The Protestant ethic and the spirit of captalism

by Max Weber

Paper Book, 2001



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London ; New York : Routledge, 2001


Max Weber's best-known and most controversial work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, first published in 1904, remains to this day a powerful and fascinating read. Weber's highly accessible style is just one of many reasons for his continuing popularity. The book contends that the Protestant ethic made possible and encouraged the development of capitalism in the West. Widely considered as the most informed work ever written on the social effects of advanced capitalism, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism holds its own as one of the most signific

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LibraryThing member ecw0647
For years we have been assaulted by politicians and religious leaders preaching the Christian "work ethic," yet I find little justification, if any, for the concept anywhere in the New Testament. I happened to be discussing this with my dad a while ago, who also happens to be one of the smartest
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people I know, and he recommended Weber’s book. First published in 1905, it provoked considerable controversy.

Weber's thought was grounded in a belief that history is of critical portance to the social sciences and that material factors had enormous influence upon the course of history — I didn't know any of this, I'm stealing it from the introduction. Weber was very critical of Marxism, but shared with Marx a concern for the evolution of industrialism capitalism. In the first few chapters, Weber defines what he means by capitalism. It's not just the pursuit of wealth that has been common to numerous cultures, but is an activity associated with the rational organization of formally free labor (his italics). Capitalism requires an organized labor force and a ready source of investment capital. Some of these factors were not present in Hindu and Confucian societies. Hinduism, in particular its tradition of caste, prevented the ready organization of the labor force. Also, its emphasis on asceticism focused toward the otherworldly and afterlife, and tended to accentuate the non-material. Trade was highly developed in China as in India, but Confucianism permitted a more material focus. The Calvinist ethic combined Judaism's "ethical prophecy" that encouraged emulation of the prophet with the eastern traditions to form a philosophy of reformation, i.e. achieve salvation through reforming the world by means of economic activity.

The development of the Western city was also important because they provided the foundation for political autonomy and the creation of a bourgeois society. Eastern civilizations were hampered by strong kinship relationships that crossed the agrarian-urban boundaries which tied the cities more firmly to an agrarian tradition. The problem that Weber articulates is that the Puritan wanted to work in a calling, for his salvation. That "work ethic" was harnessed by capitalism because we have to work, the sale of our labor being the only means to material satisfaction.
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LibraryThing member HadriantheBlind
Even now, this is a profoundly interesting and detailed book, being the foundation of economic sociology, and is of considerable use today.

The main thesis is that several Christian denominations, mainly Calvinists, etc., believed that economic and social prosperity has a religious basis - that God
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has bestowed the gifts of success to these people, and therefore this should be imitated. Hence the Protestant Work Ethic - a religiously sanctioned form of capitalism.

As the prominence of religion waxed and waned in the centuries after reformation, and organized churches played less of a role in public life, the spirit of this work ethic still remained in many Anglo-Saxon countries. Of course, this Protestantism was not the only factor, but Weber theorizes it as the foremost factor.

It's interesting to see how parts of this doctrine have mutated into parodies of their past selves, with the 'prosperity gospel' preached by some, the link between religion and capitalism in modern America, among other outreaches.

Although some of the connections between events are rather tenuous, it is still very interesting to think about, and one crucial to modern economic, historical, and sociological debate.
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LibraryThing member pjsullivan
When feudalism broke down in the Late Middle Ages, Weber argues, the capitalism that emerged in its place was an entirely new ethos, accompanied by a peculiar Puritan ethic that dignified the accumulation of wealth as a sign of divine favor. The "spirit" of capitalism was distinct from the impulse
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to acquisition, which was nothing new in the 16th century. It was the pursuit of perpetually-renewed profit, for its own sake, above and beyond the satisfaction of traditional human needs. But what was driving this pursuit of perpetual profits? The religious concept of "calling," says Weber, the idea that worldly activity is morally good if it is what God has called us to do. This concept contrasted with earlier Christian renunciation of worldly affairs in favor of monastic contemplation of God.

Just as worldly wealth was a sign of God's favor, poverty became shameful, indicating rejection of God's calling. The unequal distribution of the goods of this world was ordained by God's inscrutable Providence, said Calvinists. Therefore charity became meaningless, in sharp contrast to the teachings of St. Paul, who called it the greatest of virtues. Said John Wesley, "We must exhort all Christians to gain all they can, and to save all they can; that is, in effect, to grow rich." Said Jesus, "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven." Is there a disconnect between Calvinist Protestantism and the teachings of Jesus? You decide.

The socio-economic preconditions for capitalism existed in other parts of the world, argues Weber; why did it arise only in the Protestant West? His thesis has long been controversial, but its relevance to current events makes it worthy of consideration.
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LibraryThing member deusvitae
Weber's sociological magnum opus on the relationship between Protestantism, specifically Calvinism and Puritanism, and the development of the capitalistic spirit in the West.

He goes through all of his evidence thoroughly; between the text and the notes it is often easy to feel lost in the ocean of
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detail in terms of the history of the Protestant sects he describes. The evidence is necessary to develop and support his thesis: at least part of the story of the development of captalism as the defining ethos of the West involves the idea of one's job as a calling, the distinction between the pursuit of wealth for greed or vanity and wealth gained based on effective labor as a sign of God's favor and thus surety of election, and the approval and blessing of the latter, essentially "God helps those who help themselves".

One of those books you just have to read.
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LibraryThing member jacklondon617
Every student should read this book. This book can explain why our world is the way it is.
LibraryThing member ServusLibri
Weber's position as the founder of sociology makes the work an importqant reading to the study of capatalism and the ideas of economics. A great number of he details and references that he provides are also worthwhile.

The bad news is that this is very much a German academic work. This means that a
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serious reading is really a slog through those footnotes and somwhat heavy reading. If you are less than a serious student, you might prefer one of the summaries of Weber's work, or a book about him.

Other necessary critism is that repeated by many that believed that capitalism started earlier than his industrial revolution and their disagreement with his relying so strongly on the labor theory of value. Last but not least his conclusions about necessary social adjuncts (e. g. the Calvinist work ethic) to economic growth are denied by modern history in China (after 1980) and India (after 1991).
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LibraryThing member Carolfoasia
"What was condemned as covetousness, Mammonism, etc, ws the pursuit of riches for their own sake. For wealth in itself was the temptation. But here asceticism was power "which ever seeks the good but ever creates evil'" what was evil in its sense was possession and it temptations. For, in
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conformity with the Old Testament and its analogy to the ethical valuation of good works, asceticism looked upon the pursuit of wealth as an end in itself as highly reprehensible; but the attainment of it as a fruit of labor in a calling was a sign of God's blessing. And even more important: the religious valuation of restless, continuous, systematic work in the worldly calling, as the highest means to 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 that attitude toward life which we have here called the spirit of capitalism."

Weber starts at Ben Franklin and goes back in history to monasticism, Luther and the concept of "calling," the religious foundation of worldly asceticism found in Calvinism, Pietism, Methodism, and Baptist sects, and landing at how asceticism formed the basis for capitalism as concluded in the above quote.

It is a fascinating essay and a great education in only 125 pages!
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LibraryThing member johnclaydon
This early book was Weber's great mistake. It is an assembly of failures in method, including confusing cause and effect. It is a case study in how not to do social science. Fortunately he recovered from this early failure.
LibraryThing member sashame
An exemplary and easy-to-grasp analysis using Weber's not-so-simple interpretive methodology, but ultimately not as theoretically rigorous as Economy and Society.

(its got the iron cage tho)


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