Protestant Ethic and Spirit of Capitalism: Max Weber

protestant ethic and spirit of capitalism max weber

Protestant Ethic and Spirit of Capitalism: Max Weber’s Theory of Religion

Prior to Max Weber, Karl Marx had said that religion is a part of the superstructure of society. Hence, it is always influenced by the economic base. Marx also said that class struggle is the only cause behind social change. Rejecting this view in his book, Weber propounded that religion being a part of the superstructure may also influence the economic base. Weber also said that class struggle might be one of the most important causes behind the change, but it cannot be the only cause behind the change. He suggested that religion and religious ideas may bring about change in society. Because of this, the theory of change propounded by Weber is regarded as an alternate theory of social change.

For this, Weber tried to explain that how beliefs in protestant Christianity resulted in the emergence and growth of capitalism in Europe.

Rise of Capitalism: A Hidden Stimulator

According to Weber, the material resources which are considered to be essential for the growth of capitalism were present not only in Europe but also in Asia. However, capitalism flourished only in Europe and failed to flourish in Asia. He interpreted that other than the material resources, there was something more that existed in Europe but was absent in Asia. And it was that invisible force that led to the rise of Capitalism in Europe and not in Asia.

In order to find out this hidden force, Weber collected data from a large number of successful businessmen from different parts of Europe. By analyzing the data Weber concluded that the most successful businessmen were Protestant Christians. It also included different sects of Protestantism such as Calvinism. From, this Weber further derived that there is something in this religion that resulted in the emergence and growth of capitalism.

Protestant Ethos: An Ideal Type

In order to understand how exactly Protestant Christianity led to the growth of Capitalism, Weber prepared an ideal type construction for the ethos of protestant Christianity. In this ideal type construction, Weber mentioned the following points-

  • According to protestant Christianity, man should have one single calling in his life.
  • He should consider it to be a duty assigned to him by God.
  • The man must fulfill his duties honestly.
  • Making money in one’s profession is a sign of success.
  • It shows that God’s is blessings are still on that individual.
  • Money should not be wasted on luxurious living.
  • Money should be reinvested in the same business to maximize its profit.
  • Time should not be wasted. Protestant Christianity criticized more sleep and idle gossip.
  • Entertainment should have no place in one’s life. Even sports should be only for the purpose of physical fitness.
  • The sexual relationship should remain confined within the marital bond. It should be only for the purpose of procreation.

After analyzing these preaching, Max Weber concluded that these factors must have directly or indirectly supported the growth of Capitation.

Protestant Ethic and Spirit of Capitalism: Methodology

In this book, Weber used all the methodologies propounded by him. He selected it as a subject matter of his study because of his mother’s religious background but while conducting the research he remained completely neutral. This is the methodology of Value Neutrality.

He interpreted that the beliefs of Protestant Christianity would have resulted in the growth of Capitalism which is the methodology of Verstehen.

In order to understand this religion he constructed a rough sketch of its beliefs which is the methodology of Ideal-type Construction.

However, Weber said that the beliefs of Protestant Christianity can be termed as one of the most important causes behind the rise and growth of Capitalism but it cannot be termed as the only cause of Capitalism. This is the methodology of Causal Pluralism.

Criticism of Max Weber

This theory of religion and change propounded by Weber was criticized by many sociologists.

According to Marxist sociologists Engels and Karl Kautsky, Protestantism was not a cause behind Capitalism but a result of Capitalism. As a religion, it emerged mainly in those places where Capitalism has already emerged. It was a religion propounded by the Capitalist class in order to justify the Capitalistic ways of life.

R.H Tawny criticized Weber and said that Capitalism requires not only investment but also consumption. Protestant Christianity promotes investment but it rejects consumption. Hence Weber fails to explain the consumption part.


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