The Protestant Ethic Debate: Max Weber's Replies to His Critics, 1907-1910

The Protestant Ethic Debate: Max Weber's Replies to His Critics, 1907-1910

The Protestant Ethic Debate: Max Weber's Replies to His Critics, 1907-1910

The Protestant Ethic Debate: Max Weber's Replies to His Critics, 1907-1910

Synopsis

Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism continues to be one of the most influential texts in the sociology of modern Western societies. Although Weber never produced the further essays with which he intended to extend the study, he did complete four lengthy Replies to reviews of the text by two German historians. Written between 1907 and 1910, the Replies offer a fascinating insight into Weber’s intentions in the original study, and the present volume is the first complete translation of all four Replies in English.

Excerpt

The obduracy with which the controversy over the ‘Weber thesis’ has failed to take into account Weber's Antikritiken is without parallel in recent scholarship.

(Hennis 1988:202, note 22)

It would be foolhardy to suggest that serious attention has yet to be paid to Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. On the contrary, this text is arguably the most famous and widely read in the classical canon of sociological writing and has been extensively debated within the discipline ever since its first appearance as a series of two articles in 1904–05. Karl Fischer, one of Weber's first critics, spoke of the ‘lamentable chain of misunderstanding’ as early as 1908 (Fischer 1908:38), and even though the work has been extensively studied, there is the sense that ‘what Weber really meant’ has only rarely been grasped. The ‘academic “Thirty Years War”’ which was how Lynn White characterized the Protestant Ethic (PE) debate (cited in Marshall 1982:11) has now almost become worthy of the epithet of the ‘academic “Hundred Years War”’. In recent times, scholars have extended the PE debate backwards in time before 1905 and looked at the ‘Weber thesis before Weber’, at the cultural wars of the 1870s (Anderson 1986; Blackbourn 1988) and beyond into the wider culture where general stereo& types of ‘northern Protestant energy’ and ‘southern Catholic indolence’ were common (Münch 1993). We clearly are dealing with a thesis that confronts ques& tions of overwhelming significance for the understanding of modernity and its rise over more than four hundred years. Less charitably, it has been argued that the reasons for the thesis’ continuing fascination are ‘largely a function of extra& neous factors rooted deeply in the history of this century’ (Piccone, 1988:97) to do with western imperialism and rationality and the West's ethnocentric . . .

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