Lessons from the Experience of Germany of the 20th Century in its Search for its Nation-Soul

For those who have lived through the experience of the First and the Second World War, and for those students of history who have immersed themselves in the events of that period, it is difficult to see anything positive in the direction Germany took and the results that ensued.  They will see the passion, energy and dedication exhibited by Germany in its “self-finding” as a dangerous mistake, and will counsel that the correct approach is less radical, and a return to past ways and methods is the only true solution to avoid this type of catastrophe in the future.  Sri Aurobindo, while not condoning the excesses or destructive results of the German actions of the period, nevertheless understands the forces that led to them and points out that once the subjective force has been unleashed, it is not possible to bottle it up and return to a past that no longer exists, nor should exist.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “It may be said, indeed, that the last result of the something done — the war, the collapse, the fierce reaction towards the rigid, armoured, aggressive, formidable Nazi State, — is not only discouraging enough, but a clear warning to abandon that path and go back to older and safer ways.  But the misuse of great powers is no argument against their right use.  To go back is impossible; the attempt is always, indeed, an illusion;  we have all to do the same thing which Germany has attempted, but to take care not to do it likewise.  Therefore we must look beyond the red mist of blood of teh War and the dark fuliginous confusion and chaos which now oppress the world to see why and where was the failure.  For her failure which became evident by the turn her action took and was converted for the time being into total collapse, was clear even then to the dispassionate thinker who seeks only the truth.  That befell her which sometimes befalls the seeker on the path of Yoga, the art of conscious self-finding, — a path exposed to far profounder perils than beset ordinarily the average man, — when he follows a false light to his spiritual ruin.  She had mistaken her vital ego for herself; she had sought for her soul and found only her force.  For she had said, like the Asura, ‘I am my body, my life, my mind, my temperament,’ and become attached with a Titanic force to these; especially she had said, ‘I am my life and body,’ and than that there can be no greater mistake for man or nation.  The soul of man or nation is something more and diviner than that; it is greater than its instruments and cannot be shut up in a physical, a vital, a mental or a temperamental formula.  So to confine it, even though the false formation be embodied in the armour-plated social body of a huge collective human dinosaurus, can only stifle the growth of the inner Reality and end in decay or the extinction that overtakes all that is unplastic and unadaptable.”

“It is evident that there is a false as well as a true subjectivism and the errors to which the subjective trend may be liable are as great as its possibilities and may well lead to capital disasters.  This distinction must be clearly grasped if the road of this stage of social evolution is to be made safe for the human race.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 4, The Discovery of the Nation-Soul, pp. 42-43