Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century came the rise of the novel. What came with it was teaching lessons of great importance that had been previously done by biblical stories, hagiographies and didactic allegorical tales but paid closer attention to everyday life and ordinary people. From the story of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe society is shown the constant battle between being a devout religious follower & a moral, economical businessperson and the importance divine dispensation and providence.
As Crusoe sometimes learns lessons Defoe hopes that those reading his text are able to learn not only take from the good lessons Crusoe learn’s in his life but also learning from the bad and what they should not do. The battle of the devout, religious follower and the moral businessperson is shown and argued through the concept of surplus in the Protestant religion. As Crusoe quotes from the bible, “Lust of the Flesh, the Lust of the Eyes, or the Pride of Life”, he is talking about what is wrong with the world and how those who rid themselves of any surplus of things they do not need, will live a morally just life.
155) This quote from the bible speaks on everything in the world, the desires of the body, and everything that they eyes see and pride in one’s achievements and possessions, and how these are not from the Father but are from this frugal world. It claims that the Father gives the world what they need and anything that they want is a sin. This is reinforced through Crusoe and his problem of accumulation, one only needs enough money for a comfortable survival and no more because any surplus is a sin and will just cause you to fall from a positive ground. 75) As Crusoe speaks directly on the bible it may seem that the religious debate in the text is the winner. However, this story is clearly not in support of morally reforming this class as proven in the end when Crusoe talks about all the money he has made. Considering the virtues attached to the Protestant religion, as pointed out by Weber’s Theory, of frugality, prudence and industry, perhaps it is not the issue of living cohesively as a morally good Christian and being economic but the confusion of this religion. The entire basis of the Protestant religion is simply that by being economical you are being morally good.
The idea of morality is what is demented and transformed in this religion. Therefore, if this virtue of piety coincides with the economic qualities for a successful business person then maybe this is what Crusoe’s goal really is. This also corresponds to why Defoe has created this story. He tries to balance morality and economics instead of having one win over the other, when really he is just reinforcing the Protestants morality in economics. Their morality is simply centered on the notion of making money and that by making money you are following God’s talents for yourself so you are being moral in your duties and vice-versa.
This problem is exemplified when Crusoe sells Xury. Crusoe has the mentality of a man who is more economical than religious as when he and Xury are saved he tries to make things even with the captain by giving him something to make the score even between the two, the economic Crusoe. However, the captain does not want anything in return as if the same thing were to happen to him he would want a kind-hearted person to do on to him as he has done on to others, the religious man. (73) Crusoe cannot wrap his head around this, just as a Protestant being told that being economical means your being moral.
Perhaps it would be better to view the story as not transforming people into this genuinely moral religious follower but instead as a moral economical Protestant. Perhaps a business person and a Protestant should not be viewed as two separate entities or two different categories, but one that go hand in hand with one another. As compared with the story of Inkle and Yarico and Steele’s conclusion that this is bad imperialism as a sort of compassion and emotional connection is needed, perhaps it is their compassionate and emotional reconnection to God that Protestants needs to reconfigure.
This great debate presented in this text on religion and economics and if they can coexist so that an individual can be a moral capitalist is not possible because as long as their our goods and the mentality of constantly working to be a good Protestant, one will never know when to stop. Providence is God’s care over a person who is doing what they should and following the path of God. Crusoe speaks on his state of life and how it would not be possible without God, “I frequently sat down to my Meat with Thankfulness, and admir’d the Hand of God’s Providence, which had thus spread my Table in the Wilderness. (155) The great anxiety for Puritans of providence and if you understand the signs of God’s path for you he will take care of you and provide you with what you need no matter where you are, is what Crusoe is trying to show the world here. As he followed the path that God provided for him, he never went without his basic needs for survival. Though Crusoe does wrong, as every human has original sin, through his journey he realizes that God’s providence is there for those that repent and realize what is truly important in their lives.
Crusoe serves as a lesson to others in his society and those who hear his tale, on how with morals economic goals can be possible but only in how finding out what is truly important in life can only be achieved with faith in God. Being the story to be officially called the first Novel, it is no wonder that Defoe speaks through Crusoe trying to show others the value of his novel; “Another Reflection was of great Use to me, and doubtless would be so to any one that should fall into such Distress as mine was. (156) He talks about how his story is good for others to learn from, the story is proving the value it contains because others can learn from what Crusoe has done right and wrong. They can be shown that when he was not following God’s providence by going on the ship that bad happened, but when he started living a morally economic Protestant life that God’s Providence took care of him. This is the where the whole idea of being the first novel is discovered as this is the first time that any work of literature has provided this kind of knowledge to its onlooker.