Three Forces That Challenged the Imperial Idea Emerging from the First World War

The apparent unstoppable rise of the idea of empire subjugating the nation-state in the future was challenged through the re-emergence of the nation-state idea through the upheaval of the First World War.  Sri Aurobindo identified three distinct directions that developed, each of which taken separately, represented a serious potential future direction, but taken together, were able to create a pause, and a possible redirection for the future, in the focus of Nature to move toward a larger aggregate of human unity.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “First, in opposition to the imperialistic ambitions of Germany in Europe the allied nations, although themselves empires, were obliged to appeal to a qualified ideal of free nationality and pose as its champions and protectors.  America, more politically idealistic than Europe, entered the war with a cry for a league of free nations.  Finally, the original idealism of the Russian revolution cast into this new creative chaos an entirely new element by the distinct, positive, uncompromising recognition, free from all reserves of diplomacy and self-interest, of the right of every aggregate of men naturally marked off from other aggregates to decide its own political status and destiny.  These three positions were in fact distinct from each other, but each has in effect some relation to the actually possible future of humanity.  The first based itself upon the present conditions and aimed at a certain practical rearrangement.  The second tried to hasten into immediate practicability a not entirely remote possibility of the future.  The third aimed at bringing into precipitation by the alchemy of revolution — for what we inappropriately call revolution, is only a rapidly concentrated movement of evolution — a yet remote end which in the ordinary course of events would only be realised, if at all, in the far distant future.  All of them have to be considered; for a prospect which only takes into view existing realised forces or apparently realisable possibilities is foredoomed to error.  Moreover, the Russian idea by its attempt at self-effectuation, however immediately ineffective, rendered itself an actual force which must be counted among those that may influence the future of the race.  A great idea already striving to enforce itself in the field of practice is a power which cannot be left out of count, nor valued only according to its apparent chances of immediate effectuation at the present hour.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 29, The Idea of a League of Nations, pp. 256-257