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The protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism

usually involves some previous ownership of ca pital, and generally an expensive
education; often both. These are to-day largely dependent on the possession of inherited
wealth, or at least on a certain degree of material well being. A number of those sections
of the old Empire which were most highly developed economically and most favored by
natural resources and situation, in particular a majority of the wealthy towns went over to
Protestantism in the sixteenth century The results of that circumstance favor the
Protestants even to-day in their strug gle for economic existence. There arises thus the
historical question: why were the districts of highest economic development at the same
time particularly favorable to a revolution in the Church? The answer is by no means so
simple as one might think.
The emancipation from economic traditionalism appears, no doubt, to be a factor
which would greatly strengthen the tendency to doubt the sanctity of the religious
tradition, as of all traditional authorities. But it is necessary to note, what has often been
forgotten, that the Reformation meant not the elimination the Church's control over
everyday life, but rather the substitution of a new form of control for the previous, one. It
meant the repudiation of a control which was very lax, at that time scarcely perceptible in
practice, and hardly more than formal, in favor of a regulation, of the whole of conduct
which, penetrating to all departments of private and public life, was infinitely.,
burdensome and earnestly enforced. The rule of the Catholic Church, "punishing the
heretic, but indulgent. to the sinner", as it was in the past even more than to-day, is now
tolerated by peoples of thoroughly modern economic character, and was borne by the
richest and economically most advanced peoples on earth at about the turn of the
fifteenth century. The rule of Calvinism, on the other hand, as it was enforced in the
sixteenth century in Geneva and in Scotland, at the turn of the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries in large parts of the Netherlands, in the seventeenth in New England, and for a
time in England itself, would be for us the most absolutely unbearable form of
ecclesiastical control of the individual which could possibly exist. That was exactly what
larg e numbers of the old commercial aristocracy of those times, in Geneva as well as in
Holland and England, felt about it. And what the reformers complained of in those areas
of high economic development was not too much supervision of life on the part of the
Church, but too little. Now how does it happen that at that time those countries which
were most advanced economically, and within them the rising bourgeois middle classes,
not only failed to resist this unexampled tyranny of Puritanism, but even develo ped a
heroism in its defense? For bourgeois classes as such have seldom before and never since
displayed heroism. It was "the last of our heroisms", as Carlyle, not without reason, has
But further, and especially important: it may be, as has been claimed, that the
greater participation of Protestants in the positions of ownership and management in
modern economic life may to-day be understood, in part at least, simply as a result of the
greater mat erial wealth they have inherited. But there are certain other phenomena
which cannot be explained in the same way. Thus, to mention only a few facts: there is a
great difference discoverable in Baden, in Bavaria, in Hungary, in the type of higher
educatio n which Catholic parents, as opposed to Protestant, give their children. That the
percentage of Catholics among the students and graduates of higher educational
institutions in general lags behind their proportion of the total population," may, to be
sure, be largely explicable in terms of inherited differences of wealth. But among the
Catholic graduates themselves the percentage of those graduating from the institutions
preparing, in particular, for technical studies and industrial and commercial occupations,
but in general from those preparing for middle-class business life, lags still farther behind
the percentage of Protestants. On the other hand, Catholics prefer the sort of training
which the humanistic Gymnasium affords. That is a circumstance to w hich the above
explanation does not apply, but which, on the contrary, is one reason why so few
Catholics are engaged in capitalistic enterprise.
Even more striking is a fact which partly explains the smaller proportion of