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

The Attempt to Justify Domination by One Culture over Another Based on Superiority Is Flawed

Humanity has seen, repeated throughout the world, the justification for invading, dominating and controlling another society or culture based on some alleged benefit of superiority that will be transmitted to the subjugated society.  Under the guise of this “benefit” Western civilisation, and its Christian basis, have inserted themselves into the lives, religious traditions, cultures and life-ways of vast numbers of people.  Families have been torn apart, languages have been suppressed, religions have been denigrated and stamped out, ways of life have been destroyed.  As part of this process there has been an arrogant feeling of superiority by the dominating culture which was communicated through hostile and ill-treatment of those people who were supposed to be inferior because of the cultural or religious differences, economic or technological backwardness (based on the European model and its standard), or even just the color of people’s skin.  The First Nations people in North America were particularly impacted, children were forcibly withdrawn from their families, traditional folkways were destroyed, languages were suppressed, and cultural background was minimized.  In the process many hundreds of thousands of First Nations people died off.  Similar events occurred in Australia, Africa and Asia; they even took place in Europe with respect to smaller or weaker cultural groups.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “The British domination in India was justified by the priceless gift of British civilisation and British ideals, to say nothing of the one and only true religion, Christianity, to a heathen, orientally benighted and semi-barbarous nation.  All this is now an exploded myth.  We can see clearly enough that the long suppression of the Celtic spirit and Celtic culture, superior in spirituality if inferior in certain practical directions to the Latin and Teutonic, was a loss not only to the Celtic peoples, but to the world.  India has vehemently rejected the pretensions to superiority of British civilisation, culture and religion, while still admitting, not so much the British, as the modern ideals and methods in politics and in the trend to a greater social equality; and it is becoming clear now, even to the more well-informed European minds that the Anglicisation of India would have been a wrong not only to India itself but to humanity.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 31, The Conditions of a Free World-Union, pp. 273-274

The Need for a Diverse, Vibrant and Living Unity of Humanity

The materialistic advances of humanity over the last several hundred years have resulted in bringing the world closer together in a certain sense.  There is world-wide instant communication, news and fast international travel.  Certain dominant cultural trends that have accompanied the rise of broadcast radio and television and the rise of the digital era, however, have begun to create a type of outward uniformity that we see in the shape of outward trends toward uniformity of entertainment, material goods and expectations about what is important in the outer life.  To some degree, even a great degree in many places, traditional cultures and values are being swept aside or minimized under the pressure of the influence of mass culture.  The material culture itself thrives and drives towards more efficiency through creation of uniformity, and thus, the administrative pressures towards a uniform culture continue to increase, even as the world moves to confront the unintended consequences of our industrial and technological revolution with its resource depletion, imbalance in access to education and resources between “haves” and “have nots”, exploitation of the environment and the decimation of the biosphere through increase of pollution and waste products which are harming the land, the oceans and the air, and thereby the ability of life to sustain itself on the planet over time.  In addition to this, the speed of interaction between different cultures, religions, and traditions has not been without a significant increase in tensions which are exacerbated through attempts at domination or exploitation by one group over another and by the need to access scarce resources.

Sri Aurobindo makes the point that the unity of humanity is an urgent need in today’s world to address these issues, but not the unity brought about by regimentation and uniformity, but a living, vibrant, diverse and joyful unity with the play of diversity:

“At present, the first great need of the psychological life of humanity is the growth towards a greater unity; but its need is that of a living unity, not in the externals of civilisation, in dress, manners, habits of life, details of political, social and economic order, not a uniformity, which is the unity towards which the mechanical age of civilisation has been driving, but a free development everywhere with a constant friendly interchange, a close understanding, a feeling of our common humanity, its great common ideals and the truths towards which it is driving and a certain unity and correlation of effort in the united human advance.  At present it may seem that this is better helped and advanced by many different nations and cultures living together in one political State-union than by their political separateness.  Temporarily, this may be true to a certain extent, but let us see within what limits.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 31, The Conditions of a Free World-Union, pg. 273

Economic Cooperation Is the Third Key Condition of a Free World-Union

Human society, as currently organised, encourages competition rather than cooperation.  There is an egoistic nationalism that builds upon individual egoism to try to optimize one’s own advantage at the expense of anyone or anything else.  The competitive marketplace energizes the vital forces of the society and has brought about both focus and results in terms of economic development, yet at an enormous cost in terms of  unequal access to resources and basic life requirements, the destruction of the environment through callous disregard and through the creation of pollution, and the negative impacts of techniques used to create artificial demand, planned obsolescence, and preference of one form of activity over another.

In a world-union built upon the basis of free self-determination and free association, the world can be seen as a unified whole and the pressures of competition at the expense of every other value or need can be eliminated.  By retaining a diversity within this world-union, there is obviously less efficiency than a top-down organized economic order.  Yet, the advantage of free self-determination cannot be overlooked.  If the central governing authority, however, looks upon itself as a coordinating factor rather than a determining factor in the economic life of society, there could remain substantial diversity of effort, based on traditional skill sets, educational focus, technological development, physical conditions and vital interest, while reducing or eliminating the raw aggressive competition that leads to corruption, domination and warfare.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “…it is likely that once the element of struggle were removed from the political field, the stress of the same struggle in the economic field would greatly decrease.  The advantages of self-sufficiency and predominance, to which political rivalry and struggle and the possibility of hostile relations now give an enormous importance, would lose much of their stringency and the advantages of a freer give and take would become more easily visible.  It is obvious, for example, that an independent Finland would profit much more by encouraging the passage of Russian commerce through Finnish ports or an Italian Trieste by encouraging the passage of commerce of the present Austrian provinces than by setting up a barrier between itself and its natural feeders. … Throughout the world, the idea and fact of union once definitely prevailing, unity of interests would be more clearly seen and the greater advantage of agreement and mutual participation in a naturally harmonised life over the feverish artificial prosperity created by a stressing of separative barriers.  That stressing is inevitable in an order of struggle and international competition; it would be seen to be prejudicial in an order of peace and union which would make for mutual accommodation.  The principle of a free world-union being that of the settlement of common affairs by common agreement, this could not be confined to the removal of political differences and the arrangement of political relations alone, but must naturally extend to economic differences and economic relations as well.  To the removal of war and the recognition of the right of self-determination of the peoples the arrangement of the economic life of the world in its new order by mutual and common agreement would have to be added as the third condition of a free union.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 31, The Conditions of a Free World-Union, pp. 272-273

A Free World-Union Must Eliminate War and Support Free Association and Expression of All Peoples

It is difficult for us to imagine a world-order founded on a totally different set of principles than what we have heretofore experienced.  Humanity has always based its associations on power relationships, where larger and stronger States held sway over smaller and weaker ones.  This also led to the suppression of the free expression of people who became subjects of those stronger powers and thus, had to abide by the dictates of the ruling elite of that system of governance, whether nation or empire.

In a system based, rather, on a free self-determination of people as to their groupings within a global unification of humanity, a much different dynamic is at work.  Sri Aurobindo describes the conditions that would have to come into play to shift humanity to this new, more mature, model of world unity with diversity and freedom of self-determination:

“Military necessity of forced union for strength of defense or for power of aggression would be non-existent, because war would no longer be possible; force as the arbiter of international differences and a free world-union are two quite incompatible ideas and practically could not coexist.  The political necessity would also disappear; for it is largely made up of that very spirit of conflict and the consequent insecure conditions of international life apportioning predominance in the world to the physically and organically strongest nations out of which the military necessity arose.  In a free world-union determining its affairs and settling its differences by agreement or, where agreement failed, by arbitration, the only political advantage of including large masses of men not otherwise allied to each other in a single State would be the greater influence arising from mass and population.  But this influence could not work if the inclusion were against the will of the nations brought together in the State; for then it would rather be a source of weakness and disunion in the State’s international action — unless indeed it were allowed in the international system to weigh by its bulk and population without regard to the will and opinion of the people’s constituting it. … But this would be contrary to the modern sense of justice and reason and incompatible with the principle of freedom which could alone ensure a sound and peaceful basis for the world-arrangement.  Thus the elimination of war and the settlement of differences by peaceful means would remove the military necessity for forced unions, while the right of every people to a free voice and status in the world would remove its political necessity and advantage.  The elimination of war and the recognition of the equal rights of all peoples are intimately bound up with each other.  That interdependence, admitted for a moment, even though imperfectly, during the European conflict, will have to be permanently accepted if there is to be any unification of the race.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 31, The Conditions of a Free World-Union, pp. 271-272