Moving Towards South Asian Confederation
Ideal of Human Unity - Chapters

Chapter XVIII Part II

The basis of natural groupings

If free and natural groupings of human beings are destined to be the backbone of universal unity, the next question invariably rises as to what should be the nature of an ideal natural grouping. Race, religion, geographical oneness, economic convenience, language and cultural unity have been differently considered but till now the most durable natural grouping has been the nation. The issue is very complex as within a single national grouping, there might be a conglomeration of diverse factors and sentiments. Sri Aurobindo describes several examples of Western nations representing such complexity:

‘The examples of this complexity are everywhere. Switzerland belongs by language, race and culture and even by affinities of sentiment to different national aggregations, two of sentiment and culture, the Latin and the Teutonic, three of race and language, the German, French and Italian, and these differences worked sufficiently to bewilder and divide Swiss sympathies in the clash of nations; but the decisive feeling overriding all others is the sentiment of Helvetian nationality and that would seem to forbid now and always any idea of a voluntary partition or dissolution of Switzerland’s long-standing natural, local and historic unity (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 432) .

Sri Aurobindo gives other examples of the complexity of human groupings. Alsace dominated by German language and race is nevertheless identified with France in spirit, temperament and culture. Canada and Australia having no geographical connection with the British Isles or to each other would still prefer to be part of a British grouping (viz the Commonwealth) in preference to fusing with adjoining groupings (Ibid, pg 432-433). ‘On the other hand the Slavonic and Latin elements of Austro-Hungary, though they belonged by history, geographical position and economic convenience to that empire, moved strongly towards separation and, where local sentiments permitted, to union with their racial, cultural and linguistic kin’ (Ibid, pg 433).

Sri Aurobindo emphasizes that the overriding and decisive factor to determine and hold together a natural grouping must be essentially psychological. In the absence of a psychological union, all other factors, racial, religious, linguistic or economic cannot withstand the forces of division. Thus, if Austria of yesteryears ‘had dealt with her Slav subjects as with the Magyars or had been able to build a national culture of her own out of her German, Slav, Magyar and Italian elements, it would have been otherwise and her unity would have been secure against all external or internal forces of disruption’(Ibid). He concludes, ‘Race, language, local relations and economic convenience are powerful factors, but what decides must be a dominant psychological element that makes for union. To that subtler force all others, however restless they may be, must succumb; however much they may seek for free particularist expression and self-possession within a larger unity; they must needs subordinate themselves to the most powerful attraction’ (Ibid).

The principle of natural groupings

Sri Aurobindo explains that the basic principle adopted for a sustainable natural grouping must be ‘a free grouping and not that of some abstract or practical rule or principle of historic tradition or actual status imposed upon the nations’ (Ibid). In the aftermath of World War 1, it was presumed that the unity of mankind could be based on large blocs, viz.

(a) ‘an European grouping,

(b) an Asiatic grouping,

(c) an American grouping , with

(d) two or three sub-groups in America, Latin and English speaking,

(e) three ( sub-groups) in Asia, the Mongolian ,Indian and West-Asian, with Moslem North Africa perhaps as a natural annexe to the third of these.

(f) four (sub-groups) in Europe, the Latin, Slavonic, Teutonic, and Anglo-Celtic…

while Central and Southern Africa might be left to develop under present conditions but with the more humane and progressive principles upon which the sentiment of united humanity would insist’ (Ibid, pg 433-434). However, such groupings are not based on the psychological and experiential principle of freedom and hence difficult to be sustained.

Freedom is a psychological principle that is experientially perceived and not restricted by external factors like race, religion, economy or culture. Islamic countries fight with each other, the Chinese and Japanese belong to the same Mongolian race but are at loggerheads, Norway and Sweden had wide cultural commonality but could not unite due to a strong ‘irrational sentiment’. However all such obstacles to unity are not permanent and can be overcome by removing ‘some actual unfriendly pressure or sense of subjugation or domination or fear of the oppression of the individuality of one by the other’ (Ibid, pg 434). This is how the antipathy between different national individualities gave away as that between the Austrian and Magyar and between the Irish and English (Ibid).

A more radical harbinger of unity that can forcibly remove obstacles to echo the free sentiments of the people would be a revolution just ‘as the obstacles of the old regime to a uniform democratic system were abolished in France by the French revolution’ (Ibid). However the conditions of the world are not always favourable for such a radical upheaval.

Date of Update: 27-Jun-14

- By Dr. Soumitra Basu