The deeply held religious convictions that kickstarted capitalism

In his landmark workThe Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905), the German sociologist Max Weber offered a radical and sweeping explanation for the rise of modern capitalism. He saw capitalism arise first in Protestant countries so, contrary to the Marxist explanation, Weber claimed that it was Protestantism that drove the transformation to capitalism. He paid particular attention to the Calvinist doctrine of predestination, which holds that God determines, at the beginning of time, if each human is saved or damned. How could such a stark theological idea lead to capitalism? According to Weber, it introduced an extraordinarily productive tension into human society. While people could not change their souls’ fate, they could hope to see evidence that they might be among the saved through the discipline and fruitfulness of their labour. This brief animation from BBC Radio 4’s A History of Ideas series explores how Calvinism sanctified work, making everyday labour, for the first time in history, a potentially holy activity.

Video by BBC Radio 4 and The Open UniversityScript: Nigel WarburtonAnimator: Andrew Park

Support Aeon

‘Worldly and thought-provoking, there’s nothing on the internet quite like Aeon.’

Freddie W, USA, Friend of Aeon

Aeon is a registered charity committed to the spread of knowledge and a cosmopolitan worldview.

But we can’t do it without you.

Make a donation

Video/History of Ideas

Splitting the truth: the philosopher that physics forgot

4 minutes

Essay/Ethics

What is offensive?

Quarrels over honour in duelling cultures can enlighten us today and demonstrate why some insults are intolerable

Clifton Mark

Idea/Knowledge

There is no middle ground for deep disagreements about facts

Klemens Kappel

Essay/Free Will

Just deserts

Can we be held morally responsible for our actions? Yes, says Daniel Dennett. No, says Gregg Caruso. Reader, you decide

Daniel Dennett Gregg Caruso

Idea/Philosophy of Language

Being ‘interesting’ is not an objective feature of the world

Lorraine Besser

Video/History of Ideas

Is reboot culture out of control? Or are we kidding ourselves that anything is original?

5 minutes