Chapter XVI Part II
The Problem of Uniformity and Liberty
In the clash between the principles of unification and liberty, there are three important areas to be considered:
(a) The future of the principle of nationality,
(b) The phenomenon of uniformity,
(c) The organization of political and administrative methods.
The future of the principle of nationality
The nation is at present ‘the firm group-unit of human aggregation to which all other units tend to subordinate themselves’ (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 411). The nation exists not only for the passion and pride of nationalism, not only for the urge of domination and expansion (that has often instilled the spirit of imperialism in nations), but also for the more down-to-earth motivations of ‘land hunger, money hunger, commodity hunger, the vital, intellectual, cultural aggressiveness of powerful and prosperous nations’ , though this ‘does not secure the nation-unit from eventual dissolution in a larger principle of aggregation’ (Ibid). Sri Aurobindo hinted at two possible outcomes, either the gradual dominance despite setbacks of the idea of the sans-patrie, the citizen of the world that runs counter to the nation-idea or the persistence of the nation with vigorous particularism within a larger unity (Ibid, pg 412). Finally, the nation may persist ‘but with a reduced and subjected vitality, or even without real vitality or any living spirit of particularism or separatism, as a convenience , an administrative rather than a psychological fact like a French department or an English county’ (Ibid). Yet the reduced vitality of the nation can retain sufficient mechanical distinctness to re-assert itself again if the unification is mechanical and does not reflect the spiritual oneness of mankind (Ibid).
The phenomenon of uniformity
The difficulty to reconcile unity with liberty paves the way for the phenomenon of uniformity to gain precedence. A global uniformity in all spheres of life may usher an uniform culture. Sri Aurobindo envisaged several eventualities:
(1) ‘The one barrier left against a dead level of complete uniformity would be the barrier of language; for language creates and determines thought even while it is created and determined by it, and so long as there is difference of language there will always be a certain amount of free variation of thought, of knowledge and of culture……But..a universal language once created or once adopted may end by killing out the regional languages as Latin killed out the languages of Gaul, Spain or Italy or as English has killed out Cornish, Gaelic, Erse and has been encroaching on the Welsh tongue’(Ibid, pg 412-413).
(2) ‘On the other hand, there is a revival nowadays due to the growing subjectivism of the human mind, of the principle of free variation and refusal of uniformity. If this tendency triumphs, the unification of the race will have so to organize itself as to respect the free culture, thought, life of its constituent units.’ (Ibid, pg 413).
(3) ‘But there is also the third possibility of a dominant uniformity which will allow or even encourage such minor variations as do not threaten the foundations of its rule. And here again the variations may be within their limits vital, forceful, to a certain extent particularist though not separatist, or they may be quite minor tones and shades, yet sufficient to form a starting-point for the dissolution of uniformity into a new cycle of various progress’ (Ibid).
The organization of political and administrative methods
It is a natural tendency for the political and administrative functioning to enforce the principle of uniformity through a rigid authoritarian regimentation that would proceed by ‘suppressing all individual and regional liberty’. It might be argued that such regimentation would be impractical with a growing global population and the variegated social, cultural and religious diversity that characterizes the essence of civilization. However, Sri Aurobindo points out two important factors that could overrule the diversity of humanity:
(1) The growth of Science, and
(2) The principle of State control and direction which is the essence of Socialism.
Science offers easy manipulation of huge masses, a perspective that was witnessed during the World Wars ( and which is now witnessed differently in a global consumerist culture powered by information technology ). Scientific planning and organization aided by ‘annihilation of space difficulties and numerical difficulties’ could also facilitate a trend towards international socialization. However, Sri Aurobindo with his remarkable insight forewarned as early as 1916, in a language bold and precise:
‘..it is possible that after a cycle of violent struggle between the ideal of regimentation and the ideal of liberty the socialistic period of mankind might prove comparatively of brief duration like that of monarchical absolutism in Europe and might be followed by another more inspired by the principles of philosophic Anarchism, that is to say, of unity based upon the completest individual freedom and freedom also of natural unforced grouping. A compromise might also be reached , a dominant regimentation with a subordinate freedom more or less vital, but even if less vital, yet a starting-point for the dissolution of the regime when humanity begins to feel that regimentation is not its ultimate destiny and that a fresh cycle of search and experiment has become again indispensable to its future’. (Ibid, pg 414)
Subsequent events that began unfolding towards the end of 20th century validated his foresight.
The political and administrative unification of mankind is a dominant drift of World-Nature. ‘It is not likely to take perfectly ,until a probably much later period of our collective evolution, the form of a federation of free and equal nations or adopt as its motive a perfect harmony between the contending principles of nationalism and internationalism’ (Ibid, pg 405).
Date of Update:
- By Dr. Soumitra Basu