Two Observations About Comparative Human Progress Between Smaller and Larger Societal Groupings

If we peruse, generally, the historical development of a vibrant culture, and the progress of intellectual, artistic, scientific, philosophical and spiritual pursuits in civilisation, we can identify times and places where the intensity and result can be clearly differentiated from others.  For Sri Aurobindo, the pattern is obvious.  Large societal groupings, such as huge empires spanning vast areas, have tended to be less fruitful in terms of development than smaller nation states.  A second observation finds that even within these smaller organised groupings, the focus and development tended to take place in a highly concentrated atmosphere as found in an urban environment rather than in the less densely populated rural countryside.

We can see an illustration of a similar dynamic in physics.  Water, when heated in an open pan, simply evaporates with the energy being dispersed and having little effect.  However, if water is heated in a tightly enclosed space, the steam pressure builds up and power of action is generated.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “…it is the groupments of smaller nations which have had the most intense life and not the huge States and colossal empires.  Collective life diffusing itself in too vast spaces seems to lose intensity and productiveness.  Europe has lived in England, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, the small States of Germany– all her later civilisation and progress evolved itself there, not in the huge mass of the Holy Roman or the Russian Empire.”

“…we note that in this organisation of nations and kingdoms those which have had the most vigorous life have gained it by a sort of artificial concentration of the vitality into some head, centre or capital, London, Paris, Rome.  By this device Nature, while acquiring the benefits of a larger organisation and more perfect unity, preserves to some extent that equally precious power of fruitful concentration in a small space and into a closely packed activity which she had possessed in her more primitive system of the city state or petty kingdom.  But this advantage was purchased by the condemnation of the rest of the organisation, the district, the provincial town, the village to a dull, petty and somnolent life in strange contrast with the vital intensity of the urbs or metropolis.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part I, Chapter 1, The Turn towards Unity: Its Necessity and Dangers, pp. 12-13