Moving Towards South Asian Confederation
Ideal of Human Unity - Chapters

Chapter X Part I

The United States of Europe:  Evolution of the State-Idea

The tenth chapter titled ‘The United States of Europe’ written an year before the Russian revolution of 1917 is a landmark article that envisaged the setting up of the European Union as a logical outcome of world-events cruising towards trans-national unity en route  the global vision of an united mankind.

The Ideal of Liberty

 Sri Aurobindo traces the seeds of this trans-national movement to the French Revolution (1787-1799) when the ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen’ proclaimed ‘Liberty-Equality-Fraternity’ as the new mantra of the Time-Spirit. Such an Utopian ideal needs a time-frame to be worked out, a matrix to be manifested   and a political mind-set to be implemented. The nineteenth century welcomed the ideal of ‘Liberty’ leading to the evolution of the free democratized nation as the governing idea of the era. ‘The dominant idea of the French Revolution was the formula of the free and sovereign people…this idea became in fact the assertion of the free, independent, democratically self-governed nation’(The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 344). Thus, ‘DEMOCRACY’ and ‘NATIONALISM’ arose as guiding ideals to triumph in America and Europe and the spirit of DEMOCRATIC NATIONALISM  ignited the progressive mind-set in the East, in Turkey, Persia, India and China  even though they  ‘were not fortunate  in their first attempts at self-realisation’(Ibid).

The Ideal of Equality

Sri Aurobindo notes that even before the ideal of liberty could consolidate in nineteenth century Europe, the second term of the great French revolutionary formula; ‘Equality’ began to assert itself.  This was because though the ideal of liberty helped to attain a certain kind of political equality, it could not deal with economic disparity. ‘An incomplete social leveling still left untouched the one inequality and the one form of political preponderance which no competitive society can eliminate, the preponderance of the haves over the have-nots, the inequality between the more successful in the struggle of life and the less successful which is rendered inevitable by difference of capacity, unequal opportunity and the handicap of circumstance and environment’ (Ibid, pg 345).  If the ideal of liberty manifested through democracy, the ideal of equality manifested through socialism. ‘Socialism seeks to get rid of this persistent inequality by destroying the competitive form of society and substituting the cooperative.’ (Ibid)

The State-Idea

In the zeal to form a co-operative form of society, the votaries of socialism had two options. The first was to return to the ancient idea of the commune that existed in the villages as well as in the form of the old city-state. An year before the Bolshevik Revolution, Sri Aurobindo wrote that the ancient type of commune was no more feasible with ‘the larger groupings and greater complexities of modern life’ (Ibid). This was exactly Lenin’s argument during that period when a section of Russian intellectuals, in an attempt to envisage an alternative view of social reconstruction, favoured a resurrection of the ancient institution of the ‘mir’ or the village commune. Lenin argued that the ‘mir’ as a institution was in the process of decay and moreover a socialistic set-up in the modern era had to take cognizance of the industrial proletariat for which the simple village commune would not suffice.

The second option left to realize the socialist idea was to design ‘the rigorously organized national State’. Indeed, this new idea of the perfectly organized State  based on the ideal of ‘equality’ influenced the progressive mind of humanity even before the nineteenth century impulse of ‘liberty’ could manifest  fully in the political psyche of Europe. ‘To eliminate poverty, not by the crude idea of equal distribution but by the holding of all property in common and its management through the organized State, to equalize opportunity and capacity as far as possible through universal education and training, again by means of the organized State, is the fundamental idea of modern Socialism’(Ibid).     

From Democratic Socialism to Totalitarianism

The success of socialism depends upon the abrogation or diminution of individual liberty. There is of course the concept  of Democratic Socialism which ‘still clings indeed to the nineteenth –century ideal of political freedom; it insists on the equal right of all in the State to choose, judge and change their own governors, but all other liberty it is ready to sacrifice to its own central idea’ (Ibid, pg 345-346). Sri Aurobindo hinted that the progress of the socialistic idea had to surpass the limits of Democratic Socialism to ‘a perfectly organized national State which would provide for and control the education and training, manage and govern all the economic activities and for that purpose as well as for the assurance of perfect efficiency, morality, well-being and social justice, order the whole or at any rate the greater part of the external and internal life of its component individuals. It would effect, in fact, by organized State control what earlier societies attempted by social pressure, rigorous rule of custom, minute code and Shastra….It is true that in order to realize it even political liberty has had to be temporarily abolished; but this, it may be argued, is only an accident of the moment, a concession to temporary necessity’ (Ibid, pg 346).

Thus, Sri Aurobindo anticipated that the Socialist ideal would finally find its culmination in  ‘a nation, self-governing, politically free, but aiming at perfect social and economic organization and ready for that purpose to hand over all individual liberty to the control of the organized national State’(Ibid, pg 346-347). In other words, this could lead to a classical totalitarian State. Indeed, totalitarianism became a hallmark of the paramount State as evidenced later in Bolshevist Russia, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. But the seeds of ‘social democracy’ were already sown in Germany in the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century when it served as ‘the chief propagandist and the experimental workshop of the idea of the organized State. There the theory of Socialism has taken rise…there also the great socialistic measures and those which have developed the control of the individual by the State for the common good and efficiency of the nation have been most thoroughly and admirably conceived and executed. It matters little that this was done by an anti-socialistic, militarist and aristocratic government; the very fact is a proof of the irresistible strength of the new tendency, and the inevitable transference of the administrative power from its past holders to the people was all that was needed to complete its triumph’(Ibid, pg 347).

While Lenin was busy planning to seize State power on behalf of the working class so as to build up socialism and eventually communism, Sri Aurobindo, in 1916, was looking ahead of times and speculating that if the success of socialism necessitated a temporary suspension of individual liberty, a grouping of free nation-states would yet be inevitable in Europe and be a stepping-stone towards unity of mankind even if the perfectly organized socialist State failed to hold its fort.

Date of Update: 15-May-12

- By Dr. Soumitra Basu