A Postscript Chapter, Part V
Beyond the nation
Can we conceive of a collective unit beyond the nation? Or is the nation the final unit? Can we dream of a greater aggregate which could "englobe many and even most nations and finally all in its united totality"? (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg.587)
Sri Aurobindo agrees that the impulse to create supra-national aggregates was always there in the human psyche but its primary motive was an expansionist zeal of mastery over other nations, grabbing their territories, exploiting their resources though at times there were attempts at quasi-assimilation. "The Roman Empire was the classic example of this kind of endeavour and the Graeco-Roman unity of a single way of life and culture in a vast framework of political and administrative unity was the nearest approach within the geographical limits reached by this civilization to something one might regard as a first figure or an incomplete suggestion of a figure of human unity". (Ibid)
Similar approaches were made elsewhere though not in the scale of the Roman Empire but nothing lasted more than a few centuries. The very method of enforcing a semblance of uniformity clashed with other life-instincts and negating of vitality and healthy evolution of humanity resulted in stagnation and arrested progress. "The imperial aggregate could not acquire the unconquerable vitality and power of survival of the nation-unit". (Ibid) Sri Aurobindo points to the interesting fact that enduring empire-units like Germany and China were not supra-national aggregates in true sense but merely "large nation-units". (Ibid) At the end, the empires were unsuccessful and unserviceable formations that did not guarantee any durable supra-national unity or could serve as template for global unity.
A different form of ideological unity of peoples was attempted in Communist Russia, but Sri Aurobindo commented four decades before the collapse of the USSR:
"An ideology, a successful combination of peoples with one aim and a powerful head like Communist Russia, might have a temporary success in bringing about such an objective. But such an outcome, not very desirable in itself, would not be likely to ensure the creation of an enduring World-State. There would be tendencies, resistances, urges towards others developments which would sooner or later bring about its collapse or some revolutionary change which would mean its disappearance." (Ibid, pg.588) This is exactly what happened for the USSR collapsed and disappeared as dramatically as it had arisen.
Can we then not have a new supra-national world-order? Sri Aurobindo assures:
"In actual fact a new attempt of world-wide domination could succeed only by a new instrumentation or under novel circumstances in englobing all the nations of the earth or persuading or forcing them into some kind of union". (Ibid)
"..only the formation of a true World-State, either of a unitary but still elastic kind, --for a rigidly unitary State might bring about stagnation and decay of the springs of life, -- or a union of free peoples could open the prospect of a sound and lasting world-order". (Ibid)
Sri Aurobindo made a critical appraisal of some of his views expressed decades earlier when he was writing the present Postscript Chapter. Earlier he had considered that the conquest and unification of the world by a single dominant people or empire would no longer be possible. But with changing political equations following the two World Wars, it seemed that such a domination could be made in a round-about way by a dominant Power with massive nuclear arsenal who could gather around itself a coterie of self-centered allies. "A dominant Power may be able to group round itself strong allies subordinated to it but still considerable in strength and resources and throw them into a world struggle with other Powers and peoples. This possibility would be increased if the dominating Power managed to procure, even if only for the time being, a monopoly of an overwhelming superiority in the use of some of the tremendous means of aggressive military action which Science has set out to discover and effectively utilize". (Ibid, pg.588-599)
However Sri Aurobindo also pointed out that an ever increasing stockpile of such dangerous arms would invite a growing opposition against their use and may embolden governments and peoples to ban the military use of such spectacular weapons. Yet a risk would always remain for an "unscrupulous ambition" (Ibid. 599) may allow access to destructive weapons even in secrecy so as to be deployed at a decisive moment. It could be argued that the experiences of the World War II showed that megalomaniac forces who had such ominous intents ultimately got defeated. But Sri Aurobindo warns that they had nearly succeeded for they had momentarily come "within a hair's breadth of success" but the world may not be that lucky the next time --- "there might not be the same good fortune for the world in some later and more sagaciously conducted and organized adventure". (Ibid, pg.589)
Date of Update: 19-Mar-21
- By Dr. Soumitra Basu