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Man's Search For Meaning. Australia Remember When. Australian Gypsies Their Secret History. Bold Ben Hall Authentic Biography. View Wishlist. Our Awards Booktopia's Charities. Are you sure you would like to remove these items from your wishlist? The campaign against the temptations of the flesh, and the dependence on external things, was, as besides the Puritans the great Quaker apologist Barclay expressly says, not a struggle against the rational acquisition, but against the irrational use of wealth.

But this irrational use was exemplified in the outward forms of luxury which their code condemned as idolatry of the flesh, however natural they had appeared to the feudal mind. On the other hand, they approved the rational and utilitarian uses of wealth which were willed by God for the needs of the individual and the community. They did not wish to impose mortification on the man of wealth, but the use of his means for necessary and practical things.

The idea of comfort characteristically limits the extent of ethically permissible expenditures. It is naturally no accident that the development of a manner of living consistent with that idea may be observed earliest and most clearly among the most consistent representatives of this whole attitude toward life.

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Over against the glitter and ostentation of feudal magnificence which, resting on an unsound economic basis, prefers a sordid elegance to a sober simplicity, they set the clean and solid comfort of the middle-class home as an ideal. On the side of the production of private wealth, asceticism condemned both dishonesty and impulsive avarice. What was condemned as covetousness, Mammonism, etc. For wealth in itself was a temptation. And even more important: the religious valuation of restless, continuous, systematic work in a worldly calling, as the highest means to asceticism, and at the same time the surest and most evident proof of rebirth and genuine faith, must have been the most powerful conceivable lever for the expansion of that attitude toward life which we have here called the spirit of capitalism.

When the limitation of consumption is combined with this release of acquisitive activity, the inevitable practical result is obvious: accumulation of capital through ascetic compulsion to save. The restraints which were imposed upon the consumption of wealth naturally served to increase it by making possible the productive investment of capital.

How strong this influence was is not, unfortunately, susceptible to exact statistical demonstration. In New England the connection is so evident that it did not escape the eye of so discerning a historian as Doyle. But also in Holland, which was really only dominated by strict Calvinism for seven years, the greater simplicity of life in the more seriously religious circles, in combination with great wealth, led to an excessive propensity to accumulation.

That, furthermore, the tendency which has existed everywhere and at all times, being quite strong in Germany today, for middle-class fortunes to be absorbed into the nobility, was necessarily checked by the Puritan antipathy to the feudal way of life, is evident. English Mercantilist writers of the seventeenth century attributed the superiority of Dutch capital to English to the circumstance that newly acquired wealth there did not regularly seek investment in land.

Also, since it is not simply a question of the purchase of land, it did not there seek to transfer itself to feudal habits of life, and thereby to remove itself from the possibility of capitalistic investment. The high esteem for agriculture as a peculiarly important branch of activity, also especially consistent with piety, which the Puritans shared, applied for instance in Baxter not to the landlord, but to the yeoman and farmer, in the eighteenth century not to the squire, but the rational cultivator.

Both elements, that of an unspoiled naive joy of life, and of a strictly regulated, reserved self-control, and conventional ethical conduct are even today combined to form the English national character. Similarly, the early history of the North American Colonies is dominated by the sharp contrast of the adventurers, who wanted to set up plantations with the labour of indentured servants, and live as feudal lords, and the specifically middle-class outlook of the Puritans.

As far as the influence of the Puritan outlook extended, under all circumstances — and this is, of course, much more important than the mere encouragement of capital accumulation — it favoured the development of a rational bourgeois economic life; it was the most important, and above all the only consistent influence in the development of that life. It stood at the cradle of the modern economic man.

Protestant ethic

To be sure, these Puritanical ideals tended to give way under excessive pressure from the temptations of wealth, as the Puritans themselves knew very well. With great regularity we find the most genuine adherents of Puritanism among the classes which were rising from a lowly status, the small bourgeois and farmers, while the beati possidentes , even among Quakers, are often found tending to repudiate the old ideals.

It was the same fate which again and again befell the predecessor of this worldly asceticism, the monastic asceticism of the Middle Ages. In the latter case, when rational economic activity had worked out its full effects by strict regulation of conduct and limitation of consumption, the wealth accumulated either succumbed directly to the nobility, as in the time before the Reformation, or monastic discipline threatened to break down, and one of the numerous reformations became necessary. In fact the whole history of monasticism is in a certain sense the history of a continual struggle with the problem of the secularizing influence of wealth.

The same is true on a grand scale of the worldly asceticism of Puritanism. The great revival of Methodism, which preceded the expansion of English industry toward the end of the eighteenth century, may well be compared with such a monastic reform. We may hence quote here a passage from John Wesley himself which might well serve as a motto for everything which has been said above.

For it shows that the leaders of these ascetic movements understood the seemingly paradoxical relationships which we have here analysed perfectly well, and in the same sense that we have given them. He wrote:. Therefore I do not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of true religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality, and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches.

How then is it possible that Methodism, that is, a religion of the heart, though it flourishes now as a green bay tree, should continue in this state? For the Methodists in every place grow diligent and frugal; consequently they increase in goods. Hence they proportionately increase in pride, in anger, in the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the pride of life. So, although the form of religion remains, the spirit is swiftly vanishing away.

Is there no way to prevent this — this continual decay of pure religion? We ought not to prevent people from being diligent and frugal; we must exhort all Christians to gain all they can, and to save all they can; that is, in effect, to grow rich. There follows the advice that those who gain all they can and save all they can should also give all they can, so that they will grow in grace and lay up a treasure in heaven.

It is clear that Wesley here expresses, even in detail, just what we have been trying to point out. As Wesley here says, the full economic effect of those great religious movements, whose significance for economic development lay above all in their ascetic educative influence, generally came only after the peak of the purely religious enthusiasm was past.

Then the intensity of the search for the Kingdom of God commenced gradually to pass over into sober economic virtue; the religious roots died out slowly, giving way to utilitarian worldliness. What the great religious epoch of the seventeenth century bequeathed to its utilitarian successor was, however, above all an amazingly good, we may even say a pharisaically good, conscience in the acquisition of money, so long as it took place legally.

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Every trace of the deplacere vix potest has disappeared. A specifically bourgeois economic ethic had grown up. The power of religious asceticism provided him in addition with sober, conscientious, and unusually industrious workmen, who clung to their work as to a life purpose willed by God. Finally, it gave him the comforting assurance that the unequal distribution of the goods of this world was a special dispensation of Divine Providence, which in these differences, as in particular grace, pursued secret ends unknown to men. Calvin himself had made the much-quoted statement that only when the people, i.

In the Netherlands Pieter de la Court and others , that had been secularized to the effect that the mass of men only labour when necessity forces them to do so.


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This formulation of a leading idea of capitalistic economy later entered into the current theories of the productivity of low wages. Here also, with the dying out of the religious root, the utilitarian interpretation crept in unnoticed, in the line of development which we have again and again observed. Mediaeval ethics not only tolerated begging but actually glorified it in the mendicant orders. Even secular beggars, since they gave the person of means opportunity for good works through giving alms, were sometimes considered an estate and treated as such. Even the Anglican social ethic of the Stuarts was very close to this attitude.

It remained for Puritan Asceticism to take part in the severe English Poor Relief Legislation which fundamentally changed the situation. And it could do that because the Protestant sects and the strict Puritan communities actually did not know any begging in their own midst.

On the other hand, seen from the side of the workers, the Zinzendorf branch of Pietism, for instance, glorified the loyal worker who did not seek acquisition, but lived according to the apostolic model, and was thus endowed with the charisma of the disciples. Similar ideas had originally been prevalent among the Baptists.

Now naturally the whole ascetic literature of almost all denominations is saturated with the idea that faithful labour, even at low wages, on the part of those whom life offers no other opportunities, is highly pleasing to God. In this respect Protestant Asceticism added in itself nothing new. But it not only deepened this idea most powerfully, it also created the force which was alone decisive for its effectiveness: the psychological sanction of it through the conception of this labour as a calling, as the best, often in the last analysis the only means of attaining certainty of grace.

It is obvious how powerfully the exclusive search for the Kingdom of God only through the fulfilment of duty in the calling, and the strict asceticism which Church discipline naturally imposed, especially on the propertyless classes, was bound to affect the productivity of labour in the capitalistic sense of the word. The treatment of labour as a calling became as characteristic of the modern worker as the corresponding attitude toward acquisition of the business man. Calvinism opposed organic social organization in the fiscal-monopolistic form which it assumed in Anglicanism under the Stuarts, especially in the conceptions of Laud, this alliance of Church and State with the monopolists on the basis of a Christian, social ethical foundation.

Its leaders were universally among the most passionate opponents of this type of politically privileged commercial, putting-out, and colonial capitalism. And, while the politically privileged monopoly industries in England all disappeared in short order, this attitude played a large and decisive part in the development of the industries which grew up in spite of and against the authority of the State.

The Puritans Prynne, Parker repudiated all connection with the large-scale capitalistic courtiers and projectors as an ethically suspicious class. On the other hand, they took pride in their own superior middle-class business morality, which formed the true reason for the persecutions to which they were subjected on the part of those circles. Defoe proposed to win the battle against dissent by boycotting bank credit and withdrawing deposits.

The difference of the two types of capitalistic attitude went to a very large extent hand in hand with religious differences. These include debates on the rise of individualism, the causes ofthe development of a more deliberate and rational approach to economic and other behavior, and the link between the emergence of modern capitalism and modern science. Weber discussed the role of those climate and geographic factors that have interested such present-day economic historians as Eric Jones, arguing that the development of firstly cities, and then nation-states, left Europe, unlike Asia, with rational states and rational law.

This set of developments reflected, according to Weber, initial differences in natural forces. First, it is often unclear what the proponent had really said, particularly crucial since we usually look only at the briefest summary of what was presented, without paying as much attention to the various qualifications and boundary conditions that the author was intelligent enough to have added. Second, there are these complications in defining precisely what are regarded ascauses, and what are the effects.

In terms of the Weber Thesis, we need to be clearer both on what was to be considered the nature of religion and religious beliefs, and also what exactly we are trying to explain when we discuss capitalism. Third, is the manner by which the cause and effect can be linked, whether we believe they can be related by other than a pattern involving direct causation, and whether the same cause will yield a different effect or, alternatively, the same effects can be achieved with a broader range of causes.

Variants of all these types of criticisms have been applied to The Protestant Ethic , and much more space than that available here would be needed to provide a complete examination of this debate. Presumably those more sympathetic to modernism and capitalism would find a relationship more acceptable. Weber, himself, believed that capitalism generated important problems, and he did not believe that capitalist growth could continue indefinitely. The decline of capitalism was anticipated because of the development of rigid institutions and the rise of a bureaucratic state, posing a threat to political freedom as well as causing economic stagnation.

General Economic History is an overall survey of economic developments,from ancient times to the modern world. It provides summary statements insome cases, revisions of key arguments found in earlier writings, useful descriptions of the pattern of western economic development, and insightful brief views of major economic changes that are sometimes detailed in other writings. Its major contributions include the claim that forms of what could be considered capitalism had long existed, leading to earlier accumulations of wealth, but it was only with the development of capital accounting and rational commerce, and with the need for rules and trust that arise when there are continued transactions among individuals, that the modern form of capitalism emerged in Western Europe.

This development was unique to that particular geographic region. Weber gave some attention to the importance of non-pecuniary tastes in actions within the economy. Following a strand of argument raised by a member of the Older German Historical School, Karl Knies, he argued that people did not necessarily profit-maximize at all times.

Non-economic factors play a role in human behavior. Weber believed that it was certainly possible that there may be less extensive attempts at the maximum degree of maximization within a market economy, at least as a short term goal, than in other forms of social organization.


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To Weber, the market system was not an idealized means of solving social problems. He recognized the conflicts that existed within the market system, suggesting that price and market outcomes should be seen as the result of conflict, since people disagreed over the use of the economic surpluses that could exist. But to Weber the market, with its various difficulties, seemed to provide a reasonable way to resolve conflicts and to allocate resources with some limitations on destruction and loss of freedom.

Prolonged growth, rather, was the result of growth of the mass market which arose with capitalism, and which lowered prices permitting the broad masses to imitate the consumption patterns of the rich.

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

One of the major substantive legacies of Weber is his description of the characteristics of modern capitalism. Weber regarded capitalism as an evolving system, so that present-day capitalism has some features rather different from those at the onset of modern capitalism. He did not, however, regard commercial and capitalist activity as something new in the modern era, since such behavior had existed in most societies in earliertimes, as well as in other societies considered non-capitalist at the present time.

Under modern capitalism, however, activities of a somewhat different pattern and nature occurred from those in the other forms of capitalism. The principal characteristics of modern capitalism that Weber points to are the centrality of rationality and those measures that help to implementrational behavior. The emergence of a rationally organized formally free labor market to replace the various forms of labor institutions that had characterized earlier forms of capitalism, the development of rational law and administration in large firms and governments, the evolution of forms of rational bookkeeping and capital accounting, and the growth of bureaucracies in the public and private sectors to order the behavior of the larger-scale units in economic society — all these represent those factors developed out of Protestantism which permit continued capitalist accounting procedures to separate business and household capital in the interests of determining growth.

Other accounting procedures of the modern capitalist economy include the use of interests of rational decisionmaking, and the increased number of business leaders whose leadership is based upon their personal charisma, not on either traditional or legal influences. His general questions on the role of changing institutions and human behavior have again come into vogue, as has his interest in the law, legal rationality, and the process of historical development.

Thus, in a number of ways, Weber reads very much like a present-day economic historian, a development that has taken place after a long period in which Weber was relatively ignored by economic historians. There have been several publications of The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism since the first English-language translation in All use the original translation by Talcott Parsons, differing only in their introductions. Among them are: — New York: Scribner, , , and foreword by R.