Standard Ebooks

Religion and the Rise of Capitalism

R. H. Tawney


The development of religious thought, and specifically how it relates to business concerns, is discussed in this classic work by R. H. Tawney. During the Middle Ages the church doctrine, notwithstanding numerous examples of inconsistencies and outright hypocrisy, viewed material wealth as a potential sign of greed, and therefore with heavy skepticism. This view permeated into discussions of economic affairs. In particular, gains coming from payment for production were viewed as acceptable, and gains from trade necessary, but gains coming from purely financial transactions (for example the charging of interest) were explicitly equated with greed, and therefore not ethically permissible and potentially punishable by excommunication.

Tawney contends that this view began evolving around the time of the Reformation. He shows how the religious movements expounded by Luther and Calvin began by recognizing the legitimacy of charging interest in a limited set of circumstances. The reformed churches still initially maintained their right to comment on and criticize business practices. Charging of usurious amounts of interest, especially to people who could not afford it, was still considered a sin and something squarely within the ecclesiastical domain. With the rise of Puritanism in England, however, this view gradually faded away. Puritanism encouraged a greater reliance on individualism in spiritualism, and was less interested in policing economic transactions. This in turn led eventually to new system of values, “in which the traditional scheme of Christian virtues was almost exactly reversed,” helping to pave the way for the rise of financial capitalism and an ethical justification for extreme wealth inequality and perpetual material, instead of spiritual, growth.

Even though Tawney ends his analysis at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, it isn’t difficult to see the relevance to the modern world. Much of the language today surrounding wealth (and poverty) in particular hold an unmistakable, if not explicit, debt to Christian thought.

Read free

This ebook is thought to be free of copyright restrictions in the United States. It may still be under copyright in other countries. If you’re not located in the United States, you must check your local laws to verify that this ebook is free of copyright restrictions in the country you’re located in before accessing, downloading, or using it.

Download for ereaders

Read online

A brief history of this ebook

  1. Update word count in metadata

  2. Update accessibility boilerplate

  3. Update Onix file boilerplate

  4. Remove unneeded se.css from epigraph

  5. Update metadata boilerplate

More details



Page scans

Improve this ebook

Anyone can contribute to make a Standard Ebook better for everyone!

To report typos, typography errors, or other corrections, see how to report errors.

If you’re comfortable with technology and want to contribute directly, check out this ebook’s GitHub repository and our contributors section.

You can also donate to Standard Ebooks to help fund continuing improvement of this and other ebooks.