In his work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Weber predicts that the future will be a world of MECHANIZED PERFECTION devoid of religious and ethical meaning. In this world modern capitalism becomes a self-sustaining system no longer needing the Calvinist religious impetus that had inspired the work ethic. Weber argues that the future will be a capitalistic society where the proletariat and the bourgeoisie alike, will not be driven by religious motivation, but instead by a constant struggle to benefit from the system. He reasons that this future of the capitalist society is a direct consequence of the teachings of Calvinism.
The Calvinist work ethic of LIVING TO WORK forms the core of modern capitalism. This ethic originated from the Calvinist doctrine of predestination and the notion of a transcendental God. Predestination decrees that God has already picked out who those predestined into everlasting life and those foreordained to everlasting death. Calvinists also believe that God, a distant grand conception who is beyond all human comprehension is unreachable. Both these beliefs together eliminated any possibility of appeasing God through service or sacrifice. The answer to the question whether believers were the chosen or the damned could thus neither be influenced nor known. If, however, one turned his work into a calling, restricting any desire to wasteful pleasure, he could experience a feeling of assurance that he is indeed a member of the Elect. Calvinism preached this ascetic ethic of hard work and complete absence of frivolous waste of money and time. As a result, the work ethic of the population shifted from working to live to living to work. Traditional capitalism which relied on the greedy maximization of profit in a one-shot enterprise became the rational modern capitalism, a continuous cycle involving the constant productive investment of capital.
The Calvinist teachings demanded honest dealings in business, steady production and sales and continuous savings and reinvestment which no doubt led to phenomenal business growth and success. Weber illustrates in the following quote…
When the limitation of consumption is combined with the release of acquisitive activity, the inevitable practical result is obvious accumulation of capital through ascetic compulsion to save.
This diligent and frugal attitude made people richer and material goods gained an increasing and finally an inexorable power over the lives of men. The dependence on external goods went from the light cloak which can be thrown aside at any moment to a necessity or as Weber puts it, an iron cage. The so called acetic lifestyle now led to an increased dependence on materialism. This is unavoidable, since a religion such as Calvinism which preaches industry and frugality could not help but produce riches. An increase in riches however, led to a proportionate increase in pride, in anger, in the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes and the pride of life. As a result, the ascetic see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil… value lost its importance. In John Wesley's words : wherever riches have increased, the essence of religion has decreased in the same proportion. In essence, the form of [the Calvinist] religion remained" but the "spirit [continues to] swiftly vanish away.
The Calvinist values have now faded into the self-absorbed luxury of the wealthy. Calvinism had become rationalized into a tradition and the original religious doctrines began to die out. Weber illustrates this claim by using the United States as an example…
In the field of its highest development, in the United States, the pursuit of wealth, stripped of its religious and ethical meaning, tends to become associated with purely mundane passions.
While the Puritans wanted to work in a calling, we are [now] forced to do so. Calvinist-inspired asceticism had created the tremendous cosmos of the modern economic order which now determines the lives of all the individuals who are born into this mechanism, not only those directly concerned with direct economic acquisitions.
Capitalism, unlike the religion that had originally motivated it, has not perished or been replaced by another charismatic religious movement. Victorious capitalism rests on mechanical foundations and its Calvinist supports have now stultified. The entire conception of the calling now prowls about in our lives like the ghost of dead religious beliefs. The now disenchanted world has lost its God. It is a cold, heartless but very efficient machine. The work ethic of modern capitalism, although similar to the Calvinist ethic, remains but the religious reasoning behind the ethic has eroded away. Constant competition among firms who struggle to stay in and benefit from the system has given Capitalism the character of [a] sport. It is now a self-sustaining system guided by Adam Smith's invisible hand, no longer needing any religious motivations.
Are we to live in this mechanized petrification forever? Weber reasons that there is no way we can know about the future. No one knows who will live in this cage in the future. He does however postulate that new prophets may arise or a great rebirth of old ideas and ideals may come to pass. He also suggests another possibility that of the embellishment of the mechanized petrifaction with a sort of convulsive self-importance. There is, however, no way we can know what will occur in the future at the present time. Until then, we are all specialists without spirit [and] sensualists without heart. - Wealth
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