Bigger Societal Institutions for Human Unity Are Not Necessarily Better

The first thought that tends to arise when the question of human unity comes about is that there would be some kind of world government under which all people and countries would be administered, under common laws and controls.  This is the mental extrapolation from local to state, from state to regional, from regional to national and from national to supra-national, or imperial forms that have arisen in the past in one way or another.  We therefore believe that the expansion to a larger aggregation of humanity under a larger governmental form must be the only, and therefore the obvious, way for human unity to proceed.  We thus look at the various imperial dynasties that have arisen over time, and try to see what the implications would be.  We extrapolate from the empire of Alexander the Great, to the Roman Empire, to the Napoleonic empire, the British Empire, and the rise of the Third Reich, as well as the various imperial dynasties of ancient China or India, or the imperial reach of conquerors such as Genghis Khan.   Writers such as Aldous Huxley in his Brave New World, or George Orwell in his 1984 have looked at the issue of a centralised world government (or regional governments) and provided us their dystopian view of such an event.

This historical background, and the future-oriented view of these writers, leads us to ask the question whether “bigger” is necessarily “better”, and thus, whether human unity should even take place under this model.

Sri Aurobindo reminds us:  “It must be remembered that a greater social or political unity is not necessarily a boon in itself; it is only worth pursuing in so far as it provides a means and a framework for a better, richer, more happy and puissant individual and collective life.  But hitherto the experience of mankind has not favoured the view that huge aggregations, closely united and strictly organised, are favourable to a rich and puissant human life.  It would seem rather that collective life is more at ease with itself, more genial, varied, fruitful when it can concentrate itself in small spaces and simpler organisms.”

“If we consider the past of humanity so far as it is known to us, we find that the interesting periods of human life, the scenes in which it has been most richly lived and has left behind it the most precious fruits, were precisely those ages and countries in which humanity was able to organise itself in little independent centres acting intimately upon each other but not fused into a single unity.  Modern Europe owes two-thirds of its civilisation to three such supreme moments of human history, the religious life of the congeries of tribes which called itself Israel and, subsequently, of the little nation of the Jews, the many-sided life of the small Greek city states, the similar, though more restricted artistic and intellectual life of mediaeval Italy.  Nor was any age in Asia so rich in energy, so well worth living in, so productive of the best and most enduring fruits as that heroic period of India when she was divided into small kingdoms, many of them no larger than a modern district.”

There are downsides to larger governmental organisations that include regimentation and bureaucratic growth, top-down rule-making and restriction of freedom and diversity at the individual and local level that have created issues for those larger institutions that we have seen in the past.  This is not to imply that only smaller functional units can be successful, however.  It is essential to look at the issues from all sides to come to a balanced conclusion and positive way forward.

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part I, Chapter 1, The Turn towards Unity: Its Necessity and Dangers, pp. 11-12


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