The Rationale Behind the Concern for the Loss of Liberty and Vitality in the World-State

After enumerating a number of positive benefits that would flow from the development of a World-State, Sri Aurobindo noted that eventually the creativity, vitality and springs of evolutionary development would dry up under the pressure of the efficiency and mechanization brought about by such a World-State.  This is analogous to the weakening from inside experienced by the Roman Empire in its day, which preceded the fall of that empire.

Sri Aurobindo sets forth his concerns on this issue:  “The conditions of a vigorous life would be lost, liberty, mobile variation and the shock upon each other of freely developing differentiated lives.  It may be said that this will not happen, because the World-State will be a free democratic State, not a liberty-stifling empire or autocracy, and because liberty and progress are the very principle of modern life and no development would be tolerated which went contrary to that principle.  But in all this, there is not really the security that seems to be offered.  For what is now, need not endure under quite different circumstances and the idea that it will is a strange mirage thrown from the actualities of the present on the possibly quite different actualities of the future.  Democracy is by no means a sure preservative of liberty; on the contrary, we see today the democratic system of government march steadily towards such an organized annihilation of individual liberty as could not have been dreamed of in the old aristocratic and monarchical systems.”

“…there is a deprivation of liberty which is more respectable in appearance, more subtle and systematized, ore mild in its method because it has a greater force at its back, but for that very reason more effective and pervading.  The tyranny of the majority has become a familiar phrase and its deadening effects have been depicted with a great force of resentment by certain of the modern intellectuals; but what the future promises us is something more formidable still, the tyranny of the whole, of the self-hypnotized mass over its constituent groups and units.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 27, The Peril of the World-State, pp. 238-239


Evaluating Pros and Cons in the Development of a World-State

When we look at the various options available for the future of humanity, and determine to put our efforts behind one or another direction, it is useful to look at the larger picture, not just of immediate results but also longer term impacts that may eventuate.  The development of a single World-State managing the life of humanity on the planet is certainly one of the more likely eventualities, and thus, it is useful to try to evaluate what effects it may have.

Sri Aurobindo observes in this regard:  “In all probability the results would be, with all allowance for the great difference between then and now, very much the same in essence as those which we observe in the ancient Roman Empire.  On the credit side, we should have first one enormous gain, the assured peace of the world. …  Peace assured, there would be an unparalleled development of ease and well-being.  A great number of outstanding problems would be solved by the united intelligence of mankind working no longer in fragments but as one.  The vital life of the race would settle down into an assured rational order comfortable, well-regulated, well-informed, with a satisfactory machinery for meeting all difficulties, exigencies and problems with the least possible friction, disturbance and mere uncertainty of adventure and peril.  At first, there would be a great cultural and intellectual efflorescence.  Science would organize itself for the betterment of human life and the increase of knowledge and mechanical efficiency.  The various cultures of the world — those that still exist as separate realities — would not only exchange ideas more intimately, but would throw their gains into one common fund, and new motives and forms would arise for a time in thought and literature and Art.  Men would meet each other much more closely and completely than before, develop a greater mutual understanding rid of many accidental motives of strife, hatred and repugnance which now exist, and arrive, if not at brotherhood, — which cannot come by mere political, social and cultural union, — yet at some imitation of it, a sufficiently kindly association and interchange.”

With such an enormous number of positive elements, however, humanity must also reckon with the downside:  “But after a time, there would be a dying down of force, a static condition of the human mind and life, then stagnation, decay, disintegration.  The soul of man would begin to wither in the midst of his acquisitions.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 27, The Peril of the World-State, pp. 236-238


Alternatives to the Centralised Control of a World-State

While the unification of humanity is inevitable, and the power of the World-State idea based on principles of external organisation and efficiency is predominant, it is not absolutely certain that this idea will eventually control human development, as there can be alternative directions taken, particularly if the principle underlying the great civilisations of Asia is able to gain momentum as a solution to the need for unification.  While the concept of the “nation” developed in the West and, through its efforts at colonial empire-building, and the World Wars that Western civilisation thrust upon the entire world,  was able to disseminate itself across the world, it is still possible that Asia may find a different path forward that could bring about unity without the centralisation and uniformity of a monolithic World-State.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “This result can only be avoided if an opposite force interposes and puts in its veto, as happened in Asia where the State idea, although strongly affirmed within its limits, could never go in its realisation beyond a certain point, because the fundamental principle of the national life was opposed to its full intolerant development.  The races of Asia, even the most organised, have always been peoples rather than nations in the modern sense.  Or they were nations only in the sense of having a common soul-life, a common culture, a common social organisation, a common political head, but not nation-States.  The State machine existed only for a restricted and superficial action; the real life of the people was determined by other powers with which it could not meddle.  Its principle function was to preserve and protect the national culture and to maintain sufficient political, social and administrative order — as far as possible an immutable order — for the real life of the people to function undisturbed in its own way and according to its own innate tendencies.  Some such unity for the human race is possible in the place of an organised World-State, if the nations of mankind succeed in preserving their developed instinct of nationalism intact and strong enough to resist the domination of the State idea.  The result would then be not a single nation of mankind and a World-State, but a single human people with a free association of its nation-units.  Or, it may be, the nation as we know it might disappear, but there would be some other new kind of group-units, assured by some sufficient machinery of international order in the peaceful and natural functioning of their social, economic and cultural relations.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 27, The Peril of the World-State, pg.  236

The Historical Imperative of the Development of the World-State

Very few people take the long view of an historical perspective on changes in society and organisational or economic systems.  Yet, there is a trend that becomes obvious over time as certain ideas gain power and begin to influence the way societies respond to the pressures of the moment.  Short-term political or economic changes driven by circumstances represent “noise” while the longer-term trend line is the “signal” that we can identify when we filter out the “noise”.  Using this analysis, we can identify a clear trend towards larger and more centralised groupings of humanity superceding smaller and more diffuse groupings.  This trend line points toward the eventual development of a world-state as the central authority managing the affairs of humanity.  The “noise” we identify as the resistance of nations or cultural, language, racial or economic system groups that seek to maintain and enhance their position and gain or maintain their predominance.  Eventually, as history shows us, these more limited forms give way as humanity moves to its next level of organisational integration in the next stage of its development.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “This, then is the extreme possible form of a World-State, the form dreamed of by the socialistic, scientific, humanitarian thinkers who represent the modern mind at its highest point of self-consciousness and are therefore able to detect the trend of its tendencies, though to the half-rationalised mind of the ordinary man whose view does not go beyond the day and its immediate morrow, their speculations may seem to be chimerical and utopian.  In reality they are nothing of the kind; in their essence, not necessarily in their form, they are, as we have seen, not only the logical outcome, but the inevitable practical last end of the incipient urge towards human unity, if it is pursued by a principle of mechanical unification, — that is to say, by the principle of the State.  …  The State principle leads necessarily to uniformity, regulation, mechanisation; its inevitable end is socialism.  There is nothing fortuitous, no room for chance in political and social development, and the emergence of socialism was no accident or a thing that might or might not have been, but the inevitable result contained int he very seed of the State idea.  It was inevitable from the moment that idea began to be hammered out in practice.  The work of the Alfreds and Charlemagnes and other premature national or imperial unifiers contained this as a sure result, for men work almost always without knowing for what they have worked.  But in modern times the signs are so clear that we need not be deceived or imagine, when we begin to lay a mechanical base for world-unification, that the result contained in the very effort will not insist on developing, however far-off it may seem at present from any immediate or even any distant possibilities.  A strict unification, a vast uniformity, a regulated socialisation of united mankind will be the predestined fruit of our labour.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 27, The Peril of the World-State, pp. 235-236

The Meaning and Justification for a World-State

The development of a World-State appears to be a response to the many pressures being exerted on humanity and on the planet through the development of human civilisation, following the industrial and digital revolutions that have been transforming the way humanity interacts with its members and with the global environment.  There is more and more recognition of the global scope of the crises facing humanity, and thus, the need for a coordinated response from all of mankind.  At the same time, there is considerable resistance and fear based on traditional adherence to national identity and customs, and the unknowns that accompany any collective endeavour of humanity.  Past history makes us suspicious of centralised controls and governance, and any use of those controls to instill uniformity across all people.  Thus, it is essential to set forth criteria and meaning for a World-State that will meet the aspiration of humanity while concurrently addressing the global issues.

Sri Aurobindo first observes that the issue of diverse languages may or may not be resolved, but should not pose, ultimately, an obstacle to the unification of humanity.  Even here, while many languages remain active in their own nations and regions, certain languages appear to be proliferating as languages of commerce and interchange.  “In any case, variety of language need be no insuperable obstacle to uniformity of culture, to uniformity of education, life and organisation or to a regulating scientific machinery applied to all departments of life and settled for the common good by the united will and intelligence of the human race.  For that would be what a World-State, such as we have imagined, would stand for, its meaning, its justification, its human object.  It is likely indeed that this and nothing less would come in the end to be regarded as the full justification of its existence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 26, The Need of Administrative Unity, pp. 233-234

The Probable Development of a Common World-Culture

With increasing centralisation operated through a World-State, and the increase of uniformity of process and functions as the World-State intervenes in the political, economic, legislative, judicial and cultural aspects of the various nations, Sri Aurobindo notes that he expects there would develop a common world-culture.  His insights have been amply supported in the intervening 100 years or so by the facts.  The rise of global travel and communications, the pervasive influence of television and radio to deliver cultural images and values around the world, and the rise of the commercialism that characterises so much of Western culture, we have seen a blending and smoothing of cultural differences.  The resultant culture is not all Western or Eastern, as there are also cultural flows moving into Western society from the cultures of Asia, Africa and the Middle East.  Many of these strands, however, are subordinated to the larger impact of science and commerce as defined through Western civilisation.  it remains to be seen which ones survive and thrive in this environment and become integrated parts of the larger amalgam that will result.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “Uniformity is becoming more and more the law of the world; it is becoming more and more difficult, in spite of sentiment and in spite of conscious efforts of conservation and revival, for local individualities to survive.  But the triumph of uniformity would naturally make for centralisation; the radical incentive to separateness would disappear.  And centralisation once accomplished would in turn make for a more complete uniformity.  Such decentralisation as might be indispensable in a uniform humanity would be needed for convenience of administration, not on the ground of true separative variations.  Once the national sentiment has gone under before a dominant internationalism, large questions of culture and race would be the only grounds left for the preservation of a strong though subordinate principle of separation in the World-State.  But difference of culture is quite as much threatened today as any other more outward principle of group variation.  The differences between the European nations are simply minor variations  of a common occidental culture.  And now that Science, that great power for uniformity of thought and life and method, is becoming more and more the greater part and threatens to become the whole of culture and life, the importance of these variations is likely to decrease.  The only radical difference that still exists is between the mind of the Occident and the mind of the Orient.  But here too Asia is undergoing the shock of Europeanism and Europe is beginning to feel, however slightly, the reflux of Asiaticism.  A common world-culture is the most probable outcome.  The valid objection to centralisation will then be greatly diminished in force, if not removed altogether.  Race-sense is perhaps a stronger obstacle because it is more irrational; but this too may be removed by the closer intellectual, cultural and physical intercourse which is inevitable in the not distant future.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 26, The Need of Administrative Unity, pp. 232-233

The Rise of Socialism and the Development of a World-State

The increasing unification of the human race, combined with the need to address serious issues of global import affecting every person and every country, is bringing about the ever-increasing pressure for both the development of a World-State and its emergence as the governing power determining the internal social and political affairs of the nations.  The rise of socialism over the last century has given further impetus to this development.  Even in societies that claim to be capitalistic in name, the power of socialism has been felt and been working toward balancing out inequality caused by unbridled capitalistic individualism, which is seen more and more as an anachronism of the past rather than as the preferred model for humanity moving into the future.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “This idea of the common interest of the race in the internal affairs of a nation is bound to increase as the life of humanity becomes more unified.  The great political question of the future is likely to be the challenge of Socialism, the full evolution of the omnipotent and omnipresent social State.  And if Socialism triumphs in the leading nations of the world, it will inevitably seek to impose its rule everywhere not only by indirect pressure, but even by direct interference in what it would consider backward countries.”

“Moreover, a World-State would probably no more find it possible to tolerate the continuance of certain nations as capitalist societies, itself being socialistic in major part, than a capitalist — or socialist — Great Britain would tolerate a socialist — or capitalist — Scotland or Wales.  On the other hand, if all nations become socialistic in form, it would be natural enough for a World-State to coordinate all these separate socialisms into one great system of human life.  But Socialism pursued to its full development means the destruction of the distinction between political and social activities; it means the socialisation of the common life and its subjection in all its parts to its own organised government and administration.  Nothing small or great escapes its purview.  Birth and marriage, labour and amusement and rest, education, culture, training of physique and character, the socialistic sense leaves nothing outside its scope and its busy intolerant control.  Therefore, granting an international Socialism, neither the politics nor the social life of the separate peoples is likely to escape the centralised control of the World-State.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 26, The Need of Administrative Unity, pp. 231-232