chapter  3
28 Pages

The Dependent Years: II

Now Weber's opponents are legion, and this is not the place to review a literature of criticism that is vast and mainly focused on the applications of his thesis to the development of 'capitalism' .in Western Europe. Let it suffice to recall Ralph Barton Perry's point that fifteenth-century Florence was capitalistic but not puritan, that the Boer Republics were puritan but not capitalistic, and that the Venetians, Hanseatic League, Fuggers, Medici, and Rothschilds `contributed to the development of modern commerce and finance without deriving inspiration from protestantism'. Certainly it cannot be maintained that under all circumstances the Protestant ethic was a condition necessary to the growth of 'capitalism'. However, Gabriel Kolko has recently reminded us that Weber not only viewed America as 'the field of [capitalism's] highest development', but also `continually referred to colonial American history to sustain his thesis'. Did the Protestant ethic promote rational, systematic business conduct among the Puritan merchants of New England? An effort to answer this question requires, first, an examination of Puritanism in early New England, and secondly, an enquiry into the relationship between the motivations of merchants and the external conditions of foreign commerce. These conditions were common to foreign traders throughout the colonies and we shall call upon records of mercantile experience in Philadelphia, New York, and Baltimore, as well as New England, to illustrate their nature.