Posted by Sen on December 10, 2008
In thinking about the future of the world, and of the Bahai community, and in speaking about them, we need to distinguish between the two uses of ‘commonwealth’ : the commonwealth of nations and the Bahai Commonwealth. If we do not, governments are likely to be misled and alarmed, thinking that there is something political or governmental about this ‘Bahai Commonwealth’
On the one hand, Baha’u’llah and Abdul-Baha and Shoghi Effendi have outlined a vision of a new world order, based on democratic and independent governments, united in a “Commonwealth of all the nations of the world,” also called a “world super-state.” (WOB 40), This will be the “climax” of the historical evolution of humanity through the unities of “the tribe, the city-state, and the nation.” (PDC 118). This commonwealth is to be based on an international pact, stipulating borders, armaments and international obligations, which is to be drawn up by the governments and sovereigns (WOB 192; TB 165; SDC 64), endorsed by “all the human race” and backed by military force (SDC 64; WOB 192). This commonwealth – a system of government – will permanently unite all nations and creeds (WOB 203): its members are states (WOB 203) who, after passing through the “chastening fires” of a “titanic struggle” (MA 27), out of “carnage, agony and havoc” (PDC 123; both references apparently to World War 2), following a “world catastrophe”, WOB 46) decide to weld humanity’s “antagonistic elements of race, class, religion and nation into one coherent system, one world commonwealth” (MA 27); a single, organically-united, unshatterable world commonwealth. (MA 80) and to cede to it their right to wage war (WOB 40), “certain rights to impose taxation, and all rights to maintain armaments, except for purposes of maintaining internal order within their respective dominions.” (WOB 40). The nerve centre of this commonwealth of nations is a “world metropolis” (WOB 203), its supreme organs are a “world legislature, whose members will … ultimately control the entire resources of all the component nations,” (WOB 203) and are “elected by the people in their respective countries and whose election shall be confirmed by their respective governments” (WOB 40) … “a world executive, backed by an international Force,” which is able “to enforce supreme and unchallengeable authority on every recalcitrant member of the commonwealth,” and “a world tribunal” to be established by “the peoples and nations of the earth” (GPB 305) to adjudicate disputes between nations (WOB 203; GPB 281), whose members are legal experts, elected by a world convention, the delegates to which are elected by the members of national parliaments, in proportion to the population of each country (SWAB 306).
On the other hand, Shoghi Effendi refers to the Bahai Commonwealth – a Commonwealth whose present nucleus and “valiant forerunners” are the Bahai believers (MA 41, BA 131), whose “independent members” are the national Bahai communities (High Endeavours 37), whose fundamental constitutional basis is provided in the Aqdas and the Will of Abdu’l-Baha (WOB 19) and set out in detail in the ‘Declaration of Trust,’ drawn up by Horace Holley and approved by Shoghi Effendi (BA 134), whose local affairs are to be administered from the precincts of the Mashriqúl- Adhkar (BA 186), whose foundation, rudiments and sole framework is the “Administrative Order” (GPB 325, WOB 146, 152), whose structure is to be erected by the instruments of the Administrative Order (WOB 98), out of which it is “destined to evolve” (Summary Statement – 1947, Special UN Committee on Palestine), whose “Chief Stewards” are the Hands of the Cause (MBW 127), which operates “solely in direct conformity with the laws and principles of Baha’u’llah,” (ADJ 14), whose “World Administrative Center,” including both its spiritual and administrative seats, is in Haifa in Israel (GPB 277, 315, 348) and specifically on the Arc in the Bahai gardens in Haifa (MBW 79), and whose Supreme Organ and supreme legislative body is the Universal House of Justice (WOB 7; MBW 149), growing out the Bahai International Court which grows out of the International Bahai Council. This supreme legislative body of the Bahai Commonwealth is headed by the Guardian or his representative (Will and Testament 14), which is elected by the Bahai believers alone (Will and Testament 14), acting through the members of the world́s National Spiritual Assemblies (BA 84), and which exercises legislative, executive and judicial control of the Bahai community. Its growth will be marked by fierce challenges that “will be thrown at the verities it enshrines” (WOB 18), but the “final establishment” of the seat of this Commonwealth, on the arc “will signalize at once the proclamation of the sovereignty of the Founder of our Faith and the advent of the Kingdom of the Father repeatedly lauded and promised by Jesus Christ.” (MBW 74, 155).
This world Bahai Commonwealth is expected to emerge and reach the plenitude of its power and splendour in the Golden Age in which the banner of the Most Great Peace is unfurled. (CF 6 and 32; GPB 25); it is “at once the instrument and the guardian” of that Most Great Peace (WOB 196).
It’s not difficult to see that these are two different commonwealths : different in the process and agents of their creation, different in purpose, in membership, and in internal structure. The first is a political commonwealth of nations united in a superstate, the second is a Commonwealth of believers united in a religious community.