sociological perspectives n.
Skip this Video
Loading SlideShow in 5 Seconds..
Sociological Perspectives PowerPoint Presentation
Download Presentation
Sociological Perspectives

Loading in 2 Seconds...

play fullscreen
1 / 27

Sociological Perspectives - PowerPoint PPT Presentation

  • Uploaded on

Sociological Perspectives . Week 4 - Capitalism and Religion: Max Weber Professor Nicholas Gane. Max Weber. Weber was born in Erfurt (now in Germany) in 1864, and died of pneumonia in Munich in 1920.

I am the owner, or an agent authorized to act on behalf of the owner, of the copyrighted work described.
Download Presentation

Sociological Perspectives

An Image/Link below is provided (as is) to download presentation

Download Policy: Content on the Website is provided to you AS IS for your information and personal use and may not be sold / licensed / shared on other websites without getting consent from its author.While downloading, if for some reason you are not able to download a presentation, the publisher may have deleted the file from their server.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - E N D - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Presentation Transcript
sociological perspectives

Sociological Perspectives

Week 4 - Capitalism and Religion: Max Weber

Professor Nicholas Gane

max weber
Max Weber
  • Weber was born in Erfurt (now in Germany) in 1864, and died of pneumonia in Munich in 1920.
  • He lived at roughly the same time as Emile Durkheim (1858-1917), and later than Marx (1818-1883)
  • He never mentions Durkheim in any of his published works, and references to Marx are few and far between.
some important events during weber s lifetime
Some Important events during Weber’s lifetime
  • Unification of Germany under Otto von Bismarck in 1871
  • World War One (1914-18). Weber lost close relatives and friends in the war.
  • Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917. Weber learnt Russian, and wrote a number of brief essays on the events there.
the protestant ethic
The Protestant Ethic
  • Weber’s most famous work is the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
  • First published as two journal articles in 1904/1905.
  • Provoked huge reaction in Weber’s day, and has been a founding text of (cultural) sociology ever since
  • Was originally translated into English by another famous sociologist: Talcott Parsons
  • The Protestant Ethic was part of a much wider body of work
  • It was collected in a 3 volume work called Collected Essay on the Sociology of Religion, published in 1920 just before Weber died
  • This contained other essays on the religions of India, China and Ancient Judaism
  • It was prefaced by a famous ‘Author’s Introduction’, written 15 years after the original PE articles were published
why of interest now
Why of interest now?
  • Asks key questions that are still as relevant as ever. For example:
  • Why do we live in a capitalist society?
  • Why are some societies more intensely capitalistic than others?
  • What role does culture – and especially religion - play in influencing social change?
  • What is the connection between culture and economics?
what is capitalism
What is capitalism?
  • Weber defines capitalism in different terms to Marx, and also takes a different position on the question of capitalist development
  • For Marx, capitalism is an epoch that lies at the end of a long chain of historical development
  • For Weber, ‘there are no “economic laws” according to which the economy evolves from one stage to another’ (Swedberg, Max Weber and the Idea of Economic Sociology, p.46)
types of capitalism
Types of capitalism
  • Rather, in Economy and Society, Weber talks of types or modes of capitalist profit-making’
  • Swedberg: ‘Instead of arguing that capitalism emerged at a certain historical point in time and eventually will be replaced by socialism and communism, as Marx does, Weber suggests that a number of different types of capitalism have developed parallel to one another, with one another, or after one another’ (p.46).
so what are these types
So what are these ‘types’?
  • 1). ‘Traditional commercial capitalism’ – found in any money economy. It includes: ‘Trade and speculation in currencies, professional credit extension, creation of means of payment’.
  • 2). ‘Political capitalism’ (more interesting)

a). Preditory political profiteering or ‘booty capitalism’ (Iraq? A war over oil?)

b). Continuous business activity through force or domination (imperialism/colonialism)

c). ‘Profit through unusual deals with political authorities’ (corruption?)

the third type rational capitalism
The third type: rational capitalism
  • Weber argues that forms of traditional and political capitalism can be found virtually everywhere in history
  • But what is special about the modern age is ‘rational capitalism’
  • A). Continuous buying and selling in free markets plus continuous production of goods in capitalist enterprises (now, the market never closes)
  • B). Capitalist speculation and finance (think, for example, of stock markets)
a useful diagram
A useful diagram

From Richard Swedberg, Max Weber and the Idea of Economic Sociology, 1998, p.47.

the development of rational capitalism
The development of rational capitalism
  • The main dispute, however, between Marx and Weber is over the development of modern capitalism
  • For Marx, economic forces drive capitalist development. Culture is merely ideology: the ruling ideas are those of the ruling classes
  • For Weber, culture, and particularly religion, cannot simply be reduced to economic forces. Culture and economics are key drivers of social change.
  • Weber’s argument is that we must take in account the role of culture (values, ideas and beliefs) as well as economics
  • Contrary to Marx, he shows the role religious beliefs had in either hindering or assisting the rise of rational capitalist society
  • A daring thesis: rational capitalism developed first and most intensively in countries that were primarily Protestant in population.
the protestant ethic1
The Protestant Ethic
  • Weber makes this argument by looking in detail at the shaping of the Protestant faith following the Reformation. The two major figures here are Martin Luther (1483-1545) John Calvin (1509-64)
  • Hence, the PE is full of historical material
  • Weber’s thesis was that the most vigorous forms of rational capitalist activity were to be found amongst the Puritans – those who held ascetic Protestant beliefs, in particular the Calvinists.
what is asceticism
What is asceticism?
  • Dictionary definition of ascetic: ‘severely abstinent, austere especially for spiritual benefit; one who practises self-discipline; one who retired into solitude for this purpose’.
  • Asceticism is the opposite of hedonism (and is not to be confused with ‘aestheticism’)
  • Weber’s ‘ideal-type’ of an ascetic personality is Benjamin Franklin (1706-90) – who he refers to throughout the PE
benjamin franklin
Benjamin Franklin
  • Benjamin Franklin came from a

Calvinist background: he was an

ascetic Protestant

  • Whereas Luther had believed that one would be saved by faith alone, Calvin preached that salvation would come through work.
  • Rather than the worship of God taking place through faith alone it took place instead through this-worldly activity. In other words, work became the means through which one could prove one’s worthiness to God.
franklin cont d
Franklin (cont’d)
  • Franklin: we are to exercise strict control over ourselves and engage in no frivolous activities.
  • Any profits we make from work or capitalist activity are not to be wasted on luxuries or personal pleasure. Money is to be spent frugally and to be saved or reinvested wherever possible.
  • Weber quotes Franklin’s famous dictum in the PE: ‘Remember, that time is money’ (p.48)
more franklin
More Franklin
  • In his autobiography, Franklin names 13 virtues, including:
  • ‘Temperance – Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation’
  • ‘Order – Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time’
  • Industry – Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions’
franklin s table of virtues
Franklin’s table of virtues














making sense of this
Making sense of this
  • Using Franklin as an example, Weber’s argument then is that ascetic Protestantism, and Calvinism in particular, supplied the moral energy and drive of the capitalist entrepreneur.
  • 1). Ascetic Protestant beliefs were tied to an incredibly strong work ethic, and work became the means through which God’s favour could be gained.
  • 2). The ascetic lifestyle promoted an ethic of saving and reinvestment over the spending money for pleasurable purposes. And this meant essentially that money was being invested into business, and ironically ascetic Protestants were transformed into capitalist entrepreneurs.
the spirit of capitalism
The ‘Spirit of Capitalism’
  • Weber says that in Franklin we can see that the ‘essential elements’ of the spirit of capitalism are the same as the content of ‘Puritan worldly asceticism’.
  • In other words ascetic Protestant beliefs are a crucial factor (but not the only one) influencing the rise of ‘rational capitalism’
  • Capitalism first arose in Western Europe because this was where such Protestant beliefs were present
tying together the two strands
Tying together the two strands…
  • There was an elective affinity between certain religious beliefs and capitalist activity.
  • But care is needed here: this is not the same as saying Protestantism caused capitalism
  • It was never the intention of ascetic Protestants like Franklin to promote the growth and spread of advanced capitalism
  • Rather, the development of rational capitalism was an unintended consequence of ascetic religious activity.
an irony of history
An irony of history
  • For Weber, no one planned for the growth of this system to happen, it emerged almost as an accident of history
  • Quite different from Marx who saw history as moving through a series of epochs as the necessary outcome of class struggles
  • What is important here, for Weber, is the role of unintended consequences: the consequences of our actions are not always as planned
a summary of weber s argument
A summary of Weber’s argument
  • ‘One of the fundamental elements of the spirit of modern capitalism, and not only of that but of all modern culture: rational conduct on the basis of the idea of the calling, was born – that is what this discussion has sought to demonstrate – from the spirit of Christian asceticism’ (Protestant Ethic,p.180).
mechanical capitalism
Mechanical capitalism
  • Weber argues that once the development of rational capitalism gathers pace, the system itself is self-perpetuating and no longer needs the support of a religious ethic: an ‘iron cage’
  • In other words, although Protestant values played a key role in the development of capitalism, once the advanced capitalist system is set into motion it follows its own disenchanted logic
  • Is this right?
a contemporary vision
A contemporary vision?
  • ‘Since asceticism undertook to remodel the world and to work out its ideals in the world, material goods have gained an increasing and finally an inexorable power over the lives of men as at no previous period in history. Today the spirit of religious asceticism – whether finally, who knows? – has escaped from the cage. But victorious capitalism, since it rests on mechanical foundations, needs its support no longer’ (PE,pp.181-2).
some critiques
Some critiques
  • Does Weber downplay the exploitative nature of the capitalist system?
  • Does he overplay the influence of culture upon social/historical change?
  • Is he right to talk about ‘victorious capitalism’?
  • Is his historical evidence correct? (See, for example, Gordon Marshall’s In Search of the Spirit of Capitalism + Swedberg, ch.5).
  • Does he neglect the analysis of Catholicism, and paint a negative portrait of the religions of India and China? Is he an ‘Orientalist’?