The Work Ethic
Weber notes that even though medieval otherworldly asceticism demanded poverty of its individual devotees, nevertheless the monasteries were subject to ongoing waves of reform because their ascetic organization of time and work paradoxically generated greater productivity, greater wealth, and, inevitably, greater materialistic temptations. A similar consequence results from innerworldly asceticism. Wealth is generated by ceaseless and disciplined work, but, unlike the monk, the Protestant laborer does not renounce property with a vow of poverty. Property presents the Puritan not with an encumbrance on the road to salvation, but rather with a task to be performed in the world for God’s glory. Certainly laborers must not become attached to their property and its fruits, but this is because they are to be stewards of God’s bounty. The idolatrous use of wealth in luxurious and leisurely activity is a constant temptation, but the Puritan resists such attachments, reinvesting and thus multiplying this borrowed bounty.
To those steeped in the traditional medieval economic ethos, such activity appears to be the unnatural pursuit of wealth as an end in itself and thus represents the height of irrationality, if not the epitome of greed and avarice. To those laboring under the new ethos, however, it is assurance of their salvation that is at stake. Either way, one thing is clear: The traditional mode of production cannot compete with the new...
(The entire section is 475 words.)