The Idea of World-Union As an Alternative to a World-State

The extensive review of the tendency for development of human unity through the creation of a central administrative and controlling World-State, has led to the conclusion that such a result would eventually stamp out the diversity and creative impulses of a diverse mix of cultures, languages and ways of looking at things, and eventually lead to stagnation or even dissolution.  The challenge is then to find a different direction for the development of human unity which will not be subject to this type of negative set of consequences.  Sri Aurobindo suggests the possibility of a World-Union made up of separate nations joining together on some basis, rather than a World-State that eliminates the independence and diversity inherent in the nations of the world.

“The only means that readily suggests itself by which a necessary group-freedom can be preserved and yet the unification of the human race achieved, is to strive not towards a closely organised World-State, but towards a free, elastic and progressive world-union.  If this is to be done, we shall have to discourage the almost inevitable tendency which must lead any unification by political, economic and administrative means, in a word, by the force of machinery, to follow the analogy of the evolution of the nation-State.  And we shall have to encourage and revive that force of idealistic nationalism which, before the war, seemed on the point of being crushed on the one side under the weight of the increasing world-empires of England, Russia, Germany and France, on the other by the progress of the opposite ideal of internationalism with its large and devastating contempt for the narrow ideas of country and nation and its denunciation of the evils of nationalistic patriotism.  But at the same time we shall have to find a cure for the as yet incurable separative sentiments natural to the very idea to which we shall have to give a renewed strength.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 29, The Idea of a League of Nations, pg. 253


Implications of Achieving Unity at the Cost of Diversity

The mental consciousness, which insists on “either/or” type solutions for the most part, tries to create an opposition between the task of achieving human unity and the maintenance of variation and diversity among cultures or peoples.  It then weighs the options and, if the need for unity appears to outweigh the need for diversity, it then pushes for any solution that will achieve that unity, regardless of potential unintended consequences or long-term counter-effects.  Human history shows us examples of smaller groups that were suppressed or annihilated in the name of a larger form of unity.  The current trend gives us little hope that a more mature, multi-sided approach will develop as the world struggles to address global crises that demand some form of unity.  An outward unity in any case will likely develop, and this will take the shape of an administrative and controlling authority dealing with issues such as environmental and climate change, mass migrations, global pandemics, and the global inter-related economic activities of all the nations.  The challenge lies in whether this approach attempts to create uniformity on the global level or whether it can develop a method to maintain diversity while promoting unified action and relations.  Dystopian thinkers and writers, such as Orwell or Huxley have claimed that uniformity and suppression of variation, in one way or another, is the direction that the world seems to be taking, and they warn about the consequences.  The pictures they paint of the future world-order are not comforting.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “There will be a sole unity, the world-nation; all outer source of diversity will disappear.  Therefore the inner source has to be modified indeed, subordinated in some way, but preserved and encouraged to survive.  It may be that this will not happen; the unitarian idea may forcefully prevail and turn the existing nations into mere geographical provinces or administrative departments of a single well-mechanised State.  But in that case the outraged need of life will have its revenge, either by a stagnation, a collapse and a detrition fruitful of new separations or by some principle of revolt from within.  A gospel of Anarchism might enforce itself, for example, and break down the world-order for a new creation.  The question is whether there is not somewhere a principle of unity in diversity by which this method of action and reaction, creation and destruction, realisation and relapse cannot be, if not altogether avoided, yet mitigated in its action and led to a more serene and harmonious working.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 28, Diversity in Oneness, pp. 251-252

The Difficulties of Achieving Unity While Maintaining Diversity

The human mind finds it next to impossible to reconcile what appear to be opposite extremes.  The simplest approach to unity appears to the mental consciousness to be rooted in the development of a uniform administration of human life and actions, with the intent to reduce possibilities of conflict and disagreement.  This approach has been the cornerstone of past attempts to unify diverse peoples into one functional unit, whether a nation or an empire.  To the extent that diversity could not be entirely suppressed, various mechanisms were devised to allow some form of local autonomy while the larger political, administrative, economic framework was developed as a uniform structure.  Sri Aurobindo has enunciated the weakness of this approach.  Eventually uniformity leads to stagnation and stagnation leads to internal weakness and dissolution of the form over time.

On the other hand, encouraging widespread diversity, including cultural, linguistic, political, economic differences makes it well nigh impossible to achieve a true psychological unity.  Even if there is a framework for a time, the centrifugal force of the diverse ideas and viewpoints will stretch that framework until it breaks down, thereby shattering the outward unity.

This is then the problem to be faced and solved by humanity:  how to develop a strong psychological unity of humanity without sacrificing the essential diversity that is required to maintain the wellsprings of creativity, progress and inner strength of the race.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “…if an excessive uniformity and centralisation tends to the disappearance of necessary variations and indispensable liberties, a vigorous diversity and strong group-individualism may lead to an incurable persistence or constant return of the old separatism which will prevent human unity from reaching completeness or even will not allow it to take firm root.”

“The problem is rather, on a larger and more difficult scale and with greater complexities, that which offered itself for a moment to the British Empire, how, if it is at all possible, to unite Great Britain, Ireland, the Colonies, Egypt, India in a real oneness, throw their gains into a common stock, use their energies for a common end, help them to find the account of their national individuality, — Ireland keeping the Irish soul and life and cultural principle, India the Indian soul and life and cultural principle, the other units developing theirs, not united by a common Anglicisation, which was the past empire-building ideal, but held together by a greater as yet unrealised principle of free union.  Nothing was suggested at any time in the way of a solution except some sort of bunch or rather bouquet system, unifying its clusters not by the living stalk of a common origin or united past, for that does not exist, but by an artificial thread or administrative unity which might at any moment be snapped irretrievably by centrifugal forces.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 28, Diversity in Oneness, pp. 250-251

The Ideal of a Living Oneness of Humanity With Freedom and Diversity

The mental consciousness tries to bring about unity through imposition of a common rule for all humanity, through the development of uniformity.  The idea is that if people eat the same foods, wear the same clothes, think the same thoughts, practice the same religion, speak the same language, there will be efficiency in the organisation of the society and peace for mankind.  In this line of thinking, diversity is to be avoided as a force for disharmony and conflict.  Various experiments with imperial rule throughout history have tried to impose peace through uniformity to a certain degree.  Those that succeeded the most, however, tended to bring about a stagnation of human spirit and development, and eventually, having lost the well-springs of progress and development, they were doomed to decline and disintegration.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The disappearance of national variation into a single uniform human unity, of which the systematic thinker dreams as an ideal and which we have seen to be a substantial possibility and even a likelihood if a certain tendency becomes dominant, might lead to political peace, economic well-being, perfect administration, the solution of a hundred material problems, as did on a lesser scale the Roman unity in old times; but to what eventual good if it leads also to an uncreative sterilisation of the mind and the stagnation of the soul of the race?  In laying this stress on culture, on the things of the mind and the spirit there need be no intention of undervaluing the outward material side of life; it is not at all my purpose to belittle that to which Nature always attaches so insistent an importance.  On the contrary, the inner and the outer depend upon each other.  For we see that in the life of a nation a great period of national culture and vigorous mental and soul life is always part of a general stirring and movement which has its counterpart in the outward political, economic and practical life of the nation.  The cultural brings about or increases the material progress but also it needs it that it may itself flourish with an entirely full and healthy vigour.  The peace, well-being and settled order of the human world is a thing eminently to be desired as a basis for a great world-culture in which all humanity must be united; but neither of these unities, the outward or the inward, ought to be devoid of an element even more important than peace, order and well-being, — freedom and vigour of life, which can only be assured by variation and by the freedom of the group and of the individual.  Not then an uniform unity, not a logically simple, a scientifically rigid, a beautifully neat and mechanical sameness, but a living oneness full of healthy freedom and variation is the ideal which we should keep in view and strive to get realised in man’s future.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 28, Diversity in Oneness, pp. 249-250

Issues Surrounding Adoption of a Unified World Language

Intellectuals who review the unifying value of a common language for a people or a nation make the argument that if this works at the nation level, it should also work at the global level; thus, there has been a somewhat consistent pressure from certain circles for the development of a common language for all of humanity.  In some cases, a manufactured language, such as Esperanto, has been proposed.  In other cases, thinkers have pointed to adoption of a flexible “lingua franca” that had gained world-wide presence through business, commerce, and political historical fact, i.e. English.  On a superficial level, it is easy to accept such an idea, yet there remain serious issues, which Sri Aurobindo indicates are critical to the long-term vibrancy and development of the human race.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “…it makes for a real, fruitful, living unity, only when it is the natural expression of the race or has been made natural by a long adaptation and development from within.  The history of universal tongues spoken by peoples to whom they were not natural, is not encouraging.  Always they have tended to become dead tongues, sterilising so long as they kept their hold, fruitful only when they were decomposed and broken up into new derivative languages or departed leaving the old speech, where that still persisted, to revive with this new stamp and influence upon it.  Latin, after its first century of general domination in the West, became a dead thing, impotent for creation, and generated no new or living and evolving culture in the nations that spoke it; even so great a force as Christianity could not give it a new life.  The times during which it was an instrument of European thought, were precisely those in which that thought was heaviest, most traditional and least fruitful.  A rapid and vigorous new life only grew up when the languages which appeared out of the detritus of dying Latin or the old languages which had not been lost took its place as the complete instruments of national culture.  For it is not enough that the natural language should be spoken by the people; it must be the expression of its higher life and thought.  A language that survives only as a patois or a provincial tongue like Welsh after the English conquest or Breton or Provencal in France or as Czech survived once in Austria or Ruthenian and Lithuanian in imperial Russia, languishes, becomes sterile and does not serve all the true purpose of survival.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 28, Diversity in Oneness, pp. 248-249

National Language and the Example of Modern India

Sri Aurobindo witnessed first-hand the situation in India under strict British control, as well as participated in the period of awakening of the Indian people to the need to throw off the British yoke and regain their independence.  He saw the effect of British control over the language of commerce and governance, as well as the imposition of British customs, rules and systems over the people and cultural history of India.  He was thus in a unique position to evaluate the role of language in the development of the natural innate spirit and expression of a nation of people.  India had at the time a number of states with various languages.  In most part of India, English became the language used for management of the society and the economy, while the native languages obviously continued within the daily lives of the populace.  Yet in the state of Bengal, the preeminence of the Bengali language was something unique at the time.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “Nothing has stood more in the way of the rapid progress in India, nothing has more successfully prevented her self-finding and development under modern conditions than the long overshadowing of the Indian tongues as cultural instruments by the English language.  It is significant that the one sub-nation in India which from the first refused to undergo this yoke, devoted itself to the development of its language, made that for long its principal preoccupation, gave to it its most original minds and most living energies, getting through everything else perfunctorily, neglecting commerce, doing politics as an intellectual and oratorical pastime, — that it is Bengal which first recovered its soul, respiritualised itself, forced the whole world to hear of its great spiritual personalities, gave it the first modern Indian poet and Indian scientist of world-wide fame and achievement, restored the moribund art of India to life and power, first made her count again in the culture of the world, first, as a reward in the outer life, arrived at a vital political consciousness and a living political movement not imitative and derivative in its spirit and its central ideal.  (Now, or course, everything has changed and these remarks are no longer applicable to the actual state of things in India.)  For so much does language count in the life of a nation; for so much does it count to the advantage of humanity at large that its group-souls should preserve and develop and use with a vigorous group-individuality their natural instrument of expression.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 28, Diversity in Oneness, pp. 247-248

The Effects of the Loss of a National Language: The Example of Ireland

Historically, we can see a dynamic and vital spirit that formed the Celtic people based in the Gaelic language.  Conquest by the English and the imposition of the English language set back the development, and the Celtic influence in the world-culture was dramatically truncated thereafter.  In more recent times, the Irish Republic is working to re-establish its native identity and maintain its independent stance from the English, with focus on cultural matters, while still trying to find ways to express the spirit of the Irish people through the medium of the English language.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “Ireland had its own tongue when it had its own free nationality and culture and its loss was a loss to humanity as well as to the Irish nation.  For what might not this Celtic race with its fine psychic turn and quick intelligence and delicate imagination, which did so much in the beginning for European culture and religion, have given to the world through all these centuries under natural conditions?  But the forcible imposition of a foreign tongue and the turning of a nation into a province left Ireland for so many centuries mute and culturally stagnant, a dead force in the life of Europe.  Nor can we count as an adequate compensation for this loss the small indirect influence of the race upon English culture or the few direct contributions made by gifted Irishmen forced to pour their natural genius into a foreign mould of thought.  Even when Ireland in her struggle for freedom was striving to recover her free soul and give it a voice, she has been hampered by having to use a tongue which does not naturally express her spirit and peculiar bent.  In time she may conquer the obstacle, make this tongue her own, force it to express her, but it will be long, if ever, before she can do it with the same richness, force and unfettered individuality as she would have done in her Gaelic speech. That speech she had tried to recover but the natural obstacles have been and are likely always to be too heavy and too strongly established for any complete success in that endeavour.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 28, Diversity in Oneness, pg. 247

The Relationship of Language to the Culture of a People or Nation

The language of a people plays a seminal and powerful role in the development of the culture of any nation or people.  The lack of a unique language ties the people to the origin of the mother tongue.  Sri Aurobindo cites the example of the United States which, at least until recently, was very much bound to English language and thus, showed its cultural development to be an extension or projection of the culture of Great Britain, despite the obvious political, economic and military power possessed and wielded by the United States.  In recent decades, we see the evolution of new turns of speech, modifications of the original English, and a form of clubbing together of terms adopted from other languages as the United States attempts to create its own unique language-identity.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “The life of the United States alone tends and strives to become a great and separate cultural existence, but its success is not commensurate with its power.  Culturally, it is still to a great extent a province of England.  Neither its literature, in spite of two or three great names, nor its art nor its thought, nor anything else on the higher levels of the mind, has been able to arrive at a vigorous maturity independent in its soul-type.  And this because its instrument of self-expression, the language which the national mind ought to shape and be in turn shaped by it, was formed and must continue to be formed by another country with a different mentality and must there find its centre and its law of development.  In old times, America would have evolved and changed the English language according to its own needs until it became a new speech, as the mediaeval nations dealt with Latin, and arrived in this way at a characteristic instrument of self-expression; but under modern conditions this is not easily possible. (It is affirmed that now such an independent development is taking place in America; it has to be seen how far this becomes a truly vigorous reality: at present it has amounted only to a provincial turn, a sort of national slang or a racy oddity.  even in the farthest development it would only be a sort of dialect, not a national language.) ”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 28, Diversity in Oneness, pp. 246-247

The Value of a Unique Language for a People or Nation

Utopian thinkers dream of the time when all humanity will share a common language and thereby put aside cultural differences to join together in the full realisation of being members of the same human family.  Sri Aurobindo takes the opportunity to point out specific advantages and positive aspects of the diversity of languages.  He sees language diversity as a way for the various cultural and national groups to unify around a common identity, and to express themselves in a unique way that adds to the overall richness of the human evolution.  While it has been used in the past as a way of dividing peoples or nations from one another, diversity of languages need not be a force of fragmentation in the future, particularly as we gain more appreciation for the uniqueness and value of the variety of cultures and languages around the world.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “Diversity of language serves two important ends of the human spirit, a use of unification and a use of variation.  A language helps to bring those who speak it into a certain large unity of growing thought, formed temperament, ripening spirit.  It is an intellectual, aesthetic and expressive bond which tempers division where division exists and strengthens unity where unity has been achieved.  Especially it gives self-consciousness to national or racial unity and creates the bond of a common self-expression and a common record of achievement.  On the other hand, it is a means of national differentiation and perhaps the most powerful of all, not a barren principle of division merely, but a fruitful and helpful differentiation.  For each language is the sign and power of the soul of the people which naturally speaks it.  Each develops therefore its own peculiar spirit, thought-temperament, way of dealing with life and knowledge and experience.  If it receives and welcomes the thought, the life-experience, the spiritual impact of other nations, still it transforms them into something new of its own and by that power of transmutation it enriches the life of humanity with its fruitful borrowings and does not merely repeat what had been gained elsewhere.  Therefore it is of the utmost value to a nation, a human group-soul, to preserve its language and to make of it a strong and living cultural intrument.  A nation, race or people which loses its language cannot live its whole life or its real life.  And this advantage to the national life is at the same time an advantage to the general life of the human race.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 28, Diversity in Oneness, pp. 245-246

Natural Groupings and the Diversity of Languages

Sri Aurobindo notes that Nature encourages and requires diverse groupings of beings, whether it be plants, animals or human beings.  These groupings develop their own identity which allows them to differentiate from the larger species and thus, provide fields for experimentation and innovation.  Oftentimes among animal species, specific groups will have their own unique language or at least identifying sounds to distinguish the group from others of the same species.  This is true among pods of dolphins and whales, but is clearly more noticeable among humanity.  Humanity is distinguished by a vast array of languages and they clearly serve Nature’s purposes.  Language of course is a unifying factor among the group that speaks the same language, while it can create barriers between groups that speak different languages.  In the modern world, the unique language cultures help to preserve diversity, while the development of “languages of international commerce” help to bridge gaps and thus, both aspects appear to be supported as we move forward on our evolutionary development.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “The legend of the Tower of Babel speaks of the diversity of tongues as a curse laid on the race; but whatever its disadvantages, and they tend more and more to be minimised by the growth of civilisation and increasing intercourse, it has been rather a blessing than a curse, a gift to mankind rather than a disability laid upon it.”

“In former times diversity of language helped to create a barrier to knowledge and sympathy, was often made the pretext even of an actual antipathy and tended to a too rigid division.  The lack of sufficient interpenetration kept up both a passive want of understanding and a fruitful crop of active misunderstandings.  But this was an inevitable evil of a particular stage of growth, an exaggeration of the necessity that then existed for the vigorous development of strongly individualised group-souls in the human race.  These disadvantages have not yet been abolished, but with closer intercourse and the growing desire of men and nations for the knowledge of each other’s thought and spirit and personality, they have diminished and tend to diminish more and more and there is no reason why in the end they should not become inoperative.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 28, Diversity in Oneness, pp. 244-245