It’s an easy stretch to apply Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism to the world refugee crisis. It is another piece of the leadership and global perspectives learning puzzle which is heavily focused on globalism and capitalism this semester (with a good dose of sociology throughout). As noted in Heath and Potter’s The Rebel Sell, and in Exceptional People: how migration shaped our world and will define our future by Iain Goldin, Geoffrey Cameron and Meera Balarajan, “historically, the capitalist world market developed in a contradictory fashion, from the nation state. At some stages, the importance for capitalism of ‘freedom of trade’ was to the fore. At others, the importance of national barriers. Today the productive forces have long outgrown nation states, and yet still remain partially constrained by them. Capitalism’s attitude to migration reflects this contradiction.” Because the current circulation of commodities globally is not a democratic system (where consistent rules apply to all) it represents a network of “political impositions and violations of workers’ rights.”
According to Santiago Zabala, these (impositions and violations) are “accompanied by growing social divisions” that create tensions that often lead to military interventions with drastic consequences. The “true threat to our common way of life,” Zizek explains, “does not come in the shape of refugees but lies in the dynamic of global capitalism,” which can be overcome only through a “radical economic change that abolishes the conditions that create refugees”.
The link between attitudes toward refugees and Max Weber’s text The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (one of the world’s most famous studies in social science) is simply this –protestant’s value hard work, accomplishment, and profit-making. Accepting and providing for displaced refugees complicates libertarianism (an extreme laissez-faire political philosophy advocating only minimal state intervention in the lives of citizens)… “A philosophical descendant of Max Weber, Fifield married Christian thought with a new era of economic development, and spread the gospel through his organization, Spiritual Mobilization. Its mission was simple: to stamp out Christian support for a generous welfare state—which paired naturally with New Deal concern for the poor, elderly, and vulnerable—and to advance a new theory of Christian libertarianism.”
There is a startling assertion in Weber’s work – religion helped to create modern capitalism. The story of how the link between religion and capitalism came into being is also constructed in a very dramatic way, with the earnest Protestant believer looking for “signs to please God”, and discovering that “hard work and profit-making” are such signs. While this concept is challenging to wrap your thoughts around, even more disturbing is the idea that “the result was a tremendous social force that made it possible for modern rational capitalism to ideologically emerge as the most important institution in the West, displacing the Church once and for all.” Sects of Calvinists, Pietists, Methodists and Baptists played a key role in helping this new “spirit of modern, rational capitalism” come into being. Their beliefs were similar to Lutheranism, Weber says, in that they all saw man’s work on earth as a religious task, something that began with the Reformation and had its roots in Luther’s famous translation of the Bible. The result of capitalist growth, when a “creature of the state” is oppression of people rather than freedom. Why is this so? Protestants showed “a special tendency to develop economic rationalism”, that is, a particular approach to creating wealth that was less focused on the gain of comfort than on the pursuit of profit itself. The satisfaction was not in the money to buy things (which had always driven money-making in the past), but in ‘wealth creation’ based on increased productivity and better use of resources. Even after needs had been met, the capitalist did not rest, “forever seeking greater profit for its own sake and as the symbol of more profound ends.” I imagine this revelation is significant to our own Mark Peterson’s research on Philanthropy. The Protestant ethic simply involved living with your eyes on God but fully in the world. 
While it’s unsettling to think Protestants have been the creators of capitalism (which led to a disconnect in caring for people) Weber is quick to point out the following positive attributes of Protestant workers:
- A spirit of progress;
- A love of hard work for its own sake;
- Orderliness, punctuality and honesty;
- Hatred of time-wasting through socializing, idle talk, sleep, sex or luxury (expressed in the sentiment, “every hour lost is lost to labour for the glory of God”);
- Attention to the most productive use of resources, represented by profit. (“You may labour to be rich for God, though not for the flesh and sin” said Calvinist Richard Baxter);
- Absolute control of self (emotions and body) and aversion to spontaneous enjoyment;
- Belief in calling, or “proving one’s faith in worldly activity”.
I don’t disagree with Weber’s assertion that the Protestant work ethic heavily influenced capitalism, but I am disappointed that capitalism takes precedence over Biblical commands to care for others. The global refugee crisis (as interpreted by the United States) is just one example of the oppression and marginalization that occurs from the Protestant work ethic – the following attitudes are directly connected to capitalist fears: refugees will take jobs and lower wages; refugees abuse the welfare state; refugees are a net fiscal cost; refugees increase economic inequality; today’s refugees don’t assimilate like previous refugee groups did; refugees are especially crime prone; refugees post a unique risk today because of terrorism; amnesty or failure to enforce immigration laws will destroy the rule of law in the US; refugees won’t vote for the Republican Party; refugees bring with them their bad cultures, ideas, or other factors that will undermine and destroy our economic and political institutions…the resultant weakening in economic growth means that refugees will destroy more wealth than they will create; some races and ethnic groups are genetically inferior…they need to be prevented from coming here, breeding, and decreasing America’s good ethnic stock. Are you convicted at all by any of these fears? Each one of them is directly connected to capitalist principles. Do not be paralyzed…the Bible gives clear direction on how to approach refugees. As Matthew 25 makes clear, Christians should see everyone as “Christ” in the flesh. Scholars argue that in the New Testament, “stranger” and “neighbor” are in fact synonymous. Thus the commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself,” refers not just to people whom you know – your “neighbors” in a conventional sense – but also to people whom you do not know. “Man is only a trustee of the goods which have come to him through God’s grace. He must, like the servant in the parable, give an account of every penny entrusted to him, and it is at least hazardous to spend any of it for a purpose which does not serve the glory of God but only one’s enjoyment”.