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The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

Weber wrote that capitalism developed in Northern Europe when large numbers of people were inspired by Protestant (particularly Calvinist) ethics to engage in work in the secular world, establish their own enterprises and engage in trade and the accumulation of wealth for investment.
An analysis of the relationship between the ethics of ascetic Protestantism and the advent of the spirit of modern capitalism is The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Weber claims that, in developing the capitalist spirit, the religious ideas of groups such as the Calvinists played a part

The Protestant Virtue and the ‘Essence’ of Capitalism (1905), Weber’s effectively work, presents his account of the origins of capitalism in the West, notably ties Protestant (or, more accurately, Calvinist) religious attitudes practise to contemporary capitalism. Briefly, he argued that the emergence of Protestantism was associated with a shift in the way people viewed labour and the desire for money. Weber perceived this culture change as linked to the growth of ‘logical and reasonable’ capitalism, which he viewed as a manifestation of this mindset. In contrast to Marx, Weber claimed that the rise of contemporary Western civilization was entwined with the movement of rationalization and so could not be described just by physical and mechanical causes. (Giddens, 1971)

It is Weber’s mission to discover the origins of this spirit. In his search for answers, he turns to Calvinism. It is Protestantism’s view of the world’s “calling” that lends a theological dimension to everyday life activities. Despite the importance of this, it is not enough to justify the pursuit of profit. Calvinism, a denomination of Protestantism, explains this. In the doctrine of determinism, which Calvinists hold, God had decided who would be redeemed and condemned before time began. This cognitive need to know if one was saved grew as Protestantism progressed, and Protestants turned to their accomplishment in the world for answers. In this way, people learned to see profit and wealth as marks of God’s favour. Pietists, Unitarians, and Evangelicals, to name a few, all held identical beliefs, albeit to a minor extent. Conventional economic systems were destabilized by Weber’s claim that a new thinking style led to capitalism’s rise. As a result, Protestant principles were no more essential, and their morality developed independently. Although capitalism is handy for today’s socio-economic activities, we’ve been entangled in it.

As he points out, Weber’s narrative isn’t comprehensive. In other words, Calvinism played a role in the development of capitalism, not its cause. He also agrees that capitalism influences religious ideals. There is much more in the complete tale than Weber can tell, and he frequently reminds audiences of his limits. (Zafirovski, 2018)


Giddens, A. (1971). Capitalism and modern social theory: An analysis of the writings of Marx, Durkheim and Max Weber: Cambridge University Press.

Zafirovski, M. (2018). Calvinist predestination and the spirit of capitalism: The religious argument of the Weber thesis reexamined. Human Studies, 41(4), 565-602.



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