The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.0819  Wednesday, 30 April 2003

From:           Don Bloom <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date:           Tuesday, 29 Apr 2003 09:44:33 -0500
Subject: 14.0773 Re: A Dream of Hanoi
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.0773 Re: A Dream of Hanoi

Since this unfortunate dog has gotten up and started across the street
again, let's run over it once more.

There strike me as two problems with the original statement (linking
Calvinism and capitalism in a causal relationship),.

In the first case, what is meant by "capitalism"? Strictly speaking, the
term means the investment of money in a business enterprise in exchange
for a share of any profits the business generates. It may also,
secondarily, refer to a form of gambling whereby one buys and sells
these shares as their value increases or decreases. But it doesn't
appear to have a great deal to do with the theology of John Calvin.

Now the term may be used in some quasi-marxian sense as more or less
equivalent to industrialism, and from that it may serve as a kind of
shorthand for the ethos of callous and greedy industrial plutocrats who
exploit helpless workers, pollute the environment, and congratulate
themselves in their luxurious clubs. Bounderby, for instance. Or those
fat, ugly gents in silk hats carrying bags of $$$. But this sense needs
to be made clear to people like me.

In the second case, what is meant by "calvinism"? Presumably we mean the
interlocked theology, polity and liturgy written up by John Calvin in
the 16th Century. But to set these writings up as causal they cannot be
merely associated with something (such as capitalism), they must be
shown to have a unique relationship so that B couldn't have happened if
A had not, and  we must be sure that both are not results of some other

The quotation offered

> >       But if the disasters and miseries which press us happen
> >       without the agency of men, let us call to mind the doctrine
> >       of the Law, (Deu 28: 1) that all prosperity has its source
> >       in the blessing of God, that all adversity is his curse.
> >            (I, 17, ix)

though interesting, is scarcely definitive. Did the Roman, Lutheran and
Anglican churches interpret Deuteronomy 28 (which is certainly very
clear, if rather horrifying) differently? If not, and if (as I suspect
is the case) they had very much the same interpretation, and the same
attitude toward the wretched of the earth, then the quotation is

Also, where is this vast influence of Calvinism supposed to have come
from?  The countries it dominated (Scotland, the Netherlands,
Switzerland) were hardly the major players in 18th and 19th century
European economics. They were not unimportant but also not major. The
Scots, as part of Great Britain, made a good deal of impact -- but that
was because they were linked to the much larger English economy. (And,
it could be argued, the Scottish influence came mainly from the least
Calvinistic Scots.)

You can say likewise that certain values that were highly prized by
people who belonged to Calvinistic denominations (such as, thrift, hard
work, and education) were also highly prized by those involved in the
industrial revolution. But those are fundamental bourgeois values and by
no means the exclusive property of Calvinists, so that the idea of
Calvinism "causing" these values and then "causing" the industrial
revolution (which we are apparently equating with the development of
capitalism) strikes me as completely unwarranted.

"The devil a Puritan that he is, or anything constantly but a
time-pleaser . . ."


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