Moving Towards South Asian Confederation
Ideal of Human Unity - Chapters


The Peril of the World-State

Freedom of Thought and Speech

A full freedom of thought and speech is the hallmark of modern democracy and a World-State has to take it into its account. A freedom of thought and speech coupled with universal education is a safeguard against stagnation of the society (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg.510).

A freedom of thought alone cannot suffice unless accompanied by a freedom of speech while both freedom of thought and speech are ineffective without a freedom of association. As Sri Aurobindo had voiced his opinion in his famous speech on 27th June, 1909, eight years before he wrote this chapter:

‘The right of free speech ensures to the people the power which is the greatest means for self-development, and that is the power of spreading the idea. According to our philosophy, it is the idea which is building up the world. It is the idea which expresses itself in matter and takes to itself bodies. This is true also in the life of humanity; it is true in politics, in the progress and life of a nation. It is the idea which shapes material institutions. It is the idea which builds up and destroys administrations and Governments. Therefore the idea is a mighty force…..

‘the idea of free speech is cherished because it gives the idea free movement, it gives the nation that power which ensures its free development…It is enough that the idea is there and that the idea lives and circulates.

‘Then comes the right of association…Given the common aspiration, common idea, common enthusiasm and common wish to act, it gives the instrument which binds men to strive towards the common object by common and associated actions; the bonds of brotherhood grow, energy increases, the idea begins to materialize itself to work in practical affairs and that which was yesterday merely an idea, merely a word thrown out by the eloquence of the orator, becomes a question of practical politics.’

It is of course a great question whether these fundamental liberties can be won by the human race with entire security. The world has witnessed how they were suppressed in Communist Russia and Fascist Germany and how they still have their ominous sway in the 21st century in many parts of the world.

Sri Aurobindo however notes that the State would ideally resort to attack the liberty of free thought as a last resort after it failed to regulate individual life in accordance with the community’s mind-set by controlling education, culture religious liberty and the freedom of cult. It would then attempt to curb freedom of thought on the plea of danger to the State and civilization ( The Ideal of Human Unity, pg.510-511).

Freedom of thought in a World-State

In a World-State, a freedom of thought could extend from a mere criticism of the details to a fundamental reappraisal of the very principles of its foundation. Sri Aurobindo opines that pushed to its extreme, this would lead to two types of outcome:

(a) A spiritual anarchism of Tolstoyan kind or
(b) Intellectual anarchism (Ibid, pg.511)

Anarchism would harp the free development of the individual as a gospel and denounce government as an evil that was no longer necessary. ‘It would affirm the full and free religious, ethical, intellectual and temperamental growth of the individual from within as the true ideal of human life and all else as things not worth having at the price of the renunciation of this ideal, a renunciation which it would describe as the loss of his soul. It would preach as the ideal of society a free association or brotherhood of individuals without government or any kind of compulsion ’(Ibid).

Would the World-State tolerate a highly critical free thought? If it felt that its foundations would be thwarted by free thought, it would attempt a regulation of all things in consonance with collective norms of the community. Unfortunately this would lead to a symmetrical stagnation of the society. Progress does not depend on the collective mind-set which is always conservative and static and ‘moves slowly in the tardy process of subconscient Nature’ (Ibid, pg.512).

Progress depends upon the creative free thinker whose idea can uplift the masses. ‘The free individual is the conscious progressive: it is only when he is able to impart his own creative and mobile consciousness to the mass that a progressive society becomes possible’ (Ibid).


Date of Update: 19-May-18

- By Dr. Soumitra Basu