Physical and vital principles of aggregation of human groupings have predominated throughout human history. The rise of nations, and then empires, was based on such principles, and only took account of moral and psychological factors as a second-level concern. At the time of the end of World War I, the Russians proposed the principle of free confederation and essentially a form of self-determination for peoples rather than leaving them under the control of empires or individual states to which they had no natural psychological unity. The idea did not meet with the approval of those who had a vested interest in, and support for, the traditional way nations, states and empires have been organised, based on geographic necessity and vital support systems for defense and economic development. Yet we can see that the idea itself has begun to insinuate itself into the thought process of humanity as it develops, first at the individual level where it does not directly challenge the “powers that be” on the national or world-stage. Over the last 50 to 100 years, in fact, we have seen the development of communes, ashrams, or other forms based on affinity rather than physical proximity, or familial membership, as a way for individuals to join together even if they stem from diverse traditions, cultures and backgrounds. The township of Auroville, in South India, is an example of such an affinity grouping bringing together people from a number of different cultures, backgrounds and traditions to live and work together based on principles they mutually agree to accept. The idea, once it finds acceptance at the level of the individual and small groups, may begin to develop as an effective future principle for organising larger groupings of humanity.
Sri Aurobindo observes: “The Russian principle belongs, in fact, to a possible future in which moral and psychological principles will have a real chance to dominate and vital and physical necessities will have to suit themselves to them, instead of, as now, the other way round; it belongs to an arrangement of things that would be the exact reverse of the present international system.”
“…their principle was a more advanced, because a moral principle, than the aggressive nationalism which was all the international result of the French Revolution; it has a greater meaning for the future.”
“For it belongs to a future of free world-union in which precisely this principle of free self-determination must be either the preliminary movement or the main final result, to an arrangement of things in which the world will have done with war and force as the ultimate basis of national and international relations and be ready to adopt free agreement as a substitute. If the idea could work itself out, … and arrive at some principle of common action, even at the cost of that aggressive force which national centralisation can alone give, it would mean a new moral power in the world. It would certainly not be accepted elsewhere, except in case of unexpected revolutions, without enormous reserves and qualifications; but it would be there working as a power to make the world ready for itself and, when it is ready, would play a large determining part in the final arrangement of human unity. But even if it fails entirely in its present push for realisation, it will still have its part to play in a better prepared future.”
Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 30, The Principle of Free Confederation, pp. 268-269