In his 1993 book The Catholic Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, the late Christian philosopher, Michael Novak, wrote that certain cultures are more likely to favor capitalism. Among them were the following: Confucian, Jewish, Protestant, and Northern European Catholic.
These cultures, Novak argued, possessed certain commonalities that made them more likely to engage in capitalism successfully and responsibly. Among the commonalities cited by Novak were “a certain rigor and austerity, an almost Stoic sense of sobriety and responsibility, and a certain disdain for corruption.”
Capitalism vs. Materialism
The idea that some cultures might engage in capitalism differently than other cultures sounds a bit presumptive to modern ears, but it’s also very capitalistic. Capitalism, after all, is a system that requires a level of comfort with inequalities in material outcomes.
People with skills and services that are scarce, valuable, and in high demand will naturally thrive more than people who lack such skills. The capitalist finds this arrangement perfectly natural, whereas the materialist finds it abhorrent.
Perhaps this is why Novak believed that capitalism, paradoxically, was a system suited for spiritual societies, not materialistic ones. “The only long-lasting foundation for a capitalist society is a moral, spiritual, and religious one,” he wrote.
This idea might sound paradoxical, but Novak was not the only adherent to this view. In their book Common Sense Business, authors Theodore Roosevelt Malloch and Whitney MacMillan write that the idea of work as a higher “calling” is very much ingrained in the Western mind.