Sunday, February 23, 2014

Max Weber - The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism - Summary and Review

Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is arguably his most important work. On the face of it The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism deals with the connections between the protestant revolution and the rise of capitalism, with Max Weber trying to account for the fact the Protestants seem to do better in a capitalistic environment when compared with other religions (especially Catholicism). However, the main point of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is not only that religious belief has to do with economic behavior, but also the Protestantism and capitalism represent two faces of a modern phenomenon referred to by Weber as rationalization (see a summary about rationality, rationalization and modernity by Max Weber).

At the beginning of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (chapter 1 titled "religious affiliation and social stratification" (see link for detailed summary) Weber points to the links between religious belief and economic behavior. He poses the notion the protestant thinking can be associated with what he calls "the spirit of capitalism" (chapter two of the book). What Protestantism and capitalism have in common is the “willingness to engage in rational conduct.”  Protestant thought serves capitalism in the conception of hard work and aestheticism as a moral duty. According to Weber capitalism and Protestantism actually say the same thing: work hard, accumulate capital, be rational.
     
In The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism Weber shows how Calvinist views of salvation implicated changes in practical conduct towards greater rationality and the demystification or disenchantment of the world.

Another very important aspect of Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is his account of the interrelations between conceptions and ideas (here, religious beliefs) as social aspects such as economic behavior and social stratification. Unlike Marx who thought that the world of ideas in founded on economic and material reality, Weber held and demonstrated that the relations between the two are more complex and bidirectional.   


Suggested reading by and about Max Weber and his theories:
  

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