Chapter XXXIII Part III
Internationalism and Human Unity
Any means of uniting the world which would actually mean dealing with the greatest heterogeneous conglomeration that can ever be conceived would bound to be formal. It would be naïve to believe that the whole world could at one go be psychologically charged with the passion of unity. A formal unity would imply a mechanical, administrative, political and economic union but that would not guarantee a viable psychological unity. Sri Aurobindo points out that even the great Empires could not achieve such unity and the mighty Roman Empire had to undergo “the peril of decay and devitalisation which the diminution of the natural elements of free variation and helpful struggle brought with it.”(The Ideal of Human Unity, pg.560-561).
It can be argued that an ideal world-union would not have to fear external threats and disruptions because they would not exist and this would be conducive to the durability, bolstered by intellectual and political activity and social progress. But what is psychologically true is that any attempt at a stability that favours progress has an equal chance of being countered by “a natural tendency to exhaustion and stagnation which every diminution of variety and even the very satisfaction of social and economic well-being might well hasten”. (Ibid, pg.561) Under such circumstances, a paradoxical counter-reaction occurs justifying the adage: “Disruption of unity would then be necessary to restore humanity to life”. (Ibid) Sri Aurobindo emphasizes an important psychological point, “But if the idea of unity can appeal to the human mind, so too can the idea of separative life, for both address themselves to vital instincts of his nature”. (Ibid) Unless a very dynamic psychological principle makes unity an overriding issue, a world-union shall remain a chimera.
The National ego and the Collective Soul
Any system can have ebbs and tides in the very nature of things and therefore there must be some psychological principle that supports and survives the changes in time. In nations, this principle is provided by the “collective national ego” (Ibid) that persists through the myriad changes. But this national ego is not an immortal divine entity, it is constructed from several parameters: geographical body; common interests of citizens in defense, economic well-being, political liberty; and a common identity in terms of name, sentiment and culture. Sri Aurobindo notes that this national ego is maintained also by two important factors:
(a) The national ego is a result of “the coalescence of the separative instinct and the instinct of unity”. (Ibid, pg.562) That is how the nation finds its distinct place among all other nations with whom it can have vital exchanges.
(b) There is a deeper factor, “a sort of religion of humanity” (Ibid) that needs to be cultivated. Sri Aurobindo means by this term not a distinct creedal religion but an unique dimension of consciousness that is needed to construct something greater than the national ego – “the collective soul” (Ibid) which can always be revivified to keep the collectivity alive and which makes it immune to spiritual downfall.
If the World-State has to be viable, it must do a balancing act at several levels:
(a) the interests of the individual versus the welfare of the collectivity,
(b) the demands of the national ego and regional self-determination versus the needs of the collective soul of humanity.
From the psychological perspective, an everlasting peace and welfare cannot be guaranteed on the basis of cessation of wars, economic welfare or on the combination of intellectual, cultural, social activity and progress. “Peace and security we all desire at present, because we have them not in sufficiency; but we must remember that man has also within him the need of combat, adventure, struggle, almost requires these for his growth and healthy living; that instinct would be largely suppressed by a universal peace and a flat security and it might rise up successfully against suppression”. (Ibid) The risk is that instead of a national ego, we may be confronted with a collective ego that can become a Frankenstein. “Economic well-being by itself cannot permanently satisfy and the price paid for it might be so heavy as to diminish its appeal and value. The human instinct for liberty, individual and national, might well be a constant menace to the World-State, unless it so skilfully arranged its system so as to give them sufficient free play”. (Ibid)
A World-State needs an innovative outer framework that must be flexible for constant innovations and growth. But what is more important that it must be sustained by psychological factors:
(a) Firstly, the nationalist’s fervor which even if intensely patriotic, remains confined in selective grooves and needs to be surpassed by a religion of humanity – a paradigm of consciousness that is more powerful, self-conscious and universal in appeal ; each man and each people should be an incarnation and soul-form of the soul of humanity (Ibid, pg.563);
(b) Secondly, the individual must not be effaced for the sake of the collectivity; what is needed is a “free play to individual variation, interchange in diversity, and the need of adventure and conquest by which the soul of man lives and grows great, and sufficient means of expressing all the resultant complex life and growth in a flexible and progressive form of human society”. (Ibid)
Date of Update: 16-Jun-20
- By Dr. Soumitra Basu