A giant of sociological thought, his work straddles a number of sociological approaches. He argues against Marx’s economic determinism. His basic position is that many factors must combine together to produce social change. He approaches the question of why capitalism first developed in the west (mainly Europe) and not elsewhere. One of the major reasons he postulates is that the kind of religious ideas prevalent in the west were conducive to the growth of capitalism. “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism,” which he published in the form of two long articles in 1904 ; 1905, addresses this issue.
While he admits that economic factors do heavily influence change, he also points out that in modern Europe business leaders and owners of capital, the higher grades of skilled labour, the technical personnel of modern enterprises are over- whelmingly protestant. Tracing the assosiation back it can be shown that some of the early centers of capitalist development in the early fifteenth century were strongly protestant. Moreover, he argues that in other countries; like India, China and the Islamic countries, many of the indgredients for capitalist development were present, for example;technological know-how, free labour and monetary institutions.
Yet, nowhere did capitalism develop except those places that held protestant beliefs. WHAT IS THE PROTESTANT ETHIC? 1. The universe has been created to further the greater glory of God and has meaning only in relation to God’s purposes. 2. The motives of the Almighty are beyond human comprehension. 3. Predestination – This was the idea that only a small number of people are chosen to achieve eternal grace. This is determined before one is born and there is nothing one can do to achieve salvation. 4. Sloth, frivolity and despair are cardinal sins.
The tenet of predestination produced in man ‘an unprecedented inner loneliness’ He was entirely alone, and neither by his actions, nor those of others on his behalf, could he reattain salvation. In the 16th century, when life expectancy was short and death an ever-present reality, the question of salvation was very important. To give up hope was to indulge in the sin of despair. Anyone who did so was obviously not one of the elect. Thus, to prosper and to work hard showed that a person was one of the elect and it became the means of settling any doubts in the matter.
Thus, labour in the material world becomes attributed with the highest possible ethical evaluation. Every man must work at his calling, i. e. ; his vocation, the work that God has designated to him, no matter how wealthy he/she is. How good a calling is depends on three things: i. Moral benefits; ii. Degree of importance to the community; and, iii. Profitability for the individual. The doing of work in itself is a sign of grace and of leading a fruitful life, in both worlds. “Disinclination from work is a symptom of a fall from the state of grace.
” If God reveals a chance of profit to an individual he has good reason for doing so. Not taking that chance, therefore, is going against the will of God. The protestant ethic further decrees that riches are bad only when they lead to sloth and frivolity. When they are acquired as part of duty to God, then they are beneficial. The chosen, therefore, are distinguished by their sobriety, hard work and wealth. “The full radiance of ethical approval on the sober bourgeois, self-made man. ”
HOW PROTESTANTISM AFFECTS CAPITALISM. a.It sets a boundary on consumption and at the same time legitimizes acquisition. b. Restrictions on consumption saw to it that there was sufficient capital for investment and re-investment. c. It restricted the tendency to ennoble wealth by investment in land for it was very anti-the feudal system and advocated agriculture only on the level of smallholdings. d. Protestantism gave the entrepreneur a clean conscience about his acquisition as long as it was legal and he made no ‘improper’ use of it. e.
At the same time, it placed under him conscientious workers all working diligently in their calling. f.The entrepreneur’s conscience was also appeased by the fact that the unequal distribution of wealth was part of God’s divine plan. CRITISISMS. i. It has been asserted that Weber used a wrong description of the protestant ethic and that it never allowed acquisition of wealth, even indirectly. ii. There is no proper analysis of Catholicism. In order to analyze Protestantism effectively, Weber should have examined the essence of Catholicism. iii. The Marxists say that early capitalist activity gave rise to the Protestant ethic and not vice versa. iv. Causal explanations in historical analysis are difficult and can be very inaccurate.