The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

by Max Weber

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What role did the "calling" and signs of grace play in capitalism's development, according to Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism?

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According to The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, the "calling" and grace played a big role in the development of capitalism by instilling the ethics of sobriety, honesty, and hard work into the religious working class. This created a work boom as making money became a sign of religious piety, allowing further advancements in capitalism.

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Weber identified the "calling" as a "task set by God," and he traced its origins to the writings of Martin Luther. Luther departed from Catholic theologians by claiming that a person's occupation was their "calling," something they had been chosen to do by God. Therefore work, and the accumulation of wealth that went along with it, became divinely-ordained; "worldly duties were no longer subordinated to ascetic ones," like being a priest. This was a revolutionary change, one that aligned Protestantism with, as Weber's title suggests, "the spirit of capitalism."

Weber sees this spirit embodied in the writings of Benjamin Franklin, who extolled the virtues of sobriety, honesty, frugality, and hard work. For Calvinists these were also the outward signs of graceand Franklin came from that religious tradition, even if he himself did not embody it. Money-making virtues became signs of religious piety. In time, so did financial prosperity itself, but the Protestant ethic also emphasized the importance of investing earnings into one's business rather than spending them on the trappings of wealth. This is sound business practice, but Protestants gave it religious sanction. Weber described this ethic as "the earning of more and more money, combined with the strict avoidance of all spontaneous enjoyment of life," and pointed out that it was essential to the development of modern capitalism. It gave rise to accounting, book-keeping, capital accumulation, and the other characteristics of capitalism, which had, at first, a religious aura.

Over time, however, as capitalism became fully developed, Weber argued that this process became "demystified." In other words, the ethic of wealth accumulation as a "calling"and the virtues that were associated with itremained. These virtues gave rise to the bureaucracy that characterized capitalism in Weber's time. The pursuit of gain persisted, but was stripped of its spiritual dimensions in modern capitalism.

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