Germany’s Failure to Achieve World Empire Does Not Negate the Possibility for the Future

Sri Aurobindo explains the specific reasons why Germany’s failure in its attempt to achieve dominance during the First World War does not imply that such a result remains unattainable.  There were specific conditions and weaknesses in the German approach to the matter that caused its downfall.  Should a future nation with imperial ambitions find a way to solve these or similar concerns, it becomes reasonable to assume that a world-dominion may remain an open possibility.  Even Germany’s second attempt with the rise of the Third Reich was doomed to failure for very similar reasons to the first, although clearly a much greater force of will power was active in the second try.

Speaking of Germany in the First World War, Sri Aurobindo notes:  “It had the strongest military, scientific and national organisation which any people has yet developed, but it lacked the gigantic driving impulse which could alone bring an attempt so colossal to fruition, the impulse which France possessed in a much greater degree in the Napoleonic era. It lacked the successful diplomatic genius which creates the indispensable conditions of success.  It lacked the companion force of sea-power which is even more necessary than military superiority to the endeavor of world-domination, and by its geographical position and the encircling position of its enemies it was especially open to all the disadvantages which must accompany the mastery of the seas by its natural adversary.  The combination of overwhelming ea-power with overwhelming land-power (But now also, in a far greater degree, overwhelming air-power) can alone bring so vast an enterprise into the domain of real possibility;  Rome itself could only hope for something like a world-empire when it had destroyed the superior maritime force of Carthage.  Yet so entirely did German statesmanship miscalculate the problem that it entered into the struggle with the predominant maritime Power of the world already ranked in the coalition of its enemies.  Instead of concentrating its efforts against this one natural adversary, instead of utilising the old hostility of Russia and France against England, its maladroit and brutal diplomacy had already leagued these former enemies against itself; instead of isolating England, it had succeeded only in isolating itself and the manner in which it began and conducted the war still farther separated it morally and gave an added force to the physical isolation effected by the British blockade.”

During the Second World War, Germany attempt to solve at least some of these issues, for a time.  The treaty with Russia, after neutralizing France through the blitzkrieg, had the effect of isolating Britain.  The U-boat fleet helped to neutralize England’s natural maritime advantages and effectuated critical supply shortages on the isolated island nation.  The control of the entire continent of Europe ensured a strong supply line with multiple access points until air power begin to neutralize this logistical strength.  When Germany invaded Russia, it effectively neutralized the diplomatic advantages it had won in making the treaty in the first place and once again joined England and Russia in a combine against the German Empire.

Once again the failure appears to be related to weaknesses inherent in the specific attempt rather than in the potential success of such an imperial ambition through force to achieve what may be seen as a modern-day formation akin to the Roman Empire.

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part I, Chapter 9, The Possibility of a World-Empire, pp. 69-70


The Resilience of the Idea of Domination by Force in Today’s World

We live in an age of transition, during which new ideas are percolating into the awareness of people throughout the world, while at the same time, the old concepts, motives and organizational tendencies of humanity continue to hold sway and try to maintain and increase their control and dominance.  One of these old ideas is that a particular religion, economic system, or cultural development pattern is entitled, by some “divine right” to control the rest of the people of the world, and thereby to replicate their pattern on others and obtain the benefits that come with domination and the ability to exploit the people and resources of the world.

Sri Aurobindo referred to the rise of Germany during the first world war and the potential that, if it had succeeded, it would have followed a trajectory leading to the attempt to achieve world domination.  Because Germany was defeated by the use of a similar force, the tendency remained alive and, as predicted, the world witnessed a second attempt with the rise of the Third Reich and the initiation of the Second World War.  Germany’s defeat in that war, similarly, was due to the development of a counter-force, thus keeping the tendency alive.  The rise of the United Nations signaled a potential direction away from a world-dominating power, but the rising victors of the 2nd World War, in particular the United States and the Soviet Union, carried on this force.

Sri Aurobindo explains the occult energy that represents these old ideas that include imperial dominion, and which is behind this transference of the force of domination from the defeated to the victors:  “The fact that a modern nation and indeed the nation most advanced in that efficiency, that scientific utilisation of Science, that spirit of organisation, State help and intelligent dealing with national and social problems and ordering of economic well-being which Europe understands by the word civilisation, — the fact that such a nation should be possessed and driven by such ideas and impulses is certainly a proof that the old gods are not dead, the old ideal of dominant Force conquering, governing and perfecting the world is still a vital reality and has not let go its hold on the psychology of the human race.  Nor is there any certainty that the recent war (n.b. World War I) has killed these forces and this ideal; for the war was decided by force meeting force, by organisation triumphing over organisation, by the superior or at any rate the more fortunate utilisation of those very weapons which constituted the real strength of the great aggressive Teutonic Power.  The defeat of Germany by her own weapons could not of itself kill the spirit then incarnate in Germany; it may well lead merely to a new incarnation of it, perhaps in some other race or empire, and the whole battle would then have to be fought over again.  So long as the old gods are alive, the breaking or depression of the body which they animate is a small matter, for they know well how to transmigrate.  Germany overthrew the Napoleonic spirit in France in 1813 and broke the remnants of her European leadership in 1970; the same Germany became the incarnation of that which it had overthrown.  The phenomenon is easily capable of renewal on a more formidable scale.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part I, Chapter 9, The Possibility of a World-Empire, pp. 67-69

Various Possibilities for the Future Societal Groupings of Humanity

It has become clear in recent years, that all of humanity must find a way to co-exist and work together to solve issues that extend beyond the confines of individual nations and their borders.  The burgeoning population is one factor that increases the stress on the world’s capacity to feed, care for and deal with the energy needs while at the same time not changing the climate radically or polluting the air, water and land to the point that it becomes destructive to human life or at least, the quality of life.  Add to this the many divisions promulgated by unequal access to and utilization of resources, and the negative impacts that a small highly developed segment of humanity has on the quality of life on the planet and for the vast majority of people throughout the world, and we can see that supra-national solutions must be achieved.

The idea of the heterogeneous empire is one possible line of solution that Nature has been experimenting with, but it is not the only possible line of development that could yield a solution to the intractable problems that we see before us today.  Sri Aurobindo has identified several approaches that bear review:

“The progress of the imperial idea from the artificial and constructive stage to the position of a realised psychological truth controlling the human mind with the same force and vitality which now distinguish the national idea above all other group motives, is only a possibility, not a certainty of the future.”

If it does not happen, then Sri Aurobindo asks “…what other possibility can there be of the unification of mankind by political and administrative means?  That can only come about if either the old ideal of a single world-empire be, by developments not now apparently possible, converted into an accomplished fact or if the opposite ideal of a free association of free nations overcome the hundred and one powerful obstacles which stand in the way of its practical realisation.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part I, Chapter 9, The Possibility of a World-Empire, pg. 67

A Potential Model for the Unity of the Human Race

Sri Aurobindo explores the possibilities of a wider supra-national unity existing between diverse cultures such as existed between Britain and India in the early to mid-part of the 20th Century.  While acknowledging the obstacles to such a successful development, he utilizes the possibility as a way to explore the eventual movement towards the unity of the entire human race.  The goal would be to find a method to allow multiple cultures and lifeways to coexist while working together on the organisation of the physical, commercial and political structures needed by all people to live in harmony with each other and within the resource capabilities of Nature.

“The possibilities might be, first, a firm political unity secured by common interests; secondly, a sound commercial interchange and mutual industrial helpfulness on healthy lines; thirdly, a new cultural relation of the two most important sections of humanity, Europe and Asia, in which they could exchange all that is great and valuable in either as equal members of one human household; and finally, it might be hoped, in place of the common past associations of political and economic development and military glory which have chiefly helped in building up the nation-unit, the greater glory of association and close partnership in the building of a new, rich and various culture for the life of a nobler humanity.  For such, surely, should be the type of the supra-national unit which is the possible next step in the progressive aggregation of humanity.”

“It is evident that this next step would have no reason or value except as a stage which would make possible by practical demonstration and the creation of new habits of sentiment, mental attitude and common life the unity of the whole human race in a single family.  The mere creation of a big empire-unit would be a vulgar and even reactionary phenomenon if it had not this greater issue beyond it.”

“If at all, therefore, this kind of development is destined, … then it must be as such a half-way house and with this ideal before us that ti can be accepted by the lovers of humanity who are not bound by the limitations of the old local patriotism of nation against nation.  Always provided that the political and administrative means are those which are to lead us to the unity of the human race….”

“This much could be said for it that if such a combination of two so disparate peoples and cultures proved to be possible, the greater question of a world-union would begin to bear a less remote appearance.”

This possible outcome of the breakup of the British Empire and the independence of India and Pakistan, obviously did not come about.  Sri Aurobindo had noted the unlikely character of this option, but he clearly points out the direction and goal of Nature towards the larger aggregation that will bring about a true world-union based on mutual respect and equality.


Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part I, Chapter 8, The Problem of a Federated Heterogeneous Empire, pp. 65-66

The Case of India and the British Commonwealth of Nations

The challenge involved in integrating India into a British Commonwealth of Nations, exchanging the role of Britain as a colonizer for one as a co-equal participant in a larger aggregate of humanity, is one which may provide a key to the larger aggregation of all of humanity on a peaceful and harmonious basis.  It is therefore useful to review the conditions that make such a result possible, as Sri Aurobindo has described:

With respect to integrating a free and independent India into such an aggregation:  “It must allow, respect and even favour actively the free and separate evolution of India subject to the unity of the Empire.  So long as India does not entirely govern herself, her interests must take a first place in the mind of those who do govern her, and when she has self-government, it must be of a kind which will not hamper her in her care of her own interests.  She must not, for example, be forced into an imperial Zollverein which under present conditions would be disastrous to her economic future until or unless these conditions are changed by a resolute policy of stimulating and encouraging her industrial development, even though that will necessarily be prejudicial to many existing commercial interests within the Empire.  No effort must be made to impose English culture or conditions upon her growing life or make the a sine qua non for her recognition among the free peoples of the Empire and no effort of her own to defend and develop her own culture and characteristic development must be interfered with or opposed.  Her dignity, sentiments, national aspirations must be increasingly recognised in practice as well as in principle.  Given these conditions, the security of her political and economic interests and a care for her own untroubled growth might keep her in the Empire and time might be given for the rest, for the more subtle and difficult part of the process of unification to fulfil itself more or less rapidly.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part I, Chapter 8, The Problem of a Federated Heterogeneous Empire, pp. 64-65

Issues to Be Resolved in Forming a Psychological Unity in Larger Human Aggregates with Heterogeneous Backgrounds

While there are challenges involved, even when the psychological unity is being developed on the basis of common geographical area, language, background, cultural traditions, etc., these challenges are raised to a new level when the requirement is to build a psychological unity for diverse peoples who differ as to language, cultural traditions, religious perspectives, and geography.  An example of these issues arises in the case of India, which for several hundred years was controlled and dominated by the British Empire as a colony.  As the eventual freedom of India from British domination came about, the question arose as to what status India might have in the confederation that was being formed under the rubric of the British Commonwealth of Nations.

Sri Aurobindo describes the issues:  “There is first that geographical separateness which has always made India a country and a people apart, even when it was unable to realise its political unity and was receiving by invasion and mutual communication of cultures the full shock of the civilisations around it.  There is the mere mass of its population of three hundred millions whose fusion in any sort with the rest of the nations of the Empire would be a far other matter than the fusion of the comparatively insignificant populations of Australia, Canada and South Africa.  There is the salient line of demarcation by race, colour and temperament between the European and the Asiatic.  There is the age-long past, the absolute divergence of origins, indelible associations, inherent tendencies which forbid any possibility of the line of demarcation being effaced or minimised by India’s acceptance of an entirely or predominantly English or European culture.  All these difficulties need not necessarily mean the insolubility of the problem; on the contrary, we know that no difficulty can be presented to the human mind which the human mind, if it will, cannot solve.”


Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part I, Chapter 8, The Problem of a Federated Heterogeneous Empire, pp. 62-64

The Evolution of the Concept of a Federated Commonwealth of Nations

As the British Empire came to its end, there arose a new concept which provides a potential direction for a larger than national grouping of human society, namely, the British Commonwealth of Nations.  As the First World War was coming to its conclusion, Sri Aurobindo was already foreseeing such a development:

Owing to the drawing together of the world by physical Science, the resulting tendency towards larger aggregates, changed political world conditions and the profound political, economic and social changes towards which Great Britain has been moving, all the conditions now are altered and it is easy to see that the fusion of the colonial empire into a great federated commonwealth or something that can plausibly go by that name is practically inevitable.”

The difficulties involved in such an attempt, with widely divergent geographical and economic interests were potentially to be solved if England was able to avoid trying to dominate and control in the imperial mould.  It was this type of economic and political dominance that led to the eventual breaking away from Britain of the American colonies, and the formation of the United States.  Pressures of this type also led to the eventual dissolution of the empire during the 20th century.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  England “…has to keep it always in mind that her possible destiny is not that of a dominant country compelling all the parts of her dominions to uniformity with her or to perpetual subordination, but that of the centre of a great confederation of States and nations coalescing by her attraction into a new supra-national unity.  Here the first condition is that she must scrupulously respect the free internal life and will, the social, cultural, economic tendencies of the colonies while giving them an equal part with herself in the management of the great common questions of the Empire.  She herself can be nothing more in the future of such a new type of aggregate than a political and cultural centre, the clamp or nodus of the union.  Given this orientation of the governing mind in England, nothing short of some unforeseen cataclysm can prevent the formation of an empire-unit in which Home Rule with a loose British suzerainty will be replaced by Federation with Home Rule as its basis.”

We see that such a commonwealth actually developed, while other attempts at supra-national groupings developed, such as the rise of the Soviet Union, which followed the old model of centralized domination over the regional states, and which eventually broke apart; and the European Union which has tried the even more ambitious approach of bringing together nations that are widely diverse in language and cultural background into a common economic and quasi-political union of separate free states.

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part I, Chapter 8, The Problem of a Federated Heterogeneous Empire, pp. 61-62