Introduction to Sociology Lesson 4: Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
Max Weber (1864-192) • Born in Berlin, upper-middle class. • Major figure in the establishment of sociology as a scientific discipline. • The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
Methodological Themes • Analysis of Individual Action – Weber preferred to examine the actions of individuals and the way they affected others. • As opposed to the way in which social groups affected the actions of individuals (Durkheim) • “Historicism” – the proper object of study is the influence of culture on action. • As opposed to the way in which material conditions dictate cultural shifts. • He does not reject materialism outright, but supposed that culture can effect actions and values just as much as economics.
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism Guiding Question: “People who own capital, employers, more highly educated skilled workers, and more highly trained technical or business personnel in modern companies tend to be, with striking frequency, overwhelmingly Protestant.” WHY?
Catholic vs. Protestant (work) Ethics Question: “Could it be…that he greater ownership of capital by Protestants and their more frequent participation at the top levels of the modern economy are to be understood today as a consequence of their historical possession of substantial wealth?” [No] Catholics Trends: favored humanistic not industrial studies; preferred lower income/less work; materialistically simple. Protestant Trends: favored industrial studies and vocations, “economic rationalism” “One can either eat well or sleep peacefully.”
The Spirit of Capitalism The pursuit of wealth [capital] shifts from “a common-sense approach to life to a peculiar ‘ethic’…its violation is treated not simply as foolishness but as a sort of forgetfulness of duty.” Virtues are relative to their usefulness [utility] towards the duty of obtaining wealth. In this regard appearances suffice as much as true motives insofar as they are equally effective. The acquisition of wealth is a good in itself; the enjoyment of wealth is avoided.
Vocation and Capitalism The pursuit of wealth in individuals has always existed, but almost exclusively considered immoral or apathetic. Economic Traditionalism: People do not wish “by nature” to earn more and more money. Instead, they wish simply to live, and to live as they have been accustomed and to earn as much as is required to do so.” Lower wages = enhanced worker activity/higher profit. “People only work because and only so long as they are poor.” Capitalism requires that people are “freed” from this frame of mind, so through its maxim of lower wages/higher profit it creates the necessity of viewing labor itself as an end or “calling.” This kind of major shift is not brought about alone through economic factors, something else (in Weber’s case, religion) is required to make that shift.
Types of Asceticism Inner-Worldly Asceticism – Regards the world as an opponent to be struggled with, but not rejected or avoided. (Protestant Ethic) Other-Worldly Asceticism – Regards the world as something to be struggled with and defeated. (Unimportant) Inner-Worldly Mysticism – Regards the world as the locus of divine activity. (Unimportant) Other-Worldly Mysticism – Regards the world as vanity and locates value in another divine world to escape the trials and temptations of the world. (Catholic Ethic)
The Protestant Ethic “On the one hand, this-worldly Protestant asceticism fought with fury against the spontaneous enjoyment of possession and constricted consumption, especially of luxury goods. On the other hand, it had the psychological effect of freeing the acquisition of goods from the constraints of the traditional economic ethic.” “In the process, Protestantism shattered he bonds restricting all striving for gain—not only by legalizing profit but also by perceiving it as desired by God.” “Hence, this-worldly asceticism did not wish to impose self-castigation upon the wealthy. Instead, it wanted that wealth to be used for necessary, practical, and useful endeavors.” “[Capitalism is] the formation of capital through asceticism’s compulsive saving. The restrictions that opposed the consumption of wealth indeed had their productive use, for profit and gain became used as investment capital.”
Doctrinal Foundations • Predestination: The Calvinistic doctrine of predestination forms the principal basis for acquiring but not enjoying wealth. • Calvin taught that God has already “elected” the number of people who would be saved. One cannot do anything to gain salvation. • Salvation is something that can be identified in persons based on their good works. • “Even more important for this investigation, the religious value set on tireless, continuous, and systematic work in a vocational calling was defined as absolutely the highest of all ascetic means for believers to testify to their elect status, as well as simultaneously the most certain and visible means of doing so.” • Vocation: The duty to obtain wealth developed out of the religiously inspired duty to have a vocational calling. • “Do you see a skilled worker? They will serve before kings…” (Proverbs 22:29) • “As long as it is carried out in a legal manner, the acquisition of money…is the result and manifestation of competence and proficiency in a vocational calling.”
Narrative Transitions • Inner-worldly asceticism (Protestant ethic) initially functions to curtail the negative effects of the wealth it naturally produces. • “In terms of capitalism’s production o wealth, asceticism struggled against greed. It did so in order to confront both the danger it presented to social order and its impulsive character.” • By doing so it established the work ethic that underlies the spirit of capitalism, i.e., capital as an end in itself. • Eventually, however, the acquisition of wealth has a “secularizing” effect, in the sense that it drops the religious ideology that brought it about, replacing it with a non-religious (utilitarian) ideology.
Effects on Business • Workers – The Protestant Ethic created a set of workers who were attached themselves to their work as a calling from God. • This meant they were “freed” from economic traditionalism—they stopped wondering why their work was not proportional to their needs. • It therefore created people who were willing to work longer hours for lower wages. • “Religious asceticism gave to the employer the soothing assurance that the unequal distribution of the world’s material goods resulted form the special design of God’s providence.” • “As the religious roots of an idea died out, a utilitarian tone then surreptitiously shoved itself under the idea and carried it further.”
Big Picture • Capitalism was in part produced as a consequence of Protestant’s unique doctrines and values. • The ‘ascetic’ ideals of Protestants demanded the acquisition of wealth without the enjoying it. It was to be used for practical purposes. • This, in effect, is what a “venture” (adventure) capitalist is. • Employers are supposed to acquire as much wealth and spend it on useful projects. • Workers are supposed to work as hard as possible in order to acquire wealth • Wealth becomes a de facto end in itself. • The religious ideals are eventually replaced by utilitarian ideals as a product of the habitual practical consequences.