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