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Weber III: The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

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1 Weber III: The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
February 22, 2012 Instructor: Sarah Whetstone

2 “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” – Key Concepts
Vs. earlier forms of Christianity Asceticism – attaining spiritual status through self-denial, abstinence from worldly pleasures Spirit of Capitalism Cultural significance of capitalism Influence of Protestant philosophies on social and economic development in the West Ideas  Action Weber’s key argument: The roots of capitalist development lie in the spread of Protestant religious values.

3 Weber’s Interesting Puzzle: The strong connection between capitalism and Protestantism
Why are owners of capital, skilled workers, and business administrators disproportionately Protestants? (228) Why was it the most wealthy and developed areas of the Austro-Hungarian empire which became Protestant in the 16th century?(229) Why are Catholics, rich & poor, insider & outsider, less oriented towards business than Protestants? (229-30)

4 The “spirit of capitalism"
Weber wants to connect Protestantism to some kind of essence of capitalist behavior… He decides to start with “a document… which contains what we are looking for in almost classical purity (p. 231)” – and turns to…the writings of Benjamin Franklin…

5 Benjamin Franklin ( ) Strict Calvinist father: “Seeist thou a man diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings” (Prov. xxii 29). Prominent values and ethics: Instrumental orientation to life Utilitarian ethics (all action for beneficial end) Critical of consumption, in favor of asceticism.

6 Group Work: Summarize Franklin’s capitalist preachings in your own words (231-2)
By work By making interest from loans to others By investment I We have a duty to ACCUMULATE II Our PERSONAL HONOUR IS DEPENDENT ON GOOD CREDIT, so Be punctual with repaying loans. Demonstrate industry at all times. Let people hear “the sound of your hammer at five in the morning” rather than being seen at a tavern. Practice extreme frugality and meticulous budgeting (to discern possible savings). Let no chance for investment or savings, now or in the future, be lost due to extravagance.

7 Weber’s Analysis of Franklin (232-3)
“The peculiarity of this philosophy of avarice appears to be the ideal of the honest man of recognized credit, and above all the idea of a duty of the individual toward the increase of his capital, which is assumed as an end in itself. Truly what is here preached is not simply a means of making one's way in the world, but a peculiar ethic. The infraction of its rules is treated not as foolishness but as forgetfulness of duty.” (232-3) Weber calls this capitalist “calling” the “social ethic of capitalist culture” – and his idea has entered our own society as the term “Protestant work ethic”

8 Teachings of Early Protestants
John Wesley, Methodism “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.”

9 The Protestant Ethic An ideal type, which is the heart of the spirit of capitalist culture An action orientation – idea of a “calling”- individual must view work/accumulation of profit as a spiritual calling. Hard work is a sign of God’s favor Doctrine of predestination – our paths to heaven or hell are predetermined by God- allowed justification of class system. Denial of “worldly” asceticism – Work hard, but don’t play hard. Save and invest to accumulate more. John Calvin,

10 Pre-Protestant Christian Teachings: “Economic Traditionalism”
Catholicism stressed different religious values: “It is easier for a rich man to get into heaven than a camel to pass through the eye of a needle” (Matthew 19: 23-24). Give your wealth to the poor. Work until immediate needs are met, then enjoy life with family and friends. Striving to accumulate profit is seen as a sin of desire and greed.

11 Weber continues argues against the idea that the “spirit of capitalism” is just a reflection of economic reality. Protestant Ethic  Spirit of Capitalism based on “Economic Rationalism”  Modern Capitalism Far from automatically reflecting an economic base, he says, it was quite extraordinary that this ethos emerged, given that striving for financial gain is considered to be low-status, undignified behavior in most societies...

12 Where does this spirit of capitalism, this “social ethic of capitalist culture” come from?
Weber dismisses the idea that “such ideas originate as a reflection or superstructure of economic situations” – this is an explicit argument versus Marxism. He uses an example from the United States: Southern states founded by large capitalists for exploitation Northern states founded by preachers, small merchants & craftsmen Undeveloped spirit of capitalism Highly developed spirit of capitalism

13 Weber: What is the difference between the Protestant Ethic and age-old hunger for gold (“Auri sacra fames,” p. 235)? Weber emphasizes that he is not saying that people are not greedy within “traditionalist” societies… Yes we find greed everywhere, in fact lack of trust often prevents more complex economic development … greed is usually expressed by the most unscrupulous, or only in relations with outsiders. Greed is not morally regulated within the community. But i.e. only the Protestants and their capitalist descendants think that making money can actually be the sign that somebody is a good person. Because they connect personal honor with economic enterprise, they set up a system of rules for pursuing vigorous trade while being scrupulously honest.

14 Weber argues that capitalism needed the Protestant ethic to evolve
Raising wages does not necessarily make people work harder “a man does not by nature wish to own more and more money, but simply to live as he is accustomed to live…” (p ) Lowering wages is perhaps more effective, but can backfire… (p. 237). What capitalism needs is workers with a sense of “calling”… but such an attitude is by no means a product of nature. It is the product of a long process of socialization and education. (What Marx would call ideology!) (p. 237) Even in Weber’s time, members of radical Puritan sects tend to make the best workers.

15 Recap: the creation of the Protestant ethic
Legalizes and gives God’s approval to Acquisition Protestantism “asceticism looked upon the pursuit of wealth as an end in itself as highly reprehensible; but the attainment of it as a fruit of labour in a calling was a sign of God’s blessing” (241) “worldly Protestant asceticism” freed moneymaking from the “inhibitions of traditionalistic ethics.” Now only the enjoyment of wealth is considered immoral.

16 Capitalism is an unintended consequence
Protestant emphasis on mundane tasks and duties, rather than enjoyment and luxury, was summed up in the notion of the “calling”. Protestants produce more and spend less (High productivity and capitalist growth.) Capitalist success becomes theologically justified as a sign of hard work.

17 Implications of this Argument
What lasts from the theological innovation of the Protestants is “an amazingly good… conscience in the acquisition of money, so long as it took place legally.” Weber calls this the “bourgeois economic ethic.” The bourgeois believe that inequality is decided by God. They develop a double standard, where they can be rich and stay righteous, but they help their workforce stay close to God by forcing discipline and frugality (as well as religion) onto them. (doctrine of predestination) The spirit of capitalism becomes channeled into rational economic conduct. We don’t need true religious asceticism anymore, as capitalism now has its own “mechanical foundations,” functioning as an inescapable system.

18 THE IRON CAGE… (p. 245) “The puritan wanted to work in a calling; we are forced to do so. For when asceticism was carried out of monastic cells into everyday life, and began to dominate worldly morality, it did its part in building the tremendous cosmos of the modern economic order. This order is now bound to the technical and economic conditions of machine production which today determine the lives of all the individuals which are born into this mechanism, not only those directly concerned with economic acquisition, with irresistible force. Perhaps it will so determine them until the last ton of fossilized coal is burnt.” The Protestant Ethic broke the hold of tradition by calling people to apply themselves rationally to their work. Behavior had come to be dominated by instrumental rationality, the efficient application of means to ends, replacing other types of social action.

19 Rationalization of social life, spread of bureaucratic forms…
Religious roots have faded, but behavior has become a generally accepted way of life… No longer a religious calling, people are now compelled to behave in instrumentally rational ways… Rationalization – principles of efficiency and calculability dominate all areas of social life. Traditional institutions and forms of action are replaced by “rational” organizations with machine-like qualities… Disenchantment/Demystification Dehumanization

20 Rationalization… Bureaucracy and capitalism lead to the routinization of all spheres of life -- explicit, abstract, intellectually calculable rules and procedures are increasingly substituted for sentiment, tradition, custom The displacement of religion by science The substitution of the trained expert for the cultivated person of letters Replacement of the skilled handworker by machine technology The replacement of traditional judicial wisdom by abstract codes/laws The effect: “the disenchantment of the world” - less “magic,” loss of prophetic inspiration, and a hardened, materialistic approach to life

21 Dehumanization Ultimately, rationalization must lead to dehumanization--the elimination of concern for human values. Finally, rationalization causes the weakening of traditional and religious moral authority--the values of efficiency predominate. Individual officials have specialized and limited responsibility and authority and so are unlikely to raise basic questions regarding moral implications. (Holocaust example) The problem is further compounded by the corresponding weakening of many traditional institutions of family, community, and religion--which served to bind pre-industrial man to the interests of the group. Credit T. Gowan for sharing some slides!

22 Marx Durkheim Weber THE BIG THREE Object of Study for Sociology
Economic conditions of life The social collective Individual actions and motives, or “cultural orientations” Methodological Approach Historical materialism– understand change by tracing changes in economic modes of production. Explain social facts through social causes and social effects. Construct “ideal types” and measure against reality to explain social action. Focus on motives of individual actors- verstehen. What drives social change? Changes in the mode of production Division of labor produces changes in social solidarity and institutional forms Ideas can influence action to produce change, and reverse may also be true. Change can also occur “randomly” outside of grand design. How is social order maintained? (How are social relations organized?) All social structures– including dominant knowledge- flow from economic base. Bourgeois interests shape life for the working class. Our ties to others generate social norms that hold society together-- Collective conscience is “social glue.” Each part of society functions to maintain the whole. Class, status, and access to power all shape life chances. Instrumental rationality is basis for action, and rational-legal authority shapes behavior in bureaucratic structures. Central features of modern life? Capitalist commodification, alienation, exploitation, and class struggle. Increasing specialization, division of labor, and organic solidarity Rationalization and bureaucratization of life: the “iron cage” Major perspective Conflict Functionalist Interpretive

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