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THE PROTESTANT ETHIC AND
THE SPIRIT OF CAPITALISM



by the same author

GENERAL ECONOMIC HISTORY

by Ernst Troehsch

THE SOCIAL TEACHING OF THE
CHRISTIAN CHURCHES



I



MAX WEBER

THE PROTESTANT ETHIC

AND THE
SPIRIT OF CAPITALISM



TRANSLATED BY

TALCOTT PARSONS

Tutor in Economics, Harvard University



WITH A FOREWORD BY

R. H. TAWNEY



NEW YORK:

CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS

LONDON:

GEORGE ALLEN & UNWIN LTD



FIRST PUBLISHED IN GREAT BRITAIN IN I93O
SECOND IMPRESSION 1 948
THIRD IMPRESSION I95O



This book is copyright under the Berne Convention

No portion of it may be reprodttced by
any process without written permission.
Inquiries to be addressed to the publisher



PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN BY
BUTLER AND TANNER LTD., FROME AND LONDON



CONTENTS ^^c,

Translator's Preface jl. j \N 3 L. j^

Foreword C C P , ^ i

Author's Introduction 13

PART I

THE PROBLEM



CHAPTER



I. Religious Affiliation and Social Stratification 35

II. The Spirit of Capitalism 47

III. Luther's Conception of the Calling. Task of the

Investigation 79

PART II

THE PRACTICAL ETHICS OF THE ASCETIC
BRANCHES OF PROTESTANTISM

IV. The Religious Foundations of Worldly Asceticism 95

A. Calvinism 98

B. Pietism 128

C. Methodism 139

D. The Baptist Sects 144

V. Asceticism and the Spirit of Capitalism 155

Notes 185

Index 285



Vll






TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE

Max Weber's essay, Die protestantische Ethik und der
Geist des Kapitalismus, which is here translated, was
first pubHshed in the Archil für Sozialwissenschaft und
Sozialpolitik^ Volumes XX and XXI, for 1904-5. It
was reprinted in 1920 as the first study in the ambitious
series Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Religionssoziologie,
which was left unfinished by Weber's untimely death
in that same year. For the new printing he made
considerable changes, and appended both new material
and replies to criticism in footnotes. The translation
has, however, been made directly from this last edition.
Though the volume of footnotes is excessively large,
so as to form a serious detriment to the reader's
enjoyment, it has not seemed advisable either to omit
any of them or to attempt to incorporate them into
the text. As it stands it shows most plainly how the
problem has grown in Weber's own mind, and it
would be a pity to destroy that for the sake of artistic
perfection. A careful perusal of the notes is, however,
especially recommended to the reader, since a great
deal of important material is contained in them. The
fact that they are printed separately from the main text
should not be allowed to hinder their use. The
translation is, as far as is possible, faithful to the text,
rather than attempting to achieve any more than
ordinary, clear EngHsh style. Nothing has been altered,
and only a few comments to clarify obscure points and
to refer the reader to related parts of Weber's work
have been added.
The Introduction, which is placed before the main

R ix



The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

essay, was written by Weber in 1920 for the whole series
on the Sociology of Religion. It has been included in
this translation because it gives some of the general
background of ideas and problems into which Weber
himself meant this particular study to fit. That has
seemed particularly desirable since, in the voluminous
discussion w4iich has grown up in Germany around
Weber's essay, a great deal of misplaced criticism has
been due to the failure properly to appreciate the scope
and limitations of the study. While it is impossible
to appreciate that fully without a thorough study of
Weber's sociological work as a whole, this brief intro-
duction should suffice to prevent a great deal of
misunderstanding.

The series of which this essay forms a part was, as
has been said, left unfinished at Weber's death. The
first volume only had been prepared for the press by
his own hand. Besides the parts translated here, it
contains a short, closely related study, Die pro-
testantischen Sekten und der Geist des Kapitalismus', a
general introduction to the further studies of particular
religions which as a whole he called Die Wirtschafts-
ethik der Weltreligionen ; and a long study of Confucian-
ism and Taoism. The second and third volumes, which
were published after his death, without the thorough
revision which he had contemplated, contain studies
of Hinduism and Buddhism and Ancient Judaism.
In addition he had done work on other studies, notably
of Islam, Early Christianity, and Talmudic Judaism,
which were not yet in a condition fit for publication
in any form. Nevertheless, enough of the whole series
has been preserved to show something of the extra-



Translator's Preface

ordinary breadth and depth of Weber's grasp of
cultural problems. What is here presented to English-
speaking readers is only a fragment, but it is a fragment
which is in many ways of central significance for
Weber's philosophy of history, as well as being of very
great and very general interest for the thesis it advances
to explain some of the most important aspects of
modern culture.

TALCOTT PARSONS

Cambridge, Mass., U.S.A.
January 1930



XJ



FOREWORD

Max Weber, the author of the work translated in the
following pages, was a scholar whose intellectual
range was unusually wide, and whose personality made
an even deeper impression than his learning on those
privileged to know him. He had been trained as a
jurist, and, in addition to teaching as a professor
at Freiburg, Heidelberg, and Munich, he wrote on
subjects so various as ancient agrarian history, the
conditions of the rural population of Prussia, the
methodology of the social sciences, and the sociology
of religion. Nor were his activities exclusively those
of the teacher and the student. He travelled widely,
was keenly interested in contemporary political and
social movements, played a vigorous and disinterested
part in the crisis which confronted Germany at the
close of the War, and accompanied the German
delegation to Versailles in May 1919. He died in
Munich in the following year, at the age of fifty-six.
Partly as a result of prolonged ill-health, which com-
pelled him for several years to lead the life of an invalid,
partly because of his premature death, partly, perhaps,
because of the very grandeur of the scale on which he
worked, he was unable to give the final revision to
many of his writings. His collected works have been
published posthumously. The last of them, based on
notes taken by his students from lectures given at
Munich, has appeared in English under the title of
General Economic History}

' Max Weber, General Economic History, trans. Frank H. Knight,
Ph.D. (George Allen & Unwin). A bibliography of Weber's writings is

1(a)



The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

f The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism was
published in the form of two articles in the Archiv für
Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik in 1904 and 1905.)
Together with a subsequent article, which appeared
in 1906, on The Protestant Sects and the Spirit of
Capitalism^ they form the first of the studies contained
in Weber's Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Religionssoziologie.
On their first appearance they aroused an interest which
extended beyond the ranks of historical specialists, and
which caused the numbers of the Archiv in which they
were published to be sold out with a rapidity not very
usual in the case of learned publications. The discussion
which they provoked has continued since then with
undiminished vigour. For the questions raised by
Weber possess a universal significance, and the method
of his essay was as important as its conclusions. It not
only threw a brilliant light on the particular field which
it explored, but suggested a new avenue of approach to
a range of problems of permanent interest, which
concern, not merely the historian and the economist,
but all who reflect on the deeper issues of modern
society.

The question which Weber attempts to answer is
simple and fundamental. It is that of the psychological
conditions which made possible the development of
capitalist civilization. Capitalism, in the sense of great
individual undertakings, involving the control of large
financial resources, and yielding riches to their masters

printed at the end of the charming and instructive account of him
by his widow, Max Weber, Ein Lebensbild, von Marianna Weber
(J. C. B. Mohr, Tübingen, 1926), See also tlconomistes et Historiens:
Max Weber, un komme, une ceuvre, pqr Maurice Halbwachs, in
Annales d'Histoire ^conomique et Sociale, No. i, January, 1929.

i(b)



Foreword

as a result of speculation, money-lending, commercial
enterprise, buccaneering and war, is as old as history.
Capitalism, as an economic system, resting on the V^cxUr
organisation of legally free wage-earners, for the purpose
of pecuniary profit, by the owner of capital or his agents,
and setting its stamp on every aspect of society, is a
modern phenomenon.

All revolutions are declared to be natural and
inevitable, once they are successful, and capitalism, as
the type of economic system prevailing in Western
Europe and America, is clothed to-day with the
unquestioned respectability of the triumphant fact.
But in its youth it was a pretender, and it was only
after centuries of struggle that its title was established-»
For it involved a code of economic conduct and
a system of human relations which were sharply
at variance with venerable conventions, with the
accepted scheme of social ethics, and with the law,
both of the church and of most European states. So
questionable an innovation demanded of the pioneers
who first experimented with it as much originality,
self-confidence, and tenacity of purpose as is required
to-day of those who would break from the net that it
has woven. What infl u ence n erved t hem to defy
tradition? From what source did th ey der ive the
-^principles to repKce it ? " '^ i

The conventional answer to these questions is to
deny their premises. The rise of new forms of economic
enterprise was the result, it is argued, of changes in
• the character of the economic environment. It was due
to the influx of the precious metals from America in
the sixteenth century, to the capital accumulated in

* 1(C)




The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

extra-European commerce, to the reaction of expanding
markets on industrial organisation, to the growth of
population, to technological improvements made pos-
sible by the progress of natural science, Weber's reply,
which is developed at greater length in his General
Economic History than in the present essay, is that such
explanations confuse causes and occasions. Granted
that the economic conditions of the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries were, in some respects, though by
no means in all, unusually favourable to an advance in
economic technique, such conditions had existed from
time to time in the past without giving birth to the
development of capitalist industry. In many of the
regions affected by them no such development took
place, nor were those which enjoyed the highest
economic civilization necessarily those in which the
new order found its most congenial environment. The
France of Louis XIV commanded resources which,
judged by the standards of the age, were immense, but
they were largely dissipated in luxury and war ^The
"America of theeTghteertth CiJfltUty was economically
primitive, but it is in the maxims of Franklin that the
spirit of bourgeois capitalism, which, rather than the
grandiose schemes of mercantilist statesmen, was to
dominate the future, finds, Weber argues, its naivest
and most lucid expression.

To appeal, as an explanation, to the acquisit ive
nstincts, is even less pertinent, for there is little reason
to suppose that they have been more powerful during
'?!k.the last fe\y centuries than in earlier ages. "The notion
that our rationalistic and capitalistic age is characterised
by a stronger economic interest than other periods is

i(d)



Foreword

childish. The moving spirits of modern capitaUsm are
not possessed of a stronger economic impulse than, for
example, an Oriental trader. The unchaining of the
economic interest, merely as such, has produced only
irrational results: such men as Cortes and Pizarro,
who were, perhaps, its strongest embodiment, were far
from having an idea of a rationalistic economic life." '
The word "rationalism" is used by Weber as a term
of art, to describe an economic system based, not on
custom or tradition, but on the deliberate and systematic
adjustment of economic means to the attainment of the
objective of pecuniary profit. The question is why this
temper triiimphed^ver the conventional attitude which
had regarded the appetitus divitiarum infijiitus — ^the
unlimited lust for gain — as anti-social and immoral.^
His answer is that it was the result of movements
which had their source in the religious revolution of
the sixteenth century.

Weber wrote as a scholar, not as a propagandist,
and there is no trace in his work of the historical ani-
mosities which still warp discussions of the effects of
the Reformation J Professor Pirenne,^ in an illuminating ^
essay, has argued that social progress springs from
below, and that each new phase of economic develop-
ment is the creation, not of strata long in possession of
wealth and power, but of classes which rise from
humble origins to build a new structure on obscure
foundations. The thesis of Weber is somewhat similar.



' Weber, General Economic History, trans. Frank H. Knight,
PP- 355-6.

* Henri Pirenne, Les P^riodes de VHistoire Sociale du Capitalisme
(Hayez, Brussels, 1914).

1(e)



The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

The pioneers of the modern economic order were, he

,] argues, parvenus y who elbowed their way to success in

the teeth of the established aristocracy of land and

commerce. The tonic that braced them for the conflict

was a new cop cf^pti^^" ^f rpliginn^ wKi^ih taught them

to rpgrard the_purs,ijjt^ pf wealth as, not merely an

.^acLvantage^ but a_ duty. This conception welded into

a disciplined force the still feeble bourgeoisie ^ heightened

its energies, and cast a halo of sanctification round its

LjConvenient vices. What is significant, in short, is not

T^ the strength of the motive of economic self-interest,

^ which is the commonplace of all ages and demands no]

1! explanation. It is the change of moral stan dards which

converted a natural frailty into an ornament of the

spirit, and canonized as the economic virtues habits

which in earlier ages had been ^



1 The force which produced it was the creed associated
V \s^ith the name of Calvin. Capitalism was the social
{^ .counterpart of Calvinist theology.

"X The central idea to which Weber appeals in con-
firmation of his theory is expressed in the characteristic
phrase **a calling." For Luther, as for most mediaeval
theologians, it had normally meant the state of life in
which the individual had been set bv Heaven, and



(



against which it was impious to rebel. 'l"o the Calvinist,
Weber argues, the calling is not a condition in which
the individual is born, but a strenuous and exacting
enterprise to be chosen bj^himself , a nd to be pursued
with a sense of rehgimis responsihihty. Baptized in the
bracing, if icy, waters of Calvinist theology, the life
of business, once regarded as perilous to the soul —
summe periculosa est emptionis et venditionis negotiatio —
2



Foreword

acquires a new sanctity. Labout-js_-QüL.03erely an
econo mic means : it is a spiritua l end. Covetousness^ if '>^
2l danger to the^oul, is a less formidable menace than
sloth. So far from poverty being melito^rious, it is a
duty to choose the more pro fitable occupat ion. So far "/
Ifoift-there^beingan inevitableconflict between money-
making_and43iety Tthey^are^ natural^ alJl^ for the virtues
incumbent on the elect — diligence, thriit^ sobriety,
prudenc e — are th e_jnos t reliable passporL to com-
mercial_2ros2erity. Thus the pursuit of riches, which ^
once had been fe3red^;aSLllit:_iUieiy]f;;;5|HP&l4gion , was I
now_3:dcmn£d.-_.as_Jts__ally - ^The habits "and^insti-
tutions in which that philosophy found expression
survived long after the creed which was their parent
had expired, or had withdrawn from Europe to more
congenial c n^es .' If capitalism begins as the practical
idealism of the aspiring bourgeoisie , it ends, Weber
suggests in his concluding pages, as an orgy of
materialism.

Un England the great industry grew by gradual ^
increments over a period of centuries, and, since the
English class system had long been based on differences
of wealth, not of juristic status, there was no violent
contrast between the legal foundations of the old order /)
and the new. Hence in England the conception of ^,



Online LibraryMax WeberThe Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism → online text (page 1 of 26)