The Socialist Idea for Organising the State to Try to Address Inequality

The watchwords of the French Revolution, “liberty”, “equality” and “fraternity” are being systematically explored since the late 18th century.  As Sri Aurobindo notes, the development of individual rights of liberty, freeing members of society from the control of an aristocratic elite who managed the lives of all, was the key focus through much of the 19th century.  With the advent of the 20th century, the concept of equality came to the fore, and various options were reviewed to try to bring about equality for people in terms of access to the resources and opportunities of society.  This brought forward the concept of socialism, and the development of communism.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “This is the ideal of the perfectly organised State.  Fundamentally, the ideal of the perfectly organised State is socialistic and it is based on the second word of the great revolutionary formula, equality, just as the movement of the nineteenth century centered round the first, liberty.  The first impulse given by the great European upheaval attained only to a certain kind of political equality.  An incomplete social levelling still left untouched the one inequality and the one form of political preponderance which no competitive society can eliminate, the preponderance of the haves over the have-nots, the inequality between the more successful in the struggle of life and the less successful which is rendered inevitable by difference of capacity, unequal opportunity and the handicap of circumstance and environment.  Socialism seeks to get rid of this persistent inequality by destroying the competitive form of society and substituting the cooperative.”

Since the scale of human society and population is far beyond the reach of the simple commune approach tried in small groupings in the past, the idea of the “rigorously organised national State” arose as a method of trying to achieve this goal.  “To eliminate poverty, not by the crude idea of equal distribution but by the holding of all property in common and its management through the organised State, to equalise opportunity and capacity as far as possible through universal education and training, again by means of the organised State, is the fundamental idea of modern Socialism.  It implies an abrogation or at least a rigorous diminution of all individual liberty.  Democratic Socialism still clings indeed to the nineteenth-century ideal of political freedom; it insists on the equal right of all in the State to choose, judge and change their own governors, but all other liberty it is ready to sacrifice to its own central idea.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part I, Chapter 10, The United States of Europe, pp. 75-76