Centralised Authority in External and Internal Affairs of the State

The case to be made for centralised management and fast, uniform response to an external threat by any society is strong and can justify the concentration of power in a small number of executive leaders.  Any response to an external threat which required extensive debate, conflicting viewpoints to be aired and resolved, and then, a potentially fragrmented or incomplete response to be provided, would potentially be devastating to the society so managed.  At the same time, the case for such tight and uniform control internally within the society is not as clear cut nor as definitive.  Absent a “life and death’ crisis, a society actually needs interchange of ideas, and challenges to established habits in the face of the ever-changing situations faced within any community.   The external management, however, need not be monarchical or dictatorial; rather it can have its power flow from an open society, and this is the goal of democratic government experiments.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “Even now European governments which have in internal affairs to defer to the popular will or to persuade and cajole the nation, are able in foreign politics to act either entirely or very largely according to their own ideas: for they are allowed to determine their acts by a secret diplomacy in which the people can have no voice and the representatives of the nation have only a general power of criticising or ratifying its results.  Their action in foreign politics is nominal or at any rate restricted to a minimum, since they cannot prevent secret arrangements and treaties; even to such as are made early public they can only withhold their ratification at the risk of destroying the sureness and continuity, the necessary uniformity of the external action of the nation and thus destroying too the confidence of foreign governments without which negotiations cannot be conducted nor stable alliances and combinations formed.  Nor can they really withhold their sanction in a crisis, whether for war or peace, at the only moment when they are effectively consulted, the last hour or rather the last minute when either has become inevitable.”

“The demand for real parliamentary control of foreign policy and even for an open diplomacy — a difficult matter to our current notions, yet once practiced and perfectly capable of practice — indicates one more step in the transformation, far from complete in spite of the modern boast of democracy, from a monarchical and oligarchic to a democratic system, the taking over of all sovereign functions from the one sovereign administrator or the few dominant executive men by the society as a whole organised in the democratic State.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 20, The Drive towards Economic Centralisation, pp. 178-179