Posted by Sen on June 11, 2009
I was led to this subject by one of the friends, who commented that the House of Justice’s revenues include mines, and its expenditures the care of the poor, both governmental matters, so it is not unreasonable for Habib Taherzadeh to say, in his translation of Baha’u’llah’s Tablet of Ishraqat, that “matters of State should be referred to the House of Justice” (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 27)
In a blog posting on the translation issue in the eighth Ishraqat, I’ve pointed out that there is no word for ‘state’ in the text, and that Shoghi Effendi’s translation is “Administrative affairs should be referred to the House of Justice,” a translation which is in line with the Bahai teachings on Church and State generally. But what about the mines? My friend’s reasoning is plausible: if national mineral resources fell in the province of the House of Justice, that would indicate that the House of Justice had a governmental function.
In God Passes By, page 214, Shoghi Effendi says that in the Kitab-e Aqdas, Baha’u’llah “ordains the institution of the ‘House of Justice,’ defines its functions, [and] fixes its revenues.” Yet nowhere do I see there anything about revenue from mines, or responsibility for them. What I do see is, as Shoghi Effendi also points out, is that Baha’u’llah “disclaims any intention of laying hands on their (the Kings’) kingdoms.” I assume that includes the mines in the kingdoms. Yet when I searched in the Bahai secondary literature I found a number of Bahai authors saying that the revenues of the House of Justice include one third of the yield from mines.
Tracing this idea back towards the source, the earliest instance I have found is an article by Orrol Harper in Star of the West Volume 15:7 (October 1924) entitled “A bird’s eye view of the world in the year 2000.” It begins: “I am going to ask you to put on with me the wings of imagination and fly over the world in about the year 2000. …” Harper gives an imaginative tour of a pastoral paradise which is the world in the year 2000, and finds:
Each settlement is marked by two outstanding structures. One of these buildings is plainly a wonderful public school, expressing in complete detail the dreams of the early century educators. The other structure, bearing the name “House of Justice,” especially piques our curiosity. We are told that this “House of Justice” is in reality a central storehouse, established for the benefit of every member of the community. ..
This is followed by a summary of what is recognisably a letter from Abdu’l-Baha to Mrs Parsons, dated October 4, 1912 – a tablet which is not about the House of Justice or its dependencies, but rather about a democratic local government and the village treasury. This tablet was partly translated and partly paraphrased in an article by George Latimer in Star of the West vol. 7 no. 15, page 146, then it was partially translated in Bahai Scriptures page 453, with one interpolation (the last sentence). Most recently, one section has been translated in Lights of Guidance. There is also a more extensive, but unauthenticated, talk on the same subject, given by Abdu’l-Baha to the Socialist Club in Montreal, but I will begin with the Tablet.
This is an authentic Bahai text: the Persian original is published (without a section of the introduction) in the series Ma’ideh-ye Asmaanii, and in full in another series of Abdu’l-Baha’s writings, Khataabaat-e Hazrat-e ‘Abdu’l-Baha. It reads (in my translation):
To the Handmaid of God Mrs. Parsons, in Dublin:
may the glory of the All-glorious rest upon her.
O my spiritual daughter,
I am travelling by train to San Francisco. I fell to thinking of your character, and of the face of the little master, Jeffrey, and so I have immediately taken up the pen to write to you. Be assured that my greatest happiness is when I see that you, beloved daughter, are in motion and striving, are renowned for love’s madness, are enamoured of the divine beauty, are attracted to the sweet fragrances of the Abha paradise and aglow with the love of God. May you burn and melt as a candle does, while giving light to all. This is my wish for you.
It is especially the question of an economy based on the new teachings that presents you with intellectual difficulties. One thing was said, another was reported. Therefore I will outline the basics of this question for you, so that it is clear and manifest that this economic question cannot be completely resolved except on the basis of these teachings. In fact, a resolution is impossible and unattainable.
The basis is as follows: this economic question must commence with the farmer and ultimately be extended to other trades, for the number of farmers is at least twice the number engaged in all the other trades. Therefore the right approach is to begin with the farmers: the farmer is the first actor in the life of society. In brief, in every village a Board (anjoman) should be established among the mature persons [`uqalaa’] of that village. That village should be under the control of that Board.
Likewise a public treasury [makhzin] should be founded and a notary appointed. At the time of the harvest, with the approval of that board, a determined percentage of all harvests should be appropriated for the treasury. This treasury has seven revenues: tithes, taxes on animals, wealth without inheritors, anything found which has no owner, a third of any buried treasure that is found, a third of minerals, and donations.
In essence, it has seven expenditures:
– first, general reasonable expenses such as the expenditure of the treasury and the administration of public health;
– second, payment of government tithes;
– third, the payment of taxes on animals to the government;
– fourth, support for orphans;
– fifth, support for those living with disability;
– sixth, support for the school,
– seventh, subsidising the needful livelihood of the poor.
The first revenue is the ‘tithe,’ which should be assessed as follows. For example, there is a certain person whose revenue is five hundred dollars and his necessary expenses are five hundred dollars: no tithes will be collected from him. Another’s expenses being five hundred and his income one thousand dollars: a ‘tithe’ will be taken from him, for he has more than the bare necessities; if he gives one tenth his livelihood will not be disturbed. Another’s expenses are one thousand dollars, and his income is five thousand dollars: he will be assessed at 15 percent, because he has a generous surplus. Another has necessary expenses of one thousand dollars, but his revenues are ten thousand dollars: he will be assessed at 20 percent because his surplus is even greater. The necessary expenses of another person are four or five thousand dollars, and his revenues are one hundred thousand: one fourth will be required from him. There is another whose income is two hundred, but his essential needs, merely to survive, are five hundred dollars: he has not lacked in diligence and energy, rather his planting has not been blessed. This person should be helped from the treasury, so that he may not remain in poverty, but may live at ease.
In every village, a fixed proportion from this treasury should be set aside in accordance with the number of orphans, for their daily needs. A portion should be set aside for the disabled of the village. A portion should be set aside from this treasury for the unemployed who are poor. A portion should be set aside from this treasury to support education. A portion should be set aside from this treasury for the health of the people of the village. If any surplus remains, it should be sent to the public coffers of the nation, for public expenses.
When such a system is established, every individual in society will live in the utmost comfort and happiness, but also, gradations of rank will be preserved. There will be no disturbance of these gradations, for gradations are among the unavoidable requirements of social life.
The body politic is like an army. In an army, the Marshall, the General, colonel, captain, lieutenant, and private are needed. It is impossible for all to be of one kind: the preservation of gradations is necessary, but every individual in the army should live in the utmost ease and repose. Likewise a city needs the governor, judge, the merchant, the wealthy man, the tradesmen and farmers. Undoubtedly these gradations should be preserved, otherwise public order would be disturbed.
Please express my great love and affection to Mr. Parsons. We have never forgotten him. If possible, print this letter in one of the books, for others are propounding this system in their own names.
Give praise to his Holiness, the Incomparable, the Glorious. And the Glory of the all-Glorious rest upon you. ‘Abdu’l-Baha Abbas
The Board and the House
My friend was clearly quite wrong: far from showing that the House of Justice has the responsibilities of civil government, this tablet shows yet again that the separation of church and state is the basic assumption in Abdu’l-Baha’s social thinking. He describes a Board, an anjoman, which has control of the affairs of the village. This is not the House of Justice, and since Abdu’l-Baha could not have wished for a conflict of authority, clearly he did not envisage the House of Justice having civil authority. The Board and treasury is the democratic core of a locally-based social welfare system and local government.
We know that the Board and the House of Justice are different institutions, in the first place, because the name is different. It is not credible to suppose, with all that Abdu’l-Baha has written about the House of Justice under that name, that he should use a different term in the tablet to Mrs Parsons (and the talk to the Socialists I will present below). The Treasury he describes is founded under the jurisdiction of a village Board drawn from the mature persons in the village, and responsible for civic affairs. The House of Justice, in contrast, is elected by the “friends” (the Bahais) alone, and consists of Bahais alone, and its responsibilities are “to direct the activities of the friends, guard vigilantly the Cause of God, and control and supervise the affairs of the [Bahai] Movement in general.” (Shoghi Effendi, Baha’i Administration, 39-40)
The revenues of the treasury that Abdu’l-Baha describes consist primarily of a progressive and compulsory income tax, plus one third of the revenues from mines, animal taxes (which today might be called road taxes or tolls) and other matters. The revenues of the House of Justice are stipulated in the Aqdas and do not include any progressive tax, animal tax, mine revenues, or the like. It is as plain as day that, in Abdu’l-Baha’s mind, they are different institutions.
Nevertheless, there is one apparent overlap between the two: one of the revenues of the treasury that Abdu’l-Baha envisions is “wealth without inheritors.” If a Bahai should die entirely without heirs (which is virtually impossible, since the teacher is one of the heirs), his or her estate reverts to the House of Justice. More importantly, when some categories of heirs are absent, part of their share goes to the House of Justice. That means that a Bahai can never in fact have no heirs, if there is a House of Justice. The House of Justice is our heir of last resort, so to speak.
Note 42 to the English translation of the Aqdas states:
In a Tablet enumerating the revenues of the local treasury, Abdu’l-Baha includes those inheritances for which there are no heirs, thus indicating that the House of Justice referred to in these passages of the Aqdas relating to inheritance is the local one.
But this reasoning would only hold if the local treasury was answerable to the local House of Justice. As we have seen above, the treasury answers to a civil body, the anjoman or village Board, so what Abdu’l-Baha says about the disposition of wealth without inheritors in civil law does not tell us what he would have said about the separate question of which level of the House of Justice should receive the portions of a Bahai’s estate that revert to the House of Justice because there are no heirs in a particular category.
The first characteristic of Abdu’l-Baha’s ‘socialism’ is that it is a civil matter, not a religious one. Second, it is by implication a democratic socialism, although the method for the formation of the village Board is not specified. However in his Resaleh-ye Madaniyyeh Abdu’l-Baha says
In the present writer’s view it would be preferable if the selection of the nonpermanent members of provincial councils should be dependent on the consent or choice of the people. For the chosen members will, as a result, be conscientious in questions of justice and equity, lest their reputations should suffer and they fall into disfavour with the public.
(My translation: Marzieh Gail mistranslates a key term, see The Secret of Divine Civilization, 24)
Third, it is a social welfare system, not a communist system. He describes a free economy, with progressive taxation used to reduce the extremes of wealth and poverty, at least to the extent of guaranteeing the minimum requirements of existence to the poor, care for the disabled and orphans, and public funding for education and public health.
Fourth, it is locally based. The Netherlands once had such a system, in which local rather than national governments set policies and had budget responsibility for social welfare and education. Over time, the local element has been weakened and the national element strengthened, in part because of geographical mobility. If the local authority is responsible for support for the unemployed, the aged and disabled, each local authority becomes reluctant to accept newcomers in these categories. In the Netherlands, local authorities until quite recently had laws that limited who was allowed to become a resident within their borders to those with economic ties to the area. This was unjust, since it limited the movement not only of the unemployed seeking work, but also of students, the aged and disabled people, and those intending to set up their own businesses – anyone who did not have a job in the town. It was also economically undesirable. The economy benefits from both the movement of those who can work to places where there is work to be found, and the movement of those who cannot work to places where there are vacant homes and cheap rents. When the national government decided for these reasons that local governments could no longer be allowed to control local ‘immigration,’ the local governments in turn demanded that the national government accept more of the burden – and therefore policy-making responsibility – for social welfare. This seems to me unavoidable: in a mobile society, an entirely locally-based and locally-controlled social welfare system such as Abdu’l-Baha describes, cannot work.
Fifth, it is agriculturally based. The relevance of this has been somewhat diminished since farmers are no longer the largest single occupational group, and we are able to move large quantities of food around the globe quite cheaply. But food remains among our most basic needs, and the security of the food supply is a more popular cause than, for example, preventing the collapse of large banks. So his advice still makes sense, for countries such as Egypt and India that do not yet have a social welfare system: begin with income security for the agricultural producers, and move outward from there, so strengthening the foundation of the economy and the economies of the agricultural service towns, while reducing the drift toward the big cities.
Abdu’l-Baha’s talk to the Socialists
When he was in Montreal in 1912, Abdu’l-Baha gave a talk to the Socialist Club there, which is reported in Star of the West 13:9 (1922) page 227. There are no Persian notes for this talk, so it represents what an anonymous note-taker understood of what the interpreter said that Abdu’l-Baha was saying. Moreover the first published report comes 10 years after the original talk, and does not indicate who the interpreter was on that occasion, or whether the notes were taken by shorthand, or the history of the text in the intervening 10 years. So it is far from reliable. Nevertheless, since it is relevant to Abdu’l-Baha’s socialism and has not been included in The Promulgation of Universal Peace or the most commonly used electronic editions of Abdu’l-Baha’s talks in English, I present this report below in full so that it is at least available to search engines. At one point, one word which I have marked is virtually unreadable.
The report begins at page 227:
The following, hitherto unpublished, address of Abdul Baha was given in Montreal, Canada in 1912. It reveals the prophetic quality of his solution of the question of economic right and justice “Earth,” he said, “can be made a paradise.” We add to this address a short compilation of his words on economics and on its spiritual foundation.
It seems as though all creatures can exist singly and alone. For example, a tree can exist solitary and alone on a given prairie or in a valley or on the mountainside. An animal upon a mountain or a bird soaring in the air might live a solitary life. They are not in need of cooperation or solidarity. Such animated beings enjoy the greatest comfort and happiness in their respective solitary lives.
On the contrary, man cannot live singly and alone. He is in need of continuous cooperation and mutual help. For example, a man living alone in the wilderness will eventually starve. He can never, singly and alone, provide himself with all the necessities of existence. Therefore, he is in need of cooperation and reciprocity.
The mystery of this phenomenon, the cause thereof is this, that mankind has been created from one single origin, has branched off from one family. Thus in reality all mankind represents one family. God has not created any difference. He has created all as one that thus this family might live in perfect happiness and well-being.
Regarding reciprocity and [connection ?]: each member of the body politic should live in the utmost comfort and welfare because each individual member of humanity is a member of the body politic and if one member of the members be in distress or be afflicted with some disease all the other members mast necessarily suffer. For example, a member of the human organism is the eye. If the eye should be affected that affliction would affect the whole nervous system. Hence, if a member of the body politic becomes afflicted, in reality, from the standpoint of sympathetic connection, all will share that affliction since this (one afflicted) is a member of the group of members, a part of the whole. Is it possible for one member or part to be in distress and the other members to be at ease? It is impossible! Hence God has desired that in the body politic of humanity each one shall enjoy perfect welfare and comfort.
Although the body politic is one family yet because of lack of harmonious relations some members are comfortable and some in direst misery, some members are satisfied and some are hungry
some members are clothed in most costly garments and some families are in need of food and shelter. Why? Because this family lacks the necessary reciprocity and symmetry. This household is not well arranged. This household is not living under a perfect law. All the laws which are legislated do not ensure happiness. They do not provide comfort. Therefore a law must be given to this family by means of which all the members of this family will enjoy equal well-being and happiness.
Is it possible for one member of a family to be subjected to the utmost misery and to abject poverty and for the rest of the family to be comfortable? It is impossible unless those members of the family be senseless, atrophied, inhospitable, unkind. Then they would say, “Though these members do belong to our family – let them alone. Let us look after ourselves. Let them die. So long as I am comfortable, I am honored, I am happy – this my brother – let him die. If he be in misery let him remain in misery, so long as I am comfortable. If he is hungry let him remain so; I am satisfied. If he is without clothes, so long as I am clothed, let him remain as he is. If he is shelterless, homeless, so long as I have a home, let him remain in the wilderness.”
Such utter indifference in the human family is due to lack of control, to lack of a working law, to lack of kindness in its midst. If kindness had been shown to the members of this family surely all the members thereof would have enjoyed comfort and happiness.
His Holiness Baha ‘Ullah has given instructions regarding every one of the questions confronting humanity. He has given teachings and instructions with regard to every one of the problems with which man struggles. Among them are (the teachings) concerning the question of economies that all the members of the body politic may enjoy through the working out of this solution the greatest happiness, welfare and comfort without any harm or injury attacking the general order of things. Thereby no difference or dissension will occur. No sedition or contention will take place.
The solution is this:
First and foremost is the principle that to all the members of the body politic shall be given the greatest achievements of the world of humanity. Each one shall have the utmost welfare and well being. To solve this problem we must begin with the farmer; there will we lay a foundation for system and order because the peasant class and the agricultural class exceed other classes in the importance of their service. In every village there must he established a general storehouse which will have a number of revenues.
The first revenue will be that of the tenths or tithes.
The second revenue (will be derived) from the animals.
The third revenue, from the minerals, that is to say, every mine prospected or discovered, a third thereof will go to this vast storehouse.
The fourth is this: whosoever dies without leaving any heirs all his heritage will go to the general storehouse.
Fifth, if any treasures shall be found on the land they should be devoted to this storehouse.
All these revenues will be assembled in this storehouse.
As to the first, the tenths or tithes: we will consider a farmer, one of the peasants. We will look into his income. We will find out, for instance, what is his annual revenue and also what are his expenditures. Now. if his income be equal to his expenditures, from such a farmer nothing whatever will be taken. That is, he will not be subjected to taxation of any sort, needing as he does all his income. Another farmer may have expenses running up to one thousand dollars we will say, and his income is two thousand dollars. From such an one a tenth will be required, because he has a surplus. But if his income be ten thousand dollars and his expenses one thousand dollars or his income twenty thousand dollars, he will have to pay as taxes, one fourth. If his income be one hundred thousand dollars and his expenses five thousand, one third will he have to pay because he has still a surplus, since his expenses are five thousand
and his income one hundred thousand. If he pays, say, thirty-five thousand dollars, in addition to the expenditure of five thousand he still has sixty thousand left. But if his expenses be ten thousand and his income two hundred thousand then he must give an even half because ninety thousand will be in that ease the sum remaining. Such a scale as this will determine allotment of taxes. All the income from such revenues will go to this general storehouse.
Then there must be considered such emergencies as follows: a certain farmer whose expenses run up to ten thousand dollars and whose income is only five thousand, he will receive necessary expenses from this storehouse. Five thousand dollars will he alloted to him so he will not be in need.
Then the orphans will be looked after all of whose expenses will be taken care of. The cripples in the village – all their expenses will be looked after. The poor in the village – their necessary expenses will be defrayed. And other members who for valid reasons are incapacitated – the blind, the old, the deaf – their comfort must be looked after. In the village no one will remain in need or in want. All will live in the utmost comfort and welfare. Yet no scism [sic] will assail the general order of the body politic.
Hence the expenses or expenditures of the general storehouse are now made clear and its activities made manifest. The income of this general storehouse has been shown. Certain trustees will be elected by the people in a given village to look after these transactions. The farmers will be taken care of and if after all these expenses are defrayed any surplus is found in the storehouse it must be transferred to the National Treasury.
This system is all thus ordered so that in the village the very poor will be comfortable, the orphans will live happily and well; in a word, no one will be left destitute. All the individual members of the body politic will thus live comfortably and well.
For larger cities, naturally, there will be a system on a larger scale. Were I to go into that solution the details thereof would be very lengthy.
The result of this (system) will be that each individual member of the body politic will live most comfortably and happily under obligation to no one. Nevertheless there will be preservation of degrees because in the world of humanity there must needs be degrees. The body politic may well be likened to an army. In this army there must be a general, there must be a sergeant, there must be a marshal, there must be the infantry; but all must enjoy the greatest comfort and welfare.
God is not partial and is no respecter of persons. He has made provision for all. The harvest comes forth for everyone. The rain showers upon everybody and the heat of the sun is destined to warm everyone. The verdure of the earth is for everyone. Therefore there should be for all humanity the utmost happiness, the utmost comfort, the utmost well-being.
But if conditions are such that some are happy and comfortable and some in misery; some are accumulating exorbitant wealth and others are in dire want – under such a system it is impossible for man to be happy and impossible for him to win the good pleasure of God. God is kind to all. The good pleasure of God consists in the welfare of all the individual members of mankind.
A Persian king was one night in his palace, living in the greatest luxury and comfort. Through excessive joy and gladness he addressed a certain man, saying: ”Of all my life this is the happiest moment. Praise be to God, from every point prosperity appears and fortune smiles! My treasury is full and the army is well taken care of. My palaces are many; my land unlimited; my family is well off; my honor and sovereignty are great. What more could I want!”
The poor man at the gate of his palace spoke out, saying: “O kind king! Assuming that you are from every point of view so happy, free from every worry and sadness – do you not worry for us? You say that on your own account you have no worries – but do you never worry about the poor in your land? Is it becoming or meet that you should
be so well off and we in such dire want and need? In view of our needs and troubles how can you rest in your palace, how can you even say that you are free from worries and sorrows? As a ruler you must not be so egoistic as to think of yourself alone but you must think of those who are your subjects. When we are comfortable then you will be comfortable; when we are in misery how can you, as a king, be in happiness?”
The purport is this that we are all inhabiting one globe of earth. In reality we are one family and each one of us is a member of this family. We must all be in the greatest happiness and comfort, under a just rule and regulation which is according to the good pleasure of God, thus causing us to be happy, for this life is fleeting.
If man were to care for himself only he would be nothing but an animal for only the animals are thus egoistic. If you bring a thousand sheep to a well to kill nine hundred and ninety-nine the one remaining sheep would go on grazing, not thinking of the others and worrying not at all about the lost, never bothering that its own kind had passed away, or had perished or been killed.. To look after one’s self only is therefore an animal propensity. It is the animal propensity to live solitary and alone. It is the animal proclivity to look after one’s own comfort. But man was created to be a man – to be fair, to be just, to be merciful, to be kind to all his species, never to be willing that he himself be well off while others are in misery and distress – this is an attribute of the animal and not of man. Nay, rather, man should be willing to accept hardships for himself in order that others may enjoy wealth; he should enjoy trouble for himself that others may enjoy happiness and well-being. This is the attribute of man. This is becoming of man. Otherwise man is not man – he is less than the animal.
The man who thinks only of himself and is thoughtless of others is undoubtedly inferior to the animal because the animal is not possessed of the reasoning faculty. The animal is excused; but in man there is reason, the faculty of justice, the faculty of mercifulness. Possessing all these faculties he must not leave them unused. He who is so hard-hearted as to think only of his own comfort, such an one will not be called man.
Man is he who forgets his own interests for the sake of others. His own comfort he forfeits for the well-being of all. Nay, rather, his own life must he be willing to forfeit for the life of mankind. Such a man is the honor of the world of humanity. Such a man is the glory of the world of mankind. Such a man is the one who wins eternal bliss. Such a man is near to the threshold of God. Such a man is the very manifestation of eternal happiness. Otherwise men are like animals, exhibiting the same proclivities and propensities as the world of animals. What distinction is there? What prerogatives, what perfections? None whatever! Animals are better even – thinking only of themselves and negligent of the needs of others.
Consider how the greatest men in the world – whether among prophets or philosophers – all have forfeited their own comfort, have sacrificed their own pleasure for the well being of humanity. They have sacrificed their own lives for the body politic. They have sacrificed their own wealth for that of the general welfare. They have forfeited their own honor for the honor of mankind. Therefore it becomes evident that this is the highest attainment for the world of humanity.
We ask God to endow human souls with justice so that they may be fair, and may strive to provide for the comfort of all, that each member of humanity may pass his life in the utmost comfort and welfare. Then this material world will become the very paradise of the Kingdom, this elemental earth will be in a heavenly state and all the servants of God will live in the utmost joy, happiness and gladness. We must all strive and concentrate all our thoughts in order that such happiness may accrue to the world of humanity.
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