Breaking the Iron Cage

  Breaking the Iron Cage: Max Weber, Erich Fromm, and the Sociology of Religion
  By Walter A. Jensen, Ph.D.

Keywords: Sociology of Religion, Comparative Religion, Social Psychology, the Frankfurt School, Erich Fromm, Critique of Max Weber.

This article attempts to explain the problem with Weber's 'key' to the 'iron cage.' First, using one of Erich Fromm's concepts, the article summarizes the central factors that make up the social character of the Protestant Ethic and the 'Spirit of Capitalism.' Starting with Protestant Ethic, the reader will receive a brief review of
  1. Martin Luther's Sola fide, Sola scriptura, and his ideas concerning how to please God;
  2. John Calvin's predestination and code of conduct for those who are 'saved;'
  3. Pietism - a movement born out of the 'Thirty Year War' in Germany;
  4. John Wesley's push towards Imitatio Christi; and
  5. Anabaptism and their religiously sanctioned separation practices.
In addition, the reader will come to see
  (a) the differences between the social character of Catholics verses Protestants,
  (b) how the Protestant Ethic is driven by salvation anxiety, and
  (c) how the 'Spirit of Capitalism' "co-participated" in modern capitalism's rise to global domination.
This summary section ends with an explanation of how these new theological ideas tended 'to stabilize and intensify the new social character' and direct the believer's actions like a gale wind blowing against a small sailboat. Next, the article succinctly defines the 'Spirit of Capitalism.' After this foundational review, the reader's attention is focused on Weber's concepts of the 'iron cage' (an internalized belief that one must have an economically driven, vocational calling), ascetic rationalism, and the charismatic leader. Finally, the article concludes with an explanation of how each new 'key,' which is created in the hands of a 'new' charismatic leader or human idol, only leads to another 'iron cage.'

If you are reading The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism and want a better understanding than the Wikipedia entry
AND/OR you would like to understand the impact of dogma on social interaction, follow this link.