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What Weber Said

In response to:

The Coming of Capitalism from the December 3, 1970 issue

To the Editors:

In her review of Herbert Lüthy’s From Calvin to Rousseau in your December 3 issue, C. B. A. Behrens writes, “Lüthy pulls to pieces Max Weber’s thesis that capitalism owed its origins to the Protestant ethic….” The trouble is that there is no such thesis, and it is hence difficult to pull it to pieces.

In the last paragraph of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Weber stated that his tracing of one causal influence, that of ascetic Protestantism, on the spirit of capitalism would have to be supplemented by investigations showing “how Protestant Asceticism was in turn influenced in its development and its character by the totality of social conditions, especially economic.” He added that it was “of course, not his aim to substitute for a one-sided materialistic an equally one-sided spiritualistic casual interpretation of culture and history….”

Anybody, I suppose, has the privilege of misreading Weber, but Professor Behrens abuses the privilege.

Lewis A. Coser

Department of Sociology

State University of New York

at Stony Brook

C. B. A Behrens replies:

In my review I had not meant to be concerned with Max Weber but with what Professor Lüthy found in him. My impression is that Max Weber said different things at different times or put the emphasis in different places, but that the popular view that he attached predominant importance to the Protestant ethic in the rise of capitalism is not altogether unfounded.

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