Are capitalism and traditionalism opposed

The Irrationality of Professional Work - Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Capitalism


1 Introduction

2. Origin and starting point

3. Capitalism
3.1. The capitalist mind
3.2. Spirit of capitalism vs. traditionalism

4. Protestant ethics
4.1. Professional obligation and rationalization
4.2. Doctrine of predistination
4.3. Methodical life experience

5. Irrationality of professional work

6. Literature

"The subject is considered to be an individual capable of acting, capable of shaping his own and social circumstances according to reason" (Grundmann / Beer, 2004: p. 1).

Since the beginning of sociology, the subject, and especially its relationship to society, has been the most important research question. The assumption of a subject that has the ability to think rationally, internalizes cultural factors and in turn carries them out through his actions is widespread and is shared by almost all sociological theories. Nevertheless, there are decisive differences in the way the individual is viewed and, with a view to the above quotation, the question arises as to whether the subject can actually be understood as a "rational" individual. In order to clarify this question, a study that is still controversial today, but unique in its implementation, "Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Capitalism" by Max Weber will be presented and analyzed.

The basis of the study is based on the question of the historical emergence of modern capitalism in the Occident and the observation of a close connection between Protestantism and capitalist development. The specialty of the work is also based on the fact that although modern capitalism is the starting point of the research, Weber primarily deals with the human being as a whole, namely with the idea of ​​a human whose kind of humanity is in the way of his reflects social living conditions. The social living conditions are characterized by capitalist, rational action, so that capitalism for Weber accordingly represents the basic character of humanity, i.e. what makes people human within the capitalist world (Guttandin, 1998: p. 12 / Lowith, 1973 : P. 19). He also points out that "that type of lifestyle that is adapted to the peculiarities of capitalism" is one that did not arise in individual individuals, but was borne by "groups of people", and the emergence of this type of lifestyle is for Weber that Explanatory (Weber, 1920: p. 37). To explain this particular way of life, Weber developed the term “capitalist spirit”. Who this “spirit” is, how it influences human nature and what conclusions it allows for modern capitalism, are the questions that need to be clarified.

For a better understanding, a brief overview of Weber's preliminary considerations and basic assumptions should first be given.

The starting point for Weber's considerations was the observation of a close relationship between Protestantism and the development of modern capitalism. That is because it was only in Europe that a qualitatively new type of capitalism emerged, namely that of “Occidental modern capitalism”, which was characterized in particular by a thoroughly rational way of life and which differs in its characteristics from the already existing form of capitalism. It should be noted here that the idea of ​​a causal connection between Protestantism and modern capitalism was by no means new at the beginning of the 20th century and therefore cannot be regarded as Weber's individual insight. What was new, however, was Weber's approach to this subject. He has completely differentiated himself from the previous economic, political and materialistic approaches and pursued the claim of a cultural-historical analysis (Baumer, 2007: 45/46). He poses the question of the historical emergence of modern capitalism, which he does not see as an independent power of social production relations, but as a whole that has arisen through the way people lead their lives (Lowith, 1973: p. 22). The work is therefore not only the analysis of an economic structure, but also the consideration of a new type of society. Weber is not concerned with how modern capitalism works once it has prevailed, but rather with how it could arise, i.e. what origin, what nature is inherent in modern capitalism. His concern is to show which factors played a role in the emergence of modern capitalism and he considers the development from an individual level of action by including and particularly emphasizing the individual way of life of the people.

The first question that arises is what conception Weber had of modern Occidental capitalism in society and what the difference for him to the previously existing form of capitalism is. Fundamental to Weber was the assumption that "capitalism is identical with profit [...] with the pursuit of ever new profit, with profitability" and that the capitalist economic act rests on the expectation of profit through the exploitation of exchange opportunities (Formally) peaceful employment opportunities (Kaesler, 2004: p. 38). Weber himself emphasizes that the form of capitalist economic action according to this definition has already existed in all periods and in all cultural countries and that capitalist action in itself is therefore by no means a new phenomenon (ibid.). So what is special, what is new about modern capitalism, which according to Weber only appears in its specific form in the Occident? At this point it should be pointed out again that Weber did not want to work out capitalism in itself, but rather the specific factors that led to the emergence of modern capitalism, because for Weber, modern capitalism as it has prevailed is, a tremendous cosmos into which the individual is born and which is given for him at least as an individual, as a de facto immutable housing in which he has to live ”(Weber, 1920: p. 37). According to Weber, capitalism in itself is an immutable power that no one can escape from and therefore has to be accepted as the result of historical development. But how did this development come about and what are the characteristics of this “immense cosmos” that make it so unique and thus distinguish it from all other capitalist forms of economy? To answer this, Weber lists the following characteristics: The “rational-capitalist (company) organization of (formally) free work”, the “separation of household and company” and the rational bookkeeping ”(Kaesler, 2004: p. 39) . In summary, one can say that, according to Weber, modern capitalism, in contrast to its pre-forms, is based on the rationalization that affects all areas of life. A rationalization of the way of life that met and united with the rationalization of social areas such as administration or technology. Although the factor of rationalization plays a decisive, if not the most important role in understanding modern capitalism and the connection to Protestantism, it will only be explained in more detail in a later section.

Even if you look at the title of the work, it is noticeable that it is not primarily about a direct relationship between capitalism and Protestantism, but that the “spirit” of capitalism in its relationship to Protestant “ethics” is examined. The “spirit” of capitalism is defined as a habitus, as a certain collection of characteristics and behavior patterns of the individuals who are typically capitalist. In this context, more precisely, Habitus means “the transfer of religious ideas into actions that embrace a particular style of living, which in turn has gained an institutional fixed point in modern capitalism” (Guttandin, 1998: p. 30). In their special relationship, “spirit” and “capitalism” are relatively independent. "The capitalist form of an economy and the spirit in which it is run are generally in an adequate relationship, but not in that of a legal dependency" (Weber, 1920: p. 49). This means that there are both forms of capitalism that exist without the “spirit”, as well as the spirit can appear without it carrying the corresponding economic form with it. This fact is crucial, as it makes a separate analysis of "spirit", "capitalism" and "ethics" necessary and makes research possible at all into the relatively autonomous emergence of the capitalist spirit influenced by ascetic Protestantism.

The following is to show how the spirit of capitalism has prevailed according to Weber and which properties characterize it. To illustrate this, Weber analyzes the statements of Benjamin Franklin, a successful entrepreneur who, according to Weber, is formally permeated by the spirit of capitalism and thus represents an exemplary example of the specific way of life in modern capitalism. Weber summarizes the interpretation of the statements as follows: "The acquisition of money and more and more money, while strictly avoiding all impartial genius, [...], conceived so purely as an end in itself that it is something compared to happiness or the" Benefit 'of the individual individual appears to be wholly transcendent and utterly irrational ”(ibid .: p. 35). Work in the sense of the capitalist spirit no longer has the role of merely functioning as a means to the end of securing livelihood, but work itself becomes the actual end. The work itself develops a value of its own, it becomes a “calling”, even a “professional duty” which, as Weber emphasizes, has something “contrary to nature” attached to it. Another character imprinting of the spirit that should be emphasized is the "philosophy of avarice". Just as work establishes an end in itself, the acquisition of money also has a purpose that is far removed from the concern of consumption. The acquisition of money is the "result and the expression of the excellence in the profession" (ibid .: p. 36) and also arises in the subordination of the person to his task. It is about the "obligation" to the work imposed as an end in itself, behind which there is not only a business prudence, but behind which there is a unique ethos (ibid .: p. 33). The capitalist leitmotifs mentioned, which are reflected in the devotion to the profession of making money, characterize the ideal type of the capitalist entrepreneur and it is precisely these that distinguish modern capitalism from all other forms of capitalist action.

Weber clearly points out that this ethos was not only new and specific to modern capitalism, but that it also contradicts the way of life that has hitherto been shaped by traditionalism (ibid .: 43). Capitalism marked a break with traditionalism as the goals of economic activity were completely redefined. Weber describes the relationship to work in traditionalism as follows: "By nature, people do not want to earn money or more money, but simply live, to live as they are used to living and to acquire as much as is necessary" (ibid .: P. 44). According to this, people only work on their own in order to live, in order to survive, because “the people only work because and as long as they are poor” (ibid .: p. 45). If man has enough wealth he evades work, turns to the nicer things in life and is inclined to show off his wealth. The ideal type of the modern capitalist behaves completely in opposition to these natural behaviors, in that he sees work as fulfilling his professional duty and makes it his ethos of life. He opposes the prevailing, traditionalist way of life, in which reputation and recognition are based on visible wealth. The special development of this rational way of life consequently had to assert itself against severe opposition. According to Weber, defying the given rules and withdrawing from tradition cannot simply be a consequence of the material circumstances. A deeper justification is required, which is responsible for the fact that a person constantly opposes the given rules and thus behaves against their nature. Against the background of this thought and the preceding explanations, the question arises as to what justification this may be, i.e. what origin the spirit of capitalism has.

As we have seen, the spirit of capitalism is conditioned by the ethos of duty-performance, which is reflected in devotion to one's profession, along with a thoroughly rational way of life. After thorough deliberations, Weber comes to the conclusion that the justification for such a way of life, which opposes the existing rules of the traditionalist way of life, can only be found in certain religious ideas, namely the Protestant rules of faith.

It should be anticipated, however, that Weber did not see religion, in this case Protestant doctrine, as being solely responsible for the development of modern capitalism, but merely wanted to show the extent to which Protestantism was involved in its development. Because "it should only be determined: whether and to what extent religious influences were involved in the qualitative expansion of that" spirit "across the world and which specific aspects of the capitalist-based culture go back to them" (Kaesler, 2004: p. 106).


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