Max Weber

Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. New York:Scribner's Press, 1958, pp. 47 - 78.



IN the title of this study is used the somewhat pretentious phrase, the spirit of capitalism. Whatis to be understood by it? The attempt to give anything like a definition of it brings out certaindifficulties which are in the very nature of this type of investigation.

If any object can be found to which this term can be applied with any understandable meaning, itcan only be an historical individual, i.e. a complex of elements associated in historical realitywhich we unite into a conceptual whole from the standpoint of their cultural significance.

Such an historical concept, however, since it refers in its content to a phenomenon significant forits unique individuality, cannot be defined according to the formula genus proximum, differentiaspecifica, but it must be gradually put together out of the individual parts which are taken fromhistorical reality to make it up. Thus the final and definitive concept cannot stand at thebeginning of the investigation, but must come at the end. We must, in other words, work out inthe course of the discussion, as its most important result, the best conceptual formulation of whatwe here understand by the spirit of capitalism, that is the best from the point of view whichinterests us here. This point of view (the one of which we shall speak later) is, further, by nomeans the only possible one from which the historical phenomena we are investigating can beanalysed. Other standpoints would, for this as for every historical phenomenon, yield othercharacteristics as the essential ones. The result is that it is by no means necessary to understandby the spirit of capitalism only what it will come to mean to us for the purposes of our analysis.This is a necessary result of the nature of historical concepts which attempt for theirmethodological purposes not to grasp historical reality in abstract general formulae, but inconcrete genetic sets of relations which are inevitably of a specifically unique and individualcharacters

Thus, if we try to determine the object, the analysis and historical explanation of which we areattempting, it cannot be in the form of a conceptual definition, but at least in the beginning only aprovisional description of what is here meant by the spirit of capitalism. Such a description is,however, indispensable in order clearly to understand the object of the investigation. For thispurpose we turn to a document of that spirit which contains what we are looking for in almostclassical purity, and at the same time has the advantage of being free from all direct relationshipto religion, being thus, for our purposes, free of preconceptions.

"Remember, that time is money. He that can earn ten shillings a day by his labour, and goesabroad, or sits idle, one half of that day, though he spends but sixpence during his diversion oridleness, ought not to reckon that the only expense; he has really spent, or rather thrown away,five shillings besides.

"Remember, that credit is money. If a man lets his money lie in my hands after it is due, he givesme the interest, or so much as I can make of it during that time. This amounts to a considerablesum where a man has good and large credit, and makes good use of it.

"Remember, that money is of the prolific, generating nature. Money can beget money, and itsoffspring can beget more, and so on. Five shillings turned is six, turned again it is seven andthreepence, and so on, till it becomes a hundred pounds. The more there is of it, the more itproduces every turning, so that the profits rise quicker and quicker. He that kills a breeding-sow,destroys all her offspring to the thousandth generation. He that murders a crown, destroys all thatit might have produced, even scores of pounds."

"Remember this saying, The good paymaster is lord of another man's purse. He that is known topay punctually and exactly to the time he promises, may at any time, and on any occasion, raiseall the money his friends can spare. This is sometimes of great use. After industry and frugality,nothing contributes more to the raising of a young man in the world than punctuality and justicein all his dealings; therefore never keep borrowed money an hour beyond the time you promised,lest a disappointment shut up your friend's purse for ever.

"The most trifling actions that affect a man's credit are to be regarded. The sound of yourhammer at five in the morning, or eight at night, heard by a creditor, makes him easy six monthslonger; but if he sees you at a billiard-table, or hears your voice at a tavern, when you should beat work, he sends for his money the next day; demands it, before he can receive it, in a lump.

"It shows, besides, that you are mindful of what you owe; it makes you appear a careful as wellas an honest man, and that still increases your credit.

"Beware of thinking all your own that you possess, and of living accordingly. It is a mistake thatmany people who have credit fall into. To prevent this, keep an exact account for some timeboth of your expenses and your income. If you take the pains at first to mention particulars, itwill have this good effect: you will discover how wonderfully small, trifling expenses mount upto large sums, and will discern what might have been, and may for the future be saved, withoutoccasioning any great inconvenience."

"For six pounds a year you may have the use of one hundred pounds, provided you are a man ofknown prudence and honesty.

"He that spends a groat a day idly, spends idly above six pounds a year, which is the price for theuse of one hundred pounds.

"He that wastes idly a groat's worth of his time per day, one day with another, wastes theprivilege of using one hundred pounds each day.

"He that idly loses five shillings' worth of time, loses five shillings, and might as prudently throwfive shillings into the sea.

"He that loses five shillings, not only loses that sum, but all the advantage that might be made byturning it in dealing, which by the time that a young man becomes old, will amount to aconsiderable sum of money." [2]

It is Benjamin Franklin who preaches to us in these sentences, the same which FerdinandKurnberger satirizes in his clever and malicious Picture of American Culture [3] as the supposedconfession of faith of the Yankee. That it is the spirit of capitalism which here speaks incharacteristic fashion, no one will doubt, however little we may wish to claim that everythingwhich could be understood as pertaining to that spirit is contained in it. Let us pause a momentto consider this passage, the philosophy of which Kurnberger sums up in the words, "They maketallow out of cattle and money out of men". The peculiarity of this philosophy of avarice appearsto be the ideal of the honest man of recognized credit, and above all the idea of a duty of theindividual toward the increase of his capital, which is assumed as an end in itself. Truly what ishere preached is not simply a means of making one's way in the world, but a peculiar ethic. Theinfraction of its rules is treated not as foolishness but as forgetfulness of duty. That is the essenceof the matter. It is not mere business astuteness, that sort of thing is common enough, it is anethos. This is the quality which interests us.

When Jacob Fugger, in speaking to a business associate who had retired and who wanted topersuade him to do the same, since he had made enough money and should let others have achance, rejected that as pusillanimity and answered that "he (Fugger) thought otherwise, hewanted to make money as long as he could", [4] the spirit of his statement is evidently quitedifferent from that of Franklin. What in the former case was an expression of commercial daringand a personal inclination morally neutral, [5] in the latter takes on the character of an ethicallycoloured maxim for the conduct of life. The concept spirit of capitalism is here used in thisspecific sense, [6] it is the spirit of modern capitalism. For that we are here dealing only withWestern European and American capitalism is obvious from the way in which the problem wasstated. Capitalism existed in China, India, Babylon, in the classic world, and in the Middle Ages.But in all these cases, as we shall see, this particular ethos was lacking.

Now, all Franklin's moral attitudes are coloured with utilitarianism. Honesty is useful, because itassures credit; so are punctuality, industry, frugality, and that is the reason they are virtues. Alogical deduction from this would be that where, for instance, the appearance of honesty servesthe same purpose, that would suffice, and an unnecessary surplus of this virtue would evidentlyappear to Franklin's eyes as unproductive waste. And as a matter of fact, the story in hisautobiography of his conversion to those virtues, [7] or the discussion of the value of a strictmaintenance of the appearance of modesty, the assiduous belittlement of one's own deserts inorder to gain general recognition later, [8] confirms this impression. According to Franklin,those virtues, like all others, are only in so far virtues as they are actually useful to the individual,and the surrogate of mere appearance is always sufficient when it accomplishes the end in view.It is a conclusion which is inevitable for strict utilitarianism. The impression of many Germansthat the virtues professed by Americanism are pure hypocrisy seems to have been confirmed bythis striking case. But in fact the matter is not by any means so simple. Benjamin Franklin's owncharacter, as it appears in the really unusual candidness of his autobiography, belies thatsuspicion. The circumstance that he ascribes his recognition of the utility of virtue to a divinerevelation which was intended to lead him in the path of righteousness, shows that somethingmore than mere garnishing for purely egocentric motives is involved.

In fact, the summum bonum of this ethic, the earning of more and more money, combined withthe strict avoidance of all spontaneous enjoyment of life, is above all completely devoid of anyeudaemonistic, not to say hedonistic, admixture. It is thought of so purely as an end in itself, thatfrom the point of view of the happiness of, or utility to, the single individual, it appears entirelytranscendental and absolutely irrational. [9] Man is dominated by the making of money, byacquisition as the ultimate purpose of his life. Economic acquisition is no longer subordinated toman as the means for the satisfaction of his material needs. This reversal of what we should callthe natural relationship, so irrational from a naive point of view, is evidently as definitely aleading principle of capitalism as it is foreign to all peoples not under capitalistic influence. Atthe same time it expresses a type of feeling which is closely connected with certain religiousideas. If we thus ask, why should "money be made out of men", Benjamin Franklin himself,although he was a colourless deist, answers in his autobiography with a quotation from the Bible,which his strict Calvinistic father drummed into him again and again in his youth: "Seest thou aman diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings" (Prov. xxii. 29). The earning ofmoney within the modern economic order is, so long as it is done legally, the result and theexpression of virtue and proficiency in a calling; and this virtue and proficiency are, as it is nownot difficult to see, the real Alpha and Omega of Franklin's ethic, as expressed in the passages wehave quoted, as well as in all his works without exception. [10]

And in truth this peculiar idea, so familiar to us to-day, but in reality so little a matter of course,of one's duty in a calling, is what is most characteristic of the social ethic of capitalistic culture,and is in a sense the fundamental basis of it. It is an obligation which the individual is supposedto feel and does feel towards the content of his professional [11] activity, no matter in what itconsists, in particular no matter whether it appears on the surface as a utilization of his personalpowers, or only of his material possessions (as capital).

Of course, this conception has not appeared only under capitalistic conditions. On the contrary,we shall later trace its origins back to a time previous to the advent of capitalism. Still less,naturally, do we maintain that a conscious acceptance of these ethical maxims on the part of theindividuals, entrepreneurs or labourers, in modern capitalistic enterprises, is a condition of thefurther existence of present-day capitalism. The capitalistic economy of the present day is animmense cosmos into which the individual is born, and which presents itself to him, at least as anindividual, as an unalterable order of things in which he must live. It forces the individual, in sofar as he is involved in the system of market relationships, to conform to capitalistic rules ofaction. The manufacturer who in the long run acts counter to these norms, will just as inevitablybe eliminated from the economic scene as the worker who cannot or will not adapt himself tothem will be thrown into the streets without a job.

Thus the capitalism of to-day, which has come to dominate economic life, educates and selectsthe economic subjects which it needs through a process of economic survival of the fittest. Buthere one can easily see the limits of the concept of selection as a means of historical explanation.In order that a manner of life so well adapted to the peculiarities of capitalism could be selectedat all, i.e. should come to dominate others, it had to originate somewhere, and not in isolatedindividuals alone, but as a way of life common to whole groups of men. This origin is whatreally needs explanation. Concerning the doctrine of the more naive historical materialism, thatsuch ideas originate as a reflection or superstructure of economic situations, we shall speak morein detail below. At this point it will suffice for our purpose to call attention to the fact thatwithout doubt, in the country of Benjamin Franklin's birth (Massachusetts), the spirit ofcapitalism (in the sense we have attached to it) was present before the capitalistic order. Therewere complaints of a peculiarly calculating sort of profit-seeking in New England, asdistinguished from other parts of America, as early as 1632. It is further undoubted thatcapitalism remained far less developed in some of the neighbouring colonies, the later SouthernStates of the United States of America, in spite of the fact that these latter were founded by largecapitalists for business motives, while the New England colonies were founded by preachers andseminary graduates with the help of small bourgeois, craftsmen and yoemen, for religiousreasons. In this case the causal relation is certainly the reverse of that suggested by thematerialistic standpoint.

But the origin and history of such ideas is much more complex than the theorists of thesuperstructure suppose. The spirit of capitalism, in the sense in which we are using the term, hadto fight its way to supremacy against a whole world of hostile forces. A state of mind such asthat expressed in the passages we have quoted from Franklin, and which called forth the applauseof a whole people, would both in ancient times and in the Middle Ages [12] have been proscribedas the lowest sort of avarice and as an attitude entirely lacking in self-respect. It is, in fact, stillregularly thus looked upon by all those social groups which are least involved in or adapted tomodern capitalistic conditions. This is not wholly because the instinct of acquisition was inthose times unknown or undeveloped, as has often been said. Nor because the auri sacra fames,the greed for gold, was then, or now, less powerful outside of bourgeois capitalism than withinits peculiar sphere, as the illusions of modern romanticists are wont to believe. The differencebetween the capitalistic and precapitalistic spirits is not to be found at this point. The greed ofthe Chinese Mandarin, the old Roman aristocrat, or the modern peasant, can stand up to anycomparison. And the auri sacra fames of a Neapolitan cab-driver or barcaiuolo, and certainly ofAsiatic representatives of similar trades, as well as of the craftsmen of southern European orAsiatic countries, is, as anyone can find out for himself, very much more intense, and especiallymore unscrupulous than that of, say, an Englishman in similar circumstances. [13]

The universal reign of absolute unscrupulousness in the pursuit of selfish interests by the makingof money has been a specific characteristic of precisely those countries whosebourgeois-capitalistic development, measured according to Occidental standards, has remainedbackward. As every employer knows, the lack of coscienziosita of the labourers [14] of suchcountries, for instance Italy as compared with Germany, has been, and to a certain extent still is,one of the principal obstacles to their capitalistic development. Capitalism cannot make use ofthe labour of those who practise the doctrine of undisciplined liberum arbitrium, any more than itcan make use of the business man who seems absolutely unscrupulous in his dealings withothers, as we can learn from Franklin. Hence the difference does not lie in the degree ofdevelopment of any impulse to make money. The auri sacra fames is as old as the history ofman. But we shall see that those who submitted to it without reserve as an uncontrolled impulse,such as the Dutch sea-captain who "would go through hell for gain, even though he scorched hissails", were by no means the representatives of that attitude of mind from which the specificallymodern capitalistic spirit as a mass phenomenon is derived, and that is what matters. At allperiods of history, wherever it was possible, there has been ruthless acquisition, bound to noethical norms whatever. Like war and piracy, trade has often been unrestrained in its relationswith foreigners and those outside the group. The double ethic has permitted here what wasforbidden in dealings among brothers.

Capitalistic acquisition as an adventure has been at home in all types of economic society whichhave known trade with the use of money and which have offered it opportunities, throughcommenda, farming of taxes, State loans, financing of wars, ducal courts and officeholders.Likewise the inner attitude of the adventurer, which laughs at all ethical limitations, has beenuniversal. Absolute and conscious ruthlessness in acquisition has often stood in the closestconnection with the strictest conformity to tradition. Moreover, with the breakdown of traditionand the more or less complete extension of free economic enterprise, even to within the socialgroup, the new thing has not generally been ethically justified and encouraged, but only toleratedas a fact. And this fact has been treated either as ethically indifferent or as reprehensible, butunfortunately unavoidable. This has not only been the normal attitude of all ethical teachings,but, what is more important, also that expressed in the practical action of the average man ofpre-capitalistic times, pre-capitalistic in the sense that the rational utilization of capital in apermanent enterprise and the rational capitalistic organization of labour had not yet becomedominant forces in the determination of economic activity. Now just this attitude was one of thestrongest inner obstacles which the adaptation of men to the conditions of an orderedbourgeois-capitalistic economy has encountered everywhere.

The most important opponent with which the spirit of capitalism, in the sense of a definitestandard of life claiming ethical sanction, has had to struggle, was that type of attitude andreaction to new situations which we may designate as traditionalism. In this case also everyattempt at a final definition must be held in abeyance. On the other hand, we must try to makethe provisional meaning clear by citing a few cases. We will begin from below, with thelabourers.

One of the technical means which the modern employer uses in order to secure the greatestpossible amount of work from his men is the device of piece-rates. In agriculture, for instance,the gathering of the harvest is a case where the greatest possible intensity of labour is called for,since, the weather being uncertain, the difference between high profit and heavy loss may dependon the speed with which the harvesting can be done. Hence a system of piece-rates is almostuniversal in this case. And since the interest of the employer in a speeding up of harvestingincreases with the increase of the results and the intensity of the work, the attempt has again andagain been made, by increasing the piece-rates of the workmen, thereby giving them anopportunity to earn what is for them a very high wage, to interest them in increasing their ownefficiency. But a peculiar difficulty has been met with surprising frequency: raising thepiece-rates has often had the result that not more but less has been accomplished in the sametime, because the worker reacted to the increase not by increasing but by decreasing the amountof his work. A man, for instance, who at the rate of 1 mark per acre mowed 2 1/2 acres per dayand earned 2 1/2 marks, when the rate was raised to 1.25 marks per acre mowed, not 3 acres, ashe might easily have done, thus earning 3.75 marks, but only 2 acres, so that he could still earnthe 2 1/2 marks to which he was accustomed. The opportunity of earning more was lessattractive than that of working less. He did not ask: how much can I earn in a day if I do asmuch work as possible ? but: how much must I work in order to earn the wage, 2 1/2 marks,which I earned before and which takes care of my traditional needs? This is an example of whatis here meant by traditionalism. A man does not "by nature" wish to earn more and more money,but simply to live as he is accustomed to live and to earn as much as is necessary for thatpurpose. Wherever modern capitalism has begun its work of increasing the productivity ofhuman labour by increasing its intensity, it has encountered the immensely stubborn resistance ofthis leading trait of pre-capitalistic labour. And to-day it encounters it the more, the morebackward (from a capitalistic point of view) the labouring forces are with which it has to deal.

Another obvious possibility, to return to our example, since the appeal to the acquisitive instinctthrough higher wage-rates failed, would have been to try the opposite policy, to force the workerby reduction of his wage-rates to work harder to earn the same amount than he did before. Lowwages and high profits seem even to-day to a superficial observer to stand in correlation;everything which is paid out in wages seems to involve a corresponding reduction of profits. That road capitalism has taken again and again since its beginning. For centuries it was an articleof faith, that low wages were productive, i.e. that they increased the material results of labour sothat, as Pieter de la Cour, on this point, as we shall see, quite in the spirit of the old Calvinism,said long ago, the people only work because and so long as they are poor.

But the effectiveness of this apparently so efficient method has its limits. [15] Of course thepresence of a surplus population which it can hire cheaply in the labour market is a necessity forthe development of capitalism. But though too large a reserve army may in certain cases favourits quantitative expansion, it checks its qualitative development, especially the transition to typesof enterprise which make more intensive use of labour. Low wages are by no means identicalwith cheap labour. [16] From a purely quantitative point of view the efficiency of labourdecreases with a wage which is physiologically insufficient, which may in the long run evenmean a survival of the unfit. The present-day average Silesian mows, when he exerts himself tothe full, little more than two-thirds as much land as the better paid and nourished Pomeranian orMecklenburger, and the Pole, the further East he comes from, accomplishes progressively lessthan the German. Low wages fail even from a purely business point of view wherever it is aquestion of producing goods which require any sort of skilled labour, or the use of expensivemachinery which is easily damaged, or in general wherever any great amount of sharp attentionor of initiative is required. Here low wages do not pay, and their effect is the opposite of whatwas intended. For not only is a developed sense of responsibility absolutely indispensable, but ingeneral also an attitude which, at least during working hours, is freed from continual calculationsof how the customary wage may be earned with a maximum of comfort and a minimum ofexertion. Labour must, on the contrary, be performed as if it were an absolute end in itself, acalling. But such an attitude is by no means a product of nature. It cannot be evoked by lowwages or high ones alone, but can only be the product of a long and arduous process ofeducation. To-day, capitalism, once in the saddle, can recruit its labouring force in all industrialcountries with comparative ease. In the past this was in every case an extremely difficultproblem. [17] And even to-day it could probably not get along without the support of a powerfulally along the way, which, as we shall see below, was at hand at the time of its development.

What is meant can again best be explained by means of an example. The type of backwardtraditional form of labour is to-day very often exemplified by women workers, especiallyunmarried ones. An almost universal complaint of employers of girls, for instance German girls,is that they are almost entirely unable and unwilling to give up methods of work inherited or oncelearned in favour of more efficient ones, to adapt themselves to new methods, to learn and toconcentrate their intelligence, or even to use it at all. Explanations of the possibility of makingwork easier, above all more profitable to themselves, generally encounter a complete lack ofunderstanding. Increases of piece-rates are without avail against the stone wall of habit. Ingeneral it is otherwise; and that is a point of no little importance from our view-point, only withgirls having a specifically religious, especially a Pietistic, background. One often hears, andstatistical investigation confirms it, [18] that by far the best chances of economic education arefound among this group. The ability of mental concentration, as well as the absolutely essentialfeeling of obligation to one's job, are here most often combined with a strict economy whichcalculates the possibility of high earnings, and a cool self-control and frugality which enormouslyincrease performance. This provides the most favourable foundation for the conception of labouras an end in itself, as a calling which is necessary to capitalism: the chances of overcomingtraditionalism are greatest on account of the religious upbringing. This observation ofpresent-day capitalism [19] in itself suggests that it is worth while to ask how this connection ofadaptability to capitalism with religious factors may have come about in the days of the earlydevelopment of capitalism. For that they were even then present in much the same form can beinferred from numerous facts. For instance, the dislike and the persecution which Methodistworkmen in the eighteenth century met at the hands of their comrades were not solely nor evenprincipally the result of their religious eccentricities, England had seen many of those and morestriking ones. It rested rather, as the destruction of their tools, repeatedly mentioned in thereports, suggests, upon their specific willingness to work as we should say to-day.

However, let us again return to the present, and this time to the entrepreneur, in order to clarifythe meaning of traditionalism in his case.

Sombart, in his discussions of the genesis of capitalism, [20] has distinguished between thesatisfaction of needs and acquisition as the two great leading principles in economic history. Inthe former case the attainment of the goods necessary to meet personal needs, in the latter astruggle for profit free from the limits set by needs, have been the ends controlling the form anddirection of economic activity. What he calls the economy of needs seems at first glance to beidentical with what is here described as economic traditionalism. That may be the case if theconcept of needs is limited to traditional needs. But if that is not done, a number of economictypes which must be considered capitalistic according to the definition of capital which Sombartgives in another part of his work, [21] would be excluded from the category of acquisitiveeconomy and put into that of needs economy. Enterprises, namely, which are carried on byprivate entrepreneurs by utilizing capital (money or goods with a money value) to make a profit,purchasing the means of production and selling the product, i.e. undoubted capitalisticenterprises, may at the same time have a traditionalistic character. This has, in the course even ofmodern economic history, not been merely an occasional case, but rather the rule, with continualinterruptions from repeated and increasingly powerful conquests of the capitalistic spirit. To besure the capitalistic form of an enterprise and the spirit in which it is run generally stand in somesort of adequate relationship to each other, but not in one of necessary interdependence.Nevertheless, we provisionally use the expression spirit of (modern) capitalism [22] to describethat attitude which seeks profit rationally and systematically in the manner which we haveillustrated by the example of Benjamin Franklin. This, however, is justified by the historical factthat that attitude of mind has on the one hand found its most suitable expression in capitalisticenterprise, while on the other the enterprise has derived its most suitable motive force from thespirit of capitalism.

But the two may very well occur separately. Benjamin Franklin was filled with the spirit ofcapitalism at a time when his printing business did not differ in form from any handicraftenterprise. And we shall see that at the beginning of modern times it was by no means thecapitalistic entrepreneurs of the commercial aristocracy, who were either the sole or thepredominant bearers of the attitude we have here called the spirit of capitalism. [23] It was muchmore the rising strata of the lower industrial middle classes. Even in the nineteenth century itsclassical representatives were not the elegant gentlemen of Liverpool and Hamburg, with theircommercial fortunes handed down for generations, but the self-made parvenus of Manchesterand Westphalia, who often rose from very modest circumstances. As early as the sixteenthcentury the situation was similar; the industries which arose at that time were mostly created byparvenus. [24]

The management, for instance, of a bank, a wholesale export business, a large retailestablishment, or of a large putting-out enterprise dealing with goods produced in homes, iscertainly only possible in the form of a capitalistic enterprise. Nevertheless, they may all becarried on in a traditionalistic spirit. In fact, the business of a large bank of issue cannot becarried on in any other way. The foreign trade of whole epochs has rested on the basis ofmonopolies and legal privileges of strictly traditional character. In retail trade--and we are nothere talking of the small men without capital who are continually crying out for Government aid-- the revolution which is making an end of the old traditionalism is still in full swing. lt is thesame development which broke up the old putting-out system, to which modem domestic labouris related only in form. How this revolution takes place and what is its significance may, in spiteof the fact these things are so familiar, be again brought out by a concrete example.

Until about the middle of the past century the life of a putter-out was, at least in many of thebranches of the Continental textile industry, [25] what we should to-day consider verycomfortable. We may imagine its routine somewhat as follows: The peasants came with theircloth, often (in the case of linen) principally or entirely made from raw material which thepeasant himself had produced, to the town in which the putter-out lived, and after a careful, oftenofficial, appraisal of the quality, received the customary price for it. The putter-out's customers,for markets any appreciable distance away, were middlemen, who also came to him, generallynot yet following samples, but seeking traditional qualities, and bought from his warehouse, or,long before delivery, placed orders which were probably in turn passed on to the peasants.Personal canvassing of customers took place, if at all, only at long intervals. Otherwisecorrespondence sufficed, though the sending of samples slowly gained ground. The number ofbusiness hours was very moderate, perhaps five to six a day, sometimes considerably less; in therush season, where there was one, more. Earnings were moderate; enough to lead a respectablelife and in good times to put away a little. On the whole, relations among competitors wererelatively good, with a large degree of agreement on the fundamentals of business. A long dailyvisit to the tavern, with often plenty to drink, and a congenial circle of friends, made lifecomfortable and leisurely.

The form of organization was in every respect capitalistic; the entrepreneur's activity was of apurely business character; the use of capital, turned over in the business, was indispensable; andfinally, the objective aspect of the economic process, the book-keeping, was rational. But it wastraditionalistic business, if one considers the spirit which animated the entrepreneur: thetraditional manner of life, the traditional rate of profit, the traditional amount of work, thetraditional manner of regulating the relationships with labour, and the essentially traditionalcircle of customers and the manner of attracting new ones. All these dominated the conduct ofthe business, were at the basis, one may say, of the ethos of this group of business men.

Now at some time this leisureliness was suddenly destroyed, and often entirely without anyessential change in the form of organization, such as the transition to a unified factory, tomechanical weaving, etc. What happened was, on the contrary, often no more than this: someyoung man from one of the putting-out families went out into the country, carefully choseweavers for his employ, greatly increased the rigour of his supervision of their work, and thusturned them from peasants into labourers. On the other hand, he would begin to change hismarketing methods by so far as possible going directly to the final consumer, would take thedetails into his own hands, would personally solicit customers, visiting them every year, andabove all would adapt the quality of the product directly to their needs and wishes. At the sametime he began to introduce the principle of low prices and large turnover. There was repeatedwhat everywhere and always is the result of such a process of rationalization: those who wouldnot follow suit had to go out of business. The idyllic state collapsed under the pressure of a bittercompetitive struggle, respectable fortunes were made, and not lent out at interest, but alwaysreinvested in the business. The old leisurely and comfortable attitude toward life gave way to ahard frugality in which some participated and came to the top, because they did not wish toconsume but to earn, while others who wished to keep on with the old ways were forced tocurtail their consumption. [26]

And, what is most important in this connection, it was not generally in such cases a stream ofnew money invested in the industry which brought about this revolution--in several cases knownto me the whole revolutionary process was set in motion with a few thousands of capitalborrowed from relations--but the new spirit, the spirit of modern capitalism, had set to work. The question of the motive forces in the expansion of modern capitalism is not in the firstinstance a question of the origin of the capital sums which were available for capitalistic uses,but, above all, of the development of the spirit of capitalism. Where it appears and is able towork itself out, it produces its own capital and monetary supplies as the means to its ends, but thereverse is not true. [27] Its entry on the scene was not generally peaceful. A flood of mistrust,sometimes of hatred, above all of moral indignation, regularly opposed itself to the firstinnovator. Often--I know of several cases of the sort--regular legends of mysterious shady spotsin his previous life have been produced. It is very easy not to recognize that only an unusuallystrong character could save an entrepreneur of this new type from the loss of his temperate self-control and from both moral and economic shipwreck. Furthermore, along with clarity of visionand ability to act, it is only by virtue of very definite and highly developed ethical qualities that ithas been possible for him to command the absolutely indispensable confidence of his customersand workmen. Nothing else could have given him the strength to overcome the innumerableobstacles, above all the infinitely more intensive work which is demanded of the modernentrepreneur. But these are ethical qualities of quite a different sort from those adapted to thetraditionalism of the past.

And, as a rule, it has been neither dare-devil and unscrupulous speculators, economic adventurerssuch as we meet at all periods of economic history, nor simply great financiers who have carriedthrough this change, outwardly so inconspicuous, but nevertheless so decisive for the penetrationof economic life with the new spirit. On the contrary, they were men who had grown up in thehard school of life, calculating and daring at the same time, above all temperate and reliable,shrewd and completely devoted to their business, with strictly bourgeois opinions and principles.

One is tempted to think that these personal moral qualities have not the slightest relation to anyethical maxims, to say nothing of religious ideas, but that the essential relation between them isnegative. The ability to free oneself from the common tradition, a sort of liberal enlightenment,seems likely to be the most suitable basis for such a business man's success. And to-day that isgenerally precisely the case. Any relationship between religious beliefs and conduct is generallyabsent, and where any exists, at least in Germany, it tends to be of the negative sort. The peoplefilled with the spirit of capitalism to-day tend to be indifferent, if not hostile, to the Church. Thethought of the pious boredom of paradise has little attraction for their active natures; religionappears to them as a means of drawing people away from labour in this world. If you ask themwhat is the meaning of their restless activity, why they are never satisfied with what they have,thus appearing so senseless to any purely worldly view of life, they would perhaps give theanswer, if they know any at all: "to provide for my children and grandchildren". But more oftenand, since that motive is not peculiar to them, but was just as effective for the traditionalist, morecorrectly, simply: that business with its continuous work has become a necessary part of theirlives. That is in fact the only possible motivation, but it at the same time expresses what is, seenfrom the view-point of personal happiness, so irrational about this sort of life, where a man existsfor the sake of his business, instead of the reverse.

Of course, the desire for the power and recognition which the mere fact of wealth brings plays itspart. When the imagination of a whole people has once been turned toward purely quantitativebigness, as in the United States, this romanticism of numbers exercises an irresistible appeal tothe poets among business men. Otherwise it is in general not the real leaders, and especially notthe permanently successful entrepreneurs, who are taken in by it. In particular, the resort toentailed estates and the nobility, with sons whose conduct at the university and in the officers'corps tries to cover up their social origin, as has been the typical history of German capitalisticparvenu families, is a product of later decadence. The ideal type [28] of the capitalisticentrepreneur, as it has been represented even in Germany by occasional outstanding examples,has no relation to such more or less refined climbers. He avoids ostentation and unnecessaryexpenditure, as well as conscious enjoyment of his power, and is embarrassed by the outwardsigns of the social recognition which he receives. His manner of life is, in other words, often,and we shall have to investigate the historical significance of just this important fact,distinguished by a certain ascetic tendency, as appears clearly enough in the sermon of Franklinwhich we have quoted. It is, namely, by no means exceptional, but rather the rule, for him tohave a sort of modesty which is essentially more honest than the reserve which Franklin soshrewdly recommends. He gets nothing out of his wealth for himself, except the irrational senseof having done his job well.

But it is just that which seems to the pre-capitalistic man so incomprehensible and mysterious, sounworthy and contemptible. That anyone should be able to make it the sole purpose of hislife-work, to sink into the grave weighed down with a great material load of money and goods,seems to him explicable only as the product of a perverse instinct, the auri sacra fames.

At present under our individualistic political, legal, and economic institutions, with the forms oforganization and general structure which are peculiar to our economic order, this spirit ofcapitalism might be understandable, as has been said, purely as a result of adaptation. Thecapitalistic system so needs this devotion to the calling of making money, it is an attitude towardmaterial goods which is so well suited to that system, so intimately bound up with the conditionsof survival in the economic struggle for existence, that there can to-day no longer be any questionof a necessary connection of that acquisitive manner of life with any single Weltanschauung. Infact, it no longer needs the support of any religious forces, and feels the attempts of religion toinfluence economic life, in so far as they can still be felt at all, to be as much an unjustifiedinterference as its regulation by the State. In such circumstances men's commercial and socialinterests do tend to determine their opinions and attitudes. Whoever does not adapt his mannerof life to the conditions of capitalistic success must go under, or at least cannot rise. But theseare phenomena of a time in which modern capitalism has become dominant and has becomeemancipated from its old supports. But as it could at one time destroy the old forms of medievalregulation of economic life only in alliance with the growing power of the modern State, thesame, we may say provisionally, may have been the case in its relations with religious forces.Whether and in what sense that was the case, it is our task to investigate. For that the conceptionof money-making as an end in itself to which people were bound, as a calling, was contrary to theethical feelings of whole epochs, it is hardly necessary to prove. The dogma Deo placere vixpotest which was incorporated into the canon law and applied to the activities of the merchant,and which at that time (like the passage in the gospel about interest) [29] was consideredgenuine, as well as St. Thomas's characterization of the desire for gain as turpitudo (which termeven included unavoidable and hence ethically justified profit-making), already contained a highdegree of concession on the part of the Catholic doctrine to the financial powers with which theChurch had such intimate political relations in the Italian cities, [30] as compared with the muchmore radically anti-chrematistic views of comparatively wide circles. But even where thedoctrine was still better accommodated to the facts, as for instance with Anthony of Florence, thefeeling was never quite overcome, that activity directed to acquisition for its own sake was atbottom a pudendum which was to be tolerated only because of the unalterable necessities of lifein this world.

Some moralists of that time, especially of the nominalistic school, accepted developedcapitalistic business forms as inevitable, and attempted to justify them, especially commerce, asnecessary. The industria developed in it they were able to regard, though not withoutcontradictions, as a legitimate source of profit, and hence ethically unobjectionable. But thedominant doctrine rejected the spirit of capitalistic acquisition as turpitudo, or at least could notgive it a positive ethical sanction. An ethical attitude like that of Benjamin Franklin would havebeen simply unthinkable. This was, above all, the attitude of capitalistic circles themselves.Their life-work was, so long as they clung to the tradition of the Church, at best somethingmorally indifferent. It was tolerated, but was still, even if only on account of the continualdanger of collision with the Church's doctrine on usury, somewhat dangerous to salvation. Quiteconsiderable sums, as the sources show, went at the death of rich people to religious institutionsas conscience money, at times even back to former debtors as usura which had been unjustlytaken from them. It was otherwise, along with heretical and other tendencies looked upon withdisapproval, only in those parts of the commercial aristocracy which were already emancipatedfrom the tradition. But even sceptics and people indifferent to the Church often reconciledthemselves with it by gifts, because it was a sort of insurance against the uncertainties of whatmight come after death, or because (at least according to the very widely held latter view) anexternal obedience to the commands of the Church was sufficient to insure salvation. [31] Herethe either non-moral or immoral character of their action in the opinion of the participantsthemselves comes clearly to light.

Now, how could activity, which was at best ethically tolerated, turn into a calling in the sense ofBenjamin Franklin? The fact to be explained historically is that in the most highly capitalisticcentre of that time, in Florence of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the money and capitalmarket of all the great political Powers, this attitude was considered ethically unjustifiable, or atbest to be tolerated. But in the backwoods small bourgeois circumstances of Pennsylvania in theeighteenth century, where business threatened for simple lack of money to fall back into barter,where there was hardly a sign of large enterprise, where only the earliest beginnings of bankingwere to be found, the same thing was considered the essence of moral conduct, even commandedin the name of duty. To speak here of a reflection of material conditions in the idealsuperstructure would be patent nonsense. What was the background of ideas which couldaccount for the sort of activity apparently directed toward profit alone as a calling toward whichthe individual feels himself to have an ethical obligation? For it was this idea which gave theway of life of the new entrepreneur its ethical foundation and justification.

The attempt has been made, particularly by Sombart, in what are often judicious and effectiveobservations, to depict economic rationalism as the salient feature of modern economic life as awhole. Undoubtedly with justification, if by that is meant the extension of the productivity oflabour which has, through the subordination of the process of production to scientific points ofview, relieved it from its dependence upon the natural organic limitations of the humanindividual. Now this process of rationalization in the field of technique and economicorganization undoubtedly determines an important part of the ideals of life of modern bourgeoissociety. Labour in the service of a rational organization for the provision of humanity withmaterial goods has without doubt always appeared to representatives of the capitalistic spirit asone of the most important purposes of their life-work. It is only necessary, for instance, to readFranklin's account of his efforts in the service of civic improvements in Philadelphia clearly toapprehend this obvious truth. And the joy and pride of having given employment to numerouspeople, of having had a part in the economic progress of his home town in the sense referring tofigures of population and volume of trade which capitalism associated with the word, all thesethings obviously are part of the specific and undoubtedly idealistic satisfactions in life to modernmen of business. Similarly it is one of the fundamental characteristics of an individualisticcapitalistic economy that it is rationalized on the basis of rigorous calculation, directed withforesight and caution toward the economic success which is sought in sharp contrast to the hand-to-mouth existence of the peasant, and to the privileged traditionalism of the guild craftsman andof the adventurers' capitalism, oriented to the exploitation of political opportunities and irrationalspeculation.

It might thus seem that the development of the spirit of capitalism is best understood as part ofthe development of rationalism as a whole, and could be deduced from the fundamental positionof rationalism on the basic problems of life. In the process Protestantism would only have to beconsidered in so far as it had formed a stage prior to the development of a purely rationalisticphilosophy. But any serious attempt to carry this thesis through makes it evident that such asimple way of putting the question will not work, simply because of the fact that the history ofrationalism shows a development which by no means follows parallel lines in the variousdepartments of life. The rationalization of private law, for instance, if it is thought of as a logicalsimplification and rearrangement of the content of the law, was achieved in the highest hithertoknown degree in the Roman law of late antiquity. But it remained most backward in some of thecountries with the highest degree of economic rationalization, notably in England, where theRenaissance of Roman Law was overcome by the power of the great legal corporations, while ithas always retained its supremacy in the Catholic countries of Southern Europe. The worldlyrational philosophy of the eighteenth century did not find favour alone or even principally in thecountries of highest capitalistic development. The doctrines of Voltaire are even to-day thecommon property of broad upper, and what is practically more important, middle-class groups inthe Romance Catholic countries. Finally, if under practical rationalism is understood the type ofattitude which sees and judges the world consciously in terms of the worldly interests of theindividual ego, then this view of life was and is the special peculiarity of the peoples of theliberum arbitrium, such as the Italians and the French are in very flesh and blood. But we havealready convinced ourselves that this is by no means the soil in which that relationship of a manto his calling as a task, which is necessary to capitalism, has pre-eminently grown. In fact, onemay--this simple proposition, which is often forgotten, should be placed at the beginning of everystudy which essays to deal with rationalism--rationalize life from fundamentally different basicpoints of view and in very different directions. Rationalism is an historical concept which coversa whole world of different things. It will be our task to find out whose intellectual child theparticular concrete form of rational thought was, from which the idea of a calling and thedevotion to labour in the calling has grown, which is, as we have seen, so irrational from thestandpoint of purely eudaemonistic self-interest, but which has been and still is one of the mostcharacteristic elements of our capitalistic culture. We are here particularly interested in theorigin of precisely the irrational element which lies in this, as in every conception of a calling.

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