The Limited Evolutionary Result of the First World War

Any great cataclysm provides an opportunity for humanity to face its deeper concerns and needs, and thus, provides an opportunity for substantial progress if properly seized upon.  The times where such openings to a wider awareness under the pressure of circumstances are rare, and generally when humanity faces an existential crisis.  The First World War was such an opportunity, but the result was primarily governed, not by a progressive leap forward, but by incremental political maneuvering which inevitably led to the Second World War occurring only some 20 years after the conclusion of the first.  The failure to take up the larger challenges and address the global needs represents a lesson for the modern day, as we face the chances of global annihilation, massive economic disruption, mass migrations of humanity, species die off and the challenges of population growth, resource availability and allocation, pollution, and climate change.

Sri Aurobindo examines the issue:  “If, indeed, developments had occurred before the end of this world-wide struggle strong enough to change the general mind of Europe, to force the dwarfish thoughts  of its rulers into greater depths and generate a more wide-reaching sense of the necessity for radical change than has yet been developed, more might have been hoped for; but as the great conflict drew nearer to its close, no such probability emerged; the dynamic period during which in such a crisis the effective ideas and tendencies of men are formed, passed without the creation of any great and profound impulse.  There were only two points on which the general mind of the peoples was powerfully affected.  First, there was generated a sense of revolt against the possible repetition of this vast catastrophe; still more strongly felt was the necessity for finding means to prevent the unparalleled dislocation of the economic life of the race which was brought about by the convulsion.”

Sadly, the desires to avoid a repeat of the upheaval of world war and the desire to stabilize the economic activity of the world were both dealt with in a less than ideal manner and the resultant suppression of the German people through the reparations programme that was developed, with its catastrophic results of runaway inflation and hardships,  followed by the Great Depression, brought about the very conditions that could lead to the repeat of a world war.

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part One, Chapter 14, The Possibility of a First Step towards International Unity – Its Enormous Difficulties, pp. 117-118