Lessons Harvested from Review of the Roman Empire

Sri Aurobindo points out that the practice of Yoga is an accelerated version of what he calls “the Yoga of Nature”, which evolves consciousness to an ever-higher degree through vast periods of Time.  Within the processes of Yoga, there are periods of development and growth, which he terms “ascent”.  There are also periods where seemingly little advancement is taking place, but which in reality are opportunities to consolidate and solidify the gains of the prior ascent.  He calls these periods “integration”.  We can see an analogous process with societal organisation and development as well.  If we recognize the forward movement that accompanied the height of ascendency of the Greek city-states, we can also see that the later rise of the Roman Empire was one of integration and solidification more than upward development.

Sri Aurobindo notes regarding the Roman Empire:  “The advantages are admirable organisation, peace, widespread security, order and material well-being; the disadvantage is that the individual, the city, the region sacrifice their independent life and become mechanical parts of a machine; life loses its colour, richness, variety, freedom and victorious impulse towards creation.  The organisation is great and admirable, but the individual dwindles and is overpowered and overshadowed; and eventually by the smallness and feebleness of the individual the huge organism inevitably and slowly loses even its great conservative vitality and dies of an increasing stagnation.  Even while outwardly whole and untouched, the structure has become rotten and begins to crack and dissolve at the first shock from outside.  Such organisations, such periods are immensely useful for conservation, even as the Roman Empire served to consolidate the gains of the rich centuries that preceded it.  But they arrest life and growth.”

This provides us a clue as to the eventual result of an over-arching single world organisation, as seems to be the drive towards which current organisational trends are tending.  “A tremendous organisation would be needed under which both the individual and regional life would be crushed, dwarfed, deprived of their necessary freedom like a plant without rain and wind and sunlight, and this would mean for humanity, after perhaps one first outburst of satisfied and joyous activity, a long period of mere conservation, increasing stagnancy and ultimate decay.”  This is the key trend we find in the dystopian analyses of Orwell and Huxley.  We actually see, as a result of the more complex and immediate relationships that all people and countries now experience with one another, a rise of fear and a conservative reaction of drawing back and trying to minimize differences and uniqueness among individuals–with the trend towards more uniformity of thought, word and deed as the price to be paid for more security and safety in society.

“Yet the unity of mankind is evidently a part of Nature’s eventual scheme and must come about.  Only it must be under other conditions and with safeguards which will keep the race intact int he roots of its vitality, richly diverse in its oneness.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part I, Chapter 1, The Turn towards Unity: Its Necessity and Dangers, pp. 13-14