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Title : Religion and the Rise of Capitalism
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ISBN : 9781443723732
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 352 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Religion and the Rise of Capitalism Reviews

  • Werner
    2019-05-16 12:52

    A recent discussion, with a Goodreads friend, of Western socio-economic history and the accompanying socio-economic thought brought to mind this gem of a book, read in my early college days and a germinal influence on my own thought. (In terms of its effect on my thinking, I'd actually rank it as one of the most important books I've read, and I've upped my rating of it from four stars to five to reflect that.) Of course, my own strong personal reaction to the book will give the review below a strong element of "reader response" criticism, starting with where I was coming from when I read it.I was raised (long story!), in a Missouri Synod Lutheran church, which proudly considered itself ultra-conservative both religiously and socio-politically. (In fact, I'm a product of five years of education in the congregation's parochial school --though even then, I was inclined to read a lot outside of class and think for myself.) One theme they harped on was that capitalism as we know it in the modern U.S. --that is, oligarchical, monopolistic, and operating on purely "rational" profit-maximizing lines devoid of ethical content-- is an essential part of "Conservatism" (which is absolutely good, as opposed to the "L" word, which is absolutely evil). A corollary of this was that the poor (with possibly rare exceptions that you could count on your fingers) were so because they're improvident, stupid, and lazy, and that giving them any consideration fostered bad behavior and made the economy unsound. This line of thinking was then sanctified as a tenet of Christianity, "Biblical economics." It would probably be fair to say that a hefty number of people then and now, both inside and outside of the Christian church and the conservative movement (which are not the same thing, though they tend to be lumped together) would define both entities in terms of this thinking. Indeed, in explaining the historical shift in Western Europe, in the Commercial Revolution of the early modern era, to this sort of economic order, replacing an older feudal system that was significantly distinct from it in many ways (and by my high school days, I was aware that a shift HAD occurred, and that the present order didn't date from Biblical times!), modern critics of capitalism tend to finger Protestant Christianity as the villain that caused the whole thing, an argument exemplified in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. (No, I haven't read Weber's classic, but I think I've read --and listened to, in college-- enough about it to fairly represent the gist of it.)Even as a pre-teen child, though, and even haphazardly reading the Bible once in awhile only in the King James Version (because the newer translations were, according to the church, Satanic counterfeits!), I was struck by the gaping disconnect between the content of the Bible and the content of the preaching/teaching I heard from church and school. As my own beliefs took shape in my teens, I became a Christian; and I also came to identify my own thinking as conservative, in the sense of wanting to conserve both a moral and social order of community and family handed down from long good service in the human past, and an incredibly beautiful and precious natural creation. But I had real questions and doubts about how the whole framework of capitalist "Biblical economics" fitted with this. That (finally!) brings us to Tawney's book.Unlike Weber, who was a sociologist, Tawney was an academic historian, a world-class expert on the social and intellectual history of 16th and 17th century England, which is the main focus of this study, his best-known work. (He was also, in the words of one recent pundit, "a radical Christian," though, with academic detachment, he doesn't state that explicitly here.) Here, he disputes Weber's one-sided and superficial analysis, by a careful study of the primary sources, starting with the medieval background, continuing through Luther's and Calvin's actual socio-economic teachings, and the responses of the English reformers to the economic questions raised by the Commercial Revolution of their day. His thesis is that the Protestant reformers, no less than the medieval Catholic Scholastics, espoused an economic philosophy based on rejection of materialism and gain for its own sake, acutely concerned with ideas of justice and right and wrong, and explicitly favoring consideration for the poor, for workers, and for customers. (As he points out, this doesn't mean medieval society perfectly embodied these principles; but as he also points out, theory does have some significance for practice in a society, even if not as much as the theorists want it to.) This is true over the entire spectrum of economic issues of that day --enclosure of formerly common land for private profit, price-gouging, usury (an old English word meaning, like its Hebrew equivalent, charging interest on loans --the modern pretense that both words only mean "excessive interest" is the lexical equivalent of saying, "Oh no, silly, 'adultery' doesn't really mean marital infidelity; it just means excessive marital infidelity!"), etc., all of which the Protestant churches opposed as vigorously as the Catholics, and for the same serious religious reasons. When they finally jettisoned this stance in the late 1600s, it was in response to changes that were already accomplished and entrenched in society, and accomplished because the rising wealthy commoners had emancipated their daily behavior from religious authority (an emancipation greatly aided by the break-up of Christian organizational unity --but that wasn't an effect that the Protestant reformers had aimed at.) Tawney doesn't speculate on whether the capitulation was a deliberate ploy to curry favor with the newly rich and powerful, or just an unconscious response to the new "selfishness is good!" zeitgeist of the day (I'd personally surmise that both factors were at work). This is necessarily a summary of 287 pages of text (the rest of the 337 pages are source notes and index); but I checked out and skimmed a copy again to make sure I wasn't oversimplifying or misrepresenting from faulty memory from 40 years ago. Written for average intelligent readers (of course, educated in a more rigorous school system than ours), the style is jargon-free and conversational without being dumbed-down, and I personally didn't find it at all dry or uninteresting in any part.For me, this book was an intellectual catalyst that took my inchoate doubts and misgivings and gave them a concrete voice. I came to see that there IS a tradition of serious, intelligent Christian thought on socio-economic questions which actually reflects and applies the teachings of the Bible in concrete and practical ways; and that moral criticism of capitalist abuses can be based on this tradition, not drawn from outside of it. (Also, I came to realize for sure that the "selfishness is good" school is not, historically, a natural ally of the kind of conservatism I believe in; rather, it's a natural enemy.) And finally, though Tawney's analysis basically covers only the early modern era, it gave me an interpretive key to understand the desire of the wealthy capitalist class to free itself from moral and religious restraint as a broad, ongoing process that continues to shape Western intellectual and economic history --a process that explains the whole elevation of first Hume and then Darwin to thrones of unquestioned authority in Establishment thought, that explains the horrors of slavery and the Industrial Revolution, that explains today's twisted "globalism", and much else. I'd recommend this book to any reader who wants to understand the genesis of the modern world.

  • Nabilah
    2019-05-02 13:46

    It is a difficult read because the sentences are long and typical of 19/20th century writing. For that reason, it took me months to finish this book. This book will inform you how Christianity after The Reformation influenced the economic development in Europe. The changing religious thoughts at that time had of course changed the way average people and nobility think about properties and the state. A must read for fans of historical socio-economic thoughts.

  • Thomas
    2019-05-14 15:34

    A fascinating read. I think Tawney misses a few things but since I have read so much on these topics by those of a more libertarian bent (and usually theoretical rather than historical) it was good for me to read someone of a different persuasion. That said, his (non-Marxist) socialism doesn't seem to get much in the way of his historical work here.The statement about how Aquinas espoused the labor theory of value and "The last of the Schoolmen was Karl Marx" was a bit much, but this is not really a book about economic theory so perhaps we can forgive the author that little faux pas.Tawney's criticism of Luther, Calvinism and Puritanism is really powerful. He frequently returns to the idea of how strange it is that these reformers who started out as very authoritarian and discipline-minded, condemning things like usury no less than their medieval predecessors, ended up being associated with individualism, especially economic individualism (at which they would have been horrified). Because he is Anglican (I think?), he misses something huge, which is that no matter how strict and authoritarian you are on the surface, if you're rejecting the authority of the Church established by Christ in favor of your own interpretation, you *are* promoting individualism (and not in the good sense). But he does have another very powerful point about the tearing down of Catholic institutions, which is that despite Luther's principles of economic morality being basically the same as that of the scholastics, his complete rejection of casuistry and the implementation of those general principles into a practical framework of ecclesiastical law basically doomed the economic morality of Protestantism from the start. One line in a really amazing longer passage about Luther: "He preaches a selfless charity, but he recoils with horror from every institution by which an attempt had been made to give it a concrete expression."(I wish I could find a pdf of this book online so it would be easier for me to quote at length. The book really is electrifying in some parts.)It'll be interesting to return to some of these historical subjects (enclosure, for example) and look back on what Tawney says in the light of whatever more detailed reading I end up doing. My thought on this stuff is continually evolving, and it's entirely possible that I may end up even further away from economic liberalism than I ever expected. Not towards socialism though. Socialism is cancer.

  • David Sarkies
    2019-04-26 13:45

    The business of God ... is business28 December 2012 It is interesting to chart the rise of the modern state, which in a way began back in the Renaissance and the period in European history known as the Babylonian Captivity (when the Papacy was moved from Rome to Avignion) to the modern day, and to see how all of the events are interconnected with each other. This book, though, probably should have the title of Protestantism and the rise of Capitalism, namely because it was through the Protestant Reformation that the individual gained the freedom to make their own choice as to how and where to (and whether to) worship God. I don't necessarily believe that Capitalism is in and of itself a Christian concept, and in particular the Capitalism that is practised today is far from it. The Bible constantly exhorts us to consider and help the poor and the disadvantaged, and Jesus even says 'what you do for the least of these you do for me'. It is hard though, living in a wealthy and industrialised society, yet being a member of the middle class where we still need to work and we have to save for all the goodies that we want, to actually understand the plight of the poor in the developing world. What the Reformation did though was to break us from the rules and the strictures of the Catholic Church, and one of them was the rule against lending at interest. However, it was not lending at interest that was bad, but lending at interest to a fellow Christian (which is what usury is). In the same way it is not bad for a Muslim to sell alcohol, just not sell it to a fellow Muslim. What the removal of usury did was to create a means for individuals to be able to borrow funds to invest in business projects, though in those days the risk was still very high. For instance, there was a film I saw a while ago called Rob Roy where a Scottish farmer borrows money to trade livestock, only to have the baron from whom he borrowed from set him up so that he would lose all of the livestock and then land up in debt. While such dubious schemes were not done away with immediately, what the Protestant religion has done is that it has influenced Western society to make us think more about acting ethically and consciously for the good of others. William Wilberforce brought an end to slavery in the British Empire, which had a knock on effect in the United States. While the French revolution was purely a secular event (since the French had nipped the Reformation in the bud during the St Bartholemew's Day Massacre) this revolution had a knock on effect in England where Parliament was forced to continue to reform. The same goes with many of the left wing agitators in Britain and Germany, which forced the conservative government to invest in private education and healthcare, and when the Russian revolution occurred, this strengthened the Unions and the Labor parties to encourage their own countries to provide better services for the underpriviledged classes so that there would not be a similar revolt here. However, I would not say that Capitalism is itself Christian, and in a way it is moving from the days where people were forced to change or die back to a feudal system when governments are sidelined and corporations are taking the role of the new lords. A man borrows money from a bank to start up an enterprise, only to discover that the corporate lords have raised the barriers to entry. In fact, family businesses are being destroyed by low cost retail, and many of these people who would live comfortably on their own business are being forced into bankruptcy and then into the ranks of the poor. Also many Christians are taking the mantel of personal responsibility on board suggesting that if somebody is in trouble then they must have done something wrong to do that. Further, there is also the idea of dependency, such this meme: The idea is that we cannot help the poor because if we help the poor, they will only become a greater burden to us, and thus they must pull themselves up by their own effort, particularly if another has managed to do that. However the idea is trumped by the statement that these people don't need a handout (and many of them do not want a handout) but rather a hand up. In many cases the only reason the poor are forced to rely on handouts is because nobody is there to give them a hand up. As cuts are made to healthcare and education, many people are getting left further and further behind. People are caught in Westernised slums where they cannot get a job because of the belief that all people from that area (such as Elizabeth in South Australia) are all the same and are not employable. To be honest, one of the major aspects as to whether you get an interview or not is your postcode.

  • John Alt
    2019-04-28 19:29

    Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, 1926. R.H. Tawney. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 1905. Max WeberBoth are classics in the literature of economic social science.Tawney was born in 1880 in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and in 1960 was buried at Highgate Cemetery, North London, today a de facto nature reserve. He wore many hats: economic historian, social critic, ethical socialist, Christian socialist, and was influential in all of them. Add to that his great passion for adult education after joining the Workers Educational Association, and finding that charity was not enough. The downtrodden needed education to gain social justice. His education followed the usual route for boys of his ability and class: Rugby and Balliol College at Oxford. During the first war he served in the Royal Army as a sergeant, having turned down a commission because of his political beliefs.In studying Christian religion, he found a fissure developing between traditional Christian teachings and the pursuit of material goods, and this comment reflects that view: "A society which reverences the attainment of riches as the supreme felicity will naturally be disposed to regard the poor as damned in the next world, if only to justify itself for making their life a hell in this." This echoes Max Weber.Weber (1864-1820) also had interest in the connection between Capitalism and religion. Born in Erfurt Germany, he studied law at the University of Heidelberg and at 50 accepted a commission during the First World War, soon becoming disenchanted with the Kaiser's expansionist policies and unrestricted submarine warfare. He died of Influenza, a postwar epidemic forgotten today and known in Germany as the Spanish flu, and perhaps in Spain as the German flu. In those years children skipped-rope to this: I had a little bird,Its name was Enza.I opened the window,And in-flew-enza.In The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Weber held that capitalism was fostered by the Protestant work ethic, albeit as an economic force, which began unplanned and uncoordinated. Like topsy, it grew. Weber cites Benjamin Franklin, who coined "Time is money." Weber points to a common ethos among Protestants, the stress upon individual responsibility, as distinct from communal sharing. The Protestant Work ethic figured into this. Work not shirk, duty, not lazy. To feel saved, you could not just lie down, for sloth was Satan. Weber found in Calvin and his followers an example of this. Calvin taught double predestination, some were already damned, others blessed. With this view, how could one tell if he or she were chosen? No way was possible except by belief in outward manifestation. Quavering and fear reflected doubt, so self-confidence was needed instead. Self-confidence replaced the Catholic priests who gave comfort before The Reformation. The individual will, not the church, became central, and the success of the will was measured by material achievement.From belief in the individual both Tawney and Weber trace the arising juggernaut of Capitalism. For Weber, worldly success became one measure of self-confidence. For Tawney, among other causes, the root lay with the individual "as absolute master of his own," who thereby had the "right to pecuniary gain," which led to the view that the "theory of property" must be "accepted by all civilized communities."For Tawney, though, the source does not arise just from the individual as individual, but from a a world view that compartmentalized society, that believed things could only get better. Call it progress. This, as offset by the retreat of Christian churches with their community and charity in the face of the Capitalist juggernaut.

  • Doug Garnett
    2019-05-02 12:22

    Been years since I read it. But I love this book. The writing is really fun. We've removed all aspects of poetry from modern writing about history. Tawney doesn't feel those shackles and goes with the words.Accuracy is not entirely there. But he clearly gets across one concept of the odd ways that puritanism and capitalism were bound together in their early development and how each affected the other.Regardless, I highly recommend it.

  • Timothy Dymond
    2019-05-13 17:34

    As a Christian socialist, the theoretical root of R H Tawney’s criticism of capitalism is its division between commerce and morality - which he attributes to the Protestant reformation. He contrasts this with medieval thought on economic matters. He does not idealise the medieval Church: he frankly describes it as ‘an immense vested interest, implicated to the hilt in the economic fabric’. That fabric was riddled with feudalist exploitation, oppression and the enforced poverty of serfdom. Nevertheless there was also, at the core of Church ideas, something admirable: ‘… its insistence that society is a spiritual organism, not an economic machine, and that economic activity, which is one subordinate element within a vast and complex unity, requires to be controlled and repressed by reference to the moral ends for which it supplies the material means’.‘Religion and the Rise of Capitalism’ is a classic study that probably suffers from being so influential that its arguments have been largely accepted since its publication in 1926. However the book is still worth reading in its own right, not least because - derived as it is from a series of lectures - Tawney’s account of theology and religious history is one of the more accessible accounts of a dense and esoteric topic (which is still difficult).A contemporary criticism of Tawney’s work would be his neglect of the other great religion of the medieval times - Islam. A new study of religion and the rise of capitalism would have to at least mention Averroes (Ibn Rushd) and his development of the Aristotelian view of money, as well as the great trading links over the Mediterranean Sea between Europe and the Muslim world. Tawney’s focus on the thought of ‘schoolmen’ also means there is no mention of women, whereas a new study that included far more social history would have to address the role of women in establishing and maintaining commercial and market arrangements that ensured everyday economic life kept functioning.In the 21st century we are used to treating ‘the economy’ as if it is an entity in its own right, to be tended, fed, and appeased in the hope that we benefit. There is a genuine strangeness about a time described by Tawney in which economic activity was not the principle activity of life itself. There is no need to feel fondly about such a time, given the ample evidence Tawney supplies of the misery of serfdom. However by looking at the ways Puritanism transformed ‘Christian man’ into ‘Economic man’, Tawney renders the rise of capitalism itself as problematic, rather than natural. You don’t have to fully buy his idealist version of the spread of capitalism, to accept his point that we don’t have to consider it natural and unavoidable. Human beings have previously created systems in which commerce and material gain are not the primary ends of life, and there is nothing inevitable or permanent about the current system under which we live as if they were.

  • Joe
    2019-05-13 11:26

    As I dip into early modernism, these sort of sweeping analyses that work in a great deal of history are just the kind of slog I need. Part economic history and analysis social psychology, Tawney certainly implicates Puritan secularization of politics and economics and valorization of economic individualism in the rise of capitalism. It's not the sole factor: he notes that crucial banking systems were developed in Catholic countries, technologies of navigation allowed for increased supply of $ & luxury goods, and so on. But he explicitly rejects technological determinism in the formation of capitalism. The revolutionary secular individualism of Luther and Calvin's naturalization of business and trade as part of the life of the Christian ares the straw that stirs the drink (or whatever other metaphor). Puritanism helps to break Papal dominance of the European money market and authorizes traders and prosperous farmers to work against things like "just price" and acts seeking to slow rural depopulation caused by, among other things, enclosure of common lands. Anyway, that's one shitty thumbnail of the book. Useful also in contrasting Medieval systems of mutual obligation versus early modern forms of individualism and what this means in regard to who is responsible to the poor and in what ways. This was first published 1926--will be on the alert for what he gets wrong, what sticks in the discourse going forward. Also, on a basic level, struck by the obvious but easy to overlook fact that religion can powerfully mediate attitudes RE: economics. Kinda like the political theology thing. Can't understand the Right w/o it.

  • Jckosnow Kosnow
    2019-05-13 13:28

    this is a very very very good book. covers much the same ground as weber's the protestant ethic. but the rise of cap. is more interested to show how capitalism/protestantism arose in sharp contrast to medieval ethics/economics. lots of cool references. goes way beyond like john locke & st. augstine.

  • Richard Thomas
    2019-05-05 13:31

    A classic if now perhaps dated evaluation of man's economic drives. it was and still an influential explanation of motivation for the accumulation of wealth and the wish for prosperity; although nowadays simple naked greed seems more convincing with no veneer of any philosophy or religion to justify what drives the already unbelievably wealthy to steal more.

  • Frederick
    2019-05-08 16:38

    While I cannot find anything particularly wrong with the author's arguments and do not imply that I am an expert or have any great knowledge of what he talked about I did find his writing very opaque and his sentences and paragraphs poorly formed for understanding. I've read a great many books from this era of the 1920's and before so I can't blame it on the style of the time. When you have to read and reread something to get any understanding out of it something is wrong with the writing. I also think that, like many authors, he confuses capitalism and over-generalizes what the term means. I also don't see how blaming Protestant Christianity for selfishness and that sense of the entitlement of the individual and the sense of greed that comes with capitalism is correct. I am probably being too critical of the author's thesis because his writing style is so overbearing and lacking clarity. I can't honestly recommend this book to any student of economic or religious history.

  • June
    2019-04-25 19:42

    Fantastic overview starting in the Middle Ages. And so interesting to see how the Puritan movement has left its mark on the U.S. Well, not like it ever left...

  • Rob Prince
    2019-04-25 15:35

    My old-guys-burnt-out-lefty book club read this one. As usual, being behind, I didn't read it until after we had discussed it. I had read it once before,45 years ago, little of it stayed with me. Not an easy read as it has those 19th century English long sentences, many quotes in Latin sprinkled here and there. A reader needs to be able to concentrate to get through it. That said, this is, in my view, a great book, a genuine `classic' in its field. The sections on Luther and Calvin - and how they did and didn't relate to the rising capitalist economy of their day is as good - and I believe as clear - as it gets, - this despite the long sentences. The interaction between religion and politics - a timely contemporary subject in another context - is usually complex, but important to understand.

  • Sarah
    2019-05-04 16:40

    Definitely on the academic side - more so than Popular Delusions - lots of references to and citations of other literature on the subject. A lot of it covers the question, "How did the Catholic Church get so wealthy?" Covers Western Europe mostly ... a significant amount of the book deals with how the Catholic Church (and protestant sects once they're established) deal with the issue of interest ... is it usury and a sin against God or is it okay? Another issue is pricing of goods with the aim of profit.

  • Tara
    2019-05-04 17:41

    There were parts of heavy slogging onwards, but as always with Tawney patience and effort finds a reward. Very beautiful in its thinking and sentiments, but I'm also an avowed fan of the author and medieval views on usury, so take it as you will.

  • Alan Hughes
    2019-05-16 19:22

    Very heavy going. An important book but not, as I discovered, a holiday read.

  • Anatole David
    2019-05-21 14:52

    Well written despite being incredibly detailed. A first rate book that anyone could enjoy and learn a great deal from.

  • !Tæmbuŝu
    2019-04-27 13:35


  • Chuck
    2019-04-28 13:44

    Important stuff - bought it as it was on a school reading list many years ago and glad I finally got round to reading it

  • Grace Larkin
    2019-04-29 19:43

    Fascinating take on the religious control of the economy as it moved from feudalism to Renaissance financial theory, and then into a free market.