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The Protestant Work Ethic, sometimes called the Puritan Work Ethic, is a sociological, theoretical concept. It is based upon the notion that the Calvinist emphasis on the necessity for hard work is proponent of a person's calling and worldly success is a sign of personal salvation. It is argued that Protestants beginning with Martin Luther had reconceptualised worldly work as a duty which benefits both the individual and society as a whole. Thus, the Catholic idea of good works was transformed into an obligation to work diligently as a sign of grace.
The term was first coined by Max Weber in his The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. The Protestant work ethic is often credited with helping to define the societies of Northern Europe and other countries where Protestantism was common (for example, the Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States of America). In such societies, it is regarded by some observers as one of the cornerstones of national prosperity. Such observers would say that people in countries with Protestant roots tend to be more focused on effective working practices when compared to people in many Catholic countries (for example, Latin America, Spain, Italy, and France) where, they would argue, the people have a more lax attitude towards work.
See also Max Weber#Historical_critiques.
The Protestant work ethic neglects the extreme prosperity of Lombardy (as well as the city-states of Genoa and Venice), which was the most prosperous and influential region in Europe in the 15th century, the age of the Renaissance; and it neglects that Austria was a serious rival to Prussia (though less warlike), and that in the Thirty Years' War, the power that primarily supported the Protestant cause against Catholic Austria was Catholic France, which was easily the most powerful state in Europe in the 17th century until Louis XIV exhausted it with a series of large wars.
Moreover, the example of East Asia shows that a country can become very prosperous in absolute and relative terms without ever having been Christian at all. Japan is the most conspicuous example here, but Kuomintang Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and mainland China (at least after Deng Xiaoping) have all developed an East Asian counterpart called Confucian work ethic to the Protestant work ethic, or at least imported and adopted that work ethic without the religious support of Protestantism.
The very effective capitalist development of Catholic nations or regions, especially northern Italy, Spain, Bavaria, the Rhineland, and France, to say nothing of the capitalist development of non-Christian states in East Asia, is often cited as a counter-argument that geographical, political, and other secular factors were the main drivers for capitalist development, as opposed to Protestantism per se; the driving force in Europe may have been the strengthening of property rights and lowering of transaction costs with the decline and monetization of feudalism, or even the increase in real wages following the epidemics of bubonic plague.
Modern criticisms of the Protestant work ethic itself, distinct from a deconstruction of the theory, also come from Anarchist groups, who reject the premise that work for worldly gain is a godly or noble pursuit in and of itself. Writers such as Henry David Thoreau and Samuel Johnson have provided the academic foundations for modern groups, and for the re-birth of The Idler, a British fringe periodical devoted to such criticism.
- Martin Luther
- Industrial Revolution
- The Idler (1993)
- Prosperity theology
- Work ethic
- Critical responses to Weber
- Achievement ideology
- Max Weber. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Chas. Scribner's sons, 1959.
- Robert Green, editor. The Weber Thesis Controversy. D.C. Heath, 1973, covers some of the criticism of Weber's theory.
- Article on the Protestant Ethic from EH.NET's Encyclopedia by economist Donald Frey
- History of the Work Ethic - Roger B. Hillno:Protestantisk etikk