Monday, December 07, 2009

Did the Protestant Work Ethic Really Help in the Holy Roman Empire?

Economist Max Weber is perhaps most famous for his The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism which proposed the theory that the Protestant work ethic, based on the individuals need to be a good productive person to obtain salvation, was the basis for the success of England, Germany, and the Netherlands compared to the failures of Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, and their related colonies.

It is pretty much undeniable that the hard working, self-driven culture of Protestantism helped in the settlement and further colonization in North America and South Africa. Meanwhile, Catholic colonization was dominated by the top-down order of the Church and various Kingdoms. Individuality was rarely valued.

However, it seems that colonization and Protestantism may have needed to go together in order to succeed. Germany, then the Holy Roman Empire, which was stuck in Europe as the rest of the Western European powers expanded elsewhere, did not receive economic benefits from the Protestant Reformation according to a study by Harvard's Davide Cantoni (PDF).

The paper claims there were no significant difference in economic development between Catholic and Protestant areas. The paper is geared for an economist audience so it may be somewhat challenging to read but it does state its case fairly well. Iit seems the Protestant Reformation unlocked the door for individual drive which could help society's economical development but success needed expansion as well.

Finally, the Protestant ideal of individual liberty was needed as well to guarantee a healthy society and not just economic success. The English and their descendants were eventually able to guarantee universal rights including freedom of religion while many Catholic states dragged their feet on these. Catholic people, use to top-down control, also more open to pro-Church and even anti-Church fascist governments because the ideals of corporatism were not foreign to them. (A rare mixed case is how Protestant-rule Netherlands fell in upon itself because of the police-state controls the government needed to keep the Catholic majority/plurality down).

1 comment:

Dan tdaxp said...

Very insightful -- I agree that Catholic traditionalism prepares a population for corporatism. This is probably a less risky development strategy (less far to go up or down), but not the best for growth, either.