Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Land of Equals: Hierarchy and Caste pt. 1

The idea of hierarchy has been much maligned in the 20th century. Noam Chomsky said that “all hierarchy is in some way oppression”. Oppression! As if to imply that when one person is given governance over another, injustice occurs. The radical nature of this position should quickly become apparent as it means to say that the stewardship of the government over their peoples and even an individual father’s paternity over their families is unjust and oppressive, without regard either to their benevolence, or their natural entitlement. But this is a sentiment of the 20th century, where patriarchy and monarchy are considered signs of feudal backwardness and injustice. With the prevalence of egalitarian idealism, and the affiliation of popular culture with the bourgeoning middle class, modernity has come to mean social, political, and economic equality. The hierarchy that was once known to exist in all things has been denied and inverted in the modern era; the body now governs the mind, the people now govern the state and there is no recognition of excellence because equality recognizes all peoples and lifestyles as equally valid. I will attempt to show in this multi part essay, that the Caste system is the most just form of social stratification, that all hierarchy is ubiquitous to human history as a reflection of divine providence and the objective truth of human nature, that opposition to hierarchy is a blasphemous illusion of outdated enlightenment tomfoolery, with no grounding in empirical reality or the ideal state.

The word "caste" is in actuality a misnomer taken from the Portuguese word “casta (Encarta Encyclopedia)”. The people of the south Indian subcontinent, with whom the Caste system is most readily identified, have believed for millennia that it is the most just system, both natural and universal. Hinduism teaches that all persons belong, by virtue of the nature of their immortal soul, to one of four castes, these being called the Brahmin(priests/intellectuals), Kshatriya(warrior/rulers), Vaisya(merchants), Sudra(workers). These castes are roughly analogous to the western Medieval tradition of clergy, nobility, burghers, and peasants, and also to the Persian tradition of Athreva (lords of fire), Rathaesthra (warriors), Vastriya-fshuyant (merchants), and Huti (workers)[Evola]. In the Hindu dharmic tradition, there is a belief that the soul is borne into the caste befitting it’s nature. A passionate soul is borne into the warrior caste, a pious contemplative soul into the priestly caste, and a kingly soul into a Prince.

“The varna system was based on a person’s characteristics, temperament and their innate “nature.” The Vedas describe one’s nature as being a mixture of the three gunas – tamas, rajas and sattva. Depending on the relative proportions of each of these gunas, one would be classified as a Brahmin, Kshetriya, Vaishya or Shudra. For example, Brahmins who perform much of the intellectual, creative and spiritual work within a community have a high proportion of sattva and low proportions of tamas and rajas. A kshetriya who is inclined toward political, administrative and military work has a high proportion of rajas, a medium proportion of sattva and a low proportion of tamas. A Vaishya who performs the tasks of businessman, employer and skilled laborer also has a high proportion of rajas but has relatively equal proportions of sattva and tamas, both of which are lower than rajas. Last, a shudra who performs the unskilled labor in society has a high proportion of tamas, a low proportion of sattva and a medium proportion of rajas.” (Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji)In Plato's Republic, the ideal state is also subdivided along caste line (philosopher kings, guardians, and producers). Plato recognized that there was a hierarchy of a just man’s soul in the same manner as there was hierarchy in a just society, the two being correlated and reflective of each other's perfection.“Justice is produced in the soul, like health in the body, by establishing the elements concerned in their natural relations of control and subordination; whereas injustice is like a disease and means that this natural order in inverted” (Plato; Republic)

Aristotle believed that the natural world provided a guide for an understanding of “human nature”, and in that way showed how men should live based on empirical observations. He observed that there was a hierarchy in nature; the mind governs the body, the master governs his slaves, the husband governs his wife, children obey their parents. He believed that the perfection of a just society should reflect the perfection of the natural order. The unequal distribution of the “reasoning parts of the soul” mirrors the Hindu tradition of “gunas”.“That one should command and another obeys is both necessary and expedient. Indeed, some things are divided right from birth, some to rule, and some to be ruled…For rule of free over slave, male over female, man over boy, are all different, because while parts of the soul are present in each case, the distribution is different” (Aristotle, the Politics Iv)

Like the Greek philosophers, English political theorist Thomas Hobbes conceived that hierarchy was the ideal. But for Hobbes this was the case because it was inevitable and justifiable in order to preserve our liberty and saftey in the “state of nature”. "The end of obedience is protection, wheresoever a man seeth it, either in his own or in another's sword, nature applieth his obedience to it, and his endeavor to maintain it." (Thomas Hobbes; Leviathan, Chapter XXI)A turn of the century English Tory, Anthony Ludovici, attempted to show the necessity of hierarchy, which he, like Aristotle and Plato, viewed as the recognition that the superior men should be utilized by lesser men for the good of everyone. “Thus superiority is inseparable from our idea of the ruler; because the ruler is essentially a protector, and only where men see or experience superiority do they always see and experience protection. Superior power is and always has been the shelter of the weak. Superior strength is and always has been something to cling to; while superior knowledge is and always has been something awakening trust and confidence. It is the marked superiority of the adult in strength, knowledge and power that first captivates and makes a voluntary slave of the child. It is the marked, though momentary, superiority of the Alpine guide which makes the tourists in his charge like unto menials doing his bidding....Since men are born unequal, and natural distinctions between them as regards nobility, strength, beauty, size, intelligence and elevation of spirit are undeniable, the wisest régime is the one in which these distinctions are not ignored or overlooked, but exploited, placed, used and turned to the best advantage. Admitting that some must and can rule, there will be others who will have to supply the community with the material needs of life, others who will be the servants of these, and so on, until that labourer is reached whose capacities fit him only for the plough or the spade. ”(Anthony M. Ludovici; A Defence of Aristocracy, p.8)

The hierarchical caste system, as it has been manifested in all pre-modern societies, is understood in the Hindu tradition to be the recognition of the unequal disparity of natural endowments. All men are apparently not “created equal”, but created with an unequal allotment of characteristics and talents. When the inequity of birth and circumstance are recognized, it becomes apparent that there can be no social or economic equality for such a thing would presuppose that peoples were borne with equal allotment of the aforementioned “Gunas”. Inequality of birth, in physical form and mental faculty necessarily compels men to different occupations and social castes. While these stratifications of labor are not codified in our laws, they are apparent in our society. The military is set apart from civilians in military bases and provided for by the lower castes in exchange for their martial services. The intellegensia and clergy too are segregated from the bourgeois and the proletariat in a similar fashion, and provided for in exchange for their intellectual and spiritual leadership. In a liberal democratic state, all of the above castes are present, and provided for in exchange for the services they render, while being segregated from each other in culture and company.

The stratification of society into different castes was understood in the pre-modern world as both ideal and necessary. Indeed in the Hindu tradition, the Kali Yuga, which is the lowest age of spiritual degeneration, is described in part as “the unrestrained mingling of the castes and the decline of the rites.” [Bhagavad Gita]. This degenerative and involutional view of history is at odds with the modern evolutionary and progressive view of ‘enlightenment’. It is the guiding maxim of our Republic that “all men are created equal” irregardless of all natural inequality. We accept the ideals of the Revolution; equality, fraternity, and liberty; as the highest, most divine revelations of our enlightened liberal democratic state. We believe that hierarchy of every kind implies oppression, whether it is from a father, a husband, or a King. For the modern world, justice is the land of equals, without excellence or ignominy, without nobility or serf. Today only the citizen remains, free and equal, in a fatherless world.

1 comment:

Adrienne said...

This is almost ridiculously depressing. A caste system is indeed a form of oppression because all dissent is silenced.

Also, you seem to imply that men/fathers should have power over women/wives. Have you expressed this thought to your mother? To your girlfriend? To anyone with a brain?

Aristotle, for all his possible genius, was still a man not of these time period. You can cite all you want, but that doesn't make this a well-rounded argument. You've cited that which makes your point sound better. What about Sappho?

You also imply that there has been some progress in making this a non-patriarchal society. I barely see how. It is hardly "radical" to mention that white men rule this country and much of Europe. What have we gained from this? War?

A caste system, or anything that segregates members of society, leaves someone in the dust for reasons not in their power. Race, color, creed, gender, sexual orientation, etc.

You equate peace with monotony and a thoughtless nature. War is a product with humanity's collective lack of patience. War is a product of what happens when one type of person is valued over another. War is not some product of liberalism.