THE PROTESTANT ETHIC AND THE SPIRIT OF CAPITALISM
By Max Weber
Read by John Telfer
6 hours 35 minutes
Though this work originated in a series of essays in the opening decade of the 20th century, it first appeared in English in 1930 and its title alone – a clear but powerful premise – made a strong international impact. Here, in a single sentence, was a persuasive, even challenging concept which, in addition, offered a fascinating antidote to the growing influence of the highly secular Marxist economics and its specific rejection of capitalism. But was the title true? The ensuing years have appeared to validate, to some extent, Weber’s argument for, throughout the 20th century, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism was regarded as an important sociological and economic text. And arguably it has remained so in the 21st century, when extreme capitalism has continued to come under fire. For Weber’s work provided a back-drop, a history, from where the profit motive could be ethically justified. Max Weber (1864-1920) combined his interests in sociology, political economy and history to give perspective to his analysis. Concentrating principally on the experience of the West, he returned to the time when religion, its concepts and practice, dominated society – though of course that didn’t prevent the growth of business in Medieval and Renaissance times, for example in Venice and Florence in the 14th century, and Holland and England in the 15th. But the Reformation, and (post-Luther), the teaching of Calvin, presented a new view on the attitude towards religion, work, economic activity: ‘Labour must, on the contrary, be performed as if it were an absolute end in itself, a calling.’
This recording opens with a useful overview from Professor R. H. Tawney, and continues with Author’s Introduction. The main text is divided into two parts. In ‘Part 1 – The Problem’, Weber presents the historical background, including ‘The Spirit of Capitalism’ and ‘Luther’s Conception of The Calling’. Part II includes a lengthy discussion of Protestant sects, including Calvinism and Methodism, concluding with ‘Asceticism and The Spirit of Capitalism’.