Religion and Economics in Robinson Crusoe and Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

Religion and Economics in Robinson Crusoe and Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

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Religion and Economics in Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe and Max Weber's Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism           

One of the most recognized and influential theories in sociology appears in Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, which links the development of capitalism to social and cultural factors, primarily religion, instead of economic factors alone. In his theory Weber concludes that the Protestant Ethic greatly influenced the development of capitalism in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. According to Gordon Marshall, Weber argues that the two most important factors of Protestantism contributing to capitalism were "diligence in worldly callings or vocations" and the notion of predestination (71). If indeed these religious factors did influence the rise of capitalism, it would make perfect sense that other cultural elements, such as literature, would reflect both Protestant and capitalist ideology. This essay shows that in fact such Protestant notions as calling and predestination, which were present in the religion of the time, interact with capitalist ideas in Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, who was himself a devout Protestant that used his writings to influence both the religious and economic views of his readers (Earle 31). If Weber's argument is tenable, then Robinson Crusoe may serve to represent in fiction the Protestant Ethic in early eighteenth century society and its developing spirit of capitalism. An especially interesting question that arises from this analysis is how a social structure that is traditionally considered a-moral, unfair, and materialistic (i.e., economics) can be justified by a structure that is considered moral, just, and spiritual (i.e., rel...

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...ork: Scribner's, 1954.

Earle, Peter. The World of Defoe. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1976.

Forell, George W. The Protestant Faith. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1960.

Marshall, Gordon. In Search of the Spirit of Capitalism: An Essay on Max Weber's Protestant Ethic Thesis. New York: Columbia UP, 1982.

Pauck, Wilhelm. The Heritage of Reformation. New York: Oxford UP, 1950.

Reshef, Yonatan. "Max Weber: The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism." n. pag. Online. Internet. 5 October 1999. Available:

Tawney, R. H. Religion and the Rise of Capitalism: A Historical Study. London: Hazell, Watson, and Viney, 1926.

Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Online. 10 October 1999. Available:


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