Weber: the Light Cloak of Goods or the Iron Cage

The Puritan wanted to work in a calling; we are forced to do so. For when asceticism was carried out of monastic cells into everyday life, and began to dominate worldly morality, it did its part in building the tremendous cosmos of the modern economic order. This order is now bound to the technical and economic conditions of machine production which to-day determine the lives of all the individuals who are born into this mechanism, not only those directly concerned with economic acquisition, with irresistible force. Perhaps it will so determine them until the last ton of fossilized coal is burnt. In Baxter’s view the care for external goods should only lie on the shoulders of the “saint like a light cloak, which can be thrown aside at any moment”. But fate decreed that the cloak should become an iron cage. (p. 123)

Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Translated by Talcott Parsons. London: Routledge Classics, 2001.

I have been re-reading Weber for reason other than the connection between Christianity and capitalism, however Byron’s question Can Christians be capitalists? reminded me of this rich paragraph.

Considering that Weber’s thesis puts the blame for the birth and growth of capitalism at the door of Protestantism, perhaps it is appropriate to re-turn to Protestantism (or at least Christianity) for a solution to throwing off the ‘iron cage’ before the last ton of coal is burnt and our lives are fully determined.


  1. Wow – “until the last ton of fossilized coal is burnt” – Weber already had the connection between cheap energy and capitalism as cage down in 1904/05!


  2. Yes, I thought you might like that part. He has a lot going on in that little paragraph. I wish I had more time to read his work – I feel that people (me) have been too distracted by those influenced by Weber i.e. Foucault rather than looking at Weber himself.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s