Max Weber’s "The Protestant Ethic And The Spirit Of Capitalism"

2391 words - 10 pages

Max Weber’s work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is arguably one of the most important works in all of sociology and social theory, both classical and modern. In the decades since its inception, this work has gone on to influence generations of social scientists with its analysis of the effect of Protestantism on the development of modern industrial capitalism. This work, examining such broad topics as religion, economics, and history, is not only an interesting and insightful look into the history of the development of capitalism, but a major work in laying a foundation for future works of social theory.
Max Weber’s main contention in this work is that what he calls the “Protestant Ethic” played a vital role in fostering the development of industrial capitalism in Europe and the United States. The Protestant Ethic was the idea found in some sects of Protestantism that one had a duty to God to succeed in their life’s work, but were bound to a lifestyle of asceticism that prevented them from spending the wealth they earned on themselves. The wealth that was accumulated through this lifestyle was reinvested into the work process in order to create more wealth. This continual reinvestment of wealth provided the necessary capital and conditions that allowed for the development of modern capitalism.
Weber starts out his essay with a few questions that he proposes to try and answer. He notices that European business leaders are overwhelmingly Protestant instead of Catholic. He also notices that the most developed areas of Europe in his time where ones that had embraced Protestantism (Weber, 4). The question then was, why did areas with economic development and growth respond positively to a revolution in the Church? He notices several differences between Catholics and Protestants that could lead to an explanation. Catholics are more likely to pursue a career in the crafts, and become master craftsmen, whereas Protestants are more likely to seek work in factories, and become skilled workers and administrators (Weber, 6). He says that the differences in the economic outcomes of the two different religious groups can be seen the character of their religious beliefs, not just in the historical and material conditions that they came from. Many claim that Catholics were more focused on other-worldly things, whereas Protestants were more materialistic in their outlook (Weber, 8). But Weber disagrees with this, saying “Hardly anything shows so clearly as this parallel that, with such vague ideas as that of the alleged otherworldliness of Catholicism, and the alleged material joy of living of Protestantism,…nothing can be accomplished for our purpose” (Weber, 9). Protestantism combines an aggressive capitalistic business sense with an extreme sense of piety and asceticism. The Protestant denominations created a distinction between capital acquisition, which could be a good thing, and the spending of wealth, which was considered immoral....

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