It is worth looking more closely at how Weber’s vision of the modern world has panned out in the century since the publication of ’’The Protestant Ethic.’’ In many ways, of course, it has proved fatally accurate: rational, science-based capitalism has spread across the globe, bringing material advancement to large parts of the world and welding it together into the iron cage we now call globalization.
But it goes without saying that religion and religious passion are not dead, and not only because of Islamic militancy but also because of the global Protestant-evangelical upsurge that, in terms of sheer numbers, rivals fundamentalist Islam as a source of authentic religiosity. The revival of Hinduism among middle-class Indians, or the emergence of the Falun Gong movement in China, or the resurgence of Eastern Orthodoxy in Russia and other former Communist lands, or the continuing vibrancy of religion in America, suggests that secularization and rationalism are hardly the inevitable handmaidens of modernization.
Here’s his conclusion:
Weber’s ’’Protestant Ethic’’ was thus terrifically successful as a stimulus to serious thought about the relationship of cultural values to modernity. But as a historical account of the rise of modern capitalism, or as an exercise in social prediction, it has turned out to be less correct. The violent century that followed publication of his book did not lack for charismatic authority, and the century to come threatens yet more of the same. One must wonder whether it was not Weber’s nostalgia for spiritual authenticity -- what one might term his Nietzscheanism -- that was misplaced, and whether living in the iron cage of modern rationalism is such a terrible thing after all.
Ken takes him to task for not giving enough attention to contemporary Roman Catholicism. I’ll ask whether "the iron cage of modern rationalism" is the only possible political alternative to "charismatic authority" of the sort exercised by Lenin, Hitler, and Osama bin Laden.
Update: Let me add two more thoughts: Fukuyama argues that Western Europe is closest to being locked in the "iron cage" of rationalism, but doesn’t acknowledge that it’s also the most vulnerable to an Islamist takeover, not just because of its geographic proximity to the Middle East and North Africa. And the current U.S. commitment to the spread of "democracy," something on which Fukuyama happens at the moment to smile, is not simply born of our rationalism.