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These scholars were concerned with explaining the rise of modern economies, as well as with the explanation of the institutions and conditions that influenced the development and operation of economies and societies.
Weber, unlike others in the German School, spent little time describing the role played by economic policies of governments in economic change. He focused, as did Werner Sombart, more on the study of modern capitalism, its natureand the causes of its rise. Weber did not originate the thesis linking Protestantism and capitalism, as he himself pointed out. Earlier writers, including the English economist William Petty, made some of these links.
Nevertheless, Weber argues that these behavioral changes alone could not bring about modern capitalism as it required the appropriate set of conditions in the economic sphere. To clarify his contention on the uniqueness of the west, Weber undertook several major studies in the sociology of religions in different areas, particularly Asia, in order to understand why other religions did not generate the emergence of a modern capitalism.
These comparative religious studies have yielded insights into the impact of these different religious systems in China, India, and elsewhere, and their impacts on behavior. To some scholars, however, it was the political nature and openness to new beliefs and innovations in those countries in northwest Europe that lead to developments in science, business, and political freedom that permitted economic and scientific progress to take place.
The issue of the relation of Protestantism and capitalism remains a historic perennial, frequently cited and necessarily discussed and evaluated in all works dealing with its general time period.
Weber clearly had raised a central issue for historic studies. First, they have made central the question of the uniqueness of western civilization and the nature of its economicand social development. Whatever might have been the relative incomes of different parts of the world before , it is clear that since then economic growth has been much more rapid in Western Europe and its overseas off shoots than in other parts of the world.
Modern economic growth has taken place with a quite different economic and social structure from that which had existed earlier. Economic growth occurred at roughly the same time, or soon after, these areas experienced the rise of Protestant religions. Some may hold this similarity to be of completely different occurrences, but for many such a non-relationship would seem difficult to understand and accept.
Second, Weber has pointed to the significance of non-pecuniary or what some would call non-economic factors in influencing economic change, at least in conjunction with some appropriate set of conditions.
For Weber, the key non-pecuniary factor wasbased on a particular religion and set of religious codes; to others it was a religious influence, but from a different religion, such as Catholicism or Judaism; while to other scholars it has been some different factorleading to behavior changes, such as rationalism, individualism, or the development of an economic ethic.
Some, such as R. To still other scholars, the major factor has been the nature of a minority group of penalized outsiders in society. These scholars include William Petty , , who looked at several different areas in the seventeenth century, Sombart and Thorstein Veblen who wrote on the Jews, and Alexander Gerschenkron who examined the Russian Old Believers. Each of these explanations has been advanced in the attempt to describe the primary cause of those changes in economic behavior that have lead to the distinction between the modern and pre-modern worlds.
These studies, by such leading economic historians as Nathan Rosenberg with L. Birdzell, Jr. Posited answers include the role of political freedom, the development of property rights, changes in technology and organization of workers, the changing ratio of land to labor, the reactions to different environmental conditions, the emergence of markets, the rise of rational thought, the inflow of specie and various others.
Some focus more on what might be regarded as economic factors, while others are more in theWeberian tradition, even if there is no unanimity concerning specific causal factors. Nevertheless, it is clear that as long as there is a belief that the economic performance of Western Europe has been unique, Weber has presentedan argument that must be confronted.
Early in the second half of the twentieth century a non-western nation, Japan, as well as, somewhat later, several East Asian nations, came to experience some of the characteristics of modern economic and social change, with the development of a pattern of thrift and of a work ethic even if cooperative not individualist , but with a different form of religion.
Despite the frequency of the criticism, of the specific hypothesis in the past, the Weber thesis remains central to posing questions about the onset of modern economic growth and social and religious change in seventeenth-and eighteenth-century Western Europe. Its importance as a spiritual and ideological counter to a concentration on material conditions, as in the works of Karl Marx, provides an alternative approach to understanding economic change. In addition to the debates on economic growth there are subsidiary questions about related aspects of western development, which might be regarded as either substitutes for or complements to the Weber Thesis.
These include debates on the rise of individualism, the causes ofthe development of a more deliberate and rational approach to economic and other behavior, and the link between the emergence of modern capitalism and modern science. Weber discussed the role of those climate and geographic factors that have interested such present-day economic historians as Eric Jones, arguing that the development of firstly cities, and then nation-states, left Europe, unlike Asia, with rational states and rational law.
This set of developments reflected, according to Weber, initial differences in natural forces. First, it is often unclear what the proponent had really said, particularly crucial since we usually look only at the briefest summary of what was presented, without paying as much attention to the various qualifications and boundary conditions that the author was intelligent enough to have added. Second, there are these complications in defining precisely what are regarded ascauses, and what are the effects.
In terms of the Weber Thesis, we need to be clearer both on what was to be considered the nature of religion and religious beliefs, and also what exactly we are trying to explain when we discuss capitalism. Third, is the manner by which the cause and effect can be linked, whether we believe they can be related by other than a pattern involving direct causation, and whether the same cause will yield a different effect or, alternatively, the same effects can be achieved with a broader range of causes.
Variants of all these types of criticisms have been applied to The Protestant Ethic , and much more space than that available here would be needed to provide a complete examination of this debate. Presumably those more sympathetic to modernism and capitalism would find a relationship more acceptable.
Weber, himself, believed that capitalism generated important problems, and he did not believe that capitalist growth could continue indefinitely. The decline of capitalism was anticipated because of the development of rigid institutions and the rise of a bureaucratic state, posing a threat to political freedom as well as causing economic stagnation.
General Economic History is an overall survey of economic developments,from ancient times to the modern world. It provides summary statements insome cases, revisions of key arguments found in earlier writings, useful descriptions of the pattern of western economic development, and insightful brief views of major economic changes that are sometimes detailed in other writings.
Its major contributions include the claim that forms of what could be considered capitalism had long existed, leading to earlier accumulations of wealth, but it was only with the development of capital accounting and rational commerce, and with the need for rules and trust that arise when there are continued transactions among individuals, that the modern form of capitalism emerged in Western Europe.
This development was unique to that particular geographic region. Weber gave some attention to the importance of non-pecuniary tastes in actions within the economy. Following a strand of argument raised by a member of the Older German Historical School, Karl Knies, he argued that people did not necessarily profit-maximize at all times. Non-economic factors play a role in human behavior. Weber believed that it was certainly possible that there may be less extensive attempts at the maximum degree of maximization within a market economy, at least as a short term goal, than in other forms of social organization.
To Weber, the market system was not an idealized means of solving social problems. He recognized the conflicts that existed within the market system, suggesting that price and market outcomes should be seen as the result of conflict, since people disagreed over the use of the economic surpluses that could exist. But to Weber the market, with its various difficulties, seemed to provide a reasonable way to resolve conflicts and to allocate resources with some limitations on destruction and loss of freedom.
Prolonged growth, rather, was the result of growth of the mass market which arose with capitalism, and which lowered prices permitting the broad masses to imitate the consumption patterns of the rich.
One of the major substantive legacies of Weber is his description of the characteristics of modern capitalism. Weber regarded capitalism as an evolving system, so that present-day capitalism has some features rather different from those at the onset of modern capitalism.
He did not, however, regard commercial and capitalist activity as something new in the modern era, since such behavior had existed in most societies in earliertimes, as well as in other societies considered non-capitalist at the present time. Under modern capitalism, however, activities of a somewhat different pattern and nature occurred from those in the other forms of capitalism. The principal characteristics of modern capitalism that Weber points to are the centrality of rationality and those measures that help to implementrational behavior.
The emergence of a rationally organized formally free labor market to replace the various forms of labor institutions that had characterized earlier forms of capitalism, the development of rational law and administration in large firms and governments, the evolution of forms of rational bookkeeping and capital accounting, and the growth of bureaucracies in the public and private sectors to order the behavior of the larger-scale units in economic society — all these represent those factors developed out of Protestantism which permit continued capitalist accounting procedures to separate business and household capital in the interests of determining growth.
Other accounting procedures of the modern capitalist economy include the use of interests of rational decisionmaking, and the increased number of business leaders whose leadership is based upon their personal charisma, not on either traditional or legal influences. His general questions on the role of changing institutions and human behavior have again come into vogue, as has his interest in the law, legal rationality, and the process of historical development.
Thus, in a number of ways, Weber reads very much like a present-day economic historian, a development that has taken place after a long period in which Weber was relatively ignored by economic historians.
There have been several publications of The Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism since the first English-language translation in All use the original translation by Talcott Parsons, differing only in their introductions.
Among them are: — New York: Scribner, , , and foreword by R. A recent analysis of the work of Weber is in Stephen P. Braudel, Fernand. Civilization and Capitalism, 15thth Century.
New York: Harper and Row French edition published in Gerschenkron, Alexander. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Jones, Eric L. Lal, Deepak. Landes, David S. New York: W.
Mokyr, Joel. New York: Oxford University Press. North, Douglass C. Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance. Petty, William. Rosenberg, Nathan and L. New York: Basic Books. Sombart, Werner. Schumpeter, Joseph A. History of Economic Analysis. New York:Oxford University Press. Schumpeter: The Economics and Sociology of Capitalism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Tawney, R. Religion and the Rise of Capitalism. Veblen, Thorstein. New York: Viking Press originally published Viner, Jacob. Religious Thought and Economic Society. Durham: Duke University Press. Wallerstein, Immanuel. Weber, Max. General Economic History.
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Social Forces By Max Weber, 3d ed. Roxbury, Penguin, First translated into English by Talcott Parsons in , Weber's book has been reissued by no fewer than nine publishers in at least sixteen separate editions, not including the two new editions under consideration in this review. As of this writing, the Parsons translation has an Amazon. Indeed, among the sociological classics, only Democracy in America ranks higher 1, than The Protestant Ethic.
These scholars were concerned with explaining the rise of modern economies, as well as with the explanation of the institutions and conditions that influenced the development and operation of economies and societies. Weber, unlike others in the German School, spent little time describing the role played by economic policies of governments in economic change. He focused, as did Werner Sombart, more on the study of modern capitalism, its natureand the causes of its rise.
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism study guide contains a biography of Max Weber, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis. Learn vocabulary, terms, and more with flashcards, games, and other study tools. Weber remarks that the idea of the calling in modern times has a religious connotation, and the further back one traces the idea through history, the stronger that religious connotation becomes.
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