Chapter XXVII PART III
The Peril of the World-State
From The Tyranny of the Majority to the Tyranny of the Whole
Sri Aurobindo muses if a World-State could be formed in the style of a free democratic State, and ‘not a liberty –stifling empire or autocracy…because liberty and progress are the very principle of modern life and no development would be tolerated which went contrary to that principle’(The Ideal of Human Unity, pg. 508). However he expresses doubt as to democracy as we understand it, can really offer security so that liberty and progress can go on unhampered. While it is true that democracy has saved the masses from the very crude type of despotic suppressions associated with the older aristocratic and monarchical systems, it is also true that the modern democracy can elect a ruling coterie of mediocre mind-set, not necessarily representing the best brains of the nation but the ones more capable of manipulation resulting in an uniquely ‘organized annihilation of individual liberty as could not have been dreamed of’ (Ibid) in the earlier monarchies. Sri Aurobindo observes that the modern mind-set uses the cloak of democracy to design more ingenious ways of oppression of liberty, ‘which is more respectable in appearance, more subtle and systematised, more mild in its method because it has a greater force at its back, but for that very reason more effective and pervading’ (Ibid). This trend in fact constitutes ‘the tyranny of the majority’.
The phrase ‘tyranny of the majority’ was used by John Adams in 1788, by Edmund Burke in 1790 in his treatise ‘Reflections on the Revolution in France’ and by John Stuart Mill in his 1859 classic, ‘On Liberty’. Though originally the phrase indicated that the majority of the electorate could trample the rights of the minority groups, in modern parlance, it has to be acknowledged that the smallest minority on earth is the individual as individual rights are not subject to a public vote! (Ayn Rand, 1961: Collectivized Rights).
Sri Aurobindo himself was so sensitive to this issue that he referred to the Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen’s 1882 play, ‘An Enemy of the People’ to illustrate how certain progressive individuals resent the deadening effects of the tyranny of the majority. In the play, an upright idealist who had wanted to warn the masses about the contamination of town health baths had his voice stifled by a nexus of politicians and businessmen who included his own brother, The Mayor of the town as well as his own father-in-law whose tannery was the main source of contamination. The nexus succeeded in proving to the masses that the idealist was their real enemy! Sri Aurobindo while referring to this drama in 1917 warned that the future could magnify this tyranny to extend from the tyranny of the majority to the ‘tyranny of the whole’ which meant the tyranny ‘of the self-hypnotised mass over its constituent groups and units’ , a tyranny of the proletariat against its own interests (Ibid, pg.509). In 1949-50, he commented that this trend which he had speculatively pre-visioned earlier was initially discernible in Fascist Italy and Soviet Russia and had subsequently grown in proportion (Ibid, footnote, pg.509).
A World-State had therefore this danger that if it was based solely on democracy as is conventionally known, the tyranny of the majority could turn out to become a tyranny of the whole!
Date of Update: 20-Mar-18
- By Dr. Soumitra Basu