Article Reviews

Weber V. Diamond Essay

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Jared Diamond and Max Weber both are trying to answer the same question. How did the west become so dominate? Even though they both ask the same question they have very different theories as to how this came about. Weber has a very straight forward religious/cultural view on his theory whereas; diamond believes it all started with geography which lead to economic development. Weber’s argument is that capitalism flourished when the protestant (particularly Calvinism) ethic encouraged large numbers of people to engage and work in the secular world, developing their enterprises and using their wealth to invest back into their business.

He defines spirit of capitalism as the ideas and habits that favor the rational pursuit of economic gain. Capitalism was not the goal for the protestant reformation but yet an unplanned byproduct. On the other hand, Diamond is trying to explain why the west dominated over other cultures by means of superior guns, population destroying germs, steel, and food producing capability. Agriculture and record keeping lead to the development of technology, science, and advanced government which gave the west its economic development over other parts of the world.

No theory is completely solid, that’s why it’s called a theory and not a law. Diamond and Weber both have legitimate and plausible theories as to why the west became so dominate but both of the arguments have substantial shortcomings. I see the validity in Weber’s argument but I see arguments that could be made against it as well. One is that capitalism was a growing force before the Reformation and that it would have thrived as well under Catholicism as under Protestantism and two that the driving force behind capitalism was not ascetic views but rationality.

The Chinese were becoming a far more dominate force than Europe especially in maritime exploration but after the death of Emperor Zheng He they withdrew from maritime exploration and focused on their own country. Granted in Europe’s financial crisis today the heavily protestant areas do seem to fair better than the rest. Meanwhile, Diamond’s whole argument is over simplistic and could be argued against.

I feel that Diamond left out most of the last 500 years of modern history and the vast changes that accompanied it. I feel that environment was practically unrelated to western (America’s) success but instead its success could be contributed to political freedom and idealism. Diamond uses broad brush strokes to fill his argument which lead to several holes in his theory. Like previously stated both arguments could be agreed with or disagreed with. I see the validity more so in Weber’s argument over Diamonds.

Obviously we had to start somewhere and we wouldn’t be where we are today without some demographic help but in the question of where we are today according to human development, Weber would win hands down. Sure the Chinese invented explosive powder but the Europeans were the ones that put it in a metal pipe and shot you with it. The culture and economics during this time spread about a reformation that altered the thought process like never seen before. People had such a devotion to capitalize on their investments and expand their trade to more of the world creating the world system we have today.