Max Weber (1884 – 1920) – an outstanding German sociologist. One of his major works, “The Protestant Ethic and the “spirit” of Capitalism,” in which Weber has written a comparative analysis of the most significant religions along with analyzing the interaction of economic conditions, social factors, and religious beliefs. For the first time, the aforementioned book was published in 1905 in Germany, and since then, it is considered one of the best works that analyses the reasons of the occurrence of modern capitalism. This paper analyzes the aforementioned book providing a detailed approach to the ideas presented, such as capitalism and religion in the context of sociology and the relationship between ideas and action.
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Overview of the Book
In the beginning of the book of Weber carried out a detailed analysis of the statistical data that reflects the distribution of Protestants and Catholics in various social strata. On the basis of the data collected in Germany, Austria, and Holland, he came to a conclusion that Protestants prevail among capital owners, businessmen and the highest qualified layers of workers.
Besides, there are abundantly clear distinctions information. So, if among Catholics people with humanitarian education were prevailing, among the Protestants preparing, according to Weber, to “a bourgeois” way of life, there were more people with a technical education. He explained it with the original mental set that was developed in the course of the basic education.
As Weber noticed, Catholics, without occupying key posts in politics and commerce, they denied the tendency that the national and religious minorities, resisting as subordinates to any other “dominating” group, concentrated their efforts in the field of business and trade. So was with Poles in Russia and Prussia, with Huguenots in France, Quakers in England, but not with Catholics in Germany.
He asks a question, with what was related such accurate definition of the social status in interrelation with religion.
Despite that there are really objectively historical reasons of prevalence of Protestants among most well provided levels of population, he nevertheless tends to that it is necessary to search for the reason of various behavior in a steady internal peculiarity, and not just in historic-political position.
Further, an attempt to make a definition of the so-called “spirit of capitalism” follows, as the title of the book implies. Weber understands the following as the spirit of capitalism: a complex of relations existing in the historical reality which we in concept unite as a single whole from their cultural value’s point of view.
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Weber in this given work, conducts a big sociological research, having the purpose to show feature outlooks inherent in the Protestant direction, in general, and concerning business and capitalism in particular. So he rather analyzes the interrelation between adherence to one or another Christian confession and its success in commerce. In his work, Weber leads the researcher sufficiently in enough detail with well, simple literary, and informal language by the way of versatile comparisons, i.e., compares the same features, considering them from different parties.
In explaining the relation between ideas and actions in the way of people of past time he stated that they “had very concrete ideas of what awaited them after death, that they held firm views on how best to improve their chances in this regard, that they designed their actions accordingly, and that how they did this, which depended on the different views regarding the conditions to be met in order to guarantee salvation, was important for cultural development.” Such points of view can be regarded as ideas of rationalism where logical signs of reliable knowledge cannot be extracted from experience rather than from built in ideas, thus the actions were based according to that context.
According to Weber, rationalism dominates over the world. It is rationalism that defines the relations of the person to the nature, human relations, and at that rationalism domination grows together with technology and science development. Weber has proved rationalism of the science and art, which did not mean at all that art and science were combined.
The truth, beauty, and rationality will always be different, but the question was put about the development of these values in the West. The big estrangement from the world, peculiar to Catholicism, ascetic lines of its higher ideals should bring up known indifference to earthly blessings in its adherents.
This argument really underlies the comparative estimation of both creeds extended today. Protestants, using this scheme, subject to criticism ascetic ideals of vital way of Catholics and Catholics in turn reproach Protestants with “materialism” to which they led by secularization of all life contents.
Weber attempted to analyze all forms of religion and those ways of people’s action which they generate. His deep sociological research consists of such ideas.
Weber’s sociology is a science which is engaged in social actions, interpreting them as a way of understanding these actions. In such way, actions are followed by ideas in the form of a proper interpretation. Thus, a social action is a subject of its study, i.e. sociology.
The sociology forms typical concepts and searches for general rules, opposite to historical science, which aspires to explain only particular events.
Explaining the ideas of capitalism, Weber considered that for capitalism development, some surplus of the population providing presence in the market of a cheap labor is necessary. But the low earned payment is completely not identical to cheap work. Even purely in a quantitative sense, labor productivity falls when it does not provide requirements of physical existence.
The low wages do not justify itself and the yield only return results when it is a question of professional and qualified work, and about the technological equipment. In other words, where it is necessary to have both, a developed sense of responsibility, and such system of thinking at which work would become end in itself. Such relation to work is not peculiar to people and can be developed only as a result of long education.
In that sense, radical distinction between traditional and modern capitalism is not in the technology, but rather in human resources. More precisely, it lies in the relation of the person to work. Ideal type of the capitalist, to which some German industrialists of that time came close, Weber designated as “shuns ostentation and unnecessary show, spurns the conscious enjoyment of his power, and is embarrassed by the outward signs of the social esteem in which he is held. His conduct of life, in other words, is often characterized to a certain degree by a form of asceticism…”
Wealth gives him an irrational feel of a well executed duty. Therefore, this type of behavior so was often condemned in traditional societies, as a question of the necessity to work the whole life and then carry your wealth to the grave.
Additionally, Weber analyzes the modern society and comes to a conclusion that the capitalist economy no longer does require the sanction of religious doctrines and sees in any influence of church on an economic life the same hindrance, as an economy regulation from outside of the government.
The world outlook is defined now by interests of trade and social policy. All those phenomena are related to the epoch, when the capitalism gaining a victory, rejects unnecessary support. Just as it managed to destroy in due course the old medieval forms of economy regulations only uniting with the developing government, it might have used religious beliefs. For the profit concept that contradicts moral views of the whole epoch hardly needs a proof.
Weber’s social theory starts with an individual, from the subjective intelligence of the actions. His work “The Protestant Ethic and the “spirit” of Capitalism” shows Weber’s depth of thought. Much of what was delivered in his works and researches are widely used in contemporary society and in social and scientific teachings that accordingly show the importance of his works for our time.
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Weber, M. (2002). The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism: and Other Writings (Penguin Twentieth-Century Cla. Penguin Classics.