Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

Topics: Work Ethic

In Part 1 of The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber examines the religious differences between Protestantism and Catholicism to understand what is meant by the “capitalist spirit”.

In Chapter 1, Weber discusses the reasons for the predominance of Protestantism among the capital owners, businessmen, and highly educated. He observes this **phenomena** in areas with differences in religion as well as nationality. He believes this causes a difference in cultural development. He feels it’s most important to note that these differences are most clear in places influenced by capitalism changing its social structure.

The larger the changes of capitalism occurred, the larger the differences in religious belief. He suggests that religious affiliation may not be the cause of economic activity. Instead, religious differences may come from economic factors. Weber traces this back in history to the Protestant Reformation, where he wonders why the richest areas were most supportive of the revolution. He notes that during the revolution, religious influence was not removed.

Instead, it shifted from the lenience of Catholicism to the strictness of Protestantism. Thus, Weber goes to investigate why this strictness led to greater economic activity.

Weber suggests that the modern economic success of Protestants compared to Catholics may not simply be due to economic and educational advantages that come from inheritance. Perhaps it is based on a difference in life choices influenced by a difference in religious values. He acknowledges that the percentage of Catholics completing higher level education falls behind the percentage of Protestants.

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However, out of those who did graduate from a university, a larger percentage of Catholics studied humanistic subjects like history, language, and philosophy than Protestants, who preferred studying technical fields, commerce and industry. Catholics also tend to want to stay in their crafts more often than Protestants, who often enter the industry much earlier. Thus, Protestants take up the majority of management roles in the economy. Weber thinks

  • Catholics in Germany tend to not be like normal minorities. They don’t seek to gain recognition in the field in countries where they have no political influence.
  • However, protestants do seem to
  • Thus, Weber wants to look at the situation in terms of the inner quality of religion rather than the historical-political situations.
  • Comparing values of Protestantism and Catholicism

On a superficial basis, Catholics tend to be more indifferent to material and consumer goods (not materialistic) and more calm and endowed with weaker motivation to become engaged in business. A catholic prefers to live conservatively, despite possibly missing out on riches.  Main difference: Protestants take risks and Catholics don’t

Weber begins Chapter 2 by unpacking the term “spirit of capitalism’. He begins by including an excerpt of a document by Benjamin Franklin, which he feels gives a great representation of what is meant by the “spirit of capitalism”. In the passage, Franklin writes that time is money and credit is money. Weber interprets this reading as saying that capitalism exemplifies the idea that it is the duty of the individual to increase his wealth, which is assumed to be a self-defined interest in itself. He believes that this aligns with a certain ethic that guides the ideals of capitalist culture (its ethos).

One that is only exemplified in regions modern capitalist culture such as Western Europe and America. What is complex about this ethic is that earning as much money as possible is seen as the end goal, not as a method of self-indulgence. Weber suggests that this ethic is based on one’s vocational calling (life duty) in which acquiring money is done simply to complete this calling. Weber does not believe this ethic is necessary for capitalism because, in capitalist economies of today, people are forced to participate in order to make a living.

Weber goes on to explain economic traditionalism, a concept he considers to be an adversary to the capitalist spirit. It relates to the idea that people only work in order to earn enough money to live. He uses the example of piece-rate payment, a method of paying laborers based up how much work they do, to illustrate the concept. With this method, when the employer wants to increase productivity, they raise the piece rate thinking it would encourage employees to work harder.

However, this often backfires since the employees realize they can work less and still make the same amount of money needed to make a living. Weber goes on to clarify that capitalist spirit and methodology should be treated differently, as it is possible to have one without the other. He provides an example of a time before the nineteenth century where businesses operated in a capitalist manner but with traditionalist motivation. Eventually a major change occurred when a man began implementing a new idea: low prices and large sales. As the idea spread, business competition became much harsher and those who did not participate went out of business. Weber suggests this change was not caused by new money, but new spirit (of capitalism). Weber transitions into discussing the characteristics of people who embody the idea of capitalist spirit. He believes the ideal capitalist does not associate themselves with excessive greed, power, and recognition.

Weber begins Chapter 3 **discussing** the significance of the term “calling” in the lives of Protestants and Catholics. The term “calling” represents the idea that @the task of a person’s life is given by God@. According to Weber, the idea of “calling” was fabricated from the Protestant Revolution based on Martin Luther’s interpretation of the Old Testament in the Bible. Thus, “calling” is **exemplified** by Protestants, but not Catholics. Luther sees the “calling” for each person as a duty that must be fulfilled to please God  Weber believes this helps differentiate the lifestyles Protestants and Catholics.

Protestants associate religion with labor and Catholics keep them separate. However, Weber does not believe Luther’s writings can be associated with the “spirit of capitalism” defined in Chapter 2. It is evident that Luther would dislike the greed of modern large companies. He believed all types of callings were of equal importance by God so a person shouldn’t need to strive for gain. Although Weber believes the “spirit of capitalism” does not directly come from Lutheranism, he suggests that it may have helped this spirit. He discusses instead how Calvinism, another Protestant denomination, may play the greatest role in the development of the capitalist spirit, since it connects religion and labor differently than Lutheranism and Catholicism. **Thus, he believes the source of the differences between these three religions should be investigated.

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Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. (2021, Dec 25). Retrieved from

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