Max Weber The Origin Of Capitalism Summary

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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 –…show more content…
Weber proposes exploring this question in part by assessing the origins of capitalism.
II. The Puzzle: Utilitarianism and Marxism Cannot Explain the Origins of Capitalism The puzzle is that existing social theories – particularly Marxism and Utilitarianism – cannot account for the origins of capitalism.
First, Utilitarians conceive individuals as driven to maximize their utility – to get the most of what they want. Yet the attempt to maximize profit has nothing to do with capitalism’s origins. For one thing, unlimited greed for personal gain is not capitalism-specific – it can be found in feudal and ancient civilizations as well. Furthermore, although capitalism begets instrumental rationality, instrumental rationality does not explicate its origins (Ibid: 30-31). Indeed, Weber posits that the origins of capitalism required an ethos to specifically refuse to enjoy the product of one’s
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Indeed, “[l]oss of time through sociability, idle talk, luxury, even more sleep than is necessary for health, six to at most eight hours, [was deemed] worthy of absolute moral condemnation” (Ibid: 104). The harder one worked, the more capital accumulated, and the more this became perceived as an indication of one’s salvation. After all, if “God, whose hand the Puritan sees in all the occurrences of life, shows one of His elect a chance of profit, he must do it with a purpose [...] you may labor to be rich for God, though not for the flesh and sin” (Ibid:
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