An immediate problem here is how we are to define capitalism and the spirit of capitalism that was invoked by Max Weber. For some commentators, and even for Amintore Fanfani in his rightly admired and now classic book on this topic, both are seen as somewhat natural phenomena, directly linked to the human desire for gain, advantage, and material comfort. If one takes this perspective, then the influence of religion upon the economic realm tends to be seen in merely negative terms: as a matter of the relative presence or absence of restraint of the acquisitive instinct. In Fanfani’s case, Protestantism, in the course of its development rather than its original impact, was plausibly seen as offering considerably less restraint than Catholicism. However, while the perennial presence of an acquisitive instinct is banally true, there is no real evidence of any pre-modern social inclination anywhere to organise an economy, much less a socio-political order, on the minimum basis of individualistic greed. To the contrary, as Karl Polanyi famously asserted, this has been almost universally avoided by embedding the economic in social goals of reciprocal human flourishing. It is only capitalist modernity that perversely does just the opposite: embed social and political pursuits in the economic realm, itself newly understood in terms of a mutual satisfying of essentially isolated egoistic needs.
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