Moving Towards South Asian Confederation
Ideal of Human Unity - Chapters


The Idea of a League of Nations

The Idea of free nationality in different denouements

Writing at the beginning of 1918, Sri Aurobindo examines how the World War I had revived the idea of free nationality in three different denouements that were distinct from each other:

(a) ‘First, in opposition to the imperialist ambitions of Germany in Europe the allied nations, although themselves empires, were obliged to appeal to a qualified ideal of free nationality and pose as its champions and protectors’.(The Ideal of Human Unity, pg.526) Even though Germany would be defeated in the World War I, the idea of Pan-Germanicism as a pan-nationalist political idea would survive favouring ethnocentric and racial trends that would magnify years later with the foreign policy Heim ins Reich in Nazi Germany. After the World War II, Pan-Germanicism would be viewed as a taboo ideology justifying the relevance of the qualified ideal of free nationality mooted by the Allied powers during World War I.

(b) Second, ‘America, more politically idealistic than Europe, entered the war with a cry for a league of free nations’. (Ibid) Even before the War began, President Theodore Roosevelt called for an international league and during his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906, stated, “It would be a masterstroke if those great powers honestly bent on peace would form a League of Peace”. It is another story that later, when the League would be formed, USA would not officially join the League.

(c) ‘Finally, the original idealism of the Russian revolution cast into this new creative chaos an entirely new element by the distinct, positive,uncompromising recognition, free from all reserves of diplomacy and self- interest, of the right of every aggregate of men naturally marked off from other aggregates to decide its own political status and destiny’. (Ibid) In fact, during the tenure of the Great War itself, the Tsarist autocracy was terminated by the 1917 February revolution and the subsequent October revolution led to the creation of the Soviet Socialist Republic which would no longer be governed by imperialists, royal lineages, land sharks or business magnets but by the proletariat – an experiment hitherto un- attempted.

Sri Aurobindo explained that all these three positions had some relevance or other for the future:

(a) ‘The first based itself upon the present conditions and aimed at a certain practical rearrangement’. (Ibid) It would actually be a deterrent to aggressive pan-nationalism that arose from a false sense of subjectivism. (It must be remembered that the Indian nationalism that developed in the British period was an eulogizing of India’s inclusive cultural and spiritual uniqueness while European nationalism was a over-zealous amplification of its status that cared for itself at the expense of others).

(b) ‘The second tried to hasten into immediate practicability a not entirely remote possibility of the future’ (Ibid, pg.526-527) (In fact, the League of Nations was formally established two years after Sri Aurobindo had penned this line)

(c) ‘The third aimed at bringing into precipitation by the alchemy of revolution …a yet remote end which in the ordinary course of events could only be realised, if at all, in a far distant future’. (Ibid, pg.527) (Sri Aurobindo was writing this within three months of the October revolution).

Sri Aurobindo viewed that all three positions had some validity or the other but the Russian ideal, though ‘immediately ineffective’ (Ibid) had nevertheless the possibility of an actual force capable of influencing the future of the race. He applauded the Russian idea : ‘ A great idea already striving to enforce itself in the field of practice is a power which cannot be left out of count, not valued onlyaccording to its apparent chances of immediate effectuation at the present hour’. (Ibid) The Russian idea would outlive that moment.


Date of Update: 20-Dec-18

- By Dr. Soumitra Basu