It is easy to recognise that despotic or repressive government regimes impact the development of the individual and take control of the individual as solely an asset of the State, to be disposed of as the State best decides. It is much more difficult to recognise that democratic societies also work, overtly and also subtly, to control and restrain the individual. Philosophers and political scientists have devoted a lot of thought to the idea that there is some ideal form of societal organisation for humanity, starting with Plato’s Republic in the West, and going back far earlier in India with the development of the concept of Dharma to govern the ideal roles of each aspect and member of society. More recently, the framers of the United States constitution and the founding of the United States was an exercise which looked back upon past successes and failures of societal organisation and tried to use the lessons of the past to frame “a more perfect union.” What the founders of the United States rightly recognised, was that there is a vast difference between the “ideal” and the “practical” and this difference is defined to a great degree by the fact that the governing of the State, regardless of which specific form it takes, is done by individuals who have their own preconceived ideas, habits, customs, desires, and relationships, and all of these things tend to color the actions that take place and bring about imbalances that set up inequality among the members of the society, entrench those inequalities, and regulate the actions of all to fit within certain norms or frameworks conceived as the necessary basis for the social contract that has been developed.
“Theoretically, it is the collective wisdom and force of the community made available and organised for the general good. Practically, what controls the engine and drives the train is so much of the intellect and power available in the community as the particular machinery of State organisation will allow to come to the surface; but it is also caught in the machinery and hampered by it and hampered as well by the large amount of folly and selfish weakness that comes up in the emergence. Doubtless, this is the best that can be done under the circumstances, and Nature, as always, utilises it for the best. But things would be much worse if there were not a field left for a less trammelled individual effort doing what the State cannot do, deploying and using the sincerity, energy, idealism of the best individuals to attempt that which the State has not the wisdom or courage to attempt, getting that done which a collective conservatism and imbecility would either leave undone or actively suppress and oppose. It is this energy of the individual which is the really effective agent of collective progress. The State sometimes comes in to aid it and then, if its aid does not mean undue control, it serves a positively useful end. As often it stands in the way and then serves either as a brake upon progress or supplies the necessary amount of organised opposition and friction always needed to give greater energy and a more complete shape to the new thing which is in process of formation.”
Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part I, Chapter 4, The Inadequacy of the State Idea, pp. 27-28