Moving Towards South Asian Confederation
Ideal of Human Unity - Chapters

Chapter X Part II

The United States of Europe: Preliminary thoughts

The idea of the organized State and the theory of Socialism which germinated in Germany began to influence other European countries, even England, ’the home of individualism’ (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 347). The defeat of Germany did not mean a defeat of her socialistic idea, on the contrary, emboldened it. The evident result of the World War I was that even nations opposed to Germany were forced to move rapidly to the perfectly organized socialistic State (Ibid, pg 347-348). Sri Aurobindo opined that as a corollary, a federation of free nations would logically evolve: ‘…the natural development of things aided by the frustration of the German form of imperialism would lead logically to a new ordering of the world on the basis of a system of independent but increasingly organized national States associated together more or less closely for international purposes while preserving their independent existence. Such is the ideal which has attracted the human mind as a yet distant possibility since the great revolutionary ferment set in; it is the idea of a federation of free nations, the parliament of man, the federation of the world’(Ibid, pg 348).

Sri Aurobindo was simultaneously aware that this dream was not immediately feasible in the aftermath of World War I. He explained that the nationalistic, democratic and socialist ideas were not alone in the political psyche; imperialism was equally and forcefully present. There were European countries that cherished their free nationhood and eulogized democratic ideals and yet had no inhibitions in dominating other human groupings who were not free or partially free colonies.  Even small European countries had big colonies: Belgium had Congo, Portugal had faraway colonies, Holland had dependencies in the Eastern Archipelago; little Balkan States had imperialistic ambitions while Mazzini’s Italy had ventures in Tripoli, Abyssinia, Albania and the Greek islands. Sri Aurobindo forewarned in 1916: ‘This imperialistic tendency is likely to grow stronger for some time in the future rather than to weaken. The idea of remodeling even of Europe itself on the strict principle of nationality, which captivated liberal minds in England at the beginning of the war, has not yet been made practicable and, if it were effected, there would still remain the whole of Asia and Africa as a field for the imperialistic ambitions of the Western nations and Japan’ (Ibid).

Despite the continuation of imperialism, it was also interesting that the United States had decreed ‘the liberation of the Philippines and restrained the desire to take advantage of the troubles of Mexico’ (Ibid). Sri Aurobindo explains that the disinterestedness of USA to maintain colonies was because it represented a fresh energetic mind-set in contrast to ‘the mentality of the Old World’ though he doubted how long the USA would remain free of the ‘imperialistic sentiment’.  We know today that the imperialistic sentiment can still prevail in a decolonized world in new garbs. He also opined that there could be a resurgence of ‘national egoism’ even if restrained by higher motives and a better national morality, retarding the process of world-unity. How true! One is reminded how Yugoslavia,  a socialist and secular multi-ethnic State, just ceased to exist when the national ego of each ethnic group began to be assertive turning neighbors into arch enemies.

Human Unity cannot be imposed from above by a theoretically sound idea; it has to evolve from below winding its perilous way through the vagaries of collective life. Nationalism cannot just be blotted out to pave in internationalism, its quality and direction has to be changed so as to provide conducive conditions for global unity. A federation of free nations would be one such step forward to international unity and in the post World War I scenario; Europe offered a perfect field for such an experiment. However there were three impediments to that vision:

(a)   Inequality between nations;

(b)   Absence of a global culture; and

(c)  In the co-existence of the imperialistic instinct with the principle of nationalism, the former tended to dominate.

Yet the Time-Spirit demanded a larger vision towards global unity that surpassed imperialism. Hence Sri Aurobindo commented in the aftermath of World War I, ‘All that can be hoped is that the old artificial, merely political empire may be replaced by a truer and more moral type, and that the existing empires, driven by the necessity of strengthening themselves and by an enlightened self-interest, may come to see that the recognition of national autonomy is a wise and necessary concession to the still vital instinct of nationalism and can be used so as to strengthen instead of weakening their imperial strength and unity. In this way, while a federation of free nations is for the present impossible, a system of federated empires and free nations drawn together in a closer association than the world has yet seen is not altogether impossible; and through this and other steps some form of political unity for mankind  may at a more or less distant date be realisable’(Ibid, pg 349-350).

In a footnote added after World War II, Sri Aurobindo had commented, ’The appearance of Hitler and the colossal attempt at German world-domination have paradoxically helped by his defeat, and the reaction against him entirely altered the world circumstances: the United States of Europe is now a practical possibility and has begun to feel towards self-accomplishment’(ibid).  It took nearly five decades for the European Union to evolve through the Maastricht Treaty in 1993.

Date of Update: 19-Jun-12

- By Dr. Soumitra Basu