Forced Unification of Humanity Represses Individual and National Liberty and Represents a Step Backwards in Human Progress

Any attempt to develop world unity that uses coercion or force, whether military, economic or political must find a way to organise and manage the wide diversity of nations, ethnicities, religions, and cultural life-ways, as well as the widely varied interests and propensities of the individual members of each societal grouping.  Generally in the past these attempts have found it difficult, if not impossible, to assure a wide-ranging culture of freedom of thought, expression and action while enforcing its own direction, and thus, we can see a direct and inverse relationship between repressive societal development and individual and national freedom.   While it may start with one elite grouping of society trying to impose it on other groups, the eventual result is that everyone winds up losing their basic liberty.

Sri Aurobindo describes the process:  “All these means of unification would proceed practically by the use of force and compulsion and any deliberately planned, prolonged or extended use of restrictive means tends to discourage the respect for the principle of liberty in those who apply the compulsion as well as the fact of liberty in those to whom it is applied.  It favours the growth of the opposite principle of dominating authority whose whole tendency is to introduce rigidity, uniformity, a mechanised and therefore eventually an unprogressive system of life.  This is a psychological relation of cause and effect whose working cannot be avoided except by taking care to found all use of authority on the widest possible basis of free consent.  But by their very nature and origin the regimes of unification thus introduced would be debarred from the free employment of this corrective; for they would have to proceed by compulsion of what might be very largely a reluctant material and the imposing of their will for the elimination of all resisting forces and tendencies.  They would be compelled, to repress, diminish, perhaps even abolish all forms of liberty which their experience found to be used for fostering the spirit of revolt or of resistance; that is to say, all those larger liberties of free action and free self-expression which make up the best, the most vigorous, the most stimulating part of human freedom.  They would be obliged to abolish, first by violence and then by legal suppression and repression, all the elements of what we now call national freedom; in the process individual liberty would be destroyed both in the parts of humanity coerced and, by inevitable reaction and contagion, in the imperial nation or nations.”

It is a somewhat natural tendency based on past habit from its animal beginnings in humanity to try to establish order and control through rigid uniformity.  People want to allow the free expression of ideas only as long as they conform to their ideas; to allow the free practice of religion, so long as it is their religion; to permit the free exercise of cultural individuality only to the extent it conforms with their own ideas.  Thus, a leadership elite can harness these tendencies to create a societal force of immense power of repression.

“Therefore in fact all unnecessary restriction of the few common liberties man has been able to organise for himself becomes a step backward, whatever immediate gain it may bring; and every organisation of oppression or repression beyond what the imperfect conditions of human nature and society render inevitable, becomes, no matter where or by whom it is practiced, a blow to the progress of the whole race.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part One, Chapter 16, The Problem of Uniformity and Liberty, pp. 137-138

The Breakdown of the Ideas Underpinning Colonial Empires

The European nations, for a considerable span of time, used their superior technological development as the means and also as a justification for colonization and domination of the rest of the world.  This view also led to the idea, in the minds of these same people of European extraction, that their religion was superior to all others and should control and dominate the religious life of humanity, and that the lighter shade of their skin somehow made them superior to those with darker skin tone.  The ostensible need to “civilize” these other peoples was called the “white man’s burden”, but for the most part it was a cynical cover for exploitation and domination for the exclusive benefit of these allegedly “more civilized” people of the West.  While these ideas have been repudiated to some degree in the organization of the world, they remain very much alive in the psychological makeup of many in the Western world and continue to constitute an obstacle to achieving true liberty, equality and oneness of humanity.

The two great world wars, and the rise thereafter of the United Nations, along with the liberation of countries from the colonial empires of Europe, and the subsequent development of a strong voice in world affairs by countries in Asia, Africa and South America has made it clear that the idea of control by one dominant imperial group, based on paternalistic and anachronistic ideas of some kind of inherent superiority, will not be accepted as the basis for the unification of humanity.

Sri Aurobindo notes that the very ideas that were used to subjugate others eventually redound upon those who expound them:  “The experience of the past teaches us that the habit of preferring the principle of authority to the principle of liberty is engendered in an imperial people, reacts upon it at home and leads it first insensibly and then by change of thought and the development of a fate in circumstances to the sacrifice of its own inner freedom.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part One, Chapter 16, The Problem of Uniformity and Liberty, pp. 136-137

The Issue of Individual Liberty in a World-State

As a world-state begins to develop over time, there is a deep concern about the prospects for individual liberty.  As a governmental body gains more power, it tries to create efficiency through regimentation and uniformity which can lead to strict controls over the individual freedom that is required to bring about progressive change over time.  This may be a phase, which will eventually be loosened up as the government gains comfort in its role and can accept a wide range of diverse responses, or it may be a long-term oppression which eventually stifles creativity and leads to the weakening of that unit.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The political and administrative unification of mankind is not only possible but foreshadowed by our present evolution; the collective national egoism which resists it may be overborne by an increasing flood of the present unifying tendency to which the anguish of the European war gave a body and an articulate voice.  But the question remains whether not in its first loose formation, but as it develops and becomes more complete ad even vigorous, a strictly unified order will not necessarily involve a considerable overriding of the liberties of mankind, individual and collective, and an oppressive mechanism by which the free development of the soul-life of humanity will be for some time at least seriously hindered or restricted or in danger of an excessive repression.  We have seen that a period of loose formation is in such developments usually followed by a period of restriction and constriction in which a more rigid unification will be attempted so that firm moulds may be given to the new unity.  And this has meant in past unifications and is likely to mean here also a suppression of that principle of liberty in human life which is the most precious gain of humanity’s past spiritual, political and social struggles.  The old circle of progression by retrogression is likely to work itself out again on this new line of advance.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part One, Chapter 16, The Problem of Uniformity and Liberty, pp. 135-136

The Direction and Challenges Facing the Move Towards Human Unity

There is a persistent pressure for humanity to find a way to collaborate and work together to address issues common to all.  This pressure continues to increase, and the advent of air travel, instantaneous world-wide communication, internet, and broadcast media brings people everywhere together in a way which could not be imagined even 100 or 150 years ago.  At the same time, the unintended consequences of the industrial revolution, including the manufacturing that takes place in the digital age, has created serious issues for the world’s climate, and has built up toxic pollutants in the air, water and land at levels that are clearly impacting the health and well-being of not just all of humanity but of many species of insects, plants and animals.  The issues of population growth and unequal access to food, water and other resources are creating enormous pressures throughout the world.  We are facing a species extinction rate that has not been seen since the time of the last major cataclysms that brought about the prior ice age.  We may then add to this the technological impacts that can devastate vast swaths of humanity through nuclear war (or major nuclear accidents), bio-warfare, as well as other weapons developed as humanity has advanced its technological prowess, without concurrently finding a way to address the forces of greed, prejudice and self-righteousness that fuel division, warfare and hatred among people.

Humanity tends to make progress on the moral and spiritual level when it is challenged, as it is being challenged today.  Therefore we see the signs of development of larger groupings, including regional or continental unions, trade treaties, and the United Nations and its subordinate agencies, all working toward bridging gulfs between people and starting to address the world-level issues that confront everyone.  These are political, economic and outer organisational methods which align with Nature’s process while we have yet to see the true psychological unity fully emerge, although leading voices around the world are working to take down barriers and find common ground with people who practice different religions, and who may have different economic and political systems.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “After sounding as thoroughly as our lights permit the possibility of a political and administrative unification of mankind by political and economic motives and through purely political and administrative means, it has been concluded that it is not only possible, but that the thoughts and tendencies of mankind and the result of current events and existing forces and necessities have turned decisively in this direction.  This is one of the dominant drifts which the World-Nature has thrown up in the flow of human development and it is the logical consequence of the past history of mankind and of our present circumstances.  At the same time nothing justifies us in predicting its painless or rapid development or even its sure and eventual success.”

“We have concluded that the one line it is not likely to take is the ideal, that which justice and the highest expediency and the best thought of mankind demand, that which would ensure it the greatest possibility of an enduring success.  It is not likely to take perfectly, until a probably much later period of our collective evolution, the form of a federation of free and equal nations or adopt as its motive a perfect harmony between the contending principles of nationalism and internationalism.”

 

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part One, Chapter 16, The Problem of Uniformity and Liberty, pg. 135

The Tension Between Labour and Capital and the Development of Human Unity

Going back into history, as society developed a stratification based on a division of labor, there has come about a corresponding development of ruling elite and those being governed.  There has also evolved a stratification with respect to the access to the resources of the society, which has been a factor in human development as well.  With the advent of the industrial revolution, the application of technology and engineering to vastly enhance the resource development and output of the society has primarily turned into an engine to support and enhance the position of those possessing the capital and “ownership” of the resources, as well as those who make such technological advancements possible.  The laboring classes, therefore, have not participated equally in the increase in general “wealth” of the society, and in some cases, have seen their power to bargain reduced as technology replaced the need for untrained manual labor.

During the 20th century, the exploitation of the workers became a cause of large social movements, including the development and rise of communism, socialism and the labor union movements that occurred in industrial society; as well as the rising of masses of people in regions that had been colonized and exploited by the colonial powers.

The development of digital technologies has, however, to a great degree, helped to destroy the bargaining power of labor and we see today ever larger income and access to resource inequality spreading throughout the world, regardless of the type of economic or political structures for the most part.

Sri Aurobindo takes cognizance of this issue as one that may cut across the economic and political macro forces that have to be addressed to bring about human unity:  “The interclass conflict has long been threatening like the European collision. The advent of the latter was preceded by large hopes of world-peace and attempts at a European concert and treaties of arbitration which would render war finally impossible.  The hope of a concert between Labour and Capital idyllically settling all their acute causes of conflict in amoebaean stanzas of melodious compromise for the sake of the higher national interests is likely to be as treacherous and delusive.  Even the socialisation of governments and the increasing nationalisation of industry will not remove the root cause of conflict.  For there will still remain the crucial question of the form and conditions of the new State socialism, whether it shall be regulated in the interests of Labour or of the capitalistic State and whether its direction shall be democratic by the workers themselves or oligarchic or bureaucratic by the present directing classes.  This question may well lead to struggles which may easily grow into an international or at least an inter-European conflict; it might even rend each nation in two instead of uniting it as in the war crisis.  And the results of such a struggle may have an incalculable effect, either in changing the ideas and life of men dynamically in new directions or in breaking down the barriers of existing nations and empires.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part One, Chapter 15, Some Lines of Fulfilment, pp. 133-134

The Option of Multiple Imperial Powers Working Together to Achieve a World-State

The history of nations and empires is one of competition and confict.  So it is no surprise that the next potential direction for development of a world-state is even less likely than those which have been examined previously.  Yet, it cannot be entirely ruled out.  While it is clearly virtually impossible for one nation or imperial power to dominate the entire world, it becomes possible that several powers, seeking a common goal, could join forces to achieve what one nation alone could not achieve– dominance over the rest of the world.

Sri Aurobindo describes this situation:  “Conceivably, if the task of organising the world proved too difficult, if no lasting agreement could be arrived at or no firmly constituted legal authority created, the task might be undertaken not by a single empire, but by two or three great imperial Powers sufficiently near in interest and united in idea to singk possible differences and jealousies and strong enough to dominate or crush all resistance and enforce some sort of effective international law and government.  The process would then be a painful one and might involve much brutality of moral and economic coercion, but if it commanded the prestige of success and evolved some tolerable form of legality and justice or even only of prosperous order, it might in the end conciliate a general moral support and prove a starting-point for freer and better forms.”

A major factor which has changed since Sri Aurobindo speculated on this option is the development of technologies which can allow even the smallest nations to wield a threat so immense that it would effectively act as a counter-weight to the might of the imperial Powers.  The rise of cyber-hacking, crypto-currency manipulation, biological weaponry, climate altering technologies, and nuclear weaponry all represent avenues that can work to undermine or neutralize the economic, military and political power of even the greatest of today’s world Powers.  And it must be noted that there are more than 2 or 3 such world Powers and they have definitely not aligned their agendas sufficiently to contemplate such a step.

Humanity has always tended to develop an internal unity in response to an external threat.  Perhaps climate change, or perhaps massive global economic disruption will wind up acting as the motive force to bring humanity together for the sake of its general survival.

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part One, Chapter 15, Some Lines of Fulfilment, pg. 133

Another Possibility for the Evolution of a World-State

Sri Aurobindo systematically explores a variety of potential lines of development for the evolution of a World-State.  While some of these lines are not highly likely, it is valuable to review them so as to understand both the complexity and the variables that could lead to one result or another. Sri Aurobindo looks back at the development of the nation-state concept to show that where there were a number of relatively equal but separate powers vying for dominance and continually challenging one another, Nature eventually created the super-dominance of a feudal king to bring the disparate power-centers under a unified centralised control.  Similarly, there might need to evolve a “king-nation” which would play such a role.   This has a low likelihood both because finding a nation that has both the power and the will to take such a role without abusing the position (and thereby gaining the animosity of the rest of the world, with the attendant consequences), and which is able to leverage its position to one of dominance over other power centers in the world, is not easily envisioned in any view of today’s world.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “…so conceivably, if the empires and nations of the world failed to arrive at a peaceful solution among themselves, if the class troubles, the inter-commercial troubles, the conflict of various new ideas and tendencies resulted in a long confusion and turmoil and constant changing, there might emerge a king-nation with the mission of evolving a real and settled out of a semi-chaotic or half order.  We have concluded that the military conquest of the world by a single nation is not possible except under conditions which do not exit and of which there is as yet no visible prospect.  But an imperial nation, such as England for example, spread all over the world, possessing the empire of the seas, knowing how to federate successfully its constituent parts and organise their entire potential strength, having the skill to make itself the representative  and protector of the most progressive and liberal tendencies of the new times, allying itself with other forces and nations interested in their triumph and showing that it had the secret of a just and effective international organisation, might conceivably become the arbiter of nations and the effective centre of an international government.  Such a possibility in any form is as yet extremely remote, but it could become under new circumstances a realisable possibility of the future.”

When this was written, England was a dominant world-power with colonies or affiliated nations stretched across virtually all continents.  While it is clear that the breakup of the British Empire forestalled England as the possible lynch-pin of such a development, the concept remains one that Nature could take up at some point in the future through some other powerful entity existent at that time.

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part One, Chapter 15, Some Lines of Fulfilment, pp. 132-133

A Potential Direction for Development of a World-State

Sri Aurobindo explores various potential directions toward which the evolution of a larger societal aggregate for humanity could develop.  The first of these he identifies would involve the growth of several large imperial units along somewhat natural cultural or geographic lines.  The consolidation of hundreds of national units, all competing with one another, into several larger aggregates could act as a simplification and an intermediate step towards a single world government.

“Although unrealisable with the present strength of national egoisms, the growth of ideas and the force of changing circumstances might some day bring about such a creation and this might lead to a closer confederacy.  America seems to be turning dimly towards a better understanding between the increasingly cosmopolitan United States and the Latin republics of Central and South America which may in certain contingencies materialise itself into a confederate inter-American State.  The idea of a confederate Teutonic empire, if Germany and Austria had not been entirely broken by the result of the war, might well have realised itself in the near future; and even though they are now broken it might still realise itself in a more distant future.  Similar aggregates may emerge in the Asiatic world.  Such a distribution of mankind in large natural aggregates would have the advantage of simplifying a number of difficult world-problems and with the growth of peace, mutual understanding and larger ideas might lead to a comparatively painless aggregation in a World-State.”

We can see, in the aftermath of World War II, that large blocs formed which began to take on something of the appearance of the type of imperial or federal structures described here, not all of which, however, have survived intact to this day.  The development of the Soviet Union, the British Commonwealth of Nations, the rise of the European Union, and the strong global reach of the United States and subordinated or aligned powers, along with the rise of China as a world-power, all represent the kind of influential larger aggregations which would fit the description.

This is not to say that this direction will eventually win out, nor that it will turn out to be a benign event if it does.  George Orwell, for instance, posited the existence of three world-encircling empires constantly at war with one another and changing their alliances in his dystopic vision 1984.  Additionally, it was not possible, in the early years of the 20th Century, to foresee the development of technology that would allow the kind of global communication, and manipulation of people and economic forces that has in fact subsequently developed.  The impact of massive computers, mass media, the internet, multi-national corporations and their ability to impact the world-economy,  and the  development of psychological means of manipulation on a mass scale have vastly increased the potential for abuse and misuse of that power.

This direction remains as a possibility, yet it is not the only possible direction.  At the same time, the increasingly urgent needs of common action to forestall the possibilities of a world-cataclysm, climate change impacts, and global pandemics will require some form of international cooperation and coordination far beyond what we currently can envision.

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part One, Chapter 15, Some Lines of Fulfilment, pp. 131-132

The Complex Play of Forces in the Development and Interactions of Larger Human Aggregates

The interplay of forces in the world today is both complex and multifarious.  There are not only large quasi-imperial groups which maintain the most leverage on world affairs, but also a vast array of nation-states, some large and powerful and possessing world-sway, as well as a number of religious institutions that number adherents in some cases in the billions.  Then there are the multi-national corporate interests who exercise influence across the globe.  There is also the impact of technology and the instantaneous ability to learn about and influence events anywhere in the world, and the rise of the mass media which makes manipulation of information and promulgation of propaganda, alongside legitimate factual reporting, a force in its own right.  There is, thus, no direct line of successful development for any one idea, even a powerful one, since there are now so many competing forces that have the power to modify, deflect, and distort each opposing line of development.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The position would then be for a time… a great criss-cross of heterogeneous, complicated, overlapping and mutually interpenetrating interests, a number of small Powers counting for something but overshadowed and partly coerced by a few great Powers, the great Powers working out the inevitable complications of their allied, divided and contrary interests by whatever means the new world-system provided and using for that purpose whatever support of classes, ideas, tendencies, institutions they could find.  There would be questions of Asiatic, African, American fiefs and markets; struggles of classes starting as national questions becoming international; Socialism, Anarchism and the remainder of the competitive age of humanity struggling together for predominance; clashes of Europeanism, Asiaticism, Americanism.  And from this great tangle some result would have to be worked out.  It might well be by methods very different from those with which history has made us so familiar; war might be eliminated or reduced to a rare phenomenon of civil war in the international commonwealth or confederacy; new forms of coercion, such as the commercial which we now see to be growing in frequency, might ordinarily take its place; other devices might be brought into being of which we have at present no conception.  But the situation would be essentially the same for humanity in general as has confronted lesser unformed aggregates in the past and would have to progress to similar issues of success, modified realisation or failure.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part One, Chapter 15, Some Lines of Fulfilment, pp. 130-131

The Great Powers and Their Relations With Smaller Nations and the World-Order

Humanity has not evolved sufficiently to set up a system of inter-relationships based on ideals rather than on the exercise of power, whether overt or covert.  Even with the rise of organisations such as the United Nations, and the general assembly of almost 200 nations, it is obvious to any disinterested observer that a few great Powers exercise full control over the body, if not individually, then at least in their collective influence.  At any point in time, one or more of these great Powers may be the focus of various objections or resolutions, but in fact nothing can be done to them, first, because of the veto power they wield, and second, because of the outsize influence of their money, military power and economic influence which keeps allies or dependents from straying too far from the direction taken by the Power to whom they are beholden.  The ideal of a democratic assemblage of co-equal national partners deliberating on world issues and reaching harmonious and disinterested solutions is not in evidence at this point in time.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “Undoubtedly, the right of small nations to exit and assert their interests against imperialistic aggression is still a force… But the assertion of this right against the aggression of a single ambitious Power is one thing; its assertion as against any arrangement for the common interest of the nations decided upon by a majority of the great Powers would very likely in the near future be regarded in quite another light…. In any international system, the self-assertion of these smaller liberties would probably be viewed as a petty egoism and intolerable obstacle to great common interests, or, it may be, to the decision of conflicts between great world-wide interests.  It is probable indeed that in any constitution of international unity the great Powers would see to it that their voice was equal to their force and influence; but even if the constitution were outwardly democratic, yet in effect it would become an oligarchy of the great Powers.  Constitutions can only disguise facts, they cannot abrogate them: for whatever ideas the form of the constitution may embody, its working is always that of the actually realised forces which can use it with effect.  Most governments either have now or have passed through a democratic form, but nowhere yet has there been a real democracy; it has been everywhere the propertied and professional classes and the bourgeoisie who governed in the name of the people.  So too in any international council or control it would be a few great empires that would govern in the name of humanity.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part One, Chapter 15, Some Lines of Fulfilment, pg. 130