Moving Towards South Asian Confederation
Ideal of Human Unity - Chapters

Chapter XVI Part I

The Problem of Uniformity and Liberty

In Chapter XVI of The Ideal of Human Unity, Sri Aurobindo tries to understand why it is difficult to balance between uniformity and liberty in a modern age where Reason is the governor of life. In fact, he reiterates that mere rationality cannot guarantee ‘a reasonable mind and a harmonious spirit’ for the very fact that ‘reason’ itself can be used ‘much more commonly to justify strife and mutual contradiction than to arrive at a wise agreement’(The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 409).

The inborn animal propensity is to dominate for only then the liberty of the one who dominates can be secure. The assertion of human dignity and freedom of the masses has only been ‘acquired by long evolution and painful endeavour’ (Ibid, pg 405) but as the masses and the less powerful nations are always susceptible to be oppressed and dominated, any repression of common liberties is a retrograde step. In the past, unification of human groupings has always meant suppression of the principle of liberty, both individual and collective, in humanity’s spiritual, political and social spheres raising the predicament that progression proceeds by retrogression.

It is in this background that Sri Aurobindo assesses the modus operandi of human unity that could be conceived at the end of World War I and discusses several options:

1. The ‘Germanic gospel of increasing domination of the world by one fit empire, nation, race’. Destiny ruled out this possibility.

2. The attempt ‘to Europeanise the less developed races’ initially by beneficial regimes but it is a psychological fact that such beneficial attitudes cannot be endured. With the growth of Asia and later of other hitherto downtrodden nations this possibility became irrelevant though it has lately surfaced through the commercial attempt of westernizing the global psyche in a market economy.

3. A formal unification of the human race by a combination of free nations and empires and if ‘the principle of free national or cultural grouping within a unified mankind’(Ibid, pg 408) could be adopted, the danger of retrogression could be diminished. However, the ‘principle of liberty offers a natural obstacle to the growth of uniformity and, although perfectly reconcilable with a true order and easily coexistent with an order already established into which it has been fitted, is not so easily reconciled as a matter of practice with a new order which demands from it new sacrifices for which it is not yet psychologically prepared (Ibid, pg 409)’. A new adjustment needs time to settle but that can be usurped easily and what has been achieved through toil and friction can be overshadowed by the impulse of self-assertion becoming tyrannical.

It is difficult to foster an ideal equation between uniformity and liberty. ‘The principle of authority and order will attempt a mechanical organization; the principle of liberty will resist claim a more flexible, free and spacious system. The two ancient enemies will struggle for the control of the growing form of the nation’ (Ibid, pg 410). Moreover, the end of World War I witnessed a new phenomenon that was to be inimical to human liberty, freedom and dignity — ‘the shadow of the State idea’ (Ibid). Sri Aurobindo predicted that under the pernicious shadow of the State idea, the principle of liberty could be eclipsed or enter a long state of stupor, coma and hibernation. The constriction and mechanization of the unifying process would be accompanied by the constriction and mechanization of liberty within each constituent unit. Subsequent world-events proved the validity of this phenomenon.

The question that rises is how can the principle of liberty exist in a world progressing towards unity and in the process cannot dispense entirely the mechanization that follows uniformity. Sri Aurobindo answers that a new integer of liberty, a new paradigm of freedom, a new formulation of unity and a new perspective of reviewing conventional ideas is needed. The traditional way of conceiving liberty in social and political terms have to be supplemented ‘by a new powerful movement spiritual or intellectual of the human mind which will reconcile individual liberty with the collective ideal of a communal life and the liberty of the group-unit with the new-born necessity of a more united life for the human race’. In fact, his exploration of the ideal of human unity is aimed to construct a consciousness perspective of global unity that gives due weightage to social, political, psychological and spiritual variables for an integral unity.

Date of Update: 26-Nov-13

- By Dr. Soumitra Basu