Did Max Weber discuss possible pragmatic economic advantages of Confucianism (or broadly speaking Asian values) at some point?

Max Weber famously authored The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism on the relationship between Capitalism in Europe and the Protestant religion.

I ask this in the context of my reading East and West, Chris Patten's account of his time as last Governor of Hong Kong from 1992 to 1997. What strikes me as most interesting there is how strongly he argues against Asian values (Confucianism, etc.) as the root cause of recent economic successes of Asian countries (esp. China) and how strongly he defends Western principles (democracy, etc.) throughout. He's explicitly arguing against Lee Kuan Yew's stated views, who is a formidable opponent for sure, and I am not at all sure whether Chris Patten's view is right (with respect to Asia) despite his spirited defense.

What does Max Weber say about the development of Asian Capitalism in the context of native religious beliefs and Asian culture generally?

  • 1
    The first paragraph of the question seems to be only context. It might be better for the reader to put the actual question in the second paragraph on top and then follow with the context. – Trilarion Feb 7 '18 at 10:59
  • Reading this it seems to be a request for resources, which don't tend to make good questions. The work of Weber on "Asian" capitalism and the influence of Chinese traditional beliefs is interesting. Perhaps you can rephrase as a question rather than a request. – James K Feb 7 '18 at 17:07
  • @Trilarion IMO whether one asks a question with or without an introduction that briefly explains its context is largely a subjective matter of taste. If somebody wants to edit this question according to her own taste, I'm open to that. – Drux Feb 7 '18 at 20:47
  • Edited according to my taste. Please check to see that I haven't changed the meaning of your question. – James K Feb 7 '18 at 22:18
  • @JamesK IMO the meaning is still intact. – Drux Feb 8 '18 at 3:19

Max Weber wrote a book entitled The Religion of China: Confucianism and Taoism that addresses some of these issues. It was his second book. He wrote it in 1915, immediately after The Protestant Ethic.

What does Max Weber say about the development of Asian Capitalism in the context of native religious beliefs and Asian culture generally?

In his view, Confucianism was, on balance, harmful to the economic development of China. Wikipedia summarizes what he had to say on this point as follows:

Social structure and the capitalist economy

Weber argued that, while several factors were good for development of a capitalist economy (long periods of peace, improved control of rivers, population growth, freedom to acquire land and move outside of native community, freedom of choosing the occupation), they were outweighed by others (mostly stemming from religion) in China:

technical inventions were opposed on the basis of religion (disturbance of ancestral spirits leading to bad luck), instead of changing the world, adjusting oneself to it was preferred

sale of land was often prohibited or made very difficult

extended kinship groups (based on religion stressing the importance of family ties and ancestry) protected its members against economic adversities, therefore negatively affecting one's motivation for payment of debts and work discipline

those kinship prevented the development of urban status class, hindered legal developments like creation of legal institutions, codification of laws and a jurist status class.

Confucianism and Puritanism

According to Weber, Confucianism and Puritanism are mutually exclusive types of rational thought, each attempting to prescribe a way of life based on religious dogma. Notably, they both valued self-control and restraint, and did not oppose accumulation of wealth.

However, to both those qualities where just means to the final goal, and here they were divided by a key difference. The Confucianism goal was "a cultured status position", while Puritanism's goal was to create individuals who are "tools of God". The intensity of belief and enthusiasm for action were rare in Confucianism, but common in Protestantism. Actively working for wealth was unbecoming a proper Confucian. Therefore, Weber states that it was this difference in social attitudes and mentality, shaped by the respective, dominant religions, that contributed to the development of capitalism in the West and the absence of it in China.

For what it is worth, some modern scholars agree, although with not quite the same chain of cause and effect:

Do countries with a long history of state-building fare better in the long run? Recent work has shown that earlier state-building may lead to higher levels of present-day growth. By contrast, I use a natural experiment to show that the regions of China with over a thousand years of sustained exposure to state-building are significantly poorer today. The mechanism of persistence, I argue, was the introduction of a civil service exam based on knowledge of Confucian classics, which strengthened the social prestige of the civil service and weakened the prestige of commerce. A thousand years later, the regions of China where the Confucian bureaucracy was first introduced have a more educated population and more Confucian temples, but lower levels of wealth. The paper contributes to an important debate on the Great Divergence, highlighting how political institutions interact with culture to cause long-run patterns of growth.

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