Moving Towards South Asian Confederation
Ideal of Human Unity - Chapters

Chapter XI Part I

The Small Free Unit and the Larger Concentrated Unity

Sri Aurobindo examines the different types of motivations that operate behind the unification of human race:

(a) The real motivation of human unity arises from the ‘intellectual, idealistic and emotional parts’ (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 355) of the human psyche to subserve the underlying spirit and sense of need of unity in the race.

(b) The intellectual and emotional factors need to be consolidated by economic and other material motivations. However, economic causes alone cannot be the harbinger of unity. Economic causes ‘are partly permanent and therefore elements of strength and secure fulfilment, partly artificial and temporary and therefore elements of insecurity and weakness’ (Ibid).

(c) The motivation for political unity is less durable and more fluctuating than the other motivators of unity. In fact, a garb of unity may be politically preferred ‘due to the desire of the successful nations to possess, enjoy and exploit the rest of the world at ease without the peril incurred by their own formidable rivalries and competitions and rather by some convenient understanding and compromise among themselves’ (Ibid). This is why Sri Aurobindo commented that the political factors in human unification were ‘the baser part in the amalgam; their presence may even vitiate the whole result and lead in the end to a necessary dissolution and reversal of whatever unity may be initially accomplished’ (Ibid).

Despite these conflicting motivations, the urge for human unity at a global level continues to seek ways for fulfilment. Ordinarily, the basic structure of transnational unity is based on common interests, ‘at first by a sort of understanding and initial union for the most pressing common needs, arrangements of commerce, arrangements of peace and war, arrangements for the common arbitration of disputes, arrangements for the policing of the world’ (Ibid, pg 356). Such common interests may appear ‘crude’ when compared to the high utopian idealism that upholds the concept of unity but are nevertheless the stepping stones that would ‘naturally develop by the pressure of the governing idea and the inherent need into a closer unity and even perhaps in the long end into a common supreme government which may endure till the defects of the system established and the rise of other ideals and tendencies inconsistent with its maintenance lead either to a new radical change or to its entire dissolution into its natural elements and constituents’ (Ibid).

At the time of writing this treatise in 1916, two types of aggregates had gained prominence. The first type was the evolution of the natural homogeneous nation and the second type was the artificial heterogeneous empire; both had certain advantages but also inherent disadvantages that ‘inflicted some wound on the complete human ideal’ (Ibid, pg 357).

The complete human ideal needed a graded approximation of individual and collective free life and liberty to a centre of concentrated State power so as to create a new model of unity. So far this has not been perfectly effectuated as the ‘active and stimulating participation’ of most of the subjects that was feasible in the early free human groupings was not possible in larger aggregates.

Sri Aurobindo gives examples from early Greek, Roman and Indian city-states and clan-nations to demonstrate that the innate democratic urge towards FREEDOM and EQUALITY operates along two inter-related dimensions:

1. The dimension of political and civil life
2. The dimension of social life.

The Democratic spirit in political and civil life

If the democratic spirit is very strong as was in the earlier small communities, then ‘forms as absolute monarchy or a despotic oligarchy, an infallible Papacy or sacrosanct theocratic class cannot flourish at ease in such an environment; they lack that advantage of distance from the mass and that remoteness from exposure to the daily criticism of the individual mind on which their prestige depends and they have not, to justify them, the pressing need of uniformity among large multitudes and over vast areas which they elsewhere serve to establish and maintain’ (Ibid, pg 358). With the growth of large empires that were historically needed for consolidation of power, strengthening of security, enlargement of homogeneity and enforcement of unity, the liberty and free life of individuals and regional groupings had to be subordinated and sacrificed. The small free unit had to be subjugated and surpassed at the altar of the larger concentrated unity. However the spirit of democracy is innate in human psyche and monarchical regimes had to give way to structured democratic set-ups though the equation between freedom of individuals and groups with the paramount unity of concentrated State power has yet to be satisfactorily worked out. However, even through clumsy barriers, the Time-Spirit is struggling to re-define the democratic spirit of freedom and equality in global terms that would surpass the paramount centers of State-power in a new equation.

The Democratic spirit in social life

When the leverage of political power moves centripetally to form a paramount center of a large concentrated unity blurring out the harmonious diversity of the small free but spontaneously democratic and vibrant units, there appears a dominant class or classes, coteries of vested interests, exploitatative groups , governing syndicates , ‘while the great mass of the community is left in a relative torpor and enjoys only a minimum and indirect share of that vitality in so far as it is allowed to filter down from above and indirectly affect the grosser, poorer and narrower life below’ (Ibid). The result is that concomitant with the political shift in the leverage of power, there is a simultaneous restructuring of social systems. In the medieval West, the free democratic spirit in social life was jeopardized by the Church and monarchical power. In the East, theocracy, the caste system and absolute kingship brought stagnation in social life. It was only in the 20th century when empires began to give way to Nation-States and the concept of globalization set in that attempts were initiated to recover the ‘general vividness of life and dynamic force of culture and creation’ (Ibid, pg 360) that had once sustained the sap of life.

Date of Update: 18-Sep-12

- By Dr. Soumitra Basu