Book Reviews - Winter 2021

Market Morality

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The divine underpinnings of Western prosperity

By Michael Shermer | December 7, 2020
Anthony Robinson (Flickr/anthonyrobinsonphotography)
Anthony Robinson (Flickr/anthonyrobinsonphotography)

Religion and the Rise of Capitalism by Benjamin M. Friedman; Knopf, 560 pp., $35

Over the years, some religious conservatives have strained to attenuate Christianity’s doctrinal role in some of history’s darker moments—the Crusades, the Inquisition, the European witch hunts, pogroms against Jews, and the slave trade. Some have gone so far as to credit Christianity for the core institutions of modern industrialized democracies, including and especially capitalism.

But Harvard political economist Benjamin M. Friedman rejects such Whiggish triumphalism. In his new book, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, he resurrects a thesis proffered a century ago by English historian R. H. Tawney (in his book of the same title) that linked modern market capitalism to certain aspects of religious thought and behavior.

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