In his book “The Right to Heresy,” Stefan Zweig delves into an investigation of John Calvin’s establishment of a theocracy in Geneva. Zweig explores how Calvin propagated an austere way of life and imposed rigid religious restrictions, which came to define the Calvinist creed for centuries. Drawing on Max Weber’s work in “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism,” Zweig highlights how Calvinism influenced the American belief system, particularly in terms of predestination and the pursuit of wealth as a demonstration of God’s grace.
Zweig argues that this Calvinist tradition has contributed to the deep-seated segregation within American society. Rather than stemming from racial animosity, the segregation is primarily driven by a socio-economic hierarchy. Americans tend to associate closely with individuals of similar income levels, professions, and interests, forming distinct communities. This phenomenon can be traced back to the Calvinist way of life described in “The Right to Heresy,” which exhibited a low tolerance for heresy and a strong emphasis on moral probity.
On the other hand, Zweig highlights the unique case of Brazil in his book “Brazil: the land of the future.” Unlike the Protestant-dominated countries, Brazil, a predominantly Catholic nation, did not experience the same level of religious control and influence. Zweig notes that Brazil’s cultural landscape thrived on diversity and assimilation, with immigrants from various backgrounds coexisting harmoniously. He marvels at the absence of ethnically homogeneous enclaves and the joyful interaction between children of different races.
Through his exploration of Calvinism and its influence, both in America and Brazil, Stefan Zweig reveals the profound impact that religious beliefs and cultural legacies can have on societies. His observations shed light on the socio-economic divisions and tendencies towards exclusivity in American society, while also highlighting the embracing nature of diversity in Brazil.