Moving Towards South Asian Confederation
Ideal of Human Unity - Chapters


War and the need of Economic Unity


Wars have always been fought between nations throughout history and there have always been commercial rivalries between politically separate nations but World War I was unique as it was held in the background of a changed historical scenario marked by two new characteristics:

(a) ‘the industrial organization of human life’, and

(b) ‘the commercial interdependence of the nations’ (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 490).

As a result the intolerable effects of the war were felt not only by the warring nations but also by the neutral countries who had not directly fought in the war. The anger that erupted naturally got consolidated in the demand for ban and boycott of the perpetrating nations. Sri Aurobindo, writing in the aftermath of World War I pointed that this justified reaction was yet not enough and there was an ‘inner truth’ of the whole phenomenon that was more important. Even if the nations were not fighting outwardly, a state of ‘peace’ can actually be a facade for a ‘covert war’. Thus an outward peace was not a guarantee for a battle of the scale of the World War I. At that point in time just at the end of the World War I, there seemed to be two possibilities to prevent the physical shocks of war:

(a) The regulation of the inevitable rivalry by a state of law through the formation of a centralized World-State (though in extreme cases such principle of enforced arbitration could fail resulting in war); and

(b) The overhanging threat of international pressure like economic blockade (Ibid, pg 490-491).


Within a nation, the weapon of commercial pressure is manifested through a ‘pacific’ struggle like strikes and lock-outs ‘which are on one side a combined passive resistance by the weaker party to enforce its claims, on the other a passive pressure by the stronger party to enforce its wishes’ (Ibid, pg 491).

Between nations, the corresponding means to enforce pressure ‘would be the refusal of capital or machinery, the prohibition of all or of any needed imports into the offending or victim country, or even a naval blockade leading, if long maintained, to industrial ruin or to national starvation. The blockade is a weapon used originally only in a state of war, but it was employed against Greece as a substitute for war, and this use may easily be extended in the future. There is always too the weapon of prohibitive tariffs’ (Ibid).

Commercial pressure can indeed be a tremendous weapon, especially if used as an aid during war. That is how Germany was humiliated in World War I and there were proposals to continue the economic blockade even after the cessation of war to cripple Germany so as to be ruined as an industrial rival. A similar type of blockade was also in force at one time against Bolshevik Russia.


However, Sri Aurobindo, in that 1917 write-up also explained that a weapon like economic blockade needed to be finally executed by a ‘firm international authority’ (Ibid, pg 492) so as not to be abused by a single or combine of powerful nations for unjust domination of the world. ‘Force and coercion of any kind not concentrated in the hands of a just and impartial authority are always liable to abuse and misapplication’ (Ibid).

Sri Aurobindo mused that an ideal World-State would not only have to consolidate military prowess but the commercial, industrial and economic life of the race. It would have to initiate, maintain and control the whole ambit of international commerce. ‘Since industry and trade are now five-sixths of social life and the economic principle the governing principle of society, a World-State which did not control human life in its chief principle and its largest activity would exist only in name’ (Ibid, pg 492-493).


Date of Update: 24-Jun-17

- By Dr. Soumitra Basu