The Ascendancy of the State Over the Individual in Today’s World

The 20th century witnessed the appearance of a number of power dystopian novels which posited the rise of the State and the suppression of the liberty of the individual.  George Orwell, in his seminal work 1984 showed rigid State control of language, the rewriting of history, and the maintenance of a system of planned shortages, with supplies dispensed by the mechanism of the State.  Surveillance, both human and technological kept track of individuals and any who strayed, even in thought, from the party line were captured and sent for mental torture and psychological manipulation.  A constant state of warfare existed between three large imperial groups and alliances switched from time to time, but history was controlled to such a degree that the people had to believe they were always at war with the current “enemy”.

Aldous Huxley, in Brave New World posited a highly advanced technological society where births were systematically controlled to breed specific characteristics and cloning was used to create identical populations for specific tasks.  Entertainment, drugs and sexual gratification were used to keep the populace under control and hypnotic suggestion during sleep was used to drive home the principles required to keep the populace docile and unthinking.

Both of these writers, and others, were responding to what they identified as a strong uprising of the idea of the State in opposition to the freedom of the individual, and examples they saw in Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia.  They also noted the strong development of pervasive surveillance and manipulative technologies in England, the USA and other parts of the world.

Sri Aurobindo observed these trends early in the 20th century:  “… as far as all present appearances go to show, we are entering into a period in which the ideal of individual liberty is destined to an entire eclipse under the shadow of the State idea, if not to a sort of temporary death or at least of long stupor, coma and hibernation.  The constriction and mechanisation of the unifying process is likely to coincide with a simultaneous process of constriction and mechanisation within each constituting unit.  Where then in this double process will the spirit of liberty find its safeguard or its alimentation?  The old practical formulation of freedom would disappear in the double process and the only hope of healthy progress would lie in a new formulation of liberty produced by a new powerful movement spiritual or intellectual of the human mind which will reconcile individual liberty with the collective ideal of a communal life and the liberty of the group-unit with the new-born necessity of a more united life for the human race.”

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