2019 (16), №1

Rereading Max Weber’s “Protestant Ethic”: Questions, Doubts, and Objections



For citation: 

Studentsov, V. B. (2019). Rereading Max Weber’s “Protestant Ethic”: Questions, Doubts, and Objections. Zhurnal Economicheskoj Teorii [Russian Journal of Economic Theory], 16(1), 130-143


This article analyzes a book written by M. Weber called “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” and a number of related (content-wise) publications of this outstanding scholar. Hereby lies the basis for discrepancy with a number of assumptions made there. The concept that an “economic form” (“system”) is “filled” or “driven” by some “spirit” is not fully developed, therefore remaining incomplete and, in its major points, unconvincing. The way in which economic system and adequate spirit accommodate to one another, whether any particular form «borrows», «discovers» or «produces» its spirit, or maybe quite the opposite — a spirit «develops» corresponding economic system — is left unclear. Weber’s treatment of ascetic Protestantism is found flawed as he downplays (if not to say totally ignores) its cautious and suspicious attitude to wealth and capital accumulation as well as the emphasis on the promotion of common good. Thereby, ascetic Protestants (or Puritans as he calls them) are depicted as individualists that go against at least the seventeenth century evidence when Protestantism was at its height. Weber’s portrayal of an ascetic Protestant as an unscrupulous God’s servant with little or absolutely no concern about his actions’ effects on others is also found unrealistic and illogical. Author sides with those scholars who consider that Protestantism was initially unfavorable if not inimical to capitalism; therefore, the origins of the development of the latter’s spirit should be looked for elsewhere but not in Protestantism.

Viktor Borisovich Studentsov — PhD in Economics, Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations; Russian Academy of Sciences (IMEMO), Senior Research Associate (Moscow, Russian Federation; e-mail: Studentcov.Viktor@gmail.com).