Moving Towards South Asian Confederation
Ideal of Human Unity - Chapters

Chapter XIII Part III

Third Stage of Formation of the Nation-Unit

The culmination of the nation-unit into a monarchical system consolidates political power and administrative unity but the social consciousness cannot remain bound at this stage. The nation-unit is not only dependent on external conditions for viability; it also has to cater to the inner needs of the collective consciousness that is poised along the trajectory of evolutionary growth. Once there is consolidation of the nation-unit, the collective psyche yearns naturally for an inner expansion. ‘The nation-unit is not formed and does not exist merely for the sake of existing; its purpose is to provide a larger mould of human aggregation in which the race, and not only classes and individuals, may move towards its full human development. So long as the labour of formation continues, this larger development may be held back and authority and order be accepted as the first consideration, but not when the aggregate is sure of its existence and feels the need of an inner expansion. Then the old bonds have to be burst; the means of formation have to be discarded as obstacles to growth’ (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 382). This need of the collective psyche for an inner expansion expresses as a quest for LIBERTY. Sri Aurobindo explains that liberty becomes the ‘watchword of the race’ and seeks to be manifest in three unique situations:

·       Socio-religious sphere: ‘The ecclesiastical order which suppressed liberty of thought and new ethical and social development, has to be dispossessed of its despotic authority, so that man may be mentally and spiritually free’ (Ibid).

·       Socio-political sphere: ‘The monopolies and privileges of the king and aristocracy have to be destroyed, so that all may take their share of the national power, prosperity and activity’ (Ibid).

·       Socio-economic sphere: ‘Finally, bourgeois capitalism has to be induced or forced to consent to an economic order in which suffering, poverty and exploitation shall be eliminated and the wealth of the community be more equally shared by all who help to create it. In all directions, men have to come into their own, realize the dignity and freedom of the manhood within them and give play to their utmost capacity’ (Ibid, pg 382-383).

 The Collapse of the Monarchy

 In a post-colonial and post-modern world, the old monarchical absolutism is naturally viewed with suspicion as it implies a suppression of internal liberties of the people but a scientific and objective retrospective shows the historical value of monarchism at a certain phase of nation-building .There was a need to rise from a loose and somewhat chaotic social structure to a state of uniformity and a centralization of power, administration  and authority at the cost of liberty and free variation. It was this trend to uniformity that consolidated certain monarchical nations to uniqueness and robust vitality; viz. ‘In England, the period of the New Monarchy from Edward IV to Elizabeth, in France the great Bourbon period from Henry IV to Louis XIV, in Spain the epoch which extends from Ferdinand to Philip II, in Russia the rule of Peter the Great and Catherine’ (Ibid, pg 380). Paradoxically, it was this same trend of absolutism that later became clothed in a different garb so that absolutism could achieve an ‘astonishing completeness’ in the totalitarian ideology of Russia, Germany and Italy in the first part of 20th century(Ibid).

Absolutism implies not only political authority and administrative control but also moral policing. Therefore, monarchical authority had to be complemented by religious allegiance in the form of religious uniformity resulting in a more severe deprivation of individual liberty even at the cost of human blood. ‘It is from this point of view that we shall most intelligently understand the attempt of the Tudors and the Stuarts to impose both monarchical authority and religious uniformity on the people and seize the real sense of the religious wars in France, the Catholic monarchical rule in Spain with its atrocious method of the Inquisition and the oppressive will of the absolute Czars in Russia to impose also an absolute national Church’ (Ibid, pg 380-381) . It is interesting that when the pope tried to limit the powers of Inquisition he himself sanctioned in 1478, he was opposed not by religious fundamentalists but by the Spanish Crown! In fact, the grand Spanish inquisitor, Tomas De Torquemada was alone responsible for burning about 2000 heretics at the stake. The Spanish inquisition was also introduced into Mexico, Peru, Sicily (1517), and the Netherlands(1522), and it was not entirely suppressed in Spain till the early 19th century (Britannica Ready Reference Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, 2005).

The effort towards absolutism simultaneously in both political and religious domains could not be equally effective everywhere, it could not sustain in places where the quest for liberty had already began to manifest. ‘The effort failed in England because after Elizabeth it no longer answered to any genuine need; for the nation was already well-formed, strong and secure against disruption from without. Elsewhere it succeeded both in Protestant and Catholic countries, or in the rare cases as in Poland where this movement could not take place or failed, the result was disastrous. Certainly, it was everywhere an outrage on the human soul, but it was not merely due to any natural wickedness of the rulers; it was an inevitable stage in the formation of the nation-unit by political and mechanical means. If it left England the sole country in Europe where liberty could progress by natural gradations that was due, no doubt, largely to the strong qualities of the people but still more to its fortunate history and insular circumstances’ (The Ideal of Human Unity, Pg 381).

The monarchical State successfully made ‘Religion the handmaid of a secular throne’ (Ibid).It destroyed the liberties of the aristocracy except conditional privileges, pitted the bourgeoisie against the nobles, destroyed civil liberties except ornamental forms and so impoverished the proletariat that they had no liberties at all to be destroyed. ‘Thus the monarchical State concentrated in its own activities the whole national life. The Church served it with its moral influence, the nobles with their military traditions and ability, the bourgeoisie with the talent or chicane of its lawyers and the literary genius or administrative power of its scholars, thinkers and men of inborn business capacity; the people gave taxes and served with their blood the personal and national ambitions of the monarchy’ (Ibid). Such a state of affairs could last as long as it would be tolerated for a conscious or subconscious need of national life until the quest for liberty gathered an optimum momentum to become self-conscious. ‘By changing the old order into a mere simulacrum the monarchy had destroyed its own base. The sacerdotal authority of the Church, once questioned on spiritual grounds, could not be long maintained by temporal means, by the sword and the law; the aristocracy keeping its privileges but losing its real functions became odious and questionable to the classes below it; the bourgeoisie conscious of its talent, irritated by its social and political inferiority, awakened by the voice of its thinkers, led the movement of revolt and appealed to the help of the populace; the masses—dumb, oppressed, suffering—rose with this new support which had been denied to them before and overturned the whole social hierarchy. Hence the collapse of the old world and the birth of a new age (Ibid, pg 382).

The problem of Liberty and Equality

It is true that the quest for liberty triumphed against monarchical absolutism. It is equally true that mere liberty cannot ensure the uniformity and organized efficiency of absolutism. In fact, liberty alone is not sufficient to hold a social structure, ‘justice also is necessary and becomes a pressing demand; the cry for equality arises’ (Ibid). It has still not been possible to perfectly reconcile and harmonize liberty with equality.  A noted economist (Bharat Jhunjhunwala , The Statesman,Calcutta,13th April,2013, pg  6) showed how poverty alleviation in a non-monarchical, democratic third world country (that did not suppress political liberty) was paradoxically related to an increase in economic inequality. The principle of State-sponsored liberty allows unfettered industrial growth and  big companies can make huge profits and pay fat salaries that other sections of the society cannot afford to have leading to a gaping economic inequality. On the other hand taxes collected from such companies can be used for providing food, clothing and shelter to the poor. Thus it is at the cost of economic inequality that poverty alleviation can be carried out. On the other hand, less economic inequality does not mean less poverty. Communist Albania had a relatively low distribution of income but had widespread poverty. The distribution of wealth of the rich among the poor can be a measure of economic equality but in the absence of a visionary model of growth and investment can lead to stagnation; something that happened to China during the cultural revolution of the sixties. The elite were sent to villages to learn from peasants so as to promote equality but the resultant economic stagnation led subsequently to the adoption of the capitalist model of development.

In the Aurobindonian parlance, the conflict between liberty and equality persists for two cardinal reasons:

  • We have yet to place the value of equality in the correct context in the holarchy of values; and

  • We need to appreciate how liberty and equality can be reconciled along a consciousness paradigm.

Sri Aurobindo explains that the term equality was initially aimed against the unjust and unnecessary inequalities of the old world-order. It must be acknowledged that absolute equality is not only pragmatically but metaphysically non-existent in a world of dualities, multiplicity, variability and hierarchy that does not represent the unitary consciousness. At best what can be achieved is that under a just social order, ‘there must be an equal opportunity, an equal training for all to develop their faculties and to use them, and, so far as may be, an equal share in the advantages of the aggregate life as the right of all who contribute to the existence, vigour and development of that life by the use of their capacities’. An ideal of ‘free co-operation guided and helped by a wise and liberal central authority expressing the common will’ (Ibid, pg 383) would have facilitated such a model of social equality. However, in a travesty of history, the urge for equality has paradoxically ‘reverted to the old notion of an absolute and efficient State – no longer monarchical, ecclesiastical, aristocratic but secular, democratic and socialistic—with liberty sacrificed to the need of equality and aggregate efficiency (Ibid). No wonder, Sri Aurobindo commented that anarchy was even better than unassimilated repression (S.Mohanty, Sri Aurobindo--A Contemporary Reader, Editor’s Prologue, Routledge, New Delhi,2008, pg 47) . In his world-view, it is only when a Gnostic community of evolved individuals manifests that equality can be ideally established at a collective level.

Sri Aurobindo explains that liberty and equality can only be harmonized at a deeper level of consciousness that facilitates a comradeship not on mechanical brotherhood which inevitably ends in a fiasco but on soul-kinship. Such an endeavor needs a surpassing of both the individual and the collective ego. ‘Perhaps liberty and equality, liberty and authority, liberty and organized efficiency  can never be quite satisfactorily reconciled so long as man individual and aggregate lives by egoism, so long as he cannot undergo a great spiritual and psychological change and rise beyond mere communal association to that third ideal which some vague inner sense made the revolutionary thinkers of France add to their watchwords of liberty and equality, -- the greatest of all the three, though till now only an empty word on man’s lips, the ideal of fraternity or, less sentimentally and more truly expressed, an inner oneness. That no mechanism social, political, religious has ever created or can create; it must take birth in the soul and rise from hidden and divine depths within’ (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 383). ‘A deeper brotherhood, a yet unfound law of love is the only sure foundation possible for a perfect social evolution, no other can replace it. But this brotherhood and love will not proceed by the vital instincts or the reason where they can be met, baffled or deflected by opposite reasoning and other discordant instincts. Nor will it found itself in the natural heart of man where there are plenty of other passions to combat it. It is in the soul that it must find its roots; the love which is founded upon a deeper truth of our being, the brotherhood or, let us say,--for this is another feeling than any vital or mental sense of brotherhood, a calmer more durable motive-force,--the spiritual comradeship which is the expression of an inner realization of oneness’ (Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle, pg 220).

Date of Update: 18-Apr-13

- By Dr. Soumitra Basu