Chapter XXIV Part III
The idea of a League of Nations
Of the various ideas that floated to ensure future peace in the world in the aftermath of World War I , one was the idea of ‘a league of free and democratic nations which would keep the peace by pressure or by the use of force if need be’(The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 478).Sri Aurobindo commented that it was a less crude idea than the oversimplified notion of ensuring world peace by the destruction of German Militarism. He also commented that it was not a new idea. ‘It is an old idea, the idea Metternich put into practice after the overthrow of Napoleon; only in place of a Holy alliance of monarchs to maintain peace and monarchical order and keep down democracy, it was proposed to have a league of free – and imperial – peoples to enforce democracy and to maintain peace’(Ibid). Indeed Clemens von Metternich established a system of periodic Congresses where mighty monarchs of great prowess and worth could hold parleys to stifle democratic voices and strangulate revolutionary attempts.
Sri Aurobindo wrote in 1917 that such a proposed league would eventually collapse in three different ways;
(a) Firstly, it could ‘break up as soon as the interests and ambitions of the constituent Powers became sufficiently disunited’ (Ibid);
(b) Secondly, if ‘a new situation arose such as was created by the violent resurgence of oppressed democracy in 1848’ (Ibid). Metternich who was a major arbiter of European political affairs for a period twice as long as Napoleon’s dominance was initially successful with his league idea but was compelled to resign in March, 1848 due to the revolution in Vienna. After all, Metternich was against revolution, liberalism and nationalism and his idea of stability depended on the quenching of the restlessness of the proleteriate. The revolutions that started on 23rd February, 1848 in France and affected more than 50 countries were essentially democratic in nature aimed to remove old feudal structures;
(c) Thirdly, an impasse could ‘be created by the inevitable future duel between the young Titan, Socialism, and the old Olympian gods of a bourgeois-democratic world. That conflict was already outlining its formidable shadow in revolutionary Russia, has now taken a body and cannot be very long delayed throughout Europe’ (Ibid). It is interesting that Sri Aurobindo penned these lines in August, 1917, the same time when Lenin after the failed July uprising that followed the usurpation of the Tsar in February/March 1917 fled to Finland and wrote his famous Treatise State and Revolution before returning in October to complete the Revolution and install a communist government. In his treatise, Lenin called for a new form of government based on worker’s councils elected and revocable any moment by the workers themselves.
Sri Aurobindo was not optimistic in 1917 that a league of nations would have any durability. ’One cause or the other or both together would bring a certain dissolution. No voluntary league can be permanent in its nature. The ideas which supported it, change; the interests which made it possible and effective become fatally modified or obsolete’ (Ibid). Incidentally, the League of Nations founded on January 10th, 1920 had to cease operating on April 18th, 1946.
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- By Dr. Soumitra Basu