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SOCY 151: Foundations of Modern Social Theory
- Weber on Protestantism and Capitalism
Max Weber wrote his best-known work after he recovered from a period of serious mental illness near the turn of the twentieth century. After he recovered, his work transitioned from enthusiastically capitalist and liberal in the tradition of Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill to much more skeptical of the down-sides of modernization, more similar to the thinking of Nietzsche and Freud. In his first major work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Weber argues that the Protestant faith, especially Luther’s notion of “calling” and the Calvinist belief in predestination set the stage for the emergence of the capitalist spirit. With his more complex understanding of the causes of capitalism, Weber accounts for the motivations of capitalists and the spirit of capitalism and rationalization in ways that Marx does not.
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Foundations of Modern Social Theory
SOCY 151 - Lecture 16 - Weber on Protestantism and Capitalism
Chapter 1. Similarities and Differences Among Marx, Nietzsche, Freud and Weber [00:00:00]
Professor Iván Szelényi: Now also I would like to spend a couple of minutes kind of wrapping up some issues about the four authors, what we covered in the test–right?–Marx, Nietzsche, Freud and Weber, just to help you to get an overall sense–right?–what the bottom line is, and what the similarities and differences are. And then I’ll go into Max Weber. There’s a lot I want to cover today. Would love to talk a lot about his life; I won’t have time. I could give you a lot of nice and juicy stories, what I have, but unfortunately I have to withhold myself.
Okay, so the four authors. There is one important common feature in all four authors, and somewhat distinct from the theorists we studied so far. In one way or another, all four of them call be called critical theorists. That means they all offer critical analysis of what is in your mind. They say, “What is in your mind is not necessarily what you think it is. Let’s subject your consciousness to critical scrutiny.” I think all four do share this argument. Right? Marx certainly, with the idea that well the dominant ideas of each epoch are the ideas of the dominant class, and therefore you think what is in your mind is your idea. “Tell me what your class position is and I will tell you where your ideas are coming from.” Right?
Now this is Nietzsche’s project. He said, “Well, you think this is morality? I will show the immorality of morality, what you think is moral.” Right? This is certainly Freud. “You think this is your ideas? Well lay on my couch and talk to me, and I will–you will recall all these early sexual experiences in your life, and then you will realize what–who you really are.”
Well, you know, Weber is a little more complicated, but he also has this idea of legitimacy and domination–with some later Marxist people on this. And the fundamental idea of Weber is coming also from Nietzsche. And the fundamental idea is that we actually do internalize the very principles of our submission. That’s what legitimacy, at least in my interpretation, in Weber is. There is domination. Right? And therefore Weber also helps you to understand–right?–where these ideas are coming from, and to what extent you yourself are your own jail keeper. Right? That’s sort of mine–a little post-modernist reading of Max Weber. So these are–in this way they are all critical theorists. Right? They are critiques of consciousness.
But there are fundamental differences between the four authors. And in some ways there is a similarity between Marx and Freud. Marx and Freud all take their point of departure in their project to be critical of consciousness for sensuous human experience. Right? Material reality. In one way or another they are both materialists. Right? Of course, for Marx it is reductionist, because this sensuous human experience is reduced to the economy. “You tell me what your position in the economic system are, then I understand what your economic interests are. You are behaving and you are thinking according to your economic interests, and then I will understand what is on your mind.” Well, by the way, it’s not all that different–right?–from Adam Smith and rationally acting individuals. Marx has some similarities. Only he offers it critically, while Adam Smith offered it affirmatively. But that is Marx’s reductionism; that what is sensuous experience is reduced to the economy.
And then he also has an agency; that’s the big, unique feature of Marx’s theory. He knows what good society is; does not describe in much detail, but has an idea about good society. And he knows who the historical agent is, who will lead us there. I mean, many of you were probably turned off by his vision of the future. But the strength of the theory is that he has a vision of good society, and he knows how to get there. So those of you who are looking for answers, Karl Marx does have answers for you. Right?
Now what about Freud? He does not quite have answers to you. Right? When you are lying on his couch–right?–he helps you to discover the repressed desires in yourself, and then it will help you to get rid of your depression, anxieties, hysteria, or whatever you are suffering from. Right? But it will be up to you–right?–to somehow figuring out what is repressed in you. He only will help you to find it. Right? Does he have a very clearly defined good society? He has sort of ambiguous attitudes about this. Right? Civilization, modern civilization. Well, this is coming from repression. Civilization has a lot to do how people are being controlled. On the other hand, he knows out of the id a lot of nasty, aggressive stuff is coming from, and they have to be repressed. So he has a kind of ambiguous attitude. He does not want to go against civilization, but he sees the dark side of civilization at the same time.
Now what is common in Nietzsche and Weber, that they all depart from this idea–right?–that it is sensuous experiences from which you have to understand–right?–what’s wrong with your consciousness. Their central concern is power–right?–power and domination. It is not the economy, it is not sexuality; it is power. And interestingly in some ways, therefore, they probably reach back all the way to Hobbes–right?–that all history of humankind is struggle around power. Well this is the most radically done by Nietzsche, because what Nietzsche is doing–right?–he shows you how the most noble ideas, what you have in your mind, are actually manufactured–right?–in the workshop of ideals, in very nasty ways, by coercion–right?–by torture. And he shows you this instrument of coercion.
If the history of the museum–historical museum of Marx is filled up with the means of production; you go into a museum, you can see the life-right?–how people lived, what their house was, what the instruments were they produced their livelihood. You see this in a lot of contemporary museums, which are not Marxist, but still inspired by this Marxian idea. Nietzsche’s museum? Well you will find guillotines. Right? You will find all these instruments of torture. That’s human history, the history of torture. And that’s where is an interesting similarity between Weber and Nietzsche; namely, that the history of humankind is evolution, but this evolution has its downside. Our bodies may not be tortured any longer in modern civilization, but our souls are kept hostage. That’s the bad news. Right? Now I think that’s, in a nutshell, I think the kind of similarities and differences of the four authors we covered for this test. And I don’t think I have more time to deal with this.
Chapter 2. Weber in a Historical Context [00:10:22]
So let’s now go to Max Weber. And I am actually very sensitive. Somebody asked a question whether on the test the question on domination should be there? I will be thinking very hard about this. In fact, if you still have–very much dislike questions, send me an email and I will try to take this into consideration. Okay, so this is Max Weber. Born in 1864 and died in 1920. Well nowadays with flu shots, he would not have died. He just died of pneumonia. He probably would have lived longer. Fortunately he did not, because he did not live Nazism, and we do not have to ask the unpleasant question, would have Max Weber turned into be a Nazi? I doubt, but there are some who believe he might have, and we will talk about this later on.
So a word about the Max Weber’s family. This is a Protestant family who lived in the city of Salzburg, which was in the Hapsburg Empire. It was actually an independent city, ruled by an archbishop–a very Catholic city. And by the late-eighteenth century, this archbishop started to take the counterreformation too seriously. So therefore those who were not Roman Catholic better left. So did the Weber family, and they moved to Germany, in the Rhineland, and they settled in Bielefeld, and they set up a textile manufacturing business, which operated pretty good. Weber’s father, Max senior, was the younger of two sons. And the family business, though it was doing okay, was not enough to support two families. Therefore he was asked to learn some trade. So he actually entered civil service and became a politician and civil servant.
Max Weber himself was born in ‘64 in Erfurt, in the eastern part of Germany, where his father was stationed at that time. And his mother was Helene Fallenstein; a very sensitive, wonderful woman. There were eight brothers and sisters–a big family, and quite a family. Here you have the three brothers: Max on the left, and the middle, Alfred Weber. Alfred Weber was quite a scholar. He was a younger brother of Max, and he was a very prominent economist, philosopher and sociologist, but primarily economist, who was well known for the theory of industrial location, in his times. He was a professor at University of Heidelberg. He did not turn into a Nazi. He was actually laid off by the Nazis, and re-instituted in 1945. Those of you who study in economics industrial relation theory may have come across the name of Alfred Weber. He was actually the famous Weber. Max Weber was less famous in his time than Alfred.
Now Max Weber’s mother was Helene, as I said. She was a wonderful lady. She was a devote Calvinist–so now you can understand the role of Calvinism and the Protestant Ethic in Weber–and was also greatly interested in philanthropy. And that’s where Weber’s social sensitivity is coming from. There was a great deal of conflict between the sensitive Helene and Max senior, who was a very authoritarian, paternalistic figure–a very unpleasant guy. Politically also extremely conservative, and they had quite a bit of conflict with each other. Early in his life, Max sided with his father–did what Freud said you will do, when you would overcome your Oedipus complex, you identify with your father. Okay, this is what he did. But then he actually shifted and eventually sided with his mother.
Well this is the father. Well I would not have liked him as my father. He was a conservative politician, a very patriarchal figure. He started in the municipality as a civil servant in Erfurt. Then became actually a deputy of the National Liberal Party, which had very little to do with liberalism. It was a conservative party. This was under the chancellorship of Otto von Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor–real conservative times in Germany.
Now about Weber’s life. He studied in Heidelberg and then in Berlin. He studied both law and agrarian history. Actually he was somewhere between a legal theorist, a historian, and an economist; he was kind of sociologist last. In ’92, he married Marianne Schnitger, who was a kind of second-cousin. I will come back to this relationship later on. In ‘95, he was appointed professor of economics at Freiberg, and then he moved to Heidelberg, where he basically spent the rest of his life. He also became professor of political science. He was involved early in his life in very feverish academic activities. He published two Ph.D. dissertations, one in law and one in history. The law Ph.D. was on commercial law in Medieval Italy, and the history was on agrarian history in Rome. Both books were published; and they are actually not in English. A later version of the agrarian history was published in Germany.
‘97, he suffered a very serious nervous breakdown. I would love to talk in detail about this. By all likelihood it had a lot to do with his conflict with his father. Just during the summer of ‘97, the mother visited–he visited the parents in Berlin, and then the mother said, “Well I want to visit you in Heidelberg.” And then the father said, “No, you can’t, because I need you here.” Right? “Who will cook my breakfast?” And then Max Weber, who was always subservient and obedient to the father, revolted, and he said, “Father, you can’t do that. If Mother wants to visit us, she should be allowed to visit us.” And this happened the first time that Max Weber said no to the father. Well the father passed away within two or three months, and just after the death of the father Weber had a very serious nervous breakdown. Well, no one knows exactly what it had to do with the death of the father, but there is certainly a correlation between the two facts.
It was actually a very serious disease. He was lucky to be married to a wonderful and extremely smart woman, Marianne–they married earlier–and Marianne was a great help for him to recover from this nervous breakdown. For five years Weber could not teach, could not write, could not read. He was just sitting in the corner staring out of himself. Marianne took him to travels. They went to Italy and eventually he recovered. ‘92 [correction: 1902], he’s coming out of his nervous breakdown and returns to Heidelberg, though he never really took on very regular teaching duties anymore.
1904, he had his only trip to the USA. He went to the St. Louis World Fair and wrote a wonderful paper at that time. And then in 1906–again, I wish I would have more time to talk about the Richthofen sisters. This is a great story. Anyway, he obviously falls in love with Elsa von Richthofen. Else von Richthofen was actually the wife of a good friend and colleague of Weber, Jaffé, a major political social theorist. Well this is a very important event in Weber’s life. It lasts until his death. It is actually not Marianne who is standing by his deathbed, but Else von Richthofen. Interestingly, Else and Marianne were very good friends. Again, I cannot resist to give you a little gossip. But the best as we know, the marriage with Marianne was never consumed. So this affair with Else von Richthofen is really the first real fulfilled erotic experience in Weber’s life, and has a lot to do, I think, in Weber’s changing thinking about life and modernity–the rediscovery of the power of eroticism.
Then he has been doing work on religion. This is mainly a response to criticism he got for his book–we will be talking in a minute about The Protestant Ethic–and he tries to defend his work on The Protestant Ethic by looking at various world religions, and shows that rationalization did not take place in these religions as much as it happened in Christianity. And then he’s working on his opus magnum, Economy and Society; what he never finished. Died in 1920.
Well this is Else von Richthofen, Mrs. Jaffé. She came from a very prominent German family. There were three very prominent and very beautiful Richthofen sisters. As I said, Else was the wife of Edgar Jaffé. Her sister, Frieda von Richthofen, had a long and very passionate relationship, eventual marriage, with D.H. Lawrence. And probably many of you in high school have read D.H. Lawrence and Sons and Lovers. Sons and Lovers was inspired by Frieda van Richthofen. It was a very turbulent, complicated relationship.
Well this is Weber in Heidelberg–last time in his life. The early work in Weber was mainly in antiquity. In 1903 and 4, he writes The Protestant Ethic. Then the big world religions, China, India and Judaism. And then finally Economy and Society, an unfinished manuscript. This is the First Edition of The Protestant Ethic. Well I think I’ll probably skip this one, because I will talk to The Protestant Ethic later. Well this is the Weber’s house in Heidelberg. As you can see, University of Heidelberg treated their professors quite nice. Well Marianne was running a salon in this house, with an extraordinary intellectual circle around them. This is Marianne Weber. She was, as I said, a wonderful woman. He was actually a kind of second-cousin. Her grandfather was the brother of Max Weber’s father. She was also a formidable intellectual. Her book, Wives and Mothers in the Evolution of Law, was a great success. Émile Durkheim reviewed the book. And at that time Marianne was much more famous than Max Weber was.
Max turned quite nationalistic, as many other Germans during the First World War. But then his experiences of the horrors of the First World War, and partially I think the relationship with Else von Richthofen, turns him from a committed liberal who just had nothing else to say but approving things about modernity–somebody who is called “a liberal in despair”. He remains liberal for his life. He will always say that capitalism is the only viable system we can live in; modernity has no alternative. But he’s beginning increasingly to show the downside of this modernity. He said, “I cannot come up with anything better. But it should not prevent me to see the disenchantment, the loss of magic, in the modern world, and the horrors of the modern world.” We will talk about this later on.
He actually–nationalism had an impact on him–he actually was part of the delegation at the Versailles Peace Treaty, and he was responsible for inserting Article 48 into the Weimar Constitution, which unfortunately was used for Hitler to gain power in 1933. I mean, not that Weber can– shall be held responsible for Nazism, but this is something I have to share with you. Well the last work, Economy and Society, is mainly a theory of domination, and we will talk about next week what domination is. He basically combines power, which is legitimated, as the concept of domination. And what he does, he develops a theory of human history as subsequent types of dominations; a major departure from Marx. Right? That social history not describes subsequent modes of production, but different types of domination. Okay, so that was the life and work of Max Weber.
Chapter 3. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism: The Marx-Weber Debate [00:26:37]
And now let’s turn into The Protestant Ethic; and try to do this in twenty minutes, which will not be easy. Okay. So this is–as he recovers from the nervous breakdown, his first major book is The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. And that’s in many ways a major departure. Before the nervous breakdown, Weber is an enthusiast pro-capitalist and pro-liberal. His major concern before 1897 is what blocks the development in the eastern part of Germany, and how those forces which block the development of capitalism can be overcome. He’s very much a liberal in the sense of Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill. Then he has his nervous breakdown, and the person who is emerging looks like a person who has been thinking about Nietzsche–right?–by staring ahead of himself a great deal, and that’s beginning to show already in The Protestant Ethic.
Well he was working at a time when Marxism was the dominant intellectual force in Germany. The Social Democratic Party in Germany was gaining ground and beginning to do extremely well–at elections as well. And therefore, in my reading, Max Weber’s project is to challenge Marxism in fundamental ways. And The Protestant Ethic is a first and major step in the direction to challenge Marxism. So what is the Marx-Weber debate? If you are interested in it, I will teach a seminar next semester which will only deal with this slide, what I am presenting here to you. But you will be asked to read a lot of text from Marx and Weber. Well historical materialism–right?–suggests that it’s only economic forces which explain history. Weber said, “Look, ideas matter too. You cannot deduce ideas and cultural features from economic conditions.” Also, Marx has no problem what motivates human beings: survival, economic interests. Weber said, “No, we are not only motivated by economic interests, we are also motivated by tradition; we can be motivated by values.” He has a more complex notion of human motivation.
Then, as I mentioned, history cannot be described as subsequent modes of production. What changes is the nature of power; the different type of motivation. What changes from time to time historically, how people, in position of power, what kind of claims do they make for you to obey, and how you internalize–right?–the principles of your subordination. And he develops these different types of authorities. Right? Three major types: traditional authority, charismatic authority, and put it liberal authority, legal- rational authority. This is his somewhat awkward term to describe the liberal system, what we would call liberalism.
And finally class. Weber uses the term of class, but he said they are not based–you should not identify class on property relationship, but on marketplaces, and Marx made an error by believing that class has always existed in history. Class is a new phenomenon which emerges only with modern marketing integrated economies; market economies.
All right, what are the major themes in The Protestant Ethic? He starts with a rather uninteresting part. He offers some empirical evidence there is a correlation between being rich and being Protestant. Well this is no proof of causality; it’s a kind of prima facie evidence, what he does. I think that’s probably the weakest part of the book. Then he asks the question, what is the spirit of capitalism? What is the worldview of capitalism? Then he looks at Luther’s conception of calling, and what it has to do with the spirit of capitalism. Then he looks at the religious foundations of worldly, “this-worldly asceticism”, and how Reformation brings this by; and, in particular, the interpretation of it in Calvinism, and the teaching of predestination. Okay, so these are the crucial issues.
Chapter 4. The Correlation between Capitalism and Protestantism [00:32:23]
So the religious stratification and affiliation and social stratification. As I said, this is the weaker part of the book. You really should do it, if you read the whole book, as prima facie evidence. There is something going on here. Look at the data, and it turns out that Protestant countries were probably ahead of Catholic countries in capitalism. And look at the very wealthy people, and you will see more Protestant than Catholics. Well not a very forceful argument. He himself is a bit unclear about this, because he does not quite know what causes what. Is this somehow people, Protestants inherited more wealth, or because they are Protestant they can create more wealth?
But, you know, if you are looking at American history, there is certainly prima facie evidence for this. Right? Think about nineteenth century United States. Right? It was WASP: white, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant. Right? And then there were the poor people coming in. And who were they were? The Irish and the Italian. And what was their religion? Roman Catholic. Right? So I think if you are thinking in nineteenth century, late nineteenth-century U.S., the kind of empirical evidence is, you know, pretty persuasive. But otherwise, of course, I don’t think this would stand up for scrutiny. But I think this is just to start the argument.
Chapter 5. What is the Spirit of Capitalism? [00:34:11]
Now comes the more serious one. What is the spirit of capitalism? And this is–there are two important points he makes. He says, “What is unique about capitalism, that the greed is turned into an ethical imperative.” And the other one is that the essence of capitalism is rationalism and calculation. Well greed turned into an ethical imperative. A very interesting point, because as we have seen Marx does not offer any explanation why on earth suddenly the capitalists start accumulating capital. Marx does not have a theory to explain the motivation of original accumulation of capital. He only said original accumulation of capital is a kind of theft–right?–and once you have capital, you don’t have to assume theft. But, you know, the original accumulation comes close to theft. But he does not explain why on earth people beginning to accumulate capital. And Weber said, “Well this is interesting.” Because in most history, people like us, who are working day and night, and, you know, you put our little money in 401(k)s or whatever, and, you know, try to put a little money in the stock market. You know, most people, in most human history, they would say, “These people are jerks. Why don’t they relax? Now they have enough to eat, they should have fun.”
And most of you in this room will probably never have much fun. Right? You will be working day and night to make more money. Where does it come from? He said this is unique for capitalism. This is unique for modernity, because greed, to become rich, became an ethical imperative. Right? That is the essence. And he said it has a lot to do with rationalization of modernity. And we will see it will have a lot to do with Calvinism, and predestination, and Luther’s notion of calling.
Well this is the point what I said, right? Pre-capitalist man actually could not understand us. Right? They had to work day and night because they needed it in order to survive. But once they had enough food to eat, and they had shelter, they were not running after money any longer. Right? This is something which is unique for modern man. “The capitalist system needs this devotion to the calling to make money.” Right? It is for us an ethical imperative. You know? Well to what extent predestination, I don’t know. But if you are very rich you will say, “Well I have to get richer, because I am doing good by becoming rich, because I’m creating jobs for others. What a good person I am.” Right? That’s why you want to become rich, to be–to create jobs for others.
Now calculation–this is absolutely crucial for Weber. He said, “Well capitalism begins with rational economic calculation, which did not exist before capitalist times.” Well he kind of departs here from Adam Smith, for whom rational calculation was always there. People were just not rational. Weber said now this is a uniquely historical phenomenon, that we’re beginning to calculate effort and return against to each other. And we invent double bookkeeping. Right? This is what we spend in terms of money and our energy, and this is our return, this is our profit which appears. So rational economic calculation is the key of our capitalist spirit. Right?
These are the two things. That in order to work hard and to make money makes you a good person. Right? It’s an altruistic act that you can become rich. And second, you are capitalist if you make rational bookkeeping. Right? If you don’t keep, you know, your incomes and expenditures, you are doing something wrong; you are not a real capitalist. Right? So in order–keep in mind, you know, you have to keep your checks balanced. Right? You always have to know how much you spend and how much you have.
And rationalism–there’s a big tendency for history that we are becoming increasingly rationalized. Right? And he said, “Only naïve historical materialism assumes that ideas originate as reflection of economic situation.” He said, “The spirit of capitalism was present before the capitalist order.” You had to invent rationalism and rational calculation before you could have capital accumulation and capitalism as such.
Chapter 6. Luther’s Conception of Calling [00:39:21]
Now here you come, Luther’s conception of calling. One very important issue is this is a this-worldly view. It’s a big change from Medieval Catholic theology. Luther coined the term Beruf in translating the Bible into German. And the term Beruf has multiple meanings. In English I think it is quite well translated as calling; though not quite, because in German Beruf has the very pedestrian, simple meaning of occupation. So if you are filling out a questionnaire, a German language questionnaire, for the line ‘occupation’ stands ‘Beruf’. But Beruf is also a call. Ruf is to call, in German. So Beruf is that you–God calls you. Right? You got a ruf, you got a call. Right? God calls you. Right? You are needed. You have to do something for God. This is Beruf.
And what is God calling you? To perform well in your occupation. So while in medieval asceticism the essence of life was afterlife. Right? You were a saint when you withdraw from your life. You hardly ate anything. You become a saint because all what you eat is an egg a day, and you still survive. Right? This is sainthood, in the Medieval Roman Catholic sense. Now this is no good any longer. Luther said you have to be active in this life, in your occupation. That’s when you are a saint, not when you withdraw yourself from life and wait for afterlife. Right? This is the big innovation of Luther and theology. Sort of therefore–right?–what God wants you is to fulfill your duties in this world–right?–rather than to be a saint, not to consume, withdraw, and so on and so forth. Okay. Now let’s move on.
But Luther is also a traditional theorist [correction: theologian], and Weber notes that. In fact, his emphasis on Beruf means that you have to perform in the job what you have, in the social position what you have. This is not a theory for change. It is a theory for the reproduction of the status quo. And Luther actually stood up against the peasant revolutions in Germany of his time and sided with political conservatives. And therefore Weber suggests that this non-dynamic view of history made it impossible for Lutheranism to become the real moving force, and therefore it remained too traditionalistic, and that’s why you needed Calvinism.
And why Calvinism? Well the big change in modernity, that magic is being eliminated. What was magic? That we have power over God; we could force God to do something for us. Right? There were prescriptions what we do, and these were magical means by which you have magic– you know, the magician comes, rain doesn’t come; the magician does its tricks and rain will come. Right? That’s magic. Now in order to rationalize the world, you have to get rid of magic. The world becomes rationalized. You understand where the rain is coming from, and you know there is hardly anything you can do to make it rain. Right? So this is elimination of magic. And this is what you see in a Calvinist church. You walk into the Calvinist church, they don’t have any pictures of saints; you know, it has a coldness of rationalism–right?–in a Presbyterian church.
Chapter 7. Religious Foundation of Worldly Asceticism [00:43:31]
And what is the most important element of Calvinism is the theory of predestination. And that’s a very interesting teaching. Calvin assumed–and this is basically to try radically to get rid of any notion of magic–that in fact whether you will be saved or you perish was decided upon your birth by God; there is nothing you can do about this. So therefore, you know, in Medieval Roman Catholic churches this is what Luther was revolting against. Unfortunately there were some corrupt Roman Catholic priests who said, “You know what? Give me a little money, and if you give me money, then you will go to heaven, rather than to hell.” Right? So people could buy their way into salvation. Now Calvin said, “No way. You can’t do anything.” Not only not giving money to the priest, which was obviously corrupt and the church never approved it; it was just kind of corrupt practices of individuals. But he said, “There is nothing you can do in life, because it has been predestined.”
The big question is how on earth this teaching actually can create the Protestant work ethic? Why do we work hard, if it has been decided, pre-decided, before us that we will perish or will be saved? Well this will come out actually from the preachings of Calvinist ministers; actual practices, pastoral practices. They said, “Well, you know, you are–” Well this is a town of Puritanism, that was really a place-right?–of predestination. New Haven was created by them. You start teaching. Then you will say, “Well are you concerned whether you go to hell or heaven? You are, aren’t you?” Right? You don’t want to burn all your life. You want to know whether you go to heaven. Well there is one way to do it. Work hard, and if your work will be rewarded, this will be a sign that God loves you and you will go to heaven.
So therefore you are working hard, not in order to buy your way into heaven, but in order to have the sign of God that you are on the right trajectory and you will go to heaven. Well he said unfortunately this Protestant ethic to work hard, to save–Benjamin Franklin, he said, “Benjamin Franklin”–right?–“you are gone in modern capitalism.” Because now–the Puritans, you know, wanted you to work hard. Now this is all gone. And what was created actually we are in “an iron cage.” This is a famous quotation. Again, you have to take it down; one of the most frequently cited sentences from Weber. “Modernity created an iron cage where we are actually working, because we are forced to work very hard.”
Chapter 8. Asceticism and the Spirit of Capitalism [00:46:59]
And the spirit of capitalism today–I think he was reading Veblen and the theory of the leisure class, and looking at American wealthy, by the early twentieth century, who started to have a good life, not only to save. They would not follow any longer Benjamin Franklin’s advice: Get up early when the sun rises, and go to bed when the sun sets, because you don’t want to burn the candle and waste money on the candle when you burn. Right? That was the real–right?–Puritan spirit; the spirit which created this very institution, Yale University. Right? Don’t burn your candles–right?–because you waste money. Save money; that’s what will please God, and that’s what will be the sign that you have been saved. Now he said this is unfortunately not any longer, because people are actually are for consumption, conspicuous consumption.
Well and then he ends up–this is a very important quotation; keep it and it will be helpful for you to understand the importance difference between Marx and Weber–he said, “Look, but don’t misunderstand me. I don’t want to substitute a one-sided materialist explanation of history, what Marx offers, with a one-sided idealist history. I’m not suggesting that capitalism came out of Calvinism. All what I’m suggesting, there has been an independent change in theological teaching, from Medieval Catholicism to Reformation. It was a rationalization of religious thinking: the loss of magic, the rationalism, the teaching of predestination. And if this would not have happened, capitalist institutions would not have been able to develop.”
Not that they caused the emergence of capitalist institutions; there was also an evolution of the economic systems. The material change happened in one line, and the change in the sphere of ideas happened in another line. And what he said, “There is an elective affinity between the two.” If you have the proper ideas, and the proper economic institution, bingo–right?– then the change happens; then you have modern capitalism. If you don’t have the right ideas, like Calvinism–he said, “Like in China in the twelfth century everybody, everything was ready for capitalism. It did not happen because the Confucian and Taoist ideas at that time did not give the ideological framing which would have helped the development of capitalism in China, and that’s why China was held back.” Right?
Calvinism, you know, rationalization of ideas could happen, but if there are no economic conditions for capitalism, it will not happen either. So this is the idea of elective affinity. He rejects a simple causal relationship between ideas and material conditions, and he substitutes it, we would say today, an interactive effect. Right? There is an interaction between ideas and material conditions. He calls it elective affinity, as such. Thank you very much. And the test questions will be posted, just before 7:00 p.m. I have a discussion section at 7:00. So before I go to the discussion section Thursday, I will post the questions.
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