The character of any society is seen by the general way that society responds to its life-situations and the goals it sets before it. This does not mean that every individual in that society is limited within the strict bounds of the society’s frame; rather, there is a general frame and there may be at any time an individual or a number of individuals who exceed that frame and become forerunners or who represent some entirely different value set from the generality. If they represent the evolutionary trend of the society’s development, these forerunners help to lead, guide and direct the people of that society towards the evolutionary direction they will eventually take. If they are especially motivational they may even color the tendency of the society for a time; but if they are appearing at a time when the general mass of humanity is not ready, that inspiration will be short-lived and fade again, with the impact then becoming a subtle texturing of the mind and heart of humanity for a progress yet reserved for the future.
Sri Aurobindo observes: “For a time the new growth and impulse may seem to take possession of a whole community as in Athens or in old Aryan India. But these early dawns cannot endure in their purity, so long as the race is not ready. There is a crystallisation, a lessening of the first impetus, a new growth of infrarational forms in which the thought or the spirituality is overgrown with inferior accretions or it is imbedded in the form and may even die in it, while the tradition of the living knowledge, the loftier life and activity remains the property of the higher classes or a highest class. The multitude remains infrarational in its habit of mind, though perhaps it may still keep in capacity an enlivened intelligence or a profound or subtle spiritual receptiveness as its gain from the past. So long as the hour of the rational age has not arrived, the irrational period of society cannot be left behind; and that arrival can only be when not a class or a few but the multitude has learned to think, to exercise its intelligence actively — it matters not at first however imperfectly — upon their life, their needs, their rights, their duties, their aspirations as human beings. Until then we have as the highest possible development a mixed society, infrarational in the mass, but saved for civilisation by a higher class whose business it is to seek after the reason and the spirit, to keep the gains of mankind in these fields, to add to them, to enlighten and raise with them as much as possible the life of the whole.”
Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 18, The Infrarational Age of the Cycle, pp. 188-189