The Shadow Over the Principle of Liberty in the Modern World

Idealists point to the progress of the power of reason, the rise of science, the movements towards universalism and ecumenism as evidence that the human mind is coming into a more prominent role in the life of humanity.  This then is used to justify the idea that somehow the insoluble problems of the past aeons, including the back and forth battle between the principles of liberty and order, will find a solution based in reason that can reconcile them harmoniously.

While it may be true that the mind has seen tremendous development over recent centuries, there remains still the underlying factor of the spirit and vital drives that rule the mind and the application of its powers.  We have seen a very strong development of the analytical powers.  This has led to much of the understanding of the physical organisation of life that science and technology rely on for their advancement.  Analysis however is a fragmenting force and supports division.  We have not yet seen a commensurate rise in the synthetic intelligence which can see things from a global, integral perspective and thus, bring about harmony and reconciliation.  Thus, it is not likely, at the present stage, that the solution will be found, and we thus can observe a trend of ever-greater conformity and regulation that enhances the principle of order at the expense of the principle of liberty.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “Man seems indeed to be becoming more generally a reasoning animal than in any known past period of his history, but he has not by that become, except in one or two directions, much more of a reasonable mind and a harmonious spirit; for he still uses his reason much more commonly to justify strife and mutual contradiction than to arrive at a wise agreement.  And always his mind and reason are very much at the mercy of his vital desires and passions.”

“The principle of authority and order will attempt a mechanical organisation; the principle of liberty will resist and claim a more flexible, free and spacious system. … In the process, the circumstances being favourable to the narrower power, both national and individual liberty are likely to go to the wall — happy if they are not set against it before a firing platoon of laws and restrictions to receive a military quietus.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part One, Chapter 16, The Problem of Uniformity and Liberty, pp. 139-140