Moving Towards South Asian Confederation
Ideal of Human Unity - Chapters

Chapter XIV Part I


The Possibility of a First Step towards International Unity - Its Enormous Difficulties

Towards the end of 1916, Sri Aurobindo wrote down his initial thoughts on how a hypothetical construct of an international organ could be worked out for international unity. Though the time was not yet ripe for the execution of such an endeavor, nevertheless, World War I precipitated two distinct possibilities:

(a) A movement towards ‘replacing of the individualistic basis of society by an increasing collectivism’ that would act as ‘a precipitative force’ for ‘the possibility a realized –not necessarily a democratic—State socialism’ (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 385); and

(b) A vague sense of international unity not only external in nature but also reflective of psychological oneness (Ibid).

It is interesting that a loose, superficial and nascent beginning of both these movements got initiated in the political consciousness of the Western world. After the Russian revolution of 1917, four socialist republics were established over the territory of the erstwhile Russian Empire before the USSR was formally set up in 1922 to which other republics were added subsequently upholding State Socialism in its full puissance. The movement towards international unity led to the formulation of the League of Nations by the Allied Powers at Paris in 1919 which was eventually replaced by the United Nations in 1945 at the end of World War II.

While expressing his ideas about international unity, Sri Aurobindo wrote that at that nascent stage of affairs just after the World War I, a durable organ of international stature could not be built on the basis of ‘short sighted common sense’ (Ibid) of the mass mind and the force of the idea needed to outgrow ‘the generous chimera of a few pacifists or international idealists’ (Ibid). Such an attempt would be ideally based on the foundation of ‘a general idealistic outburst of creative human hope’ (Ibid, pg 386). The average mass mentality is ruled not so much by thought as by action and is actually conditioned by ‘interests, passions and prejudices’ (Ibid) and the average politician would be merry in just dancing to its tunes. It actually needs statesmen, visionary human beings who with a combination of intellect and will-power to motivate the masses could march towards the Utopian goal of international unity. The average political mind cannot stand up to the highest ideal, it cannot disturb the status quo, it cannot take the risk of new adventures (Ibid).

What could happen if instead of visionary statesmen, average politicians embarked on the endeavor towards international unity?  Sri Aurobindo answered that nothing more could be expected than ‘a rearrangement of frontiers, a redistribution of power and possessions and a few desirable or undesirable developments of international, commercial and other relations. That is one disastrous possibility leading to more disastrous convulsions—so long as the problem is not solved—against which the future of the world is by no means secure’ (Ibid). His forewarning was proved true as the League of Nations could neither be consolidated or maintained and nor could the World War II be prevented. The World War I had signaled the moral collapse of the old world order where international balance reposed on a ‘ring of national egoisms held in check only by mutual fear and hesitation, by ineffective arbitration treaties and Hague tribunals and the blundering discords of a    European Concert’ (Ibid, pg 387). In fact, there were two obstacles to the principle of international control at the end of World War I. Firstly, the war had raised ‘passions and hatreds and selfish national hopes’ (Ibid). Secondly, the mind-set of the mass was not yet ready, the intellect of the ruling classes had not acquired the optimal wisdom and foresight and the temperament of the peoples had not developed the appropriate instincts and sentiments (Ibid, pg 389). Yet Sri Aurobindo was optimistic that ‘if nothing else, the mere exhaustion and internal reaction produced after the relaxing of the tensity of the struggle, might give time for new ideas, feelings, forces, events to emerge’ (Ibid, pg 387). Unfortunately, he also observed that ‘as the great conflict drew nearer to its close, no such probability emerged; the dynamic period during which in such a crisis the effective ideas and tendencies of men are formed, passed without the creation of any great and profound impulse’ (Ibid, pg 387-388).

Despite the lack of vision of politicians, the War left a deep effect on the general mind-set of the masses on two important issues:

(a)  ‘there was  generated a sense of revolt against the possible repetition of the vast catastrophe’ (Ibid, pg 388);

(b) There was felt ‘the necessity for finding means to prevent the unparalleled dislocation of the economic life of the race which was brought about by the convulsion (Ibid)’.

Sri Aurobindo surmised in that context, ‘Therefore, it is in these two directions that some real development could be expected; for so much must be attempted if the general expectation and desire are to be satisfied and to trifle with these would be declare the political intelligence of Europe bankrupt. That failure would convict its governments and ruling classes of moral and intellectual impotence and might well in the end provoke a general revolt of the European peoples against their existing institutions and the present blind and rudderless leadership’ (Ibid). These realistic apprehensions finally culminated in the formulation of the League of Nations at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919.

Date of Update: 23-May-13

- By Dr. Soumitra Basu