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Balanced Fare: We Report, You Deride

Monday, June 09, 2003



They Turned Their Back On The Baby Jesus

Niall Ferguson of Oxford links the decline of European economies to the decline of the Protestant work ethic:

OXFORD, England — It was almost a century ago that the German sociologist Max Weber published his influential essay "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism." In it, Weber argued that modern capitalism was "born from the spirit of Christian asceticism" in its specifically Protestant form — in other words, there was a link between the self-denying ethos of the Protestant sects and the behavior patterns associated with capitalism, above all hard work.

Many scholars have built careers out of criticizing Weber's thesis. Yet the experience of Western Europe in the past quarter-century offers an unexpected confirmation of it. To put it bluntly, we are witnessing the decline and fall of the Protestant work ethic in Europe. This represents the stunning triumph of secularization in Western Europe — the simultaneous decline of both Protestantism and its unique work ethic.

Just as Weber's 1904 visit to the United States convinced him that his thesis was right, anyone visiting New York today would have a similar experience. For in the pious, industrious United States, the Protestant work ethic is alive and well. Its death is a peculiarly European phenomenon — and has grim implications for the future of the European Union on the eve of its eastward expansion, perhaps most economically disastrous for the "new" Europe....


Prof. Ferguson seems to be expounding a proper conservative thesis here. The Brothers Judd will love this.

Now, is Prof. Ferguson serious? It seems clear from his bio that he enjoys being provocative. I also sense a twinkle in his eye, evidenced by this passage:

So the decline of work in Northern Europe has occurred more or less simultaneously with the decline of Protestantism. Quod erat demonstrandum indeed!

That said, I am intrigued to see what sort of response he generates.







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