Issues and Factors in the Potential Development of a World-State

Sri Aurobindo is systematically exploring the various directions humanity could take in any development towards human unity.  Some of the options may be more feasible than others, and at the same time, may represent downside risks that many would shudder to find coming true.  At the end of the examination of the various options, he can then propose a potential line of solution to achieve an optimal result.  The first direction he explores here is the idea of a “world-state”.

“But a World-State implies a strong central organ of power that would represent or at least stand for the united will of the nations.  A unification of all the necessary powers in the hands of this central and common governing body, at least in their source — powers military, administrative, judicial, economic, legislative, social, educational — would be indispensable.  And as an almost inevitable result there would be an increasing uniformity of human life throughout the world in all these departments, even perhaps to the choice or creation of one common and universal language.  This, indeed, is the dream of a unified world which Utopian thinkers have been more and more moved to place before us.  The difficulties in the way of arriving at this result are at present obvious, but they are perhaps not so great as they seem at first sight and none of them are insoluble.  It is no longer a Utopia that can be put aside as the impracticable dream of the ideal thinker.”

Of course, it must be added that it is idealists who foresee benefits in such a World-State, by virtue of their disregarding, or minimizing,  the opportunity for negative consequences.  Dystopian writers, such as Aldous Huxley and George Orwell explored the potential dark consequences of world-power being concentrated in just one or a few places in the world.  It is useful to keep in mind that the efficiency and benefits of a unified system nevertheless have to be weighed against the increase of uniformity and the concentration of power that would simultaneously occur.

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 23, Forms of Government, pp. 195-196

A World-Union or a World-State As Options for Human Unity

Given the widely diverse economic, religious, cultural and historical forms of government found in the world’s nations today, it is possible that the earliest, and perhaps the easiest form of human unity will come about through what may be called a “world-union”.  Something of that was envisioned in the founding of the United Nations.  Each nation-member would retain its own independence and unique factors of its existence, but would collaborate with other nations in a global body that would tackle the larger, common issues pressing for solution.  Obviously, the United Nations model was begun with limitations and flaws that have made it less than fully effective.  In more recent times, we see nations gathering for specific issue focus and resolution, such as the Paris Climate Accord.  Once again, the nations remain independent and collaborate freely.  Again, limitations prevent full implementation of such accords, and there is, neither in the United Nations model nor in the “accord” model, no enforcement or executive implementation mechanism to ensure that what is agreed upon is actually carried out.  Such limitations, when we recognize the grave danger inaction may pose for human existence, lead others to believe that only through a unified World-State that carries with it the organisational and enforcement mechanisms, can these crisis issues be truly resolved.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “The idea of a world-union of free nations and empires, loose at first, but growing closer-knit with time and experience, seems at first sight the most practicable form of political unity; it is the only form indeed which would be immediately practicable, supposing the will to unity to become rapidly effective in the mind of the race.  On the other hand, it is the State idea which is now dominant.  The State has been the most successful and efficient means of unification and has been best able to meet the various needs which the progressive aggregate life of societies has created for itself and is still creating.  it is, besides, the expedient to which the human mind at present has grown accustomed, and it is too the most ready means both for its logical and its practical reason to work with because it provides it with what our limited intelligence is always tempted to think its best instrument, a clear-cut and precise machinery and a stringent method of organisation.  There it is by no means impossible that, even though beginning with a loose union, the nations may be rapidly moved by the pressure of the many problems which would arise from the ever closer interworking of their needs and interests, to convert it into the more stringent form of a World-State.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 23, Forms of Government, pg. 195

The Necessity for a New Order of Human Civilisation: World-State or World-Union

Humanity does not easily adopt new ideas and directions.  There is a comfort level in the known and even when it is imperfect, there is a fear, particularly among those who exercise ruling powers, that any change will upend their control and disrupt their plans.  At the same time, the world conditions as we see them today are not the same as those that have prevailed through much of human history.   The existential threat to human existence posed by diverse crises such as climate change, pollution, exhaustion of resources, exploitation and domination that leads to war and rebellion, and fights over both resources and ideology, with weapons that have the power to destroy the entire planet many times over, including nuclear, biological, chemical, economic, EMP and cyber weapons, make it imperative that humanity find a way to not only coexist, but cooperate to resolve the tensions, allocate resources, and find ways to live in harmony with the planet and within the resources that the planet provides.  Failure to do so spells devastation, and thus, there is standing before all of us, the need to address the limitations of the past and present systems of governing ourselves as a species and as a civilisation, and develop new and embracing relationships that allow us to combine our abilities to solve these existential issues.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  The World-State must now either be brought about by a mutual understanding or by the force of circumstances and a series of new and disastrous shocks.  For the old still-prevailing order of things was founded on circumstances and conditions which no longer exist.  A new order is demanded by the new conditions and, so long as it is not created, there will be a transitional era of continued trouble or recurrent disorders, inevitable crises through which Nature will effect in her own violent way the working out of the necessity which she has evolved.  There may be in the process a maximum of loss and suffering through the clash of national and imperial egoisms or else a minimum, if reason and goodwill prevail.  To that reason two alternative possibilities and therefore two ideals present themselves, a World-State founded upon the principle of centralisation and uniformity, a mechanical and formal unity, or a world-union founded upon the principle of liberty and variation in a free and intelligent unity.  These two ideals and possibilities we have successively to consider.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 22, World-Union or World-State, pp. 193-194

The Organic Unity of all Humanity

For much of human history, people lived in ignorance of others living far away, and even those who lived nearby were frequently little impacted by the actions of one group or another, setting aside, of course, the active attempt to control or subjugate neighboring groups through invasion and warfare.  The consciousness of humanity was clearly fragmented and divided and did not consciously identify all human beings as being inter-dependent and inter-connected.  The age of exploration, during which Europeans went out and tried to understand the planet, the oceans and land masses, and the peoples who resided in those various places, represented a first real awakening to the global scope of humanity and began the process of bringing people together, albeit for a long period of time in a decidedly negative manner of exploitation and domination.  During the 20th century, however, a deeper consciousness began to express itself, as the tools of communication, transportation and interchange became powerful enough to bring awareness of one another to people all over the world, and in the late 20th century, a larger awareness was brought forward that the actions of human beings could and did affect the environment, climate, and the earth as a whole, thus making it obvious that all humanity was tied together in an interrelationship with each other and the environment.  Science has also gone on to determine that all human beings are in fact descended from one species and thus, we are all one with each other in a very real and vital way in addition to our common needs, and requirements for a life-supporting world.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “…the natural organic unity already exists, a unity of life, of involuntary association, of a closely interdependent existence of the constituent parts in which the life and movements of one affect the life of the others in a way which would have been impossible a hundred years ago.  Continent has no longer a separate life from continent; no nation can any longer isolate itself at will and live a separate existence.  Science, commerce and rapid communications have produced a state of things in which the disparate masses of humanity, once living to themselves, have been drawn together by a process of subtle unification into a single mass which has already a common vital and is rapidly forming a common mental existence.  A great precipitating and transforming shock was needed which should make this subtle organic unity manifest and reveal the necessity and create the will for a closer and organised union, and this shock came with the Great War.  The idea of a World-State or world-union has been born not only in the speculating forecasting mind of the thinker, but in the consciousness of humanity out of the very necessity of this new common existence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 22, World-Union or World-State, pg. 193

The Transition from Vital, Natural Societal Groups to Rationalised State Organisation

Looked at through the lens of human evolutionary history in the development of society, we can observe the transition from the vital, natural organisation of the smaller clan or tribal groups, which developed habits and customs of action and response to situations to the more complex, highly organised and mentally developed and large-scale societal groupings found in the modern world.  The first are essentially expressions of the life-energy in action and reaction; the latter are the expressions of the mental consciousness attempting to organise and control the vital life of the society.

Sri Aurobindo observes, with respect to the growth of the State as the organising principle of society:  “It is a history of strict unification by the development of a central authority and of a growing uniformity in administration, legislation, social and economic life and culture and the chief means of culture, education and language.  In all, the central authority becomes more and more the determining and regulating power.  The process culminates by the transformation of this governing sole authority or sovereign power from the rule of the central executive man or the capable class into that of a body whose proposed function is to represent the thought and will of the whole community.  The change represents in principle an evolution from a natural and organic to a rational and mechanically organised state of society.  an intelligent centralised unification aiming at a perfect rational efficiency replaces a loose and natural unity whose efficiency is that of life developing with a certain spontaneity its organs and powers under the pressure of inner impulse and the needs of the environment and the first conditions of existence.  A rational, ordered, strict uniformity replaces a loose oneness full of natural complexities and variations.  The intelligent will of the whole society expressed in a carefully thought-out law and ordered regulation replaces its natural organic will expressed in a mass of customs and institutions which have grown up as the result of its nature and temperament.  In the last perfection of the State a carefully devised, in the end a giant machinery productive and regulative replaces the vigour and fertility of life with the natural simplicity of its great lines and the obscure, confused, luxuriant complexity of its details.  The State is the masterful but arbitrary and intolerant science and reason of man that successfully takes the place of the intuitions and evolutionary experimentations of Nature; intelligent organisation replaces natural organism.”



Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 22, World-Union or World-State, pg. 192

The Modern Society and its Attempt to Bring About Rational and Self-Directed Management of the Social Order

The human mentality, when it awakens and tries to exercise influence or control over things or actions, first tries to organise and then systematise.  This immense power can be seen in the development of agriculture, the industrial revolution and the rise of the digital age in the modern world.  When the mentality turns its focus on the organisation and activities of society, it attempts to use its native powers to organise and systematise the way the society functions.

The monarch or a ruling elite, naturally trying to organise according to their own perceived self-interest, has difficulty in creating the independent mental framework that the mind, not under the control of the vital force, would ideally want to create.  As an expression of the aspiration or will of a society, the input from the entire society has a greater chance of expressing that direction than a small self-interested clique.

As Sri Aurobindo notes:  “For what king or aristocracy could not do, the democratic State may perhaps with a better chance of success and a greater security attempt and bring nearer to fruition, — the conscious and organised unity, the regularised efficiency on uniform and intelligent principles, the rational order and self-governed perfectioning of a developed society.  That is the idea and, however imperfectly, the attempt of modern life; and this attempt has been the whole rationale of modern progress.  Unity and uniformity are its principal trend; for how else are the incalculable complexities of the vast and profound thing we call life to be taken hold of, dominated, made calculable and manageable by a logical intelligence and unified will?”

The concepts underpinning socialism try to carry out this trend of unity and uniformity as the intellect grapples with how to order a rational and functioning society.  “Uniformity of the social and economic principles and processes that govern the collectivity secured by means of a fundamental equality of all and the management of the whole social and economic life in all its parts by the State; uniformity of culture by the process of a State-education organised upon scientific lines; to regularise and maintain the whole a unified, uniform and perfectly organised government and administration that will represent and act for the whole social being, this is the modern Utopia which in one form or another it is hoped to turn, in spite of all extant obstacles and opposite tendencies, into a living reality.  Human science will, it seems, replace the large and obscure processes of Nature and bring about perfection or at least some approach to perfection in the collective human life.”

There is of course a considerable difference between the ideal and the specific implementations and the transitional steps to get to a fair, balanced and rational social order.  Thus, one cannot leap from concept to the current implementation of any form of socialism to say that it is at this point truly approaching or carrying out the deeper movement toward the mental framework governing a rational and just society when fully constructed in the future.

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 21, The Drive towards Legislative and Social Centralisation and Uniformity, pp. 190-191

Two Methods Rulers Use to Attempt Control of the Society’s Direction and Development

History provides us a number of examples of rulers or ruling groups attempting to control the society and its development in a comprehensive way.  The motivation to exercise and maintain power remains the same, but the approaches have varied.  Sri Aurobindo identifies both negative and positive approaches to the type of absolute control sought by these rulers, and elucidates the reasons that both approaches are inevitably doomed to failure and what their limitations are.

“One was chiefly negative; it worked by an oppression on the life and soul of the community, a more or less complete inhibition of its freedom of thought, speech, association, individual and associated action, — often attended by the most abominable methods of inquisition and interference and pressure on the most sacred relations and liberties of man the individual and social being, — and an encouragement and patronage of only such thought and culture and activities as accepted, flattered and helped the governing absolutism.  Another was positive; it consisted in getting a control over the religion of the society and calling in the priest as the spiritual helper of the king.  For in natural societies and in those which, even if partly intellectualised, still cling to the natural principles of our being, religion, if it is not the whole life, yet watches over and powerfully influences and moulds the whole life of the individual and society, as it did till recent times in India and to a great extent in all Asiatic countries.  State religions are an expression of this endeavour.  But a State religion is an artificial monstrosity, although a national religion may well be a living reality; but even that, if it is not to formalise and kill in the end the religious spirit or prevent spiritual expansion, has to be tolerant, self-adaptive, flexible, a mirror of the deeper soul of the society.”

“Both these devices, however seemingly successful for a time, are foredoomed to failure, failure by revolt of the oppressed social being or failure by its decay, weakness and death or life in death.  Stagnation and weakness such as in the end overtook Greece, Rome, the Mussulman nations, China, India, or else a saving spiritual, social and political revolution are the only issues of absolutism.”

The repeated instances of these attempts had their own purpose in the larger evolution of humanity:  “It was, for all its vices, a necessary step because only so could the clear idea of an intelligently self-governing society firmly evolve.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 21, The Drive towards Legislative and Social Centralisation and Uniformity, pp. 189-190

The Rationale and Limitations of the Ruling Elite Attempting to Set the Society’s Dharma

The evolution of consciousness in society follows a similar path to the development of conscious awareness in the human being.  The most common development of mind in humanity starts from the basis of the physical world and the vital being in the physical world.  It organises itself around successfully manipulating the physical things and vital forces in the human environment.  The achievements in the form of providing food, shelter, warmth, and then the ability to direct and guide the form and shape of the material world and the beings that populate it, were the result of this development.  Subsequently, the drive and the power to manipulate the events and objects in the world was turned on other human beings, and there developed highly powerful emotional, mental and vital tools to guide human individuals into the paths and directions sought by those who exercised this planning and controlling function.  The next step, then, was to attempt to manipulate the entire society along lines envisioned by what can now be seen as a ruling elite, under whatever name it has been called through time and history.  The problem here is that the specific direction and goals of this ruling elite, colored as they tend to be by the ambitions, desires and limitations of vision that it embodies, cannot possibly embrace and embody the complex development, focus and dharma of that society.

Sri Aurobindo observes, noting the attempt of such an elite to try to master the direction and development of the society was inevitable:  “It was inevitable because this transitional instrument represented the first idea of the human reason and will seizing on the group-life to fashion, mould and arrange it according to its own pleasure and power and intelligent choice, to govern Nature in the human mass as it has already learned partly to govern it in the human individual.  And since the mass is unenlightened and incapable of such an intelligent effort, who can do this for it, if not the capable individual or a body of intelligent and capable individuals?  That is the whole rationale of absolutism, aristocracy and theocracy.  Its idea is false or only a half-truth or temporary truth, because the real business of the advanced class or individual is progressively to enlighten and train the whole body consciously to do for itself its own work and not eternally to do things for it.  … The difficulty was that the ruling man or class could take up the more mechanical part of the life of society, but all that represented its more intimate being eluded their grasp; they could not lay hands on its soul.  Still, unless they could do so, they must remain unfulfilled in their trend and insecure in their possession. since at any time they might be replaced by more adequate powers that must inevitably rise up from the larger mind of humanity to oust them and occupy their throne.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 21, The Drive towards Legislative and Social Centralisation and Uniformity, pp. 188-189

The Limitations of a Ruler in Any Attempt at Developing and Defining the Dharma of a Society

Powerful rulers through the ages have, in many instances, tried to identify the needs, direction and development of the society through their own predilections and ideas.  They look upon the society as simply an appendage of themselves and they believe that they can fix the programme followed by the society.  Given the complexity and size of the societal groupings, it is clear that this is akin to the idea of the “tail wagging the dog”.  It clearly would be impossible for any ruler to determine the exact nature and progress of the economic, social, administrative, legal, executive, religious and cultural directions any society may take.  These things come from the innate force of the people constituting the society and in their complexity and varying focus and needs, we can identify attempts to suppress the naturally arising directions and tendencies as a hopeless and counter-productive task.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “he can only in great flowering times of that culture help by his protection in fixing for it the turn which by its own force of tendency it was already taking.  To attempt more is an irrational attempt which cannot lead to the development of a rational society.  He can only support the attempt by autocratic oppression which leads in the end to the feebleness and stagnation of the society, and justify it by some mystical falsity about the divine right of kings or monarchy a peculiarly divine institution.  Even exceptional rulers, a Charlemagne, an Augustus, a Napoleon, a Chandragupta, Asoka or Akbar, can do no more than fix certain new institutions which the time needed and help the emergence of its best or else its strongest tendencies in a critical era.  When they attempt more, they fail.  Akbar’s effort to create a new dharma for the Indian nation by his enlightened reason was a brilliant futility.  Asoka’s edicts remain graven upon pillar and rock, but the development of Indian religion and culture took its own line in other and far more complex directions determined by the soul of a great people.  Only the rare individual Manu, Avatar or prophet who comes on earth perhaps once in a millennium can speak truly of his divine right, for the secret of his force is not political but spiritual.  For an ordinary political ruling man or a political institution to have made such a claim was one of the most amazing among the many follies of the human mind.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 21, The Drive towards Legislative and Social Centralisation and Uniformity, pp. 187-188

Laws and Institutions of a Society Provide a Framework for Realizing its Dharma

Societies go through a series of phases of development with respect to the creation of a formal body of laws and forms through which the society expresses its essential nature and goals.  The earlier phases are generally not consciously determined, but rather come about through the vital interactions of the participants in the society and their response to external concerns and internal needs for organisation and efficiency of action within the group.  At a later stage, an intellectual component develops, and one can see an attempt to codify and organise laws along sensible lines to achieve certain aims.  This represents the input of the mental evolution into the vital life of the society.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “For the laws and institutions of a society are the framework it builds for its life and its dharma.  When it begins to determine these for itself by a self-conscious action of its reason and will within whatever limits, it has taken the first step in a movement which must inevitably end in an attempt to regulate self-consciously its whole social and cultural life; it must, as its self-consciousness increases, drive towards the endeavour to realise something like the Utopia of the thinker.  For the Utopian thinker is the individual mind forerunning in its turn of thought the trend which the social mind must eventually take.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 21, The Drive towards Legislative and Social Centralisation and Uniformity, pg. 187