Chapter XXI Part VI
The Drive towards Legislative and Social Centralisation and Uniformity
The triumph and fall of absolutism
The human individual has to learn to govern oneself, to streamline one’s own potentialities, to be a coherent being. An endeavour of self-governance naturally implies a basic education, a degree of cultural sophistication and an optimal economic stability. Likewise, social life has also to be gathered into a uniform and cohesive unit that can be subjected to balanced governance. A legislative and social administration cannot naturally manifest in a stratified group with vast masses of illiterate and impoverished subjects. As a result a section of the intelligentsia or a coterie of powerful individuals seize the opportunity to rule, govern and to dictate the social life of a , impose repressive legal controls and finally even to dictate a selective state education(in contrast to universal education) or even worse, a state religion. ‘That is the whole rationale of absolutism, aristocracy or theocracy. Its idea is false or only a half-truth or temporary truth, because the real business of the advanced class or individual is progressively to enlighten and train the whole body consciously to do for itself its own work and not eternally to do things for it.’ (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 459) Of course, this does not mean ‘that in a perfect society there would be no place for monarchical, aristocratic or theocratic elements; but there these would fulfil their natural function in a conscious body, not maintain or propel an unconscious act’ (Ibid, footnote). Sri Aurobindo explains that the main reason for the eventual decline of an absolutist control of the masses is implicitly psychological; the ruling coterie, monarch or autocrat can at best control the outer aspects of human life but cannot possess the hearts and minds of the teeming masses, cannot harness forever the vitality of the proletariat, cannot touch the soul of humanity. This phenomenon determines the insecurity of the ruling coterie or autocrat and ensures its removal one day and replacement ‘by more adequate powers that must inevitably rise up from the larger mind of humanity to oust them and occupy their throne’ (Ibid).
Two principal devices of absolutism
Sri Aurobindo explains that there are two principal devices by which an absolutist control was maintained;
(a) The first device was a mechanism of repression and hence a nakedly negative influence; ‘it worked by an oppression on the life and soul of the community, a more or less complete inhibition of its freedom of thought, speech, association, individual and associated action, -- often attended by the most abominable methods of inquisition and interference and pressure on the most sacred relations and liberties of man the individual and social being, -- and an encouragement or patronage of only such thought and culture and activities as accepted, flattered and helped the governing absolutism’ (Ibid, 459-460)
(b) The second device appeared deceptively positive; ‘it consisted in getting a control over the religion of the society and calling in the priest as the spiritual helper of the king…State religions are an expression of this endeavour. But a State religion is an artificial monstrosity, although a national religion may well be a living reality; but even that, if it is not to formalize and kill in the end the religious spirit or prevent spiritual expansion, has to be tolerant, self-adaptive, flexible, a mirror of the deeper soul of the society’ (Ibid, pg 460).
Sri Aurobindo describes that both the machinery of forceful oppression and the arbitrary imposition of State religion might be temporarily successful but ‘are foredoomed to failure, failure by revolt of the oppressed social being or failure by its decay, weakness and death or life in death’ (Ibid). The phrase ‘life in death’ strikes a chord for that is still explicit in the second decade of the 21st century where such regimes that are uninhibitedly repressive and overtly fanatical still persist and there are renewed retrograde attempts to resurrect the Caliphate. ‘Stagnation and weakness such as in the end overtook Greece, Rome, the Mussulman nations, China, India, or else a saving spiritual, social and political revolution are the only issues of absolutism’ (Ibid). However, absolutism was a historical necessity, an inevitable transitional phase in humanity; ‘for the absolutist monarchical and aristocratic State was the father of the modern idea of the absolutist socialistic State’ (Ibid) that was born in the first part of the 20th century. ‘It was, for all its vices, a necessary step because only so could the clear idea of an intelligently self-governing society firmly evolve’ (Ibid).
Democratic State with Socialistic principles
Sri Aurobindo believes that the spirit of democracy with socialistic principles aided by the temper of the Modern science (that includes both physical and social sciences), can act as a corrective to the defects of absolutism and lay an approach to a perfection in collective life. The whole rationale of modern progress is to establish ‘the conscious and organized and organized unity, the regularized efficiency on uniform and intelligent principles, the rational order and self-governed perfectioning of a developed society…Socialism is the complete expression of this idea. Uniformity of the social and economic principles and processes that govern the collectivity secured by means of a fundamental equality of all and the management of the whole social and economic life in all its parts by the State; uniformity of culture by the processes of a State education organized upon scientific lines; to regularize and maintain the whole a unified uniform and perfectly organized government and administration that will represent and act for the whole social being, this is the modern Utopia which in one form or another it is hoped to turn, in spite of all extant obstacles and opposite tendencies, into a living reality’ (Ibid, pg 460-461).
Date of Update:
- By Dr. Soumitra Basu