Max Weber's Protestant Ethic Term Paper

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¶ … Protestant Ethic" and the Evolution of Capitalism

Maximilian Weber was one of the most influential German political economists and sociologists. He began his career at the University of Berlin and later worked at other universities throughout Germany. He was one of Germany's negotiators that the treaty of Versailles and also played a role in drafting the Weimar constitution (Weber, Marianne 1988). The following will explore Weber's contribution to theories on the development of capitalism. The primary source for argument will be Weber's most controversial work, " The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism," written in 1905.

Weber's key thesis is that religion is largely responsible for the different cultures and economic systems of Europe and the orient. He argued that the Protestant movement, particularly movements such as the Calvinists and Puritans, led to the development of capitalism, bureaucracy, and a rational legal state prevalent in modern western society. His works are collectively known as the 'Weber Thesis' and forms one of the major tenants of political science.

Life Influences

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In order to understand a man in his writing it is important to explore his background and the influences in is life that led to his viewpoints. Weber was born in Erfurt in Thuringia, Germany. He was the eldest of seven children born to Max Weber senior, a prominent politician and civil servant (Weber, Marianne 1988). Weber's home as a child was immersed in politics and he often found himself in the midst of prominent German scholars and other public figures. This upbringing undoubtedly had an affect on the viewpoints found in Weber's later writing. Politics played a major role in family culture.

Term Paper on Max Weber's Protestant Ethic Assignment

Weber was well versed at an early age in the works of scholars such as Homer, Virgil, and Cicero. He loved to study philosophy and history. In 1882 he decided to pursue a degree in Law at the University of Heidelberg (Weber, Marianne 1988). This was the same university that served as his father's, almamater. Weber passed an examination which is equivalent to the bar exam in both British and American legal systems. He earned his doctorate of history in 1889 and qualified to hold a German professorship.

Weber was a prolific writer at the beginning of his career, but after his father died and 1894 he became solitary and eventually spent some time in a sanatorium (Weber, Marianne 1988). He did not write again until 1902. In 1904 he wrote his most controversial work, "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. " Subsequent years were spent studying the effects of cultures and religions and their influence on economic systems (Iannaccone, 1998).

Weber became a prominent political figure and in 1912 he tried to organize a leftist political party that would combine social-democrats and liberals into one singular political force. However, this attempt was not successful because many liberals feared the socialistic revolutionary ideals of the time (Mommsen, 1992).

During the First World War, Weber served as director of army hospitals in Heidelberg. In 1915 in 1916 he sat on commissions that tried to retain German supremacy in Belgium and Poland (Kaesler, 1989). Weber's war years had a dramatic impact on his political views. One can see changes in his viewpoint from the beginning of the war until the end. It is important to realize that "The Protestant Ethic" was written before his wartime experiences and the turmoil that was a part of his occupation after the war. Weber is considered one of the key founders of modern sociology, although his works were primarily from a historical perspective.

The Connection between Capitalism and Calvinism

Weber's doctoral thesis centered on the economics of an agrarian society. In The Protestant Ethic Weber demonstrated how the goals of certain Protestant denominations, such as Calvinism, had shifted towards a rational means of economic gain as a way of expressing their blessings (Bendix 1977). Weber's goal was to find the reasons for the development of different cultural paths in the west and east. However, he wished to do this without judging or placing value on them as others had done. In doing so, Weber hoped to define the distinctive elements of western civilization. Weber argued that Calvinist religious ideas were a major source of inspiration on social innovations and the economic system of Europe in the United States. However, he was cautious to note that these were not the only factors that led to their development. He only wished to support the idea that they made a major impact on the development of the systems. The following will support these ideas.

Weber argued that religious devotion is typically accompanied by the universal rejection of mundane or worldly affairs in favor of more spiritual pursuits. Religious devotion often tells followers to give up a life whose sole purpose is economic pursuit. However, this was not the case with the Protestant movement. The reasoning behind this was a key factor in Weber's work. Weber wished to discover what made the Protestant movement different from other religions in this respect. Weber defines the spirit of capitalism as any ideas or activities that favor the rational pursuit of economic gain (Bendix.1977). In Weber tells us that this ideal is not limited to western culture.

Weber refers to certain individuals that he calls "heroic entrepreneurs." These heroic entrepreneurs lead the march into a capitalistic society by courageously pursuing business endeavors even though all of the conditions may not be right. However, this group, although enthusiastic, cannot establish a new economic order based on capitalistic ideals by themselves. If society is not ready to accept their new ideas, then enthusiasm alone will have little impact.

There were several social ideologies which prevented these individuals from advancing capitalistic economic systems. The first of these identified by Weber is that individuals wish to obtain maximum profit with minimum effort. There was a prevalent ideal, especially among those of upper society that work was an unworthy burden that should be avoided. There was a general consensus that work should not exceed that which was enough to provide a modest lifestyle. The pursuit of more than what one needed was considered sinful by many religious orders. The society promoted laziness as the preferred lifestyle. An attitude of excess and laziness prevailed in feudal society.

Weber argued that in order for capitalism to become in a societal institution the lifestyle of the peasantry and aristocrats had to be altered so that it would be more fitting to the ideals of capitalism. Capitalism could not originate in the ideals of individuals but could only come into existence as a result of cultural changes and the works of all groups of society. Society had to be ripe for the ideals of the heroic entrepreneurs to take hold.

After defining the spirit of capitalism Weber argues that the roots of capitalism can be found in the religious ideals of the reformation. There are other contemporaries of Weber that agreed with this idea including William Petty, Henry Thomas Buckle, and John Keats (Bendix.1977). Weber demonstrated that certain types of Protestant philosophy, particularly Calvinism, were compatible with the pursuit of economic gain and worldlier. Calvinism placed the economic pursuits in a positive spirit and good moral light. Weber is quick to point out that economic pursuit was not the goal of these new religious philosophies, but rather a byproduct of it.

Calvinistic ideas praised good work and promoted the idea that everything one does in life should praise God. It did not matter what one's station life or life pursuit was, they had to treat it as if every moment were devoted to God. If one was meant to be a Farmer, then they should treat their daily work as if it were a prayer of praise. One should do the best that they could do in everything that they pursued in life. This work ethic was exactly what Weber meant by "The Protestant Ethic."

Weber argued that Catholicism was more tolerant towards the acquisition of worldly goods and economic gain. Lavish expenditure and wealth was ingrained in the hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church. In order to gain position in the Catholic Church one had to usurp someone else, often by proving one's social status throughout worldly appearances. Contenders often had to jockey for position by showing their lavish success. Wealth in was not only tolerated by the Catholic Church, it was expected by it. Catholics believed in the earthly power to forgive sin, an idea that would be considered blasphemous by the Protestants.

If one looks at the attraction of the Catholic Church to wealth it would appear as if the Catholic Church were more ready for capitalism then the Protestant church. However, when one looks at the way wealth was used within the Catholic Church it soon becomes apparent that wealth was used to separate status and social class. The Catholic Church was protectionist in its attitude toward its own wealth. The power of the Catholic Church was in its wealth and… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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Max Weber's Protestant Ethic.  (2006, November 26).  Retrieved December 3, 2020, from

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"Max Weber's Protestant Ethic."  26 November 2006.  Web.  3 December 2020. <>.

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"Max Weber's Protestant Ethic."  November 26, 2006.  Accessed December 3, 2020.