Hindu Caste & Capitalism

Are capitalism and Christianity compatible? This is the bizarre question asked by Mario Gómez-Zimmerman in “The Capitalist Structures of Hinduism.” His belief is that this compatibility (which seems self-evident to me) will somehow be strengthened if he can show that other religions are also compatible with capitalism.

This is a zinger of a non-sequitur which would require an initial showing (required by the transitive property) that Christianity and Hinduism are equivalent. Gomez-Zimmerman makes no such showing, perhaps because it cannot be done. Christianity and Hinduism are profoundly dissimilar.

Gomez-Zimmerman ignores this premise problem, apparently because he is an Ayn Rand libertarian whose project is capitalist apologetics. So what does he find? Those who are familiar with classical Hinduism and the caste system it sanctifies will hardly be surprised. Hinduism and capitalism make for a nice fit:

An understanding of the caste system is crucial to understanding Indian social and economic structures and practices. It is first mentioned in the Rig-Veda, in the famous hymn to Purusha, and then elaborated exegetically in the Upanishads.

This system divides men into five catagories: Brahmins (philosophers, priests, and others who perform the function of illuminating the higher truths), Ksatriyas (warriors and rulers, entrusted with safeguarding the truth and with leadership), Vaisyas (traders, farmers, and all who have the role of creating wealth and increasing welfare), and Sudras (workers, charged with supporting all of the above and with performing services).

In addition to the Vedic sacred literature, the Varna system is also endorsed in the Bhagavad-Gita, the most influential Hindu religious text, considered by some a direct revelation from God.

How awesome — inequality endorsed by the gods! Sounds like a perfect justification for exploitation and maintenance of the (stratified) status quo.

This aspect of classical Hinduism demonstrates its deep historical connection to the earliest organized religions that arose in conjunction with the domestication of plants and animals during the Neolithic transition. As city-states formed and elites emerged, they legitimated their rule and sanctified stratification by monopolizing and manipulating supernatural beliefs and practices.

In this sense at least, Hinduism retains some semblance of political economic honesty. While most strands of Christianity have come to rationalize similar kinds of social arrangements, this rationalization requires either exegetical skill or intellectual dishonesty.

Did you like this? Share it:

6 thoughts on “Hindu Caste & Capitalism

  1. msdinakar

    I have often wondered what has Christianity to do with Jesus Christ in the first place? Maybe it should have been called Churchianity! Was Jesus Christ (assuming he was real) a capitalist? Or a persona who exhibited precursor traits of capitalism? Attempting to find whether capitalism as we know now is compatible with Christianity is a ridiculous exercise! Every single major trait of capitalism exhibited by countries that loudly and proudly proclaim of being capitalist (as we know now) is contrary to what Jesus Christ preached!!! It would be appropriate if the question was/is rephrased: Are capitalism and Churchianity compatible? It would not be totally inappropriate to wonder whether the Pope is a capitalist or a Christian (embodying exactly what Christ stood for in his portrayed life) given the material extravaganza that surrounds him which Jesus Christ never embraced during his life. Churches as politico-economic structures were exact precursors to the Capitalist politico-economic structures. The later evolved from the former.
    Talking of Varna System in ancient India, the four classifications were based on three qualities: satva (conscient purity), rajas (physical dynamism), and tamas (inertia). Every individual is supposed to be endowed with these qualities but in differing proportions though all are inherently capable of evolving with a predominance of satvic qualities. So, depending on the ratios, one qualifies oneself into either one of the four categories. But, again as it happens with the ruling class everywhere, the priestly class hijacked the varna system for its own ends later politicized heavily too that transformed the varna classification into a kind of an ‘ethno-rascist’ hierarchic system with N number of castes. And, India has not yet found a way to overcome its own mental possession of casteism on account of its own politicians’ vested interests and the social mindset in general.

  2. admin Post author

    Nietzsche once famously remarked that Jesus was the first and last Christian, which I think comes close to your mark. In complex societies, religion is always used by elites for power and new religions are always co-opted into the apparatus of power sooner or later. Those which are not so co-opted either are extinguished or irrelevant.

  3. Timothy FitzgeraldTimothy Fitzgerald

    My own approach is to consider liberal capitalism as a religion, and neoliberalism as its fundamentalist revival movement. This in turn problematises the idea of ‘religion’ and raises the question whether there is any clear distinction between religious and non-religious secular ideologies. Because liberal capitalist theory has been classified as a secular science, and therefore of supposedly superior rationality to ‘religion’, it escapes people’s notice that its fundamental presuppositions such as self-regulating markets are not facts but fictional objects of aspiration through which we hope to finally discover freedom. In this sense market capitalism is a soteriology.

  4. Cris Post author

    Hi Tim — this sounds familiar. Didn’t you do an interview with Craig Martin? I really like your approach and have written previous posts along these lines. I’ll have to dig them up and provide links.

  5. Cris Post author

    Mario Gomez-Zimmerman posted the following reply:

    Dear Mr. Campbell:
    I´m writing you in order to give an answer to the comments on my article “The Capitalist Structures of Hinduism”—which appeared in your publication, but bearing no byline—answer that I hope you publish as it will be instructive about how reason easily dismisses pseudo-mystical viewpoints on transcendent realities.
    To start with it, it is completely out of focus to assume that I identify Christianity and Hinduism all the way. To no person escapes, for example, that the first makes a rigorous split between the Creator and Creation, and subjects the future of man to a judgment by God, while the second holds a pantheist viewpoint—a fundamental unity between God and the world—and believes in a karmatic determination of men´s fate. Nothing weird about that, as most revelations and the systematic constructions that man has devised on them, possess areas which are compatible and areas which are incompatible.* Thus, what I make comparable and similar in both religions—not thoroughly equivalent, for obvious reasons—and what is very clearly the subject of my article, concerns the area of property, that is, to how both religions coincide in essence in endorsing the socio-economic system called capitalism.
    * If in order to establish the compatibility of specific aspects of different religions, one had initially to establish the equivalence of the doctrines and principles of them as a whole, one had first to write a book. This is the task of a detailed and thorough study, not of an article. It is curious by the way, that my critic qualifies as a zinger of non-sequitur the equivalence I hold between Christianity and Hinduism specifically with respect to property, while on the other hand he states that they are profoundly dissimilar, without bothering himself to show why.

    Capitalism did not start in the eighteen century with laissez-faire doctrines. In fact, it is probably the most ancient of political systems, adapted to the times of course, belonging to what Ayn Rand calls the axis reason-individualism-capitalism. That is what I defended in my article and will always defend: the system in its essence of considering the person as the fundamental subject and object of the right to property according to his productive merits, and to how other persons value his products or services. This system can be easily and immediately identified in both Christianity and Hinduism, despite the differences due to environmental and historical circumstances, and cultural idiosyncrasies. Nor in Christianity nor in the Judeo-Christian traditions are direct divine prescriptions of class division. However, this division was implemented in practice through the acknowledgement of the natural differences among men, and God never opposed it. Otherwise, Abraham and Solomon would have been among the main objects of anathemas by Yahveh. Christ also is very clear on that when he refers—in the worldly context of several parables—to masters and servants, and when He speaks of the owner of a vineyard and the laborers, never denigrating the division by itself, among many other analogous references. In Hinduism, it is obvious that without endorsing the right to property and the resulting differences in wealth, it would not be possible the constitution of the social classes like the Vaisha and the Shudra, corresponding, broadly speaking, the first to entrepreneurs and bosses (the rich), and the second to laborers and employees (the poor). Certainly, the caste system was subject to manipulation and opportunism, so much that the initial social mobility of the system became one of fixed status in benefit of the upper classes and belittlement of the lower ones. But its fundamental tenets were set forth in the most sacred religious texts of Hinduism, and were supposed to be implemented through social praxis.
    Therefore and again, the capitalist system I referred to in my article does not have anything to do with the way man takes undue advantage of it, but with its essence, which excludes exploitation of the laborers or of those weak in a mercantile sense, precisely because that goes against them as persons denying their constitutive rights to property—those related to them as necessary element for the existence of civil society. This, in synthesis with the recognition of productive excellence, is what I call nomocratic capitalism or nomocracy, the socio-economic expression of Natural Law. Nomocracy—designated “capitalism” in my article for ideological and practical purposes—is radically opposed to statism and to any pretension of equalize men in economic terms, but to mercantilist and laissez-faireist practices as well, which may end up in unjustifiable deprivation of the social classes with less power to negotiate interchanges and labor contracts in a real free, just and non-coercive way. This is my main difference with Ayn Rand. Unfortunately, the space of an article does not allow entering in details on a theme like this, which requires an entire book. For this, I recommend my critic to consult my work Power to the West! A Study in Nomocracy, preferably its last edition in the site http://www.mariogomezzimmerman.com.
    In regard to the most crucial point: the endorsement of inequality by religions, contrarily to the way my critic thinks, by that I do not mean to say that God desires or fosters inequality. Much less that He creates or generates men in principle unequal regarding their pristine existential status, value as human beings, or essential human dignity. This is clearly stated in my article. Neither God proclaims any inequality of man before right and the law. What God proclaims, recognizes, endorses and legitimates in every religion known, is the inequality brought about by the different merits and achievements. In short: those differences explained by what each human being gives of himself. And when what a man gives of himself excels, be it in regard to wisdom, spirituality, administration, guidance, rule, and for what most concerns us here, in relation to the contribution to the common good by creating wealth, God has never failed to praise it.* Culminated religions never exhort men to renounce their possessions with the intention of equalize them economically, much less in regard to enforce this legally, but in order to move them to charity, compassion and detachment form worldly things as the way to attain spiritual evolution and enlightenment. That is what Christ points out by stating how difficult is for the rich to enter in heaven, as a rich man rejects to give his possessions to the poor, not a denial of the distribution of wealth according to merit and human justice. And that is why He stressed that He had not come as distributor among men. The sanction by God of the right to enjoy the fruits of high creativity entails the sanction of a social organization in vertical economic classes, which is precisely the reason why Marxist ideology deemed religions the opium of the peoples. Since my critic denies such a sanction, allow me to use an expression of him against me, now in contrary direction: How awesome—equality on one hand between the creator of jobs and opportunities, the one that contributes highly to increase the wealth and thus the welfare of the community; and on the other hand the marginal producer, the one of limited talents and creativity, all endorsed and demanded by God! This really sounds like a perfect justification for envy, for identifying economic inequality with exploitation, and for grabbing what creative people have legitimately obtained.
    * Please note that here, as well as in my article, I consider God as a person, for that facilitates exposition. More in depth, I regard God as the Absolute, which poses many issues on the matter. But since in regard to what is the point with respect to property and social division nothing changes, we don’t need to enter in complications, which anyway I shall address in my next book.

    I must stress that the above exposed does mean that the Vaisha is a better person that the Shudra. The caste division traduces only an stratification in terms of measurable social achievements. In fact, going to the interiority, the Shudra is often a better man than the Vaisha. Thus, in a comprehensive humanistic sense, the poorest man on Earth may be on top of the wealthiest one. Besides, and most important, the achievements of the Vaisha would not be possible without the contribution of the force of labor, so their social classes are not opposed but complementary. That is often ignored, and has led to discrimination of the poor. In this sense, what my critic says in regard to the elites is true, for they often manipulate in their benefit supernatural beliefs and practices. It is also true that certain strands Christianity have often done so, and that shows exegetical skill or intellectual dishonesty. Taking in consideration the context, it seems clear that I am included among the intellectually dishonest, and by extension the prestigious Acton Institute, since “The Capitalist Structures of Hinduism” was published in their journal Religion and Liberty, as many others who share similar points of view.* However, we must not confuse what belongs to the Christian community with what belongs to the doctrine and the principles. The same is true for Hinduism.
    * As an example of that, I recommend—in the same issue of the said journal (Volume 6, number 3, May and June 1996)—the reading of a most interesting article by Imad A. Ahmad: “Islam and the Markets”.

    Finally, all can be reduced to a single question: ¿Do o do not the divine principles stated in its sacred texts prescribe a hierarchical order of human societies, and legitimize the constitution of elites? No matter what exegetical skill one resorts to, the answer can only be one, for elites are part of the natural social order. The role assigned by God to the power elites, for example, is to establish and guarantee the prevalence of a legitimate state of right.* Unless, of course, if we depart from the premise that the religious doctrines and prescriptions are constructions of the intellect, which is not the point under discussion here. Nothing different happens in regard to the main subject of controversy: the one related to God´s justification of the existence of economic elites, and to a divine will kindred to capitalism in its fundamentalist version. This is not a rationalization or exegetical skill, but something that any person of common sense can extract from the sacred texts. In my article, I quote several passages of Hinduism enough demonstrative, while my critic does not cite a single one showing God prescribing economic equality among men and thus the blurring of social economic stratification, here not perhaps but certainly because this cannot be done. In the absence of that, to continue holding that God does not justify economic inequality, is suspicious of intellectual dishonesty.
    * By the way, contrary to what is asserted, power elites did not emerge together with city-states, as they were present in most primitive groups. The existence of gerontocracies and chieftains there is more than enough proof of it. One thing is that elites had taken undue advantage of their condition, and another to reduce their constitution to such a fact.

    There are also strands of Christianity that have attempted to rationalize the same point of view proposing, directly or implicitly, the abolition of social classes, since these are deemed, by their mere existence, exploiters and the result of exploitation. This is the result of a biased adaptation of the Gospel preaching on renunciation, to Marxist tenets. Nevertheless, I would not dare to qualify as dishonest, envious, social malcontent, populist, and so on, any particular person holding such misconception, unless I had enough and trustworthy background on his psychic disposition, for he may just be confused or exhibit misguided good intentions. So, when I speak of bad dispositions such as the mentioned, I refer in general to the paradigmatic examples. What I can assure, however, is that anyone who holds the belief that God condemns the existence of social stratification, is intellectually wrong, or incapable of an existential identification with Truth.

    Best regards,

    Mario Gómez-Zimmerman

  6. Cris Post author

    Thanks for all that; I don’t have anything to say about it and would not know where to begin.

    As an aside, your article did not appear in my blog — I simply linked to it, stated that you were the author, and then commented on it.

    I’m not sure what you mean that it did not have a byline. I linked and gave you attribution, as is my practice.

    Also, your lengthy comment was posted in response to the wrong post, so I moved it over here.

Leave a Reply