On World History: An Anthology

By Johann Gottfried Herder; Hans Adler et al. | Go to book overview

26
India

Even though the teaching of the Brahmins is no more than a branch of a widely dispersed religion, which has formed autonomous sects from Tibet to Japan, it nevertheless merits particular attention in the land of its birth, because it formed there the most singular and perhaps the most enduring governance of the world -- that is, the division of the Indian nation into four or more castes, over which the Brahmins rule as the first caste. It is improbable that they attained this dominion by means of physical subjection, for they are not the military caste of the people; this, including the ruler himself, is the next highest caste in line; moreover, they do not base their renown on any such martial means, even in their mythology. Their dominion over people is based on their origin, according to which they deem themselves to have sprung from the head of the Brahma, as the warriors claim to have sprung from his breast, and the other castes from the other members of his body. It is upon this origin that the laws and all the institutions of the nation are founded, according to which the Brahmins, as an indigenous caste, as the head, are part of the body of the nation. Divisions of this kind according to caste have also marked the simplest organization of human society in other regions, in imitation of nature, which divides trees into branches, and people into castes and families. Such was the system in Egypt, which was structured like India with its hereditary crafts and arts; and we see even more frequently in other nations that the caste of the sages and priests elevated itself to the highest level. It seems to me that, at this stage of cultural development, such a system was rooted in the nature of things, since wisdom is superior to strength, and since the caste of priests in ancient times appropriated almost all political wisdom for itself. The renown of the priests declines only with the diffusion of enlightenment

-239-

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