Favorable Influences in the World to Support the Growth of the Idea of Internationalism

At the time Sri Aurobindo reviewed these issues, there were already evident certain forces working toward creating an environment supportive of internationalism.  In the intervening decades, the trends have become much more pronounced and one can easily see the global scope of human development and the issues facing humanity as a whole.  The development of technology that can create instantaneous visual and aural communications virtually anywhere on the planet is clearly one such factor, as is the development of speedy airplane travel which has created a massive movement of people from one country to the next at will.  The global communication and media net including the advent of the internet has brought about a mingling of cultural influences as well.  The rise of multi-national corporations and their pervasive influence on the economic and cultural trends cannot be overlooked.  Global concerns such as pollution, depletion of resources, imbalanced access to those resources, climate change, the possibility of global pandemics, as well as weapons of mass destruction which must be controlled to avoid the peril of global conflagration all tend to bring people and governments from all around the world together as these are issues which transcend national borders.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The strongest of these favourable forces is the constant drawing closer of the knots of international life, the multiplication of points of contact and threads of communication and an increasing community in thought, in science and in knowledge.  Science especially has been a great force in this direction; for science is a thing common to all men in its conclusions, open to all in its methods, available to all in its results: it is international in its very nature; there can be no such thing as a national science, but only the nations’ contributions to the work and growth of science which are the indivisible inheritance of all humanity.”

“Even cosmopolitan habits of life are now not uncommon and there are a fair number of persons who are as much or more citizens of the world as citizens of their own nation.  The growth of knowledge is interesting the peoples in each other’s art, culture, religion, ideas and is breaking down at many points the prejudice, arrogance and exclusiveness of the old nationalistic sentiment.”

“As these influences grow and come more and more consciously to cooperate with each other, it might be hoped that the necessary psychological modification will quietly, gradually, but still irresistibly and at last with an increasing force of rapidity take place which can prepare a real and fundamental change in the life of humanity.”

It should be noted that no human progress ever takes place in an uninterrupted and straight fashion.  There are reactive forces which try to resist or reverse the progressive action of evolutionary Nature, and they may for a time seem to hold sway and reverse progress that has been made.  In the end, however, the forward movement is taken up once again, and eventually a real and substantive change in human society can be seen to have established itself.

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 32, Internationalism, pp. 280-281


Downside Risks of Attempting to Implement an Idea Before Its Time

It is a characteristic of human nature to try to bring about the manifestation of an idea in life once it takes form in the mind.  Oftentimes, however, the idea is not aligned closely with the current state of humanity and struggles to gain a foothold in life.  In order to get some position in the world, compromises are then made with the existing powers and this distorts or waters down the original idea.  A more patient undertaking, viewing the readiness of humanity to accept a new idea, would perhaps take longer to implement, but yield a more satisfying and perfect result in the long term.  Such an approach would involve inserting “stepping-stones” into the life of humanity as the banner of the ideal form waves in the somewhat distant future.  History is replete with examples of ideas born prematurely and then distorted through the process of trying to fit in with the mind and life of humanity of the time.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The sense of this abstractness imposes on the idea an undue haste to get itself recognised by life and embodied in a form.  If it could have confidence in its strength and be content to grow, to insist, to impress itself till it got well into the spirit of man, it might conceivably become a real part of his soul-life, a permanent power in his psychology and might succeed in remoulding his whole life in its image.  But it has inevitably a desire to get as soon as possible admitted into a form of the life, for until then it does not feel itself strong and cannot quite be sure that it has vindicated its truth.  It hurries into action before it has real knowledge of itself and thereby prepares its own disappointment, even when it seems to triumph and fulfil its object.  For in order to succeed, it allies itself with powers and movements which are impelled by another aim than its own, but are glad enough to get its aid so that they may strengthen their own case and claim.  Thus when it realises itself at last, it does it in a mixed, impure and ineffective form.  Life accepts it as a partial habit, but not completely, not quite sincerely.  That has been the history of every idea in succession and one reason at least why there is almost always something unreal, inconclusive and tormented about human progress.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 32, Internationalism, pg. 280

The Weakness of the Ideal of Internationalism in the Present Status of Humanity

The idea that all humanity is one is a truth of existence that can be conceived by the higher reasoning powers of the mental consciousness.  The divisions between different groups is an artificial construct born of the physical and vital existence which preceded the development of the mental awareness.  The first awakening of the mental power relies heavily on the perceptions brought from the physical and vital life, and is very much influenced and controlled by the material and vital powers.  Eventually, as the transition from the animal to the human life continues, and the higher reason begins to develop and take hold, it becomes possible to separate the ideas and perceptions which reveal themselves with the higher mind powers from those that are carryovers from the earlier stages of the evolution of consciousness.

The ideal of internationalism, the attempt to bring about human society as an expression of the inherent oneness of all humanity, is one such idea that begins to play in the minds of the evolved seers, thinkers, and philosophers who have shifted their awareness to a sufficient degree to perceive and express these higher ideals that appear to be contradicted by the outer life which remains fixed in its old habits.  The weakness of internationalism, in the current day, is that it does not find its basis in the present life of humanity, but in some future that takes on a different shape and color than what most people can even imagine.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “The height and nobility of the idea is not to be questioned and certainly a mankind which set its life upon this basis would make a better, purer, more peaceful and enlightened race than anything we can hope to have at present.  But as the human being is now made, the pure idea, though always a great power, is also afflicted by a great weakness.  It has an eventual capacity, once born, of taking hold of the rest of the human being and forcing him in the end to acknowledge its truth and make some kind of attempt to embody it; that is its strength.  But also because man at present lives more in the outward than in the inward, is governed principally by his vital existence, sensations, feelings and customary mentality rather than by his higher thought-mind and feels himself in these to be really alive, really to exist and be, while the world of ideas is to him something remote and abstract and, however powerful and interesting in its way, not a living thing, the pure idea seems, until it is embodied in life, something not quite real; in that abstractness and remoteness lies its weakness.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 32, Internationalism, pp. 279-280

The Rise of Internationalism to Counter the Failings of Nationalism

The last several centuries have emphasized the nation as the predominant form of human grouping.  The imperial form has appeared from time to time, but has dissolved after some period of ascendancy with the nation form returning with even greater force.  Today the world has close to 200 separate nations.  There is clearly a power within the nation that is not easily overcome.  There is a psychological identification in those nations that have the strongest internal coherence, and the development of patriotism, national pride, and belief in one’s own country “right or wrong” are signs of that psychological identification.  It is difficult under this circumstance to observe with a clear vision the weaknesses or downsides of nationalism.  Certain thinkers, political scientists, and philosophers, however, have seen a vision of a world that goes beyond the boundaries of countries, and focuses instead on the common bond of humanity that transcends all national borders.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “the idea of internationalism was born of the thought of the eighteenth century and it took some kind of voice in the first idealistic stages of the French Revolution.  …  What came out of the French Revolution and the struggle that grew around it, was a complete and self-conscious nationalism and not internationalism.  During the nineteenth century we see the larger idea growing again in the minds of thinkers, sometimes in a modified form, sometimes in its own pure idealism, till allying itself with the growing forces of socialism and anarchism it took a clear body and a recognisable vital force.  In its absolute form, it became the internationalism of the intellectuals, intolerant of nationalism as a narrow spirit of the past, contemptuous of patriotism as an irrational prejudice, a maleficent corporate egoism characteristic of narrow intellects and creative of arrogance, prejudice, hatred, oppression, division and strife between nation and nation, a gross survival of the past which the growth of reason was destined to destroy.  It is founded on a view of things which looks at man in his manhood only and casts away all those physical and social accidents of birth, rank, class, colour, creed, nationality, which have been erected into so many walls and screens behind which man has hidden himself from his fellow-man; he has turned them into sympathy-proof shelters and trenches from which he wages against him a war of defence and aggression, war of nations, war of continents, war of classes, war of colour with colour, creed with creed, culture with culture.  All this barbarism the idea of the intellectual internationalist seeks to abolish by putting man face to face with man on the basis of their common human sympathy, aims, highest interests of the future.  It is entirely futurist in its view; it turns away from the confused and darkened good of the past to the purer good of the future when man, at last beginning to become a truly intelligent and ethical being, will shake away from him all these sources or prejudice and passion and evil.  Humanity will become one in idea and feeling, and life be consciously what it now is in spite of itself, one in its status on earth and its destiny.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 32, Internationalism, pp. 278-279

The Advent of the Concept of Internationalism

At each stage of its development, humanity has developed a concept that embodied the force of the Time-Spirit in the evolutionary march towards ever-larger aggregations or social groupings.  Thus the individual widened his perspective to become part of a family, the family part of a clan, the clan part of a tribe and so forth.  Currently the idea of the nation is the established societal grouping that has taken hold of humanity for the last several centuries.  The nation, however, is not the final stage of widening of humanity to embrace a larger unity.  Nature has exemplified the drive through the push for the development of empires, but to date, none of them has been a stable form that could succeed in permanently supplanting the nation concept.  The reasons for the failure of the empire have been primarily due to the lack of sufficient psychological unity and the attempt to manage the empire by primarily external means of uniformity.  Yet we may still see the intention of Nature to develop a larger form of unity, and in modern times, this has led to the rise of the concept of internationalism, with many individuals proclaiming themselves to be citizens of the world, not of nations, and expressing the sentiment that all humanity is One and must find a way to live in our unity if we, as a species, are to remain viable on this planet.  Modern issues are putting more pressure in this direction, with the global problem of inequality of access to resources and the resultant imbalances, global issues of pollution, climate change, the explosion of population without the necessary adjustments needed to deal with needs for water, food, and a stable life, and the advent of weapons of such potency that all humanity is at risk of annihilation.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “The Idea of humanity as a single race of beings with a common life and a common general interest is among the most characteristic and significant products of modern thought.”

“Internationalism is the attempt of the human mind and life to grow out of the national idea and form and even in a way to destroy it in the interest of the larger synthesis of mankind.  An idea proceeding on these lines needs always to attach itself to some actual force or developing power in the life of the times before it can exercise a practical effect.  But usually it suffers by contact with the interests and prepossessions of its grosser ally some lesser or greater diminution of itself or even a distortion, and in that form, no longer pure and absolute, enters on the first stage of practice.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 32, Internationalism, pg. 278

The Growth of the Living Idea or Religion of Humanity

Humanity is bound up in “isms”, and people tend to label themselves according to the particular “isms” into which they have been born or adopted.   We express a sense of patriotism by adhering ourselves to a particular nation or group and setting it up in opposition to other nations or groups.  We adhere ourselves to certain religions and against others.  We are part of certain traditions and against others.  Thus, each group, culture, society, or nation has grown up and gained its sense of “self”, and its own standing in the world.  Yet, at a certain point in time, all of these divisions and fragmentations of humanity become obstacles and must be surpassed as we grow and expand beyond the framework and the need for binding ourselves to these rigid distinctions and fearing or opposing those who follow a different cultural, religious, linguistic economic or political framework.  The process of historical development shows us that humanity has the capacity to expand beyond the framework of its small initial groupings to embrace ever-larger aggregations.  The family admitted the clan.  The clan, the tribe.  The tribe the community.  The community the state, or the city-state.  The state, the nation. and the nation, the empire.  At some point, therefore, we can foresee the breaking of the bonds of the ‘nation’ to embrace the oneness of all humanity.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “…in a free world-union, though originally starting from the national basis, the national idea might be expected to undergo a radical transformation; it might even disappear into a new and less strenuously compact form and idea of group-aggregation which would not be separative in spirit, yet would preserve the necessary elements of independence and variation needed by both individual and grouping for their full satisfaction and their healthy existence.  Moreover, by emphasising the psychological quite as much as the political and mechanical idea and basis, it would give a freer and less artificial form and opportunity for the secure development of the necessary intellectual and psychological change; for such an inner change could alone give some chance of durability to the unification.  That change would be the growth of the living idea or religion of humanity; for only so could there come the psychological modification of life and feeling and outlook which would accustom both individual and group to live in their common humanity first and most, subduing their individual and group egoism, yet losing nothing of their individual or group power to develop and express in its own way the divinity of man which, once the race was assured of its material existence, would emerge as the true object of human existence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 31, The Conditions of a Free World-Union, pg. 277

Addressing Centrifugal Forces Impacting the Direction and Drive Towards Human Unity

There are centripetal forces which are bringing humanity closer together and beginning to forge the concept of the oneness of the human race as a unifying factor of all peoples and nationalities.  At the same time, there are the centrifugal forces which tend to pull apart the bonds that hold humanity together as one–forces that include various forms of self-interest, as well as differences of language, culture, tradition, religion, economic system, geographical divisions etc.  A unity founded on the amalgamation of these outer differences into a patchwork whole of some sort is bound to be faced by stresses that will tend to dissolve those bonds over time as circumstances change or arise.  The “glue” in the movement towards human unity has to be the recognition that despite all superficial differences, all human beings are one, are bound together into a complex biosphere and ecosphere, and must find common solutions to what are now global issues.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “…since this is a much looser unity, what would prevent the spirit of separativeness and the causes of clash and difference from surviving in so powerful a form as to endanger the endurance of the larger principle of oneness, — even if that spirit and those causes at all allowed it to reach some kind of sufficient fulfilment?  The unitarian ideal, on the contrary, seeks to efface these opposite tendencies in their forms and even in their root cause and by so doing would seem to ensure an enduring union.  But it may be pointed out in answer that, if it is by political ideas and machinery, under the pressure of the political and economic spirit that the unity is brought about, that is to say, by the idea and experience of the material advantages, conveniences, well-being secured by unification, then the unitarian system also could not be sure of durability.  For in the constant mutability of the human mind and earthly circumstances, as long as life is active, new ideas and changes are inevitable.  The suppressed desire to recover the lost element of variability, separateness, independent living might well take advantage of them for what would then be considered as a wholesome and necessary reaction.  The lifeless unity accomplished would dissolve from the pressure of the need of life within, as the Roman unity dissolved by its lifelessness in helpless response to a pressure from without, and once again local, regional, national egoism would reconstitute for itself fresh forms and new centres.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 31, The Conditions of a Free World-Union, pp. 276-277

Possible Forms of a World Government: Advantages and Disadvantages

When we try to obtain guidance from the past as to potential forms that a unification of humanity into a world-government could take, we find several models that have been tried, to greater or less success, at the nation level of organisation.  There is the parliamentary model, to some degree the basis for the General Assembly of the United Nations, or there might be a federal approach, whereby there are quasi-independent states welded together under a federal umbrella.  Both of these models are familiar to us, but they each have certain limitations and disadvantages for the vision presented by Sri Aurobindo.

“The idea of a world-parliament is attractive at first sight, because the parliamentary form is that to which our minds are accustomed; but an assembly of the present unitarian national type could not be the proper instrument of a free world-union of this large and complex kind; it could only be the instrument of a unitarian World-State.  The idea of a world-federation, if by that be understood the Germanic or American form, would be equally inappropriate to the greater diversity and freedom of national development which this type of world-union would hold as one of its cardinal principles.  Rather some kind of confederation of the peoples for common human ends, for the removal of all causes of strife and difference, for interrelation and the regulation of mutual aid and interchange, yet leaving to each unit a full internal freedom and power of self-determination, would be the right principle of this unity.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 31, The Conditions of a Free World-Union, pp. 275-276

An Alternative Vision for Human Unity to the Imperialistic Model of Unification

Humanity tends to fixate its attention on the way things have been done in the past.  Change, however, can only take place when humanity breaks out of the ruts of the past and attempts some new direction.   Historically, human groupings have taken on new size and complexity through local competition and cooperation, and in the larger groupings very much as a result of conquest and imperial development.  The largest groupings, spanning a number of different nations, peoples and cultures, were the result of empire-building, whether it was that of Alexander and his Macedonians consolidating the lands of Persia and the Middle East all the way up to India; or the Roman Empire consolidating peoples across Europe and the Middle East; or more recently the Moghul Empire which conquered much of India, the Russian Empire which consolidated northern Europe and northern Asia in one immense entity, or the British Empire and its world-wide control of colonies through the power of her navy.  It is thus not simple to imagine that larger consolidation of humanity into a unified whole can take place through a process other than imperialistic domination and control.

Sri Aurobindo brings us another vision.  It is said that the vision is the precursor of the act.  Thus, humanity has the opportunity to adopt a more harmonious and positive way forward that relies on the higher capacities of humanity rather than on brute force.  Some pressure of imperialistic action may be present at various stages, but eventually they must give way.

“For the final end is a common world-culture in which each national culture should be, not merged into or fused with some other culture differing from it in principle or temperament, but evolved to its full power and could then profit to that end by all the others as as give its gains and influences to them, all serving by their separateness and their interaction the common aim and idea of human perfection.  This would best be served, not by separateness and isolation, of which there would be no danger, but yet by a certain distinctness and independence of life not subordinated to the mechanising force of an artificial unity.  Even within the independent nation itself, there might be with advantage a tendency towards greater local freedom of development and variation, a sort of return to the vivid local and regional life of ancient Greece and India and mediaeval Italy; for the disadvantages of strife, political weakness and precariousness of the nation’s independence would no longer exist in a condition of things from which the old terms of physical conflict had been excluded, while all the cultural and psychological advantages might be recovered.  A world secure of its peace and freedom might freely devote itself to the intensification of its real human powers of life by the full encouragement and flowering of the individual, local, regional, national mind and power in the firm frame of a united humanity.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 31, The Conditions of a Free World-Union, pg. 275

The Attempted Justification of Domination by One Culture over Another Based on Eventual Benefit

There has been a debate, throughout human history as to whether the means to an end, no matter how oppressive or even horrific, can be justified by an eventual benefit of some sort.  One can hear this debate in the question of whether torture should be condoned under any condition, if it “produces results” and one can hear this debate in the apologies made for Adolf Hitler that he modernized Germany and put a despondent and unemployed people back to work, as if that can justify the holocaust which he perpetrated on the world.  The imperial powers have historically tried to justify their actions of colonizing and exploiting populations of people by the “development”, “cultural benefits” and “modern technology” that they bring to those countries.  Philosophers and sages have argued against the idea that “the end justifies the means” yet those in power consistently try to make their case that in their case, the end does justify the means.

Sri Aurobindo explains their rationale as follows:  “Still it may be said that, if the old principle of the association was wrong, yet the association itself leads eventually to a good result.  If Ireland has lost for the most part its old national speech and Wales has ceased to have a living literature, yet as a large compensation the Celtic spirit is now reviving and putting its stamp on the English tongue spoken by millions throughout the world, and the inclusion of the Celtic countries in the British Empire may lead to the development of an Anglo-Celtic life and culture better for the world than the separate development of the two elements.  India by the partial possession of the English language has been able to link herself to the life of the modern world and to reshape her literature, life and culture on a larger basis and, now that she is reviving her own spirit and ideals in a new mould, is producing an effect on the thought of the West; a perpetual union of the two countries and a constant mutual interaction of their culture by this close association would be more advantageous to them and to the world than their cultural isolation from each other in a separate existence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 31, The Conditions of a Free World-Union, pp. 274-275