THE IDEAL OF HUMAN UNITY - Chapters XXXII - XXXV: Reflections By Debashish Banerji

Chapters: Internationalism, Internationalism and Human Unity, The Religion of Humanity, Summary and Conclusion.

In these last chapters of The Ideal of Human Unity, Sri Aurobindo draws together the threads that he has introduced earlier in the work, leading to his conclusion. Though Jan Smuts was yet to coin the word "Holism" to encapsulate the idea that a directed tendency towards the formation of ever-larger aggregates is observable in Nature, each such distinct stage marked by the presence of an identity and properties exceeding those of the sum of their parts, Sri Aurobindo's model of History follows this course. Indeed, this teleology follows naturally from Sri Aurobindo's master-idea of the progressive manifestation of intrinsic spiritual Oneness in Time, expressing itself politically as the drive towards world-union.

In earlier chapters an analysis of the processes of historical identity-formation, leading from tribes, through city-states and empires to the birth of the nation and its universalization as an unit of collective identity in the modern period has been carried out by Sri Aurobindo. In the course of this analysis, he has taken us through the determinable formative steps of the modern nations of Europe, expressing the contentions of centrifugal and centripetal forces in the process through brilliant impressionistic selections of historical event. He has concluded from this that (1) the forms that political unity has evolved in the formation of modern nations can be reduced to the ideas of the nation as State and the nation as Federation; and (2) all political unities, however cleverly or stringently maintained, are precarious unless accompanied by a real psychological unity.

These conclusions are important for the development of the last chapters, since they are now applied to the future scenario, seen as inevitable by Sri Aurobindo, of world-union. Just as past collective units of political and psychological identity have seen enlargement through history to their present reality as nation, so the nation-unit will be enlarged to the future world-unit. Thus the processes which have gone into the political and psychological building of national identities may very well apply in the transition from nation to world. Let us note at this point, however, that such a model of History, for Sri Aurobindo, does not translate into an ideology, as for instance, in Marx, an attempt to push the process along by constructed means. Rather, it takes the form of an analysis of possibilities and a measuring of their advantages and limitations. What is left as subtext only, is Sri Aurobindo's knowledge, expressed in his letters, that when the Supermind descends, it will decide for itself the forms of its action. In the meantime, a clear seeing of tendencies and their consequences provides us with useful hueristics of evaluation and choice.

The idea of a World-State, like that of the Nation-State, Sri Aurobindo sees as a danger. This may come about by the domination of one or a block of a few nation(s) over the world or through the ascendance of an internationalist ideology, such as Socialism. At the time of writing the book, both forms of danger lurked unseen by common eyes in the imminent future, in the imperialistic world-designs of Nazi Germany and the Communistic expansionism of Stalinist Russia. But the insidious moves towards global State-control may take other and more innocent seeming initial forms, leading eventually to complete totalitarian centralizations and the regimentation of individual lives worldwide. One such form may be a world-organ, formed by the common consent of free nations, whose sole initial function may be to mediate international conflicts through an appeal to reason and the common good. But reason is not the sole driving power of human goals and the "common good" is an ambiguous idealism, relativistic and prone to hegemonic appropriation. Such a world-organ could be driven to ensure its function through progressive interference in the internal affairs of nations, and to secure its existence through the progressive centralization of information, economy, administration and finally, legislation and defense under its World-Statehood. Sri Aurobindo is at his most eloquent when exposing the insufficiencies of the rational ideal of State control, its inevitable uniformitarian and totalitarian consequences, its destruction of individual liberty and the spiritual life. Moreover, he sees the rationally designed and enforced equalizations of Socialism as resting, in their maintenance, on just such State totalitarianism, a socially engineered utopian idea, "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, mechanization; 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 in the very seed of the State idea... A strict unification, a vast uniformity, a regulated socialization of united mankind will be the predestined fruit of our labour". [SABCL, pp. 482-3] Further, on Socialism, he has to say, "Socialism pursued to its full development means the destruction of the distinction between political and social activities; it means the socialization of the common life and its subjection in all its parts to its own organized 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 centralized control of the World-State". [SABCL, p. 479]

Certainly, in Sri Aurobindo's vision, the liberation from all forms of oppression, the oppressions of colonialism, of chauvinism and of capitalism must constitute any acceptable form of future society, but the peril of the oppression of individual liberty by machinery of whatever kind is a defeat of the human spirit and its destiny. On the other hand, alternate to the World-State, the principle of free variation that has developed as nationalism may be maintained in the form of a federated world-union. The idea of voluntaristic federation appeals to our sense of Liberty, just as the idea of Socialism answers to the sense of Equality. However, the idealism of a loose voluntary federation of national or regional social/cultural groupings of humankind rests on the assumption, once again, of the clear perception by each constituting unit, of the "common good" as the "common goal". Such an assumption could only be justified under prevailing conditions of conscious psychological development, which present world-conditions do not evidence. A persistence of the federal idea, under existing conditions, could not maintain itself on a basis of free choice and would inevitably transit in a direction of greater central control, as has happened in national federations, such as that of the U.S.A. Thus, "a federal system also would tend inevitably to establish one general type for human life, institutions and activities; it could allow only a play of minor variations. But the need of variation in living nature could not always rest satisfied with that scanty sustenance". [SABCL, 553] Attempts to ensure the free variation, on the other hand, would, under present conditions, tend to a breakdown of unity; "a looser confederation 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 centralization or at last by a break-up of the loose unity into its original elements". [Ibid]

Thus, whatever the political turn the urge for world-unification might take, however idealistic, its engineering and maintenance by rational and mechanical means is demonstrated by Sri Aurobindo to lead to failure, without the corresponding development of the principle of psychological unity in the peoples of the world. The ideal of Internationalism seems at first sight to provide the foundations for such a psychological basis. Sri Aurobindo points out that this ideal was a child of the French Revolution, with its triple call for "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" for all human beings. Of these, the mechanical solutions to world-union have rested, as shown above, on each of the first two principles predominantly. But it is the third, the principle of fraternity, which if it can be made real and active, can provide the necessary psychological basis for a durable union. This is so because fraternity takes its origin in the spiritual truth of Oneness which is the Power that seeks realization through world-union. Moreover, it would seem that just as the ideal of Equality is linked closely to the idea of the State; so, the ideal of the brotherhood of all human beings would be bound to the idea of Internationalism. If an international sentiment could awake in the peoples of the world, replacing the narrow separative and genocidal nationalisms which prevail, the necessary psychological conditions would have been laid for the eventuality of world-union.

But can an international sentiment develop anywhere near the same passion and effectuating power that makes people die for their country? Sri Aurobindo points out that nations have come into existence, serving territorial and cultural commonalities, which give them a basis of vital necessity less evident in the case of a world-union. Moreover, nations define themselves as identities and acquire power through a double process of amplifying factors of internal unity and external difference; whereas the international idea could not derive the strength that comes from opposition and resistance. "[T]he collective ego created would have to rely on the instinct of unity alone; for it would be in conflict with the separative instinct which gives the national ego half its vitality". [SABCL, 539] It also suffers from the danger of the rooting out of free variation and cultural diversity, if made into a dogma and applied prematurely. This is more obvious today than when Sri Aurobindo was writing, though his prophetic thought shows ample indication of its possibility.

Indeed, today, the international idea is swiftly becoming a world-reality. Technological developments and economic interdependence have shrunk the globe, throwing cultures together in a huge planetary churning. "The International Style" in architecture defines our living and working spaces in uniform and utilitarian urban cityscapes. Uniform life-styles, dress-habits, consumptions and acquisitions, mark off the middle-class and the affluent everywhere, while the poor struggle to be admitted into the International club. Multinational conglomerates control our doing and having, dictating expectation, taste and goal worldwide. Globalization has not meant the socialization of the world but its capitalization. Though it is true that, relatively speaking, in more urbanized sectors, a wider mix of nationalities coexist amicably, it should not be forgotten that fraternity is easy when all men do the same. I do not believe that the "international sentiment" has grown any greater than at the time of Sri Aurobindo's writing, and if there is any emotional identification with larger groupings left today, it is as intenser and narrower temporary forms of localized ethnic or religious fanaticism while the majority of the "globalized world" falls into the anodyne of domesticated sleep.

And yet, the globalization process proceeds inexorably, moving towards the external and mechanical fulfillment of Sri Aurobindo's prophecy. The scaffolding of world-union completes itself, with or without our adherence. Cyberspace spreads like an invisible Indra's Net throughout the world, bringing the All into Each point; while the circulation of the Euro promises significant political changes in the not too distant future, initiating the process of regional unifications. But the vital or intellectual ideal of Internationalism "is 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 solution. For the rational idea ends always as a captive of its machinery, becomes a slave of its own too binding process". [SABCL, 554]

What then could bring about the conditions of consciousness that can humanly match the unifying mechanics of civilization? Sri Aurobindo finds a closer correlate to the ideal of Fraternity in the Religion of Humanity. As it is commonly understood however, this too has a rational foundation, as the liberal humanism of post-Enlightenment Europe. A faith that all humans beings are the same everywhere and an urge to serve humanity in its betterment, irrespective of nationality, caste, creed, gender or culture is the wide formulation of this ideal, less cold than Internationalism since it puts the heart's passion behind its charitable rationality. But this ideal too is doomed to insufficiency and failure if it retains its rational basis and cannot embrace the possibility of the spiritual realization of the Oneness of all beings as its individual and collective goal. Such a spiritualized religion of Humanity would alone be able to transcend personal and ethnic egoisms in the living realization of the One embodied in myriad forms. Though such a possibility looks distant, Sri Aurobindo says, "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 dependant 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".

The inexorable unification of the world will proceed, with or without our permission; but the choice is ours to match in consciousness and in individual and social expression this unification, through the practice of a collective yoga.