Sen McGlinn's blog

                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings

‘Estates’ as an alternative to political parties

This was from a Usenet group in April 2009

> It’s an opinion that democracy and the party system must go hand in
> hand. There really is no reason apart from our limited mental
> paradigms that a democracy needs a party system.

Is there an option?

Let’s start with the older concept of the “estates” :

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 — may God aid
him through His grace — and of the learned divines and of the high-
ranking rulers. Subject to their approval a place should be fixed
where they would meet.
(Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 92)

The idea is that all the principal “estates” of society should be
represented, because the input from them all is required, and because
no reform and plan can succeed unless it also has widespread support.
Translating that into contemporary society, can a strategic plan for
society as a whole succeed without support from labour, and the
capitalists, women, families, young people, farmers, the major
religious communities, etc?

In a monarchy, this representation of all sectors can be achieved by
appointment. In the United Kingdom, the Bishops represent religion,
the hereditary peers represent nobility which once meant, the big
landowners, the lower house represents the people. Only the last had
to be elected. But society has moved on, and that structure hardly
works any more.

If the society is democratic, and if it is no longer self-evident who
should represent the farmers, the landowners, the religious
communities, then what choice is there but for people themselves to
form groups and chose those who will represent them? If a society
thinks, for instance, that the farming or ecological interest should
be represented, how can this be achieved except by organisations of
people interested in farming and ecology?

> *The party system even reformed as an open party is still based on the
> concept of division and is counter to the very core of our theology.

What about a country, or a company, that says that a certain percent
of its members of parliament/the board should be women? Do you see
that as based on the concept of division? I don’t: I think that the
“social estates” idea that we can see in the quote from Baha’u’llah
above, and practices such as quotas and positive discrimination, are
inclusive, not divisive. Ideological parties are divisive, but the
representation of diverse interests is just the opposite, it unites

> *The framework for this Baha’i commonwealth will be the Baha’i
> administration, and it will be this Baha’i administration that confers
> authority on the governments. While they may separate entities, the
> source of their power and authority will come from our
> administration.

Wow! where did you get that from? It seems to be just the opposite of
what Baha’u’llah says:

“The sovereigns of the world … are the manifestations of the power
God and the daysprings of His authority.” (Ishraqat 2)

“He Who is the Spirit (Jesus) — may peace be upon Him — was asked:
“O Spirit of God! Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar or not?” And
He made reply: “Yea, render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and
to God the things *that are God’s.” He forbade it not. These two
sayings are, in the estimation of men of insight, one and the same,
for if that which belonged to Caesar had not come from God, He would
have forbidden it.
(Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 89)

Caesar gets authority from God — not from the Manifestation, not from
the priests and the temple. Abdu’l-Baha makes a similar point in The Art of Governance:

“… this prohibition and prevention, … is divided into two types.
first protector and restrainer is the power of governance …. Just
monarchs, accomplished representatives, wise ministers, and intrepid
military leaders constitute the executive centre in this power of
governance, … The second type of educator and governor of the human
world is sacred and spiritual power: the heavenly Books that have been
sent down, the prophets of God, and spiritual souls and devout
leaders.” (

The prophets and scriptures are placed within the second category,
not as ruling over both categories. This explains why the sovereignty
of the Manifestations and Imams, described in the Iqan, is different
in kind to the sovereignty of the kings. Politics is not a
sub-department of religion, it is itself a power undergirded
by God, with its own mandate from God, just as much as religion has.

In light of this, it would be equally wrong for the religious order to
confer authority on the religious, or for the religious leaders to
confer authority on the state.

~~ Sen McGlinn
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