The model of empire and conquest of the past had the conquering power attempting to enforce its own life-ways and culture on the conquered peoples. This was attempted by European powers in particular during the period between the 18th and 20th centuries. This occurred to a great degree in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, and while the colonization was not always totally successful, pressure was nevertheless brought to bear and European ideas and innovations gained tremendous sway in other parts of the world. However, even in countries that were totally dominated for a century or more by European powers, there developed a renewed awakening and response of resistance to ensure that the underlying cultural, religious and spiritual values were not entirely lost. During the 20th century, we even began to see a new wave, moving in the other direction, to bring the cultural life-energy and spiritual development of the East to the West, a phenomenon that continues even today. We thus see that the bringing together of widely diverse cultures has led to an accommodation whereby parts of each were assimilated by the other to create a new synthesis that is not precisely one or the other in its essence or its totality.
Sri Aurobindo observes: “The East is on the whole, in spite of certain questionings and scruples, willing and, where not wholly willing, forced by circumstances and the general tendency of mankind to accept the really valuable parts of modern European culture, its science, its curiosity, its ideal of universal education and uplift, its abolition of privilege, its broadening, liberalising, democratic tendency, its instinct of freedom and equality, its call for the breaking down of narrow and oppressive forms, for air, space, light. But at a certain point the East refuses to proceed farther and that is precisely in the things which are deepest, most essential to the future of mankind, the things of the soul, the profound things of the mind and temperament. Here again all points not to substitution and conquest, but to mutual understanding and interchange, mutual adaptation and new formation.”
None of these movements is either immediate or comprehensive. There are limitations and weaknesses on all sides that have to be identified, addressed and overcome, and this process involves both forward movement and retrogression to some degree, over a span of time. Sri Aurobindo outlines the broad strokes of these movements which can be identified more clearly by us as we survey the last several centuries of movement both in the West and the East. No one civilisation, no one society, no one way of life has captured the totality of the evolutionary force and the need for development. Each one has identified some key aspect. As humanity learns how to integrate these diverse elements, we shall see a new civilisation arise which can accept the best parts of each, and discard those parts which are dark, retrogressive and which act as impediments to the growth of humanity into its higher capabilities.
Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part I, Chapter 6, Ancient and Modern Methods of Empire, pp. 50-51