Weaknesses of the League of Nations and the United Nations and the Basis for a Successful World Order

As humanity begins to grapple with the idea of a world-union if some form, it nevertheless starts from the basis of the existing world order, and the limitations imposed by the “real-politic” of that world-order, based on several dominant states or imperial powers.  The League of Nations, while the concept was pushed by the United States, did not eventually include the United States as the Congress opposed the initiative driven by President Woodrow Wilson.  This however was not the only or primary defect that doomed it.  It also turned out to be a forum for political power plays led by the key powers of the time, and rather than turning into a collaborative effort for the general welfare of humanity, it became a tool of attempted imperialism to sustain the great powers and their status quo.

The United Nations formed with a somewhat advanced agenda, but once again, the reality of political power on the world stage led to the development of the Security Council and the provision of the veto power by several major players, which served to distort the direction and intent of the body and enforce once again the wishes of the dominant world powers.

Sri Aurobindo discusses these issues and the eventual basis for a solution: “The League of Nations was in fact an oligarchy of big Powers each drawing behind it a retinue of small States and using the general body so far as possible for the furtherance of its own policy much more than for the general interest and the good of the world at large.”

“In the constitution of the U.N.O. an attempt was made, in principle at least, to escape from these errors; but the attempt was not thoroughgoing and not altogether successful.  A strong surviving element of oligarchy remained in the preponderant place assigned to the five great Powers in the Security Council and was clinched by the device of the veto; these were concessions to a sense of realism and the necessity of recognising the actual conditions of things and the results of the second great war and could not perhaps have been avoided, but they have done more to create trouble, hamper the action and diminish the success of the new institution than anything else in its make-up or the way of action forced upon it by the world situation or the difficulties of a combined working inherent in its very structure.”

“… it will be necessary to build, eventually at least, a true World-State without exclusions and on a principle of equality into which considerations of size and strength will not enter.  These may be left to exercise whatever influence is natural to them in a well-ordered harmony of the world’s peoples safeguarded by the law of a new international order.  A sure justice, a fundamental equality and combination of rights and interests must be the law of this World-State and the basis of its entire edifice.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, A Postscript Chapter, pp. 312-313

The United Nations Represents an Opportunity for Cautious Optimism on the Path Towards Human Unity

As a second iteration of the attempts of humanity to try to solve global issues together through deliberation rather than through violent means, the United Nations clearly represents a step forward for humanity, whatever its current defects.  Common action to address problems such as climate change or global pollution, addressing pandemics, global economic issues, or to aid with issues such as drought, flood, famine and migration are all possible if a forum for mutuality and discussion exists.  The development of agencies and bodies to unite humanity for specific actions that has arisen out of the United Nations process,  shows us the continued progress along these lines.  The limitations of the current United Nations, particularly the existence of, and use of, major power veto to subvert common goals and needs for the egoistic advantage of the power exercising the veto, is one such limitation.  Another very obvious one is the lack of any realistic enforcement power, with the UN Peacekeepers representing a potential first step forward in creation of a global enforcement power.  And certainly, the ability of certain powers to simply disregard the UN forum when their use of economic, political or military power seems to them a more certain way to achieve their objectives, is another of these serious limitations.  The mere existence of limitations in what represents a new direction for humanity is not a cause for despair, but a call for work to bridge the gaps that still remain and move us to the next level of integration of the entire human race into oneness.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “…the deficiencies that exist in the organisation or its constitution have to be quickly remedied or slowly and cautiously eliminated; if there are obstinate oppositions to necessary change, they have somehow to be overcome or circumvented without breaking the institution; progress towards perfection, even if it cannot be easily or swiftly made, must yet be undertaken and the frustration of the world’s hope prevented at any cost.  There is no other way for mankind than this, unless indeed a greater way is laid open to it by the Power that guides through some delivering turn or change in human will or human nature or some sudden evolutionary progress, a not easily foreseeable step, saltus, which will make another and greater solution of our human destiny feasible.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, A Postscript Chapter, pp. 311-312

Nature Utilises Resistance to Concentrate Her Forces of Accomplishment

Humanity tends to respond to crisis rather than through a patient, thoughtful process of development.  We see that throughout history it is various crises that act as the fulcrum for change that Nature is trying to achieve.  The League of Nations was the response of humanity to the horror of World War I.  When it could not sustain its footing, a second conflagration tore through the world.  The response:  The United Nations.

Humanity now stands on the brink of an abyss.  Weapons of mass destruction, global pandemics, climate change, massive inequality of access to resources, and exploitation of resources through force, which destablises, brings about regional or local warfare and mass migration events.  The resources of the planet are being used faster than they can be replaced and the population explodes, creating ever-more need for what are becoming more and more limited resources.  Pollution and the waste products of civilisation are poisoning air, water and land.   Those who have profited from the status quo fight hard to maintain their position, regardless of consequences.   Certainly humanity is at a decision-point:  live or die.  It is in just such situations that Nature is able to impel solutions as humanity reacts to the life and death event.  The solution in this case is the development of human unity and addressing these crises together as one.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “All the catastrophes that have attended this course of events and seem to arise of purpose in order to prevent the working out of her intention have not prevented, and even further catastrophes will not prevent, the successful emergence and development of an enterprise which has become a necessity for the progress and perhaps the very existence of the race.  Two stupendous and world-devastating wars have swept over the globe and have been accompanied or followed by revolutions with far-reaching consequences which have altered the political map of the earth and the international balance, the once fairly stable equilibrium of five continents, and changed the whole future.”

“But the two wars that have come and gone have not prevented the formation of the first and second considerable efforts towards the beginning of an attempt at union and the practical formation of a concrete body, an organised instrument with that object: rather they have caused and hastened this new creation.”

“Nature uses such means, apparently opposed and dangerous to her intended purpose, to bring about the fruition of that purpose.  As in the practice of the spiritual science and art of Yoga one has to raise up the psychological possibilities which are there in the nature and stand in the way of its spiritual perfection and fulfilment so as to eliminate them, even, it may be, the sleeping possibilities which might arise in future to break the work that has been done, so too Nature acts with the world-forces that meet her on her way, not only calling up those which will assist her but raising too, so as to finish with them, those that she knows to be the normal or even the unavoidable obstacles which cannot but start up to impede her secret will.  This one has often seen in the history of mankind; one sees it exampled today with an enormous force commensurable with the magnitude of the thing that has to be done.  But always these resistances turn out to have assisted by the resistance much more than they have impeded the intention of the great Creatrix and her Mover.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, A Postscript Chapter, pp. 309-311

The Initiation of a New Era in Human History

We often misjudge the importance of an event, or what it portends, from the small and seemingly innocuous way it begins and comes to our notice.  Who could imagine, for instance, looking at the majestic redwood trees that they sprout from a tiny seed, or that the grand spreading oak tree begins from an acorn.  Similarly, the advent of the League of Nations represents a watershed event in human history, as it represented the first global attempt to bring humanity together to try to resolve issues through collaboration rather than conflict.  The failure of this specific bodily form for the idea of human unity was not a defeat of the concept; rather, it was a sign that the form was not yet correctly developed and solidly based.  It took another worldwide conflagration to emphasize the importance of developing a mechanism for interchange, communication and discussion as an alternative to world war.  The founding of the United Nations after the end of World War II represented then another chance of embodiment for an idea that was driving towards manifestation.  The United Nations itself is not a perfect form, certainly, and the concept has been distorted by the existence of veto power exercised by dominant world powers to protect their own egoistic vested interests.  Yet, the process continues and the United Nations certainly represents an advance on the tentative steps taken by the League of Nations.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “At the time when this book was being brought to its close, the first attempt at the foundation of some initial hesitating beginning of the new world-order, which both governments and peoples had begun to envisage as a permanent necessity if there was to be any order in the world at all, was under debate and consideration but had not yet been given a concrete and practical form; but this had to come and eventually a momentous beginning was made.  It took the name and appearance of what was called a  League of Nations.  It was not happy in its conception, well-inspired in its formation or destined to any considerable longevity or a supremely successful career.  But that such an organised endeavour should be launched at all and proceed on its way for some time without an early breakdown was in itself an event of capital importance and meant the initiation of a new era in world history; especially, it was an initiative which, even if it failed, could not be allowed to remain without a sequel but had to be taken up again until a successful solution has safeguarded the future of mankind, not only against continued disorder and lethal peril but against destructive possibilities which could easily prepare the collapse of civilisation and perhaps eventually something even that could be described as the suicide of the human race.  Accordingly, the League Nations disappeared but was replaced by the United Nations Organisation which now stands in the forefront of the world and struggles towards some kind of secure permanence and success in the great and far-reaching endeavour on which depends the world’s future.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, A Postscript Chapter, pg. 309

The Higher Hope of Humanity in the Drive Towards Human Unity

Sri Aurobindo has shown us that the idea of creating human unity out of physical, vital or mental processes or motives is flawed, and that these methods eventually break down or, if they seem to succeed, contain the seeds of their own eventual dissolution.  This is not to say that such attempts should be abandoned; and eventually unity on these levels must also occur; rather, it is to emphasize the need for a deep inner realisation and truth to awaken in humanity to create the necessary psychological oneness that is the real unifying factor.  This inner truth will then be able to shape its body in the outer forms of unity that it can develop.  As long as we think of ourselves as separate and apart from one another, and we look at our various groupings as separate and independent from one another, or even, in conflict with one another, there is no real hope of stable, and lasting, unity.  The need for such unity is becoming more and more clear as humanity faces concerns and problems of global proportions, so attempts will be made through whatever means or motives humanity can muster.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “Could such a realisation develop rapidly in mankind, we might then solve the problem of unification in a deeper and truer way from the inner truth to the outer forms.  Until then, the attempt to bring it about by mechanical means must proceed.  But the higher hope of humanity lies in the growing number of men who will realise this truth and seek to develop it in themselves, so that when the mind of man is ready to escape from its mechanical bent, — perhaps when it finds that its mechanical solutions are all temporary and disappointing, — the truth of the Spirit may step in and lead humanity to the path of its highest possible happiness and perfection.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 35, Summary and Conclusion, pg. 308

A Spiritual Religion of Humanity Is the Hope of the Future

Sri Aurobindo’s statement about a spiritual religion of humanity captures, in a brief compass, the essence of the aspiration, the method, the direction and the goals set before humanity in its development towards human unity:

“A spiritual religion of humanity is the hope of the future.  By this is not meant what is ordinarily called a universal religion, a system, a thing of creed and intellectual belief and dogma and outward rite.  Mankind has tried unity by that means; it has failed and deserved to fail, because there can be no universal religious system, one in mental creed and vital form.  The inner spirit is indeed one, but more than any other the spiritual life insists on freedom and variation in its self-expression and means of development.  A religion of humanity means the growing realisation that there is a secret Spirit, a divine Reality, in which we are all one, that humanity is its highest  present vehicle on earth, that the human race and the human being are the means by which it will progressively reveal itself here.  It implies a growing attempt to live out this knowledge and bring about a kingdom of this divine Spirit upon earth.  By its growth within us oneness with our fellow-men will become the leading principle of all our life, not merely a principle of cooperation but a deeper brotherhood, a real and an inner sense of unity and equality and a common life.  There must be the realisation by the individual that only in the life of his fellow-men is his own life complete.  There must be the realisation by the race that only on the free and full life of the individual can its own perfection and permanent happiness be founded.  There must be too a discipline and a way of salvation in accordance with this religion, that is to say, a means by which it can be developed by each man within himself, so that it may be developed in the life of the race.  To go into all that this implies would be too large a subject to be entered upon here; it is enough to point out that in this direction lies the eventual road.  No doubt, if this is only an idea like the rest, it will go the way of all ideas.  But if it is at all a truth of our being, then it must be the truth to which all is moving and in it must be found the means of a fundamental, an inner, a complete, a real human unity which would be the one secure base of a unification of human life.  A spiritual oneness which would create a psychological oneness not dependent upon any intellectual or outward uniformity and compel a oneness of life not bound up with its mechanical means of unification, but ready always to enrich its secure unity by a free inner variation and a freely varied outer self-expression, this would be the basis for a higher type of human existence.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 35, Summary and Conclusion, pp. 307-308

The Intellectual Religion of Humanity: Its Positive Direction and Its Limitations

It has become clear, through the extensive review that Sri Aurobindo has done, that the older forces and motives that have led to human groupings of the past are not going to be sufficient or capable of bringing about a stable and living unity of all mankind.  Physical need and proximity, mutual fulfillment of vital needs and desires, and adherence to a specific cultural tradition or religious background are motives that brought about unity within the smaller groupings of humanity, which, although not perfect, showed that humanity has the drive and the capability of forming larger aggregates.  When we get to the issue of the unification of the entire human race, the differences that helped form the smaller groupings as different from other groupings no longer can apply.  We must find a solution that incorporates all of humanity and its common interests and needs.  The rise of the intellectual religion of humanity as a conceptual framework seems to move in the right direction.

Sri Aurobindo analyzes this potentiality:  “The saving power needed is a new psychological factor which will at once make a united life necessary to humanity and force it to respect the principle of freedom.  The religion of humanity seems to be the one growing force which tends in that direction; for it makes for the sense of human oneness, it has the idea of the race, and yet at the same time it respects the human individual and the natural human grouping.  But its present intellectual form seems hardly sufficient.  The idea, powerful in itself and in its effects, is yet not powerful enough to mould the whole life of the race in its image.  For it has to concede too much to the egoistic side of human nature, once all and still nine-tenths of our being, with which its larger idea is in conflict.  On the other side, because it leans principally on the reason, it turns too readily to the mechanical solutions.  For the rational idea ends always as a captive of its machinery, becomes a slave of its own too binding process.  A new idea with another turn of the logical machine revolts against it and breaks up its machinery, but only to substitute in the end another mechanical system, another credo, formula and practice.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 35, Summary and Conclusion, pp. 306-307

Limitations of the Primary Potential Forms for World Unity

While there is clearly a need for human unity, the forms that seem most likely to manifest each have their own limitations and objections.  These limitations arise from the way humanity tends to organise itself and build societal institutions and the inability of those institutions to balance the need for process and method with the requirement for human individuality and freedom.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “A centralised World-State would signify the triumph of the idea of mechanical unity or rather of uniformity.  It would inevitably mean the undue depression of an indispensable element in the vigour of human life and progress, the free life of the individual, the free variation of the peoples.  It must end, if it becomes permanent and fulfils all its tendencies, either in a death in life, a stagnation, or by the insurgence of some new saving but revolutionary force or principle which would shatter the whole fabric into pieces.  The mechanical tendency is one to which the logical reason of man, itself a precise machine, is easily addicted and its operations are obviously the easiest to manage and the most ready to hand; its full evolution may seem to the reason desirable, necessary, inevitable, but its end is predestined.”

“A centralised socialistic State may be a necessity of the future, once it is founded, but a reaction from it will be equally an eventual necessity of the future.  The greater its pressure, the more certainly will it be met by the spread of the spiritual, the intellectual, the vital and practical principle of Anarchism in revolt against that mechanical pressure.  So, too, a centralised mechanical World-State must rouse in the end a similar force against it and might well terminate in a crumbling up and disintegration, even in the necessity for a repetition of the cycle of humanity ending in a better attempt to solve the problem.  It could be kept in being only if humanity agreed to allow all the rest of its life to be regularised for it for the sake of peace and stability and took refuge for its individual freedom in the spiritual life, as happened once under the Roman Empire.  But even that would be only a temporary solution.”

“A federal system also would tend inevitably to establish one general type for human life, institutions and activities; it would allow only a play of minor variations.  But the need of variation in living Nature could not always rest satisfied with that scanty sustenance.  On the other hand, a looser confederacy might well be open to the objection that it would give too ready a handle for centrifugal forces, were such to arise in new strength.  A loose confederation could not be permanent;  it must turn in one direction or the other, end either in a close and rigid centralisation or at last by a break-up of the loose unity into its original elements.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 35, Summary and Conclusion, pp. 305-306

The Influence of the Past on the Development of the Future

Sri Aurobindo takes up the objection that the various forms that human unity could likely take are rooted in the past history of human societal development and do not, therefore, take into account totally new directions or possibilities.  He points out that humanity builds its present and future directions on habitual patterns developed in the past and it would take some unforeseeable new opening of consciousness and human receptivity to alter this long-standing and predictable pattern.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “…mankind even in dealing with its new problems works upon past experience and therefore upon past motives and analogies.  Even when it seizes on new ideas, it goes to the past for the form it gives to them.  Behind the apparent changes of the most radical revolutions we see this unavoidable principle of continuity surviving in the heart of the new order.  Moreover, these alternatives seem the only way in which the two forces in presence can work out their conflict, either by the disappearance of the one, the separative national instinct, or by an accommodation between them.  On the other hand, it is quite possible that human thought and action may take so new a turn as to bring in a number of unforeseen possibilities and lead to a quite different ending.  And one might upon these lines set one’s imagination to work and produce perhaps a utopia of a better kind.  Such constructive efforts of the human imagination have their value and often a very great value; but any such speculations would evidently have been out of place in the study I have attempted.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 35, Summary and Conclusion, pg. 305

Possible Forms and Process for the Development of Human Unity

The way forward towards human unity is not absolutely fixed.  While the end result of unity may be inevitable, neither the form nor the process can be specified, as they depend on a lot of circumstantial factors, many of which are not yet even fully evident.  Sri Aurobindo outlines the forms that appear to be most likely, and describes the process of development needed to get us there.

“There is likely to be either a centralised World-State or a looser world-union which may be either a close federation or a simple confederacy of the peoples for the common ends of mankind.  The last form is the most desirable, because it gives sufficient scope for the principle of variation which is necessary for the free play of life and the healthy progress of the race.”

“The process by which the World-State may come starts with the creation of a central body which will at first have very limited functions, but, once created, must absorb by degrees all the different utilities of a centralised international control, as the State, first in the form of a monarchy and then of a parliament, has been absorbing by degrees the whole control of the life of the nation, so that we are now within measurable distance of a centralised socialistic State which will leave no part of the life of its individuals unregulated.  A similar process in the World-State will end in the taking up and the regulation of the whole life of the peoples into its hands; it may even end by abolishing national individuality and turning the divisions that it has created into mere departmental groupings, provinces and districts of the one common State.  Such an eventuality may seem now a fantastic dream or an unrealisable idea; but it is one which, under certain conditions that are by no means beyond the scope of ultimate possibility, may well become feasible and even, after a certain point is reached, inevitable.  A federal system and still more a confederacy would mean, on the other hand, the preservation of the national basis and a greater or less freedom of national life, but the subordination of the separate national to the larger common interests and of full separate freedom to the greater international necessities.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 35, Summary and Conclusion, pp. 304-305