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Spirit of Capitalism
on 29 March 2010
One must be careful with the words that Weber uses: "Protestant ethic" and "Spirit of Capitalism". This book is also about understanding capitalism.
Let's start from the basics: Capitalism existed long before Protestantism. Capitalism existed long before Weber's days form of Capitalism. Let's call this modern capitalism, as opposed to ancient capitalism. There is a stark distinction between them: modern capitalism is using a moral language. Continuous re-investing of profits, not living luxury lives (or not stopping earning more when one can achieve its original goal to earn a luxury life for themselves) and hard working up until the end of the capitalist's life no matter the age, just for the shake of it, all those are characteristics that describe more a moral duty to do so, rather than plain profit-taking activity.
Transformation of ancient capitalism to modern capitalism occurred only through the Calvinist approach of Protestantism. It could not have occurred otherwise..
How was this done?
Let's do another step back. Weber's approach to religion was unprecedented, in his time. He took the antipodal stance from Karl Marx on this. Marx, as a reductionist considered religion to be "nothing more than economics". Weber suggested quite the opposite: religion is an independent variable that could well affect all others, even in terms of constructing a full scale economic theory and its application into the real world.
With the Reformation, Protestant Christians rejected the idea that they should necessarily belong to the Catholic Church in order to be saved. Any profession could well be equally dignified, as priesthood or monkhood. The door has opened that the individual relation with God could well be a way of saving oneself. With the notion of "predestination" (that came from Calvinism), people were looking for signs for God's glory. Acquired wealth could serve this purpose, but not in itself. The way of spending one's earning was vital. Not on luxury goods, nor on expensive life-style, nor on stopping working in order to live on so far earnings.
The perfect match was done. The Protestant (Calvinist) Ethic provided Capitalism with the appropriate spirit to dominate the world.
The above is my understanding of Weber's thesis, in a nutshell.
Weber looked a lot into statistics and correlation between Protestant dominated societies and business activities etc. He is quite convincing of his analysis.