Examination of the Concept of Free Nationality Propounded by the Western Imperial Powers After World War I

The British, French and Italians put forth the concept of free nationality as a principle for the post-war rearrangement of world powers.  Before discussing the meaning and effect of such a concept, Sri Aurobindo reminds us that political principles are subject to modification based on vested national interest, and are thus applied selectively and as interpreted by those who have the upper hand in the political environment.

“The pure application of ideals to politics is as yet a revolutionary method of action which can only be hoped for in exceptional crises; the day when it becomes a rule of life, human nature and life itself will have become a new phenomenon, something almost superterrestrial and divine.”

Thus, their support for free nationality was coloured by their own imperial history and future desires to continue their control:

“Their first interest, and therefore the first duty of their statesmen, must be to preserve each its own empire, and even, where it can in their view be legitimately done, to increase it.  The principle of free nationality could only be applied by them in its purity where their own imperial interests were not affected, as against Turkey and the Central Powers, because there the principle was consonant with their own interests and could be supported as against German, Austrian or Turkish interests by the natural force of a successful war which was or could be made to appear morally justified in its results because it was invited by the Powers which had to suffer.  It could not be applied in its purity where their own imperial interests were affected, because there it was opposed to existing forces and there was no sufficient countervailing force by which that opposition could be counteracted.  Here, therefore, it must be acted upon in a qualified sense, as a force moderating that of pure imperialism.  So applied, it would amount in fact at most to the concession of internal self-government or Home Rule in such proportion, at such a time or by such stages as might be possible, practicable and expedient for the interests of the empire and of the subject nation so far as they could be accommodated with one another.  It must be understood, in other words, as the common sense of the ordinary man would understand it; it could not be and has nowhere been understood in the sense which would be attached to it by the pure idealist of the Russian type who was careless of all but the naked purity of his principle.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 29, The Idea of a League of Nations, pp. 257-258