In a previous blog (https://studentblogs.le.ac.uk/sociology/2014/10/09/an-overview-of-marxs-theory/) I outlined the main ideas of Karl Marx. To summarise, he sees the economy as the base in society because it influences the other social institutions, for example the owners of businesses exploit their workers in order to build profits. Slightly later in sociology, Max Weber brought forward a new view. Although he essentially agrees with Marx in the sense that he sees the economy as trap, he brings a new theory to the table by stating how capitalism came about.
To Weber, capitalism came from the ethic of Protestantism. The Calvinist ethic was based upon the idea of society being made up of two types of individuals: the elect, who are rewarded for their hard work in life and are therefore sent to heaven in the afterlife, and the damned who are to be sent to hell. These were based around the notion of pre-destination whereby God chooses which group you belong to before you are born. However, despite this idea suggesting there is nothing you can do to change your path, individuals became wrapped up in believing they were part of the elect and therefore set up businesses to prove they are one of these hardworking individuals. From this came the view that wealth was ethically bad if you give into the temptation of ‘idleness and sinful enjoyment,’ but if you reinvest your money into a business for the good of society then it is considered a sign of effort and hard work. So people did this, they created businesses to make profits which are then reinvested in order improve that business, which is what capitalism is all about.
I find this a really interesting concept because he is saying that the Protestant Ethic led to the birth of capitalism. Do you think this is true?
If this sounds interesting then his book which concentrates on explaining this idea is called The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904).