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The origin and birth of capitalism as a concept, is

one that has given rise to arguments with and

criticising of various scholars both past and present.
Some of these scholars argue that the modern
capitalist system is a stem of the concept of capitalism
that emerged in the 14th century and that the concept
was introduced under the protestant reformation of
puritan ethics. Without giving a full history of the
introduction of the concept, it may be right to say that
the capitalist economic system is one of the greatest
models on the creation of wealth, and the pursuit of
individual or collective happiness in modern day as the
case may be. The beginning of the 19th century,
through the 20th and 21st centuries marked the start of
many key economic developments, as a result, began
the most rapid and massive change and development
in the history of mankind. Some of these
developmental factors are attributed to the capitalist
economic system where man could work, sweat,
enslave and exploit their fellow man for the satisfaction
of owning just a penny more in the name of capitalism.
Now, the issue of the founders of the concept of
capitalism and the present day capitalist system of
economy is one that is of grave importance for two
main reasons, firstly because it is only when we know
where we have been and how we got there that we can
move on to the future, and secondly ensuring that the
seemingly “mistaken views of dead men” may not be
misrepresented to the subsequent generations to
come. The question now is ‘who then should be
credited with the honour of introducing this concept of
It is said that a conceived concept should be
studied as a product of its time; but the concept of
capitalism like many other concepts and ideas have
survived the test of time. Instead of this concept being
discarded, it has evolved and some modification has
been made to it by economists and non-economists of
different times, each contributing their own perspective
thereby making it what it has turned out to be
Discussing the origin of the concept of capitalism,
one cannot avoid noticing the argument made by the
19 century scholar Max Weber, in his book “the
protestant ethics and the spirit of capitalism” ,where he

sought to trace the origin and evolutionary

transformation of capitalism as a concept. He was
convinced that the concept of capitalism was
introduced around the 14th century by protestant ethics,
because the most economically advanced territories i.e.
England, Holland and America were all mainly
protestant nations. He further stated that
“moneymaking, provided it is done legally is within the
modern economic order, the result and the expression
of diligence in one’s calling”. Max Weber’s theory on
the concept of capitalism was and still is a subject of
ruthless battering, both from scholars of his time and
from subsequent generations. The most recent and
possibly the most renowned argument against Weber’s
theory is that which was made by Jere Cohen. In his
book “Protestantism and capitalism: the mechanism of
influence” jere Cohen argued in opposition to Weber’s
thesis that the protestant or puritan ethics did not in
fact introduce the concept of capitalism. He went
further to list hypothesis derived from Weber’s thesis,
on the various protestant influences on capitalism on
such topics as (wealth and profit, religious anxiety, the
spirit of capitalism etc.). He then goes on to examine
each of the hypotheses against every 17th century
puritan divine.
While some scholars debate the origin of this
concept and its relation to the protestant ethics, some
others have indicated that capitalist activities were
present in the 9th – 12th centuries long before the
protestant revolution, in the caliphate though in very
isolated cases.
Given that the facts are very much inconclusive,
and there seems to be differing evidence as to the
origin of this concept. Is it right to say that the world
may never know the true origin of the concept, or that
the concept of capitalism was bore out contributory
acts over the course of a few years or over centuries ? .
Though it is unclear the extent of protestant
contribution to the concept, they may have well played
a very important role in its development, the spread of
the concept, and its development into the kind of
economic system it is today.