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Protestant Ethic

  The Protestant ethic is a code of conduct derived from the redirection of Christian asceticism (self-disciplined abstinence from pleasure) by Puritan elements within Protestantism, in particular Calvinism. Calvinism embraced the conviction that all everyday, worldly activities are carried out for the greater glory of God, and the whole life of the Calvinist was organized around this idea. There was also a belief in the notion of predestination: that is the view that only a select few are chosen by God to be saved, and your future was established by God from the moment of your birth, though there is no way of knowing whether you have been chosen or not.

Max Weber perceived an affinity between Protestant asceticism and a rationalistic economic ethic which embodied the ‘spirit’ of capitalism. He thought that modern capitalism was characterized by a disciplined obligation to work as a duty. He considered that individual capitalists were lifted by a feeling of moral responsibility towards their resources, to increase them without limit by moderate consumption and hard work. He also argued that individuals were not by nature ascetic, rather Protestantism was the incentive behind this transformation of human values.

Weber suggested that Protestant Christian believers suffered from ‘salvation anxiety’ because there was no way of knowing who had been chosen for salvation. He saw, in this, the psychological link between Protestantism and the spirit of capitalism. He argued that belief in the doctrine of predestination posed a psychological strain on individual believers, which they were unable to live with. Although officially Calvinism maintains there will be no sign as to whether one has been chosen or not, believers cannot cope with this and they look for evidence of God\'s grace. Weber argues that worldly success was perceived as a sign of salvation. Labour in the material world was highly valued and the accumulation of wealth was thought to symbolize the pursuit of one\'s duty to God. In this sense wealth was something to be approved of, but it was on no account to be used for idle luxury, rather it should be used for the performance of further good works.

Weber considered the Protestant ethic crucial for the development of capitalism and the resultant accumulation of capital. He believed that in the modern world the psychological link between Protestantism and capitalism has been broken. No longer does one have to be a Protestant to be a ‘this-worldly ascetic’. At the Reformation Calvinism as a style of life was a choice, but now it is all prevailing and everyone is caught up in it. DA

See also religion; society; understanding; values.Further reading G. Marshall, In Search of the Spirit of Capitalism; , M. Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.



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