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

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