The Incipient Beginning of the State Developing an Intellectual and Moral Being

We can distinguish between the way one societal organisation, or State, relates to other states, from the way the State relates internally to its citizens.  To some degree, the external relations impact the internal, as fear, tension or military concerns externally will always tend to bring about more demands by the State on its citizens and thereby more control and regimentation.  The external relations, however, may assume a more or less peaceful aspect, particularly when States, either through their own strength or through strength of alliances, are able to balance opposing states to the degree that neither party is prepared to undertake aggressive action to try to control or subjugate the other.  During such periods, we may see a lessening of the internal controls, and even observe steps to support and raise up the quality of life of the citizenry.  There have been times and periods, particularly in recent years, where the State exhibited more concern for the welfare of its citizens, and in these times we see an emphasis on things such as universal health care, elder care, education, and development of standards of living that enhance the individuals living in the society.  We may also see, however, periods where the internal controls, even in times of relative peace, are enhanced, laws and regulations are promulgated, and police action and enforcement increases.  Such periods tend to bring about less individual initiative and freedom of action, and lead eventually to the decline of society through a form of stagnation; while conversely, in those periods where the individuals have more freedom and opportunity, there will be greater forward movement and progress on a number of fronts.  In more modern times, we note the increase of attention on creating internal relations with its citizens which support the individual, thus the rise of labor laws, outlawing of child labor, concern for clean air and water, safe food, as well as education, and safety net provisions placed to help people who are otherwise more vulnerable, while concurrently taking this more active role to more extreme efforts to regiment and control.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “The State now feels the necessity of justifying its existence by organising the general economic and animal well-being of the community and even of all individuals.  It is beginning to see the necessity of assuring the intellectual and, indirectly, the moral development of the whole community.  This attempt of the State to grow into an intellectual and moral being is one of the most interesting phenomena of modern civilisation.  Even the necessity of intellectualising and moralising it in its external relations has been enforced upon the conscience of mankind by the European catastrophe.”

There is a risk, which we can see growing, that as the State tries more and more to protect, and support its citizens, it will try to regiment and organise ever-greater aspects of the life of the community and its individuals, under the pretext of securing internal peace and tranquility.  This danger however, leads to the suppression of individual growth and eventually, to stagnation.

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part I, Chapter 4, The Inadequacy of the State Idea, pp. 29-30