The West and Only the West

The Geography of Weber’s Spirit of Capitalism

According to Max Weber’s famous hypothesis in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, the „rational” economic behaviour inherent in ascetic protestantism has ultimately paved the way for the spirit of capitalism to develop exclusively „in the West, and only on Western soil.” This study argues that deeply integral to Weber’s scientific hypothesis were his understandings of Western modernity, his moral and political meta-narrative, and his geographical preconceptions. Especially the latter two have been largely overlooked by Hungarian sociologists. Following from these, the article presents a geographical perspective of Weber’s arguments on the „inner” spiritual diff erences between „East” and „West” with regard to religion, the state, the city and „outer” geographical conditions. However, in contrary to a „homogenous” capitalism, Weber extended this concept both historically and geographically, and made distinctions between „rational” and „irrational” capitalisms, and several „varieties” of capitalism, apart from the modern capitalist „spirit.” This led to confusion in his historical analysis, and supported his imperialist agenda by de-emphasizing colonial capitalism in Western development and disregarding non-Western forms of capitalism. The aim of this study is to provide some preliminary critical remarks on the contradictions and biases of Weber’s often praised world historical method, and to argue for more geographical sensitivity in understanding his arguments. This critique of Weber’s arguments presented here is continued in the next part of this study.

Released: Replika 103, 115–140.