History Optional Paper-2 Solution – 1994: Q.6 (b)

Q.6 (b) “Protestantism contributed substantially to the rise of capitalism.” Comment.


The relationship between capitalism and religion was developed by Max Weber. He gave direct relationship between Protestant Ethics and the spirit of Capitalism.

He gave the following logic for his theory:

(1) Commitment and Subordination of emotion, custom, myth etc.

Capitalism’s nature is more than just producing and exchanging goods in a particular way. At its heart, capitalism was a state of mind: an outlook that involved, the subordination of emotion, custom, tradition, folklore, and myth to the workings of instrumental reason. The linkage of this form of rationality with economic practices occurred primarily in Europe’s predominantly Protestant areas such as England and the Netherlands.
Protestantism ingrained the belief that Christians should avoid superficial hobbies, games, and entertainment. Instead, Christians should commit themselves totally to whatever calling to which God had summoned them. This ingrained them with commitment which is necessary for capitalism by subordinating their emotion, custom, tradition, folklore and myth.
This helped to foster the type of focused minds and disciplined work habits that are essential for Capitalism.

(2) Protestantism’s central ‘doctrine of predestination’

Protestants didn’t believe it was possible to do good works to attain heaven in the next world. It followed that the accumulation of wealth encouraged people to see themselves as destined to be saved. This, in turn, fostered a spirit that encouraged believers to grow ever-greater amounts of wealth that is core principle in Capitalism.

Evaluation of the Weber’s proposition

On the surface, Weber’s proposition makes considerable sense. After all, many culturally Catholic countries such as Portugal and Spain and almost all Latin American nations have lagged behind other Western nations in terms of economic development.
But careful analysis of Weber’s claims reveals his logic inadequate.

Drawbacks in the logic

The empirical evidence disproving Weber’s connection between Protestantism and the emergence of capitalism is considerable.

(1) The commercial spirit preceded the Reformation by at least two hundred years. Before Adam Smith’s free market concept, some of the most elaborate thinking about the nature of contracts, free markets, interest, wages, and banking that developed after the Reformation was articulated in the writings of Spanish Catholic thinkers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

(2) Most of the early commercial activities were led by Catholic countries like Portuagal and Spain.

Hence, it is right to say that Protestanism did contribute to the rise of Capitalism but it was not always true as proved emprically.

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