The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

Religion has always had a bearing on all aspects of human life. Weber’s idea is about the influence of religion on the spirit of capitalism in the west. In his book, he studies and analyses the main causes of the development of capitalism in the west and its faster progress as compared to the other parts of the world till the 20th century. He is trying to establish a positive correlation between the spirit of capitalism in the west and the ethics of Protestantism. According to him, the main reason is the doctrine of Calvinism, also referred to as predestination. He thinks that the development of the modern Calvinist faith along with cities and centralisation of productive enterprises were the chief contributors to the idea of Western Capitalism. Although Capitalism is often criticised as a system based on greed and accumulation of wealth, Weber feels that it is based on restraint and seeking of profits in rational manner.
The idea of Protestant ethic that labour is an end in itself instils a sense of moral obligation in an individual towards fulfilment of his/her worldly duties and this is central to the spirit of Capitalism. Weber believed that Luther’s idea of worldly labour as an expression of brotherly love was traditionalistic and not supportive of the spirit of capitalism. The Calvinist doctrine of predestination believes in the idea that the fate of the man and the universe is predefined. Whatever good is there in a man is by God’s grace and his existence is to serve Him. Man’s destiny has been already written and this uncertainty in a man is the key motivating force for him to do his best, to contribute and be worthy of getting elected amongst the saved ones and thus getting salvation.  This is Weber’s idea of asceticism as described in his work. It is these ideas which lead to the development of rationalism and Calvinism was the key motivating factor for its promotion. Its main stress was not about refraining for accumulation of wealth, but on individuals’ good deeds. It encouraged rational use of wealth for greater good of humankind and it is this combination of accumulation of rational wealth which generated additional capital for the economic expansion of the system.
Towards the end, though Weber laments at the greed of the modern capitalists who according to him have forgotten asceticism resulting in a situation where a man is forced to work today instead of loving to work.

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