The Protestant Ethic Thesis: Some Forerunners of Max Weber in France and Brazil
Univ. Federal de Pernambuco at Recife ( Brazil).
It is well known that the “Protestant Ethic” thesis had existed for a long time prior to Max Weber’s own formulation. Some specific cases of anticipation are represented by Napoléon Roussel (who wrote over 1,000 pages of historical analysis of the subject) and Émile de Laveleye in the French speaking world of the 19th century. Apparently Weber never mentions Roussel, but he does occasionally mention Laveleye in his essay on the Protestant Ethic. During the same century or by the beginning of the following one, Brazilian writers T. Bastos and E. Carlos Pereira, among others, in addition to a certain number of missionaries of English and North-American also dealt with the issue of Protestantism and Progress. It is unlikely that Weber was acquainted with Brazilian authors and English-speaking missionaries working in Brazil. In any event, Weber, never seems too eager to mention predecessors and sources on the issue of the Protestant Ethic and this also includes Hegel’s writings on the philosophy of History. These precursors did not necessarily reach the same level of theoretical or theological sophistication as did Weber (Hegel certainly did), they view adhesion to Protestantism (albeit, at times, in a rather secularized and cultural sense) as a necessary condition for modernization and economic development. Indeed, Weber’s own formulation of the thesis seems to represent a secularized version of a central tenet of Protestant apologetics. And, again in largely secularized terms, this is still, in early 21st century, a fully living, indeed a burning issue in both France, Brazil and elsewhere, being but a continuation of the Kulturkampf that has for so long opposed the traditional Protestant and Catholic conceptions of society and modernization.