The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism Analysis

Max Weber

Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, without a doubt the most widely recognized work by the preeminent German sociologist Max Weber, takes the form of a book-length scholarly essay published in two parts—of roughly one hundred pages each—titled “Das Problem” (the problem) and “Die Berufsethik des asketischen Protestantismus” (the ethic of the calling in Protestant asceticism). Each part is further divided into a number of subparts (or sections) and is accompanied by an extensive body of notes—84 for part 1 and 309 for part 2—in which Weber not only cites his sources but also elaborates on many of his arguments by providing a plethora of detailed and often-lengthy examples and explanations. Taken together, these notes serve to elevate the essay from a mere collection of sociological assertions to a well-argued and painstakingly documented example of modern research in the social sciences—an example embracing Weber’s oft-stated and, in terms of present-day sociology, highly visionary belief that all studies of man and society should be firmly rooted in the scientific method (valid experimentation, statistical documentation, and the like).

When Weber republished The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism as part of his Gesammelte Aufsatze zur Religionssoziologie (collected essays on the sociology of religion) in 1920 and 1921, he expanded the already monumental aggregate of notes to incorporate the various criticisms of his fellow sociologists and, additionally, supplied the essay with a short preface outlining several of the most important responses to the work since its first appearance in 1905. These responses included Felix Rachfahl’s Kalvinismus und Kapitalismus (1909; Calvinism and capitalism) and Lujo...

(The entire section is 734 words.)