An Orthodox Response to Max Weber

21 August 2008 at 9:26 am 3 comments

| Peter Klein |

“Orthodox” with a capital O, that is. The current issue of the Acton Institute’s flagship journal, the Journal of Markets and Morality, features the first English translation of Sergey Bulgakov’s 1909 essay “The National Economy and the Religious Personality,” described by translator Krassen Stanchev as “the first Orthodox Christian response to Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.” Bulgakov, widely regarded as the greatest 20th-century Orthodox theologian, has been attracting increasing interest in recent decades, in both East and West. Writes Stanchev:

Only in the 1906s did scholars turn their attention to business in the Orthodox medieval world. Professors in theological academies in Communist countries carefully avoided the topic while economic historians, at best, studied the relations between religion and business for closed audiences, but most often they pretended the phenomenon did not exist.

Just a few years after Weber, Bulgakov managed to put together similar theoretical arguments and a set of historical evidence that allowed claiming origins of the capitalist spirit from Orthodox Christianity as well. For those who are familiar with the later Russian “scientific” philosophers’ disregard for facts and documents, it will be a surprise as to how rich Russian historiography in the nineteenth century has been.

The article is currently gated but should be available to non-subscribers later this year. Or you can subscribe now and avoid the wait.

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Business/Economic History, Classical Liberalism, People. Tags: .

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Bogdan Enache  |  22 August 2008 at 10:00 am

    Hmmm…Thanks for pointing this out. I’ll read the article with much interest. There was indeed a huge debate in the late 19th century and the beginning of 20th in the Orthodox countries (not only Russia) regarding the difference and compatibility between the culturally Protestant and Catholic West and the Culturally Orthodox East with huge implications for philosophy, politics, ethics, society, economics – everything. In fact, the polemics between the pro-western intellectuals and the traditionalist intellectuals made up a consistent portion of the intellectual scenery back then. These pro-Orthodox intellectuals, generally highly educated in Western style curriculum, ended up rejecting Western rationalist thinking and capitalism (two phenomenons imported with enthusiasm by the pro Western elites in these countries) as forms of alienation of man from God and thus a de-humanizing and up-rooting force. At the same time they laboured to offer an encompassing civilizational alternative based on Orthodox traditions. While there is no one doctrine but common themes in the context of Russia, Romania and also other countries in the region, the general vision is pretty religious and backward looking, though in polemic with the latest intellectual trends; they were, in a way, conservatives and revolutionaries at the same time. You can somewhat get an idea of their arguments from the work of this amazing American Orthodox convert – Father Seraphim Rose. See for example “Nihilism” :

    http://www.columbia.edu/cu/augustine/arch/nihilism.html

  • 2. Rafe Champion  |  22 August 2008 at 5:43 pm

    On a tangent to the religous element, it is surprising that McClelland’s extensive research on the cultural antecedents of the “achievement motivation” (contents of childrens stories, primary school readers, popular songs, child-raising practices) has not attracted more attention from students of entrepreneurship and cultural studies. Written up in “The Achieving Society” it has been described as a failed program, over simplified and over-ambitious . These are not devastating criticisms of a research program in its early stages but it seems that the program did not survive. It may have been a victim of fashion more than internal problems.

  • 3. Brian Pitt  |  26 August 2008 at 9:09 am

    Looks as though it might take abit of time, but thanks for the plug Bogdan.

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