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

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