Moving Towards South Asian Confederation
Ideal of Human Unity - Revised draft of the Readings of Chapters

Readings in Chapter XXXV

Summary and Conclusion


The sentiment of unity

A mechanical unity of mankind could be achieved by political and administrative means but even that would not be viable unless there was an universal consciousness projected by an uplifted intellectual religion of humanity that spiritualizing itself would become a "general inner law of human life". (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg.571)

The outer unity would also be needed till the psyche of the whole of humanity was ready because it is Nature's inevitable trend to form larger and larger aggregates en route "a total aggregation of mankind in a closer international system". (Ibid)

Nature's march towards unity depends for fulfilment on two forces:

1. An increasing recognition of the importance of "common interests" (Ibid) which coalesce in progressively larger circles that makes old rigid divisions not only meaningless but also the ensuing wars and battles a "ruinous calamity . (Ibid) Victories come at heavy price and surprisingly end without viable survivors. (Remember the Mahabharata where the Pandavas lost all their children after they won the war!) Therefore Nature stimulates the impetus towards union and if there is a refusal to acknowledge coalition of common interests, it can try other means like war or domination by a powerful State or empire. (That is how Nature used the Pax Britannica to forge an Indian nation from a conglomeration of kingdoms who were separate though united by the bonds of a great spiritual heritage.) Sri Aurobindo explains that the same force which underlay the creation of nation-units could operate "to drive mankind towards international unification". (Ibid, pg.572)

2. The second motivator after common interests is a "common uniting sentiment". (Ibid) This could work as a precipitating cause or later act as a cementing factor. As a cementing factor, the force of sentiment which was initially not so effective in older times got consolidated after petty units and regional outfits were forcibly united by war and conquest or by the domination of the more powerful among many warring sections. As a precipitating factor, it would bring about a unity of smaller units by the force of the sentiment and its idea - classically a "clearer political idea". (Ibid) This is how great federations arose though often preceded by a struggle for liberty or a unity against a common enemy. This is how unity was achieved to shape United States, Italy, Germany and more peacefully in the case of the Australian and South Asian federations. There were of course other unities that grew up from more mechanical modes of union. Sri Aurobindo opines, "But whether to form or preserve the growth of the sentiment, the psychological factor is indispensable; without it there can be no secure and lasting union". (Ibid) If such a sentiment could not be made living and natural, it would be difficult to prevent the break-up of larger conglomerates. In 1918, Sri Aurobindo opined that this was the cause of "the precariousness of such aggregates as Austro-Hungary and of the ephemeral character of the empires of the past, even as it is likely to bring about, unless circumstances change, the collapse or disintegration of the great present-day empires". (Ibid, pg.573)

International sentiment

Just as localized or regional sentiments can unite regional nations, there can also be "a cosmopolitan, international sentiment" (Ibid) that can facilitate an international world organization. However, at the time of this writing in 1918, Sri Aurobindo explains that such an international sentiment was still nascent and could not be expected to match the passion and force of national sentiments. Even if such an international sentiment could be constructed on "conveniences of union" (Ibid), it would still be vulnerable to centrifugal and disruptive forces and reassertion of old alignments. There could however be a change if the realm of ideas could open to the spirit of universalism - "a sort of intellectual religion of humanity, clear in the minds of the few, vaguely felt in its effects and disguises by the many, which has largely helped to bring about the trend of the modern mind and the drift of its developing institutions. This is a psychological force which tends to break beyond the formula of the nation and aspires to replace the religion of country and even, in its more extreme forms, to destroy altogether the national sentiment and to abolish its divisions so as to create the single nation of mankind". (Ibid)

An international world-union was inevitably more complex and difficult to be formed as it had to face much more obstacles than a national or regional union. Yet, Sri Aurobindo envisaged that the World War I had shown that if unchecked, cascading cataclysms would have global repercussions; affect nations who were not directly involved and a point could be reached where mankind would have to choose between a "new, closer and more stringently unified order of things" and "a lingering suicide". (Ibid, pg.574) He was also confident that if reason could not arrive at this culmination, Nature herself could take up the onus, working its way through a "growing sentient of unity" or by "evolutionary pressure of circumstances" which would make a formal unification of mankind practically inevitable. (Ibid)


Modes of Unity

Sri Aurobindo speculated that an international unification of mankind could take two forms:

(a) A "centralized World-State", or

(b) A "looser word-union" that could be a "close federation" or a "simple confederacy". (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg.574)

Would a World-State be similar to the individual State as we know it? Would it be just a magnified form of a surveillance State? Would the federal arrangement be more flexible?

Sri Aurobindo answers that the World-State would create a central body that would have to assume a centralized international control that in essence would be similar to the individual State which earlier through the monarchy and later through the parliament tries to build up such a control on the life of the nation as to represent a sort of "a centralized socialistic State" (Ibid) that leaves no part of individual life of citizens unregulated. "A similar process in the World-State will end in the taking up and the regulation of the whole life of the peoples into its hands; it may even end by abolishing national individuality and turning the divisions that it has created into mere departmental groupings, provinces and districts of the one common State". (Ibid) On the other hand, a federal set-up or a confederacy would simultaneously preserve the national characteristic while subordinating the national interest to the larger common interests and greater international compulsions. (Ibid,pg.575)

Between the World-State and the looser federal set-up, the last form was most desirable because it gave ample scope to the "principle of variation" necessary for "the free play of life and healthy progress of the race". (Ibid,pg.574)

Beyond the principle of continuity

One of the chief problems to progress is the burden of the past, especially the weight of past ideas, suggestions and habits. Even while dealing with new ideas, the human psyche tries to draw from past analogies to design the form to be given to the new ideas. Even when radical revolutions bring forth daring changes, the "principle of continuity"(Ibid, pg.575) needs its share in the matrix of the new order. Thus the separative national instinct instead of disappearing would try to insinuate its presence in a new international alignment that would result in a conflict or facilitate an accommodation. A third possibility could also ensue as human thought and action could take a completely new turn and lead to unforeseen possibilities leading to an entirely new culmination - "perhaps a utopia of a better kind". (Ibid) However during writing this piece in 1918, Sri Aurobindo felt that at that point, it was enough to draw the lines of union as speculations of an utopia, though not without value, could be left for the future.

However none of the proposed alternatives are free from problems that would in fact not be conducive to a living and vibrant global unity. A centralized World State would have to sustain its cohesiveness on the idea of mechanical unity or rather of uniformity which would suppress the indispensable element of human life and progress: "the free life of the individual, the free variation of the peoples". (Ibid) There are thus two denouements of freedom that have to be considered: freedom of the individual and freedom of the group that may be represented by national, sub-national and regional variations. If both individual freedom and group variation were suppressed, there would be a petrified stagnation of life or alternatively a rebellious insurgency that could also, if disorganized, end up in shattering the whole social fabric. A mechanical unity would be easier for the rational mind to execute but its unfruitful or disastrous end would be predestined.

Would a centralized socialistic State be more viable? Sri Aurobindo speculated in 1918 that if such a State was formed, a reaction against its excesses would be also interesting as it would facilitate "the spread of the spiritual, the intellectual, the vital and practical principle of Anarchism in revolt against that mechanical pressure." (Ibid, pg.576) Decades later, the disintegration of USSR proved his point.

Would a centralized mechanical World-State be feasible? It is doubtful as the societal cycles surge forward and the age of Individualism would have to fulfil itself before the human cycle moved to a new denouement of collective life. Such a State would get fragmented and disintegrated. "It could be kept in being only if humanity agreed to allow all the rest of its life to be regularized for it for the sake of peace and stability and took refuge for its individual freedom in the spiritual life, as happened once under the Roman Empire. But even that would be a temporary solution".(Ibid) Spirituality itself is continually exceeding its religious, creedal and scriptural moorings to discover newer realms in Consciousness and the old formulas no longer can be relevant though there would be violent backlashes from the old forces of dogmatic fundamentalism.

We are thus left with a better alternative -a federal structure that would be more flexible but if the flexibility was stretched too far, centrifugal forces could rear up until a higher Anarchism could accommodate all contrary movements without disharmony. At the present state of affairs, "A federal system would also tend inevitably to establish one general type for human life, institutions and activities; it would allow only a play of minor variations. But the need of variation in living Nature could not always rest satisfied with that scanty sustenance. On the other hand, a looser confederacy might well be open to the objection that it would give too ready a handle for centrifugal forces, were such to arise in new strength. A loose federation could not be permanent; it must turn in one direction or the other, end either in a close and rigid centralization or at last by a break-up of the loose unity into its original elements". (Ibid) A saving power would be needed to consolidate the gains of the federal arrangement.

The saving power

What indeed would be the saving power that would ensure the unity of mankind without compromising the principle of freedom, variation and need for self-determination? An intellectual religion of humanity could be a "growing force" (Ibid) that respects the sense of human oneness, acknowledges the "idea of the race" (Ibid, pg.577) and simultaneously accommodates the uniqueness of the individual and the distinctive character of natural human groupings. Yet the present intellectual idea of unity, even if powerful as a conceived idea, does not possess the momentum to mould human nature and life at a collective level. There are two cardinal reasons for this insufficiency:

(a) The idea of oneness has to compromise with the skewed character of the human ego which is "still nine-tenths of our being". (Ibid) The ego is too concerned to safeguard itself and would be in perpetual conflict with the idea of the ego-transcending global unity.

(b) As the intellectual idea of human unity depends principally on the faculty of reason, it tends to gravitate towards a mechanical solution. As a result the rational idea ends up in being a slave of its own machinery. Reason has the capacity to generate alternative ideas but newer ideas generated similarly would meet the same mechanical fate. "A new idea with another turn of the logical machine revolts against it and breaks up its machinery, but only to substitute in the end another mechanical system, another credo, formula and practice". (Ibid)

As the intellect is not free from the ego and as it is biased towards the faculty of reason, the religion of humanity must not merely be intellectual but in principle a spiritual perspective. Sri Aurobindo points out that the term "spiritual" must not be misconstrued to mean a "universal religion" which is a thing of creed, dogma, biased intellectual belief and outward rite. Such attempts have failed to unite humanity despite the zeal of missionaries because the human psyche loves variations and cannot be segregated into a particular "mental creed and vital form."(Ibid)

"The inner spirit is indeed one, but more than any other the spiritual life insists on freedom and variation in its self-expression and means of development. A religion of humanity means the growing realisation that there is a secret Spirit, a divine Reality, in which we are all one, but more than any other the spiritual life insists on freedom and variation in its self-expression and means of development". (Ibid)

It may be argued that a principle of unity or oneness can be derived from the repertoire of intellectuality. What is the necessity of supplementing the intellectual perspective with the spiritual dimension?

Sri Aurobindo enumerates three points:

(a) Our usual attempts to human unity are based on the principle of co-operation that has in-built limitations due to social, cultural and ego-linked variables. A unity in terms of consciousness based on the secret Spirit or divine Reality that supports the manifestation realizes the oneness in terms of "a deeper brotherhood, a real and an inner sense of unity and equality and a common life". (Ibid)

(b) The spiritual perspective facilitates a real harmony between the individual and the collectivity, a feat that otherwise is inconceivable. It allows "the realisation by the individual that only in the life of his fellow-men is his own life complete". (Ibid) Likewise, it facilitates "the realisation by the race that only on the free and full life of the individual can its own perfection and permanent happiness be founded". (Ibid)

(c) The spiritual perspective allows the Oneness to support endless freedom and variability and therefore each individual has the creative freedom to design within oneself one's own "discipline" and "way of salvation" (Ibid), in other words one's own yoga, so as to harmonize oneself with the life of the race.

Would this idea of the spiritual perspective upholding the unity of human race in terms of consciousness be viable? Sri Aurobindo is pragmatic and points out that this depends on whether the idea has the strength to represent the truth of our being and the deepest motivation of existence. "No doubt, if this is only an idea like the rest, it will go the way of all ideas. But if it is at all a truth of our being, then it must be the truth to which all is moving and in it must be found the means of a fundamental, an inner, a complete, a real human unity which would be the one secure base of a unification of human life."(Ibid, pg.578)

"A spiritual oneness which would create a psychological oneness not dependent upon any intellectual or outward uniformity and compel a oneness of life not bound up with its mechanical means of unification, but ready always to enrich its secure unity by a free inner variation and a freely varied outer self-expression, this would be the basis for a higher type of human existence". (Ibid)

In 1918, Sri Aurobindo had observed that the human psyche has to make itself ready to "solve the problem of unification in a deeper and truer way from the inner truth to the outer forms."(Ibid) He also surmised that till humanity was ready, the mechanical means of unification were needed. "But the higher hope of unity lies in the growing number of men who will realise this truth and seek to develop it in themselves, so that when the mind of man is ready to escape from its mechanical bent, -- perhaps when it finds that its mechanical solutions are all temporary and disappointing, -- the truth of the Spirit may step in and lead humanity to the path of its highest possible happiness and perfection". (Ibid)

[In 1918, the World War I had ended and the Spanish Flu emerged to take millions of lives. A century later, in 2020, in a world besieged by an upsurge of fundamentalist forces and internecine conflicts, the Covid-19 virus struck the whole of humanity across the globe demonstrating the futility of human conflicts. It is a message from an unexpected virus to humanity at large: unite or perish.

Pablo Neruda who in 1950s had conceived that a global lockdown could happen one day when we would realize that all our victories had hitherto no survivors and all our efforts to threaten ourselves with death could never solve the agony of never understanding ourselves. We could somehow be illumined in that huge silence where, unexpectedly, we, despite our huge differences, would all meet in a sudden strangeness. ]


Date of Update: 28-May-24

- By Dr. Soumitra Basu