CASTE AND VARNA – PART 8

314. Today I profusely quote from Max Weber’s Comparison of Hindu Caste and Untouchability with European Hereditary Guilds.

315. Max Weber found that the Vedic Indian society did not have anything like medieval European, or later Indian caste:

“Perhaps the most important gap in the ancient Veda is its lack of any reference to caste. The (Rig-) Veda refers to the four later caste names in only one place, which is considered a very late passage; nowhere does it refer to the substantive content of the caste order in the meaning which it later assumed and which is characteristic only of Hinduism.”

316. Max Weber was able to find similarities between modern Hindu castes and pre-modern European guilds. He wrote: “In this case, castes are in the same position as merchant and craft guilds, sibs, and all sorts of associations.”

317. “‘Guilds’ of merchants, and of traders figuring as merchants by selling their own produce, as well as ‘craft-guilds,’ existed in India during the period of the development of cities and especially during the period in which the great salvation religions originated. As we shall see, the salvation religions and the guilds were related. The guilds usually emerged within the cities, but occasionally they emerged outside of the cities, survivals of these being still in existence. During the period of the flowering of the cities, the position of the guilds was quite comparable to the position guilds occupied in the cities of the medieval Occident. The guild association (the mahajan, literally, the same as popolo grasso) faced on the one hand the prince, and on the other the economically dependent artisans. These relations were about the same as those faced by the great guilds of literati and of merchants with the lower craft-guilds ( popolo minuto) of the Occident. In the same way, associations of lower craft guilds existed in India (the panch). Moreover, the liturgical guild of Egyptian and late Roman character was perhaps not entirely lacking in the emerging patrimonial states of India.”

318. “The merchant and craft guilds of the Occident cultivated religious interests as did the
castes. In connection with these interests, questions of social rank also played a considerable role among guilds. Which rank order the guilds should follow, forinstance, during processions, was a question occasionally fought over more stubbornly than questions of economic interest. Furthermore, in a ‘closed’ guild, that is, one with a numerically fixed quota of income opportunities, the position of the master was hereditary. There were also quasi-guild associations and associations derived from guilds in which the right to membership was acquired in hereditary succession. In late Antiquity, membership in the liturgical guilds was even a compulsory and hereditary obligation in the way of a glebae adscriptio, which bound the peasant to the soil. Finally, there were also in the medieval Occident ‘opprobrious’ trades, which were religiously declasse; these correspond to the ‘unclean’ castes of India.”

319. “The merchant and craft guilds of the Middle Ages acknowledged no ritual barriers
whatsoever between the individual guilds and artisans, apart from the aforementioned small stratum of people engaged in opprobrious trades. Pariah peoples and pariah workers (for example, the knacker and hangman), by virtue of their special positions, come sociologically close to the unclean castes of India.”

320. “Furthermore, caste is essentially hereditary. This hereditary character was not, and is
not, merely the result of monopolizing and restricting the earning opportunities to a definite maximum quota, as was the case among the absolutely closed guilds of the
Occident, which at no time were numerically predominant.”

321. “Let us now consider the Occident. In his letter to the Galatians (11:12, 13 ff.) Paul reproaches Peter for ‘having eaten in Antioch with the Gentiles and for having wthdrawn and separated himself afterwards, under the influence of the Jerusalemites.’And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him.’ That the reproach of dissimulation made to this very apostle has not been effaced shows perhaps just as clearly as does the occurrence itself the tremendous importance this event had for the early Christians. Indeed, this shattering of the ritual barriers against commensalism meant a shattering of the voluntary Ghetto, which in its effects is far more incisive than any compulsory Ghetto. It meant to shatter the situation of Jewry as a pariah people, a situation that was ritually imposed upon this people. For the Christians it meant the origin of Christian ‘freedom,’ which Paul again and again celebrated triumphantly; for this freedom meant the universalism of Paul’s mission, which cut across nations and status groups. The elimination of all ritual barriers of birth for the community of the eucharists, as realized in Antioch, was, in connection with the religious preconditions, the hour of conception for the Occidental ‘citizenry.'”

322. “By its solidarity, the association of Indian guilds, the mahajan, was a force which the princes had to take very much into account. It was said: ‘The prince must recognize what the guilds do to the people, whether it is merciful or cruel.’ The guilds acquired privileges from the princes for loans of money, which are reminiscent of our medieval conditions. The shreshti (elders) of the guilds belonged to the mightiest notables and ranked equally with the warrior and the priest nobility of their time.”

323. Thus a review of works of Oman, Ross, Dill, Ingram and Weber is enough to prove that the caste system existed in Europe throughout most of its history.

324. On the other hand, we find that the caste system has a history of less than 1000 years in India.

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