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                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings

Anna presents the New World Order

Posted by Sen on November 25, 2009


An awkward question

Anna’s come a long way – to national television, in fact. She’s being interviewed on her favourite subject: the Bahai Faith. It’s going well. The interviewer has been well prepared, with some questions designed to let her enthuse about peace, unity, and equality, and some that are meant to be difficult. She has been describing the Bahai administrative system – how it functions without priests or gurus, and with democratic machinery which offers the greatest possible room for grassroots participation. All over the country hands are hovering over telephone books as people wonder whether this new Faith might be listed in their town. The interviewer glances significantly at the clock to indicate she has 45 seconds left, and asks one more question: “That sounds more like a system of government than a church. Is that what it will become? Will the Bahais eventually set up a church state, or a theocracy like the one in Iran? Because I’ve been reading some Bahai books that say this will occur.”

How should Anna answer? What short passages in the Bahai Writings best sum up the Bahai viewpoint?

The question is not improbable. Such accusations are common on the internet, usually coming from malicious anti-Bahai sources, but sometimes out of ignorance. And it’s fair comment to some extent. There really are Bahai books (but not Bahai scriptures !) that say something like this. For example John Robarts, in The Vision of Shoghi Effendi, writes that “The Bahai spiritual assemblies will be the local government and the National Spiritual Assemblies the national government.” The Iranian Bahais are also being asked such questions. Just recently the wife of one of the Bahai prisoners was interviewed by the Assistant Prosecutor in Tehran, and wrote an account of the meeting in Persian [which I have since deleted]. Among other topics, she was asked “Are you a member of a complot?” and answered “None of us Bahais are involved in government matters, and one of our laws is that we do not interfere in politics and that religion should be separated from politics.”

So we need a ready answer to questions about the ultimate shape of a Bahai state, and the role of the Bahai religious institutions in it. We also need to understand the theory behind our relationship with the state in general. Is the Local Spiritual Assembly a government in waiting? Is the civil state no more than a temporary thing, a necessary evil? Or is it an institution mandated by God, whose essence is ‘sovereignty’, one of the attributes of God? Is the principle of obedience to the civil authorities which at present governs our behaviour as Bahais just a short-term tactic adopted during the period in which we have no political power, or is it a permanent principle as unchangeable as other basic principles such as the oneness and equality of the human race, the harmony of religion with science, or eliminating the extremes of wealth and poverty? Our understandings here will have an immediate effect on what we expect from our own elected institutions, and on our relationships with others.

I have made a survey of the Bahai Writings, and selected some ‘landmarks’ which are easily memorable and which seem to me to sum up the fundamental principles involved. This may not be a detailed map, but it is sufficient for us to find our way through the woods. Here then is how I suggest Anna might answer the interviewer:

TDP51“No, Shoghi Effendi said that the Bahais should not allow their Bahai administration to supersede national governments, and Abdu’l-Baha says that even if world sovereignty was offered to the Bahais, will never accept it. Baha’u’llah says that God has given the task of government to kings and rulers, while the cities of men’s hearts are reserved for God. But this does not mean that the kings and governments have a right to do as they please. GleaningsCXVBaha’u’llah wrote to the kings and rulers of the world. He did not tell them to stop governing, but rather to govern in line with the ethic of government that the prophets have always upheld to the rulers: to be just, to root out corruption and to moderate taxation. But when Baha’u’llah wrote to Pope Pius IX, he told him to give up the power he had as ruler of the papal states. The Bahai teaching is organic unity: governments and religious bodies should be separate, but they should work together.”

Every selection is an interpretation. In picking out these passages as best representing the basic Bahai teachings on the relationship between the religious order and the tasks of civil government, I have made an interpretation which is based not only on my reading of the Writings on this specific question, but also on my whole understanding of the Bahai teachings. The last sentence of my answer to the interviewer is taken from a passage in the Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Baha which refers to a ‘close union’ between the ‘legislative’ body in society (the House of Justice) and the ‘executive’ power (the civil government; see ‘Executive and Legislative‘ on this blog). But a word such as ‘union’ in the Bahai writing may mean something rather different than what it would mean in another context. So I have to start not with the government and the House of Justice, but with the Bahai Administrative Order, because it shows us what the ‘union’ of institutions means in the Bahai context.


The meaning of organic unity

In The World Order of Baha’u’llah, page 66, Shoghi Effendi writes:

“Theirs is not the purpose, . . . to violate, under any circumstances, the provisions of their country’s constitution, much less to allow the machinery of their administration to supersede the government of their respective countries.”

A letter written on his behalf also says that “The Administrative Order is not a governmental or civic body, it is to regulate and guide the internal affairs of the Baha’i community…” This holds out the prospect of two distinct systems of government: the Bahai religious administration, or church government, and the civil administration, the government in the normal sense of the term. Each of these functions at local, national, and international levels. The question must then be asked, what is the relationship between these two systems? To answer that, we need to look at some of the relationships between institutions within the Bahai administrative order, which Shoghi Effendi calls the “pattern of the New World Order.”

The unity of the Bahai Administrative Order is, paradoxically, characterised by divisions. There seems to be a consistent pattern in which institutions are differentiated from a partner institution which operates on a radically different basis. The most obvious of these differentiations is between the twin institutions of the Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice, the one hereditary, the other elected, the one focused on one individual who holds the office for life, the other an institutional form with the minimum possible emphasis on the individuals who, for their elected terms, comprise it. The one devoted to the interpretation of the sacred texts, the other to legislation for matters not contained in those texts. The one making interpretations which become part of the sacred text and may never be altered, the other applying principle to the needs of the time, and revoking its own legislation as required. Each requires the other (World Order of Baha’u’llah, 148 – 149); `neither can, nor will ever, infringe upon the sacred domain of the other.’

These differences are not just incidental peculiarities, but rather evidence that there is in each institution something like a hidden genetic code, what Plato would have called its idea, which determines its own nature and development. All of the details of its operation are the necessary outcome of its own inherent nature, and there can be no attempt to artificially impose a single logic on them all.

These differences between the Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice are reflected systematically in the differences between the elected and appointed institutions: each arm developing according to its own idea. If we understand these ideas, if we form some picture of the inner nature which drives the operation of each kind of organ, then the details of their operations and of how they are to work together should pose no difficulties.

Another example is the relationship between the Counsellors and the National Spiritual Assembly: the two organs are not separated according to spheres of operations, for they share in the functions of propagation and protection; rather they are differentiated by different manners of operation, derived from their distinct charters in the Bahai Writings.

There is a parallel differentiation between the Fund and the Huququ’llah, the one based on the voluntary principle, the other an obligation, the one given to and administered by elected institutions, the other in the hands of appointed trustees. The money of the funds flows from the bottom up, with the donors participating in the institutions which decide on the use of the funds, or even specifying the use to which their own donation is to be put, while the Huququ’llah is passed directly to the top and disbursed downwards. One could say that the idea animating the institution of the fund is ‘participation’, while the idea of the Huququ’llah is ‘surrender’. And that is why, when we are giving to the fund, the right of the individual to specify the purpose for which a donation is used, and the duty of the institutions to respect that wish, is a fundamental Bahai principle, but when we give to the custodian of the Huququ’llah that right and principle do not exist.

Another differentiation can be found between the Feast and the Spiritual Assembly: the one comprising all believers who can be there on the day, the other with a fixed membership. The one acting as an accumulator for the power which resides in the individual, the other exercising institutional authority over its expression.

One could go on: the national convention and the National Spiritual Assembly, the international convention and the Universal House of Justice, the local or regional convention and the delegate to the national convention, and so on.

On the basis of these differentiations I think we can venture a definition of ‘organic unity’, the structural principle underlying the Bahai administrative order, as a unity based on a differentiation into pairs of distinct organs, each of which needs the other in order to fully express its own nature, and each developing freely according to its own distinctive principle.

Such an organic unity, I would suggest, also characterises the relationship between the religious and civil organs of the World Order of Baha’u’llah. And might it not apply also to the relations between the religious, political, commercial, scientific, and cultural enterprises, and the world of nature? Baha’u’llah explicitly applies the organic metaphor to the whole:

Regard ye the world as a man’s body, which is afflicted with divers ailments, and the recovery of which dependeth upon the harmonizing of all of its component elements. (Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, 55)

Each of the principle organs of the world body is itself, internally differentiated. Each is vital to the whole. None, of course, can take the place of another. Religion cannot absorb to itself the functions or intrinsic principles properly belonging to the other organs – just as the brain cannot become a circulatory system, or instruct the liver to grow according to any pattern other than that ‘idea’ of a liver which is coded into every cell. It would be unhealthy even to try. As`Abdu’l-Baha says:

Glory be unto Him who hath produced growth in the adjoining fields of various natures!
Glory be unto Him who irrigated them with the same waters gushing forth from that Fountain! (Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, 398)

Shoghi Effendi has said that the “formal and complete separation of Church from State” will be part of the process of regeneration in Persia (see note 1) and history gives us some reason to think that some separation may be essential for the health of any society. It may even be unavoidable. Those societies in which the religious institutions have tried to absorb the whole of the legislative, executive, and judicial functions have not been successful, and all have developed de jure or de facto civil institutions.

The principle of organic unity gives us the key to understanding the constitutional relationship between civil and religious authorities.


Baha’u’llah and the Kings

Before we try to apply this principle to make a model of the global constitutional law which includes the Universal House of Justice, Guardianship and Mashriqu’l-Adhkar, and a world legislature, a world executive, and a world tribunal, (World Order of Baha’u’llah, 203), I would like to look at some passages in the writings regarding monarchy and kings and rulers in general, in search of the metaphysical roots of the relation between the religious and civil orders. It is primarily in these passages that we find the religious dimension of civil government.

Baha’u’llah does not write as a political scientist or philosopher, proposing a workable structure for human society on the basis of his experience of human nature and knowledge of political history. He writes as the Manifestation of the Logos, which is the underlying metaphysical rationale of the universe. Where the political scientist examines how things are, and how people behave, Baha’u’llah looks into the heart of the universe and tells us how the world is to be ordered to conform to the fundamental patterns which He finds there.

“This universal mind is divine; it embraces existing realities . . . knows them, understands them, is aware of mysteries, realities, and divine significations . . . This divine intellectual power is the special attribute of the Holy Manifestations.” (Some Answered Questions, 218)

These fundamental patterns, collectively known as the Kingdom of God, correspond to the attributes of God. One of these attributes is sovereignty or kingship. The kings are called “manifestations of the power, and the daysprings of the might and riches, of God. (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 220) The rulers and kings of the earth, together, are called “the symbols of the power of God”, (Gleanings, 218) “the mirrors of the gracious and almighty name of God.” (Gleanings, 249)

The scriptural mandate for government tells us that it is not to be regarded as an unfortunate necessity. Civil government is an institution ordained by God in every dispensation. Its justification lies not in some supposed ‘civil contract’ between the citizens, but rather in the very nature of the Kingdom of God, for it manifests the attribute ‘sovereignty.’

Baha’u’llah had no interest in worldly power, even as a boy. He was destined for ‘higher things’. He believed that God delegates worldly authority to the Kings, and, as we shall see, those exercising civil authority in general:

. . . your Lord hath committed the world and the cities thereof to the care of the kings of the earth, and made them the emblems of His own power, by virtue of the sovereignty He hath chosen to bestow upon them.
He hath refused to reserve for Himself any share whatever of this world’s dominion. To this He Who is Himself the Eternal Truth will testify. The things He hath reserved for Himself are the cities of men’s hearts . . . (Gleanings, 304. See also Gleanings, 206)

In accordance with this principle He told the Pope to abandon his kingdom to the kings. What is fitting for a spiritual leader is to praise God and exhort the Kings to deal equitably with the people and govern according to the Book. He should not become a king himself. (Proclamation of Baha’u’llah, 85)

The authority which God gives to the kings is a power to act within the law of God, and in a manner fitting the ‘essence’ of that authority, its reflection of God’s ultimate sovereignty. Baha’u’llah writes to Sultan ‘Abdu’l-Aziz:

Thou art God’s shadow on earth. Strive, therefore, to act in such a manner as befitteth so eminent, so august a station. If thou dost depart from following the things We have caused to descend upon thee and taught thee, thou wilt, assuredly, be derogating from that great and priceless honour. (Gleanings, 237)

and again:

It behoveth every king to be as bountiful as the sun, . . . whose benefits are not inherent in itself, but are ordained by Him Who is the Most Powerful, the Almighty. (Summons of the Lord of Hosts. 213)

Although the king should be generous and merciful, one of his duties is to punish the wrong-doer:

For is it not your clear duty to restrain the tyranny of the oppressor, and to deal equitably with your subjects, that your high sense of justice may be fully demonstrated to all mankind? God hath committed into your hands the reins of the government of the people, that ye may rule with justice over them, safeguard the rights of the down-trodden, and punish the wrong-doers. (Gleanings, 247)

It is indeed striking how often the passages which refer to the authority which God has given to kings are followed by declarations concerning reward and punishment. It may be that the need for punishments if society is to be ordered is one of the reasons why we need a civil order which is distinct from the religious order. This duty of executing punishment is also carried out by the kings and rulers collectively:

Should any king take up arms against another, all should unitedly arise and prevent him. . . . We fain would hope that the kings and rulers of the earth, the mirrors of the gracious and almighty name of God, may attain unto this station, and shield mankind from the onslaught of tyranny.(Gleanings, 249, and 254)

This is not the way we would expect a National Spiritual Assembly to behave! The Kings, and the civil government generally, are manifestations of the Power of God, while the Bahai Administrative Order is called on to manifest other attributes. This is perhaps also why the task of establishing a world federal system – the machinery of the Lesser Peace – is given to the governments, particularly those of the great powers, (Gleanings, 249) and not to the Bahais:

If the rulers and kings of the earth, the symbols of the power of God, exalted be His glory, arise and resolve to dedicate themselves to whatever will promote the highest interests of the whole of humanity, the reign of justice will assuredly be established amongst the children of men, and the effulgence of its light will envelop the whole earth. (Gleanings, 218-219)

The mirror-image of the authority which is granted to the kings and rulers is the obedience which is expected from the believers:

What mankind needeth in this day is obedience unto them that are in authority, and a faithful adherence to the cord of wisdom. The instruments which are essential to the immediate protection, the security and assurance of the human race have been entrusted to the hands, and lie in the grasp, of the governors of human society. This is the wish of God and His decree…. (Gleanings, 207)

This duty of obedience is particularly strong as regards a King who acts in support of the Faith. (Gleanings, 207) Such a king will be “numbered with the monarchs of the realms of the Kingdom.” (Gleanings, 212) But it is not conditional on the ruler being a Bahai or even acting justly. In an extraordinary passage in Epistle to the Son of the Wolf (69-70), Baha’u’llah even praises Mirza Husayn Khan, the Persian ambassador in Constantinople, who had made false accusations against Baha’u’llah. Yet Baha’u’llah praises him because he was honest and conscientious in discharging his duties to the Persian government, even if this did lead to Baha’u’llah’s imprisonment in ‘Akka.
Obedience to government is not a principle unique to the Bahai Faith. We find it also in the form of ‘Render unto Caesar’ in the gospels (Matt 22: 15-22, Mark 12: 13-17, Luke 20: 20-26), and in a passage by Paul which Baha’u’llah cites:

In the Epistle to the Romans Saint Paul hath written: “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God. (Romans 13: 1-3)

And further:

“For he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.” He saith that the appearance of the kings, and their majesty and power are of God. (Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, 91-92)

Once again we see that the delegation of God’s authority to ‘the powers that be’ is linked to their duty to judge and inflict punishment. But in Baha’u’llah’s thought they do not just possess a delegated authority and a role in the order of the world, they also manifest one of the attributes of God and have a metaphysical function. There are even monarchs in ‘the realms of the Kingdom.’ (Summons of the Lord of Hosts, 64 and 88)

Although Baha’u’llah speaks sometimes just of Kings and at other times of ‘kings and rulers’, it is the property of manifesting God’s sovereignty which is important, and not the particular form of government which is involved. In one place Baha’u’llah names those who manifest authority and power as “the kings, the sovereigns, the presidents, the rulers, the divines and the wise,” (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 63) which would seem to cover every conceivable form of political structure.

This ‘high church’ doctrine of the state, to the extent that one must obey the authorities even if it means harming the Manifestation (as we saw above), explains the difference between the Christian teaching that church and state, or God and Caesar, simply have separate spheres and the Bahai model of a close harmony between the civil and religious authorities. We are not just to obey the authorities, but also to pray for them (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 220; Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha, 375) and support them. (Gleanings, 94-95, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 87) Under a democratic form of government this principle means that we are required to vote and take part in ‘political’ affairs where this can be done without engaging in party political struggles. If the Bahais refused to do so they would in effect be undermining their country’s form of government. ‘Abdu’l-Baha writes:

Thou hast asked regarding the political affairs. In the United States it is necessary that the citizens shall take part in elections. This is a necessary matter and no excuse from it is possible. My object in telling the believers that they should not interfere in the affairs of government is this: That they should not make any trouble and that they should not move against the opinion of the government, but obedience to the laws and the administration of the commonwealth is necessary. Now, as the government of America is a republican form of government, it is necessary that all the citizens shall take part in the elections of officers and take part in the affairs of the republic. [Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha Abbas, Vol. 2, 342-343)

The authorities in their turn must support religion:

It behoveth the chiefs and rulers of the world, and in particular the Trustees of God’s House of Justice, to endeavour to the utmost of their power to safeguard [religion’s] position, promote its interests and exalt its station in the eyes of the world. (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 130, see also pages 63-64)

So religion is not only the concern of the Houses of Justice, and the ‘development of nations’ and the ‘tranquillity of peoples’ are not reserved for the ‘kings and rulers of the world.’ The world is not strictly divided into separate religious and secular spheres, but the total body of mankind has separate organs which function in different ways because their essential ideas manifest different attributes of God. This means that the civil organs, the ‘Kings and rulers’ are primarily responsible for the ‘immediate protection, the security and assurance of the human race’, (Gleanings, 207) while the religious institutions are primarily responsible for the affairs of their own religious communities, for ‘speaking forth the praises of the Lord’, ‘to reform the morals and beautify the conduct of the human race’ (A Traveller’s Narrative, 39) and generally for assisting the whole of humanity to fulfil the purposes for which it was created. Neither responsibility is exclusive. Religious teachings give guidance in political matters (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 151), and the support of the religious authorities can make the difference between mere obedience to government and wholehearted support from the population:

Certain laws and principles are necessary and indispensable for Persia. However, it is fitting that these measures should be adopted in conformity with the considered views of His Majesty … and of the learned divines and of the high-ranking rulers. … According to the fundamental laws which We have formerly revealed in the Kitab-i-Aqdas and other Tablets, all affairs are committed to the care of just kings and presidents and of the Trustees of the House of Justice. … In formulating the principles and laws a part hath been devoted to penalties which form an effective instrument for the security and protection of men. However, dread of the penalties maketh people desist only outwardly from committing vile and contemptible deeds, while that which guardeth and restraineth man both outwardly and inwardly hath been and still is the fear of God. (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 92-93)

Note that the religious authorities referred to do not have to be Bahai (see also Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 63-64, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, 90-92 and 137). What is important is the harmony of these two fundamental forces in society – religion and politics – whatever form each may take.

These underlying principles which govern the relationship between religious and civil authorities can be applied at all levels, from the local to the international, and could be adapted to suit many kinds of civil government from absolute monarchy to canton democracy. At the international level, however, there is a great deal of detailed prescription in the Bahai writings as to the constitution of the civil government and the various organs – the world legislature, executive, and tribunal (World Order of Baha’u’llah, 203) – which comprise it. In the next section of this entry I would like to look at some of the details of the functioning of the civil government at the global level. This will, on the one hand, show that the ‘union’ of the two organs can never become a merger or takeover, and, on the other hand, give us some further clues as to their different natures.


The constitution of the World Government

We have seen that two principles govern the relationship between the institutions of the Bahai Administrative Order and those of the civil government: that the Bahai administration is not to replace the institutions of government, and that there should be a close union and harmony between these two basic ‘forces’ in society. (Will and Testament 14-15; see ‘Executive and Legislative‘ for an explanation of the terms used). The principle of organic unity which we find within the Bahai Administrative Order is based on a differentiation into distinct but interdependent organs, each developing freely according to its own distinctive principle.

We can now look more closely at some of the details of the functioning of the civil government and the parallel details in the Bahai administrative order. The comparison will, on the one hand, show that the ‘union’ of the two bodies can never become a merger or takeover, and, on the other hand, give us some further clues as to their different natures.

The key elements have been set out by Shoghi Effendi in two well-known passages. The first appears in World Order of Baha’u’llah, pages 40 to 41. The second, and more complete description appears in pages 203 to 204 of the same volume:

This Commonwealth must … consist of a world legislature, whose members will, as the trustees of the whole of mankind, ultimately control the entire resources of all the component nations, and will enact such laws as shall be required to regulate the life, satisfy the needs and adjust the relationships of all races and peoples. A world executive, backed by an international Force, will carry out the decisions arrived at, and apply the laws enacted by, this world legislature, and will safeguard the organic unity of the whole commonwealth. A world tribunal will adjudicate and deliver its compulsory and final verdict in all and any disputes that may arise between the various elements constituting this universal system. A mechanism of world inter-communication will be devised, … A world metropolis will act as the nerve center of a world civilization, …. A world language will either be invented or chosen from among the existing languages …. A world script, a world literature, a uniform and universal system of currency, of weights and measures, will simplify and facilitate intercourse and understanding … In such a world society, science and religion, the two most potent forces in human life, will be reconciled, will cooperate, and will harmoniously develop. The press will, under such a system, while giving full scope to the expression of the diversified views and convictions of mankind, cease to be mischievously manipulated by vested interests, whether private or public, and will be liberated from the influence of contending governments and peoples. The economic resources of the world will be organized, its markets will be coordinated and developed, and the distribution of its products will be equitably regulated.

National rivalries, hatreds, and intrigues will cease, … The causes of religious strife will be permanently removed, economic barriers and restrictions will be completely abolished, and the inordinate distinction between classes will be obliterated. Destitution on the one hand, and gross accumulation of ownership on the other, will disappear. The enormous energy dissipated and wasted on war, whether economic or political, will be consecrated to such ends as will extend the range of human inventions and technical development, to the increase of the productivity of mankind, to the extermination of disease, to the extension of scientific research, to the raising of the standard of physical health, to the sharpening and refinement of the human brain, to the exploitation of the unused and unsuspected resources of the planet, to the prolongation of human life, and to the furtherance of any other agency that can stimulate the intellectual, the moral, and spiritual life of the entire human race.

A world federal system, ruling the whole earth and exercising unchallengeable authority over its unimaginably vast resources, blending and embodying the ideals of both the East and the West, liberated from the curse of war and its miseries, and bent on the exploitation of all the available sources of energy on the surface of the planet, a system in which Force is made the servant of Justice, whose life is sustained by its universal recognition of one God and by its allegiance to one common Revelation – such is the goal towards which humanity, impelled by the unifying forces of life, is moving.

One of the striking things about this description is the absence of the Universal House of Justice, although this system’s life is sustained “by its allegiance to one common Revelation”. What Shoghi Effendi describes is a theo-centric civil government, but evidently not a theocratic government in the sense we have understood that term in the past. This is therefore not just a more developed United Nations – another attempt to create peace without the power of the Word of God. (see Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, 295-6) – but rather the mature form of the World Order which has learned to draw on all the resources of religion.

Earlier in the same passage (page 202) Shoghi Effendi wrote that these institutions are to be established “once for all.” Their establishment marks the formal maturity of the World Order system, in the sense that they cannot later be abolished or replaced by other institutions, at least during the Bahai dispensation, but this does not exclude further evolution by the addition of extra institutions or the better functioning of these institutions. But this is a description from the point of view of the civil government of the World Order, in which religion appears as one of the auxiliary organs along with the media, literature, science, and the market. One could equally well draw up a description of the Bahai commonwealth with the central focus on the Universal House of Justice. In that case the government and apparatus of the Bahai state would be one of the peripheral organs, along with the arts, the market, science, and the media. It is a question of focus. In this section of The World Order of Baha’u’llah the focus is on the internal constitution of the Bahai civil government at the global level, and the Bahai Administrative Order doesn’t get a specific mention.

A second interesting feature is the clear differentiation of the three principle organs of legislature, executive, and judiciary. The executive is subordinate to the legislature, since it must carry out the decisions of the legislature. Since the legislature is to be elected by the peoples of the world, this repeats the principle applying in democratic states, that the governors are appointed by and answerable to the governed. Force – which must include military force but might also include the personnel necessary to carry out sanctions such as the freezing of a nation’s assets or the severing of cultural, transportation, trade, or communications links – is in turn subordinate to the executive. The judiciary can act independently, in that it can decide to adjudicate on a case without having to wait for one of the parties to the dispute or one of the other organs of the commonwealth to refer a case to it. (World Order of Baha’u’llah, 41) It can also decide on disputes between any of the elements of the system, so that it would function as a constitutional court in the event of a dispute between the executive and the legislature.

This political triad of executive, legislature and judiciary has some similarities to the differentiation of the rulers and the learned in the Bahai Administrative Order, but the ‘learned’ – the Hands of the Cause, Continental Boards of Counsellors, etc – may facilitate and mediate but certainly cannot adjudicate. Moreover the Legislature of the world government is the counterpart of the international convention in Bahai administration: both are general gatherings of representatives of each nation. But the Bahai international convention has a purely consultative role, in addition to its function as an electoral college to choose the Universal House of Justice, whereas in the world government the executive carries out decisions made by the general gathering, the legislature. The power thus flows in opposite directions in the civil and religious orders. This may relate to the fact that the members of the House of Justice are the ‘Trustees of the Merciful’ and are responsible to God, whereas the legislators of the world government are the ‘trustees of the whole of mankind’. We could represent the civil government as a pyramid with ‘the people(s)’ at the top, and the arms of government under them, since no act or programme by legislature, executive, or judiciary can in the long run be effective unless they succeed in obtaining for it “the sanction of all the human race.” (Abdu’l-Baha, cited in World Order of Baha’u’llah, 192)

The world Legislature

Baha’u’llah, in describing the gathering which is to establish the lesser peace, says that it would be “preferable and more fitting that the highly-honored kings themselves should attend such an assembly,” (Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, 31) which would hardly be practical if this assembly were to be in permanent session. The general assemblage of ‘rulers and kings of the earth’ is also mentioned by ‘Abdu’l-Baha, (cited in World Order of Baha’u’llah, 192). In the nature of things, such an assembly cannot be in permanent session. Yet some permanent legislative body at a world level is clearly necessary. This suggests that a two-chamber legislature is intended.

In describing what is clearly an assembly of the people’s representatives, rather than heads of state, Shoghi Effendi says that the members of the legislature should be ‘elected by the people in their respective countries and [their] election shall be confirmed by their respective governments’. (World Order of Baha’u’llah, 41), while Baha’u’llah refers to “the elected representatives of the people in every land.” (Gleanings, 254)

Whatever may be the form of the world legislature – and it may well change over time – it is clear that the underlying principles applicable to the world legislature are quite different to those applying to the Universal House of Justice, the legislature within the Bahai Administrative Order. The Universal House of Justice is responsible not to the people but to God, (World Order of Baha’u’llah, 153) and its members represent no national constituency and must not be elected directly. [note 2]

This world legislature is to produce “a single code of international law – the product of the considered judgment of the world’s federated representatives …” (World Order of Baha’u’llah, 41) When it reaches maturity it will legislate in accordance with “the Laws and Ordinances of the Kitab-i-Aqdas.” (Messages to the Bahai World 1950-1957, 155) This limits its legislative power in some respects, for it binds itself (not its citizens) to function according to Bahai prescriptions that apply to individual rulers and states and to states collectively:

– to guarantee the autonomy of individual states and the personal freedom and initiative of individuals subjects (World Order of Baha’u’llah, 203)
– to restrain the tyranny of the oppressor, and to deal equitably with their subjects (Gleanings, 247)
– to limit armaments and reduce the tax burden (Gleanings , 250)
– to operate a locally-based participatory social-security network (See Abdu’l-Baha’s socialism on this blog)
– to lay the foundations of the world’s Great Peace (Gleanings, 249, Tablets of Baha’u’llah 165)
– to safeguard the position of religion (not one specific religion) (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 130)
– to ensure the protection and security of their citizens (Gleanings, 207)
– to establish rules and laws to regulate the excessive fortunes of certain individuals and meet the needs of the poor masses (Some Answered Questions, 274)
– to ensure the Press is not mischievously manipulated by vested interests, or by governments (World Order of Baha’u’llah, 203)
– not to interfere in matters of conscience (Traveller’s narrative 29, 40 etc.)
– equal dealing towards all peoples (i.e., religious communities) (Traveller’s Narrative, 87)
– to choose an international auxiliary language and arrange for its teaching (Tablets of Baha’u’llah 165)
– to institute a uniform and universal system of currency, of weights and measures (World Order of Baha’u’llah, 203)
– to establish and support an international tribunal, representative of all governments and peoples (Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, 249)

The world legislature may choose to limit itself in other respects, just as national governments find themselves in partnership with other social organs, such as the media, the market, and the arts. For instance, if public and private communications enterprises are able to reach agreement by contract and treaty – as is done now – to ensure “a mechanism of world inter-communication … freed from national hindrances and restrictions” then there is no reason why the world legislature should act. Such treaties and international agreements, involving the establishment of rules and of institutions to monitor them and adjudicate on disputes, create in effect legislatures and judiciaries specialised in particular areas, and areas in which the central institutions of world government need not intervene provided they continue to function satisfactorily.

This diffusion of power is a characteristic of modern societies. In Machiavelli’s time ‘the prince’ could be assumed to truly govern, but in modern societies the government does not govern in any absolute sense. It is one of many organs in the society, and it has to interact positively with the other organs. And gradually the world is learning that one of the essential organs in the body politic is a viable and healthy religious order, without which the culture of trustworthiness required by the market-place and in political life will gradually ebb away to the point that neither can function properly.

The World Tribunal

When ‘Abdu’l-Baha wrote to the Central Organization for a Durable Peace at The Hague in 1919 he said:

… although the league of Nations has been brought into existence, yet it is incapable of establishing universal peace. But the Supreme Tribunal which Baha’u’llah has described will fulfil this sacred task with the utmost might and power. And His plan is this: that the national assemblies of each country and nation – that is to say parliaments – should elect two or three persons who are the choicest men of that nation, and are well informed concerning international laws and the relations between governments and aware of the essential needs of the world of humanity in this day. The number of these representatives should be in proportion to the number of inhabitants of that country. The election of these souls who are chosen by the national assembly, that is, the parliament, must be confirmed by the upper house, the congress and the cabinet and also by the president or monarch so these person may be the elected ones of all the nation and the government. From among these people the members of the Supreme Tribunal will be elected, and all mankind will thus have a share therein, for every one of these delegates is fully representative of his nation. When the Supreme Tribunal gives a ruling on any international question, either unanimously or by majority rule, there will no longer be any pretext for the plaintiff or ground of objection for the defendant. In case any of the governments or nations, in the execution of the irrefutable decision of the Supreme Tribunal, be negligent or dilatory, the rest of the nations will rise up against it … (Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, 306)

This is in some respects similar to the description above of the election of the legislature, and also indicates a construction by which members in one chamber could be seen as both directly elected by the peoples of the world and as representing the kings, rulers, and governments. However there are important differences. First of all, the legislature will enact “a single code of international law,” the tribunal will adjudicate on particular cases. The second is that this is a three-stage electoral process: the people elect their parliaments, the parliaments each select two or three delegates in proportion to the size of the population, and these delegates then elect the tribunal. There is no indication of such a system applying to the legislature. Membership of the tribunal is limited to those already selected as delegates, that is, as experts in international law. This principle is appropriate to a judicial body but would unduly limit the scope of representation of a legislature if the same system were applied there. Once again we see the details of the constitutions of the organs of the World Order correspond to the idea and purpose which animates each individual organ. There would be no purpose in attempting to impose a single electoral formula on every organ.

From these few details of the nature of the legislature and judiciary, we can see that the civil institutions of the World Order differ from those of the Bahai Administrative Order, we can also see through these details, to intuit the distinct ideas that animate each organ.


Anna’s answer

Naturally we cannot cover all of the ground above, each time we are asked about the Bahai World Order and the role of the Bahai Administration in it. Here again is my distillation of the principles involved

Shoghi Effendi said that the Bahais should not allow their Bahai administration to supersede national governments, and Abdu’l-Baha says that even if world sovereignty was offered to the Bahais, will never accept it. Baha’u’llah says that God has given the task of government to kings and rulers, while the cities of men’s hearts are reserved for God. But this does not mean that the kings and governments have a right to do as they please. Baha’u’llah wrote to the kings and rulers of the world. He did not tell them to stop governing, but rather to govern in line with the ethic of government that the prophets have always upheld to the rulers: to be just, to root out corruption and to moderate taxation. But when Baha’u’llah wrote to Pope Pius IX, he told him to give up the power he had as ruler of the papal states. The Bahai teaching is organic unity: governments and religious bodies should be separate, but they should work together. GleaningsCXV

~~ Sen McGlinn

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5 Responses to “Anna presents the New World Order”

  1. Barb said

    Senn –

    Do you think that the present Baha’i administration agrees with your “distillation” of Anna’s answer? Or is there anticipation of a future theocracy? And what is it, do you think, that the average Baha’i anticipates in this regard?


  2. I think that the World needs a common auxiliary language as well 🙂

    As a native English speaker I would prefer Esperanto

    Your readers may be interested in

    A glimpse of the Esperanto language can be seen at

  3. Sen said

    I also see great potential in Esperanto, and so did Abdu’l-Baha: he even told the Bahais to learn it. I must write up that bit of history. However I think that if the market is left to itself, it will choose English, and I think that’s what will happen, for lack of the political will to decide otherwise. This is a pity from the point of view of cultural diversity, but it’s not the worse loss humanity has suffered for lack of political will

  4. Sen said

    Hi Barb,

    It’s difficult to say: as for the average Bahai, I’ve shown in the ‘literature review’ section of my book Church and State that there has always been a wide variety of views in the Western Bahai community, as shown in the Bahai literature in European languages. On the other hand, the Persian Bahai literature is quite strongly against theocracy. Ruhi Afnan is the only Persian author who definitely favoured it I think. In one place, Ishraq Khavari adds the separation of church and state on to the end of his list of Bahai Principles, and Gulpaygani and Abdu’l-Baha were decidedly against the idea. But what do Bahais believe in Uganda, New Delhi, Western Samoa? This is not just a western or Persian religion.

    As for the Bahai Administration, I don’t know the current thinking. In the 80’s the UHJ wrote several clear letters saying that the Bahai Administration and civil government are two different institutions and must not merge, even if the local memberships happened to be the same. In 1995 they wrote a letter which some have interpreted as saying just the opposite, but that’s reading between the lines. I doubt that was the intention. That letter was 14 years ago, so the thinking now might be different again. It doesn’t matter greatly, because the UHJ and Counsellors etc are not authorised interpreters of the Bahai Teachings, so they don’t have to be unanamous or consistent over time, just as it is not necessary that every local assembly member has the same understanding of the Bahai teachings.

  5. hasanelias said

    Why only to the Pope Bahá’u’lláh said “Abandon thy kingdom unto the kings”??? I believe that political issues are not for religious leaders.

    “O Supreme Pontiff! Incline thine ear unto that which the Fashioner of mouldering bones counselleth thee, as voiced by Him Who is His Most Great Name. Sell all the embellished ornaments thou dost possess, and expend them in the path of God, Who causeth the night to return upon the day, and the day to return upon the night. Abandon thy kingdom unto the kings, and emerge from thy habitation, with thy face set towards the Kingdom, and, detached from the world, then speak forth the praises of thy Lord betwixt earth and heaven. Thus hath bidden thee He Who is the Possessor of Names, on the part of thy Lord, the Almighty, the All-Knowing. Exhort thou the kings and say: “Deal equitably with men. Beware lest ye transgress the bounds fixed in the Book.” This indeed becometh thee. Beware lest thou appropriate unto thyself the things of the world and the riches thereof. 62 Leave them unto such as desire them, and cleave unto that which hath been enjoined upon thee by Him Who is the Lord of creation. Should anyone offer thee all the treasures of the earth, refuse to even glance upon them. Be as thy Lord hath been. Thus hath the Tongue of Revelation spoken that which God hath made the ornament of the book of creation.”

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