The Challenge of Transferring Psychological Unity from the Nation to the Empire

It is the natural conservative tendency of the human mind to try to extrapolate from past success as a model for future development.  Thus, the idea of the nation as a physical and psychological unity consisting of what were formerly numerous tribes, clans, districts, states and cities has led to the idea that an empire can be developed in a more or less similar manner.  Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The first natural idea of the human mind in facing such a problem is to favour the idea which most flatters and seems to continue its familiar notions.  For the human mind is, in the mass, averse to a radical change of conception.  It accepts change most easily when its erality is veiled by the continuation of a habitual form of things or else by a ceremonial, legal, intellectual or sentimental fiction.  It is such a fiction that some think to create as a bridge from the nation-idea to the empire-idea of political unity.”

Such a change would involve the citizenry transferring their allegiance, loyalty and sense of oneness from the national to the imperial unit, thereby creating a new, larger psychological unity.    “that which units men most securely now is the physical unity of a common country to live in and defend, a common economic life dependent on that geographical oneness and the sentiment of the motherland which grows up around the physical and economic fact and either creates a political and administrative unity or keeps it to a secure permanence once it has been created.”

The attempt to extend the psychological unity to a heterogeneous empire is illustrated by the relation between France and its colonies during colonial times.  The French, while physically subduing the colonies, tried to create a sense of France as the motherland, with the values and rights associated with membership in the empire flowing from the mother country and its values.  “A variation of this idea is the French notion of the mother country, France; all the other possessions of the empire, although in English phraseology they would rather be classed as dependencies in spite of the large share of political rights conceded to them, are to be regarded as colonies of the mother country, grouped together in idea as France beyond the seas and educated to centre their national sentiments around the greatness, glory and lovableness of France the common mother.”  This attempt, however, eventually failed and resulted in numerous self-standing independent nations arising after the 2nd World War broke the power of France to hold such a far-flung and heterogeneous empire together.


Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part I, Chapter 7, The Creation of the Heterogeneous Nation, pp. 53-54