Humanity has long struggled to find the proper balance between the institutions of the government, the rights and proper role of the society, and the role of individual fulfillment. There have been experiments of human social organisation that featured the absolute rights of a small elite who could dispose of the lives and welfare of any members of the society. There have also been social groupings that took a more egalitarian approach, while still placing the needs of the society ahead of those of any individual. There have been experiments that have featured a focus on the fulfillment of the individual as being of primary concern, with the needs of the society placed within the context of how well it met the individual needs. Of course, there have also been numerous intermediate experiments that attempted to balance these offsetting requirements along a continuum. These basic directions are set in the development of the animal world and, over time, they become conscious efforts as humanity becomes more self-aware. Each place on the continuum from absolute control by a centralised state, government or individual, to a balance between the needs of society and those of the individual, to more or less absolute individual liberty, has an underlying rationale and basic principle that needs to be recognised and taken into account in any eventual development of what we may call a perfect societal organisation. Not all past ages have recognized the importance of the individual, and thus, we can see that this concept developed and evolved much more recently in human history. During the 1700’s, in what has been called the “age of enlightenment” that followed the awakening of the Renaissance, the role of the individual came into focus. The American and French Revolutions brought this concept into the formation of new directions of societal organisation. The Declaration of Independence of the United States enunciates the role of the individual in relation to the formation of the government of society: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”
This represents an evolution from earlier formulations where the individual was given worth only to the extent that he could benefit the society and its future, or the needs and desires of the ruling elite of the society of the time.
Sri Aurobindo clarifies the needed balance: “The whole process of Nature depends on a balancing and a constant tendency to harmony between two poles of life, the individual whome the whole or aggregate nourishes and the whole or aggregate which the individual helps to constitute. Human life forms no exception to the rule. Therefore the perfection of human life must involve the elaboration of an as yet unaccomplished harmony between these two poles of our existence, the individual and the social aggregate. The perfect society will be that which most entirely favours the perfection of the individual; the perfection of the individual will be incomplete if it does not help towards the perfect state of the social aggregate to which he belongs and eventually to that of the largest possible human aggregate, the whole of a united humanity.”
Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part I, Chapter 2, The Imperfection of Past Aggregates, pg. 15