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

Readings in Chapter XIX

The Drive towards Centralisation and Unity


The votaries of world unity in the background of World War I were speculating whether the ideal of human unity would be achieved "by forcible or at least forceful fusing and welding of mankind into a single vast nation and centralized world-state with many provinces or to its aggregation under a more complex, loose, and flexible system into a world-union of free nationalities". (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 437) Would human unity be achieved by "a centralized world-government which would impose its uniform rule and law, uniform administration , uniform economic and educational system, one culture, one social principle, one civilization, perhaps even one language and one religion on all mankind". (Ibid)

Surely such a world-union is utopian in outlook. However Sri Aurobindo, in 1917 pointed that a combination of the advancements in science and a broadening outlook of internationalism can make the dream of world-union "a not immeasurably far off possibility" that would "become feasible within a century or two, at the most within three and four". (Ibid, pg 438) (Significantly, Sri Aurobindo has also envisaged that the evolution of human consciousness would lead to the emergence of more evolved beings and this process would take about three hundred years for getting consolidated in higher-order Gnostic human groupings).

The transition to global unity through a world-state cannot occur overnight. "Certainly, it would take a long time to become entirely practicable, and would have to be preceded by a period of loose formation corresponding to the feudal unity of France or Germany in mediaeval Europe". (Ibid) It is noteworthy that European feudalism which developed in France and Germany in the 9th and 10th centuries after the dissolution of the Roman Empire in the 5th century became popular for its hierarchical structure based on the acquisition of lands and territories, spread to Spain, Italy, Scandinavia, England and the Slavic countries and as a legacy, even in its dissolution, stimulated the emergence of different forms of constitutional government and early representative institutions.

Sri Aurobindo wrote that there were two ways through which a centralised world-state of uniformity could be brought about:

(a) through "force and constraint or the predominance of a few great nations or the emergence of a king-state" that would eventually become "the principal instrument of unification"(Ibid); or

(b) through the triumph of "political doctrine and the coming to political power of a party of socialistic and internationalistic doctrinaires alike in mentality to the unitarian Jacobins of the French Revolution who would have no tenderness for the sentiments of the past or for any form of group individualism and would seek to crush out of existence all their visible supports so as to establish perfectly their idea of an absolute human equality and unity".(Ibid)

For the Jacobins who were the most radical group involved in the French revolution, credited to have fostered secularism and ended feudalism were nevertheless prone to believe that terror was needed to purify and unify the Republic for which they zealously followed Robespierre's unequivocal declaration: "the first maxim of your policy ought to be to lead the people by reason and the people's enemies by terror". A global unity based on such a paradigm would have to be surpassed as internationalism loomed more and more in the psyche of the human race; poised itself on a consciousness that surpassed military might and economic power so as to reach a point where unity would no longer be necessarily equated with uniformity.


It would be difficult to construct a model of international unity that would accommodate all diversity without disharmony. Even in the establishment of national unity, "the trend to centralisation and uniformity has been the decisive factor, a condition of uniformity the culminating point". (Ibid, Pg 438-439) In the name of unity it is uniformity that reigns for it is easier to achieve by steamrolling all disparities. Sri Aurobindo observes that this trend towards uniformity "increases as civilization progresses". (Ibid) He gave the classic example of Turkey which was the pivotal point for interactions of Eastern and Western cultures for six centuries.: "The Turkish movement began with the ideal of toleration for all the heterogeneous elements - races, languages, religions, cultures - of the ramshackle Turkish empire, but inevitably the dominant Young Turk element was carried away by the instinct for establishing, even by coercion , a uniform Ottoman culture and Ottoman nationality". (Ibid) When Sri Aurobindo wrote that in 1917, the Ottoman Empire was still in existence in its final phase (before its dissolution in 1923) and carried as it always did the imperial motto of "The Eternal State". The Turkish movement to which Sri Aurobindo referred was the Young Turk Revolution that was initiated in 1908 for restoration of whatever was left of the then crumbling Ottoman world but could not hold fort, losing Bulgaria and Bosnia in 1908 itself, paving way for the final dissolution of the empire in 1923. The modern Turkish nation, a transcontinental, democratic and secular State was established in 1923. Sri Aurobindo, while editing his manuscript in 1949-50, observed that the trend towards uniformity still subsisted in the Turkish psyche: "This trend has found its completion, after the elimination of the Greek element and the loss of the empire, in the small purely Turkish State of today, but curiously the national uniformity has been topped by the association with it and assimilation of European culture and social forms and habits" (footnote, ibid). (Ironically, September, 2014 brought in disturbing news, a zeal for establishing a different transnational uniformity in the form of a proto Caliphate by ISIS terrorists who swear in the name of religion, and whose much hyped beheading of four Western hostages being a veiled threat to Turkey not to stick to its secular credentials).

Sri Aurobindo cites other examples from early 20th century history to show that the trend towards uniformity automatically comes wherever there are attempts for unity. "Belgium, composed almost equally of Teutonic Flemings and Gallic Walloons, grew into a nationality under the aegis of a Franco-Belgian culture with French as the dominant language; the Fleming movement which should logically have contented itself with equal rights for the two languages, aimed really at a reversal of the whole position and not merely the assertion but the dominance of the Flemish language and an indigenous Flemish culture". What Sri Aurobindo wrote in 1917 remains relevant as the new federal cabinet formed in July 2014 following the federal election was criticized to have the French-speaking side considerably under-represented. The political institutions of Belgium continue to revolve around the need for cultural domination of one community or the other without any aspiration for a true psychological integration that alone can be a harbinger of unity.

Sri Aurobindo cites other Western examples of the trend towards uniformity. "Germany, uniting her ancient elements into one body, suffered her existing States with their governments to and administrators to continue , but the possibility of considerable diversities thus left open was annulled by the centralisation of national life in Berlin; a nominal separateness existed, but overshadowed by a real and dominant uniformity which all but converted Germany into the image of a larger Prussia in spite of the more democratic and humanistic tendencies and institutions of the Southern States". (Ibid) Indeed, the tide of Pan-Germanism within the folds of the German Confederation had resulted in the unification of most of the German States by 1871 into the German Empire which was truly dominated by Prussia. However, a year after Sri Aurobindo wrote this passage, the German Revolution was initiated in 1918 wherein Germany was declared a republic.

Federalism was preferred wherever unity was difficult to be maintained in the matrix of heterogeneity but here also the trend towards uniformity dominated . "There are indeed apparent types of a freer kind of federation, Switzerland, the United States, Australia, South Africa, but even here the spirit of uniformity really prevails or tends to prevail in spite of variation in detail and the latitude of free legislation in minor matters conceded to the component States. Everywhere unity seems to call for and strive to create a greater or less uniformity as its secure basis".(Ibid, pg 439-440).


Centralisation and Unity

In a larger conglomerate of multiple States, it would be difficult to construct a psychological basis of unity at the present level of organization of individual and collective consciousness. A more practical approach would be to seek for "an organic unity of its political and economic life".(Ibid, pg. 440) This could be based on an uniformity modulated by a centralised government. The irony is that if several States create a central government to act as an organ for convenience to execute a few set of powers for certain objectives, yet in the end, the central government becomes omnipotent, concentrates more and more power in its hands and uses the institutions it was intended to serve as servitudes of its own sovereignty. This can be very problematic in somewhat loose conglomerations despite the presence of safeguards. A good case study is how the U.S constitution was framed to create a federal system promoting strong national power in certain spheres while granting varying degrees of sovereignty to the States in some other spheres. Sri Aurobindo wrote in 1917, "Even in the United States with its strong attachment to its original constitution and slowness in accepting constitutional innovations on other than local lines, the tendency is manifesting itself and would certainly have resulted by this time in great and radical changes if there had not been a Supreme Court missioned to nullify any legislative interference with the original constitution".(Ibid) He probably wrote this in reference to the famous Marbury versus Madison case of 1802 where Chief Justice John Marshall affirmed the Court's power to exercise judicial review which was the power to strike down as unconstitutional acts of the national legislature and executive as well as State actions. The relationship between the centralised power of the National government and the powers of the States has always fluctuated and there have been judicial decisions favouring either one or the other. Thus in the famous 1819 case of McCulloch versus Maryland, Chief Justice John Marshall favoured national supremacy by disallowing Maryland's attempt to tax the Bank of the US. On the other hand, in the 1997 Printz versus United States case, the court invalidated a federal law of the national government that allowed local police to conduct background checks on all gun purchases (Source : Annenberg Learner,, Topic Overview Unit 3, downloaded on 14th Oct.2014) .

Sri Aurobindo also commented that the traditional policy of the USA had contributed to the federal structure .The pacificism and "jealousy of interference by European powers in American affairs"(The Ideal of Human Unity, pg 440) gave US federalism an instinctive uniqueness that acted as "the sole security of its institutions and the peculiar type of its national life." (Ibid. He had however added in that 1917 write-up: "Once militarized, once cast into the vortex of old-world politics, as it at times threatens to be, nothing could not protect the States from the necessity of large changes in the direction of centralisation and the weakening of the federal principle". (Ibid, pg 441). However, in a footnote added in 1949-50, he commented: "The Roosevelt policy and the difficulties it encountered illustrate vividly the power of these two conflicting forces in the United States ; but the trend towards strengthening of the federal case, however slow, is unmistakable". (Ibid). Franklin Roosevelt, like Lincoln who preceded him and Bush who followed him claimed emergency powers for the national government in times of national emergency. Industrialization, economic modernization and the sequel to the Great Depression led to considerable overlap between the powers of the federal governments and the States. Under Roosevelt's New Deal, new laws and programs were passed to stimulate the economy which the States had to cooperate as they needed economic help and yet lacked resources. At first the Supreme Court considered many aspects of the New Deal unconstitutional but later relented under exceptional circumstances. In fact, Sri Aurobindo's later comments were added in the context of Roosevelt's era signaling a shift from DUAL FEDERALISM (where power is clearly divided between the federal and State governments and State governments exercising its powers without interference) to COOPERATIVE FEDERALISM (where federal and State governments collaborate on policy).

The federations of Australia, Canada and Switzerland closely resemble the model of American dual federalism.


Centralisation and Unity

Sri Aurobindo mentions two compelling necessities for the drive towards national Centralisation and unity (in the background of the world-scenario prevalent in 1917):

(a) "the first and most pressing is the necessity of compactness, single-mindedness, a single and concentrated action against other nations, whether for defence against external aggression or for aggression upon others in the pursuit of national interests and ambitions".(Ibid,pg. 441). A decentralized and loose federal set-up has many advantages and fosters free growth of individuals and communities and is conducive to the idea of self-determination yet is optimally successful when peace is the rule; whenever it is threatened from outside or fissiparous forces inside and "wherever peace is insecure or the struggle of life difficult and menacing, looseness becomes a disadvantage and may turn even into a fatal defect, the opportunity of fate for destruction". (Ibid, pg 442) In fact, throughout history, this drive towards centralisation has produced powerful monarchies and aristocracies. The nations which could not follow this trend suffered like Italy and Poland or by India of yesteryears. "The strength of centralised Japan, the weakness of decentralized China was a standing proof that even in modern conditions the ancient rule holds good". (Ibid, pg. 441) Writing in 1917,Sri Aurobindo also added examples of how certain free States of Western Europe were suspending their hard-earned liberties to even revert back to dictatorship in the beginning of 20th century (he observed later that this movement led to moving from democracy to more rigid State control) , how Prussia imposed on the Reich its insecurity arising from its expansionist stance by taking the life of Germany and how the World War I had affected the British colonies which instead of opting for an arrangement to operate under a system of almost total decentralization rather "made inevitable a tightening of the noose" that actually later operated in the field of foreign affairs and economic cooperation (However, in a footnote added three decades later, he commented that the continuation of large wars would have dissolved the still loose British structure for a more coherent system but the arrival of true Dominion Status and the Westminster Statute would make "federation unnecessary for any practical purpose and even perhaps undesirable for the sentiment in favour of a practical independence"). (Ibid, pg 441-442)

(b) The second principal need for the drive towards centralization is that the advantages of uniformity provide "for a well-ordered social and economic life based upon a convenience of which life is careless but which the intelligence of man constantly demands, -- a clear, simple and, as far as the complexity of life will allow, a facile principle of order". (Ibid, pg442-443) Human intelligence initially attempts to order society by imitating physical Nature and starts by suppressing all important variations. Sri Aurobindo explains that human intelligence has to reach an optimal sophistication to deal with the complexities of life so as to be "at ease in managing what the principle of life seems always to demand, the free variation and subtly diverse application of uniform principles". (Ibid, pg 443) This development requires time to manifest and till that is possible, the ordering of a national society initially aims at uniformity in "political and military function" followed by "first at a sufficient and then at an absolute unity and uniformity of administration".(Ibid) Sri Aurobindo cites the French history to show how the conflict between feudal separatism and feudal jurisdictions had to be resolved in the greater interest for an absolutist centralization that became necessary following repeated English invasions, Spanish pressure and civil wars embodying the famous dictum of Louis XIV, "I am the State". For indeed, the loose and chaotic organization of feudal France had to give away to an undisputed sovereign power that concentrated all military, legislative and administrative authority (Ibid, pg 443-444). "The system of the Bourbons aimed first at administrative centralization and unity, secondarily at a certain amount of administrative uniformity. It could not carry this second aim to an entirely successful conclusion because of its dependence on the aristocracy which it had replaced, but to which it was obliged to leave the confused debris of its feudal privileges. The Revolution made short work of this aristocracy and swept away the relics of the ancient system. In establishing a rigorous uniformity it did not reverse but rather completed the work of the monarchy". (Ibid, pg 444)

The sophistication of human intelligence needed to construct a social order where harmon y and unity are not dependent on centralization and uniformity is difficult to achieve with logical acumen unless there is a conscious cultivation of an universal Consciousness that can get consolidated in the human psyche. Thus it was not surprising that the centralizing trend that Sri Aurobindo indicated in 1917 became explicitly exaggerated in Germany and Russia, prompting him to write three decades later about "the unprecedented centralisation, the rigid standardization and uniformity of the Nationalist Socialist regime under Hitler" (Ibid, footnote, pg 444) that was the eventual culmination of that trend. Sri Aurobindo indicated that the study of that trend was important as similar obstacles still stand in the way of global unity.


Date of Update: 22-Dec-22

- By Dr. Soumitra Basu