Shengren – Chapter 1.4.2.3 – Max Mueller

Another Max, this time Max Mueller, became a celebrated German philologist and orientalist. The works of Mueller brought India closer to German, and because Mueller wrote in English, he is considered an English Indologist, too. In his Storia del folklore (1952), the anthropologist Giuseppe Cocchiara once said the following about the strong impact India had on the German self-image.

Through the auspices of philology, (German) Romanticism taught us to think not only in European but also in Indo-European. […] The principle of the unity of languages extends from grammatical considerations to considerations of the mythology and religion common to all Aryan tribes before their diffusion and recognizable in the literature of their descendants.[1]

Max Mueller defined the image of the German Aryan brotherhood with India: and Mueller also favored the Aryan Invasion Theory, the hypothesis that Aryan tribes invaded the Indus Valley around 1500 BC and left their linguistic and religious footprint. It has always been a matter of great pride and importance to the Western powers to know who set foot where and when, and invented what first; with the exception the Asians did it, in which case the latest and recent of the West were deemed superior. Take the poem月下獨酌 by Li Bai李白. It is probably more than a thousand years older than Goethe’s work, yet the Europeans will always prefer Goethe’s wisdom, simply because he is one of them and not some foreigner. And that’s just the humanities. In science and engineering, it was (and still is) common practice to ignore original work done by Asians until a Western person ‘discovers’ it, which then goes down into the historical records. Famous examples are the 1665 so-called ‘Pascal’s triangle’ (or pyramid) in mathematics, named after French mathematician Blaise Pascal, that was discovered in China as early as the 11th or 12th century; or the invention of printing attributed to the French blacksmith Johannes Gutenberg around 1455. By that time printing in China, although not on such an industrial scale, had been around for hundreds of years. The moral of these anecdotes is that Europeans will always wait for one of their own to hit the marks, break the records, and score big time. This ‘winner-takes-it-all’ mentality is often hard to watch, because the West must go to great length to manipulate history this way: After all, the history of China is more than two thousand years older than the history of the New World (Amerika). Chinese or Sanskrit literatures are so vast and superior to Latin and Greek combined that the former most be completely banned from our European schools, otherwise people would notice the discrepancy. What the eye does not see, the heart does not mind. The East (back then and back now) made Germany appear tiny and insignificant; thus the new notion by some German orientalists that everything good about India (could only have) happened because their ancestors shared Aryan blood. The expanding German empire had just found its greatest ford maker in Max Mueller because his ideas on mythology, folklore, and organic culture – culture as a living being known as the Völkische Moment – reached out several thousand miles to the east and a thousand years into the past. An intellectual triumph: German folk tales, legends, arts, poetry, music, language could not just be traced back to neighborhood Greek antiquity or Roman Christianity; it could now grow beyond that: Comparative Studies was reborn, and it was miserable: Like a library that could hold any book from any country, the German mind was believed it could hold any thought from any culture. The Germans had always believed that the German-speaking world was all that was needed. Now they ‘knew it,’ because by logically inference: if they could understand and explain everything other people in the world thought (translations reveal that), then all but one culture would suffice. That, of course, is not the reality of life. Unfortunately, it was the tendency in 19th and 20th century Western scholarship.

Exciting conclusions arrive when the unreal, irrational and supernatural become the object of rational inquiry. In philosophy, an argument must be logical, sound, and valid. The object of the philosophical enquiry however can be as unreal, irrational, and supernatural as it wants to be. In addition, the philosopher can create new knowledge from previous known facts, but those facts do not have to be concrete things, they can be as abstract as the philosopher wants them to be. The Germans had written monstrous things: Kant, Herder, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Schlegel, Weber – India without reason, God is dead, Völkermoment, Religions in India and China – none of those thinkers had any experience with the people of the East, yet literally included them in their evening prayers.

The German thinkers looked at some facts about the East, made a logical argument and drew the conclusion; in this way new knowledge has been created that had nothing to do with Eastern reality – a scholarly twilight world had opened its gates: enter a German university and become a China expert.

Since Leibniz in 1677 urged his countryman to create new words, new ideas, new concepts for the German language,[2] a German empire of thought and theory had been built that way. The German thinkers had written extraordinary creative things – about Weltgeist, Ewige Wiederkunft, China a Mummy in Silk, Protestant Ethics – whatever they wanted, and it worked. And such activity will work in the future, too. Whoever said first that ‘to create is to know’ had a deep inside into human nature: No morals, no honesty, no experience, no relations, and no regards for others, because those are considered boundaries and limitations for the philosopher. Goethe, the poet, cautioned the good Germans against their hidden philistine nature. Nietzsche, in a prophetic way, cursed how German thought infiltrated other cultures – its ‘psychological uncleanliness.’[3]. Even Heine, another poet, warned Europe against the ‘German drama:’ ‘There will be played in Germany a drama compared to which the French Revolution will seem but an innocent idyll.’ There was really only one scenario for Germany this all could lead to, and it did – confrontation against each and everyone else.

Max Mueller’s life work was a clear statement: India was European intellectual property. A second India had been invented and rebuilt in Europe. In it, European languages are spoken and Indian languages are written in Latinized Lautschriften. Indians from now on had to come to Europe in order to study India’s history. European Orientalists in their ivory towers were sitting behind ‘powerful telescopes’ and watched those foreign lands and thought: what could we write next about them:

Comparative philology has since brought this whole period within the pale of documentary history. It has placed in our hands a telescope of such power that, where formerly we could see but nebulous clouds, we now discover distinct forms and outlines.[4]

Having forgone Europe, the Germans had secretly built a third India in Germany. That India looked exclusively like Herder, Hegel, Weber and other German thinkers had envisaged it, explained it in German language, locked away from the Indians. A third China had also been built in Germany. The German India is called Indienwissenschaften; and the German China is called Chinawissenschaften. The India in Germany and the China in Germany are very different places from the real India and the real China; the German India and the German China never included sages and sagehood by design because the Germans could not think about them in first place. To Germany, a country without philosophers and saints does not make much sense. Regardless, what is really going on in India and China is irrelevant because the final explanation about the India and China reconstructed in Germany will always be reserved for German experts.

[1] Cocchiara, transl. by McDaniels, 1952, p. 277

[2] Leibniz, 1677

[3] Ludovici, 2009

[4] Mueller, 1856, p. 21

Pattberg, Thorsten (2011), Shengren – Above Philosophy and Beyond Religion, LoD Press, New York