The Issue of Uniformity in the Quest for Human Unity

One of the first impulses when the idea of human unity arises is to try to figure out how to get everyone to move in the same direction in a smooth and conflict-free manner.  The first solution is to try to create a society of uniformity, where people think, act, speak and believe the same things.  This is “efficiency” and makes administration and organisation much easier and more productive.  With the development of the industrial revolution, this type of thinking led to the development of the assembly line where many more products could be produced through repetitive and uniform motions rather than through an individual creative process.  With the development of automation, the productivity of the economy was vastly enhanced as machinery could systematize a uniform outcome.  The underlying key to all of these advancements in the economic life was uniformity.  This concept, already awake in the societal consciousness, seemed to be the solution to bringing about a harmonious world-society that could be organized to meet the needs of an ever-growing population.  Friction was removed from the system.

The problem with this approach, of course, is that too strictly applied, it removes creativity and positive change from the system and at some point, becomes a serious obstacle to progress.  That is why uniformity cannot actually be the final determinant of the form of a world-state.

Sri Aurobindo elucidates these issues:  “All thought in fact that seeks to establish unity by mechanical or external means is naturally attracted towards uniformity.  Its thesis would seem to be support by history and the lessons of the past; for in the formation of national unity, the trend to centralisation and uniformity has been the decisive factor, a condition of uniformity the culminating point.  The precedent of the formation of diverse and often conflicting elements of a people into a single national State would naturally be the determining precedent for the formation of the populations of the earth, the human people, into a single world-nation and World-State.”

Uniformity does not necessarily require that everyone dress the same or do things exactly the same way in detail.  As long as the major organizing factors of the society can be uniform, individuals can be allowed considerable choice as to details.  Thus, people can wear different clothes, or eat a variety of foods, or even follow different recreational pursuits, as long as they fit themselves into the economic, political and bureaucratic systems functioning in the society.  “Everywhere unity seems to call for and strive to create a greater or less uniformity as its secure base.”

As humanity grapples with ever-larger populations and the impact of those masses of people on the resources of the planet and the environment, there is a tendency by those in a position to govern to try to simplify the life through uniformity, as trying to solve the world-problems in a complex system becomes a virtually impossible task in their eyes.  Uniformity seems to provide a path toward the kind of simplification that can help to address the needs.

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 19, The Drive towards Centralisation and Uniformity — Administration and Control of Foreign Affairs, pp. 168-170


The Potentiality and Likelihood of Human Unity Under a Dominating World-Government

A world state, enforced by military and police power, and using the powers available to it through its military as well as its technological and economic levers of control, is not a dream that can be embraced by those who nevertheless would like to see human unity develop.  Nevertheless, it is a direction that must be reviewed seriously because it has indeed the potentiality of realisation.  The Third Reich in Germany had such aspirations and used brutally effective methods to eliminate people and cultures it did not envision in its future “Aryan” state, and to cow people throughout its sphere of influence into silence and submission.  Yet such a State has far more potential options for control and dominance in today’s modern world with the combination of high tech ability to monitor, map and manipulate the thoughts and directions taken by people throughout the world, and the ability to use tools of control that are far advanced compared to those available to the Third Reich.  For those attracted to this form of human unity, the key is to establish total uniformity as the basis.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “Such a state of things seems a sufficiently far-off dream and assuredly not, except to the rigid doctrinaire, a very beautiful dream. … at the rate of ever accelerated speed with which the world is beginning to progress and with the gigantic revolutions of international thought, outlook and practice which the future promises, we have to envisage it as not only an ultimate, but, it may very well be, a not immeasurably far-off possibility.  If things continued to move persistently, victoriously in one direction and Science still farther to annihilate the obstacles of space and of geographical and mental division which yet exist and to aggrandise its means and powers of vast and close organisation, it might well become feasible within a century or two, at the most within three or four.  It would be the logical conclusion of any process in which force and constraint or the predominance of a few great nations or the emergence of a king-state, an empire predominant on sea and land, became the principal instrument of unification.  It might come about, supposing some looser unity to be already established, by the triumph throughout the world of the political doctrine and the coming to political power of a party of socialistic and internationalistic doctrinaires alike in mentality to the unitarian Jacobins of the French Revolution who would have no tenderness for the sentiments of the past or for any form of group individualism and would seek to crush out of existence all their visible supports so as to establish perfectly their idea of an absolute human equality and unity.”

The timetable noted by Sri Aurobindo was set forth prior to the digital and communications revolution of the last 30 years of the 20th century and the first several decades of the 21st.  The means to the end are therefore quickly becoming available.  What stands in the way at this time is the numerous peoples, cultures and languages and the fierce independence of numerous countries which provide a counter-balance to any speedy consolidation of the type described here.  The power of diversity provides a block to this type of unified structure based on uniformity.

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 19, The Drive towards Centralisation and Uniformity — Administration and Control of Foreign Affairs, pp. 167-168


The Form of Human Unity Represented by a Centralised World Government

Sri Aurobindo identifies two major directions that could bring about the unity of humanity on a political, economic and administrative basis.  One of these would be the formation of a centralized world government, with all that is entailed thereby.  The other would be a system of free and independent nations interacting on a basis of equality through some kind of interactive process such as a functioning body of an upgraded and effective United Nations.

Sri Aurobindo first explores the implications of a centralized world government:  “If the former more rigorous idea or tendency or need dominated, we must have a period of compression, constriction, negation of national and individual liberties as in the second of the three historical stages of national formation in Europe.  This process would end, if entirely successful, in a centralised world-government which would impose its uniform rule and law, uniform administration,  uniform economic and educational system, one culture, one social principle, one civilisation, perhaps even one language and one religion on all mankind.  Centralised, it would delegate some of its powers to national authorities and councils, but only as the centralized French government — Parliament and bureaucracy — delegate some of their powers to the departmental prefects and councils and their subordinate officials and communes.”

A modified form of this centralized structure could result in multiple world-empires, each controlling a large segment of humanity, and interacting with each other on a peer to peer basis.  Such a model, albeit with a dystopian twist, was suggested by George Orwell in his famous work 1984.  In that work, the world was divided into three massive empires, Oceania, Eurasia and East Asia.  These three were constantly striving to gain supremacy over one another, while switching alliances from time to time.  The resulting war footing and planned resource shortages allowed each empire to gain total domination over its citizenry.  The internal models followed by each one may have varied, but the result is quite akin to the single world-government model described by Sri Aurobindo.


Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 19, The Drive towards Centralisation and Uniformity — Administration and Control of Foreign Affairs, pg. 167



Practical Obstacles to National Self-Determination

The formulation of an ideal is not sufficient to achieve its realization in the world.  It must then contend with the entrenched and opposing forces that have a perceived vested self-interest in maintaining the status quo.  The ideal of national self-determination, with the principle of independent nations who would then interact on the world-stage in a status of equality rather than having certain nations dominant and others subjugated, must contend with the long-established imperial principle, the economic, military and political self-interest of countries that have been used to dominating the world and exploiting the world’s resources, as well as the conceptual framework propounded by the Europeans over the last many centuries that they have a “civilized” basis that should be the model for the rest of the world in terms of religion, government and political matters, as well as their economic model, and thus, they had an inherent right (in their own minds) to rule and dominate the rest of the peoples of the world.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “National and imperial egoism is the first and most powerful of the contrary forces. To give up the instinct of domination and the desire still to be rulers and supreme where rule and supremacy have been the reward of past efforts, to sacrifice the advantages of a commercial exploitation of dependencies and colonies which can only be assured by the confirmation of dominance and supremacy, to face disinterestedly the emergence into free national activity of vigorous and sometimes enormous masses of men, once subjects and passive means of self-enrichment but henceforth to be powerful equals and perhaps formidable rivals, is too great a demand upon egoistic human nature to be easily and spontaneously conceded where concession is not forced upon the mind by actual necessity or the hope of some great and palpable gain that will compensate the immediate and visible loss.”

“There is, too, the claim of Europe, not yet renounced, to hold the rest of the world in the interests of civilisation, by which is meant European civilisation, and to insist upon its acceptance as a condition for the admission of Asiatic races to any kind of equality or freedom.”

“For the present, let us note that it works strongly against a wider recognition of the new-born ideal and that until the problems it raises are resolved, the settlement of the world on any such ideal principle must wait upon the evolution of new forces and the coming to a head both in Asia and Europe of yet unaccomplished spiritual, intellectual and material revolutions.” (“These revolutions have now happened and these obstacles, though not yet entirely, have faded or are fading out of existence.”)

At the same time, the hold of the imperial mindset, combined with new powers of technology and economic domination, has morphed itself into new methods of attempted control of the world, and these issues must eventually be recognized and resolved for the free interchange of nations on a footing of equality to truly come into being.

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 18, The Ideal Solution — A Free Grouping of Mankind, pp. 165-166

The Idea of National Self-Determination

In the ferment that ensued from the disruptions of the First World War, a number of ideas were floated as a potential basis for establishing some kind of lasting foundation of peace.  One of these ideas was called “self-determination”.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The idea of a new basis founded on the principle of national sentiment seemed at one time to be taking within a limited field the shape of a practical proposition.”  He further notes that at the time it was a conception grounded in the realities of Europe and represented an attempt to reorganize boundaries to recognize natural affinities rather than the artificial constructs which had arisen from centuries of disputes, warfare and imperial actions across the continent.  Of course, “realpolitik” got in the way of this ideal and it was only successful to the extent that it coincided with the goals of the imperial powers of the time, and was otherwise disregarded.

The concept however was notable for the development of a psychological unity as the basis of nationhood:  “However imperfect the application, this practical enforcement of it, if effected, would have meant the physical birth and infancy of a new ideal and would have held forth to the hopes of mankind the prospect of its eventual application in a larger field until it came to be universalized.  Even if the victory of the Allies put an end to these high professions, it is no longer possible to consider this ideal of a rearrangement of the world on the basis of free national groupings as an impossible dream, an altogether chimerical ideal.”

In fact, when we observe the events following the second world war, with the dissolution of the empires of the major European powers, and the development of the United Nations, we see the creation of over a hundred new nations under this principle of self-determination.  Thus, what was observed in its infant and imperfect phase in the early years of the 20th century, became an actual and practical reality with real results in the middle years of that century.  This does not imply that it has fully succeeded in overcoming the forces of domination and imperial ambitions, but at least the concept of self-determination has now been recognized as an important factor that should not be disregarded in the future.

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 18, The Ideal Solution — A Free Grouping of Mankind, pg. 165

When the Mind Tries to Organize the Path of Human Unity

The mental consciousness likes to create castles in the air, developing theories and ideas that “make sense” and which represent a systematic and organized approach to things.  The problem with applying this approach to human unity is that we are not dealing with inert material things which can be lined up, counted and built up, but rather, with vital reactions based on long history that are not so easily clubbed together.

The mind would look at natural language or cultural groupings, or perhaps racial groupings, and use that as the basis for large continental formations which would then interact on the world level with each other.  A brief review of history however shows the limitations of this approach.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “It is easy to build up a system in the mind and propose to erect it on foundations which would be at first sight rational and convenient.  At first sight it would seem that the unity of mankind could most rationally and conveniently arrange itself upon the basis of a European grouping, an Asiatic grouping, an American grouping, with two or three sub-groups in America, Latin and English-speaking, three in Asia, the Mongolian, Indian and West Asian, with Moslem North Africa perhaps as a natural annexe to the third of these, four in Europe, the Latin, Slavonic, Teutonic and Anglo-Celtic, the latter with the colonies that still chose to adhere to it, while Central and Southern Africa might be left to develop under present conditions but with the more humane and progressive principles upon which the sentiment of a united humanity would insist.”

The obstacles to this approach however are considerable, given historical reality:  “… nations closely connected by every apparent tie, are actually divided by stronger antipathies than those more ideative and less actual which separate them from peoples who have with them no tie of affinity.  Mongolian Japan and Mongolian China are sharply divided from each other in sentiment; Arab and Turk and Persian, although one in Islamic religion and culture, would not, if their present sentiments towards each other persisted, make an entirely happy family.  Scandanavian Norway and Sweden had everything to draw them together and perpetuate their union, — except a strong, if irrational sentiment which made the continuance of that union impossible.”

Over time, the historical causes of these divisions could of course be resolved, potentially, but this is not something that can be imposed by some mental formula or plan of organization of the world.  “…any such arrangement would be quite impracticable unless and until the actual sentiments of the peoples corresponded with these systems of rational convenience: the state of the world is at present far removed from any such ideal correspondence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 18, The Ideal Solution — A Free Grouping of Mankind, pp. 163-165

A Dominant Psychological Unity Is a Prime Determinant of Strong Nation-Units

Sri Aurobindo provides a series of examples to illustrate the overweening importance of a psychological unity in determining the solidity of a nation-unit, despite potential differences within the population of race, language, culture or religious background.  While these factors are important and can influence the course of development of a nation-unit, where there is a,long-standing psychological unity present, they tend to take on less importance.  This becomes an interesting fact when considering the eventual unity with diversity for the entire human race.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “Switzerland belongs by language, race and culture and even by affinities of sentiment to different national aggregations, two of sentiment and culture, the Latin and the Teutonic, three of race and language, the German, French and Italian, and these differences worked sufficiently to bewilder and divide Swiss sympathies in the clash of nations; but the decisive feeling overriding all others is the sentiment of Helvetian nationality and that would seem to forbid now and always any idea of a voluntary partition or dissolution of Switzerland’s long-standing natural, local and historic unity.  Alsace belongs predominantly by race, language and early history to a Germanic union, but the German appealed in vain to these titles and labored in vain to change Alsace-Lorraine into Elsass-Lothringen; the living sentiments and affinities of the people, national, historical, cultural, bound it still to France.  Canada and Australia have no geographical connection with the British Isles or with each other and the former would seem to belong by predestination to an American group-unity; but certainly, in the absence of a change of sentiment not now easily foreseen, both would prefer to belong to a British grouping rather than the one fuse itself into an increasingly cosmopolitan American nation or the other stand apart as an Australasian union.”

“Race, language, local relations and economic convenience are powerful factors, but what decides must be a dominant psychological element that makes for union.  To that subtler force all others, however restless they may be, must succumb; however much they may seek for free particularist expression and self-possession within a larger unity, they must needs subordinate themselves to the more powerful attraction.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 18, The Ideal Solution — A Free Grouping of Mankind, pp. 162-163

The Nation-Unit as the Natural Building-Block of Human Unity

If the free and natural grouping of humanity is to both develop a structure for human unity and preserve the diversity of various cultures, peoples, etc. we should determine what institution of human societal organization has been developed by Nature to best suit this requirement.  The family, clan, tribe, communal organisations are all too small and limited to undertake this role.  The heterogeneous empire has had difficulty bridging the differences of peoples and cultures.  The nation-state, however, appears to have the size and complexity needed to act as a foundational organization, to provide a basis for a psychological unity within, and a basis for interaction with other national units across the world.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The natural unit in such a grouping is the nation, because that is the basis natural evolution has firmly created and seems indeed to have provided with a view to the greater unity.”

“…the free and natural nation-unit and perhaps the nation-group would be the just and living support of a sound and harmonious world-system.  Race still counts and would enter in as an element, but only as a subordinate element.  In certain groupings it would predominate and be decisive; in others it would be set at nought partly by a historic and national sentiment overriding differences of language and race, partly by economic and other relations created by local contact or geographical oneness.  Cultural unity would count, but need not in all cases prevail; even the united force of race and culture might not be sufficiently strong to be decisive.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 18, The Ideal Solution — A Free Grouping of Mankind, pg. 162

Transitional Stages Toward a Free and Natural Grouping of Humanity

The heterogeneous imperial grouping has been attempted several times in the past.  This involves bringing together under one administrative, economic and political system diverse peoples and cultures.  This has generally been accomplished through military force and has also generally dissolved at the point that the military and economic controls weakened, because no true psychological unity had been actually created, or at least, it was only partial in nature.  This unit however may be part of Nature’s attempt to test the principles of the unification of all of humanity with the wide diversity of cultures, languages, religions, social and economic systems and political ideas.  It would however necessarily be purely a transitional stage as the creation of the true psychological unity among diverse cultural traditions must necessarily go beyond the principle of enforced unity.

Sri Aurobindo has identified the ultimate form of human unity as being a free and natural grouping of humanity and in order for this to occur, the diversities and cultural uniqueness of the various peoples of the earth must be respected and honored.  Otherwise, force and suppression must be utilized and this does not lead to psychological unity or long-term stability.

Sri Aurobindo observes, with respect to the transitional role of heterogeneous imperial units:  “Imperial unities of this kind must be admitted as a possible, but by no means an inevitable next step in human aggregation easier to realise than a united mankind in present conditions; but such unities could have only two rational purposes, one as a half-way house to the unity of all nations of the world and an experiment in administrative and economic confederation on a large scale, the other as a means of habituating nations of different race, traditions, colour, civilization to dwell together in a common political family as the whole human race would have to dwell in any scheme of unity which respected the principle of variation and did not compel a dead level of uniformity.  The imperial heterogeneous unit has a value in Nature’s processes only as a means towards this greater unity and, where not maintained afterwards by some natural attraction or by some miracle of entire fusion, — a thing improbable, if possible, — would cease to exist once the greater unity was accomplished.”

“On this line of development also and indeed on any line of development the principle of a free and natural grouping of peoples must be the eventual conclusion, the final and perfect basis.  It must be so because on no other foundation could the unification of mankind be secure or sound.  And it must be so because once unification is firmly accomplished and war and jealous national competition replaced by better methods of intercourse and mutual adjustment, there can be no object in maintaining any other more artificial system, and therefore both reason and convenience would compel the change.  The institution of a natural system of grouping would become as much a matter of course as the administrative arrangement of a country according to its natural provinces.”



Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 18, The Ideal Solution — A Free Grouping of Mankind, pp. 160-162

Overcoming the Tendency to Domination by a Few Imperial States

For many centuries certain European powers took it upon themselves to try to dominate the rest of the human race, set the agenda for humanity, and impose their ideas of religion, economic development, political organization and the ultimate goals of humanity.  While undertaking to assert moral authority, they brutally subjugated peoples and nations and used their assertion of moral superiority to exploit and dominate the resources of the planet.   Such a relationship between peoples cannot provide any long-lasting foundation for human unity, particularly as the peoples of Asia, Africa, South America and Eastern Europe, as they were awakened to the world issues and refused to accept long-term subjugation to European powers, took a more and more active role in determining their own destinies and participating in the world political and economic relations.

Sri Aurobindo notes, in relation to the weakness of the settlements towards the end of World War I, which entrenched the dominance of the European powers, at least temporarily:  “Such a settlement must have had the vice of fixing conditions which in their nature must be transient.  It would mean not only the rule of this or that nation over dissatisfied foreign minorities but the supremacy of Europe over most of Asia and all Africa.  A league or incipient unity of the nations would be equivalent under such conditions to the control of the enormous mass of mankind by an oligarchy of a few white races.  Such could not be the principle of a long-enduring settlement of the world.”

The result of such an attempt, as we have in fact seen, was first, “the support by law and force the existing condition of things and resist any attempt at radical change; but this would lead to an unnatural suppression of great natural and moral forces and in the end a tremendous disorder, perhaps a world-shattering explosion.”  Witness the second world war, and the subsequent breakup of the great European empires and the founding of well over a hundred independent nations as a result, along with the rise of great Asian nations such as China and India that resulted from this cataclysm.

Another option would be to develop a rule of law which gave all nations a substantive voice in world affairs.  This too was taken up in the formation of the United Nations, but met with the resistance predicted by Sri Aurobindo:  “But such an authority, interfering with the egoisms of great and powerful empires, would be difficult to establish, slow to act and not by any means at ease in its exercise of power or moral influence or likely to be peaceful or harmonious in its deliberations.  It would either reduce itself to a representative of the sentiments and interests of a ruling oligarchy of great Powers or end in such movements of secession and civil war between the States as settled the question of slavery in America.”

The other solution propounded by Sri Aurobindo was that the principles of equality and just relations between peoples would need to become entrenched in the dealings of nations with each other:  “It other words, it must become a settled political principle with European nations to change the character of their imperialism and convert their empires as soon as might be from artificial into true psychological unities.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 18, The Ideal Solution — A Free Grouping of Mankind, pp. 159-160