Monday, March 14, 2005

Mr. "End of History" and Weber

I am surprised that I agree with Francis Fukuyama's analysis of Weber's Protestant ethic. It was not so much religion and culture that allowed capitalism to flourish, but the constellation of political and social institutions that obstructed it.
What held traditional China and Japan back, we now understand, was not culture, but stifling institutions, bad politics and misguided policies. Once these were fixed, both societies took off. Culture is only one of many factors that determine the success of a society.

However, Fukuyama's analysis falls prey to another myth regarding religion, geography and economy:

no one can deny the importance of religion and culture in determining why institutions work better in some countries than in others. The Catholic parts of Europe were slower to modernize economically than the Protestant ones, and they took longer to reconcile themselves to democracy. Thus, much of what Samuel Huntington called the ''third wave'' of democratization took place between the 1970's and 90's in places like Spain, Portugal and many countries of Latin America.

NO, NO, NO, NO, NO! A thousand times NO! The map of the spread of capitalism does not travel from Protestant to Protestant country (although I would qualify the Protestantism of the Anglican Church).

After Northern England,the next destinations for capitalism were predominantly Catholic territories: Liege, Aachen and Krefeld, areas that are part of the "blue banana" that were strongly, although not predominantly, Catholic. Looking at the core of European urbanization, there is a strong presence of Catholics who live among large Protestant minorities. If we are to look at religion as a factor in development, it is this coexistence of faiths that fosters development rather than one faith over the other.

Besides, no one ever argued that the Protestant Junkers were great industrialist!

[Edited for clarity on 3/15: I was in a "celabratory" mood when I wrote this, having just turned in an application.]


At 3:46 AM, Blogger White Moon Falling said...

I never read the End of History. what's he actually saying?

At 8:19 AM, Blogger Nathanael said...

Fukuyama depicted the Cold War as an ultimate struggle of civilizations, pitting capitalism against communism.

"What we are witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or a passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government."

At 12:36 PM, Blogger White Moon Falling said...

That's rather two dimensional of him.

At 4:54 PM, Anonymous Jakob Øhlenschlæger said...

It does however seem that Fukuyama in his argument ignores never studies like Kenneth Pomeranz' "The Great Divergence" (Princeton: 2000). His "we now know" should be "until 5-10 years ago we believed" one could argue. And he still sees the different path of China and Japan compared to Europe as a failure that needs to be explained as such.

At 5:15 PM, Blogger Nathanael said...

Historians and theorists like Fukuyama appear to ask "why was the natural progress toward industrial capitalism impeded?" I would insist that industrial capitalism is not natural.

Netherlands did not develop industry until the mid-20th C despite having all of capitalism's commercial features in the 17th C.

Moreover, imitation was always part of its spread. Even in the Rhineland that I love so much, capitalism was an import, and the state -- Protestant Prussia -- was the main obstacle to its growth.

If we look outside Europe, industrialization was always imitation: discovering ways of adapting existing systems to the local socio-political realities.


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