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

The Necessity for Free and Natural Groupings of Humanity

We can see in world history that various natural associations of people have occurred based on racial characteristics, geographical contiguity, common language and cultural background, or common religious concepts.  At the same time we can see that when different groups of people were united within one societal aggregate, nation, or empire, there was a tendency for one of these to assume the role of dominance and use their power to suppress, oppress or subjugate the others that were included.  It is not likely that this tendency to establish dominance by one group over another within the same societal grouping will be overpassed in the future very easily, if at all.  Therefore, Sri Aurobindo posits that each such natural group should have the ability to create their own societal organization and thus, eliminate the internal domination within the state, and then have the opportunity of these separately constituted units to interact with each other on the world stage:

“The first principle of human unity, groupings being necessary, should be a system of free and natural groupings which would leave no room for internal discords, mutual incompatibilities and repression and revolt as between race and race, or people and people.  For otherwise the world-state would be founded in part at least upon a system of legalised injustice and repression or at the best upon a principle of force and compulsion, however mitigated.  Such a system would contain dissatisfied elements eager to seize upon any hope of change and throw their moral force and whatever material power they might still keep on the side of any velleities that might appear in the race towards disorder, secession, dissolution of the system and perhaps a return to the old order of things.  Moral centres of revolt would thus be preserved which, given the restlessness of the human mind, could not fail to have, in periods favourable to them, a great power of contagion and self-diffusion.  In fact, any system which would appear to stereotype anomalies, eternise injustice and inequality or rest permanently on a principle of compulsion and forced subjection, could have no security and would be condemned by its very nature to transience.”

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

The First Principle of an Ideal Form of Human Unity

Sri Aurobindo makes the point that even though the actual process by which human unity develops may be less than ideal, it is useful to have a sense of the best solution and methodologies, so that at critical junctures, perhaps, guidance can be provided to minimize confusion and false turns.  He then goes on to compare the ideal formulation with the process we witness through world history:

“In principle, then, the ideal unification of mankind would be a system in which, as a first rule of common and harmonious life, the human peoples would be allowed to form their own groupings according to their natural divisions of locality, race, culture, economic convenience and not according to the more violent accidents of history or the egoistic will of powerful nations whose policy it must always be to compel the smaller or less timely organised to serve their interests as dependents or obey their commands as subjects.  The present arrangement of the world has been worked out by economic forces, by political diplomacies, treaties and purchases and by military violence without regard to any moral principle or any general rule of the good of mankind.”

These methods have their utility and Nature tends to find a way forward towards its goals even if they are not the most ideal methods that can be conceived by an enlightened intellect.  Despite the suffering that has been endured, humanity continues to move slowly towards unification.

Sri Aurobindo continues:  “But the great step of unification once taken, the artificial arrangements which have resulted would no longer have any reason for existence.  It would be so in the first place because the convenience and good of the world at large and not the satisfaction of the egoism, pride and greed of particular nations would be the object to be held in view, in the second because whatever legitimate claim any nation might have upon others, such as necessities of economic well-being and expansion, would be arranged for in a soundly organised world-union or world-state no longer on the principle of strife and competition, but on a principle of cooperation or mutual adjustment or at least of competition regulated by law and equity and just interchange.  Therefore no ground would remain for forced and artificial groupings except that of historical tradition or accomplished fact which would obviously have little weight in a great change of world conditions impossible to achieve unless the race is prepared to break hundreds of traditions and unsettle the great majority of accomplished facts.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 18, The Ideal Solution — A Free Grouping of Mankind, pp. 157-159

The Difficult and Convoluted Movement Towards Human Unity

Idealists like to fantasize about the eventual goal of human unity and how humanity, by adhering to the highest principles and values will adopt the ultimate ideal solution.  Legends from the past relate stories of how great minds developed basic rules for living which became the guiding lights under which entire societies were founded.  Unfortunately, these may be nothing more than legends, or at best, partial truths obscured in the difficulties they faced through the passage of time.  The reality is that humanity tends to evolve in what may be called the messy process of trial and error, progress and retrogression, action and reaction, and this tends to obscure, on the other side, the real positive movement being made through all this constant churning and confusion.

Sri Aurobindo observes, with regard to the process of human development towards unity:  “Attempted, as it will be, in very different fashion according to the desires, passions and interests of great masses of men and guided by no better light than the half-enlightened reason of the world’s intellectuals and the empirical opportunism of the world’s statesmen and politicians, it is likely to be done by a succession of confused experiments, recoils and returns, resistances and persistences; it will progress in spite of human unreason in the midst of a clamour of rival ideas and interests, stumble through a war of principles, advance by a clash of vehement parties ending in more or less clumsy compromises.  It may even, as we have said, be managed in the most unideal, though not the most inconvenient method of all, by a certain amount of violence, the domination of a few vast and powerful empires or even the emergence of a single predominant world-empire, a king-state that will be accepted or will impose itself as the arbiter, if not the ruler of mankind.  Not any intelligent principle, but necessity and convenience, not urgent light, but urgent power is likely to be the effective force in any political, administrative and economic unification of the race.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 18, The Ideal Solution — A Free Grouping of Mankind, pg. 157

Resolving the Dynamic Tension Between Law and Liberty

The human mind’s tendency to create apparently mutually exclusive options sets up a barrier to resolving the dynamic tension between the concept of law and that of liberty.  Those who come down on the side of liberty assert the inalienable right of individuals to virtually absolute freedom without taking serious account of the impact on others or the society as a whole.  The only real limitation here would be the feedback that the environment provides to the individual exercising his liberty.  Those who come down on the side of law or regulation believe that society can only function effectively if there is order and a limitation on the exercise of individual freedom.  They cite the efficiency and organizational controls that make regulation essential, and they point out that the exercise of virtually unlimited individual freedom can create serious problems when an individual chooses to use his freedom to bully or attempt to control others, or to create circumstances that would lead to harm to others or the environment.

Sri Aurobindo observes that there is a solution to this apparently irreconcilable opposition:  “Nature does not manufacture, does not impose a pattern or a rule from outside; she impels life to grow from within and to assert its own natural law and development modified only by its commerce with its environment.  All liberty, individual, national, religious, social, ethical, takes its ground upon this fundamental principle of our existence.  By liberty we mean the freedom to obey the law of our being, to grow to our natural self-fulfilment, to find out naturally and freely our harmony with our environment.  The dangers and disadvantages of liberty, the disorder, strife, waste and confusion to which its wrong use leads are indeed obvious.  But they arise from the absence or defect of the sense of unity between individual and individual, between community and community, which pushes them to assert themselves at the expense of each other instead of growing by mutual help and interchange and to assert freedom for themselves in the very act of encroaching on the free development of their fellows.  If a real, a spiritual and psychological unity were effectuated, liberty would have no perils and disadvantages; for free individuals enamoured of unity would be compelled by themselves, by their own need, to accommodate perfectly their own growth with the growth of their fellows and would not feel themselves complete except in the free growth of others.  Because of our present imperfection and the ignorance of our mind and will, law and regimentation have to be called in to restrain and to compel from outside.  The facile advantages of a strong law and compulsion are obvious, but equally great are the disadvantages.  Such perfection as it succeeds in creating tends to be mechanical and even the order it imposes turns out to be artificial and liable to break down if the yoke is loosened or the restraining grasp withdrawn.  Carried too far, an imposed order discourages the principle of natural growth which is the true method of life and may even slay the capacity for real growth. … And all repressive or preventive law is only a makeshift, a substitute for the true law which must develop from within and be not a check on liberty, but its outward image and visible expression.  Human society progresses really and vitally in proportion as law becomes the child of freedom; it will reach its perfection when, man having learned to know and become spiritually one with his fellow-man, the spontaneous law of his society exists only as the outward mould of his self-governed inner liberty.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 17, Nature’s Law in our Progress — Unity in Diversity, Law and Liberty, pp. 155-156