December 9, 2004 10:53 PM   Subscribe

A hundred years of “The Protestant Ethic.” Elizabeth Kolbert on Max Weber in The New Yorker.
posted by semmi (13 comments total)
Thanks for posting this. I am a huge fan of "the Protestant Ethic," and I refer to Weber a lot in my own work.
posted by Quartermass at 11:58 PM on December 9, 2004


In the course of this to-do, he challenged his opponent to a duel with sabres “under the most stringent conditions permitted in academic practice.” (The duel never came off, because of Christmas vacation.)

This anecdote has brought my affection for Weber to a whole new level. Clearly he is not one to be trifled with (except immediately before school holidays)...
posted by introcosm at 12:56 AM on December 10, 2004

"A man, for instance, who at the rate of 1 mark per acre mowed 2 1/2 acres per day and earned 2 1/2 marks, when the rate was raised to 1.25 marks per acre mowed, not 3 acres, as he might easily have done, thus earning 3.75 marks, but only 2 acres, so that he could still earn the 2 1/2 marks to which he was accustomed. . . . 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 that purpose."
Seems like faulty logic to me. Perhaps the actual reason is that a man can only work so much before he exhausts himself, no matter how juicy the carrot is at the end of the stick. Otherwise, Go Vvvveber!
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:14 AM on December 10, 2004

Civil_Disobedient: In that case, wouldn't they harvest 2 1/2 acres as before? The example also claims that 3 acres could be easily done.

Anyway, the overall principle doesn't rely on this specific example- I tend to agree with Weber's statement here from personal experience, as subjective as that may be.
posted by Maxson at 4:54 AM on December 10, 2004

What a timely post! Thanks! I'll use this today for our Friday lunch discussion and its topic is, strangely enough, the "protestant work ethic."
My inclinaton was to advocate there is no protestant work ethic but a capitalist work ethic since the decline of an agrarian society and this article really helps my stance.
posted by nofundy at 5:03 AM on December 10, 2004

It's a shame it's never been competently translated into English. The Parsons version is riddled with errors, from trivial (Weber means the Ohio River, not Ohio) to epochal ("iron cage" for stahlhartes Gehäuse, the whole point of which is something flexible and form-fitting which hardens into a fixed shape once the animating principle is dead).

The most important general writings of Weber are brought together in this volume (in particular, "The Social Psychology of the World Religions," which serves as the general introduction to the whole series of religious studies — Prot. Ethic, Ancient Judaism, the work on Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, etc.). This too is full of very imperfect translations; I notice that a new Routledge anthology is out, which includes the same essay under its proper title, "Introduction to the Economic Ethics of the World Religions".
posted by Zurishaddai at 5:27 AM on December 10, 2004

In order for capitalism to succeed, everyone had to believe that earning more money, even if he had no particular need for it, was a good thing. But why would anyone believe that?

Why, indeed? The older I get, the more I wonder why anyone would want to amass more wealth, and spend the time working to do it, than they need. Of course, "need' is a subjective term, and some people feel they "need" a 86-inch plasma television, a Hummer, or 100 pairs of shoes.

Thanks for this...I didn't mean to horn in on this post with my similarly-themed post above. Must be anti-work Friday!
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:06 AM on December 10, 2004

Your post above is also great card cheat. I failed to mention it even though I had read it last week. No need for apologies from where I sit.

To add to your comments, I've heard it said that no one ever had it inscribed upon their tombstone that they regretted not spending more time at work. About sums it up, I'd say. Live well and abundantly, not greedily.

This also touches upon a very common religious ethos today in many "megachurches" of "prosperity" theology as in "God loves me best" 'cause I have lots of material things and money. Such thought ultimately leads into the exclusion and oppression of others by religions. The greatest danger of religion follows in that more people have died in religious wars than in all other wars combined, a topic that troutfishing expounded upon several times here at MeFi.
posted by nofundy at 6:36 AM on December 10, 2004

God helps those (to wealth) who help themselves...that's what it means, right? Right??
posted by rushmc at 8:51 AM on December 10, 2004

The author of "I can't go on. I'll go on." reportedly said that he works (writes) every day because he is afraid that if he'd stop he'd never start again. He also said, "Words are all we have."
posted by semmi at 10:50 AM on December 10, 2004

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about idleness better than most.
posted by Panfilo at 11:04 AM on December 10, 2004

God helps those (to wealth) who help themselves...that's what it means, right? Right??
posted by rushmc at 8:51 AM PST on December 10

Yeah, its a verse from the Book of Southern Baptist by the prophet Jim Crow.
posted by nofundy at 1:51 PM on December 10, 2004

I heart Bob Black.

nofundy: Pith aside, save some scorn for the other denominations, now! ;-)
posted by allaboutgeorge at 5:05 PM on December 10, 2004

« Older Like a virgin, whee!   |   Remember when this happened in My So-Called... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments