This study will provide a critique and summary of Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. The study will include consideration of the relationship between Weber's personal history and the fundamental theory in his book, and the argument that for all its flaws Weber's theory is profoundly useful for contemporary societies.
Weber, as we read in Anthony Giddens' Introduction, wrote this book "at a pivotal period of his intellectual career, shortly after his recovery from a depressive illness that had incapacitated him from serious academic work for a period of some four years" (Weber 1). Before that time, Weber's works had been primarily "technical researches in economic history, economics and jurisprudence" (Weber 1). In other words, Weber's "depressive illness" in one way or another apparently had a profound impact on his work in general and on his writing of this book specifically. He emerged from that depression intent on producing works which went more deeply into essential human and social concerns, specifically concerns related to universal truths about man and his culture:
A product of modern European civilization, studying any problem of universal history, is bound to ask himself to what combination of circumstances the fact should be attributed that in Western civilization . . . cultural phenomena have appeared which (as we like to think) lie in a line of development having universal significance and value (Weber 13).
The book focuses on matters which are far from the merely technical. In fact, the heart of the book is a profound concern with the nature of human society itself as it strives to connect to both the religious and the material. This concern is what makes the book crucially important for contemporary societies:
. . . It is, of course, not my aim to substitute for a one-sided materialistic an equally one-sided spiritualistic causal interpretation of culture and of history. E...