Moving Towards South Asian Confederation
Ideal of Human Unity - Chapters

Chapter IV Part III

The business of the State

Sri Aurobindo was specific that the State has not only its shortcomings but a designated limit beyond which its real utility ceases. The State idea can neither offer a pervasive force of collective development nor a panacea for all problems of co-operative action. He lists the business of the State in accordance with the contemporary idea of socialism and as long as the State ‘continues to be a necessary element in human life and growth’ (indicating that the State too can be surpassed by an enlightened, intuitive spontaneity of higher-order anarchy):

a.To provide all possible facilities for co-operative action,

b.To remove all disabilities and obstacles that that interfere with co-operative action,

c. To remove all really harmful waste and friction in collective life though it has to be acknowledged that ‘a certain amount of waste and friction is necessary and useful to all natural action’,

d.To remove avoidable injustice,

e.To secure for every individual a just and equal chance of self-development in consonance with nature(temperamental characteristics and personality variables) and one’s extent of powers( achievement motivation, technical skill, professional expertise, intellectual acumen).(The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 283)

Individual freedom

However, this socialistic duty of the State can be jeopardized by ‘unnecessary interference with the freedom of man’s growth’ (Ibid).  In fact, it is not only the State functioning but any sort of co-operative action that can be harmful if the individual has to be immolated at the altar of a communal egoism. Thus if a community is bent upon to maintain its cultural identity due to historical reasons like prolonged injustice, then it could go to illogical extents to subordinate individual aspirations within the community or sub-State so that its agenda is not compromised. That is how when such communities take up prolonged agitation in forms ranging from week long strikes and bandhs ( as in the contemporary agitations of the Gorkha community in the hills of Darjeeling )  to terrorism (as in the present tribal areas of Afghanistan), the first casualty is the education of  students whose individual contributions could have been torch-bearers of progress. The same rule can apply in a different perspective to communities which appear to be politically, socially or culturally stable. Such a community would show a knee-jerk reaction if its peace, security   and contentedness are disturbed by an ‘impatient individualism’ disrupting the monotony of a settled harmony. After all, ‘it is the individual who progresses and compels the rest to progress; the instinct of the collectivity is to stand still in its established order. Progress, growth, realization of wider being, give his greatest sense of happiness to the individual; status, secure ease, to the collectivity’ (Ibid, pg 284).

That the individual actually compels the rest to follow has also been acknowledged, albeit with reservations by hard-core communists. A paradoxical situation arose as Marxist historians were speculating how Mahatma Gandhi could influence the masses. Some believed that as an after-effect of the 1917 Russian revolution, the masses had been revolutionized by their own experience, a phenomenon which was utilized by Gandhi. Not all could agree. It was an undisputed fact that Gandhi’s individual charisma stirred the Indian masses in a way that was unique. Lenin assessed Gandhi’s contribution in a positive way in the discussions of the 1920 colonial thesis of the Communist International and advised Communists in India to unite with the Gandhi-led anti-imperialist movement while remaining independent and critical. This was remarkable as they simultaneously held Gandhi ‘wrong’ for many reasons, viz. his absolutization of non-violence, his belief in God, his lack of a scientific theory of social evolution, his downplaying of class-struggle. (Mohit Sen. An autobiography. Abridged by A.K.Sahay, National Book Trust, India,2007, pg 395).

Future directions

The conflict between individualism and collectivism cannot be resolved unless the collectivity transcends its present physical and economic character and evolves into a self-conscious collective soul. Till then the ideal of human unity remains a chimera. In the meanwhile the march of forces is expected to lead towards a broader external or administrative unity in order to prepare and accustom the mind-set to an increasing commonality. In 1915-1916, Sri Aurobindo wrote that this broader unity through State machinery could take two forms:

(a)    ‘a grouping of powerful and organized States enjoying carefully regulated and legalized relations with each other’, a speculation that became a prophecy with the formation of the European Union; and

(b)   ‘ a substitution of a single World-State for the present half chaotic half ordered comity of nations, -- be the form of that World-State a single Empire like the Roman or a federated unity’, a visionary trajectory that yet remains to be worked out (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 284).

However, this administrative unity cannot suffice unless there is evolution of the collective soul in the matrix of social consciousness. Something ‘more profound, internal and real’ has to manifest to make human unity ‘really healthy, durable or beneficial over all the true line of human destiny’ (Ibid). If this does not happen, history will repeat itself in newer circumstances, the same mistakes (the likes of which led to the World Wars) can again occur, and we have to start afresh with a new reconstructive age of confusion and anarchy. We can still avoid that painful ordeal ‘by subordinating mechanical means to our true development through a moralized and even a spiritualized humanity united in its inner soul and not only in its outer life and body’ (Ibid).

Date of Update: 18-Nov-11

- By Dr. Soumitra Basu