|Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries||Events and Society|
Capitalism as the offspring of Western Metaphysics
By the Rev. Metropolitan of Nafpaktos and Saint Vlasios, fr. Hierotheos Vlachos
Excerpt from the book: «Born and raised as Romans» pages 123-184.
1. The value of Max Weber’s work
2. The demarcation of Capitalism
3. The metaphysics of Capitalism
a) The role of predestination in the creation of Capitalism
d) Duty towards the profession
4. Western researchers’ opinions on Max Weber’s views
5. Romanity and the Capitalist spirit
The theological differentiation of the West from the East created enormous problems in the Western sphere and more specifically to the people who live there. This theological aberration, this heretical position, was not confined to a theoretical and dogmatic level only; it became a way of life. It would not be frivolous for one to assert that all the strange events taking place in the West, or at least the majority of them, are attributed to the anti-Roman way of life.
It is within this framework that Capitalism should be interpreted; i.e., that Capitalism is the offspring of Western metaphysics, of the theology of the West, which estranged itself from the theology of the Fathers and attached itself to the philosophical theories of “ontology” and “metaphysics”. Besides, this is not irrelevant to the fact that all modern philosophical trends and schools were created in the West.
There are two basic interpretations for the birth of Capitalism. One claims that Capitalism is the fruit of Papism with its feudalist mentality, and the other claims that it is the fruit and the offspring of Protestantism with the particular morality that it has developed.
Beyond the existence of these theories and the effort made to find a suitable answer, the fact remains that Capitalism is the offspring of Western metaphysics, as experienced by both Papism and Protestantism. A detailed and careful study can prove that both of these Christian confessions (Papism – Protestantism) have been influenced on both a theoretical as well as a theological level, by the theories of the blessed Augustine; mainly from his views on an “predestination”. Indeed, we know that the Franks, in their attempt to create their own theology to confront the theology of the Romans, used the views of the blessed Augustine. Unfortunately, the Protestants, who distanced themselves from the ranks of Papism, were not able to disengage themselves from the structures of Augustine’s theological thought, since rationalism is at the core of their theology.
Consequently, the theology of Papism and that of Protestantism both have in reality the same point of reference and perspective. An example will show this more clearly.
An extensive discussion took place in the West over the difference between analogia entis (analogy of being) and analogia fidei (analogy of faith). The word “analogy” implies a similarity or a correspondence in relations. [i] In essence, therefore, “analogy” is a method of theological thinking; that is to say, it is a gnosiological method for Man to approach God.
Papist theology is influenced and expressed by analogia entis, since, according to this theory the method for attaining knowledge of God is linked to the study of nature. This viewpoint is not irrelevant to the ontology of metaphysics, according to which the world that we know is linked to the realm of reality, which is the realm of ideas, since that is where it originated from.
Furthermore, the theology of Protestantism is expressed mainly by analogia fidei, since it regards that relations with God are linked to faith. Thus, according to Protestantism the knowledge of God is achieved through Man’s rebirth, which is realised through theoretical faith. Karl Barth’s dialectic theology, which is expressed by analogia fidei, strongly criticised the theology of Papism, which is based on analogia entis[ii].
Orthodoxy, which is based on the theosis of the Prophets, Apostles and Saints, is expressed through experiences of revelation and not through the gnosiological methods of Papism and Protestantism. According to the Holy Fathers of the Church, no theory of cogitative analogy can apply, since there is no resemblance between created and uncreated. This is why Orthodox theologians proclaim that in the dialogue with the Lutherans, and by extension with all Christian confessions and religious convictions, it would be both helpful and useful to discuss and eventually come to an agreement on the dangers for theology and the method for approaching God, which analogia entis as well as analogia fidei both entail [iii].
Capitalism, as we shall see further on in our analysis, has been profoundly influenced by the metaphysics that prevailed in the Western world, since it stands out precisely for its metaphysical perspective. But even Socialism–Marxism, which was presented as anti-metaphysical, is in reality the offspring of Western metaphysics, since it upholds the existence of relentless laws that govern both History and the world, and which naturally govern all social phenomena and societal developments.
Beyond their theoretical similarities, both Capitalism and Marxism do not differ from each other in their sociological content. This can be seen from the fact that the basis of both is capital; the difference being that in the Capitalist system, the capital belongs to the few, while in the Marxist system it belongs to the State. In both theories, Man is dependent on the particular laws that determine the social setting.
The fact that there are two theories for the birth of Capitalism is of minor importance. What is certain and unquestionable is that Capitalism is the offspring of metaphysics as experienced in the West. A basic representative of the theory that Capitalism is closely connected to Protestant morality is the famous sociologist Max Weber. His work “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” is now considered a classic.
In this introduction, it must be underlined that it is an important fact that the development of the two basic social systems (Capitalism – Marxism) is linked to the predominance of the Franks in the West and the deviation of the Western world from the Roman mindset and lifestyle, as well as to the establishment of the feudal system in the West, which both these systems wished to undermine.
Further along, we shall attempt to present, as clearly as possible, Max Weber’s basic positions on the link between the spirit of Capitalism and Protestant ethics; and mostly, we shall examine the metaphysics of Capitalism as presented in his book that we are referring to. We do not intend to exhaust this subject and set out all of his opinions; however, we will set out the underlying spirit of this great sociologist.
The presentation of Max Weber’s basic positions may constitute a major undertaking in such a small study, especially when the one tackling it lacks specialised knowledge. Nevertheless, Max Weber himself somewhere claims that “almost all of the sciences owe something to amateurs; quite often, they are very noteworthy views”[iv]. This study however is justified from the aspect that I have focused specifically on the theology of the Roman tradition and with the atmosphere prevailing in the West; and this is why I can understand the spirit of Weber’s views.
It is, after all, well known that theology is closely linked to the history and the development of various social phenomena. Whoever studies closely the theological differences between the various confessions, can easily understand the differences between societal events. This view is supported by the fact that Max Weber also conducted his research within this framework.
1. The value of Max Weber’s work
Max Weber was a German sociologist (1864-1920), who taught sociology in Berlin, in Freiburg, in Heidelberg, in Vienna and in Munich. The great importance, value and significance of Max Weber’s work is attributed to the fact that in his books he expounds the position that the characteristics of economy are determined by the religious factor. This precise detail played a part in undermining the foundations of Marx’s and Engels’ historical materialism[v]. Max Weber was young when Marx was approaching the end of his life and, as was natural, his theories had caused a huge sensation in the Western world.
As a term, “historical materialism” was introduced by Engels, whereas its content was defined by his friend Marx. As we know, historical materialism originated from dialectic materialism, the latter having been created as a reaction to Hegel’s “idealism”. It appears, therefore, that idealism as developed by Western scholastics provoked a certain reaction and this was the way that dialectic as well as historical materialism originated. When Westerners realised that the so-called world of ideas does not exist (on which all of metaphysics had been based) and that ideas cannot be proved scientifically, they were led to the denial of idealism and from there to the creation of the materialist systems.
According to K. Georgoulis, a fundamental theory of “historical materialism” is that the social, political and spiritual course in life is determined by the means of producing material needs. Hegel asserted that historical evolution and progress are determined by the influence of the eternal notions of justice, freedom and equality. Bower, one of Hegel’s students, taught that the course of historical life is not regulated by any eternal ideas but by the guidance that comes from the self-awareness and intellectual energy of ingenious historical personalities. Taking these thoughts further, Marx and Engels argued that what determines the course of history is neither the ideas, nor the personalities, but the economic conditions for the production of commodities. In this way, the most valuable element in the entire world is the material one. The consequence and the extension of this view is that the material hypostasis came to determine a person’s conscience and not that the conscience determines the social hypostasis. It is on this theory that the social class’s struggle was based[vi].
Raised in such a materialist environment, which was determined and shaped by historical materialism, Max Weber attributed the matter of the birth of Capitalism, and generally of social formation, not so much to the material factor as to the religious one. He proved in the best way possible that the theology of the West contributed to the creation of the particular mentality of Capitalism, which, of course, does not differ in its basic points from Marxism. With these views, he shook the foundations of historical materialism most severely.
These are the reasons that Max Weber’s opinions are considered so contemporary. Various studies that took place, both in the West as well as in the East, proved that the generative cause of Capitalism and Marxism had been Western Christianity with its metaphysical perspective, and not the material and economic conditions of life. Besides, it is the person who shapes social conditions and not social-economic conditions that shape the person. Of course, a person can be influenced by his surrounding social environment, but he cannot be totally subjugated to and determined by it.
Therefore, Max Weber’s opinions are today considered even more valid, more up-to-date and modern, in comparison to the theories and views of Marx. The development of existential philosophy, as well as the proliferation of in-depth psychology, both reveal the contemporary nature of Max Weber’s theory and its validity.
Max Weber’s book “The Protestant ethic and the spirit of Capitalism” that we will analyse further down is a classic. Vasilis Filias, in his introduction in the Greek edition of this work, calls it “famous”, and in fact claims that “with the exception of Marx’s Capital” there is certainly no other book in the area of social sciences that has caused as many and as intense discussions, as well as reactions, as Max Weber’s work”[vii].
After these introductory remarks, which were essential in order to stress Max Weber’s immense value and offer, as well as its timeliness, we will proceed to a concise presentation of the central positions of this book.
2. The demarcation of Capitalism
When studying the subject of Capitalism’s birth, it is necessary to provide a definition of what we call “Capitalism”, the way that Max Weber exactly means it. Besides, we are all familiar with Aristotle’s saying, that: “The beginning of wisdom is the visitation of names”. A definition is necessary, because there is a certain confusion at this point. Some believe that Capitalism also expresses a person’s desire to acquire wealth, when in fact Capitalism as a system and an organization expresses something else.
The word Capitalism stems from the word capita and declares exactly that, viz. the capital. Therefore, we use the term Capitalism to mean “the prepotency of capital”, and the term Capitalist to mean the “capital-holder”; hence, it is about the system that utilises capital. What we are now saying is not something simple, but should be seen with regard to what will be said further down, as analysed by Max Weber.
In the introduction of his book, which is a summary of his views on the sociology of religion, Max Weber gives us some characteristic and necessary information. He begins by opining that in a particular place in time, namely the Medieval West, all sciences and arts acquired a rationalist character and a rationalistic view. With this viewpoint, he tries to substantiate the theory that something occurred in this particular place in time that influenced all of the sciences, arts and, of course the capitalist mentality.
We do not intend to present these views in detail, but only to refer to some of Max Weber’s arguments. He claims that knowledge, observation, and science have always existed in every era; however, during the middle Ages in the West, all these acquired a completely different character. Babylonian astronomical observations lacked a mathematical basis, the way that the Hellenes viewed it; geometry lacked proof; the Indian natural sciences lacked the method of experimentation. The same applied to chemistry and Chinese historiography, which lacked Thucydides’ pragmatic method. The Indian legal teaching is distinguished for a rational legal science with systematic thought patterns, while “only in the West is a logical structure taking shape, in the form of Canonical Justice”. All peoples had musical education, however, rational harmonious music was developed from the Renaissance onwards. The same was observed in architecture and sculpture. Higher spiritual institutions could be found everywhere, “but a rational, systematic and specialised pursuit of science, with practicing and specialised personnel existed only in the West”. By studying Man’s history, we will see that employees existed in every social structure; but it was only in the West that all political, technical and economic terms of life are completely dependent “on a specifically driven organization of clerkship”[viii].
Max Weber observes extensively that during the Middle Ages in the West, all sciences and arts, the entire way of life, were confronted rationally, then set out logically and organised on the basis of a logical system. This helps him greatly to attribute all this mentality to the Reform movement which had been based on upright reasoning (rational reason) and Man’ rational relationship with God, his neighbour and society. Logical reasoning was regarded as the centre of man’s existence.
It is within this frameset that we should also see the existence of Capitalism. In fact, there used to be a pre-capitalistic Capitalism; this is why there is some confusion among these issues. This means Capitalism does not consist of an limitless desire for the realisation of profit. The pursuit of money, the desire to become wealthy, the desire to acquire material goods and capital are all linked to the person and can be found in every phase of his life. If we were to regard such desires “Capitalism”, then this perception “belongs to the kindergarten of historical teaching”.
The difference is that in the Western Middle Ages, Capitalism took on the form of a rational organisation; it was the pursuit of profit, “within the framework of a permanent, rationalistically-organised capitalist business, with efficiency as its criterion”. In the entire world and in every era, we meet tradesmen and merchants, small or great; but only in the West did a form of Capitalism develop “in types, forms and directions, which had never existed anywhere else until then”. Indeed, a particular form of Capitalism was developed in the West that consisted of “a rational, capitalistic organising of (technically) free labour”.
Clearly, therefore, when we refer to the spirit of Capitalism, we are mainly implying this rationalist organising of a business, of labour. But in order for this to be achieved, two factors are imperative. The first one is “the separation of the Business from the House” and the second one is “rationalist accountancy”. One can find the separation of the Business from the House in the past, in many countries, however, the rationalist accountancy of a business “and the legal separation of a business’s ownership from personal ownership” had not previously existed.
But this new turn of events and new outlook on life is not exhausted in the sciences, arts and economic organisation (Capitalism) only. We encounter it in all paths of life. That is to say, according to Max Weber, this rationalist perception of life profoundly influenced socialism. In every phase of History, the world had encountered various types and forms of socialism, just as it had encountered various types and forms of capitalism. Even though organisations and guilds had always existed, nevertheless it was only in the West that we have noticed the existence of the notions of “citizen” and “bourgeois” - the proletariat as a class. We find this mainly in the West, because the “rational organisation of free labour as a business unit” existed there. Even in older times there were class struggles between lenders and debtors, between masters and slaves etc.; however all these struggles differed from the struggles that took place in the West during the Middle Ages.
That is to say, just as the rationalising of life and the rational organizing of life in Western societies of the Middle Ages influenced the sciences, the arts and Capitalism, thus exactly did they also influence socialism.
Aside from being in need of the means for production, Capitalism, as developed in the West – the so-called the “modern rational Capitalism” – was also in need of a legal system and an administration with stable rules of operation. This was precisely what was achieved in the West, where this rational Capitalism developed.
In this introduction of his, Max Weber simply touched upon what he would further expound in his book, namely, that during the Middle Ages in the West a huge change took place in the people’s way of life, and this is what is of interest to us at this point. The centre of man’s life became rational reasoning and with it, man came to regulate all his functions and activities. This is developed at length in other chapters of his book. The fact is that Protestantism contributed significantly to this differentiation, with its rationalist views on life’s issues. Religious ideas and more specifically, the ideas of the Reform played a part in the development of an economic spirit[ix].
3. The metaphysics of Capitalism
In order to be precise, we need to say that nowhere does Max Weber use the term “metaphysics” in his book, and neither, of course, does he link it to Capitalism. It is in an attempt to relay Max Weber’s spirit that we have used this term, since, after all - as we shall see further down - that which Max Weber “locates” can readily be called “metaphysics”. This famous sociologist links the spirit of Capitalism with Protestant ethics; but we know that the ethics of Protestantism were based on metaphysics.
When expounding a topic, every interpreter refers to a certain text as his starting point, which he then proceeds to analyse more extensively. It appears that for Max Weber the starting thought is that the rationalist organising work and economic commodities is closely linked to the Protestants and not so much to the “Catholics” and, furthermore, that the spirit of Capitalism is apparent in a text by Benjamin Franklin, where the theory of money’s regenerative power is vividly presented; a theory which, as we know, is the basis of Capitalism. We shall examine these two points in more detail.
Max Weber places great importance on the fact that, if one were to examine the statistics of professions, in countries having a mixed religious synthesis, he would discover that the majority of those who are possessors of capital and are businessmen, as well the upper classes of specialised workers and educated personnel of businesses, are Protestants. In other words, compared to “Catholics”, Protestants outnumber them, both in businesses and in possession of capital.
Of course, this could be interpreted by the fact that this situation - especially when examined per country – is attributed to historical causes, namely, that in the 16th century the majority of the wealthier cities became Protestant. But even so, this does not explain how wealthy regions were predisposed for an ecclesiastical revolution, and in particular the economically advanced countries; and furthermore, how the upcoming middle classes were ready on the one hand to tolerate the tyranny of Puritanism, and on the other hand to defend it heroically.
Max Weber notes the fact that Protestants have a tendency to be drawn to industrial worksites and to occupy administrative positions and the uppermost ranks of specialised labour, and that their studies are focused in this direction, while the “Catholics” become manual labourers, small tradesmen, or occupied with traditional professions. The fact is that Protestants have a tendency to develop economic rationalism, something that “Catholics” do not appear to be doing. Max Weber is thus led to the following conclusion: “therefore, the reason for this difference must be sought in the permanent, inherent character of their religious faith and not in the transitory, external historical-political situations”[x].
In the chapter titled “Religious faith and social strata”, Max Weber makes various observations on countries inhabited by Protestants and Catholics, only to ascertain that the Protestant ethic is indeed very closely linked to the spirit of Capitalism, being the element that helped in the evolution of the capitalist system, since this develops mainly in countries and in people that are suffused by a rationalist organising of economy and the theory of money’s regenerative powers.
The other starting text used by Max Weber, expresses the Puritan spirit which is linked to the spirit of Capitalism. This text essentially consists of Benjamin Franklin’s thoughts, set out in the form of counsel, for the rational development of wealth. It will not be set out in its entirety, but only a few of its more indicative excerpts.
One particular piece of advice refers to the viewing of time as money: “Always remember that time is money”. The other counsel is: “Remember that credit is money”. This is inseparably connected to the interest that is born of lending money. A characteristic position of Benjamin Franklin is: “Remember that money has a reproductive and fruitful nature”; that is to say, money reproduces money. Also, it is reminded that whoever acquires a reputation for keeping his promise as regards payment also acquires the lender’s confidence and can succeed in anything he wants. “Remember that – as the saying goes – the one who settles his debts is master of the other man’s wallet”. For this reason, he advises: “Never keep borrowed money for even an hour longer than the time you promised to return it, so that indignation will not permanently close your friend’s wallet”.
In the text that Max Weber cites, Benjamin Franklin also refers to other issues that truly express the spirit of Capitalism. He also refers to the acquisition of a reputation of an honest man, which is achieved through diligence and careful utilization of money and of goods, in general. “Take care of everything that you own and live according to them”. Saving and avoiding insignificant expenses are recommended, by keeping “an accurate record of expenses and income”.
His words are characteristic: “Whoever spends even the smallest amount of money unprofitably, spends six pounds a year unprofitably, which is the price for the use of 100 pounds... Whoever loses five shillings, does not only lose this amount, but also loses any advantage he could have had by utilizing it in a business – given that, by the time a young man reaches old age, he could, by beginning with those shillings, eventually gather an enormous sum of money”[xi].
It is impossible for one to fully comment on Franklin’s thoughts, or, of course, to analyse at length Max Weber’ thoughts and criticisms–penetrative observations, because the purpose of these analyses is a different one. The fact is that in Franklin’s counsels, one can clearly discern that a particular ethos is recommended – one that can be named the ethos of Capitalism – or rather, a particular way of life that expresses the spirit of Capitalism.
This particular ethos regards honesty as extremely beneficial and useful to man and, of course, all virtues are virtues to the degree that they too are beneficial and useful. Avarice constitutes the ideal of every honest person. The thirst for making more money should be satisfied, while one’s obligation to make more money is an end in itself, being Man’s sole purpose and objective. It appears that any transgressing from this way of life is in fact a dereliction of duty.
It is characteristic, how Ferdinand Kürnberger says that these views of Franklin constitute “the image of the American civilization”. In fact, he uses a very characteristic phrase that superbly summarises the Capitalist and marvellously expresses his spirit: “they extract fat from beasts and money from people”[xii].
Apart from what we have underlined so far, we need to insist on the presentation of the theory of the regenerative significance of wealth. Capitalists place great importance to this and, by believing that riches possess magical powers, they claim that it is able to be generated and to produce. On the other hand, Man should do everything in his power to create the proper prerequisites for the generating and production of wealth. This precisely indicates how wealth acquires hypostasis, hence the rationalist viewing of wealth.
According to what we mentioned previously, this particular ethos of Capitalism, viz. the logically utilized capital in business, “the rational, business recycling of capital and the rational capitalist organising of labour” were born in the West during the Middle Ages, and an important role to their growth was played by the Protestants with their particular ethics. It is a fact that the growth of the spirit of Capitalism is part of the evolution of rationalism[xiii].
Because Protestants had contributed to the rationalist view of life (since this is also linked to the particular method of theological thought), in what follows it is necessary to underline certain characteristic points, which show the influence of the Protestant theological thought on the creation of the spirit of Capitalism. It is in this perspective that the title of this chapter, “The Metaphysics of Capitalism”, is also justified.
a) The role of predestination in the creation of Capitalism
The spirit of Capitalism, as presented and analysed by Max Weber, is closely related -and in fact we could say is theoretically based- on the theory on ultimate predestination.
The blessed Augustine had developed the theory of an predestination, according to which all people are sinners by nature and insusceptible to progress. However, throughout the ages, God supposedly selects some of them, who in the end are saved, not according to their own worth, but according to God’s unsearchable will. Consequently, God does not send His grace to all people, but only to His chosen ones, whom He has selected and has destined for the everlasting commodities, which are known to no one but God[xiv].
The Reformers were influenced to a large degree by the blessed Augustine’s theory on man’s predestination and, as we can observe, this determined their overall theological thought and practical way of living. In a related chapter entitled “the religious foundations of secular asceticism”, which expresses and shapes the so-called spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber researches this essential and important side of things. He observes that basic factors of ascetic Protestantism, namely Calvinism, Pietism, Methodism and various Baptist heresies, albeit different to each other on certain points, they are nevertheless permeated by the same problematics. All these Protestant groups are imbued with Augustine’s theory on man’s predestination. In what follows, we will see the basic Protestant positions on predestination, as well as their importance in the everyday life of the people of the West.
Max Weber presents certain chapters from the “Confession of Westminster” of 1647 A.D., which describes the basic tenets on predestination. This text will be quoted unedited because it is very indicative and will aid us in the analysis to follow.
“Chapter 9 (on free will), No. 3: Man, with his fall into the state of sin, lost all willpower for any spiritual good and the bliss that accompanies its acquisition; thus, a normal person, who is altogether averse to that good and is dead towards sin, is unable to rehabilitate himself and prepare himself for it.
Chapter 3 (on God’s eternal volitions), No. 3: By the will of God, for the revelation of his glory…….some men and angels have been destined for everlasting life, and others foreordained for an everlasting death.
No. 5: Those of mankind who are destined for life, God has - before the foundations of the world were laid, in accordance with His eternal and immutable intention and His secret volition and good disposition of his will - chosen Christ for everlasting glory, out of entirely free grace and love, without any prerequisite of faith or good works, or perseverance in either, or for any other thing in His creations, be it conditions or causes that have impelled Him to do this; but everything is for the praising of His glorious grace.
No. 7: The rest of mankind, God condescended - according to the unsearchable decision of His will, with which He extends or withholds His grace as he pleases, for the glory of his infinite power over his creations - to bypass this, and to ordain them to dishonour and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice.
Chapter 10 (on the effective calling), No. 1:
All those whom God hath destined for life, and only those, does God condescend at the suitable time decided by Him, to effectively call, with His word and His Spirit, by removing their stone heart and giving them a fleshy heart while renewing His volitions, and with His almighty power, decided for them that which is good for them.
Chapter 5 (on Providence), No. 6: As for those wicked and godless men - whom God, as a righteous judge, blinds and hardens for their past sins - He not only deprives them of His grace, with which their minds could have been enlightened and their hearts moved; but sometimes He also deprives them of the charismas which they had and He brings them in contact with such objects that corruption would provide them with an opportunity to sin; and it furthermore delivers them over to their own lusts, to the temptations of the world and the power of Satan; whereby they become hardened, in fact with those very means that God uses to soften others.[xv].
Max Weber’s observations on this text, while analysing the teaching of the Protestant groups (Calvinism, Pietism, Methodism, Baptist heresies), are discerned for their penetrativeness. He also presents certain subtle differences between them, however he simultaneously highlights their basic, central points. We could say that, despite their differences, they essentially express the same spirit.
God is absolutely free, since He is not subject to any law, and, consequently, He selects His chosen ones, who become saved. No one can accuse God for this choice of His, in the same way that animals cannot accuse God for not being born as men. God determined man’s destiny in the world, down to the last detail. Neither the virtues nor the sins of men can contribute towards their predestination, precisely because such a thing would mean that God’s absolutely free wills are subject to change. It is impossible for those who received God’s Grace to lose it, because this would reflect upon God’s absolute free will, while similarly those who were destined to be condemned cannot avoid it, no matter how many virtues they acquire.
God’s chosen people do not differ externally from the other, condemned ones who are not destined for salvation by God, and in fact these chosen people are the ones who comprise God’s invisible Church. With theories such as these, an “aristocracy of the chosen ones” was introduced in the world. However, because the borders between the chosen and not chosen are nebulous, for this reason the utmost good that religion can lead man to is the acquisition of the certainty of his salvation; the certainty that he belongs to the aristocracy of the chosen. It was for this precise reason that so much importance was placed on the verification and reassurance of God’s Grace in man.
Within this framework we find “two interdependent types of pastoral counsel”. The one type was that the select had to be in control of themselves in order to rid themselves of all doubts originating from the devil which would show them as lacking self-confidence, which self-confidence originates from faith. The other type was that an “unflagging zeal for professional activity” is required, so that man can attain the self-confidence necessary for life. This caused an immense problem, given that the faithful had to constantly perform a systematic self-check to determine whether he was chosen or condemned. Thus, man always found himself in that relentless dilemma: “Am I chosen, or am I condemned”?
It is only natural that such a mentality would lead to a rationalizing of moral behaviour, and in general to a rationalist view of man’s life. And, as we saw elsewhere, this rationalism and rationalist organizing of life had resounding consequences in the social sphere also, since that is where the spirit of Capitalism as we know it today was created. As Max Weber characteristically points out, even “that very sanctification of life could almost assume the character of a business”.
When speaking of the Pietists and Protestant fraternities in general, Max Weber stresses that, apart from being mission centres, they were, at the same time, businesses. It was only to be expected that they would lead their members to first find a duty and then to carefully and systematically perform it.
The fact is that the theory of predestination rationalised life, it systematised social and professional activities and placed man within the framework of the duties he had to carry out. It was precisely these points that contributed towards the development of the so-called spirit of Capitalism[xvi].
The degree to which the theory of predestination significantly affected the capitalist mentality of Western man will become evident from the consequences of this theory on private life, on the asceticism of Protestantism and on the sanctity of the profession, which will be examined further along.
b) Pietist individualism
The doctrine of predestination “in its reckless cruelty” - as Max Weber characteristically states - created in people the “feeling of an unheard-of inner loneliness of the individual person”. Man, finding himself in a tug-of-war between the uncertainty and the certainty of his salvation, understood full well that no one else could help him. Neither could any priest be of help, since each chosen one was able to understand God’s word in his heart, nor could the sacraments, since one can only receive the Grace of God through personal faith, nor the Church, since the condemned also belong to it, nor any God, since Christ too died for the chosen. The puritan rejected all of the above – even every religious ceremony by the grave – so that his faith would not be caught up with superstitions.
God’s transcendence led the puritan to a complete existential isolation, to a negative stance towards all the emotional elements that exist in civilization and religion, and it in fact became the root of the most pessimistic form of individualism. Even the Calvinist communication with God “would take place in profound spiritual isolation”.
This individualism, which became a way of life, significantly contributed to the creation of the spirit of Capitalism, since the Capitalist turns inwardly to himself; he shuts himself up hermetically inside himself and does not pay any attention to the others.
Of course, it should be noted that Calvinism, like almost all other Protestant groups, placed great importance to secular activity. How can one however explain this activity along with individualism - the distancing of the individual from his environment?
According to Calvin, the world exists only for the glory of God. The chosen Christian exists in the world for no other reason than to contribute to the augmenting of God’s glory. The chosen offers social labour, because this is what God demands for the organizing of social life. Consequently, Calvinists work socially, they exercise professional work only for the greatest possible glory of God. It is within this context that we should also regard the love towards our neighbour. This impersonal, utilitarian labour and offer contribute to the glory of God.
It is obvious that the anthropological and practical consequences of the doctrine of predestination cultivate a form of pietistic individualism and they direct man towards a spiritual and social loneliness. Because when a community offer is impersonal, then in reality it is a form of social individualism. We believe that this individualistic way of living constitutes one of the basic factors of the spirit of Capitalism[xvii].
c) Protestant asceticism
Just as every religion has its own asceticism, the same is observed in every Christian confession. Of course, we do not find the ascetic lifestyle among the Protestants in the form preserved by the Orthodox – Roman Tradition; nevertheless we do find a differentiated form of ascetic life. As we shall see further along, this ascetic way of life is linked and attuned to the spirit of Capitalism.
In a chapter of his book entitled “Asceticism and the spirit of Capitalism”, Max Weber tries to locate the association between the ideas of ascetic Protestantism and its axioms as applied to everyday economic trends. To this end, he makes frequent use of Richard Baxter’s views, who, with his practical and realistic placement and his worldwide recognition, “stands above most other literary representatives of Puritan ethics”.
Baxter takes a critical stance opposite wealth – a thing that constitutes a serious threat – which is why he considers its pursuit as both foolish and suspect. These views of his on wealth are differentiated from Calvin’s views, according to which, Calvin allowed his followers to pursue wealth in order to increase its prestige. According to Baxter, the acquisition of wealth is dangerous, because it involves the danger of laxness. Resting and enjoyment do not contribute to the glory of God. This is achieved with action. “Wasting time is the first and most serious of all sins”. Since man’s duty is to reconfirm his chosen status, his lifespan is very small, and therefore should not be squandered in search of wealth.
Baxter gave priority and great importance to incessant spiritual and physical labour, which he considered an end in itself in a person’s life. Even the wealthy should not be content with the money that he has, but should work, because it is a commandment of God. For labour and profession as an ascetic effort in Protestantism, we shall not make any mention here, but will tackle it in the next section. What should be stressed here is that God requires rational labour and a specialised profession.
While it appears that wealth is condemned, the truth is that the use of wealth depends on a person’s situation. That is to say, if man uses wealth for idleness and for his sinful enjoyment, then it is evil; if however wealth is the fruit of the duty of profession and does not lead to a sinful life, then it is useful and obligatory. In fact, it is stressed that for a man to want to be poor is equivalent to being sick, as it does not contribute to the glory of God.
It appears that we are dealing here with a singular form of asceticism, given that the ruler’s indifference and idleness - as well as the nouveau riche’s flaunting of riches - are both considered evil things. The acquisition of wealth is permissible, only within certain limits; that is to say, when it is the fruit of one’s profession and when it does not become the cause for a sinful enjoyment of life and laziness.
At this point we can discern the link between the ethics of Puritanism and the Jewish perception according to which, the possession of wealth was considered an indication of God’s love and favour towards His chosen ones. For this reason, as Max Weber says, certain writers are fully justified in regarding the Puritan ethics (especially in England, as “English Jewry”). Indeed, while the Jews stood by the side of adventurous Capitalism, “Puritanism made a reality of the ethos of the rationalist urban enterprise and the rational organizing of labour”.
All that was mentioned previously shows Capitalism’s dependence on Protestant ethics. If one also integrates into this the stance of Puritanism towards all other facets of, he will see that Protestant asceticism profoundly influenced the development of the spirit of Capitalism.
The Puritans turned against entertainment and the spontaneous enjoyment of life. It is known that the feudal and monarchic powers in England protected those in favour of entertainment, from “the rising morality of the middle class and of the ascetic secret assemblies against the authorities”. Puritans were against entertainment, not because it abolished Sunday as a day of rest, but because they viewed it as a deliberate deviation from one’s labours and the duty of one’s profession. Even sports were considered a good thing, only inasmuch as they contributed to man’s natural output while he worked.
Puritans, without forsaking civilisation – since, after all, their leaders had been imbued with Renaissance education –stood critical and hostile towards the goods of civilisation, when these did not serve any religious value. They hated the theatre, and the beautification as well as the adorning of a person with his attire. Whenever their stance towards certain forms of entertainment was tolerant, it was imperative that they did not cost very much. This was because the wealth that they had was a gift from God; man was a steward and an administrator of this wealth and for this reason, he would be accountable to God as to the way he managed it. Thus, the property that the Puritan has, is entrusted to him by God and for this reason, he has the duty to behave appropriately. The more possessions that one has, the more the responsibility towards God increases.
Of course, as Max Weber points out, Puritan morality was full of contrasts. It would consider wealth as a favouring by God, but at the same time it fought against pride and luxury, which are the temptations of possessing material goods. It is characteristic, how John Wesley stresses the fact that wherever wealth is increased, religion is decreased, since an increase in wealth generates pride, passions and a love for temporal things. However his text also contains some truths, which evidence that Protestant ethics gave rise to Capitalism.
Wealth is a result of labour and thrift. “Religion must necessarily lead to diligence and thrift and these can create nothing more than wealth”. Assiduity and thrift are characteristics of Methodists. “Methodists everywhere are both assiduous and thrifty; consequently, they increase their possessions”. They were not supposed to deter the people from being thrifty: “we ought to encourage all Christians to earn as much as they can and to put aside as much as they can; in other words, to become truly wealthy”.
One notices here the marks of the Capitalist spirit: work and efficiency; economizing on the goods that originate from these; saving these economies – i.e., the accumulation of capital. It is also stressed that they should give as much as they can to others “so that they may augment the state of their grace and accumulate treasure in heaven”.
Max Weber also finds elsewhere the Puritan asceticism’s offer to Capitalism: it provided assiduous workers who laboured conscientiously, because this was what God wanted; it provided insurance, since the uneven distribution of goods is work of divine Providence, because in God’s will there exist both rich and poor; it ensured the certainty that loyal work with low wages is greatly liked by God; and of course the profession, which is a work of God, guarantees one’s status of Grace. This Protestant perception “interpreted the business activity of the employer as a profession”. In fact, it is stressed that Holland’s economic activity in the 17th century is due to the fact that the Calvinist and Baptist communities would consider “work and diligence as their duty to God”.
The characteristic mark of the spirit of modern Capitalism is the “rational way of life, on the basis of the idea of the profession”. This was born precisely from “the spirit of Christian asceticism”. Of course, it should be mentioned here that Max Weber has in mind the Christian asceticism that developed in the West and was influenced by Augustine’s predestination, which bears no relation to genuine Christian asceticism, the way that Orthodoxy experiences it. This puritan asceticism, which is based on the individual, on identifying labour with the profession, on the accumulation of wealth, which is considered God’s blessing, is both contradictory and the source of many problems[xviii].
d) Duty towards the profession
We previously saw that the Protestant’s sense of duty towards profession (which he considers a commandment of God), the identifying of labour with a profession (which is an end in itself for Man), comprised the basis for development and growth of the capitalistic spirit. At this point we need to present Max Weber’s views on profession as briefly as possible, since it is impossible to present them fully in a limited text.
In the book that we are examining, Max Weber dedicates a chapter to study Protestantism’s views on profession which shaped what we now call “spirit of Capitalism”. The chapter is titled “The significance of the profession according to Luther is the duty of research”.
At the beginning of the chapter he underlines that the word profession, which is related to the English word calling which incorporates the meaning of a mission given by the God, had not previously existed in catholic populations – not even in classical antiquity - except only in those countries whose majority belonged to the Protestants. This is attributed to the translation of the Bible. Not only was the word a new one, but even its content was a new product, attributed to the Reform.
The new content that was assigned to the word profession was the commitment that man has towards the secular professions – the utmost content of moral activity.
In the beginning, Luther considered the profession – and activity in the world in general – as a material, a natural occurrence, like eating or drinking. Later on, however, Luther begins to view labour within a profession as an expression of fraternal love. Finally, the view that became dominant was that this was the only way of living that exists for God; that it is the “fulfilment of one’s worldly obligations”.
As Max Weber notes, there is an evolutionary trend in Luther’s thought. At first, he was directed towards Apostle Paul’s eschatological preaching, from the point of view that life’s brevity does not allow us to give place much importance to the form of one’s profession. But “the increasing appreciation for the profession goes hand by hand with the increasing involvement in worldly affairs”. Thus, Luther viewed the profession as a special command by God to fulfil the obligations that He had imposed. The profession was a direct result of Divine will. Man must accept and must remain in the profession that was given to him by God. This way, the profession is a duty defined by God Himself for man. It is within this framework that we find “the subjugation to authority and the admission of things as they were”.
Of course, Luther did not have a certain inner relationship or affinity with the spirit of Capitalism, since he himself was against money lending, which is a form of capitalist profit. However, his views on profession are a combination of Protestantism’s theoretical positions on man’s absolute predestination, and they are naturally a consequence thereof[xix].
At other points in his book, Max Weber says that Protestant asceticism viewed labour as a profession, which is the utmost duty ordained by God. This relating of labour to the profession, and in particular its link to predestination and its consequences caused many problems, which is naturally the basic motive of Capitalism. The employer’s business activity is also interpreted in the same way, namely as a God-sent profession[xx].
According to the Protestants, the relating of labour (which is of course essential for man) to the specialisation of professions, contributes towards the reassurance of God’s Grace in man and of course towards the awareness that one belongs to God’s chosen people. Beyond this metaphysical view of specialisation, the profession is also placed within utilitarian frameworks which cultivate the spirit of Capitalism. The worker’s craftsmanship contributes towards the qualitative and quantitative improvement of production; the common good is served; the potential for greater profit is created and more time is saved. Baxter’s words are characteristic: “outside a steady profession, the achievements of a man’s labour are unstable and occasional and thus more time is wasted on laziness rather than in labour”.
The utilitarianism that prevails during the practising of a profession becomes apparent only there (in the profession) and not so much in the labour; because “rational professional work is what God demands”, and not the labouring. It is from within this perspective that we should see how each person can combine many professions or even change his profession, if this is more pleasing to God[xxi].
It appears, therefore, that logical professionalism presupposes a rationalist way of life and behaviour and is judged with utilitarian criteria. It is precisely these characteristics that constitute the so-called spirit of Capitalism. That was where the entire capitalist mentality was based. And of course whatever is said about profession should be closely related to the content of Protestant ethics, as mentioned previously
In ending this analysis of the connection that Max Weber makes between Protestant ethics and the spirit of Capitalism, we need to note something that Max Weber himself emphatically underlines. When it comes to the Reformers, one cannot assert that their purpose in life was to found societies with a “moral culture”. “Programmes of moral-social reforms” were not at the heart of their interests; above all, they were interested in the salvation of their soul. It cannot be dogmatically supported that the Capitalist spirit originated only from the Reform’s influence and that “Capitalism as a system of economics is a creation of the Reformation”. What he wants to maintain here is that religious ideas had an effect on both the qualitative formation as well as the quantitative proliferation of the spirit of Capitalism in the world[xxii].
4. The criticism of Western researchers on Max Weber’s opinions
Max Weber’s views – which had in fact been formulated in a specific place, namely the West - had given rise to much discussion. There were scientists who had adopted these views, namely, that the spirit of Capitalism is related to Protestant ethics, but there were also others who had denied that there is a link between these two realities. Beyond these two views, many others were also expressed, which we shall attempt to examine in this section. The fact is that this book by Max Weber gave rise to a huge discussion, which continues even in our time. This is therefore a book that caused fermentations, as it is distinguished for its originality.
We shall now attempt to examine the main critiques on Max Weber’s theory, as presented by Robert Green[xxiii]. From this standpoint, I would like to warmly thank the economist Anastasios Philippides for his essential assistance in providing me with information, but also for helping me understand the views of the various scientists presented here. Discussing these subjects with him, as well as his gift of “immersing” me in Green’s collection of sources, helped me to corroborate the opinions that I had formed through my personal study of Max Weber’s work “The Protestant ethics and the spirit of Capitalism”.
Before proceeding however to the specific views that were formulated on Max Weber’s theory, it would be useful to see which serious scholars contributed to the dialogue that followed the publication of Max Weber’s book, that are presented by Robert Green.
One of the first to preoccupy himself with Max Weber’s theory was Ernst Troeltsch, Professor of Theology in the Universities of Gottingen, Bonn, Heidelberg and Berlin, in succession. Around 1912, he published a book titled: “The social teaching of the Christian Churches”, which supported Max Weber’s views,which is why Max Weber’s later critics reviewed and checked him and Troeltsch simultaneously.
In 1911, Werner Sombart, a Professor at the Universities of Bratislava and Berlin and a copious writer of matters of European economic growth, published a work entitled: “The Jews and modern Capitalism”.
R. H. Tawney, one of the better known British historians of economics and a Professor at the Universities of Glasgow, Oxford and the London School of Economics, preoccupied himself with Max Weber’s views in a book that was published in 1926 titled: “Religion and the rise of Capitalism”.
In 1949, Winthrop S. Hudson, a Professor of Ecclesiastic history at the University of Colgate – Rochester, USA, and for a time chairman of American Society of Ecclesiastic History, published an essay entitled: “Puritanism and the spirit of Capitalism”.
In 1929, Henri Sée, famous for his work on the economic growth of Europe since the Middle Ages, published a study titled: “To what degree did the Puritans and the Jews contribute to the growth of modern Capitalism?”
H. M. Robertson preoccupied himself painstakingly with Max Weber’s theories in a doctoral thesis that he submitted in 1929 at the University of Cambridge entitled: “Aspects of the rise of economic individualism”.
In 1935, Amidore Fanfani, Professor of the History of Economics at the Universities of Milan and Rome and later distinguished politician and Prime Minister of Italy, published a study titled: “Catholicism, Protestantism and Capitalism”.
Lastly, Albert Hyma, Dutch historian and for many decades Professor at the American University of Michigan, made an overall critique on Max Weber’s views in a study that was published in 1955 titled: “Economic Views of the Protestant Reformers”.
As can be seen from the titles alone of the above books by the specific researchers-scientists, Max Weber’s views were extensively discussed and various interpretations were given, that we shall examine after these analyses. Of course, many others also preoccupied themselves with Max Weber’s views, both foreigners and our own, however we shall concentrate on the scientists that we mentioned, because their views are original and representative, since they were the ones who promoted the essential discussion on the relation between the spirit of Capitalism and Protestant ethics.
We shall now underline a few central points from the works of those who dealt with Max Weber’s theory which, in my opinion, are both significant and quite characteristic.
a) There is a category of scientists who accept Max Weber’s views on the birth of Capitalism. Among his first supporters we find Ernst Troeltsch, who accepted that the Calvinist morality - which stressed the value of labour and simultaneously confined consumption - led to the accumulation of wealth. Also, the fact that Calvinism rejected the prohibition of interest that Catholicism had imposed helped towards a productive handling of money and of course towards its augmenting.
In the analyses that we saw previously, it became obvious that the Calvinist morality behind the calling and labour – in other words, the Protestant views on profession – shaped the basic infrastructure needed to develop the spirit of Capitalism. Of course, both Max Weber and Troeltsch underlined this opinion without supporting that Capitalism is a direct product of Calvinism.
b) The view was also expressed that Capitalism is not that related to the Protestant ethics, as it is to the spirit of Judaism. This was supported by Werner Sombart, according to whom, the main source for the spirit of Capitalism was the social stance and the economic act that relates to Judaism. (The enterprising spirit of the Jew is of course, well-known.)
Sombart’s opinion was also supported by Sée, according to whom, the best example of the capitalist spirit can be found in the dextrous and cunning Jewish tradesman, rather than in the somewhat inflexible Puritan. Of course, these were said in rebuttal of Max Weber’s views, who, as we have repeatedly seen above, had linked the spirit of Capitalism to Protestant morality.
c) Some of Max Weber’s theory critics doubted the correlation that he attempted between Capitalism and Protestant ethics and considered it arbitrary and in any case an over-simplified conclusion. Their basic argument is that Capitalism existed before Protestantism, given that we encounter it even before the first Protestant Confessions were formed in the West. We have already underlined in the introduction to these analyses that there are certain scholars who believe that Capitalism is closely linked to Papism - with the overall theology and ethics that it entails.
Sombart supported the view that the Papal Church had assisted in the development of Capitalism, especially in Italy. It is well-known that the theological system of Thomas Aquinas attempted to scholasticise and rationalise life. A basic doctrine of Thomas Aquinas is that “in issues relating to man, sin is everything that is contrary to the command of logic”. Given that the spirit of Capitalism is linked to rationalism, it follows that it is directly dependent on the theological system of the Papist Church.
Furthermore, Thomas Aquinas demanded a control of the reproductive instinct in order to preclude squandering, because he knew that luxury and squandering are also accompanied by excesses in matters relating to one’s erotic life. As a consequence, temperance contributed towards the accumulation of wealth.
According to Sombart, that Capitalism was developed by Papism can also be seen by two further facts. Firstly, from the fact that the Scholastics taught that it did not matter whether one is poor or rich, but what he did with his wealth and his poverty. Secondly, that the scholastics and more specifically Antoninus of Florence allowed interest, provided the money been borrowed for a productive investment.
Along with what we presented above, Sombart maintained that Protestantism was opposed to Capitalism and that it had only helped in the development of Capitalism involuntarily, to the extent that it had been inspired by the Scholastics’ rationalism.
Robertson goes along with Sombart’s views, according to whom the spirit of Capitalism had already existed during antiquity, except that various external conditions had hindered its development. He could very well have agreed on a likely date of birth of Capitalism, which was 1202 AD and was linked to the Crusades, because the crusades were not “wars, but robbery and piracy. They were organised commercial enterprises for pillaging, while the equipping of the military corps demanded enormous capital - far greater than the capital of any commercial or industrial business of that era. Also, the loot comprised an enormous source for this archaic hoarding of capital. Thus, the pillaging of the East was important, for the early history of Capitalism”.
As examples of “capitalists” mentioned by Robertson is Renaissance Florence of the 14th and 15th century, where there were businessmen who organised their life around the pursuit of profit without enjoying it, and later on the Jesuits; for if there was ever a religion that encouraged Capitalism, it was definitely not Calvinism, but the Religion of the Jesuits.
Hyma also maintained that all the characteristic traits that Max Weber attributed to Protestantism, from which Capitalism originates, are also observed in 14th and 15th century Italy, i.e., even before Protestantism made its appearance. These traits are: obligatory hard labour, the desire to save for the purpose of almsgiving, the sanctification of the profession and the belief that Christians are permitted to acquire more goods than what they need. He also claims that, even though moneylending was prohibited by the Papal Church, nevertheless the Papist clergy’s connections with the Fuggers Banking House in Rome gave a decisive boost to the rapid proliferation of usury.
All the above indicate that, according to these scientists, the spirit of Capitalism existed prior to Protestantism; but, as Fanfani also observes, Protestantism exercised a positive influence on the establishing of Capitalism, this naturally despite the Reformers’ will. Even Tawney, who, while accepting Max Weber’s central idea on the link between Capitalism and Protestant ethics, nevertheless supports that Capitalism was already present in Medieval Italy and Flanders and it was Catholic Spain and Portugal who had made an impression with their economic imperialism in the 15th – 16th centuries, and not the Protestant forces.
Generally speaking, according to this category of scientists it is not enough to assert that Protestant ethics gave birth to Capitalism, precisely because it pre-existed, in the teachings of the Papist Church. Essentially, these analyses relate the spirit of Capitalism more to the Papist Church.
d) The students of Max Weber’s theory had also focused on its central point; since (according to Max Weber) the spirit of Capitalism is linked to Protestant ethics, they applied themselves more to the study Protestantism, which is indeed a huge phenomenon. We will now examine some of the views of the scientists that belong to this category.
Tawney maintains that the Capitalist spirit existed before Protestantism and regards Max Weber’s position that Protestant ethics contributed to the development of Capitalism a deficient one, however he accepts that there was a broader causal relationship between the Protestant Reform and the rise of Capitalism. In fact, he formulates the view that there are clear differences even between the various Protestant groups. For example he argues that whereas Papism and Lutheranism are distinguished for their conservative stance, Calvinism on the other hand brought on a revolution, from the aspect that it was addressing an already different economy than that of the middle Ages, and was using it as a basis for its moral theory. Lutheranism idealised the rural, traditional society, whereas Calvinism was an urban movement that did not view trade and financing with a suspicious mind. Thus, according to Tawney, while Protestantism as a whole was not the cause of Capitalism, it nevertheless evolved into the most important servant of its development. This can be seen from the fact that while Calvinism did not reject all the characteristic traits of Capitalism (as extensively analysed by Max Weber), it nevertheless insisted on using them for the glory of God and it furthermore emancipated the middle classes’ economic enterprising and creating in this way a new society, whereas Puritanism on the other hand had opposed Feudalism and the authoritarian State. In this way, indirectly, we can say that there is a link between the spirit of Capitalism and Protestant ethics.
Hudson asserted that Max Weber made the serious mistake of equating 16th century Calvinism with 17th century Puritanism. In fact, he claimed that the interpretation that Max Weber gives to the “calling” cannot be found in any of Calvin’s writings, since Calvin himself would have rejected it. He furthermore maintains that Max Weber isolated certain aspects of Calvin’s teaching and did not examine his overall theological thought, since Calvin would never have claimed that serving Mammon identifies with serving God. In fact, even the Puritans themselves had placed God as the utmost purpose of their life and believed that God is far more important than business, art and pleasure. He supports the view that the victory of the spirit of Capitalism signified the defeat of Puritanism, since Puritans had condemned the new mercantile ethics of 17th century England as antichristian. The fact that Puritans became wealthy cannot be interpreted as implying that the spirit of Capitalism is linked to Protestant ethics, but simply that they particularly stressed the value of hard work and of savings. It is my opinion that with the things he stresses, Hudson essentially maintains that the Protestants also indirectly helped in the development of Capitalism, without being aware that they had created it.
Sée is also aligned with the same viewpoint, asserting that “the spirit of Capitalism was not an offspring of Puritanism; instead, the latter was its tonic”. Among other things, he underlines that Calvinism helped to develop the spirit of Capitalism, precisely because it boosted the diligence and the individualism of its followers. However he underlines the possibility of a two-way association, namely, the energetic, active and independent spirits of that era who may have embraced Calvinism.
That Calvinists had significantly stressed diligence may have contributed to the accumulation of wealth, and not that they were consciously establishing Capitalism. Robertson maintains that Puritans in reality were opposed to Capitalists because they regarded them as idlers, since they earned money without working for it, by exploiting its surplus. But he also argues that from a historical aspect, it appears that Capitalism may, after all, have influenced Protestant ethics, since the dogma on “the calling” did not remain the same, from the 16th to the 18th century. Quite simply, with the passing of time, the dogma on the calling was turned into a dogma that was convenient for the merchant class, as an antidote to greedy ambition.
According to Fanfani, Protestants generally held a critical stance towards Capitalism. Protestant theologians were opposed to the manifestations of Capitalism, in which they saw the workings of Mammon. In fact, Calvin had cauterized Venice and Antwerp, which he regarded as being Catholicism’s centre of Mammon. In this framework, Fanfani also makes mention of various Reform Synods which had forbidden interest, as well as the labour that deprived God’s service of one’s energy and time. In general, Fanfani accepts that, even though Capitalism pre-existed before Protestantism, the latter nevertheless had a positive effect on its establishment.
In the category of those views that deny the direct dependence of Capitalism on Protestant ethics is also Hyma, who supports that both Max Weber and Troeltsch had misunderstood the teaching of Calvin, given that the latter had never shown any interest in economic theories or Capitalism. In fact, Calvin was opposed to the demanding of interest from the poor. He also mentions the first Calvinists who had forbidden the earning of interest on loans to the poor and allowed only a 2% - 3% interest rate on large loans. Generally speaking, Calvin’s motive was the caring of his fellowmen and not the command to labour for the glory of God. According to Hyma, all that Max Weber and Troeltsch asserted may perhaps apply to the Neo-Calvinists of England and America; not so however in Calvin’s Calvinism.
Finally, according to Hyma, Calvin was adamantly anti-capitalist and he would have been shocked, if we were to tell him that a 20th-century businessman like Rockefeller is presented as an example of Calvin’s effect on the evolution of society. Calvin’s interests were spiritual, and this can be seen from the fact that out of his thirty thousand pages of writings, only fifty dealt with economic issues. The fact that certain Calvinists from the 17th century onwards had delivered themselves unto the worship of Mammon does not mean that Calvinism led them there; it simply means that they had ceased to be Christian.
From the exposition of those views that judged Max Weber’s theory, it appears that it is not an easy matter for one to directly or indirectly reject the association between the spirit of Capitalism and Protestant ethics. One may have differing objections to parts of the theory, yet there still is an indirect influence. This at least is what appears to be the case, judging by the study of the above researchers’ views.
e) An interesting opinion was expressed, which also agrees with our own positions that we presented in the introduction of this study and will of course repeat further down, namely, that, without examining the immediate origin of Capitalism, i.e. whether it originated from Papism or Protestantism, it can nevertheless still be asserted that Capitalism has to do with the broader Western spirit that prevailed in the Western world, under the influence of both Papism as well as of Protestantism. After all, it is known that all Western confessions, including Papism, essentially have a similar perspective and point of reference. Quite simply, the Protestants had reacted to the positions of Papism, albeit having the same mentality as them. For example, by fighting against the exorbitant powers of the Clergy, the Reformers reached the point of rejecting it altogether and, in contrast to the teaching of the Papists that only clergymen may interpret the Holy Bible, they rejected Tradition and proceeded with their own interpretations. However, if we were to study their teachings in depth, we would discern that they too have the same perspective.
This is emphatically underlined by Hyma. He argues that Max Weber gave an erroneous emphasis on the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism, when they have similarities in many points, particularly in the two main themes of earning interest and of labour. A common basis in both these forms of Christianity is blessed Augustine’s teachings. Hyma maintains that modern Protestants believe that Catholicism has distanced itself from Augustine. In reality though, after two centuries of relative abandonment, Augustine’s teachings returned to a prominent place in Catholic thought during the 16th century. Augustine’s theory on predestination, allowing for small adjustments made by Luther and Calvin, was accepted by many members of the Catholic Church of that era.
f) The view was expressed that we should not try to exclusively link Capitalism to Catholicism or Protestantism, given that the spirit of Capitalism is an associating of the secular spirit and the mentality of the person pursuing profit. It appears that a view such as this has a certain basis, from the aspect that man, in his a post-fallen state and because of the kindling of his passions and his insecurity, pursues the safeguarding and the accumulation of wealth. Of course, it should be confessed that this was admitted in part by Max Weber, however he insists more on the rationalist perception of wealth and profit.
Robertson, who had exercised severe criticism on Max Weber’s theory, maintains that the characterisation “capitalist” is a secular one and that business activity should not have any association with the religious “calling”. Man does not need any kind of “calling” in order to devote himself to the pursuit of wealth; in fact, it is quite likely that he hates religion’s demand that he be a mere observer of his daily occupations.
Nevertheless, religion can play a positive or negative role in the abuse or the use of wealth. According to Fanfani, Capitalism is associated with various religions, which can annihilate it, place it under control or help it to develop; but they certainly do not create it. And this occurs, because the pursuit of profit with minimal means is an inbred instinct of man.
As for Protestantism, Fanfani argues that it provided essential help, but from a negative perspective. That is to say, both Lutheranism, as well as Calvinism, did not link man’s salvation to his works on earth, but they regarded it as God’s choice. In this way, they drove man to pursue the gratification of all of his impulses. Thus, from this negative perspective, Protestantism in fact helped in the accumulation of wealth and the development of the spirit of Capitalism. Indeed, when man’s salvation is regarded as something independent of his actions on earth, and in fact, when the possession of wealth is regarded as God’s favour to the saved ones, then a temperate climate is created for the growth of the spirit of Capitalism.
g) There are also certain analysts who tried to view Max Weber’s theory in relation to Marx’s. We already saw in the introduction of this study that Max Weber’s theory, in the way it appeared, i.e. after the idealistic and materialistic perceptions of the historical and sociological events, reveals that it actually conflicts with the previous theories. For example, Robertson observes that Max Weber attempted to compose a reverse causal relationship to the one that Marx had given in his economic interpretation of history. For him, the interpretation of the economic events was a psychological one, since the rise of Capitalism was attributed to the development of the “capitalist spirit”.
On studying Max Weber’s theory, the French economics historian Henri Sée formulated the view that it played “the role of a counterweight to the famous doctrine of historical materialism, the way it had been formulated by Karl Marx”. And he continues: “Intellectuals such as Weber, Troeltsch, Sombart, without exercising direct criticism on historical materialism, attack its bastion in an attempt to prove that economic phenomena – at least Capitalism, which is the most powerful one – are, to a large degree, the products of a religious spirit such as Puritanism or Judaism”.
There is also the view, as also formulated by Robertson, that Max Weber’s theory was used during religious quarrels, and it was in this light that it was also adopted by various propagandists. This is also the point that this theory owes its popularity to. In other words, certain people found the perfect excuse in order to attack Calvinism and other religions.
We must also note the views of Vasilis Filias on Max Weber’s theory. He claims that many interpreters believe that Max Weber’s theories are very close to Marxist positions. After all, according to Vasilis Filias, Max Weber avoids committing to an idealistic or to a materialistic stance, but rather maintains a clearly empirical position. He in fact maintains that in Max Weber’s work “the economic factor – even when not presented as an unilaterally definitive element – is always presented as that factor which acts decisively and unfailingly, whether in the limelight or as an underground co-determinant of capital importance”. Filias furthermore maintains that even in the sociology of religion - and particularly in the primordial sphere of Magic, “there is a tightly interwoven involvement with the economic realities of everyday life, where undoubtedly the religious element is placed in the service of extra-religious, basically economic, purposes”[xxiv].
Of course, nowhere does Max Weber mention explicitly in his work that he relates to Marx’s theories or that he is opposed to them. As a matter of fact, he appears to ascribe the birth of the spirit of Capitalism to predestination, as formulated by Augustine and implemented by the Protestant groups of his time. It is for this reason that many of his studiers believe that he essentially gives an interpretation of sociological events different to the one given by the idealists and the materialists.
It is a fact however - as maintained by Robertson - that Max Weber’s work introduced a confrontation against Capitalism equally powerful to that of Marx. His deeper effort was to show that contemporary Capitalism is an enormous and imposing hyper-structure that is supported on foundations of changing and obsolete religious ideas.
h) Following the presentation of all these views on Max Weber’s theory and our wandering through the most outstanding views that were formulated on his work, both positive and negative, I believe that we should now provide our own observations.
1. Max Weber’s theory is monumental and original. In the book we are examining it clearly appears that he links the spirit of Capitalism very closely to Protestant ethics. One cannot misinterpret this view of his, regardless whether it is a correct assessment or not. Of course, when he talks about Protestant ethics, we should not disassociate it from metaphysics. When he speaks of the influence and the effect that predestination has, which in turn even determines man’s behaviour, it shows that we are not dealing with some external and artificial ethics but with ontology.
2. Max Weber’s views provoked many discussions which continue to this day. Many views were formulated, in many cases opposing each other. Others agreed with his theory and others disagreed. This is quite possibly due to the personal ideological convictions of each analyst. The fact is that even those who did not accept Max Weber’s theory in many points, did not manage to reject it altogether. Thus, a long discussion takes place, but in the end, the theory that the spirit of Capitalism is directly or indirectly linked to the Protestant ethics is not rejected.
3. It should be especially noted that when Max Weber speaks of Capitalism, he does not simply imply the accumulation of capital and the love for wealth, but Capitalism “as a rationalist capitalistic organising of free labour”. This is clearly a form that appeared during the Middle Ages and it has to do with the Western spirit. If one pauses to think that the so-called Western spirit is the infrastructure of both Catholicism as well as of Protestantism, one can then understand how Capitalism as we know it today, along with Western metaphysics which comprise the foundation of Western Christianity, constitutes Western Man’s way of life.
The Western way of life is distinguished by its faith in metaphysics, predestination, rationalism, moralism and a peculiar asceticism. In the end, the deeper spirit of Western Christianity is individualism. This precisely indicates the close link between Capitalism and the Western way of life.
This spirit of Capitalism naturally pre-existed in Papism, but in the end the Protestants, by living freedom and the cultivation of free thought, developed it even further. In general, we believe that liberalism is closely related to Capitalism.
4. The interpreters of Max Weber’s theory whom we encountered previously are all Westerners and they all lived in the same environment and atmosphere that Max Weber also lived and grew up in. However, a critique beyond the Western spirit is necessary. For this reason, we will examine further along Max Weber’s views from within a Roman framework. The topic is of course not exhausted in what is to be written; it will be merely an effort to approach it from an orthodox perspective.
5. Romanity and the spirit of Capitalism
In previous analysis we saw that Max Weber extensively analyses the relationship between Protestant ethics and the spirit of Capitalism. He particularly examines Calvinism, Pietism, Methodism and the Baptist heresies and proves that, despite their partial differences, they have the same content, they are imbibed with the predestination which had influenced private and social life. The consequences of the theory of predestination in private and social life are what we could call “relations between metaphysics and social life”.
What is interesting is that Max Weber studies these Protestant groups in relation to and with point of reference to Catholicism. I use this term (Catholicism) condescendingly, for the purposes of understanding, because those whom we characterise “Catholics” are in reality Papists, Latins, Franks, while the only true Catholics are the Orthodox, since the terms Catholic and Orthodox are notionally related. The fact that the Protestants are opposed to the Catholics has another parameter. Free perceptions run contrary to feudalism. It is known that the Latins had expressed the feudal system and mentality, while the Protestants with their capitalistic mentality attacked feudalism.
While in many parts of his book Max Weber underlines the difference between the asceticism of the Catholics and the asceticism of the Protestants, since the former had confined ascesis to the Monasteries while the latter transferred it to the world, he makes no specific mention of Orthodoxy. In very few points does he mention “the apostolic era”[xxv] and “Eastern hesychasm”, which he links to a few books of the Old Testament[xxvi]. One does not know what to suppose. Either he was not familiar with Orthodoxy and the teachings of the Holy Fathers on the subjects he developed, or he did not wish to refer to it, probably due to prejudices. This fact is confirmed by the fact that at some points of his writings he gives the impression that he accepts the Catholics as expressing genuine Christianity.
It must be underlined that Orthodoxy – Romanity has no affinity whatsoever to Protestant ethics - as realistically presented by Max Weber with regard to the capitalist spirit - nor is it expressed by Latin theology. For this reason, in what follows, we will examine as briefly as possible the views of the Orthodox Church on the central positions underlined by Max Weber. We will underline five basic points, without citing Patristic texts and related bibliography, because in my other studies, there is ample material.
a) It is characteristic that the spirit of Capitalism, i.e.. Capitalism as a system, was not born in the East, in Romanity, but the West. This is not unrelated to the theology and the way of life that prevailed in these two areas. In the Orthodox East there was no need to refute the feudalist system with its racist mentalitythe way this had prevailed in the West.
Apart from this, in the Orthodox East there prevailed the teachings of the Fathers of the Church on philotheia (the love of God) and philanthropy (the love of fellow-man), on kenosis (self-evacuating) and sacrifice, on philotimo (honourable reciprocation) and the sacrifice of one’s rights. In other words, there was a balanced social teaching, which was the fruit of genuine Christology, ecclesiology and anthropology. This social teaching was neither created nor implemented as a system, but was itself a way of life.
The par excellence centres of Romanity - where they applied the genuine social teaching, which was a result of the advent of the Grace of God and the spiritual rebirth of man - were the Monasteries. Within the confines of the Monasteries, the community functioned in the best possible manner, where the love of God and our neighbour prevailed; where philautia (self-love) was be repelled by ascetic labours. The life of the Monasteries influenced the Roman societies also; even the very palace.
Of course, neither was Socialism born in the Orthodox East; as we saw previously, even the socialist system had been organised on rationalist criteria and was subjugated to bureaucracy and the entire mentality of a man-centred system.
Indeed, Orthodoxy differs radically, both Capitalism as well as Socialism, from a philosophical, structural and organisational point of view, since both these systems are offspring of Western metaphysics. The social teaching of Socialism is related to the social teaching of Christianity, but we there are two basic differences. The one difference is that its implementation is achieved through revolutions and laws and not with freedom and love; the other difference is that Socialism, in most of its manifestations, is linked to a specific world theory and is thus an atheistic ideology. Most certainly however, while Orthodoxy may relate to Socialism from the aspect of social teaching, it is nevertheless in complete dialectic opposition to the spirit of Capitalism.
Both Capitalism and Socialism are transferred and imported systems. One could add here that the Socialist theories infiltrated the Orthodox East where Orthodoxy prevailed, because the views on justice, equality, love etc. were familiar here, years ago. Even today, the theories of Socialism – Marxism are difficult to prevail in the Western world, because the individual prevails there. And in these individualist perceptions, Capitalism flourishes.
Consequently, Capitalism cannot fit into the teaching and the way of life that prevails in Romanity. It is the offspring of Western man and is destined for him.
b) Orthodoxy is not linked to metaphysics. We saw in the previous analysis that the spirit of Capitalism, as analysed by Max Weber, is very closely linked to the theory of predestination, which is one of the characteristic marks of metaphysics. Of course, the term metaphysics includes many other aspects that will not be analysed here.
We could preferably say that Orthodoxy is anti-metaphysical. The centre of Orthodox anthropology is not the “orthos logos” (the appropriate word, reasoning). Without abolishing logic, Orthodoxy transcends it through a revelation by God, which is beyond all reasoning and not against reasoning.
The theory of predestination is rejected by the theology of the Fathers of the Church. God does not violate man’s freedom and those who wish can become sons of God. In Orthodoxy there is no “aristocracy of the pious”. When man follows a specific method of therapy, he can even reach the state of theoptia (the ‘sight’ of God). Thus, he comes to know God, he acquires selfless love and loves the entire world. Just as medical science cannot be metaphysical, so Orthodox theology cannot be metaphysical.
c) The views of Orthodoxy on labour and profession are also different to those of the Protestants. The vast difference lies in the fact that Protestants link the profession to Divine Providence, to divine commandments, and especially to the predestination. In Protestant ethics, the profession, as well as the profit that originates from it, all take place within the framework of those saved by God. In Orthodoxy, since we do not believe in an predestination, it is to be expected that we do not link the profession to this inhuman theory.
After all, even though labour may have its value for man’s life in this world and can even be regarded as a spiritual task when conducted within genuine gnosiological and hesychastic frames, it nonetheless does not relate to a specialised profession. For example, medical science cannot become a profession, nor can any other humanitarian sciences; they are incorporated within the perspective of diaconia (ministering). We are all deacons (ministers). Job professionalism, and especially the mentality of professionalism, is linked to profit, to the increase in production by any means, to the exploitation of man and so many other terrible things.
The view that the profession of each person is predetermined by divine Providence is inhuman, since it abolishes man’s freedom or makes him even more audacious. Imagine what could happen if the merchant, the manufacturer and in general every businessman thought that their work was a profession determined by God. In this case, every kind of abuse, injustice and exploitation would be justified. This is why labour does not identify with the profession. After all, the tradition of our land in rural societies and communities and in the Monasteries has proved that one can work and offer much, without exercising a particular profession. But when man is obliged to exercise a specialised profession, he must perceive it as a labour that is performed within the framework of philotheia (love of God) and philanthropy (love of fellow man).
After all, each man’s labour is not an end in itself in his life. It is useful, essential, so that he does not fall into akedia (spiritual laxity), but also necessary for him to feed those who are under his protection; but it is not his sole purpose. It is regarded as a gift from God, and should be exercised eucharistically (in a spirit of thanksgiving). Man’s objective is neither justification, nor the reassurance of Grace existing in his heart, but his theosis (glorification).
d) Orthodox ascesis does not aspire to the fulfilment of our duties to God, or to the reassurance that one belongs in the aristocracy of the chosen, but to the liberation of our nous (mind) from its subjugation to creations.
In opposition to rationalism, according to which rational reason (orthos logos) is man’s centre, Orthodoxy accepts that man’s centres are two, nous (mind) and logos (word, reason). The nous relates to God and the divine, while the logos relates to our environment. When the nous is enslaved by creations, man is psychically, psychologically and spiritually ill. The ascetic effort aspires to liberating man’s nous from its subjection to logic, to passions and the world that surrounds him. This is achieved in Orthodox hesychasm.
Speaking of Orthodox hesychasm, we need to view it from two perspectives. Firstly, that it is a command of God. In other words, the commands of God do not only refer only to external works for the performance of one’s duty, but also to inner cleanliness, nepsis, hesychia etc. Secondly, Orthodox hesychasm is not possible within a climate of individualism. Because he has freed himself of existential and internal tyrannies, the hesychast is the par excellence free, genuine person, who loves all people truly.
Consequently, Orthodox hesychia (quiet) is closely connected to man’s therapy, and from the aspect of methodology it resembles modern psychiatry. We say “from the aspect of methodology” because there is a great difference between the two from the perspective of ontology and anthropology. In any case, no one can blame a psychoanalyst that with his effort, with the psychotherapy that he practises, he is not performing any social activity, or that he views man as isolated. On the contrary, one praises him because the psychoanalyst helps the already distant and antisocial person to learn how to confront other people and society in a proper manner, by healing his dysfunctional personality. The same and much more holds true for orthodox hesychia (quiet). Through hesychia, man discards his anti-social manner and becomes genuinely social; he cures his individualism and thus, in place of selfish love, he now acquires selfless love.
Orthodoxy similarly views both wealth and material goods in general within this perspective. It does not confront them idolatrously or manichaeically; that is to say, it neither worships nr rejects them. When man is spiritually complete and takes the proper stance towards them, he sees no regenerative power and value in money; he is not interested in using methods and ways of reproducing money. To him, offering, sacrifice, kenosis, or denying his own rights have a greater value.
Orthodox ascesis does not aspire to any state of blissfulness (eudaemonia), whether idealistic or materialistic. Idealistic bliss is dominated by the soul’s return to the world of ideas, while the materialistic bliss is dominated by the enjoyment of material goods in this life. In fact, Orthodox ascesis cures man from such bliss-oriented tendencies.
Also, in Orthodoxy we are not overcome by the obsession of accomplishing a duty. Western morality has taught us to speak of “our duties to God, to our neighbour and to ourselves”. We learned to speak of man’s natural course. Love is not a duty, nor can it be confined to this notion; it is the natural state of man. The lack of love is nothing more than the deviated course of man’s psychic (soul-related) powers.
e) Of course, there may be baptised Orthodox who are discerned in their lives by the Protestant morality and the spirit of Capitalism, and who belong to the category of the people analysed by Max Weber. These however are not genuine Orthodox Christians; they are not permeated by the atmosphere of Orthodox Tradition; they are not Romans, but Vaticanising and Protestantising Orthodox. The fact is that when we want to be informed about the life of the Church, we must approach those who breathe inside Her atmosphere; those who swim inside Her life-flowing river and who do not sink into stagnant and polluted waters, nor remain on the banks of the river.
Orthodoxy bears no relation to Protestant ethics or to the spirit of Capitalism. It has an entire life that is a transcending of all created realities; of deterioration and even of death itself.
In the preceding analysis we made an effort to present a few of Max Weber’s basic positions, as expounded in his book “Protestant ethics and the spirit of Capitalism”. Of course, it was not my intention to provide a critical essay of these views.
Max Weber’s thought, which is contained in his book, is creative, incisive and revolutionary, which is why, ever since its publication and to this day, it has generated many discussions. However, it also presents many other interesting points - which we did not examine – but nevertheless indicates the effect that the Reform had on the individual and on society. Thus we come to realize that History is closely linked to theology, and theological discussions to historical and social changes.
This analysis did not aim to exhaust the subject, but merely to lead the reader to a personal study of this work, where he will also discover certain other interesting aspects, as well as see in more detail the views that we have set out here in brief - and in certain points fragmentally.
It suffices for the reader to read it from an Orthodox perspective and to not relate Protestant ethics and “Catholic” mentality with Orthodox living. We have our own Roman criteria with which we observe, read and weigh the world.
Above all, however, we have our tradition, which expresses this life.
[i] Chr. Androutsos, Dictionary of philosophy, ed. Regopoulos, Thessalonica 1965, p. 32
[ii] Religious and ethics encyclopaedia, ed. Martin, Volume 2, pp. 516-517.
[iii] John S. Romanides: An Orthodox Progress Report on the Lutheran – Orthodox Dialogue, in Theologia, Volume 65, Jan. – Mar. 1994, p. 28.
[iv] Max Weber: Protestant ethics and the spirit of Capitalism, transl. M. G. Cypraeus, ed. Gutenberg, Athens 1993, p. 25.
[v] Religious and ethics encyclopaedia, Volume 3, pp. 782-783.
[vi] cf. K. Georgoulis: Religious and ethics encyclopaedia, Volume 6, p. 1071.
[vii] in Max Weber as above, p. 7
[viii] Max Weber as above pp. 11-14.
[ix] as above pp. 14-24.
[x] as above pp. 31-35.
[xi] as above pp. 41-44.
[xii] as above p. 44-45.
[xiii] as above p. 67
[xiv] Religious and ethics encyclopaedia, Volume 10, pp. 633-634.
[xv] Max Weber, as above pp. 87-88.
[xvi] as above pp. 83-134.
[xvii] as above p. 90 ff.
[xviii] as above p. 135 ff.
[xix] as above p. 69 ff.
[xx] as above p. 69 ff.
[xxi] as above p. 140 ff.
[xxii] as above pp. 78-80.
[xxiii] cf. Robert Green: Protestantism and Capitalism – The Weber Thesis and its Critics, D. C. Health and Co., Lexington, Massachusetts, 1959.
[xxiv] Vasilis Filias: Max Weber: a systematic sociology and methodology, ed. New Horizons, p. 167 ff.
[xxv] Max Weber, as above p. 73.
[xxvi] as above p. 143.
Translation by P. S.
Article published in English on: 28-4-2007.
Last update: 28-4-2007.