From ..............THE TROUBLE WITH FRANCE

By Alain Peyrefitte

CHAPTER 16-A .......... Explanations That Explain Nothing

pages 121 - 125

Is there a natural explanation for the Catholic nations' stagnation and the Protestant nations' expansion?

Is there a southern inertia, a heat-induced poverty? Climate?

In the seventeenth century, Nicolas Boileau spoke of it as a commonplace:

Yet it was humanity's vital energy, not climate, that veered from south to north, Rameses II's Egypt, Assurbanipal's Assyria, the Greece of Pericles did not wait for air conditioning before becoming fertile. When man wants to work, he works just about anywhere, in Alaska and the Negev, in Siberia or Tahiti. It's as hot in California as in Sicily, as cold in Sweden as in Tierra del Fuego.

What is true of climatic explanations is also true of those based on terrain - whether its configuration or the resources it holds. Topography and geology deal the cards; it's up to us to play them. Maritime trade requires ports and safe harbors. A jagged coastline or islands can polarize growth. Yet Greece has lost its power although its geography hasn't changed since the age of Pericles. The Norman port of Saint-Malo prospered and declined with no change in its profile. What geographer, what engineer could have imagined that Venice la Serenissima would have risen from a scattering of sandbanks in the Adriatic?

Fundamental differences between nations cannot be explained by the distribution of resources. There is as much natural wealth in Siberia as in all of Europe together, in Brazil as in the United States, in Pakistan as in Japan. Yet compare the results.

When a people has an aptitude for industry, it is not stopped by lack of natural resources. Switzerland, the world's leading producer and exporter of chocolate and powdered coffee, grows neither cacao nor coffee. Never mind; it buys what it needs.

Does Japan lack coal? * It sells manufactured goods to pay for the coal with which it manufactures them.

[* Some coal is mined in Japan, but not enough for the country's needs. And Japanese coal is not suited to making coke for steel production.]

Well then, if nothing is explained by a country's natural physiognomy, how about its people? How can we avoid noting that all the advanced nations except Japan are peopled by the white race? Or that the predominantly British, Scandinavian and German countries are especially favored? Is the white race, and particularly some of its ethnic components, more gifted than other races in creating an industrial civilization?

This theory is not often written, but it is murmured. Yet the sole differences science has so far found among the races are anatomical: pigmentation, eye color, nose and cranial formation, hair color, size. No one has ever successfully associated character traits with these physical attributes. The language of popular racism, on the other hand, is expressive. The defects it lays to nonwhites resemble those ascribed to Europe's proletariat a century ago. Weren't poor whites then considered thieving, lazy, improvident, lying - all the vices of man gelded of his responsibility and his dignity?

It is situation that molds character. Even stripped of their cloak of insults, the nonwhites' defects exist; they are connected with economic and social underdevelopment, and in turn prolong it. But we see them disappear among black workers whose living standards rise, as they disappeared among white workers. Still, we have not disposed of our initial observation.

There is no denying the equality of aptitudes among peoples for furthering an industrial civilization. But neither can we reduce a complex psychological reality to a simple matter of biological differences among races. A nation's character, its culture - these are what make for such striking and lasting differences. It is from these that its customs grow - its conventions, prejudices, basic values and principles of social organization.

The Religious Factor

Climate, resources, race; physical properties of the air, the earth or the species. All these explanations lead us back to man's psychology. The rudimentary geography of development we traced in earlier chapters thus seems to give rise to a rudimentary supposition:

Is the merchant and technical civilization the daughter (or sister) of Protestantism? The question seems almost scandalous. What has religion to do with economic growth? Yet it is an inevitable one.

said Charles de Gaulle. Behind the conquests of the "nation of shopkeepers" so despised by Napoleon, that Latin genius, why shouldn't we find the doctrine of Puritanism?

Unless it's the other way around and the shopkeepers were behind the Puritans. Karl Marx would then have been right. Economic facts, according to him, could only have economic causes; spiritual, religious and moral manifestations would have been superstructures on the economic foundation.

Marx, Engels and many Marxist historians had also remarked the disparity in rates of progress between the Protestant and Catholic countries.

But they had no doubt about the reason: the capitalist, industrialized countries became Protestant in order to adapt their religious ethic to the needs of their economic system. To them, the reformation was capitalism's daughter.

The most recent historical research corrects this explanation.

The Reformation was a spiritual earthquake.

For Marx to have been right, an economic revolution of comparable magnitude would have been required beforehand to engender this religious revolution.

Yet there is no sign of any such upheaval.

The great discoveries, the great Renaissance voyages of exploration, may have opened men's minds, but they caused no economic change. And Luther nailed his ninety-five points to the door of the church in Wittenberg two years before Cortes landed in Mexico.

Had Marx been right, the Reformation should have appeared and spread in the richest and most dynamic countries of the age, these in which capitalism had advanced the farthest - Italy, Spain, Portugal, Flanders, Brabant. But none of these countries went Protestant.

Sixteenth-century Europe's leading businessmen, the Genoese, Florentine and Barcelonan merchants and financiers who were to control European economic life until the early seventeenth century, remained faithful to Rome. The Fugger dynasty, the Rothschilds or Rockefellers of the time, lent money for indulgences. And Pope Leo X, the son of a Medici banker, excommunicated Luther, who called down anathema on bankers.

In fact, it was in the economically backward countries, such as Switzerland, in some of the poorest of the German states, the depressed, mist-shrouded regions of northern Europe, that the Reformation found its most fertile ground.

Another Theory

If Marx was wrong, was Max Weber right?

For it was this illustrious German sociologist who most subtly linked The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, as he called the book he published in 1904. The book and the idea were hotly debated in the Protestant countries: they have had hardly any effect on Latin countries like France.

Weber did not claim to have discovered that the Protestant peoples were more gifted than the Catholics for economic progress; this had been widely acknowledged in the preceding three centuries.

What Weber did was to try to show the affinities between the capitalist spirit and Protestant morality. The Calvinists, he explained, believed in predestination. They could do nothing to change the choice of heaven or hell God had made for them. But they thought that in worldly prosperity they could perceive a hint of divine providence. The more successful their business affairs were, the more certain they felt of being among the elect.

Moreover, this prosperity, sought as a sign and not for itself, was purified by asceticism. God condemned luxury, so they lived frugal lives. Idleness was abhorrent to Protestant asceticism, which incited to toil and rational activity.

The old inhibitions against acquisitiveness were uprooted, but the ascetic spirit castigated excessive enjoyment of wealth; it encouraged production, but restrained consumption. Caught between their need to enrich themselves and their insistence on living simply, the Calvinists turned spontaneously toward savings and investment. Weber knew his time too well to pretend that Puritan asceticism still called the tune. But he insisted that between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries - the "take-off" period - it was that ethic which gave the Protestant countries a lead in the formation of capital from which they continued to profit even after the original motivations were diluted.

No Single Cause, No Single Effect

As careful as he was with qualitative factors, Weber, like Marx, succumbed to the nineteenth century's quantitative tendency. His reasoning remained materialistic - it sought the elements in Protestantism that produced a capital surplus. Weber reduced industrial development to capitalism and capitalism to capital. He introduced the religious factor into industrial development chiefly as the lever for savings and the systematization of profit. Was he looking through the wrong end of the telescope?

In the decades that followed the Reformation, the enormous phenomena of Protestantism and the economic revolution developed together. Weber reduced the first to a cause, asceticism, and the second to an effect of that cause, the accumulation of capital. Shouldn't we rather establish a cause effect relationship between the complex of Protestant attitudes and the complex of industrial civilization?

The Economy Is More Than the Economy

Marx saw only two factors at work, capital and labor. Weber saw a third, cultural factor. But he didn't dare follow his discovery to its conclusion; he made the cultural factor a subfactor of the first - capital. Now, it seems to me that this third factor is more decisive than the other two, that it dominates them both.

In the Reformed countries we see a release from stewardship by divine right, confidence bestowed on individuals and groups, an appetite for scientific and technical research, a boost for initiative: an economic mentality.

In the Counter-Reformation countries, on the other hand, what we see is submission to hierarchical authority, mistrust of individuals and groups, an organization hostile to autonomy and innovation: an anti-economic prejudice.

St. Thomas Aquinas believed that wealth could be morally good if it is used toward legitimate ends. Conversely, Calvin, although he authorized lending money at interest, did impose restrictions on it. To be legitimate, a loan designed to stimulate production, the vital motor of capitalism, had to bring the borrower as much profit as it produced for the lender, or more. Professional lenders - bankers - were still condemned. None of these ideas were precisely in harmony with capitalist thinking.

Calvin very cautiously opened a door a crack. Many clerics and humanists before him had been bolder. It was the whole Western world that opened the intellectual and moral roads to capitalism in the sixteenth century. Protestantism's religious rigor at first blocked some of them. Most of the original Calvinist communities in Geneva, Holland, Scotland and the Palatinate - regulated economic activity conservatively. Hardened by religious struggle, they were prey to fanaticism.

Only under the "deviant" Calvinism of the disciples of Arminius and Socinius could economic expansion truly get under way, in the "Arminian" cities of Amsterdam and Leyden, in a Geneva relieved of orthodoxy in the late eighteenth century.

The Origins of Dynamism

Perhaps, at this stage, we can hazard an explanation of why the Latin nations grew poorer beginning in the early seventeenth century while the northern countries seemed to grow richer.

There were contradictory elements in Christianity before the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation.

As a religion of personal destiny, it released forces of emancipation, of vitality through a dialogue between effort and grace. At the same time, it taught detachment from worldly concerns and submission, fostering a spirit of resignation, of fatalism, of acceptance of the hierarchical principle.

This conflict explains the ambiguity of Christendom's whole career up to the sixteenth century.

Few ancient civilizations prized work very highly. As soon as they could, they assigned it to slaves. It was the Judeo-Christian civilization that conferred dignity on labor, making it a duty the religious man lovingly embraces.

The servant who failed to make his master's money multiply was consigned to the shadows by Jesus. St. Paul proscribed idleness; he that worked not, Paul declared, was unworthy of his bread. Christ's appeal was above all personal. For the first time, religion was no longer a means of appeasing external demons through ritual and sacrifice. Misfortune was interiorized. By placing the battle between good and evil in every heart, this new faith created an unprecedented upheaval.





By - Alain Peyrefitte

Translator- William R.Byron USA

Publisher - Alfred A.Knopf, Inc., NYC 1981

Canadian Publisher - Random House 1981

French Publisher - Librairie Plon 1976