Gellner om protestantism och kapitalism

Dags för nystart av bloggen. Först ut blir ett stycke Ernest Gellner. Jag läste nyligen hans Plough, Sword, and Book. En mycket fascinerande bok som jag lär återkomma till många gånger. Det centrala temat är tillkomsten av vårt moderna samhälle. Protestantismen spelar en viktig roll, men Gellner menar också att det endast var genom en tämligen unik uppsättning faktorer som protestantismen lyckades bryta fram och etablera sig vid denna tid och plats. Han talar om generisk protestantism och dess tids-rumsligt specifika instanser: typiskt protestantiska religiösa rörelser ofta har dykt upp, men alltför starka krafter har generellt arbetat till dess nackdel.

Nåväl, vid ett tillfälle lyckades den slå igenom (faktorerna bakom detta får vi behandla en annan gång). Men på vilket sätt föder de protestantiska doktrinerna fram den moderna världen med dess rationalitet och ekonomiska utveckling?

So, a Protestant world is one in which the sacred is absent (hidden) or, if you prefer, in which it is evenly diffused. Hence there are fewer bounds and prescriptions surrounding economic activities. Existing practices, and the combination of elements which they embody, cease to be hallowed. So the way is free to innovation and growth by means of new devices, by new combinations of elements. Instrumental rationality becomes more common and acceptable.

The diffusion of moral authority, the stress on the internalized voice within each believer, rather than on the special authority of some, means that Protestant respect for codes of conduct is less dependent on public enforcement, on the anticipation of reciprocation. Hence it becomes more genuinely trustworthy, and thus more conducive to the flourishing of economic activity.

Trust becomes far more widespread and less dependent on external sanctions. Those governed by inner sanctions will behave in a trustworthy manner without first waiting to make sure that others do so as well. This breaks the vicious circle of distrust, and sets off a kind of moral multiplier effect. If a man’s motive for economic activity is the desire to demonstrate his saved status and to fulfil his calling, he is less likely to cheat than if he is activated by the desire for gain. His rectitude is not at the mercy of his anticipation of the rectitude of others. Thus Protestantism has a double (and somewhat contradictory) role: it makes men instrumentally rational in handling things, and non-instrumentally honest in their dealings with each other.


In the Weberian version of the argument, there is stress on the fact that here, for once, we find asceticism combined with this-worldliness. The argument is that the more customary other-worldly asceticism led to a disposal of the surplus on religious symbols, whereas the intra-mundane version leads to economic accumulation and growth. It seems to me that the this-worldliness is a corollary of effective spiritual egalitarianism: if everyone in a community is ascetic, the asceticism must be this-worldly: otherwise all would starve. Genuinely other-worldly, economically sterile asceticism can only be practised by a minority. It simply is not open to a whole society. If all men become beggar-monks, they will all suffer. When ascetic monks come to form a high proportion of a society, they also turn to productive activities and constitute a kind of clerical crypto-bourgeoisie.


Gellner, Ernest (1989), Plough, Sword, and Book. The Structure of Human History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), s. 106-109.






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