3. Outline and discuss Weber’s approach to the study of capitalism. How does it differ
from Marx’s approach?
Max Weber and Karl Marx developed two of the greatest theories of capitalism –
“Capital” and “The Protestant Ethic”. Both works focus on the historical and causal
forces shaping capitalist society.
“The Protestant Ethic” had two central concerns:
i) First, he wanted to show how beliefs influence action, and to establish a
connection between patterns of belief and a system of social action.
ii) Second, Weber wanted to show that there was a connection between religion
and commerce and that capitalism was largely shaped by religious force.
Weber had the unique and controversial view that religion and commerce were
i) Weber notes that all commercial centers throughout Europe had demonstrated
intense commercial activity at the same time that Protestantism began to take
hold in central Europe.
ii) Weber notes that Western capitalism is motivated by two kinds of activities:
on the one hand, a devotion to amassing wealth beyond the personal needs of
the individual and, on the other, the avoidance of the use of income for
personal pleasure or enjoyment.
Weber said capitalism is not only moneymaking and efficient production but also
asceticism and ascetic attitude toward life. Asceticism is a way of living in the world in
which the individual sets out for a future reward or end.
Weber has identified the ‘spirit’ of Capitalism. He argued that all other historical systems
of money making did not develop a central philosophy or spirit. The spirit of capitalism
could be identified by three central injunctions:
i) devotion to amassing wealth beyond the personal needs of the individual
ii) unrelieved toil and work
iii) the avoidance of the use of wealth for personal enjoyment
The spirit has two principle maxims:
i) moral duty to work
ii) Strict avoidance of spontaneous enjoyment of life
Traditional vs Modern Capitalism: