Comment on W. S. Hudson: The Weber Thesis Re-examined

"Comment on W. S. Hudson: The Weber Thesis Re-examined," Church History, Vol. 30, No. 1 (March 1961).


This meeting, I gather, is concerned with the need for reinterpretation. I am not at all certain that reinterpretation is a universal necessity, i.e., that there cannot be final or definitive interpretations especially
in those areas of historical research which are the most important. But I cannot go now into this difficult theoretical subject. I must limit myself to saying that the call for reinterpretation is dangerous practically. That call tells the historian: be original! Originality is very rare and the original historians do not have to be told to be original. As for the large majority of historians, they merely get bewildered by that call. Every one of us is probably flattered by the implication that we could be original if we only tried. This implication draws our attention away from our simple and urgent duties, the duties to be careful and thorough and to think straight. It would be also a great delusion to believe that the demand for novelty has made us more receptive to novel approaches: the resistance to genuine innovations as distinguished from fads is today as great as it was in the most benighted ages.

Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism revolutionized the contemporary view of the past as much as Pirenne’s studies on the end of antiquity or the beginning of the Middle Ages. I for one find the work of Pirenne more solid and even more exciting than Weber’s. Yet Weber’s work has a much greater fascination. For it concerns directly the way in which we as modern men understand ourselves, i.e., Weber’s work is more philosophic than Pirenne’s.