Cultural Foundations of Western Capitalism
Gerhard, J. Davey, III
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Capitalism is undoubtedly one of the most prevalent and successful systems of resource allocation which has existed throughout history. Because it has evolved over a period of centuries, and has experienced a long and tempestuous formation, it is interesting to examine the early foundations of this organization which has dictated societal and political agendas, reflected the preferences of the society it serves, and has contributed to, and changed, that same culture to accommodate its needs. The most important institution to influence and spread. Capitalism was the Protestant movement and the early Reformation. The Reformation became the voice of Capitalism and served to legitimize and sanctify it, making it a popular and ethical establishment. Because of the Roman Catholic doctrine and campaign against usury, trade for profit and bourgeois lifestyles were discouraged and forbidden. Wealthy merchants and traders, to whom the Roman faith did not necessarily apply, were prohibited from trading and increasing their revenues by the dictates of the Church and were threatened by a nobility supported by the Catholic Church. When Martin Luther posted his theses of change to the door of his Catholic parish, he unknowingly began a revolution of various sorts and results. The Middle Class, long pressed beneath the slow wheels of Roman Catholic progress, rallied at the opportunity to break free from Roman oppression and began to express themselves financially and politically for the first time. In rapid succession they accepted the Reformed religions which arose because of Luther's Reformation. Protestantism supplied the merchant class, rejected as sinful by Roman Catholic doctrine, with an ethic and an ethos for their profit-making activities. The Bourgeoisie and the Protestant Faith were mutually interdependent: The merchants sustained the growing Protestant institutions by adding membership and resources to their cause; while Protestantism contributed to the middle class by giving it an ethic and sanctification to practice Capitalism. Therefore Protestantism and Capitalism were quickly and thoroughly spread because of the drive for profit. North American Protestantism and Capitalism found different modes of expression, and the agendas which had been created to serve their earlier European roots changed to reflect interests present in the New World. The Puritan ethics were undeniably the most prominent influences on early American economics and politics; but as the impulse to increase profit expanded, the earlier foundations of ethics were abandoned in exchange for a free hand in marketing and profit. The ethical system which had dominated Capitalism before, was replaced by a business ethic which comprised fewer elements of Protestantism; rather consisted of financial considerations and profit motives. This is to say that Capitalism, which had previously coexisted with Protestantism, in essence took over and became the primary concern for the middle class. Abandoning Protestant ideals for a healthier bottom line led to an overall change in the society which thrived on Capitalistic endeavors. The result of this was that a capitalistic monster was created which has consequently turned its back on its early Protestant foundations and become an ethos of its own. The foundations of Capitalism are rooted and steeped in a long culture of oppression and subsequent freedom. The contributions of Roman Catholic and Protestant culture on the capitalistic system were important motivations and sways on its formation and spread. Even greater are the contributions which Capitalism has had on modern society. It is obvious that there is an intrinsic link between culture and Capitalism which is both interesting and necessary to explore.