Max Weber and the Protestant Ethic

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  • Topic: Max Weber, Sociology, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
  • Pages : 6 (2060 words )
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  • Published : March 18, 2011
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In Max Weber’s quest to explain his observations of the major social and economic changes he was subject to throughout his life from 1864 to 1920, the importance of rationalization in modernity was emphasised. For Weber his personal focus on the coming of modernity begins with the industrial revolution of the late 18th century. Weber’s thesis explaining ‘the emergence of modern capitalism would thus be an explanation of modernity’ (Collins and Makowsky 2005: 121). Weber attributed ‘the Protestant ethic’, in particular the Calvinism strain of Protestantism as a fundamental requirement for the emergence of the ‘spirit of capitalism’. For it were the individualistic, systematic and rationalised conduct and values of the protestant ethic that harboured the attitude needed to create economic success and ultimately the success of the industrial revolution. The concept of rationalization was thus the result of the protestant work ethic and attributed to the new modern economy itself. In this context rationalisation means the elimination of magic as a means to salvation, replaced with constant self control and rational calculation. This essay will firstly explore the development of the protestant ethic, in particular the Calvinist strain, before relating the ethic to the emergence of the process of rationalization and how this influenced the economic and social sphere of life. Finally Weber attributed the process of rationalization and ultimately the success of the industrial revolution as the result of ‘the Protestant ethic’, in particular the work ethic that had developed from the religious concept of the ‘calling’ and the doctrine of pre destination. The emphasis on individual fulfilment of worldly obligations combined with a moral justification is a common doctrine theme of Protestantism after the reformation. ‘Every day worldly activity was given a religious significance, and which first created the conception of a calling’ (Weber 1998: 80). This idea of a ‘calling’ gave way to a methodical, rationalized attitude toward mundane activities and especially daily labour. Weber uses the more extreme protestant movement of Calvinism to illustrate the importance of one’s undertaking of their ‘calling’ to the fundamental ethic and religious beliefs of Protestants. “Chapter III (of God’s Eternal Decree), No.3. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life and others foreordained to everlasting death” (Weber 1998: 100). The psychological effect of the concept of pre destination would have dominated the affairs of the believer’s as one could not change their fate, ultimately standing alone before God, uncertain of their salvation. The pressing need for certainty of election and one’s calling, Weber suggested, was met by ‘proving one’s (God given) faith in worldly activity (Weber and Eldridge 1971: 42).’ Ultimately the Calvinist idea of God was the divine desire for all to work, rich and poor. “Do the works of him who sent him, as long as it is yet day,” (Weber 1998: 157). This formed an ethical conduct based on the foundation of the value of hard work, attributing greatly to the protestant ethic. There was no room for time to be wasted on activities that did not further increase the glory of God on earth, showing the effects of salvation being thoroughly rationalised by the Protestant man of the reformation. Weber saw the emergence of a methodical ‘rationalized’ attitude first in the religious sphere after the reformation, especially in the religious ideas of the followers of Calvin (Collins and Makowsky 2005:124). The concept of pre destination was developed by John Calvin and its teachings in response to the individual religious responsibility and the strain of salvation uncertainty gave direction to where the energy consumption of the believer should lie. Confessions, sacrifices, ceremonies and prayers which were carried out in force before the reformation,...
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