Confucian values and East Asian capitalism

A variable Weberian trajectory

Authored by: Jack Barbalet

Routledge Handbook of Religions in Asia

Print publication date:  September  2014
Online publication date:  September  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415635035
eBook ISBN: 9781315758534
Adobe ISBN: 9781317636465


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An inquiry concerning the direct causal significance of religious values for the advent and development of capitalism makes no sense in itself. As an economic system capitalism is better understood in terms of market opportunities, technological developments, labour supplies, entrepreneurial capacities, ownership structures, and so on. It was Max Weber, writing in the first decade of the twentieth century, who saw the historical advent of modern capitalism in terms of a shift in religious initiative from Catholic Southern Europe to the Protestant principalities of Northern Europe, with a parallel move of commercial concentration from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. Whereas the vast majority of economic historians saw capitalism emerge incrementally from the traditional economies that preceded them, Weber took the rupture of the Christian Reformation against Catholicism as the harbinger of a new personality type, realized in the spirit of the capitalist entrepreneur. This latter contrasts with the historically earlier economic actors who focused either on servicing only their existing needs or who sought luxurious riches, neither of which involved profit for its own sake that enriched the organization of enterprise itself.

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