Chapter XIX Part II
The Drive towards Centralisation and Unity
It would be difficult to construct a model of international unity that would accommodate all diversity without disharmony. Even in the establishment of national unity, ‘the trend to centralisation and uniformity has been the decisive factor, a condition of uniformity the culminating point’ (The Ideal of Human Unity, Pg 438-439). In the name of unity it is uniformity that reigns for it is easier to achieve by steamrolling all disparities. Sri Aurobindo observes that this trend towards uniformity ‘increases as civilization progresses’ (Ibid). He gave the classic example of Turkey which was the pivotal point for interactions of Eastern and Western cultures for six centuries. : ‘The Turkish movement began with the ideal of toleration for all the heterogeneous elements – races, languages, religions, cultures – of the ramshackle Turkish empire, but inevitably the dominant Young Turk element was carried away by the instinct for establishing, even by coercion , a uniform Ottoman culture and Ottoman nationality’ (Ibid). When Sri Aurobindo wrote that in 1917, the Ottoman Empire was still in existence in its final phase (before its final dissolution in 1923) and carried as it always did the imperial motto of ‘The Eternal State’. The Turkish movement to which Sri Aurobindo referred was the Young Turk Revolution that was initiated in 1908 for restoration of whatever was left of the then crumbling Ottoman world but could not hold fort, losing Bulgaria and Bosnia in 1908 itself, paving way for the final dissolution of the empire in 1923. The modern Turkish nation, a transcontinental, democratic and secular State was established in 1923. Sri Aurobindo, while editing his manuscript in 1949-50, observed that the trend towards uniformity still subsisted in the Turkish psyche: ‘This trend has found its completion, after the elimination of the Greek element and the loss of the empire, in the small purely Turkish State of today, but curiously the national uniformity has been topped by the association with it and assimilation of European culture and social forms and habits’ (footnote, ibid). (Ironically, September, 2014 seems to bring in disturbing news, a zeal for establishing a different transnational uniformity in the form of a proto Caliphate by ISIS terrorists who swear in the name of religion, and whose recent beheading of four Western hostages is also being viewed as a veiled threat to Turkey not to stick to its secular credentials).
Sri Aurobindo cites other examples from early 20th century history to show that the trend towards uniformity automatically comes wherever there are attempts for unity. ‘Belgium, composed almost equally of Teutonic Flemings and Gallic Walloons, grew into a nationality under the aegis of a Franco-Belgian culture with French as the dominant language; the Fleming movement which should logically have contented itself with equal rights for the two languages, aimed really at a reversal of the whole position and not merely the assertion but the dominance of the Flemish language and an indigenous Flemish culture’. What Sri Aurobindo wrote in 1917 is still relevant as the new federal cabinet formed in J uly 2014 following the federal election in Belgium is poised to have the French-speaking side considerably under-represented. The political institutions of Belgium continue to revolve around the need for cultural domination of one community or the other without any aspiration for a true psychological integration that alone can be a harbinger of unity.
Sri Aurobindo gives other Western examples of the trend towards uniformity. ‘Germany, uniting her ancient elements into one body, suffered her existing States with their governments to and administrators to continue , but the possibility of considerable diversities thus left open was annulled by the centralisation of national life in Berlin; a nominal separateness existed, but overshadowed by a real and dominant uniformity which all but converted Germany into the image of a larger Prussia in spite of the more democratic and humanistic tendencies and institutions of the Southern States’ (Ibid). Indeed, the tide of Pan-Germanism within the folds of the German Confederation had resulted in the unification of most of the German States by 1871 into the German Empire which was truly dominated by Prussia. However, a year after Sri Aurobindo wrote this passage, the German Revolution was initiated in 1918 wherein Germany was declared a republic.
Federalism was preferred wherever unity was difficult to be maintained in the matrix of heterogeneity but here also the trend towards uniformity dominated. ‘There are indeed apparent types of a freer kind of federation, Switzerland, the United States, Australia, South Africa, but even here the spirit of uniformity really prevails or tends to prevail in spite of variation in detail and the latitude of free legislation in minor matters conceded to the component States. Everywhere unity seems to call for and strive to create a greater or less uniformity as its secure basis’ (Ibid, pg 439-440).
Date of Update:
- By Dr. Soumitra Basu