Moving Towards South Asian Confederation
Ideal of Human Unity - Chapters
Readings, in contemporary parlance, chapter by chapter, of THE IDEAL OF HUMAN UNITY

Readings in Chapter II

The Imperfection of Past Aggregates

The title of the 2nd chapter is ‘The Imperfection of the Past Aggregates’. As Sri Aurobindo has used the term ‘past’, he must have conceived a ‘present’ that is transitional and a ‘future’ that is yet unaccomplished. Indeed, he has conceived a futuristic vision of ‘the largest possible human aggregate, the whole of a united humanity’.(The Ideal of human Unity, pg 267)

An aggregate of human beings cannot suddenly jump into an ideal state of world-union. Like all individual forms and species in the creation that evolve, human groupings and conglomerations have also to develop into a united ‘final universality’. This is natural as there is a difference between

(a) the psychological development of an individual through the limitations of emotion and cognition,

(b) the evolutionary development of the species through the limitations of space and constraints of time , and

(c) the social development of human aggregates through the limitations of organizational behavior.

Due to these inherent and multiple limitations, the hierarchy of human aggregates had to slowly and progressively enlarge starting from the smaller groupments of family, commune, clan, tribe, class, city-state, congeries of tribes, and thence moving to the larger groupments of kingdoms, empires, nations and is now progressing towards even larger regional and international groupings not based merely on expansion of power but in consonance with the spirit of universalism.

However, the development and progress of human aggregates is extremely complex .Sri Aurobindo enumerates two main problems:

1. In the progressive expanding hierarchy of human aggregates, the smaller and initial aggregates are not entirely destroyed for the sake of larger and later aggregates. Sometimes they are integrated with the larger aggregates, sometimes they remain in a modified form in accordance with the Time-Spirit. As a result, the hierarchy of human aggregates becomes progressively pluridimensional in nature. ‘Nature seldom destroys entirely the types she once made or only destroys that for which there is no longer any utility; the rest she keeps in order to serve her need or her passion for variety, richness, multiformity and only effaces the dividing lines or modifies the characteristics and relations sufficiently to allow of the larger unity she is creating.’(Ibid, pg 268)

2. The formation of progressively larger aggregates makes another basic conflict more and more complex—the conflict between the individual and the collectivity or social aggregate. The harmony between the individual and the collectivity has not yet been perfected in civilization. A larger and more complex aggregate does not automatically guarantee freedom of the individual at all levels of life. ‘The perfect society will be that which most entirely favours the perfection of the individual; the perfection of the individual will be incomplete if it does not help towards the perfect state of the social aggregate to which he belongs..’(Ibid, pg 267)

Conflict between social aggregates

As a result of these problems, the march of civilization has not been able to surpass the conflicts between all types of aggregates .Sri Aurobindo gives classic examples of failures and successes:

(1)The conflict among Semitic tribes still persists in the Arab-Israel struggle and has become a permanent source of weakness in that part of the world.

(2)The failure to integrate clan-life in Celtic races resulted in domination by foreign rule in Ireland and Scotland with the last-minute exception in Wales.

(3)The city states and small regional groups failed to fuse in Greece but singularly succeeded in Roman Italy.

(4) For two thousand years, the centrifugal tendencies of myriad aggregates ranging from family, commune, caste, clan, religion, sub-regional groupings, linguistic units, sub-nationalities failed to integrate in the Indian sub-continent till ‘Nature had to resort to her usual dues ex machine denouement, the instrumentality of a foreign rule’.(Ibid, pg 268)

Conflict within social aggregates

It is not enough to resolve conflicts between social aggregates. It is equally important to deal with a psycho-social conflict of a different nature that arises within sufficiently organised social aggregates. The individuals comprising an aggregate do not progress at par with each other -- there are enormous individual differences. ‘Some advance, others remain stationary,--absolutely or relatively,-others fall back. Consequently, the emergence of a dominant class is inevitable within the aggregate itself; just as in the constant clash between the aggregates the emergence of dominant nations is inevitable. ‘(Ibid, pg269)

What happens when a dominant class of individuals emerges in a society?

Sri Aurobindo explains that the Time-Spirit decides which class is needed for progress or retrogression. Thus,

(a)If power and strength of character is needed, a dominant aristocracy emerges

(b)If knowledge and science are needed, a dominant literary or savant class emerges

(c ) If practical ability ingenuity, economy and efficient organization is needed, a dominant bourgeoisie or Vaishya class emerges, usually capped with legal acumen.

(d)If a close organization of toil and a diffusion of general well-being is attempted, an artisan class may emerge.

Fate of dominance

Sri Aurobindo emphatically adds that any domination of one class by another or one nation by another cannot be historically sustainable for ‘the final aim of Nature in human life cannot be the exploitation of the many by the few or even of the few by the many, can never be the perfection of some at the cost of the abject submergence and ignorant subjection of the bulk of humanity; these can only be transient devices.’(Ibid , pg 269).

How does a dominant class disappear?

The phenomenon of dominance carries within it the seeds of destruction which can manifest in two ways:

(a)ejection or destruction of the exploiting element ,or by

(b) fusion and equalization of classes.

By the beginning of 20th century, the dominant intellectual and warrior classes in Europe were already on the point of subsidence into equality with the general mass. What was left was the rigid conflict between the dominant propertied class and the laborer whose abolition had become the mandate of the hour. Sri Aurobindo held the socialist trend towards EQUALITY in Europe as a ‘great law of Nature’s progressive march’. He added, ‘Absolute equality is surely neither intended nor possible, just as absolute uniformity is both impossible and utterly undesirable; but a fundamental equality which will render the play of true superiority and difference inoffensive, is essential to any conceivable perfectibility of the human race’.(Ibid, pg 270)

Sri Aurobindo was always particular to point out that uniformity was not synonymous with unity. He favored a unity that took into cognizance the truth of multiplicity – a reason why he used the term ‘multiple unity’ in the Life Divine. That is why he views that ‘absolute uniformity’ is impossible and undesirable. In the same vein, he explains that ‘absolute equality’ is impractical in the manifestation and hence we should strive towards ‘fundamental equality’. Beyond manifestation, beyond creation, in some featureless Nihil or Zero we can conceive of such concepts as ‘absolute uniformity’ or ‘absolute equality’. In the manifestation, variation is needed for richness and expression of infinite possibilities and hence, ideals have to be placed in the context of relativities. A fundamental equality might not make everybody a Bill Gates or a vagabond but can at least ensure basic human rights in a universalized manner!

Should a dominant class voluntarily abdicate its dominance?

Sri Aurobindo is emphatic that this is exactly what a dominant minority should undertake at the correct time so as to avoid disastrous consequences and ‘disordered progress’. He regrets that a failure to do so in India by the Brahmins and other privileged classes has been a main cause of ‘eventual decline and degeneracy’. ‘Therefore, the perfect counsel for a dominant minority is always to recognize in good time the right hour for its abdication and for the imparting of its ideals, qualities, culture, experience to the rest of the aggregate or to as much of it as is prepared for that progress’.(Ibid, pg 270).

It is interesting that Sri Aurobindo used the term ‘disordered progress’ (Ibid) .But that is the correct term in the Indian context after the age old discrimination based on caste distorted the social fabric. Even after all attempts to uplift the lower classes have been taken since 1947 in the form of reservations and concessions, the social conflicts go on acquiring new forms of expression.

The Individual versus the collectivity

Sri Aurobindo views the conflict of the individual with the social aggregate to be a very basic and fundamental conflict that cannot be over simplistically solved through ‘social, administrative and cultural machinery’. He views this issue from a metapsychological perspective and explains that while a collectivity exists only because of the individual units comprising it, the individual can exceptionally exist by exceeding the limits of any aggregate or collectivity. He can always exceed himself and all his associations, his family, clan, class or nation. It is not enough for him to be self-sufficient in a group. He also has the urge to exceed his social group to universalize himself and in the process to be part of perhaps a yet wider global group. ’Therefore, just as the systems of social aggregation which depend on the domination of a class or classes over others must change or dissolve, so the social aggregates which stand in the way of this perfection of the individual and seek to coerce him within their limited mould and into the rigidity of a narrow culture or petty class or national interest, must find their term and their day of change or destruction under the irresistible impulsion of progressing Nature (Ibid, pg 271).

Date of Update: 18-Nov-11

- By Dr. Soumitra Basu