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

Readings in Chapter XXVI

The Need of Administrative Unity


The Idea of a Single Humanity

One of the foremost issues at the end of World War I was to deal with the psychological spirit of nationalism so that it would not be a barrier to real internationalism. Indeed, so long it was maintained that it was the rather superficial and discriminatory mind-set of the smaller countries which posed an obstruction to the spirit of nationalism. But the Great War showed that not the petty mind-set but the gigantic and inspired spirit of passionate nationalism that was the real barrier to the establishment of internationalism. "Undoubtedly, nationalism is a more powerful obstacle to further unification than was the separativeness of the old pettier and less firmly self-conscious groupings which preceded the developed nation-State". (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg. 496) A hundred years after this was penned, nationalism still remains a sufficiently emotive issue to sustain itself and raise its hydra-head against any attempt to be-little it. "It is still the most powerful sentiment in the collective human mind, still gives an indestructible vitality to the nation and is apt to reappear even where it seemed to have been abolished". (Ibid)

Sri Aurobindo had commented that an expansion of the boundaries of knowledge would also override nationalism. "Science, thought and religion, the three great forces which in modern times tend increasingly to override national distinctions and point the race towards unity of life and spirit, would become more impatient of national barriers, hostilities and divisions and lend their powerful influence to the change".(Ibid, pg. 494) The internet world has brought in different denouements of nationalism and internationalism. On one hand, it supports a new type of cyber-nationalism and even a nationalism espoused by its adherents from a long distance. Thus, Indians in USA can express greater doses of nationalism than Indians residing in India! On the other hand, the cyberspace can also effectively remove one's focus of attention from national boundaries and all other barriers to usher in the true spirit of internationalism.

Internationalism is the pressing need of the hour in a world torn by strife, hatred, mistrust and dissent. "It is only by a growth of the international idea, the idea of a single humanity, that nationalism can disappear, if the old natural device of an external unification by conquest or other compulsive force continues to be no longer possible; for the methods of war have become too disastrous and no single empire has the means and the strength to overcome, whether rapidly or in the gradual Roman way, the rest of the world". (Ibid, pg. 496)


Socialism and global economy: United Economic Life of the race

World War 1 started in August, 1914 and shattered the whole edifice of the international trade that existed hitherto and compelled the search for a new global economic order. Writing barely a month before the culmination of the Russian Revolution in October, 1917, Sri Aurobindo wonders whether a World State could be established not only to consolidate all military power but also to be a harbinger of global economy along a socialist paradigm.

An underlying global unity in the World State would inevitably be countered by "the spirit of national jealousy, egoism and sense of separate existence which makes each nation attempt at once to assert its industrial independence and at the same time reach out for a hold of its outgoing commercial activities upon foreign markets.....Inevitably, as the World State grew, this would be felt to be an anomaly, a wasteful and uneconomical process. An efficient international authority would be compelled more and more to intervene and modify the free arrangements of nation with nation. The commercial interests of humanity at large would be given the first place; the independent proclivities and commercial ambitions or jealousies of this or that nation would be compelled to subordinate themselves to the human good. The ideal of mutual exploitation would be replaced by the ideal of a fit and proper share in the united economic life of the race. Especially, as socialism advanced and began to regulate the whole economic existence of separate countries, the same principle could gain ground in the international field and in the end the World-State would be called upon to take up into its hands the right ordering of the international production and distribution of the world....Each (country) would produce and distribute only what it could to the best advantage, most naturally, most efficiently and most economically, for the common need and demand of mankind in which its own would be inseparably included.(Ibid, pg. 498-499).

For decades after World War I, attempts to recreate the pre-1914 global economic integration failed. In the 1930s, important nations sought self-sufficiency rather than international economic integration. In the post-World War II period, communist countries rejected global capitalism in principle while developing nations rejected it in practice (Frieden, Jeffrey A, Global Capitalism : Its Fall and Rise in the Twentieth Century, WW Norton,2006). In the1990s, an integrated world economy supporting global capitalism suddenly revealed itself. This happened when the industrial world dropped its control on economic ties, Communist countries opted for international playing fields in lieu of central planning while developing countries looked outward for cheaper goods and policies that brought foreign investments.

Is the global capitalism clicking? Since the 2008 financial meltdown, the world has been witnessing how the State attempts to bail out the financial elite by imposing brutal austerity measures on the ordinary citizens, the general working class. (Socialism and the global economic crisis,, October 6th, 2011) A very clever ploy is being worked out whereby instead of physically destroying a nation's infrastructure, there is a forced privatization and take-over by corporates.

It is now being recognized that global capitalism can fall again. If a fundamental restructuring of the economic life of the masses is not carried out, the wealth of the world will always be held captive by a few corporate houses.

The present spectre of globalization has grown out of choice and not out of compulsion. Frieden (vide supra) explains that this choice arose from governments consciously deciding to reduce barriers to trade and investment and adopt new economic policies. Naturally globalization needs supportive governments while supportive governments need positive public support. If the public is disenchanted with the ploys that favour the super-rich, a different choice could emerge!

History seldom takes any phenomenon for granted. The global economic order might appear not to be unstable today but that may be a passing interlude.

If globalization is the result of a choice and not compulsion, one might also consider that one day, Sri Aurobindo's endorsement of a global economic order supported by some variant and poise of fundamental socialism might make its choice felt where "mutual exploitation" would be replaced by equitable share in "the united economic life the race". (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg. 498)


World-State and Crime

During the formative period of modern nation-States, the creation of order and discipline and the laying down of administrative functions took precedence over other things. Crime, violence and revolt were initially difficult to deal with as aggression had a psychological motive and represented more of a "natural and general propensity of mankind". (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg. 499) At present, with more efficient administrative linkages between governmental and inter-governmental institutions coupled with great advances in communication networks, the State is better equipped to deal with the order of life. The question arises that if a World State comes to being would it leave individual nation-States to deal with law and order, crime and punishment or prefer a more centralized control? Sri Aurobindo mused, "In the World-State, it may be thought, each country may be left to its own free action in matters of its internal order and, indeed, of all its separate political, social and cultural life. But even here it is probable that the World-State would demand a greater centralization and uniformity than we can now easily imagine". (Ibid)

Crime continues to be an ineradicable element which can no more be tackled by individual States without co-operation from other countries. When a mafia Don escapes to another country, international extradition treaties have to be worked upon to bring the culprit back and seize any accrued overseas assets. Crime constantly, albeit creatively, changes its modus operandi and its localized action may have global determinants. Today with the shift to cybercrime, nothing less than an international check and control can suffice to control deviancy.

Sri Aurobindo had observed in 1917 that there would be two basic attempts to deal with crime in a radical manner:

(a) "The first necessity would be the close observation and supervision of the great mass of constantly re-created corrupt human material in which the bacillus of crime finds its natural breeding-ground. This is at present done very crudely and imperfectly and, for the most part, after the event of actual crime by the separate police of each nation with extradition treaties and informal mutual aid as a device against evasion by place-shift. The World-State would insist on an international as well as a local supervision, not only to deal with the phenomenon of what may be called international crime and disorder which is likely to increase largely under future conditions , but for the more important object of the prevention of crime". (Ibid, pg.499-500)

(b) "For the second necessity it would feel it would be the need to deal with crime at its roots and in its inception. It may attempt this,

1. "first, by a more enlightened method of education and moral and temperamental training which would render the growth of criminal propensities more difficult;

2. "secondly, by scientific or eugenic methods of observation, treatment, isolation, perhaps sterilisation of corrupt human material;

3. "thirdly, by a humane and enlightened gaol system and penological method which would have for its aim not the punishment but the reform of the incipient and the formed criminal"(Ibid, pg. 500).

Judicial System

Pari passu with the control of crime, the judicial system has to be upgraded to meet challenges that were earlier inconceivable. The World-State "would be led to standardise the new principles and the new methods by a common legislation and probably a general centralised control". (Ibid, pg.500)

Though the World State is still an unrealized dream, the international criminal law has been evolving after the World War II when the Nuremberg principles were affirmed by the UN General Assembly. For the first time individuals would be held criminally accountable under international law. Since the mid-1990s, the work of the UN created adhoc tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda re-affirmed the status of international criminal law as customary law. The crystallization of international criminal law in the Rome Statute which came into force in 2002 resulted in the creation of the International Criminal Court in The Hague which started functioning in 2003 (Werle.G & Jessberger,F, Principles of International Criminal Law,3rd Ed, Oxford, 2014).

As of today, all efforts are being made so that domestic legal systems of independent nation-states do not clash with the norms of international crime. It has been established that the classification of crime as a crime under international law does not depend upon whether a domestic legal system permits domestic courts to directly apply norms of international criminal law. Such optimal centralization of international law is imperative for a global control of crime and would contribute one day to a commonality in global administrative functioning.

Many of the issues that Sri Aurobindo had envisaged for a World-State are gradually been taken up by the Time-Spirit in international denouements or in round-about ways. This is important for the outer form of world-unity has to be preceded by the spirit of internationalism.


Political Non-Interference versus Interference

Sri Aurobindo, in this 1917 write-up, muses whether a World-State would ideally favour a principle of political non-interference among its constituent nations and States .Non-interference is characterized by absence of interference by a State or States in the external or internal affairs of another State without its consent. Would non-interference facilitate harmony? Even without a World State, the principle of non-interference or non-interventionism as a foreign policy raises doubts and prejudices. The issue gets more complicated when certain powerful nations follow dualistic foreign policies. Thus the USA which had initially favoured non-interference in the World Wars had yet earlier not been averse to interference in Cuban affairs. While it is true that US Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson favoured the principle of non-intervention in European wars, the USA had keen interest to intervene in Cuba after the Spanish rulers were usurped and took over the administration from 1898 to 1902 enabling American capital to fully dominate Cuban economy. The second occupation of Cuba by the USA which lasted from 1906 to 1909 was also known as Cuban Pacification whose goals included a prevention of fighting among Cubans and holding of free elections. Sri Aurobindo described this American interference in Cuba as "not on avowed grounds of national interest, but ostensibly on behalf of liberty, constitutionalism and democracy or of an opposite social and political principle, on international grounds therefore and practically in the force of this idea that the internal arrangements of a country concern, under certain conditions of disorder or insufficiency, not only itself, but its neighbours and humanity at large".(The Ideal of Human Unity, pg.501)

Sri Aurobindo, a keen follower of contemporary world movements described, in October, 1917 how the principle of interference was put forward by Allies in regard to Greece during World War 1. Barely 4 months back, in June, 1917, King Constantine had to abdicate his throne after the Allies had fought war from Greece territory while the King wanted to be neutral. It was only as late as June 28th, 1917 that Greece under a centralised government and free from Constantine's false notion of neutrality, joined the War allowing the Allied forces to accelerate their offensive from Greece. By that time the War was complete in September, 1918 and Greece had lost an estimated 5000 soldiers, Sri Aurobindo had already completed 35 chapters of The Ideal of Human Unity.

In that same write-up, Sri Aurobindo mentioned about the refusal of the Allies "to treat with Germany or, practically, to re-admit it into the comity of nations unless it set aside its existing political system and principles and adopted the forms of modern democracy, dismissing all remnants of absolutist rule' (Ibid). Decades later (around 1949-50), while adding footnotes to the text, he added , "The hardly disguised intervention of the Fascist powers in Spain to combat and beat down the democratic Government of the country is the striking example of a tendency likely to increase in the future. Since then there has been the interference in an opposite sense with the Franco regime in the same country and the pressure put upon it , however incomplete and wavering, to change its method and principle".(Ibid) However Franco was a hard nut to crack and by the time Sri Aurobindo wrote the footnote, the nature of his regime changed from repressive totalitarianism to authoritarianism with limited pluralism and gradual economic liberalization. What Sri Aurobindo mentioned of the change of "method and principle" of Franco's style of functioning culminated before his death in 1975 when he restored monarchy that led to the Spanish transition to democracy and adoption of a new constitution.

Future trends

Sri Aurobindo was optimistic that an unified global order would not tolerate political non-interference for the greater welfare of humanity. Can the world wait and watch while a Idi Amin kills and feasts on innocent lives? As early as 1917, Sri Aurobindo wrote:

"the principle of political non-interference is likely to be much less admitted in the future...Always in times of great and passionate struggle between conflicting political ideas, -- between oligarchy and democracy in ancient Greece, between the old regime and the ideas of the French Revolution in modern Europe, -- the principle of political non-interference has gone to the wall. But now we see another phenomenon - the opposite principle of interference slowly erecting itself into a conscious rule of international life....This idea of the common interest of the race is bound to increase as the life of humanity becomes more unified".(Ibid)

Landmarks in interventionism

The norm of non-intervention or political non-interference was established as an international law and represented one of the central tenets of the United Nations Charter to foster post World War II peace. However the Cold War usurped this balance where interventions in developing nations were justified under such pretexts as instigating or containing socialist revolutions. Such interventions were justified in the name of protecting "international peace and security" that too was guaranteed under Chapter VII of the UN charter. Moreover the veto powers of the USA and erstwhile USSR in the Security Council were used to substantiate their standpoints. Since the end of Cold War, new emergent humanitarian trends are supporting intervention to uphold human values in the greater context. Based on the social contract theory, intervention within another State is justified if the State fails to protect its own citizens. As yet this new norm is used to justify the action of the States only if they want to act rather than making it obligatory to act. (Non-interventionism-Wikipedia)

This new idea of intervention had actually been used in UN sanctioned Operation Provide Comfort in Northern Iraq in 1991 to protect Kurds; in Somalia from 1992-1995(UNOSOM I & II); in Kosovo by NATO in 1999 and in the 2011 Libyan intervention.


Musings on a Socialistic World-State-I

In October 1917, at a time when the Russian Revolution was progressing towards its triumphant culmination, Sri Aurobindo was musing on how a progressively unified humanity would deal with the future challenge of Socialism or the full evolution of the omnipotent and omnipresent Social State (The Ideal of Human Unity,pg.501-502). There could be three situations worth considering:

(a) If Socialism triumphed in leading nations, it would seek to "impose its rule everywhere not only by indirect pressure, but even by direct interference in what it would consider backward countries".(Ibid, pg.502) Sri Aurobindo's foresight was proved even after six decades when the Soviet Union indulged in what would later turn out to be a pointless interference in Afghanistan that neither gave it a strategic foothold, nor contained radical Islamists.

(b) If Socialism commanded the majority in an international authority, Parliamentary or other, it could not be easily overruled.(ibid) History is witness to how certain States had to become satellite States of USSR who despite having separate governments and policies were nevertheless dominated by it with threat of intervention by the Warsaw Pact.

(c) A sort of International Socialism could develop if all nations became socialist in form so that all separate socialisms could be coordinated into "one great system of human life".(Ibid)

Centralised Control

In the same write-up, Sri Aurobindo considers the problem of centralised control that could be ushered in by an International Socialism: "But Socialism pursued to its full development means the destruction of the distinction between political and social activities; it means the socialization of the common life and its subjection in all its parts to its own organised government and administration. Nothing small or great escapes its purview. Birth and marriage, labour and amusement and rest, education, culture, training of physique and character, the socialistic sense leaves nothing outside its scope and its busy intolerant control. Therefore, granting an International Socialism, neither the politics nor the social life of the separate peoples is likely to escape the centralised control of the World-State". (Ibid)

More than three decades after this write-up, Sri Aurobindo commented in a foot-note (in 1949-50) how the centralising principle in Socialism had been confirmed in the total governmental control in Germany and Italy. He added, "The strife between national (Fascist) Socialism and pure Marxist Socialism could not have been foreseen at the time of writing; but whichever form prevails, there is an identical principle". Both movements could rouse masses; fascism through the slogan of national supremacy and Marxism through its idea of equal society. Both acted through strong governmental control in economic and social policies. At the end of a century, neither survives in pure form. We have today neo-Fascist policies as exhibited by the British National Party's immigration stances and US President Trump's immigration recommendations in 2017. The collapse of the Soviet Union has shown that socialism with its implicit centralising tendency cannot persist in the old way. Yet, despite the glorification of globalization, it is a fact that the pooled earnings of the planet's 200 companies surpass the pooled GDP of all but ten nations of the world. If the Time-Spirit opts for at least fundamental equality if not absolute equality as the sine-qua-non of the new world-order, some form of socialism minus its discrepancies, needs to be put in place, even in the matrix of a non-socialistic order (there has been a suggestion to conceptualize an island of socialism within capitalism while another think-tank believes that though capitalism has failed, the concept of neo-socialism can be revived signalling a partnership between government and business). It is significant that even after spelling out the pitfalls of Socialism, Sri Aurobindo comments, "The dream of the cosmopolitan socialist thinker may therefore be realized after all". (Ibid, pg.503)


Musings on a Socialistic World-State-II

The human psyche yearns towards world-unity and yet is attached to the uniqueness of local moorings and identities. If there is a clarion call to a single humanity, there is also an overzealous attachment to the conservation, survival and revival of local sentiments. This raises an important issue: whether a uniform world-order would need a policy of centralization or decentralization.

Centralization and decentralization are debated issues with different ramifications in corporate organizations and in any scheme of world-unity needing a common cultural thread that stitches subcultures along a continuum or facilitates the emergence of a new cultural trait. In corporate organizations, a fully hierarchized centralisation can collapse if stretched too long or strenuously and hence decentralization is often considered to be the order of the day. Sri Aurobindo has an intuition of this phenomenon and admits that a World-State would need as much decentralization as needed "for convenience of administration, not on the ground of separative variations". (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg.503)

To tackle centrifugal attempts of disruption, a subordination of separate sub-cultures to some benevolent variation of centralisation might be inevitable in a World-State worth its name. Already, an interfusion of cultures, partly due to the spirit of internationalism, partly due to the trans-cultural commercialization of entertainment is visible. Moreover, Science, the great leveller has its own significance and facilitates "uniformity of thought and life and method....The only radical difference that still exists is between the mind of the Occident and the mind of the Orient". (Ibid) A hundred years after Sri Aurobindo wrote this, the world is witnessing a violent attempt to cling to past conventions by radical religious fanatics, a explosive outburst to preserve cultural identities against the spirit of internationalism. Perhaps this too was inevitable as the old forces would try to resurge and consolidate when the death-knoll for their extinction becomes increasingly relevant. Sri Aurobindo assures that in the annals of history, a common world-culture would be "the most probable outcome". (Ibid) He adds, "The valid objection to centralisation will then be greatly diminished in force, if not removed altogether. Race-sense is perhaps a stronger obstacle because it is more irrational; but this too may be removed by the closer intellectual, cultural and physical intercourse which is inevitable in the not distant future". (Ibid)

Sri Aurobindo's 1918 write-up preceded the brilliant 1932 novel, "Brave New World" penned in 1932 by Aldous Huxley which eulogizes a World-State with the motto of "Community, Identity, Stability". The citizens enjoy a eusocial society with racial, social and economic harmony and gender neutrality while the economy is based upon the principles of mass production and mass consumerism. Hi-tech industrialization is balanced with sufficient agricultural preoccupation. Culture remains homogenous and fairly similar across the planet. Huxley balances the Orient and the Occident as advertisements of tourism in Western Europe in the novel promote holidays to "the gorgeous East" though at the same time the North Pole is an important destination and trips to the moon are also available.

Some of Huxley's imaginations do not appear to be unrealistic today. Even before Sri Aurobindo had written about the World-State, Esperanto, as a constructed international auxiliary language had been introduced by Zamenhof, a Polish-Jewish ophthalmologist in 1887. Though it has not succeeded as a world-language according to expectations, yet it points out that a common language may not be a chimera on day. "For a State naturally tends to establish one language as the instrument of all its public affairs, is thought, its literature; the rest sink into patios, dialects, provincial tongues, like Welsh in Great Britain or Breton and Provencal in France; exceptions like Switzerland are few, hardly more than one or two in number and are preserved only by unusually favourable conditions. It is difficult indeed to suppose that languages with powerful literatures spoken by millions of cultured men will allow themselves to be put into a quite secondary position, much less snuffed out by an old or new speech of man. But it cannot be quite certainly said that scientific reason, taking possession of the mind of the race and thrusting aside separative sentiment as a barbaric anachronism, may not accomplish one day even this psychological miracle. (Ibid. pg. 503-504)

Sri Aurobindo explains that it is a psychological fact that any movement towards uniformity can override variety if the aim is a common betterment. "In any case, variety of language need be no insuperable obstacle to uniformity of culture, to uniformity of education, life and organisation or to a regulating scientific machinery applied to all departments of life and settled for the common good by the united will and intelligence of the human race. For that would be what a World-State, such as we have imagined, would stand for, its meaning, its justification, its human object". (Ibid, pg.504)


Date of Update: 24-Aug-23

- By Dr. Soumitra Basu