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The protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism
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Catholics among the skilled laborers of modern industry. It is well known that the factory
has taken its skilled labor to a large extent from young men in the handicrafts; but this is
much more true of Protestant than of Catholic journ eymen. Among journeymen, in other
words, the Catholics show a stronger propensity to remain in their crafts, that is they
more often become master craftsmen, whereas the Protestants are attracted to a larger
extent into the factories in order to fill the upper ranks skilled labor and administrative
positions. The explanation of these cases is undoubtedly that the mental and spiritual
peculiarities acquired from the environment, here the type of education favored by the
religious atmosphere of the home com munity and the parental home, have determined
the choice of occupation, and through it the professional career.
The smaller participation of Catholics in the modern business life of Germany is all
the mo re striking because it runs counter to a tendency which has been observed at all
times including the present. National or religious minorities which are in a position of
subordination to a group of rulers are likely, through their voluntary or invol untary
exclusion from positions of political influence, to be driven with peculiar force into
economic activity. Their ablest members seek to satisfy the desire for recognition of their
abilities in this field, since there is no opportunity in the service of the State. This has
undoubtedly been true of the Poles in Russia and Eastern Prussia, who have without
question been undergoing a more rapid economic advance than in Galicia, where they
have been in the ascendant. It has in earlier times been true of the Huguenots in France
under Louis XIV, the Nonconformists and Quakers in England, and, last but not least, the
Jew for two thousand years. But the Catholics in Germany have shown no striking
evidence of such a result of their position. In the past they have, unlike the Protestants,
undergone no particularly prominent economic development in the times when they, were
persecuted or only tolerated, either in Holland or in England. On the other hand, it is a
fact that the Protestants (especi-ally certain br anches of the movement to be fully
discussed later) both as ruling classes and as ruled, both as majority and as minority,
have shown a special tendency to develop economic rationalism which cannot be
observed to the same extent among Catholics either in the one situation or in the other.
Thus the principal explanation of this difference must be sought in the permanent intrinsic
character of their religious beliefs, and not only in their temporary external historico-
political situations. It will be our ta sk to investigate these religions with a view to finding
out what peculiarities they have or have had which might have resulted in the behavior
we have described. On superficial analysis, and on the basis of certain current
impressions, one might be tempt ed to express the difference by saying that the greater
other-worldliness of Catholicism, the ascetic character of its highest ideals, must have
brought up its adherents to a greater indifference toward the good things of this world.
Such an explanation f its the popular tendency in the judgment of both religions. On the
Protestant side it is used as a basis of criticism of those (real or imagined) ascetic ideals
of the 'Catholic way of life, while the Catholics answer with the accusation that
materialism results from the secularization of all ideals through Protestantism. One recent
writer has attempted to formulate the difference of their attitudes toward economic life in
the following manner: "The Catholic is quieter, having less of the acquisitive impu lse; he
prefers a life of the greatest possible security, even with a smaller income, to a life of risk
and excitement, even though it may bring the chance of gaining honor and riches. The
proverb says jokingly, 'either eat well or sleep well'. In the pre sent case the Protestant
prefers to eat well, the Catholic to sleep undisturbed."
In fact, this desire to eat well may be a correct though incomplete
characterization of the motives of many nominal Prote stants in Germany at the present
time. But things were very different in the past: the English, Dutch, and American
Puritans were characterized by the exact opposite of the joy of living, a fact which is
indeed, as we shall see, most important for our pre sent study. Moreover, the French
Protestants, among others, long retained, and retain to a certain extent up to the
present, the characteristics which were impressed upon the Calvinistic Churches
everywhere, especially under the cross in the time of the r eligious struggles.
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