chapter  6
24 Pages

The Spirit of Twenty-First Century Capitalism

In The Protestant Ethic and the ‘Spirit’ of Capitalism Max Weber (2002) explored the particular virtues that should be seen as attaching to work, and the particular influence that certain Protestant sects had on articulating these virtues. Weber’s concern was with investigating the relationship between a Puritan/Calvinist view that hard work, done well, was its own reward, and a so-called spirit of capitalism. For Weber the concept of the spirit of capitalism is an ideal type that is useful in trying to analyse the diverse, sometimes contradictory, motive forces of capitalist activities, and the behaviours and dispositions (and the means of producing such ethics) suited to these activities.1 Weber saw in the Protestant Ethic only one of the motive forces for the emergence of rationalised capitalism (the spirit of capitalism).

Weber’s work, his identification of a spirit of capitalism and a Protestant ethic that energises this spirit, helps locate my interest in suggesting that the cultivation of the self as an enterprise is the calling to which individuals should devote themselves at the start of the twenty-first century. A Protestant ethic promised heavenly salvation, and an earthbound redemption as the outcome of the pursuit of the individual’s calling. Twenty-first century, flexible capitalism is energised by a spirit that sees in the cultivation of the self – as an ongoing, never-ending enterprise – an ethically slanted maxim for the conduct of a life (Weber 2002). This spirit is identifiable as an institutionally structured, individualised entrepreneurialism: a structured series of incitements, suggestions, imperatives to manage the lifecourse, the biography as an entrepreneurial DIY project. This spirit, as I will discuss in more detail in what follows, is made explicit in the ways in which American management consultant Tom Peters, for example, imagines the type of person one must be, the forms of personhood that one must cultivate, in order to succeed in the monstrous cosmos of twenty-first century flexible capitalism. In his ‘100 Ways to Help You Succeed/ Make Money’ Peters (2005a, 41-42) claims that: