The Concept of the Supra-National Homogeneous Empire and Its Limitations

As Nature attempts to break out of the limitation of the nation-state as the largest stable grouping of humanity, we see the rise of the idea of an Empire that is homogeneous by virtue of a common religious, cultural or racial characteristic despite geographically exceeding the natural borders of a single national entity.  This idea has been tested, at least briefly in the attempt by Soviet Russia to control both the Muslim states in asiatic Russia and the Balkans after World War II, as well as attempts to weld together the Muslim world into a cohesive bloc, and the initial phase of the Germanic expansion preceding World War II, to incorporate the various Germanic states or provinces into a larger pan-Germanic union.  Eventually each of these attempts failed, as Sri Aurobindo notes:

“…the actual arrangement of the world would lend itself with difficulty to a remodeling of empire on a racial or cultural basis.  Vast aggregates of this kind would find enclaes in their dominion inhabited by elements wholly heterogeneous to them or mixed.  Quite apart therefore from the resistance and refusal of kindred nations to renounce their cherished nationality and fuse themselves in combinations of this kind, there would be this incompatibility of mixed or heterogeneous factors, recalcitrant to the idea and the culture that sought to absorb them.”

“Thus it does not appear that this tendency towards vast homogeneous aggregates, although it has for some time played an important part in the world’s history and is not exhausted or finally baffled, is ever likely to be the eventual solution; for even if it triumphed, it would have to meet in a greater or less degree the difficulties of the heterogeneous type.  The true problem of empire therefore still remains, how to transform the artificial political unity of a heterogeneous empire, heterogeneous in racial composition, language and culture, into a real and psychological unity.”

We may see this very issue illustrated in the United States of the present day.  Initially begun as a relatively homogeneous union with a common language and background, as conquest and pressure expanded the union westward across the continent, as slavery brought people from a vastly different background, and an influx of immigrants from all over the world came in wave throughout the 19th and 20th century, the homogeneous nature of the United States became much more heterogeneous with a vast array of racial and cultural groupings, religions and an assortment of languages.  Eventually, the differences in culture, background, expectation and access to the levers of power and economic control has led to political polarization and gridlock and clearly a solution to the issues of heterogeneous empire, as now exemplified in the United States of the 21st century, remain unsolved and intractable.  This provides an example of the difficulty of extending the concept of a homogeneous empire to incorporate peoples and cultures that are not aligned precisely with the core of that empire at its foundation.

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part I, Chapter 6, Ancient and Modern Methods of Empire, pp. 43-44