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

Readings in Chapter XVIII

The Ideal Solution - A Free Grouping of Mankind


Human unity in its broadest and universal sense has to be based on human groupings which maybe diverse in type: regional, ethnic, cultural, racial or national. Whatever may be the denominator, Sri Aurobindo opines that the groupings should be FREE and NATURAL:

"The first principle of human unity, groupings being necessary, should be a system of free and natural groupings which would leave no room for internal discords, mutual incompatibilities and repression and revolt as between race and race or people and people".(The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 429)

Free Groupings

Sri Aurobindo was unequivocal about freedom that was an essential requisite as psychological unity could not manifest in forced human groupings as well as in partly free and partly forced groupings. A psychological unity can only be assured by a free assent of human groupings and the power of free assent implies "a power of free dissent and separation".(Ibid, pg 430) If a psychological unity cannot be established due to "incompatibility of culture, temperament or economic or other interest"; "the old principle of force" would have to be applied for forging unity -"a difficult matter when dealing with great masses of men who must in the course of the new process have arrived at self-consciousness and recovered their united intellectual force and vitality". (Ibid, pg 430-431) Nevertheless, such 'forced' human unities serve two rational purposes:

(a) Such a forced unity can act "as a halfway house to the unity of all the nations of the world and an experiment in administrative and economic confederation on a large scale" (indeed this 1917 write-up commenting on "halfway house.. experiment economic confederation" is echoed in the setting up of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951 and the European Economic Community in 1958 that were to be the precursors of the European Union in 1993) ;

(b) Such a forced unity also serves "as a means of habituating nations of different race, tradition, colour, civilization to dwell together in a common political family as the whole human race would have to dwell in any scheme of unity which respected the principle of variation and did not compel a dead level of uniformity".(Ibid, pg 431)


Human groupings should not only be free in spirit, they need to be natural too in structure. Sri Aurobindo writes that human peoples should "be allowed to form their own groupings according to their natural divisions of locality, race, culture, economic convenience and not according to the more violent accidents of history or the egoistic will of powerful nations whose policy it must always be to compel the smaller or less timely organized to serve their interests as dependents or obey their commands as subjects". (Ibid, pg 428) Such natural groupings to foster human unity and harmony are difficult to be established due to the widespread prevalence of ignorance in the proletariate and the implicit falsehood in the forces that wield State power. "The present arrangement of the world has been worked out by economic forces, by political diplomacies, treaties and purchases and by military violence without regard to any moral principle or any general rule of the good of mankind"; and at times such forceful maneuvers had "justification, not moral but biological, in the necessity of the rough methods which Nature has to use with a half-animal mankind as with her animal creation". (Ibid) Sri Aurobindo is however optimistic that with the growth and refinement of collective consciousness, the artificialities upholding human unities would no longer be relevant for two important reasons:

(a) Firstly, "the convenience and good of the world at large and not the satisfaction of the egoism, pride and greed of particular nations would be the object to be held in view", and

(b) Secondly, "whatever legitimate claim any nation might have upon others, such as necessities of economic well-being and expansion, would be arranged for in a soundly organized world-union or world-state no longer on the principle of strife and competition, but on a principle of cooperation or mutual adjustment or at least of competition regulated by law and equity and just interchange". (Ibid, pg 428)

Sri Aurobindo concludes, "Therefore no ground would remain for forced and artificial groupings except that of historical tradition or accomplished fact which would obviously have little weight in a great change of world conditions impossible to achieve unless the race is prepared to break hundreds of traditions and unsettle the great majority of accomplished facts".(Ibid, pg 428-429)


The basis of natural groupings

If free and natural groupings of human beings are destined to be the backbone of universal unity, the next question invariably rises as to what should be the nature of an ideal natural grouping. Race, religion, geographical oneness, economic convenience, language and cultural unity have been differently considered but till now the most durable natural grouping has been the nation. The issue is very complex as within a single national grouping, there might be a conglomeration of diverse factors and sentiments. Sri Aurobindo describes several examples of Western nations representing such complexity:

"The examples of this complexity are everywhere. Switzerland belongs by language, race and culture and even by affinities of sentiment to different national aggregations, two of sentiment and culture, the Latin and the Teutonic, three of race and language, the German, French and Italian, and these differences worked sufficiently to bewilder and divide Swiss sympathies in the clash of nations; but the decisive feeling overriding all others is the sentiment of Helvetian nationality and that would seem to forbid now and always any idea of a voluntary partition or dissolution of Switzerland's long-standing natural, local and historic unity". (Ibid, pg 432) .

Sri Aurobindo gives other examples of the complexity of human groupings. Alsace dominated by German language and race is nevertheless identified with France in spirit, temperament and culture. Canada and Australia having no geographical connection with the British Isles or to each other would still prefer to be part of a British grouping (viz the Commonwealth) in preference to fusing with adjoining groupings. (Ibid, pg 432-433) "On the other hand the Slavonic and Latin elements of Austro-Hungary, though they belonged by history, geographical position and economic convenience to that empire, moved strongly towards separation and, where local sentiments permitted, to union with their racial, cultural and linguistic kin". (Ibid, pg 433)

Sri Aurobindo emphasizes that the overriding and decisive factor to determine and hold together a natural grouping must be essentially psychological. In the absence of a psychological union, all other factors, racial, religious, linguistic or economic cannot withstand the forces of division. Thus, if Austria of yesteryears "had dealt with her Slav subjects as with the Magyars or had been able to build a national culture of her own out of her German, Slav, Magyar and Italian elements, it would have been otherwise and her unity would have been secure against all external or internal forces of disruption".(Ibid) He concludes, "Race, language, local relations and economic convenience are powerful factors, but what decides must be a dominant psychological element that makes for union. To that subtler force all others, however restless they may be, must succumb; however much they may seek for free particularist expression and self-possession within a larger unity; they must needs subordinate themselves to the most powerful attraction". (Ibid)

The principle of natural groupings

Sri Aurobindo explains that the basic principle adopted for a sustainable natural grouping must be "a free grouping and not that of some abstract or practical rule or principle of historic tradition or actual status imposed upon the nations".(Ibid) In the aftermath of World War 1, it was presumed that the unity of mankind could be based on large blocs, viz.

(a) "an European grouping,

(b) an Asiatic grouping,

(c) an American grouping , with

(d) two or three sub-groups in America, Latin and English speaking,

(e) three ( sub-groups) in Asia, the Mongolian ,Indian and West-Asian, with Moslem North Africa perhaps as a natural annexe to the third of these.

(f) four (sub-groups) in Europe, the Latin, Slavonic, Teutonic, and Anglo-Celtic...

while Central and Southern Africa might be left to develop under present conditions but with the more humane and progressive principles upon which the sentiment of united humanity would insist". (Ibid, pg 433-434) However, such groupings are not based on the psychological and experiential principle of freedom and hence difficult to be sustained.

Freedom is a psychological principle that is experientially perceived and not restricted by external factors like race, religion, economy or culture. Islamic countries fight with each other, the Chinese and Japanese belong to the same Mongolian race but are at loggerheads, Norway and Sweden had wide cultural commonality but could not unite due to a strong 'irrational sentiment'. However all such obstacles to unity are not permanent and can be overcome by removing "some actual unfriendly pressure or sense of subjugation or domination or fear of the oppression of the individuality of one by the other". (Ibid, pg 434) This is how the antipathy between different national individualities gave away as that between the Austrian and Magyar and between the Irish and English. (Ibid)

A more radical harbinger of unity that can forcibly remove obstacles to echo the free sentiments of the people would be a revolution just "as the obstacles of the old regime to a uniform democratic system were abolished in France by the French revolution" (Ibid). However the conditions of the world are not always favourable for such a radical upheaval.


The Idea of Self-determination

The logic of the World War I and the spectre of defeated nations gave birth to the idea of a new basis for free groupings based on the principle of national sentiment. It was initiated in restricted terms by empires that had advantage in the War -- "Russia by the concession of autonomy to Poland, England by Home Rule in Ireland, and a federation with her colonies". (Ibid, pg 435). However, the same empires that had allowed such concession at some places were equally forceful in suppressing and denying similar concession to other human groupings within their ambit. Despite hurdles, this new principle of human groupings appealed to the collective mind-set of humanity. "A name even was given to this new principle, and for a time the idea of self-determination received an official sanction and almost figured as a gospel. However imperfect the application, this practical enforcement of it, if effected, would have meant the physical birth and infancy of a new ideal and would have held forth to the hopes of mankind the prospect of its eventual application in a larger field until it came to be universalized".(Ibid)

In the aftermath of World War I, Sri Aurobindo listed two important obstacles to "this ideal of a rearrangement of the world on the basis of free national groupings":

(a) The first and most powerful obstacle to the idea of self-determination is national and imperial egoism. "To give up the instinct of domination and the desire still to be rulers and supreme where rule and supremacy have been the reward of past efforts , to sacrifice the advantages of a commercial exploitation of dependencies and colonies which can only be assured by the confirmation of dominance and supremacy, to face disinterestedly the emergence into free national activity of vigorous and sometimes enormous masses of men , once subjects and passive means of self-enrichment but henceforth to be powerful equals and perhaps formidable rivals, is too great a demand upon egoistic human nature to be easily and spontaneously conceded where concession is not forced upon the mind by actual necessity or the hope of some great and palpable gain that will compensate the immediate and visible loss". (Ibid, pg 435-436)

(b) The second obstacle to the idea of self-determination was the incipient desire in the European psyche to impose its self-proclaimed superiority over the non-European world. It was as if a self-professed cultural superiority automatically justified political and intellectual affiliation to guarantee equality and liberty. Sri Aurobindo wrote in 1917 : "There is, too, the claim of Europe, not yet renounced, to hold the rest of the world in the interests of civilization, by which is meant European civilization, and to insist upon its acceptance as a condition for the admission of Asiatic races to any kind of equality or freedom. This claim which is destined soon to lose all its force in Asia, has still a strong justification in the actual state of the African continent. For the present, let us note that it works strongly against a wider recognition of the new-born ideal and that until the problems it raises are resolved, the settlement of the world on any such ideal principle must wait upon the evolution of new forces and the coming to a head both in Asia and Europe of yet unaccomplished spiritual, intellectual and material revolutions".(Ibid, pg.436)

While adding footnotes nearly four decades later to his manuscript during 1949-50, Sri Aurobindo noted with satisfaction that the situation was reversed and the obstacles to the idea of self-determination were gradually fading out. (Ibid) There are vestiges of European cultural superiority still canvassed in certain intellectual realms and in promotion of commercial items but these have been reduced to the status of 'Brand Europe' in a global market culture.


Date of Update: 28-Nov-22

- By Dr. Soumitra Basu