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Protestant work ethic

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The Protestant work ethic, a contested socio-theological concept, links hard work, frugality and the origins of modern industrial capitalism to Protestant theology. The term derives from Max Weber's 1905 book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.[1]


During the early modern era, the doctrine of predestination became popular among Protestants, especially Calvinists. Predestination stood in opposition to the doctrine of Good Works held by the Catholic Church — believers in predestination posited that good works were not a means of entry into heaven, but a reflection of the person as being one of the elect. The purpose of good works, then, was to demonstrate that you were pre-selected to go to heaven and not the place down below. Aiding the poor was considered to be immoral because their position in society was reflective of what was pre-ordained by God.


Weber's thesis that Protestantism contributed to the rise of capitalism has been both defended and critiqued by more recent scholars. For example, Richard Hofstadter drew on the idea of the Protestant ethic in comparison to modern and secular forms of the ideology, referring to Social Darwinism as a form of "naturalistic Calvinism."[2] Sascha O. Becker and Ludger Wossman present an alternative hypothesis: That Protestantism per se did not help to bring about the rise of capitalism, but that it was a by-product of the Protestants' encouragement of lay people to read the Bible, which led to a higher demand for printing presses, and ultimately, higher literacy rates that enabled commerce to grow.[3]


The spread of the Protestant work ethic led to a number of critiques of the alleged inherent moral value of work. Paul Lafargue, the son-in-law of Karl Marx, wrote an essay entitled "The Right to be Lazy" while serving his sentence in Saint Pélagie Prison.[4] Lafargue noted the ethos of the ancient Greek philosophers, who believed that hard work was a vice rather than a virtue. Bertrand Russell also argued against work as a virtue in his essay "In Praise of Idleness."[5]

In economics, the concept is not very accurate for the 21st century. One of the largest fallacies when analyzing the European debt crisis is that lazy Greeks supposedly work less than Germans; research says the opposite.[6]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1930 ed.) hosted at
  2. Richard Hofstadter. (1944) Social Darwinism in American Thought, p. 10
  3. Sascha O. Becker and Ludger Wossmann. "Was Weber Wrong? A Human Capital Theory of Protestant Economics History." Munich Discussion Paper No. 2007-7, 22 January 2007.
  4. Paul Lafargue. (1883) The Right to be Lazy. (Trans. Charles Kerr)
  5. Bertrand Russell. (1932) In Praise of Idleness.
  6. Working hours: Get a life, The Economist