ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Early Puritan Historiography: Max Weber--The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

Updated on November 9, 2016


For centuries, many writers have taken up their quills or pens to write works that describe the lives and ideas of the Puritans--a group which today (as they were in the seventeenth century) is very controversial. Regarding the Puritans, there has been some difficulty in coming up with a consensus definition of the group or its ideology of Puritanism.

In sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England, groups as different as Low Church Anglicans, Independents, Presbyterians, could all be seen as living under the umbrella of Puritanism. Both theological belief and economic standing could earn one the label of Puritan.

Regardless, an understanding of Puritanism is important for understanding contemporary American society. Gaining this understanding is complicated by is the massive number of scholarly articles and historical monographs that various writers from a number of disciplines have authored. Regardless, some important threads are evident from a perusal of the literature on Puritans.

Puritan Divines


Max Weber

Many writers have depicted Puritans as a sort of prototypical capitalists. Writers such as Max Weber and R. H. Tawney made this view popular. Weber, who was a nineteenth-century German sociologist, tried to explain the rise of capitalism. In his The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, he proposed that a “Protestant ethic” was the main reason for the development of capitalism. This challenged Karl Marx’s view that class struggle caused the rise of capitalism. Weber defined the “spirit of capitalism” as “the earning of more and more money, combined with the avoidance of all spontaneous enjoyment of life.”

Weber emphasized the viewpoint that certain Protestant sects had regarding work, as opposed to that held by medieval and early modern Catholics. In Weber's view, most Europeans prior to the Reformation merely worked to live. The Protestant view of the individual calling to a specific area of work was very influential in the rise of capitalism in Weber's thesis.

Because God calls every man and woman to a specific station in life, Protestants from several ascetic sects believed that doing less than one's best failed to bring the proper glory to God. Whereas money has traditionally been considered the root of all types of evil, in this worldview, making money would be a positive good because it was a side benefit of successfully carrying out one's calling in the world. Also, working in one's calling provided a bit of assurance to Calvinists who had worries over their souls.

According to Weber, it was the new attitude toward work in which men lived to word that led to the rise of capitalism. However, this assumption is a bit problematic. Capitalism predated the Protestant Reformation for quite some time in some of the Italian city-states, such as Venice or Genoa. Rather than being bastions of Protestantism, the merchants from these important Italian cities were staunchly Catholic. While there are critiques of the Weber thesis, it remains an important part of the debate. [1]

To read the rest of this historiography of the Puritans, check it out at the American Church History blog. The link goes directly to my historiography of the Puritans. The introduction (as seen here) has been changed, but this link includes the rest of this paper as originally posted.

[1] Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1958), 53.


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)