Chapter XIX Part IV
Centralisation and Unity
Sri Aurobindo mentions two compelling necessities for the drive towards national Centralisation and unity (in the background of the world-scenario prevalent in 1917):
(a) ‘the first and most pressing is the necessity of compactness, single-mindedness, a single and concentrated action against other nations, whether for defence against external aggression or for aggression upon others in the pursuit of national interests and ambitions’(The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 441). A decentralized and loose federal set-up has many advantages and fosters free growth of individuals and communities and is conducive to the idea of self-determination yet is optimally successful when peace is the rule; whenever it is threatened from outside or fissiparous forces inside and ‘wherever peace is insecure or the struggle of life difficult and menacing, looseness becomes a disadvantage and may turn even into a fatal defect, the opportunity of fate for destruction’ (Ibid, pg 442). In fact, throughout history, this drive towards centralisation has produced powerful monarchies and aristocracies. The nations which could not follow this trend suffered like Italy and Poland or by India of yesteryears. ‘The strength of centralised Japan, the weakness of decentralized China was a standing proof that even in modern conditions the ancient rule holds good’ (Ibid, pg 441). Writing in 1917,Sri Aurobindo also added examples of how certain free States of Western Europe were suspending their hard-earned liberties to even revert back to dictatorship in the beginning of 20th century (he observed later that this movement led to moving from democracy to more rigid State control) , how Prussia imposed on the Reich its insecurity arising from its expansionist stance by taking the life of Germany and how the World War I had affected the British colonies which instead of opting for an arrangement to operate under a system of almost total decentralization rather ‘made inevitable a tightening of the noose’ that actually later operated in the field of foreign affairs and economic cooperation (However, in a footnote added three decades later, he commented that the continuation of large wars would have dissolved the still loose British structure for a more coherent system but the arrival of true Dominion Status and the Westminster Statute would make ‘federation unnecessary for any practical purpose and even perhaps undesirable for the sentiment in favour of a practical independence’).(Ibid, pg 441-442).
(b) The second principal need for the drive towards centralization is that the advantages of uniformity provide ‘for a well-ordered social and economic life based upon a convenience of which life is careless but which the intelligence of man constantly demands, -- a clear, simple and, as far as the complexity of life will allow, a facile principle of order’ (Ibid, pg442-443) . Human intelligence initially attempts to order society by imitating physical Nature and starts by suppressing all important variations. Sri Aurobindo explains that human intelligence has to reach an optimal sophistication to deal with the complexities of life so as to be ‘at ease in managing what the principle of life seems always to demand, the free variation and subtly diverse application of uniform principles’ (Ibid, pg 443). This development requires time to manifest and till that is possible, the ordering of a national society initially aims at uniformity in ‘political and military function’ followed by ‘first at a sufficient and then at an absolute unity and uniformity of administration’ (Ibid). Sri Aurobindo cites the French history to show how the conflict between feudal separatism and feudal jurisdictions had to be resolved in the greater interest for an absolutist centralization that became necessary following repeated English invasions, Spanish pressure and civil wars embodying the famous dictum of Louis XIV , “I am the State” . For indeed, the loose and chaotic organization of feudal France had to give away to an undisputed sovereign power that concentrated all military, legislative and administrative authority (Ibid, pg 443-444). ‘The system of the Bourbons aimed first at administrative centralization and unity, secondarily at a certain amount of administrative uniformity. It could not carry this second aim to an entirely successful conclusion because of its dependence on the aristocracy which it had replaced, but to which it was obliged to leave the confused debris of its feudal privileges. The Revolution made short work of this aristocracy and swept away the relics of the ancient system. In establishing a rigorous uniformity it did not reverse but rather completed the work of the monarchy’ (Ibid, pg 444).
The sophistication of human intelligence needed to construct a social order where harmony and unity are not dependent on centralization and uniformity is difficult to achieve with logical acumen unless there is a conscious cultivation of an universal Consciousness that can get consolidated in the human psyche. Thus it was not surprising that the centralizing trend that Sri Aurobindo indicated in 1917 became explicitly exaggerated in Germany and Russia, prompting him to write three decades later about ‘the unprecedented centralisation, the rigid standardization and uniformity of the Nationalist Socialist regime under Hitler’ (Ibid, footnote, pg 444) that was the eventual culmination of that trend. Sri Aurobindo indicated that the study of that trend was important as similar obstacles still stand in the way of global unity.
Date of Update:
- By Dr. Soumitra Basu