The False Premise Underlying Society’s Claim to Completely Subordinate the Individual

Regardless of the form of societal organisation, the tension that exists between the concept of the dominance of the society over individual and the inherent needs and rights of each individual remains in place.  A variety of forms, such as kings and dictators, a central politburo or governing elite, or even the control by a democratically elected governing class and their bureaucratic aides, all create the same essential issue for the individual when they arrogate to themselves absolute authority and control, and assert the superior claim of the State over the individual.  On the other side, the theoretical right of the individual to assert his conscientious objection to a specific act he is asked to carry out would seem to provide some relief for him; however, assertion of this theoretical right is blurred by the overpowering force of both social custom and the ruling structure, which can bring to bear pressures that, while potentially not forcing an individual into an undesired action, may otherwise ostracize, imprison, remove opportunity, or eliminate individuals who refuse to go along.  We can see examples of this type of pressure in all societies, regardless of democratic ideals or institutions that allegedly protect the rights of the person from encroachment by the constituted governing body.

Sri Aurobindo observes that regardless of the form of the State, the issue comes down to a basic truth that is nevertheless founded on an ultimate false premise:  “The truth is that each really is the self-expression of the State in its characteristic attempt to subordinate to itself the free will, the free action, the power, dignity and self-assertion of the individuals constituting it.  The falsehood lies in the underlying idea that the State is something greater than the individuals constituting it and can with impunity to itself and to the highest hope of humanity arrogate this oppressive supremacy.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part I, Chapter 3, The Group and the Individual, pp. 23-24