Moving Towards South Asian Confederation
Ideal of Human Unity - Chapters

Chapter XXIII Part VII

Forms of Government

While Sri Aurobindo was closely studying the development of socialism in Russia in 1917 and trying to understand that if a World-State could evolve under a governing body representing a guild socialism of sorts, he was simultaneously aware that such an attempt would have resistance from the great psychological issue of nationalism which would invariably create conflicting interests and tendencies. He therefore also considered the possibility that a future World-State could be alternatively built through the evolution of ‘a sort of world Parliament in which, it is to be presumed, the freely formed and freely expressed opinion of the majority would prevail’ (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 472).

Sri Aurobindo applauded Parliamentarism while considering its shortcomings in nation-units which could get magnified if a Parliament of nations was to be formed to govern a World-State. As he wrote: ‘Parliamentarism, the invention of the English political genius, is a necessary stage in the evolution of democracy, for without it the generalized faculty of considering and managing with the least possible friction large problems of politics, administration, economics, legislation concerning considerable aggregates of men cannot easily be developed. It has also been the one successful means yet discovered of preventing the State executive from supporting the liberties of the individuals and nations. Nations emerging into the modern form of society are therefore naturally and rightly attracted to this instrument of government’ (Ibid, pg 472-473). These characteristics are still relevant. Researchers in political studies have demonstrated that in the post World War II era, the majority (practically two thirds) of third World countries who established parliamentary governments made successful transition to democracy. In contrast, no Third World presidential system successfully made the transition to democracy without having coups or similar constitutional devastations!(source: on Parliamentary System).

Sri Aurobindo also listed the shortcomings of Parliamentarism:

1. Parliamentary procedures are characterized very often by ‘immense waste of time and energy’ (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 473).

2. Parliamentary decisions often go through ‘confused, swaying and uncertain action that “muddles out” in the end some tolerable result’ (Ibid). This can be somehow handled in nations but lack of stringent ideas and any compromise in efficiency of administration would be disastrous in a World-Parliament as ‘it might be fatal to efficiency in anything so complicated as the management of the affairs of the world’ (Ibid).

3. Parliamentarism also implies in practice ‘the rule and often the tyranny of a majority, even of a very small majority, and the modern mind attaches increasing importance to the rights of minorities. And these rights would be still more important in a World-State where any attempt to override them might easily mean serious discontents and disorders or even convulsions fatal to the whole fabric’ (Ibid).

4. There is also the disconcerting yet realistic fact that ‘it has not yet been found possible to combine Parliamentarism and the modern trend towards a more democratic democracy; it has been always an instrument either of a modified aristocratic or of a middle-class rule’ (Ibid).

A Parliament of nations has to be different from that of a single nation in terms of magnitude, comprehensiveness, efficiency and catholicity, it has to arise above national egoisms and has to accommodate weaker nations with equal dignity as stronger nations without compromising on principles of uniformity. Sri Aurobindo explains that ‘a Parliament of the nations must necessarily be a united parliament of free nations’ (Ibid) which needed a background to evolve that was not immediately possible in the flux and chaos following the World War I and needed a level-playing field not only in Western continents but also in non-Western contexts otherwise the inequalities and anomalies would be ‘all-pervasive and without number’ (Ibid).

Sri Aurobindo also muses that another alternative to guild socialism as well as a Parliament of nations would be a supreme council of free and mighty nations though such an endeavour was fraught with great resistance from nationalistic upsurges. Obviously such a system would have to be initially worked out by an oligarchy of few powerful nations ‘whose voice and volume would prevail at every point’ over the more numerous but smaller groupings of nations and could only endure ‘by a progressive and, if possible, a peaceful evolution from this sort of oligarchy of actual power to a more just and ideal system’ in which powerful nations could ‘merge their separate existence into that of a unified mankind’ (Ibid, pg 473-474). He also cautioned : ‘How far national egoism would allow that evolution to take place without vehement struggles and dangerous convulsions , is, in spite of the superficial liberalism now widely professed, a question still fraught with grave and ominous doubts’ (Ibid, pg 474).

Sri Aurobindo knew that the time when he was musing on the World-State in 1917 in the aftermath of the Great War was premature considering the fluid state of world affairs but great ideas always manifest before time to maintain the continuity of creative thinking. At that moment, there were seemingly insoluble difficulties arising both from the ‘surviving sentiments and interests of the past’ as well as ‘some menace from the rapidly developing revolutionary forces of the future’ (Ibid, pg 474). He hoped that such difficulties could be solved in the future. After all it was not the form of government that was of supreme importance for the ‘real problem is that of the unification of powers and the uniformity which any manageable system of a World-State would render inevitable’ (Ibid, pg 474).

Date of Update: 26-May-16

- By Dr. Soumitra Basu