The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism: The Spirit of Capitalism


The Spirit of Capitalism


Definition must be gradually put together out of the individual parts which are taken from historical reality to make it up. Thus the final and definitive concept cannot stand at the beginning of the investigation, but must come at the end.

Let us pause a moment to consider this passage, the philosophy of which Kürnberger sums up in the words, “They make tallow out of cattle and money out of men”. The peculiarity of this  philosophy of avarice appears to be the ideal of the honest man of recognized credit, and above all the idea of a duty of the individual toward the increase of his capital, which is assumed as an end in itself. Truly what is here preached is not simply a means of making one’s way in the world, but a peculiar ethic. The infraction of its rules is treated not as foolishness but as forgetfulness of duty. That is the essence of the matter. It is not mere business astuteness, that sort of thing is common enough, it is an ethos. This is the quality which interests us.

Capitalism existed in China, India, Babylon, in the classic world, and in the Middle Ages. But in all these cases, as we shall see, this particular ethos was lacking. Now, all Franklin’s moral attitudes are coloured with utilitarianism. Honesty is useful, because it assures credit; so are punctuality, industry, frugality, and that is the reason they are virtues.

According to Franklin, those virtues, like all others, are only in so far virtues as they are actually useful to the individual, and the surrogate of mere appearance is always sufficient when it accomplishes the end in view.

In fact, the summum bonum of this ethic, the earning of more and more money, combined with the strict avoidance of all spontaneous enjoyment of life, is above all completely devoid of any eudæmonistic, not to say hedonistic, admixture.

Man is dominated by the making of money, by acquisition as the ultimate purpose of his life. Economic acquisition is no longer subordinated to man as the means for the satisfaction of his material needs.

The spirit of capitalism, in the sense in which we are using the term, had to fight its way to supremacy against a whole world of hostile forces.

At all periods of history, wherever it was possible, there has been ruthless acquisition, bound to no ethical norms whatever. Like war and piracy, trade has often been unrestrained in its relations with foreigners and those outside the group. The double ethic has permitted here what was forbidden in dealings among brothers.

Likewise the inner attitude of the adventurer, which laughs at all ethical limitations, has been universal.

The most important opponent with which the spirit of capitalism, in the sense of a definite standard of life claiming ethical sanction, has had to struggle, was that type of attitude and reaction to new situations which we may designate as traditionalism.

The opportunity of earning more was less attractive than that of working less. He did not ask: how much can I earn in a day if I do as much work as possible? but: how much must I work in order to earn the wage, 2½ marks, which I earned before and which takes care of my traditional needs? This is an example of what is here meant by traditionalism.

Labour must, on the contrary, be performed as if it were an absolute end in itself, a calling.

In the past this was in every case an extremely difficult problem.17 And even today it could probably not get along without the support of a
powerful ally along the way, which, as we shall see below, was at hand at the time of its development.

In general it is otherwise, and that is a point of no little importance from our view-point, only with girls having a specifically religious, especially a Pietistic, background.

The ability of mental concentration, as well as the absolutely essential feeling of obligation to one’s job, are here most often combined with a strict economy which calculates the possibility of high earnings, and a cool self-control and frugality which enormously increase performance.

Nevertheless, we provisionally use the expression spirit of (modern) capitalism22 to describe that attitude which seeks profit rationally and systematically in the manner which we have illustrated by the example of Benjamin Franklin.

Even in the nineteenth century its classical representatives were not the elegant gentlemen of Liverpool and Hamburg, with their commercial fortunes handed down for generations, but the self-made parvenus of Manchester and Westphalia, who often rose from very modest circumstances. As early as the sixteenth century the situation was similar; the industries which arose at that time were mostly created by parvenus.

The form of organization was in every respect capitalistic; the entrepreneur’s activity was of a purely business character; the use of capital, turned over in the business, was indispensable; and finally, the objective aspect of the economic process, the book-keeping, was rational. But it was traditionalistic business, if one considers the spirit which animated the entrepreneur: the traditional manner of life, the traditional rate of profit, the traditional amount of work, the traditional manner of regulating the relationships with labour, and the essentially traditional circle of customers and the manner of attracting new ones. All these dominated the conduct of the business, were at the basis, one may say, of the ethos of this group of business men. Now at some time this leisureliness was suddenly destroyed, and often entirely without any essential change in the form of organization, such as the transition to a unified factory, to mechanical weaving, etc. What happened was, on the contrary, often no more than this: some young man from one of the putting out families went out into the country, carefully chose weavers for his employ, greatly increased the rigour of his supervision of their work, and thus turned them from peasants into labourers. On the other hand, he would begin to change his marketing methods by so far as possible going directly to the final consumer, would take the details into his own hands, would personally solicit customers, visiting them every year, and above all would adapt the quality of the product directly to their needs and wishes. At the same time he began to introduce the principle of low prices and large turnover. There was repeated what everywhere and always is the result of such a process of rationalization: those who would not follow suit had to go out of business. The idyllic state collapsed under the pressure of a bitter competitive struggle, respectable fortunes were made, and not lent out at interest, but always reinvested in the business. The old leisurely and comfortable attitude toward life gave way to a hard frugality in which some participated and came to the top, because they did not wish to consume but to earn, while others who wished to keep on with the old ways were forced to curtail their consumption.

The people filled with the spirit of capitalism to-day tend to be indifferent, if not hostile, to the Church.

But more often and, since that motive is not peculiar to them, but was just as effective for the traditionalist, more correctly, simply: that business with its continuous work has become a necessary part of their lives. That is in fact the only possible motivation, but it at the same time expresses what is, seen from the view-point of personal happiness, so irrational about this sort of life, where a man exists for the sake of his business, instead of the reverse.

Of course, the desire for the power and recognition which the mere fact of wealth brings plays its part.

The ideal type of the capitalistic entrepreneur, as it has been represented even in Germany by occasional outstanding examples, has no relation to such more or less refined climbers. He avoids ostentation and unnecessary expenditure, as well as conscious enjoyment of his power, and is embarrassed by the outward signs of the social recognition which he receives. His manner of life is, in other words, often, and we shall have to investigate the historical significance of just this important fact, distinguished by a certain ascetic tendency, as appears clearly enough in the sermon of Franklin which we have quoted. It is, namely, by no means exceptional, but rather the rule, for him to have a sort of modesty which is essentially more honest than the reserve which Franklin so shrewdly recommends. He gets nothing out of his wealth for himself, except the irrational sense of having done his job well.

Now, how could activity, which was at best ethically tolerated, turn into a calling in the sense of Benjamin Franklin?

It might thus seem that the development of the spirit of capitalism is best understood as part of the development of rationalism as a whole, and could be deduced from the fundamental position of rationalism on the basic problems of life. In the process Protestantism would only have to be considered in so far as it had formed a stage prior to the development of a purely rationalistic philosophy.

The worldly rational philosophy of the eighteenth century did not find favour alone or even principally in the countries of highest capitalistic development. The doctrines of Voltaire are even to-day the common property of broad upper, and what is practically more important, middle-class groups in the Romance Catholic countries.

We are here particularly interested in the origin of precisely the irrational element which lies in this, as in every conception of a calling.

Kommentaar sal in die toekoms gelewer word.


Dit was dan The Spirit of Capitalism


The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism: Religious affiliation and social stratification


Religious affiliation and social stratification


Definition of stratification:

In sociologysocial stratification is a concept involving the “classification of persons into groups based on shared socio-economic conditions … a relational set of inequalities with economic, social, political and ideological dimensions.”[1] It is a system by which society ranks categories of people in a hierarchy [2] Social stratification is based on four basic principles: (1) Social stratification is a trait of society, not simply a reflection of individual differences; (2) Social stratification carries over from generation to generation; (3) Social stratification is universal but variable; (4) Social stratification involves not just inequality but beliefs as well.[3]

In modern Western societies, stratification is broadly organized into three main layers: upper classmiddle class, and lower class. Each of these classes can be further subdivided into smaller classes (e.g. occupational).[4]

Several quotes:

the fact that business leaders and owners of capital, as well as the higher grades of skilled labour, and even more the higher technically and commercially trained personnel of modern enterprises, are overwhelmingly Protestant.

The more freedom it has had, the more clearly is the effect shown.

Participation in the above economic functions usually involves some previous ownership of capital, and generally an expensive education; often both.

There arises thus the historical question: why were the districts of highest economic development at the same time particularly favourable to a revolution in the Church?

But it is necessary to note, what has often been forgotten, that the Reformation meant not the elimination of the Church’s control over everyday life, but rather the substitution of a new form of control for the previous one.

But further, and especially important: it may be, as has been claimed, that the greater participation of Protestants in the positions
of ownership and management in modern economic life may to-day be understood, in part at least, simply as a result of the greater material wealth they have inherited.

On the other hand, Catholics prefer the sort of training which the humanistic Gymnasium affords. That is a circumstance to which the above explanation does not apply, but which, on the contrary, is one reason why so few Catholics are engaged in capitalistic enterprise.

The explanation of these cases is undoubtedly that the mental and spiritual peculiarities acquired from the environment, here the type of education favoured by the religious atmosphere of the home community and the parental home, have determined the choice of occupation, and through it the professional career.

National or religious minorities which are in a position of subordination to a group of rulers are likely, through their voluntary or involuntary exclusion from positions of political influence, to be driven with peculiar force into economic activity.

But the Catholics in Germany have shown no striking evidence of such a result of their position.

Thus the principal explanation of this difference must be sought in the permanent intrinsic character of their religious beliefs, and not only in their temporary external historico-political situations.

One recent writer has attempted to formulate the difference of their attitudes toward economic life in the following manner: “The Catholic is quieter, having less of the acquisitive impulse; he prefers a life of the greatest possible security, even with a smaller income, to a life of risk and excitement, even though it may bring the chance of gaining honour and riches. The proverb says jokingly, ‘either eat well or sleep well’. In the present case the Protestant prefers to eat well, the Catholic to sleep undisturbed.”

If, however, one wishes to make use of it at all, several other observations present themselves at once which, combined with the above remarks, suggest that the supposed conflict between other-worldliness, asceticism, and ecclesiastical piety on the one side, and participation in capitalistic acquisition on the other, might actually turn out to be an intimate relationship.

In particular, very many of the most zealous adherents of Pietism are of this origin. It might be explained as a sort of reaction against mammonism on the part of sensitive natures not adapted to commercial life…

Similarly, the remarkable circumstance that so many of the greatest capitalistic entrepreneurs—down to Cecil Rhodes—have come from clergymen’s families might be explained as a reaction against their ascetic upbringing.

However little, in the time of the expansion of the Reformation, it (or any other Protestant belief) was bound up with any particular social class, it is characteristic and in a certain sense typical that in French Huguenot Churches monks and business men (merchants, craftsmen) were particularly numerous among the proselytes, especially at the time of the persecution.

Gothein rightly calls the Calvinistic diaspora the seed-bed of capitalistic economy.

That of Calvinism, even in Germany, was among the strongest, it seems, and the reformed faith21 more than the others seems to have promoted
the development of the spirit of capitalism, in the Wupperthal as well as elsewhere.

In this purely introductory discussion it is unnecessary to pile up more examples. For these few already all show one thing: that the spirit of hard work, of progress, or whatever else it may be called, the awakening of which one is inclined to ascribe to Protestantism, must not be understood, as there is a tendency to do, as joy of living nor in any other sense as connected with the Enlightenment. The old Protestantism of Luther, Calvin, Knox, Voet, had precious little to do with what to-day is called progress.

Montesquieu says (Esprit des Lois, Book XX, chap. 7) of the English that they “had progressed the farthest of all peoples of the world in three
important things: in piety, in commerce, and in freedom”. Is it not possible that their commercial superiority and their adaptation to free political institutions are connected in some way with that record of piety which Montesquieu ascribes to them?

Wat ek hier leer is dat Weber probeer sê dat daar ‘n duidelike verskil in ambisie is tussen die Protestante en die Katolieke, met die gevolg dat die Protestante baie meer prominent op die Kapitalistiese mark verskyn. Hy noem bv dat die Dominees en die Besigheidsmanne gewoonlik die aandag van die vreemdes getrek het in ‘n besigheidsin. Wat hy ook opmerk is dat spesifiek in die Calvinisme is hierdie vooruitstrewende gedrag baie prominent, meer as in die Luteraanse Protestantisme, hoekom sal ons nog uitvind, maar hy merk dit ook op. As gevolg van die vooruitstrewende neigings van die Protestante het daar uit die aard van die saak ‘n klasse verskil begin ontstaan omdat nie almal hierdie gees van vooruitgang in hulle gehad het nie en so en die gaping tussen klasse begin. Besigheidsmanne en Dominees het saam gesels. Wat hy ook noem vir die moontlike ontstaan van hierdie neiging na Kapitalisme in die Protestantisme is tweeledig. Eerstens sê hy dit kan wees dat die Peitisme wat ontstaan het ‘n reaksie kan wees teen die Mamonisme (geldgod) en so ook heeltemal hulself weerhou het van die kommersiele lewe. ‘n Ander opvatting kan wees dat Kapitalisme geseevier het omdat van die grootste entrepreneurs se pa’s self dominees was en juis teen die lewe van weerhouding gerebeleer het en daarom juis die weelde wou ervaar en besit.


Dit was dan Religious affiliation and social stratification