Chapter XV Part I
International Unity: Some Lines of Fulfilment
The basic step towards international unity would obviously be based on a progressive harmony between the two great and equally important principles of ‘nationalism’ and ‘internationalism’ (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 395). In an ideal State, the individual’s liberty and free growth is harmonized with the natural growth and organic perfection of the nation. As each individual is unique, an acknowledgement of individual variations would contribute towards a multifariously rich nation instead of the institutionalized stereotypy of a totalitarian State. In the international scenario, ‘national liberty and free national growth and self-realization ought in the same way to be progressively harmonized with the solidarity and unified growth and perfection of the human race’ (Ibid, pg 396). Moreover, such an orchestra of nations would provide a richly variegated unity as each nation is unique and therefore would stress on one or another dimension of development with ‘sometimes a stress on liberty and at others a stress on efficiency and order’ (Ibid). If the growth of the national aggregate is pursued from the very beginning with a nation-surpassing global outlook , then the harmony of nationalism and internationalism could be pursued more reasonably ‘with much less friction and violence in the process’ (Ibid).
Sri Aurobindo was aware that in that amorphous state of affairs in Europe towards the end of the World War I, ideal conditions for global unity could not be expected in the lack of ‘a psychological clarity, a diffused reasonableness and scientific intelligence and, above all, a moral elevation and rectitude’ (Ibid) to which neither the intelligentsia, masses or political leaders had made any approach. The only option left to build up the motivation of international unity was the march of historical events, the pressure of circumstantial forces, the knell of the Time-Spirit:
‘Forces take the first place in actual effectuation; moral principles, reason, justice only so far as forces can be compelled or persuaded to admit them or, as more often happens, use them as subservient aids or inspiring battle-cries, a camouflage for their own interests. Ideas sometimes leap out as armed forces and break their way through the hedge of unideal powers; sometimes they reverse the position and make interests their subordinate helpers, a fuel for their own blaze; sometimes they conquer by martyrdom: but ordinarily they have to work not only by a half-covert pressure but by accommodation to powerful forces or must even bribe and cajole them or work through and behind them. It cannot be otherwise until the average and the aggregate man become more of an intellectual, moral and spiritual being and less predominantly the vital and emotional half- reasoning human animal. The unrealized international idea will have for some time at least to work by this secondary method and through such accommodations with the realized forces of nationalism and imperialism’ (Ibid, pg 397). In fact the pressure of circumstances rather than visionary foresight brought about the formation of the League of Nations by the Allied powers at the end of World War I in 1919, three years after Sri Aurobindo wrote down these lines.
The pressure of forces motivating the move towards global unity does not only suffice to act as a crystallizing factor for harmony as there are many intervening variables between national growth and international perfection that have to be simultaneously worked through. Within a single nation itself, the harmony between the individual and the State needs a working through the individual egoism and corporate egoism of the society which in turn needs a resolution of the clash between ‘intermediate’ variables – ‘class strife, quarrels of Church and State, king and nobles, king and commons, aristocracy and demos, capitalist bourgeoisie and labour proletariate’ (Ibid, pg 396). Similarly the harmony between nationalism and internationalism needs a working through troublesome intermediate variables that range from commercial interests, cultural or racial sympathies, movements of Pan-Islamism, Pan-Slavism, Pan-Germanism, Pan-Anglo-Saxonism, ‘with a possible Pan-Americanism and Pan-Mongolianism looming up in the future’(A forewarning in 1916 that proved true later) and the great intermediate factor of the mind-set of Imperialism (Ibid, pg 396-397). To ignore the importance of these intervening variables would be akin to building ‘symmetrical castles on the golden sands of an impracticable idealism’(Ibid, pg 397).
Sri Aurobindo wondered that given the World War I scenario, would internationalism be something more than a mere respect for the principle of free nationalities as it would require a massive pressure by intellectuals and thinkers to force States and governments its acceptance. After all, ‘States and governments yield usually to a moral pressure only so far as it does not compel them to sacrifice their vital interests. No established empire will easily liberate its dependent parts or allow, unless compelled, a nation now subject to it to sit at the board of an international council as its free equal. The old enthusiasm for liberty is an ideal which made France intervene to aid the evolution of a free Italy or France and England to create a new Greek nation’(Ibid, pg 397-398). However, equations changed as the idea of nationalism became less rigid. The established nations expected respect for their national liberties as they considered having still the right to exist. ‘All that was proposed beyond that limit was the restoration to already existing free States of men of their own nationality still under a foreign yoke. It was proposed to realize a greater Serbia, a greater Rumania, the restoration of “unredeemed” Italy, and the return of Alsace-Lorraine to France. Autonomy under Russian sovereignty was all that was promised to Poland till the German victory over Russia altered the interest and with it the idealism of the Allies’. Through all these actions, nationalism began losing its exclusivity.
Despite all hurdles to international unity, the World War I backdrop thus witnessed that ‘National liberty as absolute ideal has no longer the old general acceptation and creative force’(Ibid, pg 398). This trend became explicit when a portion of the elite in certain subjugated nations were considering subordinate autonomy under imperial sovereignty, protection or influence as more pragmatic than the restoration of national freedom. Sri Aurobindo pointed out that this trend was perhaps an obscure indication of the federated alignment of the future world-order (ibid, pg 398). However at the same time this trend also demonstrated the success of the imperial aggregate to impress ‘its figure on the freest imaginations as an accomplished power in human progress ’(Ibid). Sri Aurobindo wondered if such a sentiment would move to ‘ insist on the rearrangement of States in a system of large imperial combines and not on the basis of a status quo of mixed empires and free nationalities’(Ibid, pg 399). In a footnote added after World War II, he quipped ‘If the ambitions of Italy, Germany and Japan and the Fascist idea generally had triumphed, such an order of things might have been eventuated’ (Ibid).
Date of Update:
- By Dr. Soumitra Basu