Moving Towards South Asian Confederation
Ideal of Human Unity - Chapters

Chapter V Part II

Real and political unities

We shall try to understand Sri Aurobindo’s   first query that whether historically evolved collective egoisms can be modified or abolished to effectuate a new integer of external unity? This is a complex question with a differential response. The case of Austria makes interesting study. The Napoleonic wars that brought about the end of the Holy Roman Empire also created an Austrian empire of political convenience sustained not by any true nationalistic feeling but by the central Germanic element incarnated in the Hapsburg dynasty. The empire of Austria was again reorganized into the dual monarchy of   Austria- Hungary but as the empire was a non-national entity, rather,  a  politically manufactured aggregate,  it dissolved in the whirlpool of history .When the post- World War I scenario helped to form Austria as an independent republic, it could not sustain its independence despite an awakening of Austrian national sentiment and was annexed   by Nazi Germany in i938.Sri Aurobindo had commented  much earlier in 1915-16  that even in its decadence, the Austrian empire existed not on internal factors but on external reasons ,notably the  force propelled by the Germanic idea as well as the power of Austro-Magyar partnership to crush down the Slav nations(The Ideal of Human Unity,pg286). It was as late as 1955 that the Austrian republic was restored. Thus even for consolidating an external unity, Austria had to work through the imperial egoisms of consecutive configurations of political conveniences.

Sri Aurobindo also emphasizes that a real national unity existing in the psyche of a race, if broken up by circumstances always preserves a tendency to recover and reassert its oneness. This phenomenon is excellently illustrated in the   case of Greece. ‘Ancient Greece clung towards her separatist tendencies, her self-sufficient city or regional states, her little mutually repellent autonomies;  but the centripetal force was always there manifested in  leagues, associations of States, suzerainties like the Spartan and Athenian’(Ibid, pg 287). That centripetal force was evident even when Eastern Rome, after the collapse of Western part of   Rome in the 5th century AD, evolved the Byzantine civilization that preserved the essence of Greek and Roman practices and culture. The separate ego of the Greek nation persisted in the Greek psyche and luckily was not later obliterated by the Ottoman Empire (Ibid). That is why we see a new integer of external unity in the revival of the national ego in modern Greece.

Another important example of revival of the nationalistic ego and sentiment is the case of Poland. Despite having a golden age of prosperity unto the 16th century, it was later besieged by successive partitions and  crushed under the weight of the three powerful empires of Russia, Prussia and Austria  and practically ceased to exist after having been deprived of half the population and one-third of the land area. In 1916 Sri Aurobindo acknowledged the strength of the Polish nation-idea in reconstituting   Poland (Ibid, pg 291) but it was only in 1918 that the Polish Republic was officially established. Sri Aurobindo’s faith in the real psychological unity that supports the nation-idea was further validated with Polish nationhood surviving the invasion by U.S.S.R and Germany in 1939 that precipitated World War II, the effort of the Nazis to purge Polish culture as well as the large Jewish population, the reoccupation by Soviet forces in 1945, the rule of the Soviet-dominated government since 1947 till the Solidarity labour movement ushering in free elections as late as in 1989.

In the same write-up, Sri Aurobindo wrote ‘Alsace after forty years of the German yoke remained faithful to her French nationhood in spite of her affinities of race and language with the conqueror’ (Ibid, pg 291). This 1916 statement is interesting for two reasons. Firstly, even after Sri Aurobindo wrote this, Alsace was again occupied by Germany in World War II before finally being restored to France. Secondly, the affinity with German culture and language did not obliterate the French nationalistic identity and to date, both French and German are taught in schools while Alsatian, the German dialect, remains the lingua franca. That is why Sri Aurobindo boldly stated that old racial and cultural unities are powerless against the ‘nation’ as the one living group-unit of humanity. ‘The Catalonian in Spain, the Breton and Provencal and Alsatian in France, the Welsh in England may cherish the signs of their separate existence; but the attraction of the greater living unity of the Spanish, the French, the British nation has been too powerful to be injured by these persistences’( Ibid, pg 290-291) . In the same 1916 write-up, Sri Aurobindo had expressed faith in the ‘Serbian national Idea’ (Ibid, pg 287) that finally got consolidated nearly a century later, in 2003. If group-unity has a sufficient psychological base and uniqueness, then subconscious forces will awaken a sense of political oneness leading to an inevitable external unity. Such instances are found in the unification of Saxon England, mediaeval France and in the formation of the United States of America (Ibid, pg 288).

Thus it is true that historically evolved collective egoisms and nationalistic sentiments can be modified and abolished to form new integers of external unity. At times, voluntary fusion of cultural and racial characteristics as well as dissolution of imperial egoisms may be needed in the interest of a more viable group-unit. ‘In some cases even an entire change of name, culture and civilization has been necessary, as well as a more or less profound modification of the race. Notably has this happened in the formation of French nationality. The ancient Gallic people, in spite of or perhaps because of its Druidic civilization and early greatness, was more incapable of organizing a firm political unity than even the ancient Greeks or the old Indian kingdoms and republics. It needed the Roman rule and Latin culture, the superimposition of a Teutonic ruling caste and finally the shock of the temporary and partial English conquest to found the unequalled unity of modern France. Yet though name, civilization and all else seem to have changed, the French nation of today is still and has always remained the old Gallic nation with its Basque, Gaelic, Armorican and other ancient elements modified by the Frank and Latin admixture’(Ibid, pg 290).

Date of Update: 18-Nov-11

- By Dr. Soumitra Basu