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Early Capitalism and the Rise of a Protestant Work Ethic: A Love Story

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  1. Introduction
  2. The unmoving waters of Catholicism
  3. The open waters of Protestantism
  4. The duel: Protestantism's replacement of Catholicism
  5. The pearls of the Protestant work ethic
  6. Conclusion

The time is 16th-century England; our topic at hand, examining the rise of Protestant values in terms of the socio-economic struggle faced by England's bourgeoisie. There has been much debate about this topic, especially in relation to the events it spurred and the blows it dealt for the course of English history. However, the rise of Protestantism in England was a peculiar story when compared to its continental neighbors. Unlike France's one-time revolution that sealed the fate of the aristocrats, and unlike the mixed nature of reform, both religious and economic, that shuffled along in Germany, England, during the 16th century, swung like a pendulum between Catholicism and Protestantism. But, even a pendulum has to stop its swing, so England's hand reached for Protestantism. But why? To consider if Protestant values sowed the seeds necessary for the bourgeoisie to sprout as a dominant power in England, both politically and economically, as against the argument that holds the economic environment responsible for the rise of Protestantism as a religion, is not the purpose of this paper.

This circular argument, like a bicker between two lovers, I find interesting, yet unable to tolerate. However, this paper looks not at who proposed to who, but the marriage itself, of Protestantism and the bourgeoisie. There is a reason these two lovers fell in love. The socio-economic climate, I argue, was ripe for their relationship to bloom, and yield sweeter fruit that would be mutually beneficial to the pair. It was love at first sight, and then a marriage forever instituted.

[...] ?It is the relatively greater flexibility of the English Protestant position which strikes one here as its particular characteristic. Since, unlike Roman Catholicism, English Protestant theology preserves no ecclesiastical or monastic area of fixed practice and idea, the faith is thrown, unreservedly, as it were, into the stream of time and change? (George, 1958). But apart from the flexibility provided by Protestantism, from an economic vantage point there was something else that raised the eyebrows of the English bourgeoisie-to-be. Max Weber refers to this element as the ?calling? (Weber, 1905). [...]

[...] Henry VIII is ambivalent but tolerant of Protestantism, and the ideology bubbles to the surface. When he dies and Edward becomes King, Protestantism flourishes, but is extinguished immediately during the fanatic rule of Queen Mary, but once again rekindled with the accession of Queen Elizabeth I, giving the pendulum one more swing. But apart from the monarchies' play with religion, the bourgeoisie's status struggles is now clearly visible. With the window of Protestantism we now see a new class of aristocracy emerge. [...]

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