The Relevance of Protestant Ethics and the Development of Early Capitalism

The Relevance of Protestant Ethics and the Development of

Early Capitalism

Tori Nuariza Sutanto

“The Character of United States America – its language, laws, constitution, political structure, economic system – is British to the core” (Joseph Fallon, 2001)

            Regarding to the statement of Joseph Fallon, in his articles of the British character of the United States of America (2001), it will be interesting  for me to scrutinize –what has been discussed frequently in almost hundred years -, the American character.  John Jay, one of U.S early leaders, emphasized in the Federalist Papers, wrote that Americans are a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached from the same principles of the government, very similar in the customs and manners, that Americans treasured were British.  According to what John Jay and Joseph Fallon arguments, to draw what happened in the early historic of Colonial America, was the fact that there was homogeneity of religion. The entire population of early United States, which numbered approximately four million, both Black and White, was Christian, specifically protestant and adherents to the British denominations, Anglicanism and Prebystrianism (Fallon, 2001 :4). For that reason, Luther S Ludtke (1992), in his article The search of American Character, stated that Americans were White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. In pursuing the Freedom of religion and prosperity, those who are the early settlers of America particularly the Anglicanism or Puritanism, dynamically shaping the American Character. While most Americans today reject certain features of Puritanism (e.g religious intolerance), however, some puritan beliefs have had an impact on American political-religious development and culture, Puritanism’s Legacy for instance; Covenant theology and the social contract, The city upon a hill and American destiny, Congregationalism and Democracy, Original sin and Limited Government (Corbett, 1999: 37-39). Furthermore, Puritans who followed Calvinist doctrine had a particular topic that has been  discussed among scholars until now, after the first publication of Max Weber Essay, Protestant Ethic and The Spirit Capitalism (1904). Weber Protestant Ethic thesis concerned on the relation between Puritanism and the Spirit of Capitalism. Debate rooms among scholars were, does Weber would like to claim that Capitalism produce from Puritanism or Calvinism impact ??. Thus, This essay aims to scrutinize the relevance of Weber Thesis Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Capitalism. In addition, This essay connects the relation of capitalism, religion, and social change. It is significant to see the role of religious faith (Puritanism) to trigger the social change.

Key Ideas of Weber Thesis

Actually, Weber analysis about the relation of protestant ethics and the development of capitalism intends to improve the previous Karl Marx materialist interpretation of Capitalist system (Johnson, 1986 : 237). According to Marx, the struggle of class is the key to study the historical change and its transition from one social structure to the other structure. Weber acknowledged the urgency of material condition and economic class position in terms of giving influence to the faith, value, and human behavior. In contrast to Marx, who believe that only economic and material condition affect the human behavior, Weber stated that religion ideas even can be influenced to the human behavior. Weber believed that Calvinism taught work as the calling of God. The Calvinism doctrine lead to the urgency of punctuality, rationality in terms of thinking and action, being visionary, futuristic, and frugality in daily economic activity. Thus, Weber found such a particular connection between protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism, As a consequence, Protestant ethic become the basic doctrine of the rise of capitalism and the development of rationalism in Europe ( Syam, 2007 : 11).   Weber pointed an ethical economic to Calvinism, because Calvinism allowed a concept of diapora, an allowance of new decision toward contemporary issues that has not been existed in the holy book. Capitalist economy, Weber thinks, developed by the Diapora conception. Protestantism influenced the development of capitalism from some aspects ; 1) the abolition of distinction between virtuose religion and religion on the nasses 2) the abolition of monasticism, that everyone can be a priest as long as his life 3) the abolition of other-worldly asceticism and the forcing of wordly asceticism (Kuntowijoyo, 2005 : 141-142). 


At least, there were three key ideas of Weber thesis; 1) Most of the developed countries particularly in Economy in the 16th and 17th century was Protestant countries, 2) The new spirit of capitalism was different to the spirit of greediness, in this context spirit of capitalism based on the inner-worldy-ascetism, 3) There was an elective affinity between puritanism theology and the spirit of capitalism (Ray, 2008 : 689-691). To understand Weber thesis deeper, It is necessary to describe terminologies such as inner-worldy-ascetism and elective affinity, which Weber has been misunderstood by some scholars who disagree with his thesis.,


For Weber, protestant ethics shows a religious orientation (Calvinism) which is inner worldly ascetism (Johnson, 1986) or intra mundane asceticism (Ernst Troeltsch ; Kuntowijoyo, 2005). Inner-worldy ascetism, pointed on the commitment to refuse materialistic enjoyment to pursue the higher spiritual purpose such as, systematic commitment, diligent, hard working, and modest. Their orientation which is inner-wordly, has no relation with hedonism, because they are aware and loyal to the duty of their puritan beliefs (Calvinism), that systematically discipline and control their physical and passionate willingness. Weber argues that the emphasis on the creativity and hard-working combine with the demand to do asceticism life style. This combination triggers capitalism to root (Jones, 2009 :120-121). Calvinist believes that to be ‘the elect’ by God, they have to be successful and productive. It is clear, for Calvinist, Life has to be dedicated to the efficiency and rationality to maximize their productivity. With those kind of action, a Calvinist feel safe as they categorized as ‘the elect’ by God.


Concerning to the idea of elective affinity, it is coming up from Weber thesis that Protestant ethics is a strong impulse or triggering factor on the development of early capitalist system. Elective affinity, particularly, defined as logical consistency and motivational influence that supports both between ethical demand of Protestantism and patterns of motivational economy that is very significant to development of capitalist system (Johnson, 1986 :238). For that reason, In the midst of controversies on his thesis, Weber did not say that capitalism caused by Protestantism as the conception of elective affinity clearly avoid the causal and effect relation. This concept merely links with the match of logical and psychological consistency where both sides support each other.  


Debates Among Scholars

            As I mention at the very beginning since its publication, Max Weber Essay ‘Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism (1904), become a debate among scholars who interested on the study of political-economy, history, sociology, social change and religion. Robert W. Green, Protestantism and Capitalism : The Weber Thesis and its Critics (1959), for instance, stated  that Max Weber got the idea of the origins of spirit of capitalism from the hypothesis of Sombart, Der Moderne Kapitalismus (1902). For Weber, the idea of spirit of capitalism by Sombart, then lead him to his argument, which the spirit of capitalism is by product of Calvinism. Weber presents his idea in his book Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism (1904), and also in his essay Protestant Sect and The Spirit of Capitalism (1906). To sharpen the analysis, I would like to start by explaining the theory that developed by Warner Sombart (1902). According to Sombart, system of economy suppose to have three elements ; spirit, form, and technology. With this idea, Sombart conclude that in the capitalist system of economy, there is a spirit of capitalism. In contrast with Weber thesis that developed from his idea, in 1913 Werner Sombart debated Weber arguments on the role of Protestantism. He has a different conclusion with Weber arguments, which written on Der Bourgeois (The Quintessence of Capitalism) (Kuntowijoyo, 2005 :133-134).


            Concerning to the debate among scholars on Weber thesis, I agree with what Kuntowijoyo (2005) classification. At least, there were two polar to divide the respond among acholars. First, who supported the relation between Religious faith and Capitalism. Second, who opposed or make an anti-thesis of Weber thesis. In the first polar, Max Weber, Ernst Troeltsch, and R.H Tawney, relate the religious faith and capitalism, even in some cases, they have different arguments and terminology. Ernst Troeltsch, Die Sozialen Lehren Der Christlichen Kirchen und Gruppen (1912), supported Weber thesis. Troeltsch mentioned that Protestantism as an intra-mundane-asceticism. Troeltsch stated that Calvinism prepared such a psychological condition for the capitalist spirit, a moral forces spirited by religious faith, as same as Jewish morality. Troeltsch also pointed Calvinism not Lutheranism which finally became a source of modern philosophy speculation, while Calvinism produced spirit of democracy and capitalism (Kuntowijoyo, 2005 :142). R.H. Tawney agreed with Max Weber and Ernst Troeltsch in terms of the conception of Calling. He divided between spiritual calling and temporal calling. A duty of Christian to God produced a work toward practical life. The pursuit of material such as money has to aim as a devotion to God.  Furthermore, Tawney considered Calvin contribution for the Bourgeousie at the 16th century in compare with what Karl Marx done for the Proletariat at the 19th century. Calvin, with his doctrine of Predestination, gave a satisfication and guarantee that temporal power is on the ‘elect’, as same as how Marx gave a guarantee to the proletariat at the 19th century with the doctrine of Historical Materialism (Kuntowjiyo, 2005:145). R.H. Tawney, Religion on the Rise of Capitalism (1961),  Calvin doctrine has been a creed for the middle class to conquer the future, as Calvinism affects actively and radically while Lutheranism tend to be more socially conservative.


            In contrast with Weber, Troeltsch, and Tawney, The second polar, scholars who disagree with Weber thesis, started from F. Rachfall (1909) with an argument that capitalism has faraway been existed before Protestantism. Joseph Schumpeter (1950) argued that Weber approach as a false methodology, which implemented the concept of ideal type. Schumpeter stated that there was no spirit of capitalism, in particular what Weber said, a transformation from feudal man to capitalist man, that it could not be proved with historical fact (Kuntowijoyo, 2005:134). Werner Sombart disagreed with Weber thesis at least in three aspects ; 1) The righteousness of middle class has no relation with Puritanism, as it has previously been existed 2) In terms of greediness and the pursuit of material (e.g : money) that puritan leaders is very hateful, and if the case was the pursuit of money as an act of devotion to God, it has previously been existed in the age of scholasticism  3) The pursuit of material (e.g : money) can not be pointed on Puritanism, because it has been as same as scholasticism taught (just price ;  honor act in terms of an attempt). According to Sombart, Protestantism is an enemy of capitalism, in particular capitalist economy view. Furthermore, For Sombart in Catholicism and Scholasticim, there is spirit of capitalism. Next, H.M Robertson, in the Aspect of the Rise of Economic Indvidualism, emphasized that capitalist spirit as an individualism factor in economy, in contrast with Weber, who stated that protestant ethic changed as a result of the rise of capitalism in the middle class (Kuntowijoyo, 2005 : 146). Pirenne and Harold J. Laski has the same stance that Capitalism has been existed in the 12th century in the attempt of St. Cedric, that the spirit of capitalism is by product of the changing of social conception to individual conception. Also, William Ashley, emphasized that church forced the development of capitalism, as the church restriction did not avoid the productivity of capital.


            I (the writer) agree as William Haller, The Rise of Puritanism (1957), said that Weber aware of his analysis on the relation between religious faith and spirit capitalism, a little bit one sided, which the interpretation of spiritual causal as an alter of materialistic causal, then He described that his  arguments was based on the genuine research not previously well-prepared (Kuntowijoyo, 2005 :147). Furthermore, Weber was not refuse the idea that Protestantism has also been influenced by the development of capitalism, which  the relation between such an ideal of religious faith  and economic interest actually became dependent. It can be concluded that Weber acknowkledged that there was a dependent relationship between capitalism and prostestantism. Protestantism triggered the early form of capitalism, but later on capitalism became autonomous and independent, which has then capitalism did not need religious legitimation, that its became secular and materialistic. According to Johnson (1986 : 239), in the age of Benjamin Franklin actually religious support on capitalism has not been existed anymore.


            In the context of historic-sociology, Bryan.S.Turner (2012 :302), wrote that there was an argument which religious individualism emerged from the Calvinist theology and practice was the correct form of the origins of capitalism in the 17th century. The study of the role of social individualism in the European society was still ambiguous, so that there was no conclusion yet, that many scholars still debated. I personally would like to address from two polar above who discussed the role of religious faith and the development of capitalism ; 1) the argument of capitalism was by product of Calvinism or Capitalism produced by Protestantism, couldn’t be proved historically, since some scholars such as Kuntowijoyo (2005), Rachfall (1909), Pirenne (1953) that it has not been proved historically, as there had no structural narration to prove that. I agree with Kuntowijoyo (2005) that the spirit of Capitalism much more influenced from the role of Bourgouise group, as it can be proved that the Bourgeouise changed the middle ages conception from the Triumph of Poverty to the Triumph of Wealth (Kuntowijoyo, 2005 : 148). While, Schumpeter (1950) also found that Weber did a false methodology on the conception of transforming feudal man to capitalist man. Furthermore, Werner Sombart emphasized that the idea of spirit of capitalism can also be found in the Scholasticism. While, Weber responded it that described inner-wordly asceticism and elective affinity that forces the development of capitalism, which it did not autonomously but a dependence between Protestantism and capitalism, as there was a meet between psychological and logical consistency by Calvinism and the motivational economic interest.             


            In concluding, It has been clear that  Capitalism couldn’t be claimed the product of Calvinism, since both had a dependence connection. The idea of inner-wordly-ascetiscim (Weber, 1965) or intra-mundane asceticism (Troeltsch, 1912) was the key factor of forming of psychological condition that supports the development of capitalism. Thus, The concept of elective affinity, Weber Emphasized, produced such a pattern that forced the marriage between psychological and motivational economic interest. In the major historical period, Scholars pointed Bourgouise group as an agent of capitalism. So that, I concluded that there was a relevancy of protestant ethics and the development of early capitalism, but later on capitalism became autonomous and independent. Weber Thesis, in the context sociology and religion, has opened up future research on the big possibility of religion and social change.




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