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Protestantism, Capitalism, and Predestination Essay


Weber’s Definition of Capitalism and its Difference From Marx’s

Max Weber sees capitalism as a “pursuit of profit, and forever renewed profit, by means of continuous, rational, capitalistic enterprise” (Weber 17). For him, it is not a simple impulse to the acquisition of things, but a rational accumulation of wealth. Any exchange of money and product are examples of capitalism to Weber. Marx also saw profit as the main goal of capitalism (Schumpeter 5).

However, Marx considered capitalism more as a mode of production and capital acquisition, than an exchange of goods and services. Weber also does not consider the forceful acquisition of wealth as an example of capitalism. His main belief is based on the rationality of the monetary system, and extensive bookkeeping. Weber did not agree with Marx’s idea that the accumulation of capital by putting the majority of means of production into the hands of a limited group of wealthy people was an essential result of capitalism. He believed that such actions are non-capitalistic in nature and in fact detract from the development of capitalism than assist it.

Weber states that if people utilize a rational approach to business, then capitalism will develop in a positive fashion. This means that every person participating in capitalism needs to consider the possible consequences of their actions, with no reliance on religious, traditional, or any type of magical factors (Weber 19). His idea of capitalism can be seen as more optimistic and reliant on people making decisions that would not lead to negative consequences, while Marx sees capitalism in a similar fashion but from a more realist approach to the eventual acquisition of capital by few people at the top.

Importance of Calvinism and Predestination to the Book

Calvinism refers to the teachings of John Calvin whose teachings are followed by a group of churches united under the title Calvinists. They include such churches as the Puritans of England, Presbyterians of Scotland, and the Huguenots of France among others. One of the main doctrines of the Calvinist beliefs included the idea of predestination. Calvinists saw God as a sovereign whose will is above the will of the state, and therefore only he decides whether a person deserves salvation or not. Therefore, it is already predetermined who is destined to go to heaven, while others are damned to go to hell (Craig 154; George and George 53).

Weber believes that the lack of control over salvation that Calvinists experienced has led to the desire to confirm the salvation status through the creation of profitable enterprises that would improve the economy and quality of life of the people living in the areas of the church (Swatos and Kaelber 53).

While still focusing their businesses on the creation of profit, Calvinists and others that believed the idea of predestination put all the gathered surplus back into the economy of the state to stimulate its growth and create further improvements for the fellow citizens, therefore confirming their status as chosen few that would enter heaven (Weber 109). Calvinism and Predestination are central to the book because Weber considers the actions and beliefs of Calvinists as two of the major factors in the development of capitalism.

Connection Between Predestination and The Calling

Predestination, according to Weber, had a strong effect on the development of modern capitalism. Initially, the protestant beliefs stated that no one might know if they are destined to go to hell or heaven after death, but this idea created a great sense of stress in the followers of these churches. To address this issue, some preachers saw to soften these beliefs by stating that while it is impossible to know for sure if you are destined to be saved, there is no clear reason that people who work hard and do not spend their money on themselves are destined for hell.

The calling is a similar concept that states that a person must do everything in their power to fulfill the obligations created by their position to be accepted by God. The calling represents a highly moral goal for individuals (Weber 85). This idea is connected to the idea of predestination because the idea of the calling is often seen in the teachings of John Calvin. Calvinists saw the improvement of the world as a moral obligation that could possibly confirm their status as chosen people to avoid the stress created through the concept of predestination.

The Path From Predestination and The Calling to Modern Capitalism

As it was previously described, Weber’s writing outlines a connection between the ideas of predestination, the calling, and the development of modern capitalism. The initial idea of the Protestant religion forced people to feel like they have no control over their lives and life after death. Later studies have shown that such feelings can be harmful and can cause severe anxiety and depression among people that experience them (Ross and Mirowsky 379).

Some members of the clergy saw this as an issue and to address it they brought up the idea of the calling that states that to be recognized by God, people must focus all their efforts on the improvement of the world. This sparked people to create enterprises that would improve the lives of people by boosting the economy of the places they live in and creating infrastructures that were previously unavailable. Protestant religion does not permit people to live in luxury, and therefore all the surplus money was spent on the creation of continuous profit through further investment (Weber 85). This idea is often mirrored in modern capitalism where the majority of profits are put back into the business to facilitate its growth and create a larger profit.

Differences Between Protestant Sects

Weber examines the differences between the various sects of Protestantism. He finds Pietism to be similar to Calvinism due to the presence of the doctrine of predestination. However, they have a stronger connection to the emotional aspects of religion. Weber saw Methodism as a middle ground between Pietism and more ascetic religions. Their ethic is similar to Calvinism, but it does not address the idea of the calling. Baptist sects are described as more independent and had a different basis for their ethics (Weber 252). While luxury and temptations are still avoided in these religions, their emphasis is more focused on the idea of individual revelation.

Did Protestantism lead to Capitalism?

The ideas expressed by Weber if a not outright state that capitalism was created as a consequence of Protestantism, they at least suggest that it was a major part of its development. The most powerful argument lies in the connections between the protestant ideas of predestination and the calling, and how by creating enterprises that improve the world, without spending the profits on themselves, people can receive the grace of God. While modern capitalists have a larger interest in luxury, the majority of profits are spent on the continuous improvement of a business.

Works Cited

Craig, John. Reformation, Politics and Polemics: The Growth of Protestantism in East Anglian Market Towns, 1500–1610. Routledge, 2017.

George, Charles H., and Katherine George. Protestant Mind of English Reformation, 1570-1640. Princeton University Press, 2015.

Ross, Catherine E., and John Mirowsky. “The Sense of Personal Control: Social Structural Causes and Emotional Consequences.” Handbook of the Sociology of Mental Health, Springer, Dordrecht, 2013, pp. 379–402. Web.

Schumpeter, Joseph A. Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. Routledge, 2013.

Swatos, William, and Lutz Kaelber. The Protestant Ethic Turns 100: Essays on the Centenary of the Weber Thesis. Routledge, 2016.

Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Courier Corporation, 2012.

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