"The Orthodox Spirit and the Ethic of Capitalism": A Case Study on Serbia and Montenegro and the Serbian Orthodox Church

By Dobrijevic, Irinej | Serbian Studies, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

"The Orthodox Spirit and the Ethic of Capitalism": A Case Study on Serbia and Montenegro and the Serbian Orthodox Church


Dobrijevic, Irinej, Serbian Studies


Introduction

The fundamental tenant of the Vienna Conference (1) on "The Orthodox Spirit and the Ethic of Capitalism" (2) is to endeavor towards an Orthodox Christian approach to capitalism, predicated upon Max Weber's monumental work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. (3) Accordingly, Weber attempted to develop a systematic understanding of the emergence of capitalism in the West, which preceded other societies that had a seemingly advantageous climate to bolster market economies. According to the Weberian doctrine, it was Calvinist Protestantism that fostered an ethic of capitalism, catapulting their faithful toward the acquisition of wealth as an indicator of their being among the elect of God. (4)

Peter L. Berger, Director of the Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs at Boston University, asserts that Weber's findings have "opened a debate that continues to this day concerning the impact of religious belief on social action. This debate has been examined in a variety of national and religious contexts--from Latin America to Asia, from Protestantism and Catholicism to Confucianism to Buddhism. However, the basic Weberian assumptions that religion and economics are linked and, more specifically, that religious belief and actions affect social organization and action, have not been systematically applied to any terms of the religious heritage of Eastern Europe and Russia. In particular, the relevance of Orthodox Christianity to the process of building market economies informed by the principles of social justice has remained virtually unexplored in the relevant social science and theological literatures." (5)

As an empirical argument for his theory, Max Weber incorporated the fact that in the beginning of the 20th century in Germany, between the rich industrial businessmen, where Protestants were in the clear majority, and the regions where the majority of the population was Protestant were economically more developed than regions with a majority Roman Catholic population. The same holds true today in the post-communist economical development of the Baltic Republics. Estonia with its majority Protestant population is, according to economic indicators, the most rapidly developing country in the Baltic States. (6) However, in the Germany of today, predominantly Roman Catholic Bavaria is one of the richest lands in the country. (7)

According to economics professor Zoran Hodera, (8) Max Weber was a great sociologist, but he was not an economist. Today, Max Weber's ideas are completely dismissed by most renowned economists and economic historians. (9) Hodera contends that the idea of Calvinist Protestantism fostering the spirit of capitalism is no longer accepted, as Capitalism developed out of the wealth accumulated by trading cities in the Mediterranean, Portugal and Netherlands, and by increased population in Northern Europe. Accordingly, three classes were the basis for its development: great landowners, merchants, and bankers. Despite the rejection of the Roman Catholic Church's edict on usury by Calvin, most Protestant churches did not follow his teaching regarding that point. Usury laws existed in American Colonies and later in many states in the United States until mid-1970s. It is only after the Industrial Revolution in England in the 18th century that capitalism really boomed and became a major force in the economic development of the West. Therefore, it cannot be claimed that any specific religion had a major influence on the development of capitalism, except perhaps the Jews, who could not own land in the late Middle Ages and were not subject to the Roman Catholic edict on usury, and some, like the Rothchilds, becoming major financiers of states and various enterprises in England, France and Germany. (10)

However, under Pope John Paul II, the Roman Catholic Church changed its formerly anti-capitalistic views and became more accepting of capitalism, not only as an economic issue, but also in coming to terms with its moral underpinnings. …

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