“The fact is that capitalism was built on the

exploitation and suffering of black slaves and

continues to thrive on the exploitation of the

poor — both black and white, here and abroad.”

-Martin Luther King Jr.

Image: The Long Run

The Protestant work ethic is a work ethic concept which emphasizes that hard work, and discipline are a result of a person’s subscription to the values espoused by the Protestant faith, particularly Calvinism. The phrase was coined by Max Weber in his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.

Protestants thought of worldly work as a duty which benefits both the individual and society. Thus, the Catholic idea of good works was transformed into an obligation. On top of this, Calvinist theologians believed that only those who were predestined to be saved would be saved. Since it was impossible to know who was predestined, a person’s lifestyle would determine if they would be saved. Hard work was thought to be an important factor.

Many believe the Protestant work ethic was an important force behind the unplanned emergence of modern capitalism. It has also been blamed for being used by White Anglo-Saxon Protestants as a tool to exploit minorities, especially during the time of slavery. The existence of such notions can be seen even in the present day in ideas such as the “American Dream”, that dictate that hard work without complaints can lead to success in life.