Friday, June 22, 2012

The Wish to be Chosen

"There is no doubt that the doctrine of the chosen people grew out of the tribal form of social life. Tribalism, i.e. the emphasis on the supreme importance of the tribe without which the individual is nothing at all, is an element which we shall find in many forms of historicist theories. [...] Another aspect of the doctrine of the chosen people is the remoteness of what it proffers as the end of history. For although it may describe this end with some degree of definiteness, we have to go a long way before we reach it. And the way is not only long, but winding, leading up and down, right and left. Accordingly, it will be possible to bring every conceivable historical event well within the scheme of the interpretation. No conceivable experience can refute it. But to those who believe in it, it gives certainty regarding the ultimate outcome of human history." Karl Popper [1945] Ch.1

"One of the features which the doctrines of the chosen people, the chosen race, and the chosen class have in common is that they originated, and became important, as reactions against some kind of oppression. The doctrine of the chosen people became important at the time of the foundation of the Jewish church, i.e. during the the Babylonian captivity; Count Gobineau’s theory of the Aryan master race was a reaction of the aristocratic emigrant to the claim that the French Revolution had successfully expelled the Teutonic masters. Marx’s prophecy of the victory of the proletariat is his reply to one of the most sinister periods of oppression and exploitation in modern history." Karl Popper [1945] Footnote 3 to Chapter 1

"In its beginning, Christianity, like the Cynic movement, was opposed to the highbrow Platonizing Idealism and intellectualism of the ‘scribes’, the learned men. (‘Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent and hast revealed them unto the babes.’) I do not doubt that it was, in part, a protest against what may be described as Jewish Platonism in the wider sense, the abstract worship of God and His Word. And it was certainly a protest against Jewish tribalism, against its rigid and empty tribal taboos, and against its tribal exclusiveness which expressed itself, for example, in the doctrine of the chosen people, i.e. in an interpretation of the deity as a tribal god. Such an emphasis upon tribal laws and tribal unity appears to be characteristic not so much of a primitive tribal society as of a desperate attempt to restore and arrest the old forms of tribal life; and in the case of Jewry, it seems to have originated as a reaction to the impact of the Babylonian conquest on Jewish tribal life. But side by side with this movement towards greater rigidity we find another movement which apparently originated at the same time, and which produced humanitarian ideas that resembled the response of the Great Generation to the dissolution of Greek tribalism. This process, it appears, repeated itself when Jewish independence was ultimately destroyed by Rome. It led to a new and deeper schism between these two possible solutions, the return to the tribe, as represented by orthodox Jewry, and the humanitarianism of the new sect of Christians, which embraced barbarians (or gentiles) as well as slaves. We can see from the Acts how urgent these problems were, the social problem as well as the national problem. And we can see this from the development of Jewry as well; for its conservative part reacted to the same challenge by another movement towards arresting and petrifying their tribal form of life, and by clinging to their ‘laws’ with a tenacity which would have won the approval of Plato. It can hardly be doubted that this development was, like that of Plato’s ideas, inspired by a strong antagonism to the new creed of the open society; in this case, of Christianity." Karl Popper [1945] VOl. 2, Ch.1, Section III.


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