Weber: Religion Re-influences the System

Weber saw that ideology like religion, however produced, can have its own characteristic and therefore be a variable agent of change or conservatism itself.
Marx could never allow for that because culture outputted itself as a form of ruling class deception, and change was by physical conflict.
Weber: Causal patterns and complexity rather than singular grand analysis or vision like Marx.
One pattern is where religious charisma moderates to tradition and tradition gives way to bureaucracy in how we legitimise autority - accept who can give orders.
  • Charisma is the power of the individual personality to be authoritative
    • - like Jesus, Napoleon, Lenin, Gandhi
  • Tradition is where a body invests sacred power and authority into a person who must then be followed
    • - like the Pope, Dalai Lama, bishops, priests
  • Bureaucracy is where the office has authority and the competent person is appointed to it due to training and career promotion
    • - religion is redundant
Now Weber noticed patterns of effects between religions. He liked to do some geographical and historical sociology. He looked at Confucianism in China and at Hindu and Buddhist forms of religion in particular, and found in these no dynamic for changing their agricultural and feudal systems into something new and dynamic. But he saw that the ethic of part of Protestantism was analogous to the spirit of capitalism.
He focussed on Calvinists. They believed that before time God predestined who was saved and who was damned. You would think it might lead people not to bother about what they did in life, seeing as behaviour made no difference to salvation. But Weber argued that Calvinists in their strict outlook wanted signs of election (salvation). In their keenness for godliness they had certain characteristics:

  • They worked hard as part of obeying God's will
  • They gained wealth
  • They did not consume beyond modest living which would hav ebeen against God's will
  • They thus had surplus money
  • They invested their money and this increased their value added wealth
  • The extra wealth was not consumed but reinvested
  • Their good fortune and godly living was used as a sign of God's favour on them.
What does capitalism want?

  • More savings reduces the cost of money
  • More money invested in productivity gives greater returns
  • Greater returns means more money for reinvestment
  • Whilst consumption is necessary, investment aids business growth
So the Protestant ethic and spirit of capitalism are dynamic forces for growth that match. Once this was done, however, capitalism provided its own rationale and the religious imperative was no longer needed (thus a source of secularisation).

  • Are the Protestant ethic and capitalist spirit just symbiotic?
  • Does the Protestant ethic lead to capitalism?
Weber realises that capitalism has other sources of origin. Was the Protestant ethic really that significant?

The important point is this:

  • A life after death belief
    • which for Marx
      • was an opium to social change because it deflected political action in this life
    • was for Weber
      • (in certain circumstances) a cause of positive action in this life in order to know something about the next life.
There are a number of important criticisms of this causal or symbiotic theory:

  • Eisenstadt saw capitalist elements rise in Catholic countries like Italy. Belgium and Germany
  • Elements of capitalism preceded Calvinism, claims Tawney.
    • Calvinism was adopted by the rising middle class, rather than a middle class made by the impact of Calvinism.
  • Weber's understanding of different religions was partial and inadequate.
    • Hinduism and Buddhism contain huge variations.
  • Weber misunderstood the role of Jewry in developing capitalism.
    • Jews were crucial in financing Christian enterprises even in mercantilist and older times (and why Jews were often persecuted).
      • Note: Jews in England were completely excluded in 1190 having been raided for their moneys, and were welcomed in only by Cromwell from when they carried out key financial functions.
  • Others than Calvinists seemed to have capitalist and philanthropic dynamics (for self-interest?)
  • Many Calvinists were hated by the population as removers of culture and pleasure
    • The period of the Lord Protector did not last beyond Oliver Cromwell, and the monarchy was restored.
Then there are economic points:

  • Why would Calvinists (apparently) reinvest?
    • Why not give money to the poor in charity, or increase wages?
  • Many Protestants, including Arminians and later Quakers and Unitarians, did reinvest in worker's conditions, building houses and chapels, often to gain increased commitment and productivity and they bonded their workers to them.
The importance of this hypothesis is not found in history, despite Weber's use of history. It is found in theoretically relating culture like religion to economic and social structures and in change as an idealised relationship.