The American Way


Protestant work-ethic are set of ideas that emerged in the 16th century and are important in influencing and encouraging the development of capitalist states. Protestants were particularly influenced by John Calvin’s ideas on obedience to God and His will which demands energetic work in one’s calling. This essay will discuss the modern American negativism shown toward welfare recipients and homeless as having originated with the 16th century Protestantism and its work ethic. We will also examine why the American society is obsessed with the work ethic more than the contemporary European states.

According to Max Weber, the 16th century work ethic was morally justified as the reward for hard work. Weber claimed that the protestant work-ethic was supportive of capitalist development and that in such countries that were more capitalists, protestant ideas moved quickly ahead of catholic and became dominant. Unlike the Catholic Church which promoted ideas that seemed to obstruct economic development, protestant churches insisted on economic prosperity. (Vision).

The discipline of protestant’s social work emerged with a dual purpose philosophy fostered by a conflicting social welfare perspective in the 16th century. This was identified as the reason for specialized attention and social reform for individualized personal services. Those who believed in moral certainty felt that “poverty could be avoided by anyone who really wanted to” (Pg.8). They believed that it was an individual’s low moral values that caused people to be poor. People like Mary Richmond strongly believed in the doctrine and thus she was among the first pioneers involved in the development of charity organizations in North America. These types of organizations were founded in England and passed down to America. (Vision).

Welfare is the last resort safety net for the poor who have no source of income or any source of shelter. With provision of protection and order, providing welfare has been crucial for legitimate political authority especially during the World War II. And indeed in America, where people are meant to work hard to get ahead, the people believe that the government should only be a temporary measure when hard times hit but most white Americans believe that majority of the welfare recipients are black because they ‘are not hardworking’. (The New York Times).

The protestant reformation has played a pivotal role in many respects during upheaval times in Europe. This has affected the development of western civilization. The notable reformers whose influence continues to be felt were Martin Luther and Calvin John. John Calvin has especially been credited with the ‘protestant work ethic’. This term is very closely associated with America’s rise to economic and its political power in the 19th and 20th centuries. The previous cultures did not consider work as having any intrinsic spiritual value but was only demeaning to the slave class.  The Catholic Church placed higher value on monastic life of prayer than hard labor and thus America’s warm welcome to Protestantism as Protestants insisted on a work-ethic. But with the feudal system of the 16th century, it affirmed labor and a person’s calling with his vocation. According to Calvin, man combined his spiritual future and the earthly labor. Calvin developed work attitude from his revolutionary interpretation of predisposition. Thus secularism became an important aspect of the American society alongside religion and contributed to the nation’s pluralistic culture.

A perception of work and leisure do get different values across the Atlantic Ocean; for Americans, they live to work but Europeans work to live. This saying is especially concerned to comparing the issue of time use between the two countries with implications on social and personal values that what time use is related to and what it indicates to them. The saying just but voices the cultural widespread stereotype that consumerism, achievement and competitiveness of the ‘protestant work ethic’. The Europeans tend to lead leisure works and treasure things that rest outside work’s domain and work in order to have means of enjoying themselves. The saying thus refers to the American commitment to work ethic and the European’s appreciation of leisure and deep play. For the Americans, they have longer working hours translating to less free time for leisure than the Europeans (Kuslapuu, K., 2009 pgs6-7).

The differences in the work ethic relies on cultural differences that stresses on the different values and historical conditions that shape the American thinking and the Europeans as having a role in the current pattern of time allocation. The American style psyche traits like individuality, competitiveness, ambition success, self reliance and success have been linked to an individual’s desire to work. The importance of working hard for Americans is also be considered psychologically important due to re-iteration of myths that stress the significance of perseverance and enterprising. Further differences can be attributed to working patterns that deal with socio-economic factors that include importance of taxation, role of state activity in providing welfare and degree unionism. The differences in working time and leisure has also given rise to a number of stereotypes for the European type of leisure who enjoy reading in the parks and cook gourmet meals in the company of friends, this stereotypes contrast with the American images of often stressed, overworked Americans who have been driven to toil by the protestant work ethic. The Americans love the pleasures of the shiny malls flashing upon their faces and keep on consuming and outperform their peers; this is a powerful reason which urges them to work more and more. (Kuslapuu, K., 2009 pgs 9-10).


The protestant’s work-ethic of the 16th century has had tremendous effect especially o the capitalists states the US included. Americans have grown into this “hard work ethic” that they have less free time than even their European counterparts. This is because Americans’ thinking has been shaped by historical conditions than Europeans. The American thinking is that they live to work while that of European is they work to live. This is among the major reason why Americans do not like welfare as it shows that some people are not working hard.