Protestant ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism : Summary

Max Weber was a German philosopher. He was deeply influenced by many other sociologists and thinkers such as Karl Marx, Immanuel Kant, etc. The Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism was regarded as the most important work of Weber.

PART 1 – The Problem Religious Affiliation and Social Stratification   

According to Weber, if we look at the occupational statistics of any country (especially Germany), we would find that Businessmen, skilled owners, other technical and trained personnel of the modern enterprise, in a large number would be PROTESTANT. When capitalism is present without social differentiation of people, and when there is more freedom, it results in the participation of protestants in economic fields, management, and industrial enterprises etc. Participation in the economic fields requires a wealthy background and an excellent education. So, in the 16th century, many sections of the wealthy old empire that were developed economically turned to PROTESTANTISM.

The percentage of Protestant students studying and graduating from technical and industrial jobs was far more than Catholics. Catholics had more interest in crafts, thus they become craftsmen, on the other hand, protestants become upper-rank skilled factory labor. The differentiation in the occupation comes from the environment one life in as well as the type of education which one gets from the religious atmosphere. Protestants have shown more economic development as compared to Catholics, this difference can be perceived through their religious beliefs rather than historic situations. Catholics believe in asceticism, piety, a life of greatest security, even with a low economic condition, whereas Protestants believe more in participation in capitalism and economic fields.

protestant ethic and spirit of capitalism summary


The phrase SPIRIT OF CAPITALISM can be understood in terms of historical reality. Weber explains SPIRIT OF CAPITALISM through BENJAMIN FRANKLIN examples and sentences, that it is the attitude towards the work, whether it is through traditional or modern capitalism, the correct usage of capital, keeping an eye on profit, labor, and maintaining the ethos of business was regarded as the spirit of capitalism. The old ways or traditional capitalism collapsed and a new spirit of capitalism or modern capitalism was set in motion. This phase was also known as a revolutionary phase. Religion was completely absent for the capitalists, according to them it is something that draws people away from labor. The capitalist system was seen as a devotion of calling for making money through business, trade etc. For them, capitalism is a way of life and anyone who did not follow it cannot rise. SPIRIT OF CAPITALISM can be best understood as a part of Rationalism.


The concept of calling has a religious explanation which means a task set by God. The word has been first used in Luther’s translation of the bible and then was used in the everyday speech of Protestants. Thus, the economic activity was given a religious significance through the concept of calling. According to Luther, the concept of calling has a divine ordinance directly from God, and one should fulfill it. Everyone in this world has been assigned a particular duty by God, and also a particular position so, one should fulfill those obligations in order to live acceptably by god in the world. Having explained the term calling as a duty assigned by God, Luther could not establish any further connection between worldly activity and religious acts, so he elucidates the relationship between the Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism through political and historical situations and also through the works of Calvin or Calvinism.

PART II                                                                                                                                                                     


There are four forms of Ascetic Protestantism:

  • Calvinism
  • Pietism
  • Methodism
  • Other sects emerging from Baptist movement.


Calvinists believe in the doctrine of predestination. According to Calvin, a small number of people are chosen for grace by God, he (god) has all the power and is free from all the laws, and only he(god) is the one who knows the truth of individual’s destiny which is hidden in a dark mystery for people. The eternal truth is that only a part of humanity will be saved and rest all will be damned. People exist to serve the glorification god by doing the best in life and obeying God’s commands. God also commands for a good social achievement and activity in social life which can be linked to the labour in calling of Luther’s concept, where the service of labour is impersonal and served for humanity, thus promulgates glory of God, to be the one chosen for grace by God to be saved rather than damned. Calvin himself felt to be the chosen member by god, according to him one can be certain of the selection if one has a knowledge of God’s selection by complete trust and faith on him (lord), and one should never assume from the conduct of others whether they are chosen and damned, because that is the duty of god and one should not intervene god’s secret. One should have self-confidence, as it is also a duty to consider oneself as chosen and lack of self-confidence would ultimately mean lack of sufficient faith in God.


Pietism is almost similar to Calvinism. In Pietism, there is a deep distrust of church and the members of pietism live a life which is free from temptations of the world and follow all the details which are dictated to them by god. They also believe that if one has a higher certainty of grace and perfection, this is regarded as a sign of grace, and god gives signs to those who wait patiently and continue with the state of perfection. Another doctrine under Pietism which was given by the opponents was Terminism, according to which it assumes that grace is given to everybody at some moment in a lifetime and anyone who let that moment pass, was neglected by God.


In Methodism, there is a methodical, systematic nature of the conduct in order to attain salvation. It was used to bring an emotional act of conversion. They believed in the concept of rebirth or regeneration, an emotional certainty of attaining salvation with utmost faith in God. Methodism has nothing new in the concept of calling and was almost similar to pietism.


Baptist sects were adopted from Mennonites, Quakers in the sixteenth and seventeenth century. Baptists believe in true faith in God, according to them, individual should have faith in God alone and should work in daily life, and the Holy Spirit speaks to the individual if one is willing to hear. They do not believe what is written as a document that is, a bible. One could attain salvation through the church. One should have an unconditional submission towards the lord and rejection towards the world and its interest, according to which will lead to the rebirth, and a good conduct is necessary to attain salvation.


Men in this world have been sent by God to complete certain tasks, in order to be the chosen one, one should not indulge in enjoyment and leisure activities, but to indulge in activities which serves the gods will. Waste of time by social activities, luxury, remaining idle all these are counted as sins. The concept of calling, thus, has the greatest value, that any man without a calling lacks systematic conduct. God demand in calling is rational labor, this provides with the justification of modern division of labor. Systematic working as labor in calling leads to the highest level of asceticism combined with true faith leads to the spirit of capitalism. Phrases such as “time are money” and “honesty is best policy” were also the products of capitalism. Spirit of capitalism is seen as the labor or work as a duty which is assigned directly by God and one has to complete it with full honesty as to maintain grace of God. Working is regarded as a blessing of God, and one should save more money and also invest the earned capital and cut down on consumption. Protestant asceticism created a powerful and faithful workforce which is loyal and whose ultimate goal is to please God with its labor.


Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, pp. 35-154

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Tanya is an excellent team player with strong cognitive skills. She has a keen interest in sociology and is a passionate writer. Currently pursuing a Ph.D., she is a strong believer in righteous acts and good deeds.