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Spirit of Capitalism

Weber was a sociologist and political economist from Germany. He was born in 1864 and died in 1920. His work has profoundly influenced both social theories and social research, along with the field of sociology itself as a whole. His major work dealt with the process of rationalization along with disenchantment, and as an effect, he has been associated much with the rise of capitalism and the modernity. Together with his associate George Simmel, who has played a major role in the in the coming up of methodological anti-positivism, which has presented sociology as a field that is non-empiricist, which has to study social practices via interpretive means, based on the issue of understanding the meaning and purpose that individuals attaches to their practices.

Weber is far much famous due to his thesis in economic sociology. This thesis is explained well in his book 'The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism'. In this book, it has been argued by Weber that, the ascetic Protestants, especially the Occident, were among the major elective affinities, which were associated with the rise of capitalism, and  bureaucracy as well as the rational legal nation-state. He argued against Max's overly materialistic definition of capitalism development. In its place, he reiterated the cultural influences that are based in religion. As an effect, the Protestants ethics, were all formed based don his work in the project that deals with religion sociology. He examined Chinese, Indian and Judaism religions, with a certain regard to the apparent non-development of capitalism in the corresponding communities, as well as the differing forms of social stratification, (Weber, 1988). Due to their impacts in sociology, this essay critically examines to which extent does Weber's Protestant Ethic explain the emergence of the spirit of capitalism?

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His thinking about the issue of why some developments have happened in western countries, yet such developments have not happened elsewhere. This question had a very universal significance that encouraged capitalism all over the world. This is because; these developments had a lot of impacts on the rest of the world. In his explanation, he said that, in India, science was very much developed, but the experimentation method was not used. On the other hand, in non-western countries, there was an existence of historical scholarships, but they were not consistent or systematic. He said that even or rational jurisprudence, originated from Rome. In addition, western music has become too much rational. But he concluded that, Western state came up with written constitution, trained their officials and administration based on rational rules.

When he was defining the term capitalism, he made a lot of impacts in the development of capitalism. He considered it as being more than an impulse to acquisition, as even physicians do have this impulse. He considered capitalism as "be identical with the restraint, or at least a rational tempering, of this irrational impulse. But capitalism is identical with the pursuit of profit, and forever renewed profit, by means of continuous, rational, capitalistic enterprise" (Weber, 1930). His definition represents his ideal concept that has not been discovered in this form that is specific, other than just an abstraction, as well as a combination of several observed traits. It is true that, history shows many patterns, in such like cases, rational and continuous accumulation. This has happened in different places at different times, among different types of individuals. However, the fact is that, it has fully developed in the current societies. The ideal types of Weber have affected concepts such as labor division, and organic solidarity Durkheim, or even the surplus value as well as labor power proposed by Max.

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Weber has both broadened and narrowed the definition of capitalism, as compared to Max. He looks at all forms of making cash through trade and exchange as a representation of capitalistic activities. On the other hand, Max defined capitalism as a production mode, or fully developed systems that lead to capital accumulation. At the same juncture, Weber narrows capitalism definition, by identifying it with a very peaceful free exchange, so that the force of acquisition for instance piracy is not capitalism. According to Weber, rationality in the form of balance usage, as well as the development of a system that is monetary, this uses money as a measure. According to him, the primitive capital accumulation as proposed by Max is not a very essential part of capitalism, however, an expression for those who are not for the capitalism idea, (Tawney, 1958).

Weber has influenced rationality in different ways. For instance, according to him, a rational or systematic approach to an economic activity imply "that that economic actors consider which of the several different possible courses of action they will take" (Adams, & Sydie, 2001), he stated that, for every action, there must be a reaction, which might be either negative or positive, and decisions that concerns actions are never made on the basis of neither traditions, religion nor involvement of magic powers.  He explained urged actors in a rational capitalism to be problem solvers, and be in a position of calculating both balances of gain and losses. This was to assist them to ensure that actions taken yield the greatest expansion in money. In this, he was encouraging efficiency, greatest possible balanced production at the end. He was also putting forward the point that, for every process, there must be the beginning and the end. However, he claims that, it is only in the west where such like capitalism has developed on any scale. With this, he was urging other regions to start the considering such a move, (Singer, 1980).

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Institution Bases for Capitalism

Weber proposed the idea that, there are several institutional developments for the emergence of capitalism. He mentioned them as "the development of the Western city, with a trading structure independent of the surrounding rural areas; separation of the productive enterprise from the household; the rational capitalistic organization of (formally) free labor" (Alan, 2004), other institutions mentioned are the development of Western law, according to him, this includes the process of separating corporate property from personal property; the next point is having double entry bookkeeping which allows businesses to track all transactions and come up with a balance. However, he did not explain much about the requirements of such institutional developments, but explained more about the influence of ideas, particularly ideas concerning religion in the capitalism development.

He considered the capitalistic labor market as being very much significant in the capitalism development, and have profound structural effects to the society, though din the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalist, Weber explained very little analysis of this. He explains that "Exact calculation - the basis of everything else - is only possible on the basis of free labor" (Edward, 1997). By explaining the rational labor organization, Weber explained that it is a routinised, and the administration that is calculated and continuous functioning businesses.  With this Weber was trying to show the development of highly developed Western communities, and what they contained 0that resulted to the capability as well as the deposition of individuals to adopt some types of practical rational conduct.

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He stated that in previous communities, religious and magical powers, as well as the ethical ideas of duty, used to be based upon them. He explained that, these earlier forces in one way or the other hindered the coming up of capitalist spirit; or even the ethos of the systems of economy. In this case, Weber was dealing with spirit of modern economic life along with the rational ethics of ascetic Protestantism. For him the ascetic traditions, ideas as well practices   had a very significant history din the culture of the Westerners. He continued brining out the point that, the asceticism of Protestants had far many different implications than what it used to do in the earlier times, the world's asceticism were the protestants. "This was in a manner that, the highest form of moral obligation of the individual is to fulfill his duty in worldly affairs" ( 2002).

The Spirit of Capitalism

In his definition, Weber protestant's ethic is just a combination of discipline work dedication; as well as the acquisition, together with a life of denial of pleasure and enjoyment spontaneous in life. In about similar wording as compared to Marx, he claimed that, this was just a reversal of normal human conditioning. "Economic acquisition is no longer subordinated to man as the means for the satisfaction of his material needs. This reversal of what we should call the natural relationship, so irrational from a naïve point of view, is evidently as definitely a leading principle of capitalism as it is foreign to all peoples not under capitalistic influence" (Tawney, 1926). According to him, such like motives are never natural, and individuals have gone a head fighting not to have such like motives. He observed that both commerce and industries existed for many years for the usage of traditional methods, with traditional means of predominance and life. Such methods of doing things started changing. Then allover sudden, supervision over labor activities were taken over by employers.

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This was s a shift to expansion of output on the foundation of lower prices which then took over the situation. At long last, the issues of carrying out business under leisure disappeared, paving way for a competitive struggle. Weber pointed out that, in such a case, the most important thing was the just the process at which money was streaming in investments in industries which led to this revolution. He puts it out that this led to the new spirit, which can be termed as the spirit of modern capitalism. This is how the spirit of capitalism started instilling into individuals. His explanation led to the change of the ways under which productive practices were carried out. This was because; individuals came to concentrate more on the spirit's origin. He explained that, capitalism was not just a mare change in both economic and social structures, but it needed the involvement of involve thinking, taking actions and behavior change. He agued that, it also needed change in traditional methods, din the manner of thinking and operating, (McLellan 2000; Giddens, & David, 1982).

After the establishment of this capitalism spirit, then this spirit and operation manner were imposed on others. As an effect, completion then forced other business individuals to behave and operate just6 like others who had applied this spirit in a dutiful manner. He instilled people with the information that, in history, capitalism expansion, imperialism, and the desire of overcoming economic backwardness will create this spirit in the bigger part of the world. According to Weber, the main crucial thing was the source of this capitalistic spirit. However, he ended up finding the answer in Calvinism and protestant ethics. Weber never taught other theological teachings of other religions, but his main question was the religious believes which had the capability of influencing psychological sanctions, where this resulted to "gave a direction to practical conduct and held the individual to it" (Jonassen, 1947).

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The Calling

Weber continued urging individuals that, that reformation should not be the out come of historical necessity as argued by Marx, and that, the capitalist spirit should not be looked upon as the effects of reformation and its impacts. But reformation should emerge afar much independent from economic factors, but he explained how reformation ideas are connected to capitalistic spirit.  In so doing, he introduced the aspect of calling, which he defined as a religious task that was set by the Almighty, which he said that is absent from ancient times, other religions, or even the Roman Catholicism. He explained that, a call is not just a product of reformation, fit should be a protestant notion. The notion of a call, need to be that, people have to fulfill their obligations of their jobs in the world, for them to be accepted by God. Not being like the monk, whose responsibility otherworldly denies the self along with the world, the fulfillment of one's duties in the affairs of the world, should be the highest form that moral practices of people need to take, (Ian, & Dyson, 2007).

Though this aspect was first developed by Martin Luther, Luther was not friendly as such to capitalism, or capitalistic spirit, as an effect, the traditional views came to dominate Luther's teachings. In contrast to Calvin's teachings, Wesley among others was also concerned about soul salvation.  However, such teachings according to Weber had some unforeseen consequences. As an effect, the urged that, reformers like Calvin, the sects like puritans, as well as men like Menno, George Fox and Wesley "were not founders of societies for ethical culture nor the proponents of humanitarian projects for social reform or cultural ideals Their ethical ideals and the practical results of their doctrines were all based on that alone, as were the consequences of purely religious motive," (Mitzman, 1985).

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Going with Calvin's teachings, there were several doctrines. For instance, grace is irresistible, and had rigid doctrines of predestination.  As an effect, Weber was so much interested in the entire set of Calvin's doctrines. As a result, he created a personality type was so important in the development of capitalistic spirit. This was just based on analysis of a few aspects which led to the connection of these worldly asceticism and capitalistic accumulation. In his analysis, he said that, the interests of Calvin were mainly in God, and individuals live just because of God's mercy. Only a few are elected, while the rest are left. The doctrine explain that human merit plays no role din one's elect. To single individuals, Weber noticed that, it "unprecedented inner loneliness of the single individual." (Weber, 1930).This was viewed by Weber as not a spirit of enlightenment, other than a pessimistically disillusioned type of individualism. Since no one has the ability to save individuals, even a priest can't, is then seen by Weber as a means of eliminating the issue of magic powers. Calvinists believed that, "The duty of the Christian was to show God's glory in a calling. This meant doing one's daily tasks" (Radkau, 2005), this according to Weber is doing things to fulfill the job in a rational way.

Weber continued explaining that, in the medieval era, asceticism used to drive individuals farther and farther from day-to-day life. With reformation, all Christians ere to become monks in their day-to-day live. In his concluding chapter of 'The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism', he reviewed the Puritans doctrines on top of other points that were made earlier. In addition, other Puritan writers commented on the type of job that ordinary individuals ought to do. But he comments that, in Puritan Writers' point of view, "uneven work, which the ordinary laborer is often strained to accept, is often inevitable, but always an unwelcome state of change. A man without a calling thus lacks the systematic, methodical character which is insisting by worldly asceticism" (Green, 1959). As a [puritan therefore, God demands for a rational labor in any calling. Weber went ahead to connect this with labor division which emerged and expanded capitalistic spirit. His activities were justified by profit making profit making businessmen, as well as a fixed calling task that a worker in a highly developed labor division market.

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He pointed out that; attitude is among the responsibilities of wealth, as well as the duty towards possession. As a result, luxurious consumption was supposed to be restricted. Due to this, Weber urged that, wealth acquisition need not to be restricted, but rational expansion of wealth was to be encouraged as willed by the Almighty. The only thing that has been discouraged is the irrational use of wealth. All this factors posed by Weber assisted in the wealth accumulation which is the capitalistic spirit.

Critiques of Weber

Critiques of Weber have been categorized into three groups. First and fore most, Weber was wrong about some fact.  For instance, modern spirit of capitalism might have risen before reformed Protestants, or in places that reformed impacts was much smaller as compared to what is believed by Weber. Secondly, concerning the doctrines of Calvinists, it seems that Weber made some wrong interpretations, or was very narrow about the Puritans. If the reformed teachings were not what were being referred to by Weber, then just by the use of logistics, he might not have supported capitalistic spirit. Thirdly, there are probabilities that, Weber overstated the needs of capitalistic spirit, for the ascetic actions which were as a result of reformed teachings, (Bainton, 1952; Barro, 1997). 

By looking at the first account, many have criticized Weber in the early 20th century. Historians researched on the times that capitalism and Calvinism emerged in Europe, but most of the concluded that "timing will show that Calvinism emerged later than capitalism where the latter became decisively powerful," (Fischoff, 1944, 113). As a result, there were no cause and effect relations. There are those who have agued that, it was just a matter of circumstance that reformed contributed to capitalistic spirit development. Ever before the Calvinists entered the world, The Netherlands had long been the public sale of Christendom. Last but not least, there are those who have conceded that, these countries that have Protestants, especially those that adhere to the reformed church, have been economically vigorous.











However, there are some reasons which have been found to eliminate cause-and-effect relations. For instance, there are times when capitalists precede Calvinists, particularly Netherlands, and a times when it lagged by a very long period of time, to suggest any causality, for instance Switzerland. There are times also when Catholic countries like Belgium have ended up developing at the same time as protestant countries. For instance, even in the United States of America, Capitalist New England was cancelled out by the South, which Samuelsson claims that, they also shared a puritan outlook (Miller, 2003).

Weber himself ended up creating a gap between traditional capitalism and modern capitalist. The point that traditional capitalism could have first existed, by Calvinism created a meaningful sense which ended up creating modern capitalism, relays on a very fine distinction according to some critics like Samuelsson. Furthermore, due to the impossibility of controlled experiments to resolve the question firmly, the issue might not be closed completely.

On the other hand, Frey has explained that "orthodox Puritanism exhibited an inherent tension between approval of economic activity and emphasis upon the moral boundaries that define acceptable economic activity" (Frey 1998). A call was not in any way meant for a service for self alone, but for God's service and for the common good. This is based on the fact that, Puritan thinkers always looked at economic practices against the social and moral obligation backdrop. Perhaps the contribution of the Puritans to capitalistic spirit was just a matter of economic calling bounded by moral duty. At the times when Puritan theologians were being read widely, William Ames defined the business contract essence as "upright dealing, by which one does sincerely intend to oblige himself" if there was nothing else, business was to be enhanced and made in a manner that is more efficient by honesty and trust environment, (Samuelsson, 1957).

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Weber has been criticized for misinterpreting the issue of Puritanism. On the other hand, critiques also accuse him for misinterpreting capitalism by making the significance of asceticism very much exaggerated. Franklin Benjamin, who happened to be Weber's favorite advocated for unremitting for personal discipline and thrift. "No doubt, certain sectors of capitalism advanced by personal thrift, sometimes carried to the point of deprivation"  Granato, & Leblang, 1996). Samuelsson also on his part rises a lot of significant questions, otherwise that, the thrift could have even led to a minor way of creating a very large portion of capitalistic fortune wealth, may be far much important than as compared to the personal fortunes is the business finance. Retained earnings of these enterprises that were successful, other than personal savings, has higher chances of providing a larger sum of funds for most business ventures from the early days of capitalistic spirit. It has been shown that, even successful capitalists, event he puritans of New England, have been looking forward to enjoy at least some of the fruits of their labor. As a matter of fact then, the capitalistic spirit then was not ascetic spirit then.


In conclusion, the Thesis by Marx Weber has attracted the attention of several scholars, as well as researchers in the century. Some of them have been denying that the protestant ethic ought to be understood as being the cause of capitalistic spirit. They have based there reasons on the fact that, it just point out congruency between culture's religion and its economic systems. On the other hand, Weber despised his opponents, by believing that, traditional capitalistic spirit would never have turned into modern capitalistic spirit in the absence of the protestant ethic.

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By this, he means the causality of sorts. Evidence from history during reformation times, does not provide any strong support for protestant ethic. On the other hand, the coming up of capitalistic spirit in puritan England plus its American colonies keeps the case open at least. The qualitative evidence of recent times have been backing up the hypothesis that, cultural values counts in any sort of economic development.

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