The True Role of the State in Individual and Collective Development

There are two major camps when it comes to political philosophy for humanity.  One camp focuses on the rights and needs of the individual and tries to eliminate or minimize the role of a central government, or “state”, in ordering the affairs of the individuals.  This camp does not recognize the needs of the collectivity or the requirements of the environment within which all humanity lives, in its strident attempt to liberate the individual from any constraints.  The second camp focuses on the needs of the community and seeks to order and control the individuals in order to establish a basic harmony and cooperative action around a central principle of shared resources and shared responsibilities.  Of course, there is no “pure” form of either of these forms of political organisation, so the actual examples we see of societies tipped in one direction or another are not indicative of the ideal held out by those who adhere to one side or the other of this debate.

Sri Aurobindo recognizes that each side has certain underlying truths of life that should be taken into account, but that the real issue revolves around finding the balance and harmony between these apparently conflicting objectives.

Sri Aurobindo summarizes the role of the State:  “The business of the State, so long as it continues to be a necessary element in human life and growth, is to provide all possible facilities for cooperative action, to remove obstacles, to prevent all really harmful waste and friction,– a certain amount of waste and friction is necessary and useful to all natural action,– and, removing avoidable injustice, to secure for every individual a just and equal chance of self-development and satisfaction to the extent of his powers and in the line of his nature.”

“But all unnecessary interference with the freedom of man’s growth is or can be harmful.  Even cooperative action is injurious if, instead of seeking the good of all compatibly with the necessities of individual growth,– and without individual growth there can be no real and permanent good of all,– it immolates the individual to a communal egoism and prevents so much free room and initiative as is necessary for a flowering of a more perfectly developed humanity.”

Sri Aurobindo sees the development of humanity and human growth as progressive, dynamic rather than static.  Any centralized control of the individual by the State represents an attempt to create a static social order and thus, limits growth and progress.  “Always it is the individual who progresses and compels the rest to progress; the instinct of the collectivity is to stand still in its established order.  Progress, growth, realisation of wider being give his greatest sense of happiness to the individual; status, secure ease to the collectivity.  And so it must be as long as the latter is more a physical and economic entity than a self-conscious collective soul.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part I, Chapter 4, The Inadequacy of the State Idea, pp. 31-32

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