Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.

Citation: Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Trans. Talcott Parsons. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1958.

Argument An ethic that is particular to Protestantism formed the basis for “the spirit of capitalism.” The gist of the relationship between Protestantism and capitalism means that current versions of capitalism based on greed and exploitation are disloyal to their roots: what Weber frames as a somewhat truer capitalism rooted in ethics.

Scope/Organization/Main Points:  


Weber discusses things that he sees as unique to Western society: a class of “officials,” and a reliance on empiricism, both of which are linked to a rational system of labour, and necessary for capitalism, including the use of numbers and literature in the service of capitalism – particularly how it is practiced in the West. This is the “specific and peculiar rationalism of Western culture” (26).

Weber wonders, in essence, where does the Western orientation towards a rationalist capitalism come from? Religion and the “conduct” (27) of the individual play a role, the relationship of “the spirit of modern economic life with the rational ethics of ascetic Protestantism” (27).

Chapter 1: “Religious Affiliation and Social Stratification.”

Despite variations in expressions of asceticism amongst Protestant and Catholics, Weber observes that Protestants tend to dominate in terms of working as craftsmen and participating economically. The answer is to be found “not in [modern capitalist culture’s] alleged more or less materialistic or at least anti-ascetic joy of living, but in its purely religious characteristics” (45 my emphasis).

Chapter 2: “The Spirit of Capitalism.” 

Re: Benjamin Franklin’s tract on good fiscal practices, “Truly what is here preached is not simply a means of making one’s way in the world, but a peculiar ethic” (51).  


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