9 Sep 2014

Economic Sociology: Max Weber and ‘The Protestant Ethic and Capitalism’

(Max Weber)
Max Weber was raised by parents who held polar ideologies about life. His father, a bureaucrat, enjoyed the pleasures of life. His mother, on the other hand, was a devout Calvinist who lived an ascetic life and constantly pursued salvation. Because of the differences in his parent’s personality, Weber was able to experience the two sides of living, even though it affected him psychologically as the tension of having to choose a side played a great deal of stress on his mind.

In his early college career, he followed in his father’s footsteps by joining a fraternity, where he developed socially by going out and drinking large amounts of beer with his frat brothers. However, as he got older, he became more like his mother. In his late 20s, he developed a compulsion for work and lived ascetically.

It was these first-hand experiences (and extensive research in religious studies) that helped him write his most famous work, The Protestant Ethic and Capitalism (affiliate link) in 1904-1905.

In his book, Weber argues that capitalism has roots in the religion of Protestantism, specifically Calvinism, as this religion encourages hard work and economic success. And if its followers were to be able to meet these goals, they would know that they are pre-destined for salvation.

But why did Weber pick Protestantism for his book over the other religions?


In his research, he noticed that a set of rules in Calvinism, or its ethical system, wanted its followers to have self-control and live systematically around activities related to business. The other religions he studied did not promote this way of life or thinking.

“The religious valuation of restless, continuous, systematic work in a worldly calling, as the highest means of asceticism, and at the same time the surest and most evident proof of rebirth and genuine faith, must have been the most powerful conceivable lever for the expansion of… the spirit of capitalism.” (The Protestant Ethic and Capitalism)

In addition, Weber also researched two countries with mixed religions and found that business leaders in these nations were predominantly Protestants. He also noticed that this religion encouraged following certain career paths because it would grant them the ability to see if they’re predestined for salvation or the damned.

It should be noted, however, that he says Calvinism is not the cause of capitalism. Rather, the rules of Calvinism sped up the growth rate of capitalism; Calvinism is the catalyst that helped rapidly encourage some form of capitalism back then.

Though Weber argues that these two sets of systems are intertwined, he believes that modern capitalism does not have any roots in Calvinism because capitalism today is about markets, money, and laws; it is no longer secular.

“Capitalism is today an immense cosmos into which the individual is born, and which presents itself to him, at least as an individual, as an unalterable order of things in which he must live. It forces the individual, in so far as he is involved in the system of market relationships, to conform to capitalist rules of action.” (The Protestant Ethic and Capitalism)

If you want to learn more about Weber and his work, The Protestant Ethic and Capitalism, you can buy it at from Amazon here.

Just to be totally transparent with you, this article includes affiliate links. What this basically means is that if you decided to use the provided links to buy the product, I will get a small commission from your purchase, at no extra cost to you.

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