First Steps in the Development of the Group-Soul of a Society

We do not ordinarily think about the society as having its own soul.  We attribute the soul to an individual.  The ancient sages in India spoke of the soul as taking on a mental, vital and physical body, and changing them as it undergoes the process of death and rebirth.  The soul was eternal, the body and the vital-mental complex that used it were transitory and subject to change.  Sri Aurobindo advises that we can see a similar relationship of a group-soul to the body-formation of a society.  The primary difference is that while the human body is constructed of an aggregation of subconscious or unconscious constituent parts, the group-soul consists of an aggregation of conscious, semi-conscious and unconscious individuals, which makes the process of the soul directing the “body” much more difficult to organise and manage in the case of the society versus the individual.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “…the group-soul is much more complex because it has a great number of partly self-conscious mental individuals for the constituents of its physical being instead of an association of merely vital subconscious cells.  At first, for this very reason, it seems more crude, primitive and artificial in the forms it takes; for it has a more difficult task before it, it needs a longer time to find itself, it is more fluid and less easily organic.  When it does succeed in getting out of the stage of vaguely conscious self-formation, its first definite self-consciousness is objective much more than subjective.  And so far as it is subjective, it is apt to be superficial or loose and vague.  This objectiveness comes out very strongly in the ordinary emotional conception of the nation which centres round its geographical, its most outward and material aspect, the passion for the land in which we dwell, the land of our fathers, the land of our birth, country, patria, vaterland, janma-bhumi.  When we realise that the land is only the shell of the body, though a very living shell indeed and potent in its influences on the nation, when we begin to feel that its more real body is the men and women who compose the nation-unit, a body every changing, yet always the same like that of the individual man, we are on the way to a truly subjective communal consciousness.  For then we have some chance of realising that even the physical being of the society is a subjective power, not a mere objective existence.  Much more is it in its inner self a great corporate soul with all the possibilities and dangers of the soul-life.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 4, The Discovery of the Nation-Soul, pp. 35-36