Philip Benedict actually carried out such a study for the years 1605-59 in the French city of Montpellier, which was roughly equally divided between Calvinists and Catholics. He found no evidence that the Calvinists accumulated more wealth than their Catholic neighbours. The Calvinists did eventually lose political power in the city, but the loss did not seem to harm their fortunes. Indeed, their wealth grew as the city prospered. Yet Catholic wealth kept pace and in some instances forged ahead.6

What then is one to do with the Weber thesis? One option is to rework what he says, taking into account what we have learned about the history of early modern Europe since his day. That effort, which seeks to retain what is valuable in Weber, is currently underway. Alternatively, it may be time to remove Weber's thesis from the box of tools that historians use and consign it instead to the realm of quaint claims that make interesting subjects for historical study. The argument here would be that years of research in history and the social sciences have disproved both Weber's thesis about the Protestant ethic and a number ofhis key assumptions. Weberbelieved, for instance, that rational calculation was simply inconceivable without competitive markets.7 Yet much recent work in economics has been devoted to exploring rational behaviour outside of markets, behaviour that both economists and other social scientists have found quite prevalent, even in developing countries. Historical evidence also points to rational behaviour long ago in the past, even when markets were absent. The evidence thus seems to suggest that Weber was mistaken, and if so, we should perhaps look elsewhere for a connection between Christianity and the origins of the Industrial Revolution.

Where might one seek this connection? Perhaps in education and the transmission of skills, for it has been argued that established religion - and Catholicism in particular - worked against acquiring the sort of practical mechanical knowledge that was widespread in Britain and seemed to play such an important role in the Industrial Revolution.8 If this argument is correct, religious control of education was one of the barriers keeping students in continental Europe from learning the practical Newtonian mechanics that they needed to catch up with the British. The issue, though, is still controversial, not least because many historians do not accept the connection between this sort of knowledge and the Industrial Revolution. And others would point to very different paths to acquiring knowledge about mechanics and new technology -paths that may have had little at all to do with Christianity.9

In Catholic Europe, church property generated enough income to turn major benefices into attractive political plums for kings and noble families. The property - chiefly land, but also buildings, pensions, and tithe

0 0

Post a comment