The Possession of Power Is the Test of Idealistic Ideas

There is a general assumption that democratic governments are more inclined to maintain peaceful relations than dictatorial or autocratic governments.  This assumption is based on the idea that the general population of a country has no reason or incentive to go to war, and generally suffers extreme hardships as a result of war, including having their families disrupted through death and injury and calls to military service.  In a democratic society, in theory, the populace would therefore resist calls to war, unless urgent need, such as defense against aggression, made it necessary.  On the other hand, it is generally assumed that a ruling elite, whether focused in a monarchy or dictatorship, or in an aristocracy or power elite, would be able to act without the consent of the general populace, and would act in such a way to aggrandise their power and profits, with warfare being a profitable enterprise for various military related industries, and the positive result of warfare providing huge opportunities for enhancement of prestige, power and profit for those in control.

In actual fact, however, democracies as have been generally constituted in the past were very much controlled and manipulated by a managing elite, combined with major business interests, and the wishes of the populace are not always carried out when they conflict with the vested interests of the ruling clique.  Huge amounts of money are available to bribe or “lobby” officials to achieve leverage in favor of the profit potential of the military-industrial complex.

As the concept of democratic socialism gains momentum as a form of modern nation, it has been speculated that the idealism of a society founded on liberty, equality and fraternity would embody the values and needs of the general population and thus, work to minimise or avoid war.  Sri Aurobindo however raises the question of whether governing power, in and of itself, can warp the ideals of even the most starry-eyed ruling body:

“One rule of the new international situation was to be the right of nations to dispose of their own destinies and to be governed only by their free consent. … If it were capable of universal application, if the existing relations of peoples and the psychology of nations could be so altered as to establish it as a working principle, one of the most fertile causes of war and revolution would be removed, but all causes would not disappear…. Certainly, democracy of a certain kind, democracy reposing for its natural constitution on individual liberty would be likely to be indisposed to war except in moments of great and universal excitement.  War demands a violent concentration of all the forces, a spirit of submission, a suspension of free-will, free action and of the right of criticism which is alien to the true democratic instinct.  But the democracies of the future are likely to be strongly concentrated governments in which the principle of liberty is subordinated to the efficient life of the community by some form of State socialism.  A democratic State of that kind might well have even a greater power for war, might be able to put forward a more violently concentrated military organisation in event of hostilities than even the bourgeois democracies and it is not at all certain that it would be less tempted to use its means and power.   …  What will happen when they have hold of the government and its temptations and opportunities has to be seen but can easily be forecast.  The possession of power is the great test of all idealisms and as yet there have been none religious or secular which have withstood it or escaped diminution and corruption.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 24, The Need of Military Unification, pp  210-211