Moving Towards South Asian Confederation
Ideal of Human Unity - Chapters

Chapter XIII Part II

Second Stage of Formation of the Nation-Unit

The first stage of formation of the nation-unit institutionalized a social hierarchy. At a certain point in time, this hierarchy proved to be counter-productive to the progress of nationhood. The consolidation of nationhood needed two cardinal principles to be worked out:

  1. The centralisation of common life under a secular head; and
  2. The creation of a political self-consciousness.

Neither of these two objectives could be achieved unless the rigidity of the initial and somewhat rustic social hierarchy was surpassed. If the social hierarchy did not modify itself, either the warrior or the theocracy  would dominate leaving the rest of the people exploited, languished or deprived. Sri Aurobondo elaborates, ‘ The direction needed was a change from the spiritual authority of one class and the political authority of another to a centralisation of the common life of the evolving nation under a secular rather than a religous head or, if the religous tendency in the people be too strong to separate things spiritual and temporal, under a national head who shall be the fountain of authority in both departments. Especially was it necessary for the creation of a political self-consciousness, without which no separate nation-unit can be successfully formed, that the sentiments, activities, instruments proper to its creation should for a time take the lead and all others stand behind and support them. A Church or a dominant sacerdotal caste remaining within its own function cannot form the organised political unity of a nation; for it is governed by other than political and adminstrative considerations and cannot be expected to subordinate to them its own characteristic feelings and interests. It can only be otherwise if the religous caste or sacerdotal class become also as in Tibet the actually ruling political class of the country ‘(The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 377-378).

The case of India is peculiar. Despite surviving the vicissitudes of time, it never had till modern times an all-pervading national political self-consciousness or an organised national unity that was distinctly separate from a spiritual and cultural oneness. Sri Aurobindo castigates the dominant sacerdotal Brahmin caste for this phenomenon. Though this caste did not actually rule and adminster, it ‘dominated thought and society and determined the principles of national life’ and ‘has always stood in the way of the development followed by the more secular-minded European and Mongolian peoples’(Ibid, pg 378). Political and social considerations came to the forefront only when the Brahmin caste underwent two notable changes (Ibid):
(a)With the advent of European influence, the Brahmin caste lost the best part of its exclusive hold on the national life, and
(b)The impact of modernity led to a massive secularisation of the Brahmin caste itself.
Thus, nature had to utilise its instrument of foreign dominance to help India emerge into an independent nation . However, despite the resistance of the Brahmin caste, there were some pockets in India where a semblance of national selfconsciousness was displayed that was not of a predominantly spiritual character. The Rajputs of Mewar accepted the Raja in a double role, the head of the society as well as that of the nation(elsewhere the head of the society was the Brahmin). In fact, ‘the peoples which having achieved national self-consciousness came nearest to achieving also organised political unity were the Sikhs for whom Guru Govind Singh deliberately devised a common secular and spiritual centre in the Khalsa, and the Mahrattas who not only established a secular head, representative of the conscious nation, but so secularised themselves that, as it were, the whole people indiscriminately, Brahmin and Shudra, became for a time potentially a people of soldiers, politicians and adminstrators’ (Ibid, pg 377).


The modification of the social hierarchy invariably led to the concentration of power in the hands of a dominant monarchical government . In the modern world, kingship is a figurative or decorative but inoperative entity that is tolerated (obviously at the expense of the public money) if not venerated. But this does not diminish the importance of a powerful kingship in shaping the destiny of medieval nations. ‘Even in liberty-loving, insular and individualistic England, the Plantagenets and Tudors were the real and active nucleus round which the nation grew into firm form and into adult strength; and in Continental countries the part played by the Capets and their successors in France, by the House of Castile in Spain and by the Romanoffs and their predecessors in Russia is still more prominent. In the last of these instances, one might almost say that without the Ivans, Peters and Catherines there would have been no Russia. And even in modern times, the almost medieval role played by the Hohenzollerns in the unification and growth of Germany was watched with an uneasy astonishment by the democratic peoples to whom such a phenemenon was no longer intelligible and seemed hardly to be serious’(Ibid, pg 379). Similar phenomenons were witnessed in the first period of formation of new nations in the Balkans, in the role of the Mikado during the evolution of Japan into a modern nation and in the attempt of a brief dictatorship in revolutionary China to convert itself into a new national monarchy (Ibid).Despite all comedies and tragedies associated with it, the monarchy represented a subconscious necessity in the psyche of the people to seek for a king to consolidate their aspirations and centralise and assist their growth. ‘It is a sense of this great role played by the kingship in centralising and shaping national life at the most critical stage of its growth which explains the tendency common in the East and not altogether absent from the history of the West to invest it with an almost sacred character; it explains also the passionate loyalty with which great national dynasties or their successors have been served even in the moment of their degeneration and downfall’(Ibid, pg 379-380).

However the institution of monarchy had its inbuilt limitations and had to be surpassed for another progressive phase in the history of formation of the nation-unit.

Date of Update: 20-Mar-13

- By Dr. Soumitra Basu