Sunday, February 04, 2018

More on the Aryan nonsense

Professor Subhash Kak quotes Vernant and Olender 1992, Pannikar 1997 in the following; the highlighted sentences really caught my attention:
Now we know that to speak of a “pure” race is meaningless since all external characteristics of humans are defined in a continuum. In the 19th century atmosphere of European triumphalism, what obtained in Europe was taken to be normative. With hindsight it is hard to believe that these ideas were not contested more vigorously.
Although this was the age which marked the true beginnings of modern science, old myths continued to exercise great power. When it was found that the languages of India and Europe were related in structure and vocabulary, the West responded with “a tissue of scholarly myths. These myths were steeped in erudition, informed by profound knowledge of Hebrew and Sanskrit, fortified by comparative study of linguistic data, mythology, and religion, and shaped by the effort to relate linguistic structures, forms of thought, and features of civilization. Yet they were also myths, fantasies of the social imagination, at every level. The comparative philology of the most ancient languages was a quest for origins, an attempt to return to a privileged moment in time when God, man, and natural forces still lived in mutual transparency. The plunge into the distant past in search of `roots’ went hand in hand with a never forgotten faith in a meaningful history, whose course, guided by the Providence of the one God, could be understood only in the light of Christian revelation.
As scholars established the disciplines of Semitic and Indo-European studies, they also invented the mythical figures of the Hebrew and the Aryan, a providential pair which, by revealing to the people of the Christianized West the secret of their identity, also bestowed upon them the patent of nobility that justified their spiritual, religious, and political domination of the world.” (Vernant 1992)
Although the term Aryan never had a racial connotation in the Indian texts, the scholars insisted that this was the sense in which the term ought to be understood. It was further assumed that Aryan meant European by race. By doing so Europe claimed for itself all of the “Aryan” texts as a part of its own forgotten past. The West considered itself the inheritor of the imagination and the mythic past of the Aryan and the idea of the monotheism of the Hebrew. This dual inheritance was the mark of the imperial destiny of the West. Despite his monotheism, the poor Jew, since he lacked Aryan blood, should have seen “the dark silhouette of the death camps and the rising smoke of the ovens.” (Vernant 1992). On the other hand, the Asiatic mixed-blood Aryan had no future but that of the serf. He could somewhat redeem himself if he rejected all but the earliest core of his inheritance, that existed when the Aryans in India were a pure race. For scholars such as Max Muller this became ultimately a religious issue. Echoing Augustine, Muller saw in his own religious faith a way for progress of the Asiatic. We would smile at it now but he said, “Christianity was simply the name `of the true religion,’ a religion that was already known to the ancients and indeed had been around `since the beginning of the human race.”‘ (See Olender, 1992) But ideas – bad and good – never die. Muller’s idea has recently been resurrected in the guise that Christianity is the fulfillment of Vedic revelation! (E.g. Panikkar, 1977).

 Olender's book is The Languages of Paradise: Race, Religion, and Philology in the Nineteenth Century.  The blurb at

Michel Foucault observed that “the birth of philology attracted far less notice in the Western mind than did the birth of biology or political economy.” In this penetrating exploration of the origin of the discipline, Maurice Olender shows that philology left an indelible mark on Western visions of history and contributed directly to some of the most horrifying ideologies of the twentieth century.
The comparative study of languages was inspired by Renaissance debates over what language was spoken in the Garden of Eden. By the eighteenth century scholars were persuaded that European languages shared a common ancestor. With the adoption of positivist, “scientific” methods in the nineteenth century, the hunt for the language of Eden and the search for a European Ursprache diverged. Yet the desire to reconcile historical causality with divine purpose remained.
Because the Indo-European languages clearly had a separate line of descent from the biblical tongues, the practitioners of the new science of philology (many of whom had received their linguistic training from the Church) turned their scholarship to the task of justifying the ascendance of European Christianity to the principal role in Providential history. To accomplish this they invented a pair of concepts―Aryan and Semitic―that by the end of the century had embarked on ideological and political careers far outside philology. Supposed characteristics of the respective languages were assigned to the peoples who spoke them: thus the Semitic peoples (primarily the Jews) were, like their language, passive, static, and immobile, while the Aryans (principally Western Europeans) became the active, dynamic Chosen People of the future.
Olender traces the development of these concepts through the work of J. G. Herder, Ernest Renan, Friedrich Max Müller, Adolphe Pictet, Rudolph Grau, and Ignaz Goldziher. He shows that, despite their different approaches, each of these men struggled more or less purposefully “to join romanticism with positivism in an effort to preserve a common allegiance to the doctrines of Providence.”

With erudition and elegance, Olender restores the complexity and internal contradictions of their ideas and recreates the intellectual climate in which they flourished.
And the nonsense continues to this day.  Imagine what the world would have been like without the Holocaust.  But where is the Bulletin of Indo-European Philologists, setting and resetting for the world the Doomsday Clock?  At least the atomic scientists recognize their dreadful responsibility for what they unleashed upon the world.   The philologists blithely continue their ways.

(The latest manifestation of the evil that these folks have created is with the Trumpists/Bannonists  who are influenced by Julius Evola.)