Obstacles to the Idea of Free Nation-Units in the Modern World

At the time of writing The Ideal of Human Unity, Sri Aurobindo recognised various possible directions that human societal evolution could take.  One of the more ideal forms was the existence of self-standing nation-states that incorporated the psychological unity of their citizens, as well as the cultural and economic conditions of the diverse nations, which then joined together in international cooperation to address issues affecting the entire world.  Another option was the development of over-arching imperial units that effectively controlled a number of nation-units and then interacted with each other at the level of imperial management.  Actual experience has shown both the development of a large number of nations since the end of the second world war, as well as the rise of major imperial power blocs such as those which created the cold war period.  Sri Aurobindo addresses the “real-politik” involved in the issues of forming independent nations that have standing to interact and help resolve international issues on the world-stage.

“No established empire will easily liberate its dependent parts or allow, unless compelled, a nation now subject to it to sit at the board of an international council as its free equal.”   We see this principle at the United Nations where a small group of powers have absolute veto power on the Security Council, and thus, are “more equal” than the close to 200 nations who are currently members of the UN.

“Autonomy of a kind under an imperial sovereignty or, where that does not yet exist, under imperial “protection” or “influence” are by many considered as more practical ideas now than the restoration of national freedom.  That is a sign perhaps of the obscure growth of the idea of federated empires which we have discussed as one of the possibilities of the future.  National liberty as an absolute ideal has no longer the old general acceptation and creative force.  Nations struggling for liberty have to depend on their own strength and enthusiasm; they can expect only a tepid or uncertain support except from enthusiastic individuals or small groups whose aid is purely vocal and ineffective.  Many even of the most advanced intellectuals warmly approve of the idea of subordinate autonomy for nations now subject, but seem to look with impatience on the velleities of complete independence.  Even so far has imperialism travelled on its prosperous road and the imperial aggregate impressed its figure on the freest imaginations as an accomplished power in human progress.”

We can witness an example of just such an event with the occupation of free Tibet by China after World War II, and the acceptance of this as a practical reality by the rest of the world’s governments.  We see in these developments the attempt by Nature to move towards larger forms of human unity, while still struggling with the place to be occupied by nation-states.  The vast increase in number of nations has not overcome the imperial power blocs and their sway and influence on the events of the world.

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part One, Chapter 15, Some Lines of Fulfilment, pp. 127-128