The Precursors to the Development of the Rational Age of Society

As with everything in the world, there is a process that occurs as the evolutionary force moves from the infrarational phase to the rational phase of development.  The rational stage does not overtake the entire society instantly, but is something that appears in individuals, who over time exercise influence commensurate with the power of rationality.  There are limitations to the action of the reason in a society based on the infrarational, vital principle, yet it continues to exert pressure to widen, to change, to grow, to adopt rational principles over time.  Inertial forces work to pull the individuals back down, but they work to find ways to protect their progress and spread the benefit of the rational action.  This leads to a stage where the contending forces impact one another and progress is variable and volatile.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “But even within the communities themselves reason and spirituality at this stage are always hampered and endangered by existing in a milieu and atmosphere not their own.  The elite, the classes in charge of these powers, are obliged to throw them into forms which the mass of human ignorance they lead and rule will accept, and both reason and spirituality tend to be stifled by these forms, to get stereotyped, fossilised, void of life, bound up from their natural play.  Secondly, since they are after all part of the mass, these higher enlightened elements are themselves much under the influence of their infrarational parts and do not, except in individuals, arrive at the entirely free play of the reason or the free light of the spirit.  Thirdly, there is always the danger of these elements gravitating downward to the ignorance below or even collapsing into it.  Nature guards herself by various devices for maintaining the tradition of intellectual and spiritual activity in the favoured classes; here she makes it a point of honour for them to preserve and promote the national culture, there she establishes a preservative system of education and discipline.  And in order that these things may not degenerate into mere traditionalism, she brings in a series of intellectual and spiritual movements which by their shock revivify the failing life and help to bring about a broadening and an enlarging and to drive the dominant reason or spirituality deeper down into the infrarational mass.  Each movement indeed tends to petrify after a shorter or longer activity, but a fresh shock, a new wave arrives in time to save and regenerate.  Finally, she reaches the point when, all immediate danger of relapse overcome, she can proceed to her next decisive advance in the cycle of social evolution.  This must take the form of an attempt to universalise first of all the habit of reason and the application of the intelligence and intelligent will to life.  Thus is instituted the rational age of human society, the great endeavour to bring the power of the reason and intelligence to bear on all that we are and do and to organise in their light and by their guiding force the entire existence of the race.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 18, The Infrarational Age of the Cycle, pp. 190-191