A societal grouping, such as the nation or state, takes on the characteristics of the people who make up that nation to a great degree. There is a somewhat modified dynamic involved because individuals may do in the “mass” what they would never choose to do as an individual; however, in terms of self-realisation, it is clear that the more awake, aware and self-conscious an individual is, the less likely he is to willingly take on the characteristics of an as yet subconscious or unconscious group. It is true that even aware individuals may be threatened or coerced into what appears to be cooperation, even if they disagree, but this does not change the basic concept that the self-realisation and self-development begins with the individual and the nation necessarily lags behind until sufficient numbers of individuals, with sufficient conscious effort, are able to drive the change into the body of the societal grouping on a wider scale.
Sri Aurobindo examines the issue: “Once we have determined that this rule of perfect individuality and perfect reciprocity is the ideal law for the individual, the community and the race and that a perfect union and even oneness in a free diversity is its goal, we have to try to see more clearly what we mean when we say that self-realisation is the sense, secret or overt, of individual and of social development. As yet we have not to deal with the race, with mankind as a unity; the nation is still our largest compact and living unit. And it is best to begin with the individual, both because of his nature we have a completer and nearer knowledge and experience than of the aggregate soul and life and because the society or nation is, even in its greater complexity, a larger, a composite individual, the collective Man. What we find valid of the former is therefore likely to be valid in its general principle of the larger entity. Moreover, the development of the free individual is, we have said, the first condition for the development of the perfect society. From the individual, therefore, we have to start; he is our index and our foundation.”
Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 8, Civilisation and Barbarism, pg. 73