Max Weber on Religion and Capitalism

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Max Weber’s outlines his views on religion and capitalism in his book, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Weber held the important theory that an individual’s views are significant in promoting social change, not material things as believed by former theorists. In his work, Weber compares two waves of “the calling” as preached by different Protestant leaders and describes the teaching and spread of ascetic beliefs in followers. This paper considers the context of the calling, explores the outward signs of grace which helped develop capitalism and, lastly, how capitalism, through rationalization, transformed Calvinist ideals for its advancement. According to Weber’s findings individualistic views arose through Protestant beliefs. Martin Luther, a Protestant leader in the 16th century, presents the calling as a means to encourage followers to live honorable lives devoted to God; as a dutiful follower, an individual is to worship and not please God. Righteous followers were content with their calling and the lives God intended for them. Luther also instilled a passive form of asceticism in his followers that by preaching that they carry a simple lifestyle which accorded with their line of work (Desfor Edles and Appelrouth 2010:168). The meaning of the calling was drastically changed by latter Protestant leaders Calvin and Baxter. They presented the calling as a form of obligation to work for God with no other options. The calling pushed for individuals to lead an ascetic life; that is, work hard and not enjoy the fruit of their labor. Calvinists preached that should a person should work as hard a possible because the amount of wealth earned would determine their salvation and without a calling the individual is seen as worthless in the eyes of God (Weber in Desfor Edles and Appelrouth 2010:176). The calling differed between leaders as Luther’s version of the calling instilled ideas of good morality whereas Calvinists indirectly coerced their followers to work as hard as they could should they want to be saved (Desfor Edles and Appelrouth 2010:168-69). Leading an ascetic lifestyle helped develop capitalism because of the motivation individuals had on working to their utmost potential – they all wanted to be saved. However, there were outward signs of grace that definitely had an impact on how people were encouraged to stay focused – those signs were to acquire wealth and maximize profits by investing their means. These signs helped develop capitalism because asceticism promoted the least amount of spending.
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