Chapter XX Part II
The Drive towards Economic Centralisation
The Evolving Law
Sri Aurobindo traces the evolution of law (or the Roman lex) from ‘a mass of binding habits, nomoi, mores, acara’ that gradually ‘become instituta, things that acquire a fixed and formal status, institutions, and crystallize into laws’ (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 446). It is obvious that at the beginnings of the consolidation of human societies, the human life was striving to grow in all directions and naturally the societal laws that were evolving embraced the whole of life, intertwined with each other so that the harmony of a human grouping could grow into a progressive movement. A priest conducting death rituals would not fit into the role of a charlatan, a king could not stoop down to the role of a thief and the chivalry of a fighter would not match the vulgarity of a rapist. There was no distinction between the political and administrative, the social and the religious law. ‘Such was the type of the ancient Jewish law and of the Hindu Shastra which preserved up to recent times this early principle of society in spite of the tendencies of specialization and separation which have triumphed elsewhere as a result of the normal development of the analytical and practical reason of mankind. This complex customary law evolved indeed, but by a natural development of the body of social habits in obedience to changing ideas and more and more complex necessities. There was no single and fixed legislative authority to determine them by conscious shaping and selection or in anticipation of popular consent or by direct ideative action upon the general consensus of need and opinion. Kings and prophets and Rishis and Brahmin jurists might exercise such an action according to their power and influence, but none of these were the constituted legislative sovereign; the king in India was the administrator of the Dharma and not at all or only exceptionally and to a hardly noticeable extent the legislator’ Ibid, pg 446-447).
It is customary to ascribe the origin of law to a first and original legislator, ‘a Manu, Moses, Lycurgus’ (Ibid, pg 447); but Sri Aurobindo, following the line of modern enquiry, dismisses the historicity of any such tradition. He considers Manu to be a symbolic icon, a representative figure of the self-conscious mental being, striving for self-perfection and capable of manifesting powers which were hitherto hidden as potentialities in the larger mentality of subtle worlds (figuratively, Manu and his sons are described in the Purana to reign in the subtle worlds). When this mental being in the journey to enrich consciousness, acquired and consolidated the analytical and practical reasoning power, the basis for a complex customary law of conduct (manava-dharmasastra) was laid that later differentiated into specialized functions. In fact, the commonality in universal laws throughout the world arises from the analytical reasoning faculty of the mind.
It may also be argued that in spite of laws arising from the rational base of the mind, we also find laws belonging to certain groups, sects or religions that do not satisfy rational criteria or appear not to be in consonance with the Time-Spirit. Sri Aurobindo explains that the mental being is not only capable of rationality but also capable to manifest supra-rational powers like intuition. Such intuitive wisdom was communicated in history to selected Messiahs or Prophets to organize individual and collective life in such a way as to hasten the march of civilization. This wisdom to organize individual and social life included among other things, guidelines for laws that would regulate the rules of a qualitative life. As such guidelines sprang from supra-rational sources like intuition or revelation, the laws constructed from such guidelines may not be explained by our modern lines of rational enquiry. ‘If there comes an embodied Manu, a living Moses or Mahomed, he is only the prophet or spokesman of the Divinity who is veiled in the fire and the cloud, Jehovah on Sinai, Allah speaking through his angels. Mahomed, as we know, only developed the existing social, religious and administrative customs of the Arab people into a new system dictated to him often in a state of trance, in which he passed from his conscient into his superconscient self, by the Divinity to his secret intuitive mind. All that may be suprarational or, if you will, irrational, but it represents a different stage of human development from the government of society by its rational and practical mind which in contact with life’s changing needs and permanent necessities demands a created and codified law determined by a fixed legislative authority, the society’s organized brain or centre’ (Ibid).
It is also true that certain human collectivities may still repose faith on laws that need to have a reappraisal in consonance with the Time-Spirit. Sri Aurobindo held firmly that the eternal need to be differentiated from the temporal to keep the spirit of Truth ever-fresh.
Date of Update:
- By Dr. Soumitra Basu