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Max Weber on Confucianism versus Protestantism


Christopher Adair-Toteff

Max Weber’s thesis that rational capitalism arose only in the West seems to be undermined by Weber’s own examination of China. However, he points out there are fundamental differences between China and the West; the former is traditional, personal, and world-affirming while the latter had become bureaucratic, law-abiding, and world-rejecting. The Chinese used reason as the means towards health, happiness, and long life, and they embraced magic in dealing with this world. The Puritans rejected this world and were condemned to isolation and inner loneliness because they could not answer the question whether they were members of the Elect. Rational acquisition began as a means to glorify God and as an indication of salvation; in time, this excessive rationalism gave rise to modern capitalism in the West. Superficially, China might be a problem to Weber’s thesis, but as he demonstrated, there were too many important differences.

Christopher Adair-Toteff 1

1 Christopher Adair-Toteff earned his PhD in Philosophy from the University of South Florida with a dissertation on neo-Kantianism. Since 2000 he has focused on Max Weber and his articles have appeared in Max Weber Studies, The History of the Human Sciences, The Journal of Classical Sociology, among others. He is a leading authority on Weber’s notion of charisma with ‘Max Weber’s Charisma’ Journal of Classical Sociology, 2005. He is editor and translator of Sociological Beginnings (Liverpool University Press, 2005), and is editor of The Anthem Companion to Toennies and is author of Fundamental Concepts in Max Weber’s Sociology of Religion (Palgrave-Macmillan) both forthcoming. He was Associate Professor of Philosophy at the American University in Bulgaria 1994–2001. He is Fellow at the Center for Social and Political Thought, University of South Florida and Honorary Senior Researcher, University of Kent.

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