What do you think of Max Weber's theory that the Reformation is responsible for capitalism?

I think his theory was something like; when Calvinism came to Europe they knew they were saved if their businesses were succeeding, and if they were doing well then they couldn’t spend the money on themselves as puritans and believed in living on bare minimum, so they invested it back into their business.

It’s been a long time since I read his book, but I think there’s more to it than that. When agriculture was virtually the whole of the economy, the only way you could acquire more wealth than you already own was by taking somebody else’s land away from him. But in a capitalist economy you don’t need to do that. You can find something new to produce, that will add to the total amount of wealth in the economy as a whole. The Calvinists discovered the secret of economic growth. But I’m only quoting from memory – I’ll check later to make sure.

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Usually in any social or political or economic movement, a whole bunch of factors work together.

So I could say: yes, this sounds like a possible factor.

Well, early Protestant denominations permitted things classically associated with capitalism like interests, and certainly Protestant philosophy developed gradually into modern philosophy which eventually introduced liberalism.

Combine that with the Industrial Revolution (which happened mainly in protestant countries) and I think it is a very accurate theory.

I think it is correct. And I would add that Protestantism is also responsible for Communism. Marx was a Protestant.
So Protestantism left a deep mark in our lives. Are they willing to take it all, glory and blame for that matter?
God bless.

I thought Marx was an atheist. Isn’t he the one who called religion the “opiate of the people”?



And no protestant, he.

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I sometimes wonder if “religion” played a role in economic development between U.S. and Mexico, or even much of S.American countries. Seems like P countries fared better than Catholic ones.

The notion that I’m going to invest in something for the sake of trying to generate a profit is as old as wealth. The Prayer of Jabez in Chronicles in the OT comes to mind.

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The New York Times wrote an article some years ago about it and provides a good summary:

Weber’s argument centered on ascetic Protestantism. He said that the Calvinist doctrine of predestination led believers to seek to demonstrate their elect status, which they did by engaging in commerce and worldly accumulation. In this way, Protestantism created a work ethic – that is, the valuing of work for its own sake rather than for its results – and demolished the older Aristotelian-Roman Catholic doctrine that one should acquire only as much wealth as one needed to live well. In addition, Protestantism admonished its believers to behave morally outside the boundaries of the family, which was crucial in creating a system of social trust. . . .

“The Protestant Ethic” raises much more profound questions about the role of religion in modern life than most discussions suggest. Weber argues that in the modern world, the work ethic has become detached from the religious passions that gave birth to it, and that it now is part of rational, science-based capitalism. Values for Weber do not arise rationally, but out of the kind of human creativity that originally inspired the great world religions. Their ultimate source, he believed, lay in what he labeled “charismatic authority” – in the original Greek meaning of “touched by God.” The modern world, he said, has seen this type of authority give way to a bureaucratic-rational form that deadens the human spirit (producing what he called an “iron cage”) even as it has made the world peaceful and prosperous. Modernity is still haunted by “the ghost of dead religious beliefs,” but has largely been emptied of authentic spirituality. This was especially true, Weber believed, in the United States, where “the pursuit of wealth, stripped of its religious and ethical meaning, tends to become associated with purely mundane passions.”

There is this review of Weber’s thesis:

Creating Caricatures Christianity

Weber was a pioneer in his field. His book was and is widely read.

As a result of his significant influence, Weber’s portrait of Protestantism has created caricatures of early American Puritans. It has also misrepresented the nature of the relationship of Christianity to a dehumanizing, individualistic version of capitalism.

It doesn’t help that Weber’s most prominent example of an American Calvinist is Benjamin Franklin, who was a self-professed Deist.

According to Weber, the Protestant Ethic involves a form of asceticism which forbids enjoyment of the fruit of labor. This has contributed to the caricature that Puritans, for example, always went around in black and white clothes as if they were in mourning. Leland Ryken contradicts this portrait, noting that Puritans were known for being fashionable and wearing colorful clothing.

Rather than being drab world-deniers, the Puritans were people who took their religion very seriously and sought to glorify God through all aspects of their lives.

This included a positive understanding of work and vocation, such that “every permissible calling is of absolutely equal validity before God,” as Weber noted in The Protestant Ethic .

What Weber Got Right…and Wrong

Weber’s understanding of the early Protestant view of vocation is accurate, though he draws incorrect implications from it.

For Weber, restless work in a vocational calling was necessary to obtain assurance of salvation. In Weber’s understanding, this is essentially a form of works-based salvation that only slightly shifts from earning salvation to demonstrating being saved. This shift is necessary because the doctrine of predestination precludes salvation by works.

On this point, it appears that Weber is applying an evolutionary concept of religion. In fact, for many of his theological insights, Weber seems to have been influenced by his friend Ernst Troeltsch, who saw Christianity as largely a social construct rather than a revealed religion.

This is theologically inaccurate and unfair to the Protestants who viewed themselves as living by the revealed Word of God. Doctrines were not developed to meet perceived needs, as Weber implies, but in response to the content of Scripture.

Ultimately, what Weber gets right is that many Protestants recognized the connection between diligence, wise stewardship, and financial success. Also, deep seated values, which are often religious values, are a driving force behind practical ethics.

I feel that this is the problem with capitalism these days. The US has too many CEOs that are diligent wise stewards and financially successful but a lot of them don’t strive to help others learn these traits. They DEMAND that others have these traits (when you work for their company). We are all different and work at different paces but still want to work. Unfortunately, those people who don’t work at the diligent pace (to make maximum profit) are left to feel useless and end up working mediocre jobs just to make a buck and get no where in life. We need a better financial system for all.

What about the merchant and banking families of Netherlands and Italy in the 14th and 15th centuries? They were capitalistic and predate the Reformation.

Weber doesn’t claim that the initial development of modern capitalism occurred only after the Reformation. However, I think he did believe it took on a much different scale after the Reformation, and the Protestant work ethic had a lot to do with that.

Such is my memory.

Fair enough then.

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