Bijdragen 57 (2):158-188 (1996)

Max Weber's century old thesis on christian ethics and the spirit of capitalism, has been the object of an endless discussion. This has much to do with the interest of the author: Weber was neither intrigued by the fact of a connection between protestantism and capitalism, nor by the influence of Calvinism on the development of the modern capitalism. His interest, however, was exclusively focused on the question 'how can the relation between protestant ethic and capitalism be conceived and reconstructed'. We try to explain many misconceptions by recovering what Weber really has said. Therefore the concepts of 'spirit of capitalism' and 'protestant ethic' are clarified and discussed. First, the spirit of capitalism is not an economic system, but an ethos. The definition of it in respect with the content, the motivation, the aim, and morality is elaborated in a comparison with the commercial ethos of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. This makes clear that Weber's first concern was an analysis of the origin of the modern spirit, not as an intellectual construction, but as an expression of behavior. Second, we investigate what is meant by the terms 'protestantism' and 'ethics' and what the religious roots of the new spirit are: innerworldly ascetism, the notion of calling, and the concepts of wealth and poverty. It is no wonder that there was a lot of criticism because Weber's writings on the above topic were situated on the crossroads of sociology, theology, history and economy. We present and comment on the main criticisms: protestantism rejects capitalism; the spirit of capitalism is much older than the Reformation; there is no monocausal relation between the protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism; the role of catholicism in this development was as/more important in the rise of capitalism. Most of these criticisms result from a superficial presentation of Weber's writings and explanations in his own Anticritics, and don't do justice to Weber's 'idealtypische' and 'verstehende' approach. This approach was not intended to give a complete and exhaustive 'last' explanation of the essence of a social phenomenon
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DOI 10.1080/00062278.1996.10739641
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