Chapter XXV PART V
War and the need of Economic Unity
COMMERCIALISM AND WAR
The classical liberals of the mid nineteenth century believed that international trade would usher peace, abolish wars and bring unity of mankind. That attitude was epitomised in the French economist, Fredrick Passey’s statement in 1840s that mankind would be united by continuous transactions to form one market, one family. However economic nationalism coupled with political collectivism dealt a death blow to that concept in the battle fields of World War I (Ebeling,RM: https//mises.org/library/can-free-trade).
In the aftermath of that Great War, in 1917, Sri Aurobindo examined the irrelevancy of the 19th century liberal ideas: ‘in the past, the effect of commercialism has been to bind together the human race into a real economic unity behind its apparent political separativeness. But this was a subconscient unity of inseparable interrelations and of intimate mutual dependence, not any oneness of the spirit or of the conscious organised life. Therefore these interrelations produced at once the necessity of peace and the unavoidability of war. Peace was necessary for their normal action, war frightfully perturbatory to their whole system of being. But because the organised units were politically separate and rival nations, their commercial interrelations became relations of rivalry and strife or rather a confused tangle of exchange and interdependence and hostile separatism. Self-defence against each other by a wall of tariffs, a race for closed markets and fields of exploitation, a struggle for place or predominance in markets and fields which could not be monopolised and an attempt at mutual interpenetration in spite of tariff walls have been the chief features of this hostility and this separatism. The outbreak of war under such conditions was only a matter of time; it was bound to come as soon as nation or else one group of nations felt itself either unable to proceed farther by pacific means or threatened with the definite limitation of its expansion by the growing combinations of its rivals’ (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 489).
Rationalists believe that free trade cannot prevent wars as long as men no longer believe in peace. From the Aurobindonian perspective, a peace in the mind has limited value unless supported by a larger consciousness, a soul-faith or by the Spirit that moves among nations and peoples. In fact, Sri Aurobindo, as a student of history, rightfully surmised that the last war determined solely by political motives was the Franco-German war of 1866, where France lost to the German states under the leadership of Prussia and influenced the unification of Germany. Since then, subsequent wars in history have always contained elements of commercial conflicts, business interests, trade imbalances and exploitation of commercially virgin fields. As Sri Aurobindo pens decades before World War II, ‘Not the political subjugation of Serbia which could only be a fresh embarrassment to the Austrian empire, but the commercial possession of the outlet through Salonika was the motive of Austrian policy. Pan-Germanism covered the longings of German industry for possession of the great resources and the large outlet into the North Sea offered by the countries along the Rhine. To seize African spaces of exploitation and perhaps French coal fields, not to rule over French territory, was the drift of its real intention. In Africa, in China, in Persia, in Mesopotamia, commercial motives determined political and military action. War is no longer the legitimate child of ambition and earth-hunger, but the bastard offspring of wealth-hunger or commercialism with political ambition as its putative factor’ (Ibid, pg 489-490).
Date of Update: 25-May-17
- By Dr. Soumitra Basu