Historical Examples and Differing Results in the Development of the Nation-Unit

One can see substantial similarities between the social organisation of feudal Europe and that of medieval India.  In each case there were essentially four strata of societal function and a hierarchical management of society.  With respect to the eventual development of a nation-state, however, the results were different.  Sri Aurobindo explains a major difference was that feudal Europe developed with the supremacy of the political or ruling class into a secular society, with its aims and focuses on managing the needs and organisation of the members of that secular society, while in India the religious leadership moved to the fore and focused, not on the type of secular aims which would give rise to a strong, central government and organisation of society, but on their spiritual and religious goals.  Thus, Europe was able to develop the secular nation-state, while India remained divided into numerous kingdoms and provinces and was unable to unify into a cohesive whole.  A similar dynamic with strong central management and rule led to the unification seen in China and Japan, as in Europe.

Sri Aurobindo elaborates:  “The different result in India, apart from other causes, was due to the different evolution of the social order.  Elsewhere that evolution turned in the direction of a secular organisation and headship; it created with the nation itself a clear political self-consciousness and, as a consequence, either the subordination of the sacerdotal class to the military and administrative or else their equality or even their fusion under a common spiritual and secular head.  In mediaeval India, on the contrary, it turned towards the social dominance of the sacerdotal class and the substitution of a common spiritual for a common political consciousness as the basis of the national feeling.  No lasting secular centre was evolved, no great imperial or kingly head which by its prestige, power, antiquity and claim to general reverence and obedience could over-balance or even merely balance this sacerdotal prestige and predominance and create a sense of political as well as spiritual and cultural oneness.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part One, Chapter 13, The Formation of the Nation-Unit — The Three Stages, pp. 105-106

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