Three Stages in the European Cycle of Nation Building

The development of the ancient empires, which subordinated the smaller clans, villages and city-states that preceded them, had some inherent weaknesses which led to their eventual dissolution.  After the fall of the Roman Empire, the drive towards larger groupings of humanity did not cease, but rather took a new turn in Europe which proceeded by three successive stages and which worked to solidify the progress without destroying the underlying vitality of the constituent parts.

Sri Aurobindo describes this process:  “The first stage progressed through a long balancing of centripetal and centrifugal tendencies in which the feudal system provided a principle of order and of a loose but still organic unity.  The second was a movement of unification and increasing uniformity in which certain features of the ancient imperial system of Rome were repeated, but with a less crushing force and exhausting tendency.  It was marked first by the creation of a metropolitan centre which began to draw to it, like Rome, the best life-energies of all the other parts.  A second feature was the growth of an absolute sovereign authority whose function was to impose a legal, administrative, political and linguistic uniformity and centralisation on the national life.  A third sign of this movement was the establishment of a governing spiritual head and body which served to impose a similar uniformity of religious thought and intellectual education and opinion.  This unifying pressure too far pursued might have ended disastrously like the Roman but for a third stage of revolt and diffusion which broke or subordinated these instruments, feudalism, monarchy, Church authority as soon as their work had been done and substituted a new movement directed towards the diffusion of the national life through a strong and well-organised political, legal, social and cultural freedom and equality.  Its trend has been to endeavour that as in the ancient city, so in the modern nation, all classes and all individuals should enjoy the benefits and participate in the free energy of the released national existence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part One, Chapter 12, The Ancient Cycle of Prenational Empire-Building–The Modern Cycle of Nation-Building, pp. 101-102

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