What did Max Weber say about Protestantism and Capitalism?

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readerofbooks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a great question in today's economic climate. Max Weber stated the thesis that Protestantism lead to the rise of capitalism. Some Christians, understandably, cringe at this idea. After all, how could a religion that has the death and resurrection of Jesus at its center lead to modern capitalism? It seems anachronistic at best.

To set the record straight, Weber is not stating that Christianity intentionally desired to create an economic system, called capitalism. His thesis is subtler.

First, he argues that Christianity’s ethic of innerweltliche Askese (inner-worldly asceticism) created the right environment for a certain type of system of economics to thrive. Weber writes, "By a unique paradox, asceticism actually resulted in the contradictory situation…namely that it was precisely its rationally ascetic character that led to the accumulation of wealth."

Second, he argues that the protestant notion of vocation or calling allowed for people to enter into various fields with religious conviction. He writes:

"The inner-worldly asceticism of Protestantism first produced a capitalistic state, although unintentionally, for it opened the way to a career in business, especially for the most devout and ethically rigorous people."

Finally, Marx argued that Protestants viewed success as a sign of God’s favor due to their predestinarian theology.