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