As a boy in late-1940s Memphis, my dad got a nickel every Friday evening to come by the home of a Russian Jewish immigrant named Harry Levenson and turn on his lights, since the Torah forbids lighting a fire in your home on the Sabbath. My father would wonder, however, if he were somehow sinning. The fourth commandment says that on the Sabbath ‘you shall not do any work – you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns’. Was my dad Levenson’s slave? If so, how come he could turn on Levenson’s lights? Were they both going to hell?
Max Weber’s famous text The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905) is surely one of the most misunderstood of all the canonical works regularly taught, mangled and revered in universities across the globe.