The Need for Humanity to Unify in its Inner Soul Not Just its Outward Life and Body

Throughout history, mankind has attempted to create larger socio-economic units with external means, whether through conquest, economic domination or through some type of political system or form of amalgamation derived through mutual consent of some sort.  Such formations, however, have, at some point, broken down and disintegrated.  The experiment gave humanity the opportunity to test various forms of unity and discover both their strengths and their weaknesses.  One of the more recent experiments, that of the formation of the United States, has had its serious limitations.  The attempt was made to develop a Constitution that would provide checks and balances to prevent one small group from gaining absolute power and thereby re-creating the form of monarchy or empire, both of which the founders were trying to avoid.  After a little more than 200 years, however, the changes wrought by technology, economic changes, and external pressures in the world have brought the governmental system devised by the founders to a state of near paralysis in many ways, and the advent of mass media and corporatism have subverted the checks and balances.  We may learn from this the lesson that attempting to bring about human unity through external political, economic and military means, is likely doomed to failure, and even if such a unity were to arise, it would tend to suppress individual growth, lead to stagnation and eventual collapse under its own weight.

Sri Aurobindo elaborates:  “It is therefore quite improbable that in the present conditions of the race a healthy unity of mankind can be brought about by State machinery, whether it be by a grouping of powerful and organised States enjoying carefully regulated and legalised relations with each other or by the substitution of a single World-State for the present half chaotic half ordered comity of nations,– be the form of that World-State a single empire like the Roman or a federated unity.  Such an external or administrative unity may be intended in the near future of mankind in order to accustom the race to the idea of a common life, to its habit, to its possibility, but it cannot be really healthy, durable or beneficial over all the true line of human destiny unless something be developed more profound, internal and real.  Otherwise the experience of the ancient world will be repeated on a larger scale and in other circumstances.  The experiment will break down and give place to a new reconstructive age of confusion and anarchy.  Perhaps this experience also is necessary for mankind; yet it ought to be possible for us now to avoid it by subordinating mechanical means to our true development through a moralised and even a spiritualised humanity united in its inner soul and not only in its outward life and body.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part I, Chapter 4, The Inadequacy of the State Idea, pp. 32-33


The True Role of the State in Individual and Collective Development

There are two major camps when it comes to political philosophy for humanity.  One camp focuses on the rights and needs of the individual and tries to eliminate or minimize the role of a central government, or “state”, in ordering the affairs of the individuals.  This camp does not recognize the needs of the collectivity or the requirements of the environment within which all humanity lives, in its strident attempt to liberate the individual from any constraints.  The second camp focuses on the needs of the community and seeks to order and control the individuals in order to establish a basic harmony and cooperative action around a central principle of shared resources and shared responsibilities.  Of course, there is no “pure” form of either of these forms of political organisation, so the actual examples we see of societies tipped in one direction or another are not indicative of the ideal held out by those who adhere to one side or the other of this debate.

Sri Aurobindo recognizes that each side has certain underlying truths of life that should be taken into account, but that the real issue revolves around finding the balance and harmony between these apparently conflicting objectives.

Sri Aurobindo summarizes the role of the State:  “The business of the State, so long as it continues to be a necessary element in human life and growth, is to provide all possible facilities for cooperative action, to remove obstacles, to prevent all really harmful waste and friction,– a certain amount of waste and friction is necessary and useful to all natural action,– and, removing avoidable injustice, to secure for every individual a just and equal chance of self-development and satisfaction to the extent of his powers and in the line of his nature.”

“But all unnecessary interference with the freedom of man’s growth is or can be harmful.  Even cooperative action is injurious if, instead of seeking the good of all compatibly with the necessities of individual growth,– and without individual growth there can be no real and permanent good of all,– it immolates the individual to a communal egoism and prevents so much free room and initiative as is necessary for a flowering of a more perfectly developed humanity.”

Sri Aurobindo sees the development of humanity and human growth as progressive, dynamic rather than static.  Any centralized control of the individual by the State represents an attempt to create a static social order and thus, limits growth and progress.  “Always it is the individual who progresses and compels the rest to progress; the instinct of the collectivity is to stand still in its established order.  Progress, growth, realisation of wider being give his greatest sense of happiness to the individual; status, secure ease to the collectivity.  And so it must be as long as the latter is more a physical and economic entity than a self-conscious collective soul.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part I, Chapter 4, The Inadequacy of the State Idea, pp. 31-32

The State Functions as a Machinery, Not an Organism

The qualities of a living being, an organism, include responsiveness to circumstances and a certain amount of flexibility.  Those organisms that prove themselves unable to adapt to change tend to die off when the inevitable change comes about over time.  The growth and development that can bring about real progressive forward movement in the life and quality of life for humanity require adaptivity and creativity to meet new challenges.

The organisation of the State tries to bring about, not creativity, but conformity in order to manage on the massive scale that the modern State encompasses.  Variations in the State’s action may be caused by built in favoritism to a ruling elite and its supporters, or due to inherent prejudice and bias against specific groups of people.  Either way, the basic principle is one which tries to develop a uniform approach, even if layered in strata based on the differences of class, religion, gender, or nationality that enter into the program.

This focus on uniformity tends to cut off the opportunities for individuals to excel and go beyond the framework of the programmatic process.  Any variance from the program is looked upon as, at best, inefficiency that needs to be reduced or removed, or at worst, some kind of revolutionary failure to abide by the authority of the State representing the society.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  The State “…is incapable of that free, harmonious and intelligently or instinctively varied action which is proper to organic growth.  For the State is not an organism; it is a machinery, and it works like a machine, without tact, taste, delicacy or intuition.  It tries to manufacture, but what humanity is here to do is to grow and create.  We see this flaw in State-governed education.  It is right and necessary that education should be provided for all and in providing for it the State is eminently useful; but when it controls the education, it turns it into a routine, a mechanical system in which individual initiative, individual growth and true development as opposed to a routine instruction become impossible.  The State tends always to uniformity, because uniformity is easy to it and natural variation is impossible to its essentially mechanical nature; but uniformity is death, not life.  A national culture, a national religion, a national education may still be useful things provided they do not interfere with the growth of human solidarity on the one side and individual freedom of thought and conscience and development on the other; for they give form to the communal soul and help it to add its quota to the sum of human advancement; but a State education, a State religion, a State culture are unnatural violences.  And the same rule holds good in different ways and to a different extent in other directions of our communal life and its activities.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part I, Chapter 4, The Inadequacy of the State Idea, pg. 31

Organised Action and Control by the State Is Not the Best Support for Human Progress

Our mentality tends to create “either/or” analyses which, by the nature of things, generally miss the correct balance in the approach.  Thus, we tend to oppose individual freedom and absolute control by the State, and take a position supporting one and opposing the other, depending on our own predilections.  However, if we recognize there can be a proper role for each in enhancing and support human progress, it is then incumbent on us to strike that proper balance and avoid the two extremes.

Looking carefully at human development, we see that it is individuals who have the specific insights or developments which become the basis of human progress.  We also note, however, that the framework of society provides the ground within which the individual awareness takes root and can thrive.  There can also be real benefits to free collaboration, which helps to shape ideas and put them into a concrete form of action.

Societies which have tried to create a centralised control over the actions and directions taken by individuals, and which try to monitor and demand results of one sort or another, have not proven themselves best at innovation.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  The State “…is capable of providing the cooperative action of the individuals in the community with all necessary conveniences and of removing from it disabilities and obstacles which would otherwise interfere with its working.  Here the real utility of the State ceases.  The non-recognition of the possibilities of human cooperation was the weakness of English individualism; the turning of a utility for cooperative action into an excuse for rigid control by the State is the weakness of the Teutonic idea of collectivism.  When the State attempts to take up the control of the cooperative action of the community, it condemns itself to create a monstrous machinery which will end by crushing out the freedom, initiative and various growth of the human being.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part I, Chapter 4, The Inadequacy of the State Idea, pp. 30-31

The Incipient Beginning of the State Developing an Intellectual and Moral Being

We can distinguish between the way one societal organisation, or State, relates to other states, from the way the State relates internally to its citizens.  To some degree, the external relations impact the internal, as fear, tension or military concerns externally will always tend to bring about more demands by the State on its citizens and thereby more control and regimentation.  The external relations, however, may assume a more or less peaceful aspect, particularly when States, either through their own strength or through strength of alliances, are able to balance opposing states to the degree that neither party is prepared to undertake aggressive action to try to control or subjugate the other.  During such periods, we may see a lessening of the internal controls, and even observe steps to support and raise up the quality of life of the citizenry.  There have been times and periods, particularly in recent years, where the State exhibited more concern for the welfare of its citizens, and in these times we see an emphasis on things such as universal health care, elder care, education, and development of standards of living that enhance the individuals living in the society.  We may also see, however, periods where the internal controls, even in times of relative peace, are enhanced, laws and regulations are promulgated, and police action and enforcement increases.  Such periods tend to bring about less individual initiative and freedom of action, and lead eventually to the decline of society through a form of stagnation; while conversely, in those periods where the individuals have more freedom and opportunity, there will be greater forward movement and progress on a number of fronts.  In more modern times, we note the increase of attention on creating internal relations with its citizens which support the individual, thus the rise of labor laws, outlawing of child labor, concern for clean air and water, safe food, as well as education, and safety net provisions placed to help people who are otherwise more vulnerable, while concurrently taking this more active role to more extreme efforts to regiment and control.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “The State now feels the necessity of justifying its existence by organising the general economic and animal well-being of the community and even of all individuals.  It is beginning to see the necessity of assuring the intellectual and, indirectly, the moral development of the whole community.  This attempt of the State to grow into an intellectual and moral being is one of the most interesting phenomena of modern civilisation.  Even the necessity of intellectualising and moralising it in its external relations has been enforced upon the conscience of mankind by the European catastrophe.”

There is a risk, which we can see growing, that as the State tries more and more to protect, and support its citizens, it will try to regiment and organise ever-greater aspects of the life of the community and its individuals, under the pretext of securing internal peace and tranquility.  This danger however, leads to the suppression of individual growth and eventually, to stagnation.

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part I, Chapter 4, The Inadequacy of the State Idea, pp. 29-30

The State Lacks a Soul to Provide Guidance and Direction

An individual may develop conscience, self-awareness, and moral principles by which to guide his actions.  Whether through the self-direction of such inner development, or through the structures of society to keep the individual within a framework of acceptable behavior, we can identify the ability of the individual to restrain his or her actions, willingly or unwillingly, as the case may be, and to take into account the needs, wishes, desires and requirements of others with whom he interacts.

The State, however, does not translate this type of internal guidance to the machinery of governing the society.  There may be an overarching direction or focus, but the state becomes, by its very nature, a soulless machinery that exercises power and control and undertakes activities of defense and aggrandisement, without the kind of internal or external restraints that keep the individual from undertaking extremely aggressive or harmful acts, for the most part.  The State wields a power of its own which becomes all-consuming and self-effectuating.  We thus see the exercise of authority, whether police authority, or military authority, as an outcome of the growth of the State’s power and awareness of its own existence.  This is an amoral power, that seeks to perpetuate itself, but does not necessarily care about the specific means utilized or the impacts on the individuals who must undergo the exercise of that power and authority.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “The organised State is neither the best mind of the nation nor is it even the sum of the communal energies.  It leaves out of its organised action and suppresses or unduly depresses the working force and thinking mind of important minorities, often of those which represent that which is best in the present and that which is developing for the future.  It is a collective egoism much inferior to the best of which the community is capable.  What that egoism is in its relation to other collective egoisms we know, and its ugliness has recently been forced upon the vision and the conscience of mankind.”

“But the State is an entity which, with the greatest amount of power, is the least hampered by internal scruples or external checks.  It has no soul or only a rudimentary one.  It is a military, political and economic force; but it is only in a slight and undeveloped degree, if at all, an intellectual and ethical being.  And unfortunately the chief use it makes of its undeveloped intellect is to blunt by fictions, catchwords and recently by State philosophies, its ill-developed ethical conscience.  Man within the community is now at least a half-civilised creature, but his international existence is still primitive.  Until recently the organised nation in its relations with other nations was only a huge beast of prey with appetites which sometimes slept when gorged or discouraged by events, but were always its chief reason for existence. … At the present day there is no essential improvement; there is only a greater difficulty in devouring.  … There is only the fear of defeat and the fear, recently, of a disastrous economic disorganisation; but experience after experience has shown that these checks are ineffective.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part I, Chapter 4, The Inadequacy of the State Idea, pp. 28-29

The State Idea Tends to Act as a Restraining Force on the Individual Growth and Development

It is easy to recognise that despotic or repressive government regimes impact the development of the individual and take control of the individual as solely an asset of the State, to be disposed of as the State best decides.  It is much more difficult to recognise that democratic societies also work, overtly and also subtly, to control and restrain the individual.  Philosophers and political scientists have devoted a lot of thought to the idea that there is some ideal form of societal organisation for humanity, starting with Plato’s Republic in the West, and going back far earlier in India with the development of the concept of Dharma to govern the ideal roles of each aspect and member of society.  More recently, the framers of the United States constitution and the founding of the United States was an exercise which looked back upon past successes and failures of societal organisation and tried to use the lessons of the past to frame “a more perfect union.”  What the founders of the United States rightly recognised, was that there is a vast difference between the “ideal” and the “practical” and this difference is defined to a great degree by the fact that the governing of the State, regardless of which specific form it takes, is done by individuals who have their own preconceived ideas, habits, customs, desires, and relationships, and all of these things tend to color the actions that take place and bring about imbalances that set up inequality among the members of the society, entrench those inequalities, and regulate the actions of all to fit within certain norms or frameworks conceived as the necessary basis for the social contract that has been developed.

“Theoretically, it is the collective wisdom and force of the community made available and organised for the general good.  Practically, what controls the engine and drives the train is so much of the intellect and power available in the community as the particular machinery of State organisation will allow to come to the surface; but it is also caught in the machinery and hampered by it and hampered as well by the large amount of folly and selfish weakness that comes up in the emergence.  Doubtless, this is the best that can be done under the circumstances, and Nature, as always, utilises it for the best.  But things would be much worse if there were not a field left for a less trammelled individual effort doing what the State cannot do, deploying and using the sincerity, energy, idealism of the best individuals to attempt that which the State has not the wisdom or courage to attempt, getting that done which a collective conservatism and imbecility would either leave undone or actively suppress and oppose.  It is this energy of the individual which is the really effective agent of collective progress.  The State sometimes comes in to aid it and then, if its aid does not mean undue control, it serves a positively useful end.  As often it stands in the way and then serves either as a brake upon progress or supplies the necessary amount of organised opposition and friction always needed to give greater energy and a more complete shape to the new thing which is in process of formation.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part I, Chapter 4, The Inadequacy of the State Idea, pp. 27-28