The period during which the main text of The Ideal of Human Unity was written, spanning the period of the First World War, from 1915 through 1918, was a time of great and momentous change in the socio-political landscape of the world. As a result, there is discussion, particularly in the earlier chapters, which refers to institutions and events which were superceded along the way and no longer were relevant. It is important therefore to separate the transitory and impermanent details from the deeper principles at work in order to understand the significance of the issues and their probable lines of development and resolution.
There are overarching themes in the movement towards the political and economic unity of humanity, and these themes, identified and described by Sri Aurobindo, remain active even today. The founding of the League of Nations, precursor to today’s United nations, was one of the events that took place in the latter period covered by this text. The potential for collapse of the League of Nations and the reasons for it, were described by Sri Aurobindo as follows: “The two great difficulties which attend the incipience of this first stage of loose world-union will still be, first, the difficulty of bringing into one system the few great Empires remaining, few but immensely increased in power, influence and the extent of their responsibilities, and the greatly increased swarm of free nations which the force of events or the Power guiding them rather than the will of nations and Governments has brought into being, and the approaching struggle between Labour and Capitalism. The former is only a difficulty and embarrassment, though it may become serious if it turns into a conflict between the imperialistic and nationalistic ideas or reproduces in the international scheme the strife of the old oligarchic and democratic tendencies in a new form, a question between control of the world-system by the will and influence of a few powerful imperial States and the free and equal control by all, small nations and great, European and American and Asiatic peoples. The second is a danger which may even lead to disintegration of this first attempt at unification, especially if, as seems to be the tendency, the League undertakes the policing of the world against the forces of extreme revolutionary socialism. On the other hand, the conflict may accelerate, whatever its result, the necessity and actuality of a more close and rigorous system, the incipience at least of the second stage of unification.”
Sri Aurobindo identifies the major underlying themes he expounds, on the advance of humanity to a wider world-union: “…the inevitability of the unification of the life of humanity as a result of those imperative natural forces which lead always to the creation of larger and larger human aggregates, the choice of the principles which may be followed in the process, the need for preserving and bringing to fullness the principle of individual and group freedom within the human unity, and the insufficiency of formal unity without a growth of the religion of humanity which can alone make it a great psychological advance in the spiritual evolution of the race.”
Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Preface, pp. 3-4