World Order, Administrative Order
Posted by Sen on January 1, 2010
A Pilgrim’s note
On Planet Bahai (a very good Bahai discussion forum), I had been arguing that Baha’u’llah’s World Order and the Bahai Administrative Order are two different things, to which the moderator Dale replied,
“‘Abdu’l-Baha,” replied the person to whom he was talking.
“And where,” he then asked, “does authority reside after the Master’s passing?”
“The Guardian,” the other person replied.
“No,” he said. “It resides with the World Order of Baha’u’llah.”
Actually, Dale wrote that it is about Baha’u’llah’s word order 🙂 .
This pilgrim’s note is from Emeric Sala, a Czech-Canadian Baha’i, recalling his visit to Shoghi Effendi in 1937. It was published in 1993 in The vision of Shoghi Effendi, a collection of papers published by the North American Baha’i Studies Association. Sala’s contribution is a transcript of his personal reminiscences. The published version goes like this:
Shoghi Effendi asked me:
“Since after the martyrdom of the Bab the authority of the Faith was passed on to Baha’u’llah, and after his passing to ‘Abdu’l-Baha, to whom was it transferred after the ascension of ‘Abdu’l-Baha?”
I answered of course, to Shoghi Effendi. He said no. I then said the Guardian. He again shook his head. I then ventured the Universal House of Justice. He again said no, and I could see from his expression that he was disappointed with my inability to answer his question.
Then he asked, are the friends not reading my letters? The answer, he said, is clearly stated in “The Dispensation of Baha’u’llah. It is divided into four parts: Baha’u’llah, the Bab, ‘Abdu’l-Baha, and the fourth part entitled the “World Order of Baha’u’llah,” which is the answer to his question.
This is a beautiful example of the distinctions Shoghi Effendi makes, and the Bahais not understanding them. First, it shows Sala himself not understanding that, at the passing of Abdu’l-Baha, the Bahai community passed from a charismatic to a constitutional form of organisation. In ‘The Dispensation of Baha’u’llah,’ Shoghi Effendi interprets the Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha as establishing ‘twin institutions.’ He sets limits and defines distinct powers for the Universal House of Justice and the Guardian, creating a constitutional system with authority vested not in individuals, nor even in institutions, but rather in a system of institutions.
During Shoghi Effendi’s lifetime the friends were not forced to face this change, since most simply applied a charismatic conception of authority to the Guardian. He had to say quite pointedly that he was not sinless, did not have supernatural powers, that the friends were not to pray to him (!) and so on. He saw himself as an office-holder in a constitutional system. But the Bahais generally saw him as the successor to Abdu’l-Baha. After his death, the Bahais had to deal with a change of culture, from a community of disciples attracted by one leader to a micro-society (a commonwealth) functioning within a constitutional framework. Most made the transition, some were so attached to a charismatic conception of the leadership that they tried to create substitutes. (See ‘no counterfeits‘ on this blog.)
“Are the friends not reading my letters?” I can imagine how sad Shoghi Effendi sounded when he said that. It’s not the comment of a proud author miffed at being ignored, but of a man who knows he has provided the clear explanations that will help the friends to understand their own faith, and sees them instead holding on to an illusory conception that will inevitably lead them to confusion and puzzlement.
But what makes Sala’s notes a particularly good example of the failure to understand Shoghi Effendi, is that the fourth part of “The Dispensation of Baha’u’llah” is NOT entitled “World Order of Baha’u’llah.”
It is entitled, “The Administrative Order.” [Note]
Goodness knows how often Sala had told his story, in the years before this pilgrim’s note was published in 1993 by the Association of Bahai Studies, in ‘The vision of Shoghi Effendi.’ Goodness knows how many participated in the conference and heard these words presented as a memory of Shoghi Effendi. Goodness knows how many editors and reviewers and typists etc looked at his text during the publication process. And not one of them noticed that Sala is wrong about the title of the 4th part of ‘The dispensation of Baha’u’llah.’ The answer to Shoghi Effendi’s question about the successor to Abdu’l-Baha was “The Administrative Order” not “the World Order.”
“… are the friends not reading my letters?” asks Shoghi Effendi. No, they were not, and they still are not. They think the letters are difficult, or are only relevant to the distant future, or they have other excuses. But what Shoghi Effendi says he is setting out to do, in this letter, is:
…to call the attention of those who are destined to be the champion-builders of the Administrative Order of Baha’u’llah to certain fundamental verities the elucidation of which must tremendously assist them in the effective prosecution of their mighty enterprise. The international status which the Religion of God has thus far achieved, moreover, imperatively demands that its root principles be now definitely clarified.”
(The World Order of Baha’u’llah, 98-99)
Shoghi Effendi doesn’t think these issues are beyond ordinary understanding, or irrelevant to the present. He thinks if the Bahais would read what he writes, important issues would become clear and the understanding would help them tremendously in the tasks they face in the here and now, and that a better understanding is imperative to protect the Faith as it comes to the attention of the world.
Certainly, our task for the present is to teach the Faith. But part of this is that we should ourselves understand the Bahai Teachings. Otherwise we pass on not the pure word but a mixture of Bahai teachings and hearsay.
Administrative Order and World Order
To return to the Administrative Order and the World Order: the conversation on Planet Bahai had begun when Dale said “the World Order of Baha’u’llah is to become the “nucleus and pattern” for future society.” But that is incorrect, it is the Administrative Order which is the pattern of the World Order (which is a better way of ordering a world society). Precisely because the Administrative Order is not the same as the World Order, there is a certain relationship between them:
The Administrative Order, … may be considered as the framework of the Will itself, the inviolable stronghold wherein this new-born child is being nurtured and developed. This Administrative Order, … will, as its component parts, its organic institutions, begin to function with efficiency and vigor, assert its claim and demonstrate its capacity to be regarded not only as the nucleus but the very pattern of the New World Order destined to embrace in the fullness of time the whole of mankind.
(The World Order of Baha’u’llah, 144)
In short, the way-of-ordering the Bahai Community – through the Bahai Administration – becomes the nucleus and pattern of a new way-of-ordering the world. Administrative Order and World Order, two conceptually different things, but with a common pattern. One is the nucleus of the other: it sits within it like one of those Russian dolls with dolls within dolls inside. The World Order of Baha’u’llah is a way-of-ordering-the-world for the era of Baha’u’llah. Religion is part of that world, and the Bahai Faith part of religion, and the Administrative Order is part of the Bahai Faith.
This explains why, when Shoghi Effendi describes the World Order of Baha’u’llah, in his letter ‘the Unfoldment of world civilization’ …
The unity of the human race, as envisaged by Baha’u’llah, implies the establishment of a world commonwealth … in which the autonomy of its state members and the personal freedom and initiative of the individuals that compose them … a world legislature, … A world executive, … A world tribunal..
… he does not even mention the Baha’i Administrative Order. The Administrative Order is three Russian dolls inwards from the unity of the human race, and in a different branch to the world commonwealth or commonwealth of nations which he is describing here. The Administrative Order belongs in the religion branch, the world commonwealth of nations in the politics branch, together they are principle organs in the World Order of Baha’u’llah. (See ‘two commonwealths’ on this blog).
Adib Taherzadeh gets this wrong in his Trustees of the Merciful, (pp. 56-6 and implicit in pp 73-76.) in which the Bahai Administrative Order is treated not as an organ of the future World Order of Baha’u’llah, but as the present name of the World Order of Baha’u’llah. In his ‘theocracy tapes,’ David Hofman says that the Administrative Order is a synonym for the World Order of Baha’u’llah and the Kingdom of God on earth. Gollmer gets it wrong in Making the Crooked Straight pp. 432-6; Loni Bramson gets its wrong in ‘An analysis of the Baha’i World Order Model’ (in Emergence, Dimensions of a New World Order p 40). And so forth: the challenge would be to find any Bahai author who has noticed that when Shoghi Effendi uses two different terms – World Order and Administrative Order – he is referring to two different things. Having conflated the yolk and the white, these authors then get themselves in a frightful twist trying to unscramble the omelet. Yet it is so simple: Bahai Administrative Order is not equal to World Order, and with this distinction in mind, Shoghi Effendi is not “difficult” — he has a clear map in his mind and he doesn’t contradict himself.
When we look at the Administrative Order (the nucleus and pattern of a new way-of-ordering the world) we see it is organic: it is made up of different organs, each with its own function and logic. The Guardian interprets, the House legislates, the Feast consults, the Assembly decides, the individual takes initiative, the Fund moneys flow upwards, the Huquq funds flow downwards, the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar (House of Worship) is the crown, the Assemblies are the foundation, and so on. Each organ needs the others to fulfil its own potential, just like the organs in a body. The heart cannot pump if the liver is not purifying, and vice versa. So if this Administrative Order is the pattern of a new way-of-ordering the world, a new World Order, then the same distinction and complementarity must characterise the relationship between the religious and political orders, between religion and science, government and the market, the market and science, and so forth.
Abdu’l-Baha wrote a book about the relationship between the religious and political orders, the Resaleh-ye Siyasiyyeh, which Dreyfus translated as La Politique and I have translated as the “Sermon on the Art of Governance” [the translation has since been retitled The Art of Governance]. In it, he writes:
The religious law is like the spirit of life,
the government is the locus of the force of deliverance.
The religious law is the shining sun,
and government is the clouds of April.
These two bright stars are like twin lights in the heavens of the contingent world,
they have cast their rays upon the people of the world.
One has illuminated the world of the soul,
the other caused the earth to flower.
One sowed pearls in the oceans of conscience,
while the other has made the surface of the earth a garden of paradise.
It has turned this mound of dust into the envy of the heavens,
and made this dark house of shadows the cynosure of the world of lights.
… The point is this, that each of these two signs of grandeur is the aid and assistant of the other, like milk and honey, or the twins of Gemini in the sky. Thus, contempt for one is betrayal of the other, and any negligence in obedience to one is sinful rebellion against the other.
Here, the two institutional orders of religion and of politics are presented as two kinds of necessary and worthy human endeavour, two aspects of human potential that are to be developed.
There’s a similar passage in Selection from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha:
O concourse of the Kingdom of Abha! Two calls to success and prosperity are being raised … The one is the call of civilization, of the progress of the material world. This pertains to the world of phenomena, it promotes the principles of material achievement, and is the trainer for the physical accomplishments of mankind. It comprises the laws, regulations, arts and sciences through which the world of humanity has developed, which are the outcome of lofty ideals and the result of sound minds, and have been achieved through the efforts of the wise and cultured, among the noble founders and their successors. The propagator and active power (naafidh, executive) of this call is just government.
The other is the soul-stirring call of God and the sacred spiritual teachings, which are safeguards of the everlasting glory, the eternal happiness and illumination of the world of humanity, and cause attributes of mercy to be revealed in the human world and the life beyond. This second call is founded upon the instructions and exhortations of the Lord and the admonitions and altruistic emotions belonging to the realm of morality which, like a brilliant light, brighten and illumine the lamp of the realities of mankind. Its active power (naafidh) is the Word of God.
(Ma’ida-ye Asmani V:109-110, my translation, adapted from Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha 282-4.)
This is the ideal: distinction and complementarity. True, we do not know what the future will hold, we cannot prescribe the future order of society based on Bahai scriptures, and crystal-ball gazing is fruitless, but we can use this ideal as a yardstick to judge the present and measure our progress. Against this yardstick, American-style strict separation of Church and State is a step in the right direction, which has allowed the government to do the governing, and religion to preach the Word of God. The next step is for them to learn to go together, like “milk and honey.” The same is true of the relationship between science and religion: recognising that they are different human capacities and that address different questions in different ways is one thing, the next is to draw on both to create a just and progressive society that will “stimulate the intellectual, the moral, and spiritual life of the entire human race.” (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, 204)
~~ Sen McGlinn
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Related content: Two commonwealths