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The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

Max Weber

Chapter 4 - The Religious Foundations of Worldly Asceticism (Part 2, Pietism, Methodism, The Baptist Sects)

Chapter 4 - The Religious Foundations of Worldly Asceticism (Part 1, Calvinism)

Chapter 5 - Asceticism and the Spirit of Capitalism

Summary

After presenting the doctrines of Calvinism, Weber turns to three other ascetic Protestant religions, the first being Pietism. Historically, the doctrine of predestination was also the starting point of Pietism, and Pietism is closely linked to Calvinism. Pietists had a deep distrust of the Church of the theologians, and they tried to live "a life freed from all the temptations of the world and in all its details dictated by God's will." They looked for signs of rebirth in their daily activity. Pietism had a greater emphasis on the emotional side of religion than orthodox Calvinism accepted, and Lutheran strains of Pietism existed. However, insofar as the rational and ascetic elements of Pietism were dominant, the concepts necessary for Weber's study remained. First, Pietists believed that the methodical development of one's state of grace in terms of the law was a sign of grace. Secondly, they believed that God gives signs to those in states of perfection if they wait patiently. They too had an aristocracy of the elect, although there was some room for human activity to gain grace. We see that Pietism had an uncertain basis for its asceticism that made it less consistent than Calvinism. This is partly due to Lutheran influences, and partly due to emotionalism. This study thus explains some of the differences in the character of people under the influence of Pietism instead of Calvinism.

Methodism represented a combination of emotional yet ascetic religion with an increasing indifference to Calvinism's doctrinal basis. Its strongest characteristic was its "methodical, systematic nature of conduct." Method was primarily used to bring about the emotional act of conversion, and the religion had a strong emotional character. Good works were only the means of knowing one's state of grace. The feeling of grace was necessary for salvation. From our viewpoint, the Methodist ethic had an uncertain foundation similar to Pietism's. Like Calvinism, they looked at conduct to assess true conversion. However, as a late product, Methodism can generally be ignored, since it doesn't add anything new to the idea of a calling.

The Baptist sects (Baptists, Mennonites, and Quakers) form an independent source of ascetic Protestantism other than Calvinism; their ethics rest on a different basis. These sects are unified by the idea of a believers' church, a community of only the true believers. This worked through individual revelation, and one had to wait for the Spirit and avoid sinful attachments to the world. Despite having a different foundation than Calvinism, they too rejected all idolatry of the flesh as a detraction from the respect due God. They believed in the continued relevance of revelation. Like the Calvinists, they devalued the sacraments as a means to salvation, which was an important form of rationalization. This led to the practice of worldly asceticism. An interest in economic occupations was increased by their rejection of politics; they embraced the ethic of "honesty is the best policy."

Now that we have seen the religious foundations of the Puritan idea of a calling, we can now look to the implications of this idea for the business world. The most important commonality among these sects is "the conception of the state of religious grace...as a status which marks off its possessor from the degradation of the flesh, from the world." This could not be attained by magical sacraments or good works, but could only be proved through particular kinds of conduct. The individual had an incentive to methodically supervise his own state of grace in his conduct, and thus to practice asceticism. This meant planning one's whole life systematically in accordance with God's will.

Commentary

These forms of ascetic Protestantism are less central to Weber's study than Calvinism, and it is therefore less important to get a complete understanding of the doctrine and lifestyle of their followers. These religions are less rational than Calvinism, because they have a strong emotional element that introduces some of the "magic" that Calvinism rejected. These religions do encourage systematic and methodical living, however, which is an important trait of rationalization. The most important tie among these different religions is their worldliness and their belief in signs of religious grace. This leaves these religions with a concept of the calling that is centered in the practical world. Look in the next chapter for how Weber connects these ideas back to the spirit of capitalism.

It is important to be aware of the fact that Weber is not trying to present these beliefs in their full complexity. Each religion is being presented as what Weber called an "ideal-type." An ideal-type is a simplified version of a concept or institution, which captures its most relevant characteristics for the study at hand. In this case, Weber is ignoring much of the diversity of religious belief among these different sects, as well as many important aspects of their theology. These issues are not relevant to his study, and simplifications are necessary because of the infinite number of perspectives that could be taken on each belief, and the infinite complexity of those beliefs. All of Weber's characterizations, including the spirit of capitalism and the ethic of ascetic Protestantism, are ideal-types.

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