itself is dominantly weberian'”.
(Allen,2004 ). In the sixteenth century the reformation was a religious movement against the catholic church led by Martin Luther. Other protestant religions came out of the reformation, such as calvinism led my john calvin. Weber sought explain how religious sects that came from protestantism s had an ‘elective affinity’ to economic and social structures and contributed to what weber called the ‘spirit of capitalism’. Weber didn’t state that calvinism and lutheranism created capitalism but rather acted as a catalyst for the rapid growth of modern capitalism in the west.
Then in this essay I will describe out of protestantism , emerged three ethical interrelated factors which contributed to the ‘spirit of capitalism’; Luther’s concept of calling, a frugal ascetic lifestyle and effective use of one’s time. This essay will look closely of his seminal work ‘the protestant work ethic and the spirit of capitalism’ to try to get a in depth picture of how Weber sought to explain the relationship between protestantism and Capitalism.Weber protestant work ethic was one of that the study is ‘one of the most renowned, and controversial, works of modern social science’ (Giddens,1985). Weber took the approach of methodological individualism, the idea that society is based on the actions of individuals and can be subject to large – scale historical inquiry .A Lot of Weber’s writings took inspiration from the economical school of ideas he ‘stressed the need to examine economic life within the context of the historical development of culture as a whole’ (Giddens, 1985). Weber dismisses the soley economic deterministic view to history as he believed it was overly simplistic saying that there are ‘no laws to history’ (Giddens,1985), but neither did he want to give a idealistic account of history.
Weber states, in the conclusion “it is, of course, not my aim to substitute for a one-sided materialistic an equally one-sided spiritualistic causal interpretation of culture and history’ (Weber, 1930). In the protestant work ethic Weber focused on what was not ‘new’ but ‘distinctive’ about modern capitalism. Weber looked beyond the material conditions of capitalism and who owned them and found that there was a mindset to capitalism; it wasn’t just an economic system but a mindset that had rituals, ethics and customs that underpinned the whole system. Weber stated that ‘man was dominated by money, by acquisition as ultimate purpose of his life. Economic acquisition is no longer subordinated to man as the needs for the satisfaction of his material needs.
‘(Weber, 1930) Weber’s the protestant work ethic was not a direct criticism of Marx neither should we rigidly separate the two thinkers; they both found the same characteristics in the modern capitalist mentality and had similar views on the effects of modernity ( Marshall,1982). Marxists have generally been accepting of Weber’s views on capitalism although there have been a few exceptions. (Barbalet, 2008,). Understanding Weber’s approach to methodological individualism is crucial to understanding his views on the link between Protestantism and capitalism . It shows us that Weber thought capitalism and protestantism had an ‘elective affinity’ and wasn’t a causal sequence. It also shows that the relationship between capitalism and protestantism is not a linear relationship, its foundational in the sense it impacts individuals everyday lives. Weber shows how religious affiliation is related to social stratification he compares and contrasts how religion plays a part in the relationship between protestantism and capitalism. In the capitalist work ethic Weber makes many empirical observations,throughout many European capitalist countries .
Germany in the time period Weber was undergoing unprecedented rapid industrialisation. Weber found that ‘business leaders 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(weber, 1930). Weber explains that this may be due to historical reasons as richer districts are more likely to be protestant. (Weber,1930) He does admit that the higher number of protestants participating in capitalism had more inherited wealth but this alone does not explain the phenomena. Furthermore, Weber acknowledges that the differences in occupations between catholics and protestants could be due to environmental factors.Protestant and catholic parents give their children different educations and catholics are more likely to go into handicrafts where as protestants are more likely to go into industry. In the time Weber was writing Germany was experiencing a time of rapid economic growth, with a widening middle class which were mainly protestant. In the area of investment in industry the percentage was 43.
2% in 1905-1907 up from 10.6 in 1875. In the area of construction new investments were up 40.
4% in 1905 from 33.2 in 1870-1874. ( reword!) (BERGHAHN, 2005).Weber described an ideal type as ‘It is not a description of reality but is aims to give unambiguous means of expression of such a description.’ (Weber 1949:34)Weber’s Rational ideal type of capitalism was contingent on two factors. Firstly you need a disciplined, diligent, dedicated labour force. (reference!) Secondly for weber, the rational ideal type of capitalism was a westernised concept where everything is rationalised, calculated and administered. However there is ambiguity in Weber’s writings about the characteristics of modern capitalism as he fails to specify whether these characteristics are part of modern capitalism or empirical conditions which were favoured (Marshall, 1982) Weber provides support for his argument qualitatively through slight alterations of t the meanings of quotes from Baxter and Franklin to create his ideal type of capitalism.
Weber provides support for his argument qualitatively through changing the meanings of quotes Baxter and Franklin to demonstrate that the creation of money was just a means to an end for the protestant worker and the accumulation of capital was a duty of the individual. Weber quoted Benjamin Franklin saying ‘Remember, that time is money. He that can earn ten shillings a day by his labor, and goes abroad, or sits idle, one half of that day, though he spends but sixpence during his diversion or idleness, ought not to reckon that the only expense; he has really spent, or rather thrown away, five shillings besides.
… ‘Remember, that money is the prolific, generating nature’. Franklin, in his attitudes demonstrated the transition from in feudal societies earning money for basic subsistence to modern capitalism where individuals earn money just as a means to an end.
Franklin isn’t suggesting this wealth acquired should be used for hedonistically , just purely as an end to itself not for purchasing further goods. ”Remember, that money is of the prolific, generating nature. Money can beget money, and its offspring can beget more, and so on.’ This creation of money from money was distinctive to weber to the capitalist ‘spirit’. However Weber thought that the need to pursue money was innate to the human character and wasn’t specific to capitalist societies . For Weber capitalism was the pursuit of ‘renewed profit, by means of continuous rational…. enterprise’ (weber, 1930).
Franklin was american and weber was trying to describe a cultural pattern in newly industrialised Germany, it is just an example and is can’t be completely used to describe a larger ethos across the whole of western capitalism. Also Franklin is describing a lifetime of frugality not wealth for the sake of it. However Franklin is a good example as they both lived in the 17th century and he eloquently describes what the ‘spirit’ of capitalism was for Weber.
Luther’s concept of calling was integral to Weber to understanding the ‘spirit’ of capitalism. Both the english word and german word of calling translates to a task set by god. (weber, 1930) This word came from the reformation and was a protestant notion. Luther offered a ‘traditionalistic’ interpretation of religion . The concept of calling for weber gave the ‘every-day worldly a religious significance” whereas for catholicism had ‘other – worldly tendencies’..
His idea of ‘calling’ took god out of the world ; god became wholly transcendent and present in the everyday. For protestants, god was only known through his literal word thereby removing god out of the individual’s world. The concept of calling in lutheranism meant Individuals had to submit to god’s by filling the obligations required by his or her position in the world through the dedication of calling (Appelrouth, Edles 2012) This promoted a traditionalist work ethic, that promoted protestants to just maintain the level of work for their given profession. Weber admits that the concept of calling has very little importance in contributing to the spirit of capitalism.
However, in calvinism the meaning of the concept of calling went under dramatic transformation because of the idea of predestination. The most distinctive dogma of calvinism is the doctrine of predestination, which for Weber was very psychologically damaging for protestants. predestination is the doctrine that the world only exists for the glory of god and our purpose on earth is to serve god’s glory.
Therefore it to apply human ideas of justice to a ‘transcendental being beyond the reach of human understanding’ (weber, 1930) is meaningless and degrading to god’s power. In calvinism only some of humanity are predestined to be saved, the rest are destined for eternal damnation. (Marshall, 1982). This, for Weber created an ‘inner loneliness’; each person lived in constant anxiety, with no salvation from their predestined fates. However, even though there was no way of knowing one’s fate calvinists still worked hard to serve ‘god’s glory’. It is difficult to see how religion would create an an inner loneliness leading to ‘disillusioned and pessimistically inclined individualism’ (Weber 1930). Out of this idea of predestination for Weber, emerged three ethical interrelated factors which contributed to the ‘spirit of capitalism’; Luther’s concept of calling, a frugal ascetic lifestyle and effective use of one’s time. Material The protestant work ethic for Weber was very much routed in moralist principles of self discipline.
For protestants everything they did had to serve ‘god’s glory’ so self indulgence was seen as corrupting. (Weber, 1930) Meaning most protestants acquired lots of wealth but lived a ascetic frugal lifestyle, as Weber displayed with his analysis of Benjamin Franklin Weber thought that this asceticism lead protestants to ‘act powerfully against the spontaneous enjoyment of possessions’ (Weber 1930) ) It is questionable of how accurate the image of the self – denying, individualistic capitalist was to the sixteenth- seventeenth century. It is paradoxical to see how religious teachings that extolled the values of asceticism created vast economic gain. For example Michael Walzer (1976: 304) thought that the ‘led to a fearful demand for economic restriction (and political control) rather than to entrepreneurial activity as Weber has described it’.
The doctrine of predestination lead to the world was becoming demystified by the instrumental rationalisation of modern life, meaning that “we are no longer ruled by mysterious, unpredictable forces'(weber,1930) as there was no way to obtain god’s grace as every person’s fate had been predetermined for them. This meant that the church was then demystified; all the rituals and magic were perished as,’The puritans furious hatred of everything which smacked of superstition’ . Even to the extent that religion wasn’t allowed to be pictorialised the church walls were whitewashed and there was a devaluation of art, images and celebrations.(Taylor, 2010) .However Weber does recognise that disenchantment isn’t a new phenomenon and saw that disenchantment began 2000 years ago; there has always been a disparity between religions that are more magical and those that see god as more of a transcendent being. (Taylor, 2010).
The rationalisation that followed was born out of calvinism, however this has come part of the ‘spirit’ that everyone follows. From this according to Weber emerged a capitalist system that no longer needed asceticism to sustain itself. Weber thought eventually we would reach a level of absolute disenchantment where all spiritual forces would be defeated by the rationalisation and bureaucratisation of all areas of social life(Grosby,2013), leading to the ‘disenchantment of the world’ . While science provides new technologies to improve and understand our quality of life it cannot provide meaning and for Weber it is essential for humans to live with meaning in their lives. However we aren’t losing magic to rationalisation all of human interaction is comprised of shared myths which have no objective importance. For example money is an intersubjective reality; it only exists as long as people believe in it.
All cultures have shared myths outside the objective realm, even though often these myths don’t transcend the material world they are can still be considered myths as they are human constructs. Every human construct can be regarded as a myth and there will always be things outside of the objective realm even when science transcends religious thought. There are other forces behind the spirit of capitalism which are less to do with religion and more to do with culture.
Weber didn’t separate religion and culture which was perhaps to do with the time he was writing at. For example south korea has experienced extreme economic growth recently due to cultural not religious norms.(reference). The importance of religion in our attitudes, values and ideas is diminishing, as Weber predicted.
The majority of people in the uk now identify as non religious (reference) . To conclude Weber thought that the ‘elective affinity’ between protestantism and capitalism was only a catalyst for the development of capitalism in western societies. Weber did admit that there were other factors such as Location, population and wars that did have a role in creating ‘ the spirit of capitalism’.
However the aspects of calvinism such as luther’s concept of calling, asceticism and rationalisation formed this attitude to work hard and see money as a means to an end. The greed that formed in modern capitalism needed the ethical imperative that came from capitalism. There are exceptions to weber’s theories and empirical arguments but in history and sociology there are no absolutes. However, Weber’s connection between the protestantism and capitalism carries a degree of verifiability; even though we can see the importance of religion diminishing we can still see the values of the protestant work ethic entrenched into modern capitalism today.
Even 113 years after the publication of the ‘protestant work ethic and the spirit of capitalism’ we can see the values of ‘protestant work ethic’ still aiding and abetting modern capitalism today.