Sen McGlinn's blog

                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings

Who votes in the Bahai World Order?

This posting is from December 2008, on the forum Geistige Nahrung, where the question was

Ist nach den Bahá’í-Lehren eigentlich eine freiheitlich-pluralistische Demokratie die Vision Baha’u’llahs für die zukünftige Weltordnung oder sollen nur die Bahá’í wählen und gewählt werden und somit regieren dürfen?
Is a pluralist-liberal democracy Baha’u’llah’s vision for the future world order, according to the Bahai teachings, or will only the Bahais vote and be elected, and therefore govern?

Your question is one of the main topics in my book Church and State. It is available from Amazon and is held in many libraries in Germany.

The Bahai Writings mandate a world super-state, with an elected world legislature, a world executive and judiciary. The same scriptures mandate, and give quite detailed prescriptions for, the Bahai administrative order, containing elected, appointed and hereditary elements, which culminates in the twin institutions of the Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice who are empowered respectively to interpret the Bahai Writings and to legislate for matters not contained in those Writings.

In the Bahai religious institutions that are elected (the Assemblies or Houses of Justice), only adult Bahais in good standing can vote and be voted for:

And now, concerning the House of Justice which God hath ordained as the source of all good and freed from all error, it must be elected by universal suffrage, that is, by the believers. … By this House is meant the Universal House of Justice, that is, in all countries a secondary House of Justice must be instituted, and these secondary Houses of Justice must elect the members of the Universal one.
(Abdu’l-Baha, The Will and Testament, p. 14)

And the Constitution of the Universal House of Justice specifies:

“In order to be eligible to vote and hold elective office, a Baha’i must have attained the age of twenty-one years. ”

This House of Justice has the legislative, executive and judicial functions as the religious government within the Bahai community (it does not have the power to decide on doctrinal or liturgical issues, unlike the church governments of most Christian churches).

In contrast, the Bahai vision of a world commonwealth of nations, a global secular government is, in brief:

“The unity of the human race, as envisaged by Bahá’u’lláh, implies the establishment of a world commonwealth in which all nations, races, creeds and classes are closely and permanently united, and in which the autonomy of its state members and the personal freedom and initiative of the individuals that compose them are definitely and completely safeguarded. This commonwealth must, as far as we can visualize it, 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.”
(Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 203)

Note: the 3 powers are separated, and the world commonwealth unites multiple “creeds.”

The way these institutions are elected is explained by Abdu’l-Baha in more detail, in his 1919 ‘Tablet to the Hague’ (i.e. to the Committee at The Hague in relation to the International Peace Conference). Abdu’l-Baha writes:

[Baha’u’llah’s] 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 … The number of these representatives should be in proportion to the number of inhabitants of that country. … From among these people the members of the Supreme Tribunal will be elected… ( Selected Writings of Abdu’l-Baha 306.)

From this it can be seen that Abdu’l-Baha envisions the tribunal as a civil, not a religious body, to be made up of legal experts. Its method of election and membership differ from those that are set out for the Bahai Universal House of Justice.

The members of the legislature of the commonwealth of nations, according to Shoghi Effendi should be directly “elected by the people in their respective countries and … confirmed by their respective governments.” ( The World Order of Baha’u’llah 41.) However Baha’u’llah says, in respect to the gathering that is to establish (and presumably maintain) world peace, 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). This looks rather like a two-chamber structure, with one chamber elected directly by the people and the other consisting of heads of state government representatives. In comparison to the present United Nations, it would mean another chamber, alongside the General Assembly. The General Assembly contains representatives of the heads of state, the new chamber would have representatives directly elected by the people.

Note that Shoghi Effendi says the national representatives to the world legislature are to be elected (directly) by the people, whereas the Will and Testament says that the Universal House of Justice should be elected indirectly, by the members of the secondary or National Houses of Justice.

As for the world executive, I do not know of any statements about its membership in the Bahai Writings, but Baha’u’llah and his successors admired the British constitutional system, in which the executive (Cabinet) is selected by the Prime Minister but obtains a vote of confidence from Parliament. The nearest we have to a world executive today is the UN Security Council, some of whose members are chosen by the General Assembly.

~ Sen McGlinn

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