Moving Towards South Asian Confederation
Ideal of Human Unity - Chapters

Chapter XXX Part IV

The Principle of Free Confederation

The Russian Ideal

A free confederation should ideally be based on two perspectives:
(a) moral and psychological principles; and
(b) vital and physical necessities.

Ideally, the moral and psychological principles should dominate and the vital and physical necessities should adjust themselves to the new ideal.

However, history was replete with examples where the vital and physical necessities were used to construct confederations with little or no regards to the moral and psychological principles. Glaring examples were Austria’s past domination of Trieste and Slavic territories, England’s holding of Ireland against Irish resistance and Germany’s scheme of Pan-Germanism. Even the moral and psychological idea (like the idea of an unified Russian culture or the pre-war German ideal of some sort of world unity) could be used to impose imperial expansion in the disguise of universalising European civilization by annexation and governmental force. However the vital necessity could not be totally disregarded as the world is not ideal and the law of force prevails in some form or other. Besides, as Sri Aurobindo noted in 1918, there were natural geographical unities like Russia, the United Kingdom and Austria. (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg.537-538) In fact, three decades later, Sri Aurobindo added in a footnote that the disregard of the natural geographical unity of Austria resulted in disastrous economic results when the Austrian empire was broken into smaller nations.(Ibid, footnote, pg.538)

The Russian Experiment

Sri Aurobindo writing in 1918 appreciated the sincerity expressed in Russia where the idea of free confederation arose so that the moral and psychological principles triumphed over vital and physical necessities. However such a “naked and unarmed idea” was ridiculed by “autocratic and militarist Germany” with expansionist zeal. (Ibid, pg.538)

Sri Aurobindo compares the Russian idealists with the French revolutionists who believed that the beauty and truth of the Ideal would be accepted not by the government but by the people who could then force the government to acceptance or overturn the government if opposed. However like the French, the Russians discovered that the Ideal would be ineffectual without “a prepondering vital and physical force”. (Ibid) Even the French Jacobins had to impose their ideal of “Unitarian nationalism” by force (The Reign of Terror during 1793-1794 when thousands of people were put on trial and executed). Nevertheless, Sri Aurobindo considered that the Russian ideal of a larger denouement of unity was more advanced “than the aggressive nationalism which was all the international result of the French Revolution; it has a greater meaning for the future”. (Ibid, pg.539) Yet, all said and done, the Russian Ideal had an inherent weakness to implement its own agenda within its own boundaries because the “dissolution of the old Russian fabric” made an “united and organised action” difficult. (Ibid)

Sri Aurobindo, even in that nascent hour of 1918 expressed the hope that if the Russian ideal could arrive at some principle of common action “even at the cost of that aggressive force which national centralisation can alone give, it would mean a new moral power in the world”. (Ibid) He also doubted whether the Russian Ideal would survive though even if it failed, its seed-idea would remain in the psyche of the race and would have “its part to play in a better prepared future”. (Ibid) In fact, three decades later, he commented, “The idea was sincere at that time, but has lost its significance because of the principle of revolutionary force on which Sovietism till rests”. (Ibid, footnote)

Yet, Sri Aurobindo was emphatic that the principle of Free Confederation was worthy to be pursued. “For it belongs to a future of free world-union in which precisely this principle of free self-determination must be either the preliminary movement or the main final result, to an arrangement of things in which the world will have done with war and force as the ultimate basis of national and international relations and be ready to adopt free agreement as a substitute”. (Ibid)


Date of Update: 22-July-19

- By Dr. Soumitra Basu