Moving Towards South Asian Confederation
Ideal of Human Unity - Chapters
Readings, in contemporary parlance, chapter by chapter, of THE IDEAL OF HUMAN UNITY

Reading of Preface

The Ideal of Human Unity was written in the background of world events between 1915 and 1918 to highlight the deeper causes of human unity. The concept of unity was usually interpreted along the rather oversimplified notions of uniformity and mechanical association. Sri Aurobindo probed into the depths of collective consciousness to understand the roots of human unity.

We ordinarily think that even a loose transcultural human unity can be achieved on the basis of one or several world-views viz.

  • A rational scientific outlook
  • Political Will
  • A common DNA
  • Geographical uniqueness
  • Historical necessity
  • Social equality
  • Economic parity
  • Secularism and religious tolerance
  • Ecological concerns

However, we find that none of these approaches singly or in combination can foster a human unity that can persevere through the vicissitudes of time. Sri Aurobindo therefore plunged into the depths of human life, individual and collective, to construct a consciousness paradigm of human unity.

His book ‘The ideal of Human Unity’ covers world-events between 1915 and 1918 but here we are concerned to understand the seed-ideas that are yet relevant. We will attempt to read the implications of his ideas in contemporary parlance and nomenclature, for e.g. the abolition of ‘empires’ has not obliterated the viewing of certain developed nations as ‘imperialistic’ in outlook by developing and under-developed nations.

What he wrote in 1919 about the two great difficulties for a viable world-union is still relevant as centrifugal forces that can disrupt the modern spirit of internationalism if interpreted in contemporary terms:

(a) The vertical hierarchy of ‘developed’ nations, who sport ‘power’, ‘influence’ and expected to act with greater responsibilities for the globe vis-a vis the swarm of developing and under-developed nations need to also operate in a horizontally functioning spectrum of mutual respect -- an endeavor that is difficult to achieve. In 1919, Sri Aurobindo warned that a failure to bring into one system all the nations and states would result in a ‘strife of the old oligarchic and democratic tendencies in a new form, a question between control of the world-system by the will and influence of a few powerful imperial States and the free and equal control by all, small nations and great, European and American and Asiatic peoples (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 258) .

(b) The struggle between ‘exploitative’ Capitalism and ‘marginalized’ Labour has not been solved but gets expressed in new forms and continue to strike a discordant note in the era of globalization. While the conflict got initially eulogized in the tussle between ‘Communist’ and ‘Capitalist’ societies, the focus has today, ironically shifted to concerns for labour in communistic or extreme socialistic regimes. What is more interesting is that the conflict between Capital and Labour has become multidimensional. It started with economic disparity, moved into the area of broader human rights and is presently intertwined with ecological disparity. The World Ecological Summit at Copenhagen, 2009 failed for many reasons of which one was the new unresolved ecological dimension of Labour-Capital conflict. However, Sri Aurobindo hoped, even in 1919, that the conflict may actually accelerate a new level of unification.

In his 1919 preface, Sri Aurobindo delineated the main issues that have to be taken into cognizance for constructing the Ideal of Human Unity, issues that are equally relevant today:

  • Natural forces in life always tend to create larger and larger human aggregates
  • The principles for the creation of aggregates have to be dynamically chosen (in accordance to the Time-Spirit)
  • The unity-principle must harmonize individual and group freedom not merely as a ‘compromise’ but in a fulfilling and vibrant manner
  • A religion of humanity has to evolve so that the ideal of human unity is inherently implicit in the psyche of the human race.

Sri Aurobindo points out that even a formal unity is insufficient without ‘a growth of the religion of humanity which can alone make it a great psychological advance in the spiritual evolution of the race’ (Ibid).

Date of Update: 18-Nov-11

- By Dr. Soumitra Basu