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

Readings in Chapter XXVII Part 1

The Peril of the World-State


Pragmatic Beginnings

The urge to human unity tries to express itself in many ways and proceeds through many experiments. Sri Aurobindo explains that one such important experiment has been the pursuance of "the principle of mechanical unification, -- that is to say, by the principle of the State".(The Ideal of Human Unity, pg.505)

The State Idea took time to develop and did not appear as a meteor. Sri Aurobindo explains that it was incipient in "the work of the Alfreds and Charlemagnes and other premature national or imperial unifiers". (Ibid) It later consolidated in the State principle leading to uniformity, regulation and mechanization and inevitably culminated in socialism.

Though the concept of the Ideal State was developed by Plato in his treatise on the Republic, it was left to great pragmatic temperaments (and not philosopher-kings as conceptualized by Plato) to initiate the attempt of consolidating the psyche of the peoples to be collectively ready for a political and cultural homogeneity. Alfred the Great, who ruled Wessex from AD 871 to 891 was not only a military commander but a wise lawgiver and an educationist promoting literacy and advocating the use of English, thus consolidating the psyche of the people to be ready for acknowledging cohesive governance. He was preceded by Charlemagne who conquered almost all of mainland Europe during a rule spanning from AD 768 to 814 and succeeded to consolidate a common identity in the psyche of the people from the south of Spain to the East of Germany. His important move was to abandon the gold standard and bringing Europe on the same silver currency, facilitating trade. He enacted common laws, uplifted the masses and advocated education throughout his kingdom thus consolidating a commonality that would later be the precursor of the State-Idea. Sri Aurobindo notes that unknowingly, the likes of Alfreds and Charlemagnes initiated the seeds that would much later turn into a pragmatic State-Idea, "for men work almost always without knowing for what they have worked". (Ibid)

It is interesting that Sri Aurobindo mentions the Alfreds and Charlemagnes as unknowing practical forerunners of the State-Idea without referring to the ideal State of Plato formulated in a much earlier era. Intellectual stalwarts like Aristotle and Karl Popper had criticized Plato's concept. Karl Popper even ventured to suggest that the idea of philosopher-king was implicit in the rise of fascism in the 20th century. (Kumar, Anup: International Journal for Excogitation Education and Research, Vol.1, No.1, 2017)

The question that is relevant in the modern era is whether a mechanical unification as envisaged in the principle of the State can be projected to be a base for world-unification. Sri Aurobindo attempts to understand in this chapter if a "strict unification, a vast uniformity, a regulated socialisation of united mankind" can be the "predestined fruit" of the labour directed towards building a World-State. (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg.506)


World-State - Merits and Demerits

What would be the advantages and disadvantages of a unified World-State -a single nation of mankind? Sri Aurobindo muses that the results would be "the same in essence" (Ibid, pg. 507) as observed in the ancient Roman Empire after considering the allowances of the time-gap. He lists the credit side:

(a) "we should have first one enormous gain, the assured peace of the world" (Ibid). There would be internal conflicts but not civil strife of the magnitude to disrupt the "settled fabric of civilization".(Ibid)

(b) "unparalleled development of ease and well-being. A great number of outstanding problems would be solved by the united intelligence of mankind". (Ibid)

(c) "The vital life of the race would settle down into an assured rational order".(Ibid)

(d) "Science would organise itself for the betterment of human life and the increase of knowledge and mechanical efficiency".(Ibid)

(e) "there would be a great cultural and intellectual efflorescence. ..The various cultures of the world -those that still exist as separate realities-would not only exchange ideas more intimately, but would throw their gains into one common fund, and new motives and forms would arise for a time in thought and literature and Art".(Ibid)

(f) "Men would meet each other much more closely and completely than before, develop a greater mutual understanding rid of many accidental motives of strife, hatred and repugnance which now exist, and arrive, if not at brotherhood, -- which cannot come by mere political, social and cultural union, -- yet at some imitation of it, a sufficiently kindly association and interchange".

In short there would be an unprecedented splendour and ease of life which would be hopefully eulogized in some international language like Esperanto! (Ibid, pg.507-508)

However, Sri Aurobindo also notes that such a happy state of affairs could also end in the same way as the ancient Roman Empire had collapsed in the weight of its own contradictions. "But after a time, there would be a dying down of force, a static condition of the human mind and human life, then stagnation, decay, disintegration. The soul of man would begin to wither in the midst of his acquisitions". (Ibid. pg.508)

The Alternative -Free Association

Instead of a single nation of mankind or a World-State there can be a global alternative in the form of

(a) "a single human people with free association of its nation-units"(Ibid, pg.506);

(b) "Or, it may be, the nation as we know it might disappear, but there would be some other new kind of group-units, assured by some sufficient machinery of international order in the peaceful and natural functioning of their social, economic and cultural relations".(Ibid)

Sri Aurobindo derives this idea from the great Asiatic experience which were organised more in terms of "peoples" than the European idea of Nation-States. "The races of Asia, even the most organised, have always been peoples rather than nations in the modern sense. Or they were nations only in the sense of having a common soul-life, a common culture, a common social organisation, a common political head, but not nation-States. The State machine existed only for a restricted and superficial action; the real life of the people was determined by other powers with which it could not meddle. Its principal function was to preserve and protect the national culture and to maintain sufficient political, social and administrative order - as far as possible an immutable order for the real life of the people to function undisturbed in its own way and according to its own innate tendencies. Some such unity for the human race is possible in the place of an organised World-State, if the nations of mankind succeed in preserving their developed instinct of nationalism intact and strong enough to resist the domination of the State idea". (Ibid)


From The Tyranny of the Majority to the Tyranny of the Whole

Sri Aurobindo muses if a World-State could be formed in the style of a free democratic State, and "not a liberty -stifling empire or autocracy...because liberty and progress are the very principle of modern life and no development would be tolerated which went contrary to that principle ".(Ibid, pg. 508) However he expresses doubt as to democracy as we understand it, can really offer security so that liberty and progress can go on unhampered. While it is true that democracy has saved the masses from the very crude type of despotic suppressions associated with the older aristocratic and monarchical systems, it is also true that the modern democracy can elect a ruling coterie of mediocre mind-set, not necessarily representing the best brains of the nation but the ones more capable of manipulation resulting in an uniquely "organized annihilation of individual liberty as could not have been dreamed of" (Ibid) in the earlier monarchies. Sri Aurobindo observes that the modern mind-set uses the cloak of democracy to design more ingenious ways of oppression of liberty, "which is more respectable in appearance, more subtle and systematised, more mild in its method because it has a greater force at its back, but for that very reason more effective and pervading".(Ibid) This trend in fact constitutes the tyranny of the majority.

The phrase "tyranny of the majority" was used by John Adams in 1788, by Edmund Burke in 1790 in his treatise "Reflections on the Revolution in France" and by John Stuart Mill in his 1859 classic, "On Liberty". Though originally the phrase indicated that the majority of the electorate could trample the rights of the minority groups, in modern parlance, it has to be acknowledged that the smallest minority on earth is the individual as individual rights are not subject to a public vote! (Ayn Rand, 1961: Collectivized Rights)

Sri Aurobindo himself was so sensitive to this issue that he referred to the Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen's 1882 play, "An Enemy of the People" to illustrate how certain progressive individuals resent the deadening effects of the tyranny of the majority. In the play, an upright idealist who had wanted to warn the masses about the contamination of town health baths had his voice stifled by a nexus of politicians and businessmen who included his own brother, The Mayor of the town as well as his own father-in-law whose tannery was the main source of contamination. The nexus succeeded in proving to the masses that the idealist was their real enemy! Sri Aurobindo while referring to this drama in 1917 warned that the future could magnify this tyranny to extend from the tyranny of the majority to the "tyranny of the whole" which meant the tyranny "of the self-hypnotised mass over its constituent groups and units". (Ibid, pg.509) In 1949-50, he commented that this trend which he had speculatively pre-visioned earlier was initially discernible in Fascist Italy and Soviet Russia and had subsequently grown in proportion (Ibid, footnote, pg.509).

A World -State had therefore this danger that if it was based solely on democracy as is conventionally known, the tyranny of the majority could turn out to become a tyranny of the whole!


Democracy: The Idiot and the Non-Conformist

The concept of individual freedom has been at the centre of all democratic movements, modern and ancient. Sri Aurobindo enumerates two seminal ideas with which the Greeks had associated democracy:

(a) "first, an effective and personal share by each citizen in the actual government, legislation, administration of the community" ,

(b) "secondly, a great freedom of individual temperament and action". ( Ibid, pg.509)

In fact, the degree of freedom vested with the individual in Athenian democracy was so eulogized that the subject who shied away from that freedom was considered to represent the idiotes - a contemptuous forerunner of the modern term idiot.

Can that personal share and individual freedom flourish in modern democracies? Sri Aurobindo has his doubts but he admits a certain tendency in that direction was discernible in the USA at one time.

The concept of personal share is present but are shares of all individuals equal in status? Sri Aurobindo describes that this concept is "illusory for the individual although effective in the mass - in the periodical choice of his legislators and administrators". [How true! This scribe remembers how a schizophrenic patient with both legs amputated told his doctor not to be contemptuous to him as both himself and the doctor had one vote each and were therefore equal in status!]

More important is the fact that the elected legislators do not necessarily represent the genuine needs, aspirations and the rights of their electors. Once the legislators are elected, they comprise the State, an impersonal, formless and bodiless entity which has become hugely monstrous in modern times. The hapless individual cannot relate to this impersonal entity and "is much more helpless than he was against old oppressions". (Ibid) He becomes the modern version of the idiot in democracy - the Athenian idiot shied away from political freedom, the modern idiot is deprived of political freedom though basking in the illusory privilege of having the right to vote!

What happens to the non-conformist? Sri Aurobindo comments that when the individual voice is gagged completely and individual choice is sacrificed on the plea of uniformity, one lapses into an "impotent anarchism" (impotent because it is difficult to erect a stateless machinery against the modern State which in many respects is more powerful than the Empire of yesteryears). Or else one retreats into the freedom of the soul or the freedom of the intellectual being. (Ibid) Thus in Edwardian Britain which witnessed a spur of activities by the non-conformists around 1903, the gap between eulogized ideals and the political practicalities was too much to be borne. As a result, the non-conformists became so disillusioned with political activity that they withdrew from it. Even then the intellectual elitism of the non-conformists was so strong that it ensured the survival of a strong liberal press in North-East England for the next fifty years (Gliddon, Paul: Politics for Better or Worse: Political Nonconformity, the Gambling Dilemma and the North of England Newspaper Company, 1903-1914[16th December 2002], https:/

Another example of the non-conformist withdrawing from active political activities to the zone of intellectual freedom is that of Manabendra Nath Roy (1887-1954), one of the first generations of the Indian communists. After being expelled from the Communist Party he drifted from Marxism to a poise of liberalism (Radical Humanism) and even commented that "Marx went too far" (Bottomore, Tom et al: A Dictionary of Marxist Thought, 2nd Ed, Worldview Publications, India,2000).

The question is how would a World-State deal with the illusory share of the citizen in the State for responsibility ceases with the casting of the vote or with the non-conformist whose withdrawal from political interests would deprive the State of a meaningful participant!


Freedom of Thought and Speech

A full freedom of thought and speech is the hallmark of modern democracy and a World-State has to take it into its account. A freedom of thought and speech coupled with universal education is a safeguard against stagnation of the society (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg.510).

A freedom of thought alone cannot suffice unless accompanied by a freedom of speech while both freedom of thought and speech are ineffective without a freedom of association. As Sri Aurobindo had voiced his opinion in his famous speech on 27th June, 1909, eight years before he wrote this chapter:

"The right of free speech ensures to the people the power which is the greatest means for self-development, and that is the power of spreading the idea. According to our philosophy, it is the idea which is building up the world. It is the idea which expresses itself in matter and takes to itself bodies. This is true also in the life of humanity; it is true in politics, in the progress and life of a nation. It is the idea which shapes material institutions. It is the idea which builds up and destroys administrations and Governments. Therefore the idea is a mighty force.....

"the idea of free speech is cherished because it gives the idea free movement, it gives the nation that power which ensures its free development...It is enough that the idea is there and that the idea lives and circulates.

"Then comes the right of association...Given the common aspiration, common idea, common enthusiasm and common wish to act, it gives the instrument which binds men to strive towards the common object by common and associated actions; the bonds of brotherhood grow, energy increases, the idea begins to materialize itself to work in practical affairs and that which was yesterday merely an idea, merely a word thrown out by the eloquence of the orator, becomes a question of practical politics."

It is of course a great question whether these fundamental liberties can be won by the human race with entire security. The world has witnessed how they were suppressed in Communist Russia and Fascist Germany and how they still continue to suffer in the 21st century in many parts of the world.

Sri Aurobindo however notes that the State would ideally resort to attack the liberty of free thought as a last resort after it failed to regulate individual life in accordance with the community's mind-set by controlling education, culture religious liberty and the freedom of cult. It would then attempt to curb freedom of thought on the plea of danger to the State and civilization (The Ideal of Human Unity, pg.510-511).

Freedom of thought in a World-State

In a World-State, a freedom of thought could extend from a mere criticism of the details to a fundamental reappraisal of the very principles of its foundation. Sri Aurobindo opines that pushed to its extreme, this would lead to two types of outcome:

(a) A spiritual anarchism of Tolstoyan kind or

(b) Intellectual anarchism (Ibid, pg.511)

Anarchism would harp the free development of the individual as a gospel and denounce government as an evil that was no longer necessary. "It would affirm the full and free religious, ethical, intellectual and temperamental growth of the individual from within as the true ideal of human life and all else as things not worth having at the price of the renunciation of this ideal, a renunciation which it would describe as the loss of his soul. It would preach as the ideal of society a free association or brotherhood of individuals without government or any kind of compulsion".(Ibid)

Would the World-State tolerate a highly critical free thought? If it felt that its foundations would be thwarted by free thought, it would attempt a regulation of all things in consonance with collective norms of the community. Unfortunately this would lead to a symmetrical stagnation of the society. Progress does not depend on the collective mind-set which is always conservative and static and "moves slowly in the tardy process of subconscient Nature". (Ibid, pg.512).

Progress depends upon the creative free thinker whose idea can uplift the masses. "The free individual is the conscious progressive: it is only when he is able to impart his own creative and mobile consciousness to the mass that a progressive society becomes possible". (Ibid)


Date of Update: 25-Sep-23

- By Dr. Soumitra Basu