Moving Towards South Asian Confederation
Ideal of Human Unity - Chapters

Chapter XXXII Part I


Internationalism is understood today as a political principle that transcends nationalism. In its radical form, it is a dynamic idea that not only outgrows the national idea and form but can also destroy it in the 'interest of the larger synthesis of mankind'. (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg.548)

Such a radical idea must be coeval with a dynamic force or power for effectuation. But if it has to compromise with interests and prepossessions of powerful conglomerates, it can suffer diminution or even distortion. (Ibid) At present such a principle in a somewhat diluted form subsists on the attempt for a greater political or economic co-operation among nations and people, relegating the term somewhat similar to the concept of globalism and cosmopolitanism.

Sri Aurobindo traces the idea of internationalism to the 18th century European mind that constructed the idea from the matrix of life-experience and the idea, without going deeper, was then projected to life to change its outward forms and institutions. The idea was then subsequently allotted a space in the initial idealistic stages of the French Revolution. However, Sri Aurobindo points out that the French Revolution did not culminate in internationalism, at best it was 'a complete and self-conscious nationalism'. (Ibid)

Sri Aurobindo describes how the idea of internationalism was subsequently taken up by nineteenth century thinkers in different ways:

(a) in the mode of 'pure idealism'; (Ibid)

(b) in a 'modified way'. (Ibid) Richard Cobden and John Bright of UK were liberal internationalists. Cobden believed that Free Trade would bring interdependence in the world which he expressed in his famous 1843 speech at Covent Garden, an idea also stressed by Adam Smith in his The Wealth of Nations;

(c) In being allied 'with the growing forces of socialism and anarchism'. (Ibid) Socialists viewed the concept of Free Trade with suspicion as they considered the links between economic competition and imperialism to be the base for world conflict. It is to the credit of the working class socialists and communist political activists (including Karl Marx) that the International Working men's Association, referred as the First International was formed in 1864 as one of the first international organizations and dedicated to the promotion of working class political interests across national boundaries. It was ideologically opposed to liberal internationalism that advocated free trade and capitalism.

(d) In its absolute form, the idea became 'the internationalism of the intellectuals, intolerant of nationalism as a narrow spirit of the past, contemptuous of patriotism as an irrational prejudice, a maleficent corporate egoism characteristic of narrow intellects and creative of arrogance, prejudice, hatred, oppression, division and strife between nation and nation, a gross survival of the past which the growth of reason was destined to destroy.' (Ibid, pg. 549)

Sri Aurobindo viewed the heuristic value of internationalism from a consciousness perspective that was more basic than the liberal and socialist considerations:

'It [internationalism] is founded on a view of things which looks at man in his manhood only and casts away all those physical and social accidents of birth, rank, colour, creed, nationality, which have been erected into so many walls and screens behind which man has hidden himself from his fellow-man; he has turned them into sympathy-proof shelters and trenches from which he wages against him a war of defence and aggression, war of nations, war of continents, war of classes, war of colour with colour, creed with creed, culture with culture. All this barbarism the idea of intellectual internationalist seeks to abolish by putting man face to face with man on the basis of their common human sympathy, aims, highest interests of the future. It is entirely futuristic in its view; it turns away from the confused and darkened good of the past to the purer good of the future when man, at last beginning to become a truly intelligent and ethical being, will shake away from him all these sources of prejudice and passion and evil. Humanity will become one in idea and feeling, and life be consciously what it now is inspite of itself, one in its status on earth and its destiny'. (Ibid)


Date of Update: 24-Jan-20

- By Dr. Soumitra Basu