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Max Weber – The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism Essay


Introduction

Max Weber in his book the protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism sought to explain the emergence of the modern capitalism and the origin of the modern secular and industrial society.

According to Weber, the source of work ethic and material success that is considered the beginning of material success is found in the premises of business strength. To him, even the modern day capitalists are unable to explain its origin.

According to Weber, the spirit of the present capitalism developed out of protestant ethic of the 16th century of the puritan churches and even sects: these are mainly the Calvinists, the Methodists, and the Quakers etcetera.

These Protestants prioritized work over material success and nothing else mattered according to them whether their families, leisure or hobbies, and therefore capitalism was argued to have roots in the protestant denomination (Protestant Ethic 14).

The Protestant Ethic

According to Weber, capitalism was the accumulation of wealth and deeply rooted in rationality; to him capitalism emerged victorious over tradition and was as a result of a disciplined labor force. This scenario was only evident in European countries and more particularly in protestant nations.

Weber arrived at the protestant ethic and spirit of capitalism by analyzing the three religions; the Catholicism, Lutheranism and the protestant denominations and related the analysis to the extent they could bring psychological rewards.

The Catholics argued that placing wealth before God could jeopardize the soul and also that was against the kingdom of God as nothing as nothing ought to come before the kingdom. Weber agreed that individuals explained human behavior in reference to religion and not economic power in connection to religion.

He furthermore agreed that human beings did not view the supernatural as a causal factor but instead they considered the structural factors as causal factors. These structural factors include economic, political and social forces. Max Weber believed that religious belief has a lot of influence in the daily life of every individual.

What Weber sought to explain is evident in the modern society; among the Americans, for example, dedication to work and success in life is derived from protestant beliefs or the tradition of the protestant people.

This was evident in the year 1999 when the USA replaced Japan as the global leader in the number of hours worked per year. Hard working people in the society are often appreciated and praised. If Weber could have been alive, he could have regarded these features of the American society as true reflection of his thesis.

When Weber discussed capitalism that was characterized by profit maximization and mass production, he analyzed so devoid of the principle of human rationality.

Weber failed to recognize that any human being is bound by the principles that govern every society and it is a matter of duty rather than religion that makes an individual to exploit its labor (Etzrodt 4).

The constant and consistent capacity to work hard is associated with one’s religious indoctrination and one’s desire to work hard is assumed to be a favor from God.

Weber assumed vocational calling as a sign psychological motivation from God and the values of restlessness and systematic work in vocational calling were the best demonstration that God’s power was in that individual.

Those in modern business tirelessly strive for wealth and profit since this gives them assurance of salvation because doing so is sanctioned by God and hence a fundamental source of the protestant ethic.

Profit and wealth in business was linked to God’s favor for an earthly kingdom of abundance and a massive production of wealth and generation of profit by an individual was an indication that God favored that individual.

Also the opportunity to compete by those in business was not by chance but was considered an opportunity provided by God to generate wealth.

Weber argued that the acquisition of wealth was an end in itself; similarly, he argued that the urge to acquire riches for the sake of living well and luxuriously was in itself a sin and was to be condemned since it went against Gods intention that only good and pleasant life was found in heaven and not in earth.

Also to him, the hardworking and business oriented individuals could not boost of their status of their accumulated wealth or profit as a sign that they were among the chosen few and instead they were to link it to religious significance and view it as an indication of salvation (Weber 8).

The greatest impact of this spirit of capitalism was that any person who was involved in the acquisition and accumulation of wealth was to perform that with the main desire to place himself/herself at the core of life.

Weber was against the motive of accumulating wealth for greed or the accumulation of wealth for sole purpose of bodily or earthly comfort but was for the idea that it ought to be saved, accumulated and later to be re-invested in worthy enterprise.

Criticism

Weber is highly criticized due to his argument that capitalism neither could nor has been possible and without ethic or rather a spirit. Instead the critiques argue that capitalism can in the case of Catholicism just like Protestantism since capitalism could occur not only based on ascetism but also on rationality.

A critical analysis of Weber’s work indicates that it was a misinterpretation of other churches and sects, indeed there is an inclusion that Calvinist ideas were not capitalist in form. There is also an utter misrepresentation of the Catholic Church. Contemporary arguments are that Catholicism is manifestly capitalistic and their ideals favor capitalism.

Weber failed to explain the fact that the reformation by John Calvin and Martin Luther king was a reaction towards the capitalistic tendencies of the Catholic Church as opposed to his explanation that it was a way of allowing protestant capitalism to develop.

This is the position of Weber that suffer from the heaviest criticisms since it is well understood that the motive of the reformation was due to the fact that catholic was participating in the accumulation of wealth.

Furthermore, Weber’s work has been criticized due to his failure to factor in two historical features; first was the prosperity the cities of Venice and Genoa which were prosperous and economically wealth in Europe during the time Max Weber was writing his thesis.

Consequently, during the same time, there was rivalry between Austria and Prussia and during their war; Prussia was dominantly supported by the catholic France which was the powerful state in Europe at that time. Weber also failed to factor in this catholic factor and the sources of this catholic wealth and this is considered the missing link in his arguments (Pierotti 1).

In the contemporary world, developments and prosperity of states do not conform to the assertions of Weber. The recent development in the East Asian region is an evident that capitalism does not follow the line of religion since these countries are not Protestants.

Consequently the modern prosperity that is witnessed in countries like Spain and Italy which are predominantly catholic and yet they subscribe to capitalistic ideologies totally contradicts Max’s assertion that capitalism is synonymous to the protestant doctrines.

This example is a clear indication that capitalism is influenced by factors like geography, political and secular orientation and not Protestantism per se (Parsons and Weber 35). The association by Weber of capitalism to the age of reformation has also been highly criticized.

This is because capitalism existed before the age of reformation and Europe practiced capitalism before the protestant revolution and if Weber’s assertion that Protestantism is linked to capitalism then the emergence of the protestant revolution only perpetuated the already existing capitalism.

Conclusion

The fact that Weber introduced the theme of the protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism to understand why the west was developing faster than other regions and yet other societies had the necessary materials yet they were not developing led to a conclusion that there was a phenomenon that sparked this development which could also make them to abandon their traditional ways.

The big question that Weber failed to answer was whether all countries in the west were subscribing to the protestant ideals? If the answer was yes then he definitely was wrong and his thesis was incorrect since there were countries like Spain, England, Poland and Italy which were dominantly catholic and yet their level of development and prosperity was at par with that of other western countries.

If his answer was no, then he would have totally contradicted his work and his thesis. Therefore the argument by Max Weber does not seem to hold much truth.

Works Cited

Etzrodt, Christian. Weber’s Protestant-Ethic Thesis, the Critics, and Adam Smith. MaxWeber Studies, n.d. Web.

Parsons, Talcott and Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. New York: Prentice Hall, 2003. Print.

Pierotti, Sandra. . Criticisms of Weber’s Thesis, 2003. Web.

Protestant Ethic. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Soc, n.d. Web.

Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. RoxBury, 2011. Web.

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IvyPanda. "Max Weber - The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism." December 4, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/max-weber-the-protestant-ethic-and-the-spirit-of-capitalism/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Max Weber - The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism." December 4, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/max-weber-the-protestant-ethic-and-the-spirit-of-capitalism/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Max Weber - The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism'. 4 December.

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