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

Readings in Chapter XXXIII

Internationalism and Human Unity


From nationalism to internationalism

Normally one does not find any inhibition to identify with one's family or with one's nation, rather one does it spontaneously. However the idea of internationalism does not seem to arouse a similar sentiment for the idea of humanity or universal human unity has still not become "a central motive and a fixed part of our nature"(The Ideal of Human Unity, pg.554) even after Sri Aurobindo wrote these words in 1918.

It was easier for the family idea to become a psychological motive and need as it arose organically out of primary "vital necessities and instincts". (Ibid) The identification with the clan and tribe rose from the vital necessity in human nature for aggregation. After all, natural aggregations were evolutionary forms of group behavior that could be traced to an atavistic past as even primates lived in social groups.

The nation idea did not arise organically, it was grafted as a secondary or tertiary necessity from a circumstantial situation or environmental evolution and arose not from a vital but a geographical and historical necessity. At times it was created by the force of circumstances and at times by a more direct physical force when the king or dominant tribe created military and dominant State. Paradoxically, the nation-idea could also develop as a reaction to domination and conquest even by foreign power as in India where the masses who were geographically, historically and even culturally one, lacked the power of cohesion and remained too conscious of an original heterogeneity. "But still the necessity was there and the nation form after and after many failures and false successes got into being, and the psychological motive of patriotism, a sign of the growth of a conscious national ego, arose in the form as the expression of its soul and the guarantee of its durability". (Ibid, pg.555) The ancient empires could not afford such durability that arose from a conscious soul and thus failed to create nations. At best they could create small scale regional nations of brief duration or loose structure or created artificial empires which eventually disintegrated.

However, there seems no compelling necessity to consolidate any form of international unity that needs an identification with humanity as a whole; such an identification still lacks the fervor of patriotism with which the ordinary person is concerned if his primary vital necessities of life and instinctual needs are satisfied. It is only the idealists and thinkers who are concerned with universal humanity and internationalism; such people are always in a minority, albeit an "ineffectual minority" for the vital man can make a "pitiful parody" of a high ideal. (Ibid)

Is there any compelling geographical necessity of developing an international unification? In 1918, it was expected that Science could magically lessen physical distances but that would not concomitantly guarantee a lessening of psychological barriers. Even in the post-World War I period, it was appreciated that an evolution of international relations would be the initial step so that at least the constant dangers of war could be avoided. Thus, even if the psychological reality of human unity could not be immediately created, some tentative framework for international co-operation could be advanced based on economic, political and mechanical needs.

A hidden Idea

However, behind the externalities of nature, there is always an internal necessity, a subconscient power, a blind will, a mute idea which seems to have a premonition of some future necessity and this itself creates conditions for something new, even constructs a form that would manifest the idea. This is true biologically otherwise we would not have discovered gadgets to increase mortality. Sri Aurobindo points out that this is not only true biologically but also, "in a more subtle and variable way, psychologically true". (Ibid, pg.557)

The human being has not only the urge to develop individually but "is also driven by the Idea or Truth within him to unify with others of his species, to join himself to them or agglutinate them to him, to create human groups, aggregates and collectivities". (Ibid) This urge will not stop till the largest possible aggregate that reflects a global unity is reached or created. Man has never remained satisfied till he can climb to the peak of any endeavor. If he could climb mountains, he had to climb the highest peak. If he could build airplanes, he had to build spaceships too. "And if there is an aggregate or collectivity which is possible for him to realize but is not yet realized, we may be sure that that too in the end he will create". (Ibid) Therefore what today is Utopian may be eventually irresistible despite the hurdles of resistances and failures.

This will in Nature should be allowed to act out which might be executed by force of circumstances or even if needed by physical force since Nature can use any necessary machinery. Even the outer form or body might be created first so that the soul can grow in the body. And we need not be disheartened if at first there is an artificial formation without any viable psychological reality. "For the nation too was at first more or less artificially formed out of incoherent elements actually brought together by the necessity of a subconscient idea, though apparently it was done only by physical force and the force of circumstances. As a national ego formed which identified itself with the geographical body of the nation and developed in it the psychological instinct of national unity and the need of its satisfaction, so a collective human ego will develop in the international body and will evolve in it the psychological instinct of human unity and the need of its satisfaction." (Ibid, pg.558)



How would the world move towards internationalism? Writing in May, 1918 in the aftermath of World War I, Sri Aurobindo muses several possibilities:

(a) The old means of reunification by a single great Power as was the character of the ancient Roman Empire did not seem to be feasible in the modern context. Yet if war and diplomacy continued to be decisive factors in international politics in the future as in the past, the resurgence of a great imperial Power could not be ruled out. This was because if the urge in Nature towards World Union persisted, it would find means to express itself and seize to an odd option if other options were denied. (Ibid, pg.558)

(b) There would also arise the possibility of the whole earth or at least the three continents of the eastern hemisphere to be dominated by three or four imperialist regimes though they would face resistance from the principle of self-determination which would have to be accommodated.(Ibid, pg.558-559)

(c )The revived force of nationalism would seek international unity through a world body like the League of Nations. However, even in May, 1918, Sri Aurobindo was quite skeptical of such a move and had commented: "Practically, however, the League of Nations under present conditions or any likely to be immediately realized would still mean the control of the earth by a few great Powers --a control that would be checked only by the necessity of conciliating the sympathy and support of the more numerous smaller or less powerful nations. On the force and influence these few would rest practically, if not admittedly, the decision of all important debatable questions. And without it there could be no chance of enforcing the decisions of the majority against any recalcitrant great Power or combination of Powers. The growth of democratic institutions would perhaps help to minimize the chances of conflict and of the abuse of power, -- though that is not at all certain; but it would not alter this real character of the combination". (Ibid, pg.559)The League of Nations was established on 10 January 1920 and subsequently failed on predictable lines as noted by Sri Aurobindo, because even though it was a good idea, it could not be executed properly.

(d) Sri Aurobindo also considered the important option forwarded by the socialist political theory that favoured a polity that would unite working class people of all countries across national boundaries, a move that itself would foster internationalism. Sri Aurobindo appreciated the possibility of "the emergence of a powerful political party in all the advanced countries of the world pledged to internationalism, conscious of its necessity as a first condition for their other aims and more and more determined to give it precedence and to unite internationally to bring it about". (Ibid) He continued "That combination of the intellectuals with Labour which created the Socialist parties in Germany, Russia and Austria, formed anew recently the Labour party in England and has had its counterparts in most other European countries, seems to be travelling in that direction. This world-wide movement which made internationalism and Labour rule its two main principles, had already created the Russian revolution and seemed ready to bring about another great socialistic revolution in central Europe. It was conceivable that this party might everywhere draw together. By a chain of revolutions such as took place in the nineteenth century and of less violent but still rapid evolutions brought about by the pressure of their example, or even by simply growing into the majority in each country, the party might control Europe. It might create counterparts of itself in all the American republics and in Asiatic countries. It might by using the machinery of the League of Nations or, where necessary, by physical force or economic or other pressure persuade or compel all the nations into some more stringent system of international unification. A World-State or else a closed confederation of democratic peoples might be created with a common governing body for the decision of principles and for all generally important affairs or at least for all properly international affairs and problems; a common law of the nations might grow up and international courts to administer it and some kind of system of international police control to maintain and enforce it. In this way, by the general victory of an idea, Socialist or other, seeking to organize humanity according to its own model or by any other yet unforeseen way, a sufficient formal unity might come into existence." (Ibid, pg.559-560)

It is true that Lenin and the Bolsheviks hoped that the Russian Revolution of 1917 would lead to an international socialist revolution. Unfortunately, the internationalism of the Lenin era lost much of its importance under Stalin at the hands of national egoism and big power hegemony. Nevertheless, a hundred years after Sri Aurobindo penned these lines, in the background of a fading US-led order and a growing mistrust of China over its statistical records and a dubious role in the initiation of the Covid-19 pandemic coupled with key Western countries succumbing to the pandemic despite standard health care systems, a pragmatic version of liberal internationalism is expected to gain importance.

As Sri Aurobindo envisaged in 1918, Article 14 of the Covenant of the League of Nations facilitated the setting up of the Permanent Court of international Justice that functioned between 1922 and 1940. It was later formally dissolved in 1946 and replaced by the International Court of justice as the principal judicial organ of the United Nations.


Psychological hurdles

Any means of uniting the world which would actually mean dealing with the greatest heterogeneous conglomeration that can ever be conceived would bound to be formal. It would be naive to believe that the whole world could at one go be psychologically charged with the passion of unity. A formal unity would imply a mechanical, administrative, political and economic union but that would not guarantee a viable psychological unity. Sri Aurobindo points out that even the great Empires could not achieve such unity and the mighty Roman Empire had to undergo "the peril of decay and devitalisation which the diminution of the natural elements of free variation and helpful struggle brought with it."(Ibid, pg.560-561).

It can be argued that an ideal world-union would not have to fear external threats and disruptions because they would not exist and this would be conducive to the durability, bolstered by intellectual and political activity and social progress. But what is psychologically true is that any attempt at a stability that favours progress has an equal chance of being countered by "a natural tendency to exhaustion and stagnation which every diminution of variety and even the very satisfaction of social and economic well-being might well hasten". (Ibid, pg.561) Under such circumstances, a paradoxical counter-reaction occurs justifying the adage: "Disruption of unity would then be necessary to restore humanity to life". (Ibid) Sri Aurobindo emphasizes an important psychological point, "But if the idea of unity can appeal to the human mind, so too can the idea of separative life, for both address themselves to vital instincts of his nature". (Ibid) Unless a very dynamic psychological principle makes unity an overriding issue, a world-union shall remain a chimera.

The National ego and the Collective Soul

Any system can have ebbs and tides in the very nature of things and therefore there must be some psychological principle that supports and survives the changes in time. In nations, this principle is provided by the "collective national ego" (Ibid) that persists through the myriad changes. But this national ego is not an immortal divine entity, it is constructed from several parameters: geographical body; common interests of citizens in defense, economic well-being, political liberty; and a common identity in terms of name, sentiment and culture. Sri Aurobindo notes that this national ego is maintained also by two important factors:

(a) The national ego is a result of "the coalescence of the separative instinct and the instinct of unity". (Ibid, pg.562) That is how the nation finds its distinct place among all other nations with whom it can have vital exchanges.

(b) There is a deeper factor, "a sort of religion of humanity" (Ibid) that needs to be cultivated. Sri Aurobindo means by this term not a distinct creedal religion but an unique dimension of consciousness that is needed to construct something greater than the national ego - "the collective soul" (Ibid) which can always be revivified to keep the collectivity alive and which makes it immune to spiritual downfall.

The World-State

If the World-State has to be viable, it must do a balancing act at several levels:

(a) the interests of the individual versus the welfare of the collectivity,

(b) the demands of the national ego and regional self-determination versus the needs of the collective soul of humanity.

From the psychological perspective, an everlasting peace and welfare cannot be guaranteed on the basis of cessation of wars, economic welfare or on the combination of intellectual, cultural, social activity and progress. "Peace and security we all desire at present, because we have them not in sufficiency; but we must remember that man has also within him the need of combat, adventure, struggle, almost requires these for his growth and healthy living; that instinct would be largely suppressed by a universal peace and a flat security and it might rise up successfully against suppression". (Ibid) The risk is that instead of a national ego, we may be confronted with a collective ego that can become a Frankenstein. "Economic well-being by itself cannot permanently satisfy and the price paid for it might be so heavy as to diminish its appeal and value. The human instinct for liberty, individual and national, might well be a constant menace to the World-State, unless it so skilfully arranged its system so as to give them sufficient free play".(Ibid)

A World-State needs an innovative outer framework that must be flexible for constant innovations and growth. But what is more important that it must be sustained by psychological factors:

(a) Firstly, the nationalist's fervor which even if intensely patriotic, remains confined in selective grooves and needs to be surpassed by a religion of humanity - a paradigm of consciousness that is more powerful, self-conscious and universal in appeal ; each man and each people should be an incarnation and soul-form of the soul of humanity (Ibid, pg.563);

(b) Secondly, the individual must not be effaced for the sake of the collectivity; what is needed is a "free play to individual variation, interchange in diversity, and the need of adventure and conquest by which the soul of man lives and grows great, and sufficient means of expressing all the resultant complex life and growth in a flexible and progressive form of human society". (Ibid)


Date of Update: 26-Mar-24

- By Dr. Soumitra Basu