The Dynamic Tension Between Liberty and Uniformity in the Development of Societal Groupings

The principle of freedom or liberty has as a central characteristic the breaking out of the boundaries or framework from which the action starts;  it therefore naturally tends to break down an established or fixed order of things and is the impetus towards what change.  The principle of order, on the other hand, works to create a framework or foundation of things that is based on a static and fixed relationship, which thus tries to establish uniformity in order to minimize change.  The progressive principle and the conservative principle have naturally a dynamic tension, and based on the also quite natural tendency for each principle to try to fulfill itself completely, we may observe that during times of progressive action, the principle of freedom is in the ascendance, while in times of consolidation and solidification, the principle of order leads.  The pendulum swing tends to try to correct the excesses on one side by going to the other side.  A solution may be found where each principle can find fulfillment, while at the same time honoring and accepting the truth underlying the other, but that solution has not yet been found or implemented.

Sri Aurobindo discusses the issue:  “…as we have seen, the principle of order, of uniformity is the natural tendency of a period of unification.  The principle of liberty offers a natural obstacle to the growth of uniformity and, although perfectly reconcilable with a true order and easily coexistent with an order already established into which it has been fitted, is not so easily reconciled as a matter of practice with a new order which demands from it new sacrifices for which it is not yet psychologically prepared.  This in itself need not matter; for all movement forward implies a certain amount of friction and difficulty of adjustment, and if in the process liberty suffered a few shocks on one side and order a few shocks on the other, they would still shake down easily enough into a new adjustment after a certain amount of experience.  Unfortunately, it is the nature of every self-asserting tendency or principle in the hour of its growth, when it finds circumstances favourable, to over-assert itself and exaggerate its claim, to carry its impulses to a one-sided fruition, to affirm its despotic rule and to depress and even to trample upon other tendencies and principles and especially on those which it instinctively feels to be the farthest removed from its own nature.  And if it finds a resistance in these opposite powers, then its impulse of self-assertion becomes angry, violent, tyrannical; instead of the friction of adjustment we have an inimical struggle stumbling through violent vicissitudes, action and reaction, evolution and revolution till one side or the other prevails in the conflict.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part One, Chapter 16, The Problem of Uniformity and Liberty, pp. 138-139


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