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May 2, 2018 / C H Thompson

Weber and religion

  • Calvinism resulted in a Protestant ethic of an ascetic lifestyle to arise, which meant members forgave life’s pleasures, and which also encouraged a devotion to hard work
  • As many early capitalists were Calvinists who reinvested their money in businesses, they became successful
  • However as the rational calculation of capitalism led to religious beliefs being undermined, as hard-work left little room for faith and devotion to religion.
  • Therefore Calvinism eventually ‘encouraged’ secularisation, leading to the downfall of Calvinism
  • Weber argued Calvinism was a major contributor to change and capitalism


  • Marxist criticisms of Weber -> Kautsky argues that Weber overestimates the role of ideas and underestimates the economic factors in bringing capitalism into life
  • Tawney argues that it wasn’t religious ideas that brought capitalism, it was technological change. It was after capitalism that the ruling class embraced Calvinist beliefs in order to legitimate their search for economic gain
  • Capitalism didn’t develop in every country where there were Calvinists, such as Scotland
  • Some argue that although Calvinists were present among the first capitalists, this wasn’t down to their beliefs, rather they had been excluded by the law from political office and many of the professions leaving business as one of the few alternatives left open to them.

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