Since the Thirteen Colonies first united, the United States has had one of the strongest economies in the world. Over the years, many theorists have had varying opinions concerning the reason for this nation’s strong economic standing. One reason that has often been overlooked is that a great many of this nation’s workers have been influenced by the Protestant work ethic. The philosophy behind this work ethic has driven many workers to attain as much as possible at their jobs during their lifetimes.
If one man were to be given credit for the development of the Protestant work ethic it would have to be Martin Luther. In the course of the next several pages this researcher will examine the ethic that has had such a great impact on the United State’s economy and on the economies of other nations. It has been suggested by such writers as Weber and Smith that the Protestant work ethic first developed around the word “calling. ” Basically, this term has a religious connotation which is a task set by God. However, gradually this term was expanded to the point where it covered many of man’s activities.
During the Protestant Reformation, the term “calling” started to take on a new meaning. Fulfilling one’s duty in orldly affairs became a task of extreme importance. gradually, fulfilling one’s duty was not only important but it became the moral obligation of every individual (the highest form of moral activity). Before the Reformation, the Catholic Church did not believe that everyday world activities had a religious significance. As a result of Luther these world activities were quite important in adhering to God’s wishes.
Rather than devote one’s life to worshipping God through prayer, and instead of sacrificing all worldly goods to follow Christ, the Protestants believed that the task of every person is to fulfill (to the est of his/her ability) their tasks on earth. This unique conception of the word “calling” was developed by Luther during his first active decade as a reformer. At first he believed, like many other theologians, that everyday world activities were activities of the flesh. Although these activities were willed by God, they were nonetheless morally neutral.
However, gradually Luther began to protest against the life of the monks. He criticized them as leading a life “devoid of value as a means of justification before God, but he also looks upon its renunciation of the duties of this world as a product of elfishness, withdrawing from temporal obligations. ” This was in direct contrast to the everyday labors of man. These worldly activities were outward expressions of man’s love for others and for God. Thus, according to Luther, the only way to live up to the expectations God has for us is to fulfill our worldly duties.
A very important point that Luther makes in reference to callings is that each calling has the same worth in the eyes of God. The effect of the Reformation that was initiated by Luther was that worldly labor was given religious sanction. This stands opposed to the Catholic tradition which did not ive such worldly matters any moral emphasis. Luther stated that people may attain salvation in any walk of life. it did not matter what a person did during their lifetime as long as they worked as hard as possible. In hard work and dedication to one’s calling, salvation could be achieved.
Before Luther professed these beliefs, people placed little emphasis on the daily tasks they had to complete. Jobs had little meaning except that they placed bread on the table to eat. However, with Luther’s concept of the “calling” people now had a moral reasons to work as hard as they could. The jobs of people were iven religious sanction and this lead to workers striving to attain more in their jobs. Thus, there can be no doubt that Luther changed the attitudes of people toward their roles in society. People placed a new emphasis on their work roles.
In the following pages the effect that this had on the economy will be examined. The Foundation of Capitalistic Thought As a result of Luther placing such emphasis on a person’s calling, people began to take pride in their work. Instead of placing all of one’s emphasis on religious matters, people began to think of earning a living in the best way possible in order to serve God. Luther instilled in these people the concept that time is money. If a person spends his time at meaningful work he will earn money and become successful.
However, if that person decides to sit idly or take a rest, money that could have been earned is lost forever. thus, Luther’s emphasis on the fact that people should work as hard as possible lead many to the conclusion that time should not be wasted. The fact that money can “grow” was realized by the workers of this time. Increasing one’s assets is a sign of a successful businessman, thus it is also a sign of someone who is successful in the eyes of God. If money is invested properly, a person can receive interest and increase his financial status.
If a person has an animal that is breeding, that animal’s offspring will increase that person’s financial status. In order to become a successful businessman it is often necessary to borrow money. However, in order to insure that a steady flow of money is guaranteed, a person must build up a reputation as a prompt payer. If one is late in paying debts, there will come a day when that person will not find a lender. If one is a prompt payer, there will always be a steady flow of cash for that person. Since success is necessary to please God, and money is necessary to achieve success, people made sure that they paid their debts promptly.
Since credit is so important, people began to realize the importance of impressing their creditors. If a person builds a reputation of a worker that labors from early in the morning to late each evening, that person will be able to attain credit. If, however, a person has a reputation of relaxing and not taking his job seriously, then that person will not be lent money when he needs it to expand his business. The above examples depict the pirit of capitalism (the true development of capitalistic thought among the masses). Luther emphasized that men should work their hardest at their particular calling.
It became obvious that hard work often resulted in higher earnings. Therefore, workers began to figure out all of the possible ways by which they could increase their earnings. k Luther’s thoughts on work resulted in the development of a capitalistic mentality among workers. One example of a man who is dedicated to serve God through fulfilling his calling is a man of this era who (being elderly) was asked to retire. e had made a sizeable sum of money in his lifetime and his friends wondered when he would give the chance to younger workers to accumulate their fortunes.
The elderly man rejected this suggestion because he wished to earn money as long as he could. this man felt that he could serve God as long as he continued answering his calling. If he retired, he would no longer be fulfilling that calling, thus, he decided not to retire. In some people the following of their calling preceded all other pursuits in life. The goal of these people was to earn as much money as possible nd often this meant that they would not take time out to enjoy life (for to do so would mean to divert from one’s calling).
To followers of Luther, the earning of money was an end in itself, through earning money one could find happiness by pleasing God (through following the calling). Luther has caused man to be dominated by the making of money. through following the calling the ultimate purpose of our lives is to work hard and earn money. This principle, while difficult for people not influenced by capitalism to understand, is easy for capitalists to comprehend. The earning of money as long as it is done legally is the result and the expression of virtue and proficiency in a calling; and this virtue and proficiency are goals of Luther’s ethic.
Although today this idea is not that important to us (one’s duty in a calling) it is the fundamental basis of capitalism. Luther’s Impact on the Social Classes Late in March of 1526, several years before the Hanseatic cities of Lubeck and Luneberg became Protestant, the burgomaster and council of the former sent the burgomaster and council of the latter a copy of a letter from a Lubeck merchant in London, alling attention to the danger that faced persons who brought Lutheran books to the Steelyard.
The letter from London points to the seriousness of the situation by stating that “a certain knight, Thomas More,” had arrested eight persons in the Steelyard for having Lutheran books in their possession. This and many other similar instances illustrate the fact that merchants played an important part in spreading the ideas of Luther to European commercial centers.
Accordingly, one of the most fruitful areas of study with respect to the rapid spread of Luther’s ideas is the interest of the merchants and other urban lasses in Germany, especially in the free imperial cities. Although scholars have analyzed various aspects of city life at the close of the Middle Ages in great detail, they have done relatively little by way of explaining why representatives of the different urban classes (especially the middle classes) embraced Luther’s ideas from its very beginnings.
Because there were a lot of differences among the German cities with respect to their political, constitutional, religious, social and cultural developments, historians have found it advisable to begin a study of the reception of Luther’s ideas by the arious urban classes by examining the free imperial cities which had much in common. More than fifty (of 85) cities recognized the Reformation in the sixteenth century and more than half of these accepted and retained Protestantism. To arrive at an understanding of why the dissatisfied social groups of the cities so readily accepted the Reformation, one must evaluate their positive heritage.
This consisted of three important elements: first, the medieval ideals, attitudes and experiences of the free members of urban communes who had worked out a method of government among themselves and with their feudal ords; second, the practical, late-medieval mysticism with its emphasis on inner spirituality and ethics; third, humanism, which many educated townsmen embraced as a culture reflecting their urban interests and giving them a social status they had lacked during the height of feudal chivalry.
The society of the medieval German city was not divided into classes in the modern sense of the term. Luther and his contemporaries spoke of the various urban groups as “estates,” each having its special interests and duties but all contributing to the general welfare of the community. To speak of a capitalist lass or of a proletariate, for example, would lead to a complete misunderstanding of social conditions in late-medieval German cities. The citizens of the earliest communes were free persons who had banded together to seek independence from their feudal lords, often bishops.
To retain their independence, the citizens and the city councils of many communes instituted the annual oath which persisted into the sixteenth century. Furthermore, citizenship was obtained by swearing an oath to maintain the general welfare. Although it is impossible to connect the Reformation world of thought with any particular ocial class, as many historians point out, there is an indirect connection with bourgeois growth in the cities, and it will prove helpful to the readers of this paper to examine the interests of the various groups within the cities.
In the typical imperial city, leadership soon fell into the hands of the patricians, usually wealthy landowners or merchants who devoted their time and talents, with little or no remuneration, to the welfare of their fellow citizens. it was natural that those who carried the chief burdens of government should constitute maller councils within the larger ones and then perpetuate themselves and their families in office and social status.
That the movement from ordinary citizenship to the patrician class was relatively easy, however, can be seen by the situation in Nuremberg, where in 1511 only 57 honorable families had been represented among the hundred and eighty listed in 1390. In Augsburg, some of the new patricians came from the artisan class, including the Fuggers and Hochstetters. After 1500, however when the medieval cities started to decline, the status of the patricians became much less flexible.