Moving Towards South Asian Confederation
Ideal of Human Unity - Chapters

Chapter XXXI Part IV

The Conditions of a Free World-Union

Cultural Diversity

Once the basic conditions of a free world-union, viz. the abolition of war, the right of self-determination and a global economy are addressed, there remains the psychological life that serves the soul of humanity through culture, intellect, morality, aesthetics and spiritual growth which are necessary for a living unity. A living and dynamic unity is different from the usual notion of uniformity that is in consonance with the mechanical age of civilization. Uniformity is an external phenomenon with stress on common parameters and is different from a free development and constant interchange and correlation between diverse cultures and nations “living together in one political State-union than by their political separateness”. (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg.543)

In older times, there are instances of diverse cultures coming together not from a free and willing participation but through forcible inclusion of subject nations by dominant powers. In such an arrangement, the dominant powers were egoistically inclined to impose what they considered to be their superior civilization upon inferior or barbarous people. It was with this reactionary mind-set that the English tried to impose their speech, institutions and ideas on the Welsh and Irish peoples. Likewise, the British tried to Anglicize and even Christianize the Indian peoples. Such forcible imposition of alien culture has its own peril. Sri Aurobindo notes in 1918 when the British were still firmly entrenched in their colonial glory: “We can see clearly enough that the long suppression of the Celtic spirit and Celtic culture, superior in spirituality if inferior in certain practical directions to the Latin and Teutonic, was a loss not only to the Celtic peoples, but to the world. India has vehemently rejected the pretensions to superiority of British civilization, culture and religion, while still admitting, not so much the British, as the modern ideals and methods in politics and in the trend to a greater social equality; and it is becoming clear now, even to the more well-informed European minds that the Anglicisation of India would have been a wrong not only to India itself but to humanity”. (Ibid, pg.544)

However, Sri Aurobindo also noted that though the old principle of cultural imposition was wrong, yet at times there were certain benefits too. Thus India could link itself with the modern world through the instrumentality of the English language, reshape her own literature, life, culture, spirit and ideals in a new mould to produce an effect on the thought of the West. (Ibid) Sri Aurobindo himself elevated the English language to the status of a deva-bhasha in his epic, Savitri. In a similar vein, though Ireland and Wales ceased to have a living literature, their stamp on the English mind-set would result in an enriched Anglo-Celtic culture.

Thus, though a forcible imposition of a culture on another has its disadvantages and falsifying effects, a fusion also produces something new. If this could be achieved in an imperialistic setting, how much more innovative would have been the result if cultures interacted out of free choice, without compulsions and without belittling each other. This would be the spirit and temperament of a Free World Union. “For the final end is a common world-culture in which each national culture should be, not merged into or fused with some other culture differing from it in principle or temperament, but evolved to its full power and could then profit to that end by all the others as well as give its gains and influences to them, all serving by their separateness and their interaction the common aim and idea of human perfection.” (Ibid, pg.545) Even within a nation there may be great cultural variations that could have advantageous ramifications once the national mind-set overcame the old regional conflicts. “A world secure of its peace and freedom might freely devote itself to the intensification of its real human powers of life by the full encouragement and flowering of the individual, local, regional, national mind and power in the firm frame of a united humanity”. (Ibid)

A rich cultural diversity will enhance the richness of a Free World-Union. A steam-rolled uniformity cannot be a substitute for a transcultural unity. The Mother’s reminiscences on 5th April, 1951 are worth reproducing:

“I met in Japan one of the sons of Tolstoy; he was going round the world preaching human unity. He had caught this from his father and was going everywhere in the world preaching human unity. I met him at some friend’s place and asked him, “How are you going to realize this human unity?” Do you know what reply he gave me? “Oh! It is very simple –if everybody spoke the same language, if everybody dressed in the same way, if everybody lived in the same fashion, the whole world would be united!” Then I told him, “That would be a poor world not worth living in”. He did not understand me!” (CWM 4, pg.285-286)


Date of Update: 23-Nov-19

- By Dr. Soumitra Basu