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.


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