Geography and Mentality Some Aspects of Max Weber's Protestantism Thesis

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Abstract

In his essays on the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism Max Weber proceeds from the observation that in Germany there is a clearly recognizable difference between the economic behaviour of Catholics and Protestants. As one of the reasons for this difference, the essays reveal-as a guiding principle for people's conduct of life-the principle of worldly asceticism inherent in Protestantism. This, Weber said, especially contributed to the formation of modern bourgeois capitalism in the occidental world. This thesis was mainly developed on the evidence of phenomena which Weber observed in Western Europe and North America and which he himself related to Calvinism. The problem now is that the Germany of Weber's time, as a leading industrial state, participated in modern western capitalism without Calvinism playing for the German Protestants a role which would have been in any way comparable to its role in the more western countries. Detailed examination of governmental, economic, and social conditions in the history of the denominalisation of some German territories and the comparison with the living conditions of Protestants in Western Europe and America leads to the conclusion that the later development of bourgeois economy and what I would like to call "Word Culture" (cf. p. 176f.) depended on the following factors: on with what methods and with what severity the rulers of the Reformation Era succeeded in imposing their own personal choice of faith upon their subjects or how far they allowed things to take their course without interference; then on whether they in this way curtailed, permitted or even supported the development of that capitalist and bourgeois economic spirit and "Word Culture" which had its roots as far back as the pre-Reformation era and which had then been boosted by Calvinism. Both individual belief and the rulers' power over this belief influenced equally vigorously and lastingly the mentality of all people concerned. Even more generalized: depending on whether and to what extent the religious and intellectual culture of a society are subjected to state oppression and coercive formation over a long period of time, the intellectual culture and economic attitude and potential of this society will develop. Life-style, economic ethic and cultural profile of many later generations depend on this.

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International Review for the History of Religions

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