Culture Magazine

Hindu Caste & Capitalism

By Cris

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 and 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.


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