The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism Paperback – Jul 1 2010
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"Sociologists interested in Max Weber can count themselves fortunate these days with the recent appearance of the second revised edition of Stephen Kalberg's new translation of Weber's work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. . . . Those teaching upper division undergraduate and graduate courses in social theory or the sociology of religion will find this volume an ideal introduction to Weber's work and to the continuing controversies surrounding his famous thesis. At $14.95 in paper-bound edition, it is more than worth the price."-- Donald A. Nielsen, State University of New York Oneota
About the Author
Stephen Kalberg is Associate Professor of Sociology at Boston University and an affiliate of the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies at Harvard University.
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This is an edition that can only exist in the era of mass book-buying sight unseen over the internet. You would never, ever buy this book if you looked at it at a store. Reading it is infuriating. The text looks like it was cut-and-pasted from a website -- indeed, certain phrases (eg, the title "Pilgrim's Progress") are underlined and in slightly lighter font, as though they were originally hyperlinks. The text is riddled with typos and moments where you're not certain whether or not a line or a passage was unintentionally dropped out; the footnoting seriously disrupts the line-spacing, in a way that makes the experience of reading incredibly unpleasant.
If you want to read this text online for free, go ahead and do it. But if you want to buy a book that you can keep, refer to, underline, etc. when away from your electronic devices, buy the penguin edition (new translation) or one of the other reprints of the Parson translations.
This edition is an insult to anyone who takes books seriously.
Since Webber, there has been much study of this topic, with some of the main names being Lawrence Harrison (focusing on the culture of underdevelopment) and Francis Fukuyama (focusing on how trusting societies benefit economically). Both and others push the frontiers initially established by Webber.
Though controversial especially today in the period of political correctness, Webber presents a strong mainly anecdotal case (given the absense of many statistical tools at the time) of why protestant societies succeed in capitalism; his main argument (though there are many other important ones) is that it is socially acceptable in protestant societies to make a profit, whereas it may be considered immoral in other societies, such as catholic ones.
This is a good theoretical book with a few good anecdotes. It is for someone interested in the history of sociology, especially as it pertains to economics. If you are just looking for a link between culture or religion and economics, look at Larry Harrison.
Weber is an astute analyst, in many ways. He rightly notes that often the 'sine qua non' of Capitalism is thought of as "greed". Arguing against this notion, Weber points out that all societies have had greedy people within their particular economic system-greed is thus a factor irrespective of economic systems. Replacing this, Weber proposes that the "spirit" of Capitalism be thought of as a particular moral attitude towards work and idleness-an attitude that holds that constant and diligent work for its own sake is a moral imperative. In the face of what Weber calls "the radical elimination of magic from the world" this work ethic was the existential option left for people in terms of atonement and personal compensation for inadequacies. I believe that these two insights are right on target.
If there is a weakness involved in his characterization of this Protestant "Ethic," it lies in the fact that Weber attempts to draw a strict dichotomy in the origins of this ethic. He states forcefully that this ethic does not come out of any Enlightenment thought. The problem with trying to separate this ethic from the Enlightenment, is that this ethic which posits diligent work for its own sake is clearly found in the ethics of Immanuel Kant, who classified this kind of work and labor as a "duty" (ethical rule) that the self has to itself. In other words, how much of this is the legacy of the Reformation and how much of this is the legacy of the Enlightenment?
The necessity for this kind of work also appears in the ethics of Hegelian philosophy. Hegel characterizes work as a means of the realization of Spirit within the human self, since the performance of duties which one would not normally choose to do can be thought of as a deliberate placing of oneself in the context of alienation. The individual then, through diligent "work," attempts to convert that which is foreign (antithetical) to the self into that which is of the self. Work is thus a means of overcoming a system of deliberate self-alienation, and is vitally necessary. Kant and Hegel, clearly two giants of Enlightenment thought, both maintain that the essence of diligent work is to become, not acquire-acquisition is a by-product and consequence of work. This is very similar to Weber's characterization of this ethos.
Another problem arises when we attempt to draw a strict separation between the worldly attitudes of Catholic monasticism and this "Protestant Ethic." While it is certainly true that Catholic monasticism placed a high degree of value on contemplatio, Catholic dogma, from Augustine through Gregory the Great and onwards, held explicitly that one must always return to work in the world-contemplatio was always insufficient in itself as a mode of being. Biblically, this was often seen in light of the Hebrew story of Rachel and Leah, as well as the Greek story of Mary and Martha. The contemplative life is certainly of "higher" value in Catholic thought, yet it must be seen as returning the soul to the life of activity, lest the soul run the risk of the heresy of "Quietism." Some forms of Catholic mysticism ran into heretical issues precisely because they held that the life of activity should be abandoned. So, while there may be a difference in degree, we should be careful not to draw a stronger split than is there. Weber writes as if only Luther or Calvin has the concept of a life's "calling," when this was always already part of Catholicism too.
This entire issue actually has its roots in Greek political philosophy, where we see a clear tension between the "practical life", and the "contemplative life." The issue persists into Roman life. We can even see some evidence of this type of Protestant ethos in Stoicism, which held that the active pursuit of virtue and public activity was the highest good. Contrast to Epicureanism, which held that the private, quiet study of philosophy and other pleasures, away from worldly life, was the highest good. The issue, of course, reemerges in Christian thought. But for all of its force in Protestantism, we must not take a myopic view that this was somehow unique to Protestantism in Western intellectual thought. Other factors than religion must have also played a role in the development of capitalism.
The role of Judiasm is Weber's biggest problem. According to his own endnotes, Jews enjoy more economic success and motivation---so why would Protestantism give birth to Capitalism?
We should nonetheless congratulate Weber for attempting to take a close look at the interactions between religious and economic thought. Like Marx, his work serves a good framework to examine the way religious thought influences and inteacts with factors like world economics.
religious belief in money as a means of eternal salvation. Trough accumulating more wealth, capitalists were trying to prove for themselves that they were worthy of God's grace and hence were secured an afterlife in Paradise. However, spending money was not an option for these capitalists. It was considered a sin to use capital gains to satisfy carnal and worldly desires ( compare with Enron and Worldcom executives). Wealth was in many ways protected by a fear of God.
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