Max Weber's Response to Marx Whereas
Marx believed that religion retards social change. Weber argued just the opposite. For Weber. religion could be a catalyst to produce social change. In The Ptotestaut Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1976/1904- 1905). Weber asserted that the religious teachings of John Calvin are directly related to the rise of apitalism. Calvin emphasized the doctrine of predestination- the belief that even before they are born. all people are divided into two groups. the saved and the damned, and only God knows who will go to heaven (the elect) and who will go to hell. Because people cannot know whether they will be saved, they tend to look for earthly signs that they are among the elect, According to the Protestant ethic. those who have faith. perform good works. and achieve economic success are more likely to be among the chosen of God. As a result, people work hard, save their money. and do not spend it on worldly frivolity; instead. they reinvest it in their land, equipment. and labor (Chalfant. Beckley, and Palmer. 1994). The spirit of capitalism grew in the fertile soil of the Protestant ethic. Even as people worked ever harder to prove their religious piety, structural conditions in Europe led to the Industrial Revolution, free markets. and the commercialization of the economy-developments that worked hand in hand with Calvinist religious teachings. From this viewpoint. wealth is an unintended consequence of religious piety and hard work. However, Weber (197611904-1905: 182) recognized that (or some people. "the pursuit of wealth, stripped of its religious and ethical meaning. tends to become associated with purely mundane passions. which actually give il the character of sport." With the contemporary secularizing Influence of wealth. people often think of wealth and material possessions as the major (or only) reason to work. Although the "Protestant ethic" is rarely invoked today. many people still refer to the "work ethic" in somewhat the same manner that Weber did. For example, political and business leaders in the United States often claim that "the work ethic is dead," Like Marx, Weber was acutely aware that religion could reinforce existing social arrangements, especially the stratification system. The wealthy can use religion to justify their power and privilege: It is a sign of God's approval of their hard work and morality. As for the poor, if they work hard and live a moral life, they will be richly rewarded in another lite. The Hindu belief in reincarnation is an example of religion reinforcing the stratification system. Because a person's social position in the current life is the result of behavior in a former life. the privileges of the upper class must be protected so that each person may enjoy those privileges in another incarnation.
Does Weber's thesis about the relationship between religion and the economy withstand the test of time? Recently, the sociologist Randall Collins reexamined Weber's assertion that the capitalist breakthrough occurred just in Christian Europe and concluded that this beliefis only partially accurate. According to Collins, Weber was correct that religious institutions are among the most likely places within agrarian societies for capitalism to begin. However. Collins believes that the foundations for capitalism in Asia. particularly in Japan. were laid in the Buddhist monastic economy oblate medieval Japan. Collins (J 997: 855) states that "111 e temples were the first percent burial organizations in Japan: the first to combine control of the factors of labor, capital. and land so as to allocate them for enhancing production." Because of an ethic of self-discipline and restraint on consumption. high levels of accumulation and investment took place in medieval Japanese Buddhism. Gradually, secular capitalism emerged from temple capitalism as new guilds arose that were independent of the temples. and the gap between the clergy and everyday people narrowed through property transformation brought about by uprisings of the common people and wars with outside entities. Moreover. the capitalist dynamic in the monasteries was eventually transferred to the secular economy. opening 'the way 10 the Industrial Revolution in Japan (Collins. 1997). From the works of Weber and Collins. we can conclude that the emergence of capitalism through a religious economy happened in several parts of the world. not just one. and that it occurred in both Christian and Buddhist forms (Collins, 1997).