The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism: Author’s Introduction


Author’s Introduction


Unlimited greed for gain is not in the least identical with capitalism, and is still less its spirit. Capitalism may even be identical with the restraint, or at least a rational tempering, of this irrational impulse.

We will define a capitalistic economic action as one which rests on the expectation of profit by the utilization of opportunities for exchange, that is on (formally) peaceful chances of profit.

Everything is done in terms of balances: at the beginning of the enterprise an initial balance, before every individual decision a calculation to ascertain its probable profitableness, and at the end a final balance to ascertain how much profit has been made.

For the purpose of this conception all that matters is that an actual adaptation of economic action to a comparison of money income with money expenses takes place, no matter how primitive the form.

But in modern times the Occident has developed, in addition to this, a very different form of capitalism which has appeared nowhere else: the rational capitalistic organization of (formally) free labour.

The frequent use of day labourers led in a very few cases—especially State monopolies, which are, however, very different from modern industrial organization—to manufacturing organizations, but never to a rational organization of apprenticeship in the handicrafts like that of our Middle Ages.

The modern rational organization of the capitalistic enterprise would not have been possible without two other important factors in its development: the separation of business from the household, which completely dominates modern economic life, and closely connected with it, rational book-keeping.

For without the rational capitalistic organization of labour, all this, so far as it was possible at all, would have nothing like the same significance, above all for the social structure and all the specific problems of the modern Occident connected with it.

The modern conflict of the large-scale industrial entrepreneur and free-wage labourers was entirely lacking. And thus there could be no such problems as those of socialism.

Hence in a universal history of culture the central problem for us is not, in the last analysis, even from a purely economic viewpoint, the development of capitalistic activity as such, differing in different cultures only in form: the adventurer type, or capitalism in trade, war, politics, or administration as sources of gain. It is rather the origin of this sober bourgeois capitalism with its rational organization of free labour.

When these types have been obstructed by spiritual obstacles, the development of rational economic conduct has also met serious inner resistance. The magical and religious forces, and the ethical ideas of duty based upon them, have in the past always been among the most important formative influences on conduct. In the studies collected here we shall be concerned with these forces.

the problem which is generally most difficult to grasp: the influence of certain religious ideas on the development of an economic spirit, or the ethos of an economic system.

In hierdie inleiding stel die outeur slegs wat hy poog om te bewys en hoe hy tewerk gegaan het om sy stellings te bewys. Hy is duidelik van mening dat die vorming van kapitalisme grotendeels beinvloed was deur die invloed van geloofsisteme, en daaroom wil hy sê dat kapitalisme vinniger posgevat het in die negatiewe sin in die weste vanwee ‘n mindere toewyding aan enige religieuse waarde. Die ooste aan die ander kant het egter steeds langer meer waarde aan die religie geheg en so, al was hulle voor met sekere tegnologiese uitvindsels, het hulle steeds nie onder die groot dwang van kapitalisme beland tot baie later nie. Dus, die groot dryfveer agter hierdie sosiale studie van die kapitalistiese kultuur, is vir die outeur die groot vraag na geloofsisteme, en watter rol dit het op die groter sisteme van die samelewing…


Dit was dan die Author’s Introduction