Understanding the Dynamics of a Society’s Adoption of an Ideology in the Development of Human Evolution

It is easy, and quite usual, to try to blame an entire people for attitudes and the conceptual framework that leads to catastrophic events.  It may be useful to appreciate several concepts from the field of sociology to recognise that it is neither necessary, nor common, for an entire people to consciously hold specific ideas, such as the extreme views we have been reviewing, for the society to take the course that in fact has been witnessed by the history of the 20th century.  In their book The Social Construction of Reality, sociologists Berger and Luckman show how a society internalises certain concepts and norms without necessarily taking them up as a conscious thought-process.  Sociology also refers to the development of key a minority of  “opinion leaders” who take up an idea, focus its force, and drive it into the social body, gaining the acquiescence, either through active general agreement, or through passive acceptance, of a body of people within the society, at least sufficient to bring the idea into an active form.  With this background we can take up Sri Aurobindo’s explanation of the situation in 20th Century Germany and the extreme lengths to which they brought the concepts of human evolution in society and the need, in the minds of those leading the movement, to subordinate, eliminate or enslave those racial groups not capable (in their minds) of achieving the heights of human development.

“We need not suppose that all Germany thought in this strenuous fashion, as it was too long represented, or that the majority thought thus consciously; but it is sufficient that an energetic minority of thinkers and strong personalities should seize upon the national life and impress certain tendencies upon it for these to prevail practically or at the least to give a general trend subconsciously even where the thought itself is not actually proposed in the conscious mind.  And the actual events of the present hour seem to show that it was this gospel that partly consciously, partly subconsciously or half articulately had taken possession of the collective German mind.  It is easy to deride the rigidity of this terrible logic or riddle it with the ideas and truths it has ignored, and it is still easier to abhor, fear, hate and spew at it while practically following its principles in our own action with less openness, thoroughness and courage.  But it is more profitable to begin by seeing that behind it there was and is a tremendous sincerity which is the secret of its force, and a sort of perverse honesty in its errors; the sincerity which tries to look straight at one’s own conduct and the facts of life and the honesty to proclaim the real principles of that conduct and not — except as an occasional diplomacy — profess others with the lips while disregarding them in the practice.  And if this ideal is to be defeated not merely for a time in the battle-field and in the collective person of the nation or nations professing it, as happened abortively in the War, but in the mind of man and in the life of the human race, an equal sincerity and a less perverse honesty has to be practiced by those who have arrived at a better law.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 5, True and False Subjectivism, pp. 51-52