Since the end of the First World War, humanity has witnessed the development of almost 200 independent nations, many of which were formerly held as colonies by various European powers and some of which were parts of larger entities but, due to separate cultural, language, religious or ethnic backgrounds, wanted to stand on their own and create a nation that expressed the unique characteristics of who that particular people was. Some, such as the state of Israel, are obviously focused on living out their deepest sense of their uniqueness, but we can see similar forces at work in the Eastern European and Balkan States, the Baltic nations, and the creation of Bangla Desh. Where this drive has not yet come to full fruition we nevertheless still see the impetus, such as the push of the Kurdish people to eventually set up their own independent state from parts of Syria, Turkey and Iraq. Clearly there has been a force of Nature working to express a deeper sense of the uniqueness of each nation or national group, to fulfill a role of self-awareness and self-expression at the level of the nation.
Sri Aurobindo observes: “The conception to which Ireland and India have been the first to give a definite formula, ‘to be ourselves’, — so different from the impulse and ambition of dependent or unfortunate nations in the past which was rather to become like others, — is now more and more a generally accepted motive of national life. It opens the way to great dangers and errors, but it is the essential condition for that which has now become the demand of the Time-Spirit on the human race, that it shall find subjectively, not only in the individual, but in the nation and in the unity of the human race itself, its deeper being, its inner law, its real self and live according to that and no longer by artificial standards.”
The dangers arise when a nation becomes not only fixated on realizing its true essential ‘self’, but when it tries to do so with a sense of superiority for itself and disdain for the unique expression of other nations. “Especially, it tended to repeat the Teutonic lapse, preparing not only ‘to be oneself’, which is entirely right, but to live solely for and to oneself, which, if pushed beyond a certain point, becomes a disastrous error. For it is necessary, if the subjective age of humanity is to produce its best fruits, that the nations should become conscious not only of their own but of each other’s souls and learn to respect, to help and to profit, not only economically and intellectually, but subjectively and spiritually, by each other.”
Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 4, The Discovery of the Nation-Soul, pp. 39-40