Summary Of The Protestant Ethic And The Spirit Of Capitalism

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Abstract: In The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber seeks to explicate the emergence of the now hegemonic instrumental rationality of the capitalist West. He posits that Utilitarianism is unable to explicate the origins of capitalism, for early capitalists did not exhibit any drive to maximize their happiness. Furthermore, Marxism is unable to explain how a bourgeoisie espousing the instrumental rationality of modern capitalism existed across Northern Europe and the United States before the emergence of a capitalist mode of production. Weber thus proposes that the origins of the spirit of capitalism – conceptualized as a worldly calling to act in a frugal, moral way vis-à-vis work and to maximize capital accumulation – holds “elective affinities” with, and can be traced to, the Protestant ethic, particularly to the Calvinist notion of predestination (that one’s salvation has been determined, or that one has been elected, since eternity). As individuals began searching for signs of their election, what slowly began to function as this indicator across Northern European and American Protestant communities was being a successful person of property: If God shows one of his elect an opportunity for profit, the logic goes, he must labor to be rich for God (rather than for the flesh and sin). When combined with the simplicity and frugality of puritan life, this generated a propensity for massive capital accumulation across many communities of Northern Europe
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