Moving Towards South Asian Confederation
Ideal of Human Unity - Chapters

Chapter XXIII Part IV

Forms of Government

The Rise of the Republican Tendency

The collapse of the monarchical idea in modern times collated with the rise of the republican tendency that began in the Western world since the late 18th century. The civil humanism of the res publica of classical times was cast in a new die in the modern republic, a non-monarchical sovereignty characterized by suffrage and constitution that derives power from the populace. While debates range if there is really a continuum between the classical, medieval and modern republics, it is an undisputed fact that the universally republican trend of the two Americas became a trend setter for European nations to follow.

In the early decades of 20th century, there was speculation about how much the republican trend originating from the West could influence Asia or whether the monarchical idea could recover some strength in Asia to find new avenues of expression, especially as in Asia kingship had non-materialistic dimensions being invested with spiritual and sacrosanct symbolism. Yet Sri Aurobindo was confident in his 1917 write-up: ‘But in Asia no less than in Europe, monarchy has been a historical growth, the result of circumstances and therefore subject to disappearance when those circumstances no longer exist’ (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 467).

Sri Aurobindo explains that with the exception of Japan which has deep-rooted monarchic sentiment, the general trend of the true Asiatic mind ‘has always remained, behind all surface appearances, not political but social, monarchical and aristocratic at the surface but with a fundamental democratic trend and a theocratic spirit’ (Ibid, pg467-468). However, what actually prevailed in the ground reality of the Asian tradition was not political democracy as we know today but social democracies. Such social democracies were unable to counter the monarchical power. With the Western influence of the Republican trend touching Asia, the innate democratic Asian sentiment became ‘invigorated by the acceptance of a democratic form for the supreme government, the one valuable contribution of Western experience to the problem at which the old purely social democracies of the East were unable to arrive’ (Ibid, pg 468).

A few years before Sri Aurobindo wrote this piece in 1917, a republic had already been established in China, precisely on the 1st of January, 1912 ending over two thousand years of imperial rule. ‘China, always a democratic country at bottom though admitting in its democratic system an official aristocracy of intellect and symbolic imperial head, is now definitely republican’… ‘In breaking with the last of its long succession of dynasties China had broken with an element of her past which was rather superficial than at the very centre of her social temperament and habits’(Ibid, pg 468). However the old seeds of dissonance and corruption, a legacy of imperialism still persisted leading to the subsequent establishment of the People’s Republic of China on the 1st of October, 1949.

In India, the monarchical sentiment ‘coexisted with but was never able to prevail over the theocratic and social except during the comparatively brief rule of the Moghuls, was hopelessly weakened , though not effaced, by the rule of a British bureaucracy and the political Europeanising of the active mind of the race’. In 1949, Sri Aurobindo added a footnote stating that with the liberation of India and the establishment of a republican and democratic constitution, ‘the ruling princes have either disappeared or become subordinate heads with their small kingdoms becoming partly or wholly democratized or destined to melt into a united India’ (Ibid). It was as late as 1971 that the 26th Amendment Act of the Constitution of India was promulgated stating ‘The concept of rulership, with privy purses and special privileges unrelated to any current functions and social purposes, is incompatible with an egalitarian social order. Government have therefore, decided to terminate the privy purses and privileges of the Rulers of former Indian States’. The break with not only the monarchy idea but with the sentiment of monarchy was complete.

In Western Asia, Turkey had already got free from the monarchical idea during the World War I scenario while in the East of Asia, the imperfectly democratized sentiment that surrounded the Mikado was visibly weakened though his prestige survived in Japan. Sri Aurobindo postulated in 1917 that even in Japan ‘the growth of democracy and socialism is bound to aid the weakening and limiting process and may well produce the same results as in Europe’ (Ibid).Emperor Hirohito’s 1946 New Year’s speech renouncing his status as a divine ruler set the ball rolling for a ceremonial presence in a set-up where the emperor did not possess powers related to the government.

Date of Update: 19-Feb-16

- By Dr. Soumitra Basu