Discuss the main points made by Max Weber about Protestantism and capitalism.  What part makes sense? What part does not make sense, particularly in the United States?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber argues that the Protestant faith has been somewhat more compatible with capitalism than the Catholic Church has been.  He argues that Protestant beliefs help to make people more successful in economic terms.  While much of what Weber says makes sense, we must remember that he was writing over 100 years ago and his conclusions might not be as applicable to modern society in the United States as they once were.

What I find most convincing about Weber’s argument is his contention that people who are good at capitalism are those who feel that work is a calling.  Weber argued that Protestants were more likely to feel that they should do work for its own sake rather than working to make enough money to live.  He said that Protestants felt that working hard was a sign that they were among the elect.  Since Protestants who believed in predestination never felt that they could be secure in their salvation, they were always trying to prove that they were worthy, if only to make themselves feel more confident about their prospects for eternal life.  In America today, it is clear that those who feel that work is a calling are more successful than those who do not.  The people who make the most money are those who are willing to put in long hours.  Those who prefer jobs that allow them to go home at 5:00 can make a comfortable living for themselves, but they do not join the ranks of the very rich.

However, I do not believe that Weber’s arguments all apply in America today.  Today, the idea that work is good for its own sake seems to have transcended the Protestant religion in the United States.  In fact, some of the sects that have the poorest members are Protestant.  Meanwhile, many people who have become rich are people who do not necessarily have any religious beliefs.  Therefore, I would argue that the idea of the Protestant ethic has become more deeply engrained in our society even among those who are not particularly religious or who are not Protestant.  

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