Weber: Religion as a force for change

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  • Weber: Religion as a force for change
    • The spirit of capitalism
      • Weber notes that many past societies had capitalism in the sense of greed for wealth, which they often spent on luxury consumption. However, modern capitalism is unique, it is based on the systematic, efficient, rational pursuit of profit for its own sake, rather than for consumption.Weber calls this the spirit of capitalism. He also claims this spirit had an elective affinity, or unconscious similarity to Calvinist beliefs.
    • Calvinist Beliefs
      • Predestination claims that God has predetermined which souls would be saved, and which would not and individuals  couls do nothing about this.
      • Divine transcendence claims that God is so far above and beyond this world and so incomparably greater than any mortal, that no human being could possibly claim to know God's will. When combined with predestination, this creates a salvation panic in the Calvinists, they did not know whether they were chosen to be safe and they could nothing to earn their salvation.
      • Asceticism refers to abstinence, self-discipline and self-denial. For example, monks lead an ascetic existence, refraining from luxury and wearing simple clothes
      • The idea of a vocation or calling meant constant, methodological work in an occupation, not a monastery was available to the Calvinists.
      • For this reason, the Calvinists lived an ascetic lifestyle, worked long hours and practiced rigourous self-discipline. Their wealth and success had psychological functions of being able to cope with salvation panic is. They also reinvested the profit they got back into the business, allowing capitalism to prosper
    • Hinduism and Confucianism
      • Weber is not arguing that Calvinist beliefs are the cause of capitalism, but simply that it was one of its causes.
      • Ancient China and India were more materially advanced than Europe, but capitalism did not take off there. He argues the failure of capitalism to take off is due to the lack of a religious system like that of Calvinsim
      • In ancient India, Hinduism was an ascetic religion, like Calvinism. However, its orientation was other-worldly, so moved it followers concerns away from the material world and towards the spiritual world.
      • In ancient China, Confucianism also discouraged the growth of rational capitalism for different reasons. Confucianism's this worldly religion that directed its followers towards the material world, but it was not ascetic.
      • Both Hinduism and Confucianism lacked the drive to systematically accumulate wealth that is necessary for modern capitalism.
    • Evaluation
      • Weber's work is often described as a debate with Marx's ghost. Marx saw economic or material factors as the driving force for change, whereas Weber argues material factors alone are not enough to bring about capitalism.
      • Kautsky argues Weber overestimates the role of ideas and underestimates economic factors n bringing capitalism into being.
      • R.H. Tawney argues that technological change, not religious ideas, caused the birth of capitalism, it was only after capitalism was established that the bourgeoisie adopted Calvinist beliefs to legitimate their pursuit of economic gain.
      • Weber has also been criticised because capitalism did not develop in every country where there were Calvinists, for example, Scotland. Marshall argues this is because of a lack of investment capital and skilled labour, supporting Weber's point that material and cultural factors are needed for capitalism
      • Although Calvinists were amongst the first capitalists, this was not because of their beliefs but simply because they had been excluded by law from political office by many professions. They turned to business as one of the few alternatives available to them


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