The Influence of the Past on the Development of the Future

Sri Aurobindo takes up the objection that the various forms that human unity could likely take are rooted in the past history of human societal development and do not, therefore, take into account totally new directions or possibilities.  He points out that humanity builds its present and future directions on habitual patterns developed in the past and it would take some unforeseeable new opening of consciousness and human receptivity to alter this long-standing and predictable pattern.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “…mankind even in dealing with its new problems works upon past experience and therefore upon past motives and analogies.  Even when it seizes on new ideas, it goes to the past for the form it gives to them.  Behind the apparent changes of the most radical revolutions we see this unavoidable principle of continuity surviving in the heart of the new order.  Moreover, these alternatives seem the only way in which the two forces in presence can work out their conflict, either by the disappearance of the one, the separative national instinct, or by an accommodation between them.  On the other hand, it is quite possible that human thought and action may take so new a turn as to bring in a number of unforeseen possibilities and lead to a quite different ending.  And one might upon these lines set one’s imagination to work and produce perhaps a utopia of a better kind.  Such constructive efforts of the human imagination have their value and often a very great value; but any such speculations would evidently have been out of place in the study I have attempted.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 35, Summary and Conclusion, pg. 305


Possible Forms and Process for the Development of Human Unity

The way forward towards human unity is not absolutely fixed.  While the end result of unity may be inevitable, neither the form nor the process can be specified, as they depend on a lot of circumstantial factors, many of which are not yet even fully evident.  Sri Aurobindo outlines the forms that appear to be most likely, and describes the process of development needed to get us there.

“There is likely to be either a centralised World-State or a looser world-union which may be either a close federation or a simple confederacy of the peoples for the common ends of mankind.  The last form is the most desirable, because it gives sufficient scope for the principle of variation which is necessary for the free play of life and the healthy progress of the race.”

“The process by which the World-State may come starts with the creation of a central body which will at first have very limited functions, but, once created, must absorb by degrees all the different utilities of a centralised international control, as the State, first in the form of a monarchy and then of a parliament, has been absorbing by degrees the whole control of the life of the nation, so that we are now within measurable distance of a centralised socialistic State which will leave no part of the life of its individuals unregulated.  A similar process in the World-State will end in the taking up and the regulation of the whole life of the peoples into its hands; it may even end by abolishing national individuality and turning the divisions that it has created into mere departmental groupings, provinces and districts of the one common State.  Such an eventuality may seem now a fantastic dream or an unrealisable idea; but it is one which, under certain conditions that are by no means beyond the scope of ultimate possibility, may well become feasible and even, after a certain point is reached, inevitable.  A federal system and still more a confederacy would mean, on the other hand, the preservation of the national basis and a greater or less freedom of national life, but the subordination of the separate national to the larger common interests and of full separate freedom to the greater international necessities.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 35, Summary and Conclusion, pp. 304-305

The Inevitable Unification of Humanity

For those of us rooted in the events of daily life, and living through times of tumult and conflict, it is difficult, if not impossible, to foresee the time when humanity will unite, live in peace, and tackle major issues of human survival and environmental integrity together in a spirit of unity.  Yet if we can once separate ourselves from the pressure of the “facts” presented to us daily in the news, and can look at historical trends of humanity, it becomes clear, as Sri Aurobindo has observed, that humanity is moving towards that result, whether through application of intelligence in a rational and reasonable way, or, more likely, through a series of cataclysmic events which force humanity to come to terms with the life and death nature of the issue.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “…this trend must eventually realise itself, however great may be the difficulties; and they are really enormous, much greater than those which attended the national formation.  If the present unsatisfactory condition of international relations should lead to a series of cataclysms, either large and world-embracing like the present war or, though each more limited in scope, yet in their sum world-pervading and necessarily, by the growing interrelation of interests, affecting even those who do not fall directly under their touch, then mankind will finally be forced in self-defence to a new, closer and more stringently unified order of things.  Its choice will be between that and a lingering suicide.  If the human reason cannot find out the way, Nature herself is sure to shape these upheavals in such a way as to bring about her end.  Therefore, — whether soon or in the long run, whether brought about by its own growing sentiment of unity, stimulated by common interest and convenience, or by the evolutionary pressure of circumstances, — we may take it that an eventual unification or at least some formal organisation of human life on earth is, the incalculable being always allowed for, practically inevitable.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 35, Summary and Conclusion, pp. 303-304

The Supportive Force of the Idea of the Religion of Humanity for the Realization of a World-State

In addition to the external forces that are pushing humanity closer together to solve global problems, and the uniting force that results from bringing people together through travel, technology and development of a common economic and cultural framework that overlays the different cultural traditions of different lands, there is another supportive force that is pushing towards the development of human unity, in some form or another.  This force is active first in the mind of a few visionaries or thinkers, and it is the idea of the common humanity of all people and the oneness that underlies all the variations, the idea of a religion of humanity.  While this idea began to make itself known and felt only to a relatively small number of individuals who could conceptualize it, over time, with the efforts these individuals have made to bring forth and explain this idea, and correlate it to the needs of humanity and provide solutions to the global crises that we are now beginning to recognize, one can see that the idea continues to expand its scope and take on an actual form.  The United Nations and various agencies, the World Health Organisation, UNESCO, the World Court, all are initial formations that begin to carry out the intent behind the religion of humanity.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “…there is a sentiment helped and stimulated by these outward circumstances, a cosmopolitan, international sentiment, still rather nebulous and vaguely ideal, which may accelerate the growth of the formal union.”

“There is, however, at work a more powerful force, a sort of intellectual religion of humanity, clear in the minds of the few, vaguely felt in its effects and its disguises by the many, which has largely helped to bring about much of the trend of the modern mind and the drift of its developing institutions.  This is a psychological force which tends to break beyond the formula of the nation and aspires to replace the religion of country and even, in its more extreme forms, to destroy altogether the national sentiment and to abolish its divisions so as to create the single nation of mankind.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 35, Summary and Conclusion, pg. 303

The Development of a Uniting Sentiment and Psychological Unity Helps Form Larger Societal Aggregates

Possibly as a response to outer crises faced and overcome together, smaller units of society have successfully formed and developed larger units, and even developed psychological unity.  This does not occur in every case, particularly where disparate peoples and cultures have been fused together by outward, mechanical means, and especially when those means have included warfare, domination and oppression to achieve their ends.  It was just such a process that led to the fusion of 13 colonies in the United States of America, despite some differences in economic system, religious denomination and issues such as slavery.  Banding together to overthrow the British rulers showed these people the benefits of working together for a common goal.  Tensions over the internal differences were suppressed until they broke out during the Civil War.  In the interim, the economic and political unity bonded into a nation-unit with a great deal of psychological unity, although present day stresses make it seem like the psychological unity has not yet stabilized.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “But, secondly, there is the force of a common uniting sentiment.  This may work in two ways; it may come before as an originating or contributory cause or it may come afterwards as a cementing result.  In the first case, the sentiment of a larger unity springs up among units which were previously divided and leads them to seek after a form of union which may then be brought about principally by the force of the sentiment and its idea or by that secondarily as an aid to other and more outward events and causes.”

“The larger national aggregates have grown up by a simple act of federation or union, though this has sometimes had to be preceded by a common struggle for liberty or a union in war against a common enemy; so have grown into one the United States, Italy, Germany, and more peacefully the Australian and South African federations.  But in other cases, especially in the earlier national aggregations, the sentiment of unity has grown up largely or entirely as the result of the formal, outward or mechanical union.  But whether to form or to preserve the growth of the sentiment, the psychological factor is indispensable; without it there can be no secure and lasting union.  Its absence, the failure to create such a sentiment or to make it sufficiently living, natural, forcible has been the cause of the precariousness of such aggregates as Austro-Hungary and of the ephemeral character of the empires of the past, even as it is likely to bring about, unless circumstances change, the collapse or disintegration of the great present-day empires.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 35, Summary and Conclusion, pp. 302-303

The Pressure of Global Concerns Drives Humanity Toward Human Unity

Nature’s drive towards world unity can be identified through the speed and intensity with which mankind is being driven ever-closer together and the tight inter-relationship of actions that affect everyone around the world.  The  rise of an interdependent global economic system, the increasing pressure on the world’s resources to provide food and water to more than 7 billion people, the development of devastating weapons of mass destruction, the global climate crisis, the fear of global pandemics all represent just a few of the issues that transcend national boundaries and which eventually will force humanity to join together to find solutions, or perish.  It is the type of survival crisis that brings about the intensity needed to arrive at a solution.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “This working of Nature depends for its means of fulfilment upon two forces which combine to make the larger aggregation inevitable.  First, there is the increasing closeness of common interests or at least the interlacing and interrelation of interests in a larger and yet larger circle which makes old divisions an obstacle and a cause of weakness, obstruction and friction, and the clash and collision that comes out of this friction a ruinous calamity to all, even to the victor who has to pay a too heavy price for his gains; and even these expected gains, as war becomes more complex and disastrous, are becoming more and more difficult to achieve and the success problematical.  An increasing perception of this community or interrelation of interests and a growing unwillingness to face the consequences of collision and ruinous struggle must push men to welcome any means for mitigating the divisions which should lead to such disasters.  If the trend to the mitigation of divisions is once given a definite form, that commences an impetus which drives towards closer and closer union.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 35, Summary and Conclusion, pp. 301-302

Human Unity Is the Trend of the Development of Human Social Groupings

We observe the systematic development of ever-larger groupings of humanity.  The imperial form has been tried on multiple occasions, but it was not stable and eventually dissolved.  The largest current stable grouping is the nation, and we see nations proliferating around the world.  The nation-unit is stable, not just because it speaks to physical and vital needs of particular people, but because it has the power of a psychological unity among the members of that nation.  Unstable nations are those that do not have this kind of psychological unity, and they have tended to break up, or reform with other nations, or carve out a new national unit in response to the centrifugal forces at work in the absence of psychological unity.  The recurring attempts to develop yet larger units, along with the rise of the idea of the religion of humanity, are signs that Nature has not completed its work of unifying humanity.  This process continues to evolve, developing new justifications, and confronting new concerns that can only be solved by a united effort of humanity.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “…while it is possible to construct a precarious and quite mechanical unity by political and administrative means, the unity of the human race, even if achieved, can only be secured and can only be made real if the religion of humanity, which is at present the highest active ideal of mankind, spiritualises itself and becomes the general inner law of human life.”

“The outward unity may well achieve itself, — possibly, though by no means certainly, in a measurable time, — because that is the inevitable final trend of the working of Nature in human society which makes for larger and yet larger aggregations and cannot fail to arrive at a total aggregation of mankind in a closer international system.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 35, Summary and Conclusion, pg. 301