Centralised Government and its Encroachment on Smaller Constituent Aggregates

As society becomes more complex and tries to deal with larger numbers of people, some governing body becomes inevitable.  In the attempt to manage the complexity, the governing body attempts to create processes that bring about uniformity and ease the management process.  As smaller aggregates such as states combine into larger ones, such as nations composed of states, the national entity will have some form of centralized organizing and governing role.  The tendency here is for that centralized government in the larger entity to systematically accrue to itself more and more of the governing power, overshadowing and eventually weakening the role of the smaller constituent entities.  Attempts have been made to limit this encroachment to avoid the risks of an all-powerful central governing entity, and these may have slowed the inevitable process, but not prevented it.  Sri Aurobindo describes this and uses the example of the United States to illustrate this issue.  The United States used founding documents and a system of multiple “checks and balances” to try to prevent an all powerful monarchy or central control from arising.  Powers were reserved to the States, and the government was set up with three branches which had countervailing powers to keep each other in check.  Nevertheless, the history of the United States shows an ever-increasing move towards an all-powerful centralized government and a weakening of the powers of the individual States.

“Although nominally or to begin with this central government may be only an organ created by several States that still claim to be sovereign within their own borders, an instrument to which for convenience’ sake they attribute a few of their powers for common objects, yet in fact it tends always to become itself the sovereign body and desires always to concentrate more and more power into its hands and leave only delegated powers to local legislatures and authorities.  The practical inconveniences of a looser system strengthen this tendency and weaken gradually the force of the safeguards erected against an encroachment which seems more and more to be entirely beneficial and supported by the logic of general utility.  Even in the United States with its strong attachment to its original constitution and slowness in accepting constitutional innovations on other than local lines, the tendency is manifesting itself and would certainly have resulted by this time in great and radical changes if there had not been a Supreme Court missioned to nullify any legislative interference with the original constitution, or if the American policy of aloofness from foreign affairs and complications had not removed the pressure of those necessities that in other nations have aided the central government to engross all real power and convert itself into the source as well as the head or centre of national activities.”

“Once militarised, once cast into the vortex of old-world politics, as it at times threatens to be, nothing could long protect the States from the necessity of large changes in the direction of centralisation and the weakening of the federal principle. 2 (The Roosevelt poilcy and the difficulties it encountered illustrate vividly the power of these two conflicting forces in the United States; but the trend towards the strengthening of the federal case, however slow, is unmistakable.)”

With the benefit of recent history, we can see how accurately Sri Aurobindo has predicted the arc of the development of strong central control in the United States.

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 19, The Drive towards Centralisation and Uniformity — Administration and Control of Foreign Affairs, pp. 170-171

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