Moving Towards South Asian Confederation
Ideal of Human Unity - Chapters

Chapter V Part I

In Chapter V of The Ideal of Human Unity, Sri Aurobindo raises three pertinent questions:

(1) Can historically evolved collective egoisms be modified or abolished to effectuate a new integer of external unity?

(2) Can an external unity be established by mechanizing human existence where both individual freedom and the right of self-determinations of collective units are crushed?

(3) Can a living, organic unity be achieved by a mere economic, political and administrative unification?

(The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 285)

Collectivities and Unity

There are two types of human collectivities:

(a) The first type of collectivity is that which organically develops in the natural evolution of humanity, arises de novo in the socio-anthropological matrix of the human race and (much to the chagrin of anthropologists) becomes a psychological entity, a collective ego that continually changes its form and mode with the progressive evolution of social consciousness to become a dynamic group-soul. ‘It was the family, the tribe or the city, the polis; it became the clan, the caste and the class, the kula, the gens. It is now the nation. Tomorrow or the day after it may be all mankind’ (Ibid, pg 273). At the present stage of social consciousness, ‘the nation is the living collective unit of humanity’ (Ibid, pg 285).  Unlike the individual whose psychological repertoire is marked by intellectuality, the psychological repertoire of the nation is marked by vitality and dynamism. The nation is in fact ‘a persistent psychological unit’ expressing itself through ‘physical and political unity’ (Ibid, pg 290). However, Sri Aurobindo explains that the political unity is not the essential factor. The nation-idea exists in the psyche of the collectivity and even if political unity is not achieved, the nation-idea persists through the vicissitudes of time and ravages of history. That is how Italy became a physical unity after many centuries; because, though no longer a State, she never lost her real national sense, never ceased to be a single people (Ibid, pg 287).

Sri Aurobindo elaborates, ‘In former times the nation was not always a real and vital unit; the tribe, the clan, the commune, the regional people were the living groups…But now the nation stands as the one living group-unit of humanity into which all others must merge or to which they must become subservient. Even old persistent race unities and cultural unities are powerless against it….The nation in modern times is practically indestructible, unless it dies from within…All  modern attempts to destroy by force or break up a nation are foolish and futile, because they ignore this law of the natural evolution’ (Ibid, pg 290-291).


(b) The second type of collectivity is that which is artificially imposed on the population by force, annexation, exploitation or manipulation as in the case of bygone empires or by the appeal of a political ideology which compels the acquiescence of regional groupings  till the  natural and organic resurgence of individual freedom and regional self-determination makes its persistence untenable. (The erstwhile USSR is a classic example of the latter phenomenon and the world watches with interest how the giant state of China will deal with centrifugal forces once the hydra of freedom raises its multifaceted head).  If unity is not a real, natural, organic phenomenon that evolves in social consciousness but arises from a mere political conglomeration, then it will tend to disintegrate and can only be somehow maintained by force. Sri Aurobindo gives illustrations from history to prove that while the nation-idea has an element of immortality till it evolves into something superior, the huge political conglomerates like empires are actually ‘perishable political units’ (Ibid, pg 291). Giving examples from the Austrian imbroglio at the end of the 19th and beginning of  the 20th century, he writes, ‘ If the political convenience of an empire of this kind ceases, if the constituent elements no longer acquiesce and are drawn more powerfully by a centrifugal force, if at the same time the world outside no longer favours the combination, then force alone remains as the one agent of an artificial unity’ (Ibid, pg 285-286)


Sri Aurobindo justifies the distinction between the real, naturally evolving collective unit typified today by the nation from an artificial, political conglomerate like the empire; ‘When...a non-national empire is broken to pieces, it perishes for good; there is no innate tendency to recover the outward unity, because there is no real inner oneness; there is only a politically manufactured aggregate. On the other hand, a real national unity broken up by circumstances will always preserve a tendency to recover and reassert its oneness…. This truth of a real unity is so strong that even nations which never in the past realized an outward unification, to which Fate and circumstance and their own selves have been adverse, nations which have been full of centrifugal forces and easily overpowered by foreign intrusions, have always developed a centripetal force as well and arrived inevitably at organized oneness’ (Ibid, pg 286-287). The revival of modern Greece and the re-unification of Germany testify the statement that ‘a distinct group-soul  ...driven by inward necessity…uses outward circumstances to constitute for itself an organized body’ (Ibid, pg 288).

Date of Update: 18-Nov-11

- By Dr. Soumitra Basu