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How the West Got Rich

Political Science
Course Code
Jeffrey Kopstein

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POL101 How the West Got RichJanuary 24th 2011
Weber: Protestant Ethic
Guns, Germs, and Steel*
Why is it that some areas are rich and some areas are poor?
Why did the West Get Rich?
They stole it : imperialism
Problem: why didnt the Aztecs steal it from the West first?
What are the origins of technological superiority?
Weather : warming up of Europe after the 15th century?
Problem: why didnt warm areas get rich first?
Max Weber
What was it about northwest part of Europe that made it unique?
Protestantism and capitalism
Weber wasnt the first to do this: in fact most social theorists were responding to
Karl Marx
Protestant Ethic
Published two long articles in 1904 and 1905
Opens it with a statistical fact: business leaders and owners of capital, as well as
the higher grades of skilled labour ,and even more the higher technically and
commercially trained personnel of modern enterprises, are overwhelmingly
Not merely a contemporary fact but nan historical fact: tracing the
association back, it can be shown that some of the early centers of capitalist
development in the early part of the 16th century were strongly protestant
Ready explanation? Break with economic traditionalism produced a
sloughing off of tradition and of religious institutions
Weber wants to know what the relation between religion and economic development
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POL101 How the West Got RichJanuary 24th 2011
Weber: Protestant Ethic
But this interpretation (that religious change in the 16th century from Catholic to
Protestantism spurs economic advancement) does not stand up to scrutiny
Weber says that the reformation was not an escape from controls of the church
In fact, it required a much higher regulation of behaviour than that which
was required by Catholicism
It involved a much higher degree of regulation of behaviour than that which was
demanded by Catholicism
Protestantism adopts a stringent attitude towards relaxation and enjoyment
especially renounced in Calvinism
Therefore: you must look to specific character of Protestant beliefs if we are to
account for the connection between Protestantism and economic rationality
Weber was not the first to see the correlation between capitalism and Protestantism.
But usual interpretation was Marxist; Protestantism is ideological reflection of
economic changes in early capitalism
Webers originality is in arguing that usually people caught up with economic
activity are indifferent or hostile to religion (their actions are directed to material
world; Religion is directed to immaterial world)
But Protestantism did not relax control of church over day to day activities but
intensified it and demanded MORE rigorous discipline than Catholicism
Thus, injected a religious factor into all spheres of life of the believer. There is
clearly a relationship between Protestantism and modern capitalism which cannot
be wholly explained by seeing the former as a result of the latter
Anomaly demands not only an analysis of the content of protestant beliefs and
assessment of impact on followers but also specification of particular characteristics
Weber distinguished other form of capitalism as economic traditionalism. The
attitudes toward labour are symptomatic of this: A man does not by nature wish to
earn more and more money, but simply to live as he lives and as he is accustomed to
live ,and to earn as much as is required to do so.
Traditionalism is by no means incompatible with greed for wealth. Absolute and
conscious ruthlessness in acquisition ahs often stood in direct and close connection
with the strictest conformity to tradition. Selfishness found in all societies. So
adventurers capitalism” pirates, booty through military conquest
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