In my opinion, the Spirit of Capitalism is greed, no matter how you cut it. Exactly where it came from I cannot say, but certainly one of its roots was Ancient Greece, and another was Christianity. Neither of these roots started out as greed-obsessed qualities, but it did not take long, historically-speaking, for either one to honour the possession of goods and money above all else. Ancient Greece started with a polity, an organized society with a structured form of civil government, where all male citizens could vote, while women, children, slaves, and foreigners living in the polity could not. Christianity, which at the time was defined only as Roman Catholicism, started as an underground political rebellion in Judea, where supposedly the religious teacher Jesus Christ was co-opted to be the real King of the Jews instead of Herod. According to ancient history the rebellion was put down and Christ was killed. His followers spread out across parts of the Roman Empire, since the Jewish people did not believe Christ was a prophet from god, and spread his teachings among the poor and unhealthy. From these humble beginnings Christianity grew to overtake almost the whole of the European-influenced world. The Roman Catholic Church became the richest single entity in the Western sphere of influence, and capitalism, the pursuit of land, goods, and money, became its creed. Government and religion came together to make a centuries-long unbreakable union, with the rulers being (almost exclusively) male members of the aristocracy and the priesthood (clergy), working together to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. Laws that were made fairly arbitrarily still reflected the ten commandments of Moses (a biblical character from the Old Testament). The lines between political ethics and religious morals blurred until they were virtually indistinguishable.
Money, otherwise useless bits of metal, was made to represent value, all of it owned by the nobility and the Church for the longest time, represented power, and until a middle class started to develop in the Middle Ages, only the most exceptional, and/or vicious, of men could raise up from the lower classes to the upper classes. Women were chattel, belonging to the men, as were their children, and they took their position in life from their fathers and husbands.
Capitalism was still suffering its growth pains at this time, and was not yet a factor in the Western world, or anywhere else, for that matter. But as craftsmen began to join guilds, more money was leaving the coffers of the rich, and being transferred into the hands of certain groups of society. The middle class was emerging from poverty to monied. It was a slow process, almost invisible to the aristocracy. As for the Church, as long as the money kept coming in, they did not care where it was coming from.
At this point in time, though there was infighting and bickering between members of the aristocracy, and between certain levels of the clergy, society was still mainly group-centered. People were individuals, surely, but they were treated as communities, so-to-speak. Killing a peasant was meaningless to aristocrats, they made no real distinction between members of the lower classes. As for those peasants, or even slaves, there was little difference between members of the ruling classes. Some nobles or monarchs might be less vicious than others, but all in all the poor lived at the mercy or vanity of the rich. Who killed them, or stole their few belongings and food, did not matter. There was little to choose between one ruler and the next.
But those in the middle class were not only gaining in money owned, they were also gaining in distinctiveness. First came pride in being a craftsman, second came pride in how much they were earning as opposed to what their fellow guild-members were making. And certain guilds were earning more money than other guilds, and all these things started to distinguish one group from another, and one person from another. Thus individuals were gaining fame and or notoriety, and capitalism had the foothold it had been looking for to grow and take over our society. Individuality blossomed, and the groups or classes became less important, while the individual grew in importance. And the Church, no longer a monopoly, but still the most powerful single entity in the world, praised the individual. Its monetary base grew exponentially, from classes of people, to groups of people, and now to people themselves, apart from almost all others. (Families, as in the nuclear family, would give as a group, but the group was small, and was guaranteed to create more individuals, and then more family groups. Jumping ahead for a moment, when the Church saw that planned family size was looming on the horizon, when it became possible to actively prevent pregnancies, and then to stop pregnancies, the Church responded quickly by preaching against the preventing of lives, or the ending of lives before birth, so that the number of their adherents would continue to increase, thus keeping the money flowing in. What the Church did not foresee was that ultimately this move would drive more people away from the Church than it provided, but in for an ounce, in for a ton. The Church cannot suddenly break faith with their adherents by proclaiming the advisability of planned families, of the use of contraceptives, or the legalizing of abortions within the religious laws. What was done can never be undone!)
I quote, “capitalism was ‘the most fateful power in our modern life’. More specifically, it controlled and generated modern [culture], the code of values by which people lived in the 20th-century [European-based world]–some ideas of Max Weber. I can agree with these ideas to a point, capitalism certainly had a huge effect on our present Western culture. But when he says something like “public behaviour was cool, reserved, hard and sober, governed by strict personal self-control” I think he goes too far. There are so many laws, secular and religious, that govern self-control that few individuals have the opportunity, or desire, to decide what personal self-control is. There are those (whom we call criminals) who deliberately break such laws of conduct, and there are those, whom we call mentally ill, whose inability to cope with the life required of them by capitalism literally cause them to lose their self-control, and then there are the few, known in psychological circles as self-empowered or self-actualized (see Abraham Maslow), who demonstrate self-control totally on their terms without advice from any laws, but I don’t see any of these groups or quasi-groups exercising hard and sober personal self-control, except possibly the self-empowered.
Capitalism is a lot of things, few of them good for humanity or for life itself, but it is not a power to itself, not in my mind. But, I could be wrong…