Moving Towards South Asian Confederation
Ideal of Human Unity - Chapters

Chapter IX Part II

The difficulty in resurrecting a World-Empire

Even before the end of World War I, Sri Aurobindo had opined, ‘The idea of a world-empire imposed by sheer force is in direct opposition, as we have seen, to the new conditions which the progressive nature of things has introduced into the modern world’ (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 337). Indeed, ‘new conditions’ arose from gigantic scientific-technological advances and dynamic mutations in the cultural mind-set of the 20th century. The difficulties of resurrecting a world-empire were manifold:

(a)    An imperial enterprise must have a sufficiently subtle diplomatic genius (coupled with good luck) to prevent the coalition of possible rivals. In ancient times, Rome could successfully use diplomatic maneuvering to prevent a coalition of its enemies. In the contemporary era, such back-office diplomacy cannot succeed ‘under the conditions of modern publicity and swift world-wide communication’ (Ibid, pg 340).


(b)    An imperial Power moving towards world-domination would at some point in time be invariably opposed ‘by almost all the Powers capable of opposing it and this with the sympathy of the world at its back. Given even the happiest diplomacy, such a moment seems inevitable’ (Ibid, pg 341). The modern empire then has to have an exceptional predominance in all areas of military might. Even then it is doubtful if such military possibilities can be worked out to gain control in under-developed regions with formidable masses rejuvenated with the democratic spirit.


(c)     An imperial set-up can try to ‘prevail over the coalition of its opponents by a superior science’ (Ibid, pg 342) but in the contemporary era, Science cannot be the monopoly of a particular nation or set-up and any new invention can be replicated elsewhere wherever there are points of receptivity. ‘ the modern world Science is a common possession and even if one nation steals such a march on the others as to leave them in a position of great inferiority at the beginning, yet experience has shown that given a little time,… the lost ground can be rapidly made up or at least methods of defense developed which will largely neutralize the advantage gained’ (Ibid). This is still relevant today when unexpectedly, small countries attempt to manufacture nuclear arsenal much to the embarrassment of superpowers.


(d)   Another tool for dominance of a nation vying to be a super-power is ‘a more skilful use of its resources’ (Ibid).  However, a resultant exploitation can also be outmaneuvered today with the scientific spirit and temper as well as increased ecological awareness and universalization of the human rights movement. Thus the aggressive stance of the syndicate of oil-producing nations propelled the search for new fuels and increased use of solar power. The attempt to impoverish weaker nations by arm-twisting them to accept genetically modified seeds is being effectively countered only because of increased global ecological awareness.  One of the many reasons that China is a super-power today is the skilful use of its enormous human resources but that the process has also meant explicit exploitation of cheap labour has now caught global attention.


 All these factors make the idea of uniting mankind through a world-empire an impractical possibility. ‘That it may again be attempted, is possible; that it will fail, may almost be prophesied’ (Ibid). Yet, Sri Aurobindo also commented that the resurgence of the empire-idea might not be ‘an absolute impossibility’ (Ibid) as it can rise like a phoenix from the collective unconscious holding traces of the race-memory. Unable to replicate a world-empire, the imperial idea still lurks today within the urge to be a super-power, a member of the Security Council of The United Nations with the formidable instrument of veto-power. (In fact, in this chapter written an year prior to the Bolshevik revolution, Sri Aurobindo had estimated that Russia would rise to be a military super-power to which Germany would be a trifle, Ibid, pg 341). However, ‘the gradual unification of the world by the growth of great heterogeneous empires forming true psychological unities is only a vague and nascent possibility, its unification by a single forceful imperial domination has passed …out of the range of possibilities’ (Ibid, pg 343). Sri Aurobindo opines that it would be more prudent to convert the old ideal of a single world-empire into ‘the opposite ideal of a free association of free nations’ (Ibid, pg 337).

Date of Update: 16-Apr-12

- By Dr. Soumitra Basu