The theological moment in Weber’s approach to social action
The study Weber undertook in The protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism is related to the reflexive and argumentative resources (the mental disposition) that constitute the foundation of social action. This explains the importance of his attention to a theological « operator » (analysis of the theological content of the Lutheran Reformation). By linking the theme of personal salvation to that of world salvation, Luther destabilized what were the most meaningful criteria of social recognition ; by bolstering the theme of predestination already present in Luther’s thinking but much less salient, Calvin, in a harsh way whose effect was to force believers into asceticism, linked social action to an overall view from which « the other » could not be excluded. Weber’s attention to the theological operator and the labor of reflexive thinking it elicited sheds light on the development of capitalism based on rationally organized labor, its various detours as well as the gradual process by which it became autonomous from theology – that is modern capitalism, which acquired its coherence from contemporary economic theories continuous with Adam Smith’s. Have these theories now acquired a degree of authority that we may henceforth neglect the historical confrontation between the economy and the theological operator ? Have they drawn the definitive contours of our Gehäuse ? The question Weber puts at the end of his study continues to exercise us.