Sunday, 12 December 2010

An Indian origin for Western Law and Civilization?

Recently I received a message from Robin Bradley Kar (here on the right), Professor of Law and Philosophy at the University of Illinois, about an article written by him “On the Origins of Western Law and Western Civilization (in the Indus Valley)” (see here the abstract with free download of the full paper).
I have read it, and I find it really rich and stimulating, including philosophy of law, history, linguistics, anthropology, Indo-European studies and also interesting references to the ‘Oriental Renaissance’ of Schwab and the practice of meditation as a part of the Indo-European heritage which should be recovered. The basic thesis of Prof. Kar is expressed in the following sentences (pp.2-3):

“The basic story that Western Civilization finds its origins in ancient Greek, Roman and Hebrew culture […] has rarely—until recently—been questioned in the West. […] There is nevertheless a deep sense in which this story is incomplete, and even potentially misleading. This article—along with its sequels—argues that if we are genuinely interested in understanding our origins, in a way that will shed light on why the West has exhibited such distinctive capacities for large-scale human civilization and the rule of law, then the story we commonly tell ourselves starts abruptly in the middle, and leaves out some of the most formative (and potentially transformative) dimensions of the truth. Western Law and Western Civilization are not just the outgrowths of three particularly creative cultures, which straddled the transition from human prehistory into human history, and developed in either Southeastern Europe or the Near East. Rather, the West is descended from a much deeper cultural tradition, which extends all the way back to some of our first human forays out of hunter-gatherer modes of subsistence and into settled agricultural living. The tradition in question began not in Greece, Rome, or Israel, however, but rather in the Indus Valley—which is a region that spans the Northwestern portions of the Indian subcontinent. Our failure to know this about ourselves has limited our self-understanding in critical respects, and has prevented us from realizing useful aspects of our traditions—including, in some cases, aspects that make them work so well for large-scale human civilization.”
The historical basis of these theories lies in this fundamental idea (p.74):
“Of particular importance will be the following core proposition: from some time before 4500 BC until approximately 1900 BC, the Indus Valley river system played the most central, the most significant, and the most enduring focal point for the prehistoric expansion of the Indo-European linguistic family, and also for the prehistoric development of several key Indo-European cultural innovations, which have made these groups particularly well adapted to transitioning into and sustaining large-scale societies with the rule of law.”
It seems that Prof. Kar will support this proposition with archaeological and linguistic data in the next article, but already in this article he proposes a model about the genesis of the language families from the major river systems, which is quite convincing. In this model, the Indo-European family has been developed around the Indus river system (including the Sarasvatī river), during the Harappan civilization (p.25 and p.28):
“although some dialects of Proto-Indo-European were probably already spoken in a number of adjacent areas, the socio-cultural developments in the Indus Valley further stabilized these dialects and helped them to spread even further over several millennia.
In the process of becoming one of the very first major world civilizations, the Harappans also developed a range of important cultural innovations that were specifically adapted to the maintenance of large-scale human civilization. […] the Harappan Civilization did not vanish without a trace. To the contrary, its cultural effects are everywhere present, and indeed even dominant, in the modern world, due to the distinctive traditions that it passed on to the various branches of the Indo-European language family.”
We should wait for the next article in order to judge the validity of this thesis, but I am already convinced that we should support the idea of the Harappan civilization as an ‘Indo-European’ creation. And that we should look with deep interest at a theory which sees in the ancient Indian civilization a source of the European civilization.