By The Bahá'ís Magazine

The world’s great faiths have animated civilizations throughout history. Each affirms the existence of an all-loving God and opens the doors of understanding to the spiritual dimension of life. Each cultivates the love of God and of humanity in the human heart and seeks to bring out the noblest qualities and aspirations of the human being. Each has beckoned humankind to higher forms of civilization.

Over the thousands of years of humanity’s collective infancy and adolescence, the systems of shared belief brought by the world’s great religions have enabled people to unite and create bonds of trust and cooperation at ever-higher levels of social organization―from the family, to the tribe, to the city-state and nation. As the human race moves toward a global civilization, this power of religion to promote cooperation and propel cultural evolution can perhaps be better understood today than ever before. It is an insight that is increasingly being recognized and is affirmed in the work of evolutionary psychologists and cultural anthropologists.

The teachings of the Founders of the world’s religions have inspired breathtaking achievements in literature, architecture, art, and music. They have fostered the promotion of reason, science, and education. Their moral principles have been translated into universal codes of law, regulating and elevating human relationships. These uniquely endowed individuals are referred to as Manifestations of God in the Bahá’í writings, and include (among others) Krishna, Moses, Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus Christ, Muhammad, the Báb, and Bahá’u’lláh. History provides countless examples of how these Figures have awakened in whole populations capacities to love, to forgive, to create, to dare greatly, to overcome prejudice, to sacrifice for the common good, and to discipline the impulses of humanity’s baser instincts. These achievements can be recognized as the common spiritual heritage of the human race.

Today, humanity faces the limits of a social order inadequate to meet the compelling challenges of a world that has virtually shrunk to the level of a neighborhood. On this small planet, sovereign nations find themselves caught between cooperation and competition. The well-being of humanity and of the environment are too often compromised for national self-interest. Propelled by competing ideologies, divided by various constructs of us versus them, the people of the world are plunged into one crisis after another—brought on by war, terrorism, prejudice, oppression, economic disparity, and environmental upheaval, among other causes.

Bahá’u’lláh—as the latest in the series of divinely inspired moral educators Who have guided humanity from age to age—has proclaimed that humanity is now approaching its long-awaited stage of maturity: unity at the global level of social organization. He provides a vision of the oneness of humanity, a moral framework, and teachings that, founded on the harmony of science and religion, directly address today’s problems. He points the way to the next stage of human social evolution. He offers to the peoples of the world a unifying story consistent with our scientific understanding of reality. He calls on us to recognize our common humanity, to see ourselves as members of one family, to end estrangement and prejudice, and to come together. By doing so, all peoples and every social group can be protagonists in shaping their own future and, ultimately, a just and peaceful global civilization.


One humanity, one unfolding faith

We live in a time of rapid, often unsettling change. People today survey the transformations underway in the world with mixed feelings of anticipation and dread, of hope and anxiety. In the societal, economic, and political realms, essential questions about our identity and the nature of the relationships that bind us together are being raised to a degree not seen in decades.

Progress in science and technology represents hope for addressing many of the challenges that are emerging, but such progress is itself a powerful force of disruption, changing the ways we make choices, learn, organize, work, and play, and raising moral questions that have not been encountered before. Some of the most formidable problems facing humanity—those dealing with the human condition and requiring moral and ethical decisions—cannot be solved through science and technology alone, however critical their contributions.

The teachings of Bahá’u’lláh help us understand the transformations underway. At the heart of His message are two core ideas. First is the incontrovertible truth that humanity is one, a truth that embodies the very spirit of the age, for without it, it is impossible to build a truly just and peaceful world. Second is the understanding that humanity’s great faiths have come from one common Source and are expressions of one unfolding religion.

In His writings, Bahá’u’lláh raised a call to the leaders of nations, to religious figures, and to the generality of humankind to give due importance to the place of religion in human advancement. All of the Founders of the world’s great religions, He explained, proclaim the same faith. He described religion as the chief instrument for the establishment of order in the world and of tranquility amongst its peoples and referred to it as a radiant light and an impregnable stronghold for the protection and welfare of the peoples of the world. In another of His Tablets, He states that the purpose of religion is to safeguard the interests and promote the unity of the human race, and to foster the spirit of love and fellowship amongst men. The religion of God and His divine law, He further explains, are the most potent instruments and the surest of all means for the dawning of the light of unity amongst men. The progress of the world, the development of nations, the tranquility of peoples, and the peace of all who dwell on earth are among the principles and ordinances of God. Religion bestoweth upon man the most precious of all gifts, offereth the cup of prosperity, imparteth eternal life, and showereth imperishable benefits upon mankind.


The decline of religion

Bahá’u’lláh was also deeply concerned about the corruption and abuse of religion that had come to characterize human societies around the planet. He warned of the inevitable decline of religion’s influence in the spheres of decision making and on the human heart. This decline, He explained, sets in when the noble and pure teachings of the moral luminaries who founded the world’s great religions are corrupted by selfish human ideas, superstition, and the worldly quest for power. Should the lamp of religion be obscured, explained Bahá’u’lláh, chaos and confusion will ensue, and the lights of fairness and justice, of tranquility and peace cease to shine.

From the perspective of the Bahá’í teachings, the abuses carried out in the name of religion and the various forms of prejudice, superstition, dogma, exclusivity, and irrationality that have become entrenched in religious thought and practice prevent religion from bringing to bear the healing influence and society-building power it possesses.

Beyond these manifestations of the corruption of religion are the acts of terror and violence heinously carried out in, of all things, the name of God. Such acts have left a grotesque scar on the consciousness of humanity and distorted the concept of religion in the minds of countless people, turning many away from it altogether.

The spiritual and moral void resulting from the decline of religion has not only given rise to virulent forms of religious fanaticism, but has also allowed for a materialistic conception of life to become the world’s dominant paradigm.

Religion’s place as an authority and a guiding light both in the public sphere and in the private lives of individuals has undergone a profound decline in the last century. A compelling assumption has become consolidated: as societies become more civilized, religion’s role in humanity’s collective affairs diminishes and is relegated to the private life of the individual. Ultimately, some have speculated that religion will disappear altogether.

Yet this assumption is not holding up in the light of recent developments. In these first decades of the 21st century, religion has experienced a resurgence as a social force of global importance. In a rapidly changing world, a reawakening of humanity’s longing for meaning and for spiritual connection is finding expression in various forms: in the efforts of established faiths to meet the needs of rising generations by reshaping doctrines and practices to adapt to contemporary life; in interfaith activities that seek to foster dialogue between religious groups; in a myriad of spiritual movements, often focused on individual fulfillment and personal development; but also in the rise of fundamentalism and radical expressions of religious practice, which have tragically exploited the growing discontent among segments of humanity, especially youth.

Concurrently, national and international governing institutions are not only recognizing religion’s enduring presence in society but are increasingly seeing the value of its participation in efforts to address humanity’s most vexing problems. This realization has led to increased efforts to engage religious leaders and communities in decision making and in the carrying out of various plans and programs for social betterment.

Each of these expressions, however, falls far short of acknowledging the importance of a social force that has time and again demonstrated its power to inspire the building of vibrant civilizations. If religion is to exert its vital influence in this period of profound, often tumultuous change, it will need to be understood anew. Humanity will have to shed harmful conceptions and practices that masquerade as religion. The question is how to understand religion in the modern world and allow for its constructive powers to be released for the betterment of all.


Religion renewed

The great religious systems that have guided humanity over thousands of years can be regarded in essence as one unfolding religion that has been renewed from age to age, evolving as humanity has moved from one stage of collective development to another. Religion can thus be seen as a system of knowledge and practice that has, together with science, propelled the advancement of civilization throughout history.

Religion today cannot be exactly what it was in a previous era. Much of what is regarded as religion in the contemporary world must, Bahá’ís believe, be re-examined in light of the fundamental truths Bahá’u’lláh has posited: the oneness of God, the oneness of religion, and the oneness of the human family.

Bahá’u’lláh set an uncompromising standard: if religion becomes a source of separation, estrangement, or disagreement—much less violence and terror—it is best to do without it. The test of true religion is its fruits. Religion should demonstrably uplift humanity, create unity, forge good character, promote the search for truth, liberate human conscience, advance social justice, and promote the betterment of the world. True religion provides the moral foundations to harmonize relationships among individuals, communities, and institutions across diverse and complex social settings. It fosters an upright character and instills forbearance, compassion, forgiveness, magnanimity, and high-mindedness. It prohibits harm to others and invites souls to the plane of sacrifice, that they may give of themselves for the good of others. It imparts a world-embracing vision and cleanses the heart from self-centeredness and prejudice. It inspires souls to endeavor for material and spiritual betterment for all, to see their own happiness in that of others, to advance learning and science, to be an instrument of true joy, and to revive the body of humankind.

True religion is in harmony with science. When understood as complementary, science and religion provide people with powerful means to gain new and wondrous insights into reality and to shape the world around them, and each system benefits from an appropriate degree of influence from the other. Science, when devoid of the perspective of religion, can become vulnerable to dogmatic materialism. Religion, when devoid of science, falls prey to superstition and blind imitation of the past. The Bahá’í teachings state:

Put all your beliefs into harmony with science; there can be no opposition, for truth is one. When religion, shorn of its superstitions, traditions, and unintelligent dogmas, shows its conformity with science, then will there be a great unifying, cleansing force in the world which will sweep before it all wars, disagreements, discords and struggles—and then will mankind be united in the power of the Love of God.

True religion transforms the human heart and contributes to the transformation of society. It provides insights about humanity’s true nature and the principles upon which civilization can advance. At this critical juncture in human history, the foundational spiritual principle of our time is the oneness of humankind. This simple statement represents a profound truth that, once accepted, invalidates all past notions of the superiority of any race, sex, or nationality. It is more than a mere call to mutual respect and feelings of goodwill between the diverse peoples of the world, important as these are. Carried to its logical conclusion, it implies an organic change in the very structure of society and in the relationships that sustain it.


The experience of the Bahá’í community

Inspired by the principle of the oneness of humankind, Bahá’ís believe that the advancement of a materially and spiritually coherent world civilization will require the contributions of countless high-minded individuals, groups, and organizations, for generations to come. The efforts of the Bahá’í community to contribute to this movement are finding expression today in localities all around the world and are open to all.

At the heart of Bahá’í endeavors is a long-term process of community building that seeks to develop patterns of life and social structures founded on the oneness of humanity. One component of these efforts is an educational process that has developed organically in rural and urban settings around the world. Spaces are created for children, youth, and adults to explore spiritual concepts and gain capacity to apply them to their own social environments. Every soul is invited to contribute regardless of race, gender, or creed. As thousands upon thousands participate, they draw insights from both science and the world’s spiritual heritage and contribute to the development of new knowledge. Over time, capacities for service are being cultivated in diverse settings around the world and are giving rise to individual initiatives and increasingly complex collective action for the betterment of society. Transformation of the individual and transformation of the community unfold simultaneously.

Beyond efforts to learn about community building at the grass roots, Bahá’ís engage in various forms of social action, through which they strive to apply spiritual principles in efforts to further material progress in diverse settings. Bahá’í institutions and agencies, as well as individuals and organizations, also participate in the prevalent discourses of their societies in diverse spaces, from academic and professional settings, to national and international forums, all with the aim of contributing to the advancement of society.

As they carry out this work, Bahá’ís are conscious that to uphold high ideals is not the same as to embody them. The Bahá’í community recognizes that many challenges lie ahead as it works shoulder to shoulder with others for unity and justice. It is committed to the long-term process of learning through action that this task entails, with the conviction that religion has a vital role to play in society and a unique power to release the potential of individuals, communities, and institutions.

By Michael Karlberg

Michael Karlberg is a professor of Communication Studies at Western Washington University. His interdisciplinary scholarship examines prevailing conceptions of human nature, power, social organization, and social change – and their implications for the pursuit of peace and justice.

The triumph of the Western social order was widely heralded in the closing decades of the twentieth century. “The end of ideology” was proclaimed and an age of global prosperity anticipated, driven by the twinned forces of global free-market capitalism and liberal democracy.1Daniel Bell, The End of Ideology (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1988). In the ensuing years, the vacuum left by the collapse of the Soviet Union, along with new tensions created by a perceived “clash of civilizations,”2Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996). has propelled advocates of free-market capitalism and Western liberal democracy to step up their efforts to export or impose these models around the world in former communist states, Muslim nations, and elsewhere.

To date, the global free-market capitalism aspect of this project has been the subject of considerable critique in both the popular and academic press.3Refer, for instance, to Joseph Stiglitz, Globalization and its Discontents (New York: W.W. Norton, 2002); Jeffry Frieden, Global Capitalism (New York: WW. Norton, 2006); John Cavanagh, Alternatives to Economic Globalization (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2002); Naomi Klein, No Logo (New York: Picador, 2002); David Korten, When Corporations Rule the World (West Hartford, Connecticut: Kumarian Press, 1995).

It has also spawned a network of global justice organizations and activists who have become ever more visible and vocal through various strategies, including mass protests and internet organizing. Concerns have been raised about the increasing global disparities of wealth and poverty; the absence of environmental and labor standards and enforcement mechanisms in the global marketplace; the devastating impacts of currency speculation and trans-national capital flight; the rising and largely unregulated power of multi-national corporations; the undemocratic nature of global financial institutions and trade organizations; and a host of other issues.

Significantly, these critiques of the global free-market capitalism project have frequently come from authors and activists within the Western world itself. The same cannot be said, however, of the project to export liberal democracy. Throughout the West, it is still generally assumed that the Western democratic model is the natural and inevitable way to organize free and enlightened societies.

But there is an alternative perspective. Could it be said that Western liberal democracy—or what might more accurately be called competitive democracy—has become anachronistic, unjust, and unsustainable in an age of increasing global interdependence?4This essay derives in part from the author’s previously published book entitled Beyond the Culture of Contest: From Adversarialism to Mutualism in an Age of Interdependence (Oxford: George Ronald, 2004). Permission has been granted, by the publisher, to extract and adapt sections of that book for the purpose of this essay. “The signs of impending convulsions and chaos can now be discerned,” wrote Bahá’u’lláh, “inasmuch as the prevailing order appeareth to be lamentably defective.”5Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, (Wilmette, Il: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 2005), p. 216. Available at


Competitive Democracy

Western liberal democracy, at its core, is based on the premise that democratic governance requires individuals and groups to compete for political power. The most recognizable form that this takes is the party system. Political competition also occurs without formal political parties in many local elections, and when independent candidates run in provincial (or state) and national elections. In all of these cases, however, the underlying competitive structure is the same, and it is this underlying structure that has become anachronistic, unjust, and unsustainable.

Granted, competitive democracy represents a significant and valuable historical accomplishment. It has proven a more just form of government than the aristocratic, authoritarian, or sacerdotal forms of governance it has generally replaced. It also represents a reasonable adaptation to the social and ecological conditions prevailing at the time of its emergence. But the theory and practice of political competition emerged in the earliest days of the West’s industrial revolution, when human populations were still relatively small and isolated. It predates the invention of electricity, the internal combustion engine, air travel, broadcast media, computers, the internet, weapons of mass destruction, appetites of mass consumption, and global free-market capitalism. In the past three centuries, our success as a species has transformed the conditions of our existence in these and many other ways.

Competitive democracies, for reasons that will be discussed here, appear to be incapable of dealing with these new realities. Yet Western populations are, by and large, living in a state of denial regarding the anachronistic nature of competitive political systems. When concerns are raised about the condition of these systems they tend to focus on surface expressions rather than underlying structural causes. For instance, in many Western countries it has become commonplace to bemoan the increased negativity of partisan political rhetoric. Political discourse, some commentators suggest, is suffering from a breakdown in civility and a rise of mean-spiritedness. As a result, politicians are mired in a gridlock and cannot address the complex issues that face them.6Refer, for example, to Deborah Tannen, The Argument Culture (New York: Random House, 1998). Even many elected politicians have raised these concerns. In a collection of essays by retiring U.S. Senators at the close of the twentieth century, one was moved to “lament the increasing level of vituperation and partisanship that has permeated the atmosphere and debate in the Senate.7Norman Orstein, “Introduction,” Lessons and Legacies: Farewell Addresses from the Senate (Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley, 1997), p. xi. One observed that “bipartisanship… has been abandoned for quick fixes, sound bites, and, most harmfully, the frequent demonization of those with whom we disagree.”8Howell Heflin, “Farewell Address,” Lessons and Legacies: Farewell Addresses from the Senate (Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley, 1997), p. 79. Another claimed that “there is much more partisanship than when I came to Washington two decades ago, and most of it serves the nation poorly.”9Paul Simon, “Farewell Address,” Lessons and Legacies: Farewell Addresses from the Senate (Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley, 1997), p. 172. Yet another wrote that “our political process must be re-civilized” due to the “ever-increasing vicious polarization of the electorate, the us-against-them mentality” that “has all but swept aside the former preponderance of reasonable discussion.”10James Exon, “Farewell Address,” Lessons and Legacies: Farewell Addresses from the Senate (Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley, 1997), p. 57.

Statements such as these raise legitimate concerns about the state of partisan discourse, but they obscure the underlying problem of political competition. According to these views, political competition and political parties are the natural, normal, and inevitable way to organize democratic governance; the problem arises only when partisan rhetoric becomes too adversarial or mean-spirited. As the socio-linguist Deborah Tannen states: “a kind of agonistic inflation has set in whereby opposition has become more extreme, and the adversarial nature of the system is routinely being abused.”11Deborah Tannen, The Argument Culture (New York: Random House, 1998), p. 96. Tannen attributes this “more general atmosphere of contention,” or this “new mood” in partisan politics, to a wider combative culture that is corrupting the partisan system and socializing politicians into more conflictual patterns of interaction, resulting in gridlock, the spread of corruption, and the breakdown of unwritten rules of civility, cooperation, and compromise.12Deborah Tannen, The Argument Culture (New York: Random House, 1998), pp. 96–100.


The Seeds of Competitive Democracy

The breakdown in civility, the rise of mean-spiritedness, the problem of gridlock, and the spread of political corruption—assuming these things have indeed deteriorated over time—are not abuses or corruptions of the partisan system. Such developments are the culmination—the “perfection”—of a system that political scientist Jane Mansbridge refers to as “adversary democracy.”13Jane Mansbridge, Beyond Adversary Democracy (Chicago: The University Of Chicago Press, 1980). They are the sour fruit inherent in the seeds of competitive democracy. “No two men can be found who may be said to be outwardly and inwardly united,” wrote Bahá’u’lláh.14Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, (Wilmette, Il: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 2005), p. 218. Available at

These seeds, to be more precise, are the deepest assumptions about human nature and social order that underlie political competition. The first of these assumptions is that human nature is essentially selfish and competitive. The second assumption is that different groups of people will naturally develop different interests, needs, values, and desires, and these interests will invariably conflict. The third assumption is that, given a selfish human nature and the problem of conflicting interests, the fairest and most efficient way to govern a society is to harness these dynamics through an open process of interest-group competition.

Based on these assumptions, it should come as no surprise that the fruits of competitive democracy include the aforementioned breakdown in civility, rise of mean-spiritedness, problem of gridlock and spread of political corruption. These are to be expected if we accept, and enact such assumptions. In fact, this is the reason why some competitive democracies have set up complex systems of checks and balances in an effort to limit the excessive accumulation of power in the hands of any given interest group. It is also why some competitive democracies have tried to cultivate, within their political systems, codes of civility and ethics intended to restrain the basest expressions of political competition. And this is the reason that most competitive democracies struggle, to this day, to reign in the worst excesses of political competition by experimenting with term limits, campaign finance reforms, and other stop-gap measures. Yet none of these efforts fundamentally changes the nature or the fruit of the system, because the fruit is inherent in the system’s internal assumptions—its seeds.

To grasp this inherent relationship, consider the market metaphor that is often invoked as a model for political competition. Competitive democracy is generally conceived as a political marketplace within which political entrepreneurs and the parties they incorporate try to advance their interests through open competition.15Refer to discussions of this theme in Joseph Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (New York: Harper, 1976) and Anthony Downs, An Economic Theory of Democracy (New York: Harper and Row, 1965). The “invisible hand” of the market allegedly works to direct this competition toward the maximum public benefit. As Lyon explains, supporters of party government argue that if one looks at the larger picture and sees the “political market” in which several parties, the media, interest groups, and individuals all interact, democratic needs are served in a kind of mysterious way… [as though] another “invisible hand” is at work.16Vaughan Lyon, “Green Politics: Parties, Elections, and Environmental Policy,” Canadian Environmental Policy: Ecosystems, Politics, and Process, ed. Robert Boardman (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 129.

Within this market model, political parties incorporate around aggregated sets of interests in order to pool their political capital. Contests then determine leadership and control within and between parties—as politicians and parties organize to fight and win elections. The logic of competitive elections, however, ensures that the goal of winning trumps all other values. As Held explains:

Parties may aim to realize a programme of ‘ideal’ political principles, but unless their activities are based on systematic strategies for achieving electoral success they will be doomed to insignificance. Accordingly, parties become transformed, above all else, into means for fighting and winning elections.17David Held, Models of Democracy, 2 ed. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996)170.

Once political leadership and control is determined through electoral contests, processes of public decision-making are structured in a similar manner. Decision-making is organized as an oppositional process of debate. In theory, political debate functions as an open “market-place of ideas” in which the best ideas prevail—again through the operation of some hypothetical invisible hand. In practice, the logic of the competitive system transforms debate into a struggle over political capital. Victory results in a gain of political capital, defeat results in a loss. Debate thus becomes an extension of the electoral process itself, providing a stage for “permanent campaigns,” or never-ending contests over political capital, in anticipation of the next round of elections.18Sydney Blumenthal, The Permanent Campaign (Boston: Beacon, 1980).

Much political decision-making also occurs outside of formal public debates. Indeed, these debates often serve as little more than a dramatic veneer on complex behind-the-scenes processes of political bargaining and negotiation. Yet these behind-the-scenes processes tend to be characterized by similar competitive dynamics.19Refer, for example, to Eleanor Clift and Tom Brazaitis, War without Bloodshed: The Art of Politics (New York: Touchstone, 1997). These processes involve not only elected officials but also lobbyists, think tanks, media strategists, and numerous species of political action groups—all of whom are vying with one another to pressure politicians, shape media coverage, and influence public opinion in ways that advance their own agendas and interests.


The Fruit of Competitive Democracy

Interest-group competition has no necessary relationship to the goals of social justice and environmental sustainability. On the contrary, the track record of competitive democracy is clear. It is a record of growing disparities between rich and poor.20Frank Ackerman, The Political Economy of Inequality (Washington DC: Island Press, 2000); Isaac Shapiro and Robert Greenstein, The Widening Income Gulf (Washington, DC: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 1999); Albert Fishlow and Karen Parker, Growing Apart : The Causes and Consequences of Global Wage Inequality (New York: Council on Foreign Relations Press, 1999); Stephen Haseler, The Super Rich: The Unjust New World of Global Capitalism (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999). It is also a record of accelerating ecological destruction.21Lester Brown, Christopher Flavin and Hilary French, eds., State of the World 2000: A Worldwatch Institute Report on Progress toward a Sustainable Society (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2000); David Suzuki and Holly Jewell Dressel, From Naked Ape to Superspecies: Humanity and the Global Eco-Crisis (Vancouver: Greystone Books, 2004); Lester Brown, Michael Renner, Linda Starke and Brain Halweil, eds., Vital Signs 2000: The Environmental Trends That Are Shaping Our Future (New York: Norton, 2000).

Therefore the problems of competitive democracy, a few of which are discussed here, go well beyond the breakdown of civility and the rise of mean-spiritedness.

The Corrupting Influence of Money

In theory, when there are excesses and deficiencies in the operation of the market economy, a democratic government should be able to regulate and remedy these. The practice of political competition, however, makes this virtually impossible. The reasons for this are not difficult to understand. Political competition is an expensive activity—and growing more expensive with every generation. Successful campaigns are waged by those who have the financial support, both direct and indirect, of the most affluent market actors (i.e., those who have profited the most from market excesses and deficiencies).

The problem of money in politics is widely recognized and it largely explains the cynicism and apathy reflected in low voter turnout at the polls. The underlying cause of this problem, however, is seldom examined and never seriously addressed. We hear occasional calls for campaign finance reform and similar regulatory measures. Yet the root of the problem is political competition itself. From the moment we structure elections as contests, which inevitably require money to win, we invert the proper relationship between government and the market. Rather than our market existing within the envelope of responsible government regulation, our government is held captive within the envelope of market regulation.

As long as governance is organized in a competitive manner, this relationship cannot be fully corrected. Any scheme to tweak the rules here and there will merely cause money to flow through new paths. This is what occurs, for instance, with attempts to reform campaign financing. New forms of contribution merely eclipse the old. Even if societies could eliminate campaign financing entirely, money would simply flow through other points of political influence such as the constantly evolving species of political action groups that exert strategic influences over media coverage of issues, public opinion formation, electoral outcomes, and many other political processes. In a competitive political system, where candidates are vying for favorable coverage, public opinion, and votes, money will always flow to the most effective points of political influence just as water always flows to the point of lowest elevation. We can alter the path of that flow, but we cannot stop it.

This problem is a primary cause of the growing disparities of wealth and poverty that are now witnessed throughout the world, including within the Western world. The expanding income gap is not simply a result of the market economy itself. It is a result of the competitive political economy that is coupled with it. Through this political economy, the wealthiest market actors define the market framework within which they accumulate wealth. This framework comprises systems of property law, contract law, labor law, tax law, and all other forms of legislation, public infrastructure, and public subsidies that shape market outcomes. In competitive democracies this framework is defined, over time, by the wealthiest market actors, owing to the influence of money on political competition. The result is a political-economy feedback loop that serves the swelling interests of the wealthiest segments of society.

The subordination of governance to market forces also has implications for the environment. In unregulated markets, production and consumption decisions are based solely on the internal costs of manufacturing, which include labor, materials, manufacturing equipment and energy. These internal costs determine the retail prices that consumers pay for products, which influences how much people consume. These costs do not, however, always reflect the true social or ecological costs of a product. Many industries generate external costs, or externalities, that are never factored into the price of a product because they are not actual production costs.22For an overview of the problem of externalities, refer to James A. Caporaso and David P. Levine, Theories of Political Economy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 89–92. For instance, industries that pollute the environment create substantial public health and environmental remediation costs that are seldom factored into the actual costs of production. Rather, these costs are borne by the entire society, by future generations, and even by other species. Because an unregulated market does not account for these external costs, the prices of products with high external costs are kept artificially low. These artificially low prices inflate consumption of the most socially and ecologically damaging products. For these reasons, market economies are ecologically unsustainable unless carefully regulated by governments that factor such costs back into the prices of goods through “green taxes” and other means.23Refer, for instance, to proposals in Henk Folmer, ed., Frontiers of Environmental Economics (Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2001); Thomas Aronsson and Karl-Gustaf Löfgren, Green Accounting and Green Taxes in the Global Economy (Umeå: University of Umeå, 1997); and Robert Repetto, Green Fees: How a Tax Shift Can Work for the Environment and the Economy (Washington, DC: World Resources Institute, 1992).

As discussed above, however, markets are not responsibly regulated within a competitive political system because the system subordinates political decision-making to market influences. Markets regulate competitive democracies rather than the other way around.

Finally, the social and environmental costs of political competition converge in the case of “environmental racism” and related environmental injustices.24Refer, for instance, to Michael Heiman, Race, Waste and Class (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996); Joan Nordquist, Environmental Racism and the Environmental Justice Movement: A Bibliography (Santa Cruz, CA: Reference and Research Services, 1995); Jonathan Petrikin, Environmental Justice (San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1995); Robert Bullard, ed., Confronting Environmental Racism: Voices from the Grassroots (Boston, Mass: South End Press, 1993). The poor, ethnic minorities, and women tend to suffer the most from the effects of environmental degradation because they are more likely to live or work in areas of increased environmental health risks and degradation. These segments of the population are least able to influence political decision-making due to their economic disenfranchisement. As a result, environmental practices that are seldom tolerated in the backyards of more affluent groups are displaced onto groups that are politically and economically marginalized. These are the people who pay most of the costs of such environmental externalities.

Perspective Exclusion and Issue Reduction

In addition to the problem of money, political competition does not provide an effective way to understand and solve complex problems because it reduces the diversity of perspectives and voices in decision-making processes. There are a number of reasons for this. First, political competition yields an adversarial model of debate which generally defaults to the premise that if one perspective is right then another perspective must be wrong. In theory, the most enlightened or informed perspective prevails. This assumes that complex issues can adequately be understood from a single perspective. However, an adequate grasp of most complex issues requires consideration of multiple, often complementary, perspectives. Complex issues tend to be multifaceted—like many-sided objects that must be viewed from different angles in order to be fully seen and understood. Different perspectives therefore reveal different facets of complex issues. Maximum understanding emerges through the careful consideration of as many facets as possible.

Political competition militates against this process because it assumes the oppositional rather than the potentially complementary character of diverse views. One cannot gain political capital at the expense of one’s opponent unless there is a winner and a loser. As a result, political competition reduces complex issues into binary oppositions in which only one perspective can prevail. This is what Blondel calls “the curse of oversimplification.”25Jean Blondel, Political Parties: A Genuine Case for Discontent? (London: Wildwood House, 1978), pp. 19–21.

This problem is exacerbated by the hyper-commercialized media sectors that are emerging in most Western societies—products of the political economy discussed above. These are driven by the logic of manufacturing mass audiences in order to sell them to advertisers. The cheapest, and therefore most profitable, way to manufacture a mass audience is through the construction of spectacle—including partisan political spectacle. Political coverage is thus reduced to a formula of sound-bite politics in which emotionally charged sloganeering becomes the ticket into the public sphere. As a result, simplistic political mantras echo throughout the public sphere, distorting the complex nature of the issues at hand, constraining public perceptions, and aggravating partisan divisions. In such a climate, it is virtually impossible to solve complex, multi-dimensional, social, and environmental problems.

A closely related consequence of this competitive model is the exclusion and inhibition of diverse voices who avoid or withdraw from the arena of public service because of its simplistic and hostile atmosphere. Such an atmosphere does not attract individuals who, by nature or nurture or some combination of the two, are neither inclined toward nor comfortable with simplistic adversarial debate—even though they may have important contributions to offer. Partisan mudslinging aside, adversarial debate does not elicit the best reasoning even among the most confident individuals. Such conditions can entirely silence less confident and less aggressive—or simply more thoughtful and caring—individuals.

By extension, adversarial contests also tend to privilege males who, again by nature or nurture or some combination of the two, tend to be more aggressive than women and thus gain the advantage within an adversarial arena.26Janice Moulton, “A Paradigm of Philosophy: The Adversary Method,” Discovering Reality: Feminist Perspectives on Epistemology, Metaphysics, Methodology, and Philosophy of Science, eds. Sandra Harding and Merrill Hintikka (Boston, MA: Kluwer Boston., 1983); Robin Lakoff, Language and Woman’s Place (New York: Harper & Row, 1975). The resulting disadvantage experienced by many women may also be experienced by some minority groups who, in order to survive, have learned to adopt cautious and guarded postures in relation to dominant social groups. Moreover, women and minorities may be further disadvantaged because even though male or dominant-group expressions of aggression are often considered natural and appropriate, the same kinds of expressions, when employed by women or subordinated minorities, are often viewed as unnatural and inappropriate. Thus the same rewards do not necessarily accrue to women and minorities for the same adversarial behaviors.27Moulton, “Adversary Method.”; Lakoff, Language and Woman’s Place.

By inhibiting and excluding various social groups in these ways, political competition and adversarial debate tends to impoverish public discourse and undermine the resolution of complex problems.

The Time-Space Problem

Partisan politics is also inherently incapable of addressing problems across time and space. Complex social and environmental issues generally require long-term planning and commitment. Competitive political systems, however, are inherently constrained by short-term planning horizons. In order to gain and maintain power, political entrepreneurs must cater to the immediate interests of their constituents so that visible results can be realized within relatively frequent election cycles. Even when long-term political commitments are made out of principle by one candidate or party, continuity is often compromised by succeeding candidates or parties who dismantle or fail to enforce the programs of their predecessors in order to distance themselves from policies they were previously compelled to oppose on the campaign trail or as the voice of opposition. The focus of campaigns and political parties on constituencies-in-the-present therefore undermines commitment to the interests of future generations. Prominent among the interests of future generations is environmental sustainability. As we degrade our environment today, we impoverish future generations.

Many social problems, from poverty to crime to drug dependency to domestic abuse, also require long-term strategies and commitments. Sustained investments in education, the strengthening of families, the creation of economic opportunities, the cultivation of ethical codes and moral values, and other approaches that yield results across generations, are required. Yet the competitive pressure to demonstrate visible actions within frequent election cycles tends to lead instead toward investments in things like new prisons and detention centers to hide the growing social underclass in many countries; new mega-schools to warehouse increasingly alienated and anonymous children and youth; and new shopping malls to distract citizens with short-term material enticements.

Furthermore, just as competitive political systems are responsive to constituents-in-the-present at the exclusion of future generations, they are also responsive to the interests of constituents-within-electoral-boundaries at the exclusion of others. This is the problem of space—or territoriality—which is especially the case at the level of the nation state owing to the absence of an effective system of global governance. Again, this has significant social and ecological implications. The supra-national nature of modern environmental issues—such as ozone depletion, global warming, acid rain, water pollution, and the management of migratory species—signals the need for unprecedented levels of global cooperation and coordination. 28World Commission on Environment and Development, Our Common Future (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987).

Competitive notions of national sovereignty, however, render the existing international system incapable of responding to these ecological imperatives. Today, cross-border coordination is sacrificed to the pursuit of national self-interests because political entrepreneurs have no choice but to cater to the interests of their own voting citizens. The consequence is an anarchic system of nation states vying with one another in their rush to convert long-term ecological capital into short-term political capital.

The problem of territoriality is equally significant when it comes to social issues. Challenges such as poverty, crime, the exploitation of women and children, human trafficking, terrorism, ethnic conflict, illegal immigration and refugee flows do not respect national boundaries any more than most ecological problems do. These problems cannot be solved by national governments alone. Yet political competition within nation states undermines effective commitment and coordination between them. Political competitors are responsive to the interests of voting constituents-within-electoral-boundaries to the exclusion of non-voters outside of those boundaries. This creates an irresistible incentive for political competitors in wealthy nations to externalize the worst manifestations of these social problems on poorer nations. Consequently, in the long run all of these problems tend to fester and spread until they again threaten the interests of the wealthiest nations. Competitive politics is not about planning for the long term; it is about securing electoral victories in the short term. Hence the problem of space is inseparable from the problem of time in competitive democracies.

The Spiritual Problem

Other challenges associated with competitive politics are less tangible, but no less important. These are the spiritual costs of partisanship and political competition. Again, these problems stem directly from the assumptions that underlie the model: that human nature is essentially selfish and competitive; that different people tend to develop conflicting interests; and that the best way to organize democratic governance is therefore through a process of interest-group competition. By organizing human affairs according to these assumptions we are institutionally cultivating our basest instincts. In the process, we become what we expect of ourselves. The Universal House of Justice has observed that “it is in the glorification of material pursuits, at once the progenitor and common feature of all such ideologies, that we find the roots which nourish the falsehood that human beings are incorrigibly selfish and aggressive. It is here that the ground must be cleared for the building of a new world fit for our descendants.”29The Universal House of Justice, “The Promise of World Peace” (Haifa: Bahá’í World Centre, 1985), p. 6.

These culturally-formed expectations, however, have no solid basis in the social and behavioral sciences. In these fields, the emerging new consensus is that human beings have the developmental potential for both egoism and altruism, competition and cooperation—and which of these potentials is more fully realized is a function of our cultural environment.30For a joint declaration of this consensus by an international assembly of social and behavioral scientists, refer to the Seville, “Statement on Violence, May 16, 1986” Medicine and War 3 (1987). Refer also to discussions in Signe Howell and Roy Willis, “Introduction,” Societies at Peace: Anthropological Perspectives, eds. Signe Howell and Roy Willis (London: Routledge, 1989); Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin, Origins: What New Discoveries Reveal About the Emergence of Our Species (London: MacDonald & Jane’s, 1977); Gary Becker, “Altruism, Egoism, and Genetic Fitness: Economics and Sociobiology,” Journal of Economic Literature 14.3 (1976); Howard Margolis, Selfishness, Altruism, and Rationality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982); Stefano Zamagni, ed., The Economics of Altruism (Aldershot, England: Edward Elgar Publishing, 1995); Teresa Lunati, “On Altruism and Cooperation,” Methodus 4. December (1992); Robert Axelrod, The Evolution of Cooperation (Basic Books: A Subsidiary of Perseus Books, L.L.C., 1984); Theodore Bergstrom and Oded Stark, “How Altruism Can Prevail in an Evolutionary Environment,” American Economic Review, Papers, and Proceedings 83.2 (1993); Rose, Steven, R. C. Lewontin, and Leon Kamin. Not in Our Genes: Biology, Ideology, and Human Nature. New York: Penguin, 1987; John Casti, “Cooperation: The Ghost in the Machinery of Evolution,” Cooperation and Conflict in General Evolutionary Processes, eds. John Casti and Anders Karlqvist (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1994); Alfie Kohn, The Brighter Side of Human Nature: Altruism and Empathy in Everyday Life (New York: Basic Books, 1990).

This insight is also familiar to many of the worlds philosophical and religious traditions. Metaphors that allude to humanity’s “lower” and “higher” nature, or “material” and “spiritual” nature, convey this insight, as does the eastern concept of “enlightenment.” However, contrary to the theory and practice of political competition, the primary impulse behind these philosophical and religious traditions has been to cultivate these more cooperative and altruistic dimensions of human nature.

The uncivil nature of much partisan discourse, alluded to at the beginning of this essay, is an inevitable outgrowth of this inversion of material and spiritual priorities. When the pursuit of self-interest comes to be understood as a virtue, and selflessness is dismissed as naïve idealism, it is not surprising that politics becomes an uncivil arena. In this regard, the reality of partisan politics is better captured by war metaphors than by the market metaphors discussed earlier in this essay. A campaign, after all, is a military term, not a market term. Like military campaigns, political campaigns are expensive. Candidates amass “campaign war chests” as they prepare to “fight” election “battles.” In an age of mass-media spectacle and sound-bite politics, this translates into an escalating cycle of negative advertising, insults, and mudslinging, as political campaigns and debates become a “war of words” conducted from “entrenched positions.”

In the abstract, debate is about ideas rather than people. In practice, however, the competitive structure of the system erases the line between ideas and people, because if your ideas do not prevail, neither does your political career. Hence political debate slides easily into the quagmire of egoism and incivility. On the sidelines, meanwhile, the public grows increasingly cynical and disaffected—yet another spiritual cost of this system.

Finally, competitive democracies exact high costs as they divide rather than unite susceptible segments of the public. Any process that routinely produces winners and losers within a population will be divisive. When governance is structured as a process of interest-group competition, the pursuit of material interests becomes more important than the cultivation of mutualistic social relationships. Furthermore, the formation of political parties, which requires the arbitrary aggregation of distinct and widely varied interests, results in the artificial construction of oppositional identity camps that become increasingly entrenched—and reified—over time. Consider, for instance, the American two-party system with its “left vs. right” or “liberal vs. conservative” camps. In reality, American collective life is characterized by countless complex issues, each of which may be viewed from multiple perspectives. However, to construct a manageable political contest, the two dominant political parties reduce all possible issues down to simple binary conflicts and then aggregate conflicting positions on every different issue into two opposing super-camps. Over time, this artificial aggregation has begun to appear natural to many people. Moreover, segments of the population that initially identified strongly with one or two salient positions in any given camp have begun to embrace other aggregated positions through simple association. The result is that diverse people, who do not naturally fall into simple oppositional camps, come over time to separate themselves into such camps—a process that can be accelerated by astute politicians who make emotionally charged “wedge issues” the centerpieces of their campaigns in an effort to create and enforce partisan loyalties. The social divisions that result are further spiritual costs of competitive democracy.


An Alternative to Political Competition

Winston Churchill once stated that “democracy is the worst form of government —except for all the other forms that have been tried.”31Winston Churchill, House of Commons, 11 November 1947.

More accurately, this statement describes competitive democracy because this is the only form of democracy that has been tried, to date, as a model of state governance. In keeping with Churchill’s sentiment, apologists defend the prevailing system with the argument that it is the most rational alternative to political tyranny or anarchy. The problems inherent in the system of political competition are simply accepted as “necessary evils.” All systems of government are imperfect, the argument goes, and competitive democracy is the best we can do.

This argument is premised, however, on the faulty assumption that processes of social innovation have come to end. According to this “end of history” thesis, the social experiments that have characterized so much of human history have finally played themselves out and Western liberal models have emerged as the only viable models of social organization.32Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Avon Books, 1993). Yet this is an entirely unsupportable thesis. Indeed, it would be more plausible to say that the history of humankind as a single interdependent species, inhabiting a common homeland, is just beginning. Under conditions of increasing global interdependence, brought on by our reproductive and technological success as a species, we have barely begun to experiment with just and sustainable models of social organization.

Processes of social innovation have clearly not come to end. The example of the international Bahá’í community suffices to illustrate this point. The Bahá’í community is a vast social laboratory within which a new model of social organization is emerging. With a current membership of around six million people, drawn from over 2000 ethnic backgrounds and residing in every nation on the planet, the community is a microcosm of the entire human race. This diverse community has constructed a unique system of democratically-elected assemblies that govern Bahá’í affairs internationally, nationally, and locally in over 15,000 communities throughout the planet.33Bahá’í World Centre, The Bahá’í World 1996-97 (Haifa: World Centre Publications, 1998).

Significantly, in many parts of the world, the first exercises in democratic activity have occurred within these Bahá’í communities.

The Bahá’í electoral system is entirely non-partisan and non-competitive. In brief, all adult community members are eligible for election and every member has the reciprocal duty to serve if elected. At the same time, nominations, campaigning, and all forms of solicitation are prohibited. Voters are guided only by their own consciences as they exercise real freedom of choice in voting for those they believe best embody the qualities of recognized ability, mature experience, and selfless service to others. Through a plurality count, the nine individuals that receive the most votes are called to serve as members of the governing assembly.34For further details regarding Bahá’í electoral principles and practices, refer to the Universal House of Justice, ed., Bahá’í Elections: A Compilation (London: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1990).

Because no one seeks election, elections are not a pathway to power and privilege. On the contrary, elections are a call to service and the elected sacrifice their time and energy, and often their career aspirations, at the bidding of the community. As a matter of principle, and also because there is no incentive, no one calls attention to themselves or solicits votes in any way. In fact, Bahá’ís interpret solicitation of votes as an indicator of egoism and a lack of fitness to serve.

All decision-making within these assemblies is, in turn, guided by consultative principles that enable decision-making to be a unifying rather than a divisive process. These principles include striving to enter the process with no pre-conceived positions or platforms; regarding diversity as an asset and soliciting the perspectives, concerns, and expertise of others; striving to transcend the limitations of one’s own ego and perspective; striving to express oneself with care and moderation; striving to raise the context of decision-making to the level of principle; and striving for consensus but settling for a majority when necessary.35For details regarding Bahá’í consultative principles and practices, refer to the Universal House of Justice, ed., Consultation: A Compilation (Wilmette, IL: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1980).

Unlike competitive systems in which decision-makers must continually negotiate the demands of constituents, campaign contributors, lobbyists, and activists, the Bahá’í system is shielded from external lobbying and other pressures to influence decisions. This is accomplished in two ways. First, as discussed above, those who are elected to assemblies do not seek election and they have no interest in re-election. Elected members are not political entrepreneurs seeking to build or retain political capital and campaign financing opportunities do not exist because there are no campaigns. Second, elected members decide matters through the application of principle, according to the promptings of their own consciences (one of the primary qualities for which they were elected), and not according to the dictates or pressures of competing interest groups. In this regard, elected members are expected to weigh all of their decisions in a principled manner, even if this means forgoing immediate local or short-term benefits out of consideration for the welfare of distant peoples or future generations.36Refer, for instance, to discussions of these themes in the Bahá’í International Community, United Nations, “Prosperity—an Oral Statement Presented to the Plenary of the United Nations World Summit on Social Development” (Copenhagen, Denmark: 1995); see also the BIC UN, Statement on Nature (New York: 1988).

In all of these ways, the Bahá’í electoral system embodies neither a contest nor the pursuit of power. Since no one seeks election, there is no concept of “winning.” At the same time, the electoral process remains eminently democratic. This model has been used for more than three-quarters of a century within the Bahá’í community, which, as it grows in capacity and prominence, is increasingly attracting the attention of outside observers.37United Nations Institute for Namibia, Comparative Electoral Systems & Political Consequences: Options for Namibia, Namibia Studies Series No 14, ed. N. K. Duggal (Lusaka, Zambia: United Nations, 1989), pp. 6–7.


Beyond the Hegemony of Political Competition

As the example of the Bahá’í community illustrates, processes of social innovation have clearly not come to an end. Given the problems inherent in partisan systems, along with their rising social and ecological costs, why are democratic populations not actively searching for alternatives to political competition? To answer this question, some historical context is helpful. Current forms of competitive democracy arose from the thinking of emerging political classes at the dawn of the industrial revolution. These emerging political classes were trying to wrestle absolute power away from the aristocracy. Competitive democracy advanced the interests of these classes because it ended absolute rule while, at the same time, it continued to privilege the exercise of wealth and power. This opened the arena of governance to merchants and lesser landowners and other people of means, while limiting the influence of the under-classes.

Although the transition to competitive democracy was marked by violent revolution and the threat of revolution in many countries, the force of ideas played a powerful role in fomenting these transitions, and an even more powerful role in buttressing and sustaining systems of political competition once they were established. This was possible because the same political classes who benefited most from the contest model were increasingly occupying positions of cultural leadership—as statesmen, writers, philosophers, educators, and so forth—through which, either consciously or unconsciously, they were able to cultivate and sustain assumptions regarding human nature and social organization that underlie the contest model.

The Italian theorist Antonio Gramsci described this form of cultural influence with remarkable insight in the first half of the twentieth century.38Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci, eds. Quinton Hoare and Geoffrey N Smith (New York: International Publishers, 1971). His concept of hegemony has since entered the lexicon of cultural theorists around the world and it provides a useful framework for understanding the emergence and perpetuation of these contest models. In brief, Gramsci borrowed the term hegemony, which traditionally referred to the geo-political dominance of some states over others, and he reworked it to refer to the cultural dominance of some social classes over others. Gramsci pointed out that geo-political hegemony, which is achieved and maintained largely by force, is an obvious focus of resistance by oppressed populations and is therefore relatively difficult to maintain over time. Cultural hegemony, on the other hand, is achieved and maintained through the cultivation of “common sense” belief systems which are less visible and which therefore generate less resistance. In other words, if privileged social groups can naturalize the existing social order in the minds of subordinate groups, the latter will unconsciously consent to their own subordination.

An example of this can be seen in the traditional exclusion of women from many arenas of public life. This exclusion was reinforced by the cultivation of “common sense” notions regarding the “appropriate” role of women in society. Of course, not all women accepted these notions and many struggled against them. Yet, remarkably, many women did accept these notions, as demonstrated by women who organized in opposition to women’s suffrage movements on the “common sense” conviction (among others) that the moral purity of women would be compromised by their entrance into public life and that the entire social fabric would thereby be weakened.39Robert Cholmeley, The Women’s Anti-Suffrage Movement (London: National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, 1970); Jane Adams, “Better Citizens without the Ballot: American Anti-Suffrage Women and Their Rationale During the Progressive Era,” One Woman, One Vote: Rediscovering the Woman Suffrage Movement, ed. Marjorie Wheeler (Troutledge, OR: NewSage Press, 1995).

The theory of cultural hegemony is also useful in explaining the widespread consent given to prevailing systems of competitive democracy. Consider again the assumptions that this system rests upon: that human nature is essentially selfish and competitive; that different people develop conflicting interests; and that the best way to organize democratic governance is through a process of interest-group competition. These cultivated “common sense” assumptions have become part of the popular worldview—even though they do not serve the interests of most people. These assumptions are cultivated in civics classes and political science courses within our educational systems; they are cultivated in our mass media systems; and they are cultivated through institutionalized forms of competitive behavior that structure activity in our political, legal, and economic systems. All of these systems, however, are cultural constructs that embody the values, interests, and beliefs of the privileged political classes who constructed them.

This is not to suggest a conscious conspiracy on the part of those who benefit from the existing social order. This order often appears natural and inevitable to those who benefit from it because people tend to have an unconscious affinity for ideas that promote their own interests.40Refer, for instance, to the concept of elective affinity articulated in Max Weber, From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, trans. H.H. Girth and C. Wright Mills (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1946) 62-63 and 284-85. See also W Clement, The Canadian Corporate Elite: An Analysis of Economic Power (Ottawa: McClelland and Stewart, 1975), pp. 92 and 283–284.

When these people also happen to be from educated and affluent social groups who control the means of cultural production (i.e., education, media, and other social institutions), it is quite natural that they end up cultivating, within the wider population, beliefs for which they themselves have a natural and unconscious affinity. Indeed, members of these influential social groups may be acting out of the most sincere motives while contributing to this process of cultivation, because they may have come to believe that the existing social order benefits everyone in the same way it benefits themselves. The result, whether intentional or not, is a powerful form of cultural hegemony.

How then does a population transcend the constraints of its culturally-structured consciousness? Furthermore, how can this occur in a manner that does not result in further conflict—which would only reinforce the assumptions about human nature and social order that underlie and buttress the prevailing system of political competition? The metaphor of a game can be helpful to answer these questions. Cultural institutions—like our system of competitive democracy—can be understood as “games” that operate according to specific sets of “rules.”41Refer, for example, to Ludwick Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, trans. G. Anscombe (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1974); Raymond Cohen, International Politics: The Rules of the Game (London: Longman, 1981); and J. S. Ganz, Rules: A Systematic Study (Paris: Mouton, 1971). The rules of competitive democracy ensure not only that there will be winners and losers, but that the most powerful players are most likely to win. When less powerful players agree to join in this game they are consenting to play by rules that tend to promote their own defeat. Adversarial strategies of social change are consistent with these competitive rules. They simultaneously legitimize the old game while they ensure that the most powerful players continue to prevail within it.42For a more in depth discussion of this problem, refer to Michael Karlberg, “The Paradox of Protest in a Culture of Contest,” Peace & Change, 2003 (28), pp. 329–351.

There is, however, another strategy. That strategy is to withdraw time and energy from the old game in order to construct a new one. The only thing perpetuating the old game is the fact that the majority of people consent to the rules. If an alternative game becomes more attractive (i.e., it demonstrates increased social justice and environmental sustainability), then it will begin to draw increasing numbers of people to it (i.e., the majority of people whose interests and values are not well served by the old game). If enough people stop playing by the old rules and start playing by new ones, the old game will come to an end not through protest and conflict but through attrition.

This strategy is one of constructionattraction, and attrition. It is entirely non adversarial and it reconciles the means of social change with the ends of a peaceful, just, and sustainable social order. Social change does not require defeating oppressors or attacking those who profit most from the old rules. Rather, it requires that we recognize the hegemonic nature of the old game, withdraw our time and energy from it, and invest that time and energy in the construction of a new one.

Increasing numbers of people are beginning to intuitively recognize this. Non partisan electoral and decision-making models are beginning to emerge in many sectors, through constructive experiments with social change. Most of these experiments are still below the radar of many political observers because non-governmental organizations, rather than states, have taken the lead in this regard. Yet these emerging models constitute important socio-political experiments.

Again, the example of the international Bahá’í community is instructive. Bahá’ís believe that partisan models of governance have become anachronistic and problematic in an age of increasing global interdependence. Yet Bahá’ís do not protest or attack existing partisan systems. On the contrary, Bahá’ís express loyalty and obedience to whatever governmental systems they live within and they may exercise their civic responsibilities to vote in those societies that afford the opportunity to do so. At the same time, Bahá’ís avoid active participation in partisan politics in order to focus their energy instead on the construction of an alternative system of governance which they offer as a model for others to study. Experiences such as these provide naturally occurring experiments that we would do well to monitor and learn from—if not participate in.



The prevailing system of competitive democracy is proving itself unjust and unsustainable in an age of increasing global interdependence. Yet this system is not repairable because its problems lie in its deepest internal assumptions. The corrupting influence of money, the exclusion of diverse perspectives, the inability to solve complex issues, the short-term planning horizons, the lack of cross-boundary coordination, the rise of incivility and mean-spiritedness, the aggravation of social divisions, the cultivation of public cynicism and disaffection, and the generally corrosive effect on the human spirit—these are the culmination of this system, the sour fruit inherent in its seeds.

“How long will humanity persist in its waywardness?” asks Bahá’u’lláh, “How long will injustice continue? How long is chaos and confusion to reign amongst men? How long will discord agitate the face of society? The winds of despair are, alas, blowing from every direction, and the strife that divideth and afflicteth the human race is daily increasing.”43Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, (Wilmette, Il: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 2005), p. 216. Available at

By Horace Holley


It was only a few generations ago when the people ceased thinking that man, with the animals and plants, inhabited a world composed of “dead” matter. Life was conceived to be that which could think, feel, move or at least which could grow and reproduce.

As the notion of “life” has become extended until it includes all matter, all substance, and every ingredient and constituent of substance, so has the notion of religion developed until it applies to the whole of man. No longer is religion confined, like a small island in a great sea, to that little area of belief and practice specialized under the influence of a formal creed. It is the entire human life, its conscious and unconscious elements, its personal and social relationships, its affirmations and denials, its triumphs and defeats, its hidden as well as its revealed awareness and action, its unrealized possibility along with its recognized, admitted frustration and impotence.

The real aim of the physical sciences is fulfilled in knowledge of man. The physical and chemical principles discovered in the world have meaning only as they are principles of human life. Man himself is the universe in miniature. Physical science thus becomes part of a larger science of biology, and biological science in turn becomes a chapter in the greater volume of the human science, psychology.

A man’s whole life, and not merely his conscious creedal practice, is his religion. His highest love is conditioned by his profoundest hate; his supreme sacrifice is limited by his unconscious selfishness; his ideals and his daily life are a single reality, one and inseparable.

The social sciences likewise are dependent for their validity on human psychology. When a science calling itself “economics” gives official sanction for cruel indifference; when a science calling itself “politics” finds imperatives for armed frontiers, this lack of agreement between these social sciences and the sanctions of the separate department of human life called “religion” does not mean that men live in three separate worlds, obeying three mutually exclusive “laws” – it means simply that a general failure in the realm of motive and understanding has projected itself outward into society, and this failure men try to conceal from themselves and each other by labelling the anti-religious actions one or another “science.”

But just as these evasions and attempts at concealment in personal life sooner or later come to a balance of accounts with every other element of the personality, so the elaborate myth called “civilization” has now become rent to fragments as the social “sciences” and the formal creeds alike eventuate in a society which as a whole does not know how to survive. It matters not which element of the whole result is made the scapegoat – whether formal “religion” or “economics” or “politics” – the truth is that man himself has failed in his social relationships, and this failure in turn rests upon failure in his relationship to himself. The fictitious separation of life into formal departments, each with an exclusive label, has been an unconscious evasion of reality the final result of which was inevitable from the beginning.

On no other basis can we erect a spiritual knowledge preserving the responsibility on which integrity depends.




At some definite point of experience, the conscious person comes to realize the oneness of the universe and the wholeness of human personality. His formal religious beliefs undergo profound adjustment as he perceives their artificial separateness from the rest of his existence. Able no longer to isolate “Sunday” from the remaining days of the week, his new sense of cause and effect compels him to fit his religious values into experience as a whole. This adjustment in some cases enhances the whole of life with new spiritual possibility; in other cases what had been a mere artificial belief or practise is destroyed, and life as a whole becomes secular and without spiritual content. The philosophic projection of this awareness is pantheism or atheism – both are based upon an effort to realize the universe as homogeneous, as one. The only difference between pantheism and atheism is that the former raises everything to the “high” level of God, or Spirit, or Providence while the latter reduces everything to the “low” level of matter and natural law.

The similarity between pantheism and atheism is more vital than the difference. Both philosophies establish one single level; both maintain a view of the universe which interprets experience in terms of cause and effect operating on one plane. There is little real distinction between realizing all substance as “God” and realizing all experience as subject to natural law; for both views deprive one of the necessity of making any truly vital choice.

The realization of oneness, in fact, is but a starting point in the search for religion. Religion is distinctiveness as well as universality.

Historically, religion has a definite point of origin. No religion has come into existence without a Founder, a Prophet or Messiah.

Whether one considers Christianity, Judaism, Muhammadanism or any other organic religion historically, what appears is the phenomenon of religion as an experience suddenly interposed into the current stream of human life. This interposition compels the most vital choice or decision which life can offer. It creates a new standard of reality rising like a mountain from the plain of daily intercourse. Its influence sets the individual against his own past, and historically has always made a definite cleavage in the course of civilization. The prophet becomes identified with a higher possibility in the present, which necessarily divides the future from the past. Life tends to become dynamic and assert new directions, while the past exists in the present as inertia.



Religious history is meaningless when conceived merely as a time sequence without reference to the fundamental law of cycles. We take for granted the existence of this law whenever dealing with natural phenomena: the cycle of life operating for the tree from seed to fruit, for the human being from birth to death, even for the stars of immensest magnitude. But societies and social institutions seldom or never admit that for their own existence there is also an allotted period, the beginning of which is their birth, the end of which is their destruction, during the course of which they rise to a climax of maturity and power, receding thereafter until eventually they are no more. Tracing this development in Judaism we come to the civilization of Solomon, a glory that could not be retained. In Christianity we have the feudal age, when religion could he completely identified with civilization after which the Reformation destroyed the unity not only of the church but of the civilization as well. Here stands the origin of “modern” times, which actually have been the autumn and winter of faith. On one side has existed an alliance between national state, natural science, industry and militarism; on the other side the tradition of feudal aristocracy, the memory of a living unifying faith, the organization of the church.

Both phases in reality proceeded from the same prior condition. One can not be termed “Christian” and the other “pagan” or “non-Christian” with the slightest historical accuracy. For modern militarism, justified as the necessary virtue of the national state, derives immediately from the Crusades, justified as the necessary virtue of the church. The profit motive, justified as the necessary virtue of industry, derives immediately from the practice of the sale of indulgences, justified as the necessary virtue of the church. If modern science is condemned as “pagan,” a vast power delivered over to the secular realm, it must be recalled that the first faint beginnings of natural science were so resisted by the church that the scientists were compelled to develop their knowledge outside the religious community.

The Reformation, then, merely marks the point at which the historical religion has reaped its harvest, produced its richest fruit; and consequently could no longer maintain its internal unity nor its balance between religion and civilization.

The law of cycles operates in the case of religions and nations no less imperatively than in the case of trees, animals, planets and human beings. This law may for a time appear inoperative where the larger social bodies are concerned, but this is merely for the reason that man has yet attained no adequate sense of historical process, and also because even after a great social institution has died spiritually it can still survive physically for a relatively long period. But when a religion ceases to be the motive and inspiration of civilization, its date of death is recorded in the annals of destiny. And once this spiritual death has taken place, the religion can never be artificially revived.

The “modern” world, striving to transform nationalism into world order, overcome the antagonism of economic classes and reconcile peoples and creeds, is nothing else than a larger example of ancient Rome striving to maintain order, justice and law after its original impulse had ebbed and the creative power had passed from the imperial government to the weak, despised and minority body of Christians, reborn by the mystery of superhuman faith. Our social institutions are more powerful to destroy than to create; no matter how conscientiously administered, without transformation they are vessels not built to outride this time of worldwide storm.



When the creative power of spirit is withdrawn from the community as a whole, and the parts of the community engage in mutual struggle for predominance or survival, the life cycle of that social order has run its course.

Such is the nature of the present crisis. The old order was based historically upon Christianity in the West, upon Muhammanadism and other Faiths in the East. Each Faith had, in accordance with the principle underlying human society, developed a characteristic civilization representing a balance between legal, cultural, economic and social factors. All these regional civilizations had arrived at that stage in the cyclic process marked by the weakening of the original religious impulse, which bound the civilization together in one organism, and by the assertion of the superiority of the constituent parts over the whole.

As in Christianity a few centuries ago, so in Muhammadanism today, law, government, education and industry have thrown off the control of the religious tradition and undergone separate development, each seeking a fulfilment in terms of its own independent need and without reference to the general need of the community in its spiritual as well as material integrity. This development is more complete in the West, but the history of Europe since the Reformation has been paralleled in all essentials by the more recent experience of Turkey, Egypt and Iran.

The crucial point in this development is the transfer of social authority from a religious organization, by which it has been fatally abused, to a secular organisation explicitly claiming to be unmoral. At the stage of religious decay where this transfer of authority takes place, the secular government cannot control the entire area previously controlled by the religious influence. The transfer is characterized by the rise of several independent secular governments which divide the body of believers into separate, and potentially competitive nations. Western nationality arose from the spiritual death of Christendom, and the nations of Islam are similarly independent and exclusive.

The next step in the process, which in reality is disintegration and not “progress” except in a local and temporary degree, consists in the reinforcement of the secular (unmoral) authority by such laws and instruments as it deems necessary to protect itself in the rapidly augmenting struggle for national existence. Religion is replaced by patriotism of an exclusive nature, and the social duty of man becomes defense of his national state. Militarism inevitably develops. Compulsory military duty, found necessary as economic rivalry follows the original territorial competition of the states, sets mankind upon the path of death. In the modern world this complete divorce between spiritual and material values, enmeshing human life in a fatal net as economic and social existence come to depend upon struggle and competition rather than upon unity and cooperation, establishes a point of crisis imperilling the race. Authority, power and initiative throughout society are identified with unmoral institutions whose fiat controls a system of destruction well-nigh universal in capacity. On the other hand, the spiritual tradition of each race has become sterile, for ecclesiasticism is the negation of faith.

Such a jungle of competitive nationalism seems to reproduce, in terms of social organizations, the era of the pre-historic monsters marking an early stage in the biological evolution of the world of nature. Forms of life organized almost entirely for offense and defense had little available energy for the kind of response required in a changing world. Evolution left them behind. Their towering strength was their fatal weakness, and in their enormous aggressiveness they had no capacity to survive.

In the same way, the present stage of armed, competitive nationalism is essentially transitory and fugitive. The more aggressive it becomes, the less its capacity to meet social problems the only solution of which is non-aggression – cooperation. The states have waxed powerful upon the poverty of the people; their might is an illusion. They can destroy themselves by one final outburst of general war; or a series of revolutions, each perhaps small and almost unnoted, will evolve from them a type of government intelligent enough to deal with social relationships and moral enough to summon the highest and not the lowest impulses of an evolving race.

The key to future social evolution lies in the capacity for transformation rather than in mere progress and extension along the lines fixed by our prior history. For progress is the law of the cycle, but transformation is the sign that a cycle has run its term and a new age has dawned.

It is evolutionary progress when a form of life becomes larger, or fleeter by adaptation to its environment. This type of progress marks the biological world, where the natural environment is fundamentally constant. Likewise, when the social environment remains fundamentally constant, an institution progresses by growth in ways determined by its original character and aim.

Unlike nature, the social environment is subject to profound alteration. The development of machine production was more than progress from a small tool to a larger tool; it brought about an entirely different kind of society. Action and re-action in an industrialized society are not simply enlargement of the action and re-action of an agricultural, hand-craft society – they respond in quality to a different law. The plane has been raised from physical effort to intelligence.

As long as the simple law of progress applies to human society, the evil will be multiplied along with the good, the destruction will augment by the same ratio as the construction.

The symbol of transformation in the natural world is the organism like the butterfly, which at one stage is an egg, at the next stage is a caterpillar, becomes then a chrysalis in its cocoon, thence emerging as imago, the perfect insect with beautifully coloured wings. Applying the law of simple progress to this organism at any preliminary stage, we would have merely a larger egg, or a greater caterpillar or a larger and stronger cocoon. Metamorphosis is the scientific equivalent of that organic change which takes place in human society at those critical stages marked by the cycles of religion.

It is by no means necessary to contemplate a simple extension into the future of the social agencies dominating this transitional era. The progress of national government into empire is strictly limited by inter-state competition, and the progress of religion into the condition of world empire by any one creed is no less impossible.



The impermanence of the several civilizations now existing becomes clear when we give attention to the non-social character of the religions from which they separately sprang.

In the saying, “Give unto Caesar” we are compelled to note that the Founder of Christianity limited His spiritual teaching to persons, to individuals, and refrained from extending that teaching to establish a principle for society. The character and scope of the Christian teaching, at its source, clearly contemplated an era during which individuals were to cultivate a spiritual life, purifying their inner motives and assuming responsibility for their deeds, in contrast to and complete disregard of their social institutions. They were to seek a Kingdom in the realm of the awakened and conscious soul, but the world was Caesar’s and the successors of Caesar.

Moreover, that doctrine, at its source, does not fail to include a social principle alone: it is in essence a doctrine of the “heart” and makes no provision for the life of the mind. It justifies no particular social form, creates a basis for no particular type of social institution, and in nowise explains those aspects of life and the universe which constitute the ends of psychology and philosophy. It renewed man’s inner life, it revealed more fully than ever before the nature of God and the spiritual capacity of human beings; it released a quality of personal relationships on the high plane required to maintain the new vision of the sanctity of life; but Christianity, at its source and in its reality, supports no political principle, sustains no economic theory, outlines no cosmogony, throws no light upon man’s relation to the physical universe, and sanctions no conception of the function of mind.

These organic limitations, posed not by absence of power at the Source but by lack of capacity in the environment and age, mark a cycle whose term was set at its beginning. It signalizes one necessary stage in the evolution of religion, or rather in the upward march of conscious human life, but finality is entirely absent, because the requisite foundation in revealed truth for the wholeness of life was not spiritually established. Unlike a scientific formula, religious truth does not continue indefinitely and independent of the way it is applied. While a chemical action can be employed for good or evil ends with equal efficiency, a spiritual truth, to possess validity, must include the vital element represented by the believer’s quality of response. When the quality of response has fallen below the level of the aim implied in the truth, the truth becomes void of influence. The living impulse sent forth from its Source has been expended; what remains is a form of words, a lifeless symbol, a ceremony possessing psychic but not spiritual effect.

Civilization is the outworking of spiritual faith. That faith inspires fresh courage, removes the barriers of personality and groups, stimulates the mind to solve necessary problems from the point of view of the society as a whole, establishes a foundation of human reality raised above the bestial struggle for existence, and enables mankind to take one more forward step in its progress upon the eternal path.

There is, however, no historical permanence for any civilization equivalent to the universality of revelation upon the plane of soul. Until mankind is united within one true faith and within one order of justice and knowledge, the need of the renewal and enlargement of spiritual truth is manifest to all.



The external surface of human life, as recorded by sympathetic observers in every country, has become marked by appalling personal misery. Its innumerable details constitute a catalog which oppresses the heart like a Book of Doom. By war, by influenza, by poverty and by revolution a vast number of people have been reduced to a narrow margin of existence we thought had been left behind with the memories of the stone age before history began.

But this external surface does not reflect the entire content of modern life. The observer who concentrates all his attention upon the evidences of misfortune and suffering must be balanced by those who look with equal clarity beneath physical evidence to the inner surface and the foundations upon which human life is established. The world of the mind is rich with infinite possibilities, in tragic contrast to the poverty of the world of the body.

From the world of truth, as from an inexhaustible mine, we have derived truly miraculous reinforcement for the feeble body in its eternal struggle against the environment of nature. No longer need human aspiration and will be limited in fulfillment by the inadequate tool of hand and arm, directed by the inaccurate and incomplete guidance of the five physical senses. Mechanisms as sensitive as thought itself, as powerful as human ambition requires, stand as servants ready to carry out any material command. However far imagination may fly ahead, it can reach no ultimate limit beyond which the creative thought of the race dare not go.

But these two worlds, the world of body and the world of mind, though man lives native in both, appear to co-exist independently, in a relationship which is a separation no less than it is a contact. The scientist’s achievement in the form of truth has no human equivalent in the form of social security. The inventor’s technic has complicated existence but multiplied poverty. The world of truth is the modern Tantalus cup, offering what life cannot receive, even while it is likened to the slave of the lamp, fulfilling every command.

Social systems and programs devised during the last hundred years have one and all been efforts to confirm the contact and overcome the separation between the world of truth and the world of human experience. They have sought to mediate between the possibility of mind and the actuality of social need. What thought has accomplished in efficiency of mechanism it has endeavored to duplicate in efficiency of human relations. But every system and program combining the possibility of scientific truth with the social ingredient of human nature has produced not order but an increase of conflict. What appears perfectly fused in the crucible of abstract speculation reasserts its duality when put to the test of life. Socialism, communism, capitalism fundamentalist or reformed—all these systems alike—are unmistakably incapable of reconciling and blending the worlds of body and mind, the truths of science and society. The more that arbitrary power is applied to compel their acceptance as programs, the more explosive becomes the reaction of the human nature coerced in the name of efficiency and truth. Ours is not the first civilization to be brought to an end by mental capacity devoid of spiritual truth.

The unescapable historic fact is that the mediator between universe and humanity, the link between the world of truth and the world of social experience, has never been the speculative mind but the Prophet. The mind discovers only that which it seeks; its voyages of exploration bring back only that reality which can be confined in the small cage of material reason. The universe is not such captive truth, such mastered knowledge. The universe is the Will above and beyond man’s physical will; that Will by which man must become and not merely possess, by which man must serve and not merely enslave to himself. The life and words of a Moses, a Jesus, a Muhammad, by the spirit inspiring them are truth. Within that truth, since it contains man and is not merely man’s exploitation of what he contains, the life of the race is secure and progressive. Outside that truth, human existence moves ever toward destruction; for the Prophet is truth in that form in which it applies to the life of mankind.

By each Prophet is established a new civilization, because each Prophet establishes a spiritual world for the soul not less real than the nature which is the world of the body. The modern age, in all its social relationships, lies outside the spiritual world. Hence its agony, its frustration physical and mental, the degradation of an unrepentant Prodigal Son.



Never has there been such a time of sincere, whole-hearted searching for a foundation grounded not upon secondary, temporary historical events and developments but upon the nature of the universe itself.

This age, in its spirit, feels nearer to the ancient Prophets than has any generation since the first generation of believers laid down their lives that the divine Cause might prevail. Not in Christendom alone, but in the other existing civilizations, the appeal to the pure manifestation of love and wisdom, the racial Prophet, has become for many the last refuge of hope that human life can endure, can be meaningful and blessed upon this troubled earth.

Between themselves and that radiant Source of hope they feel the long centuries of strife and ignorance fading to the unreality of a frantic dream. Let mankind, they cry from the depths of their souls, let mankind make a new beginning; let life rest upon the sure foundation of the Divine will; let us become transformed, renewed with a new spirit, and in that spirit proceed to transform all things which are in denial of or in conflict with that eternal will. The nations hurry to destruction, they lament, when vision perishes. From this undying flame let our hearts and minds be kindled with the fire of love.

As the crisis persists, this call, feeble at first, becomes louder and more assured. First a personal attitude, then a social movement, gathering force and momentum, the going back to the Prophet now represents a mighty psychological crusade paralleling the physical crusades of medieval times.

To what degree can this movement be fulfilled?

The Prophet himself made a fundamental condition, that those who sought to follow him should abandon their goods, their wealth, and walk in his path. This was said to a rich man’s son, but does it not apply likewise to those who have inherited goods and wealth in the realm of mind? Does it not mean that those who seek to return today must abandon their acquired culture, their traditional philosophy, their ecclesiastical institutions, their rites and ceremonies, their pomp of church and churchly power? Either it means this, or it means nothing at all, for the Prophet was not slain by the materially rich of his day, he was slain by order of the established church.

For Christendom, surely, the sincerity of all effort to establish life upon Divine rather than upon human will must be tested by conformity to the conditions its own Prophet laid down. When the churches voluntarily disband, and people of all denominations and sects seek the Prophet upon absolutely equal terms, then, and then alone, will this psychological crusade reach the Holy Land. As long as certain individual believers alone fulfil this test, the movement will not affect the vital problems of civilization but remain in the limited realm of personal experience. It may produce a beautiful literature; it will not carry civilization outside its captivity to the lords of war.

There is also, it would appear, another essential condition to be met in this poignant appeal from the world to God: the recognition that other races likewise had their Prophets, their revelations of the Divine will. For without such recognition, the crusade goes hostile and armed, a challenge to battle and not a conquest of universal peace. These two conditions—at root one condition seen in two different aspects—may fairly be said to be so difficult of realization as to be highly improbable, if not impossible, at least without one single precedent in human history. Rivers flow downhill; and the water once descended from its spring does not return.



A contemporary historian remarks that the old world has died, but a new world has not yet been born. This view is no doubt the expression of an attitude which has come to prevail among many thoughtful people over a wide social area. It perceives that the foundation of the civilization existing prior to the European War cannot be rebuilt; it realizes to the full the present instability of conditions and the lack of agreement among aims and programs; it frankly admits that the future, both in general trend and in outline, is concealed from the rational mind. Its clarity of analysis of the past is matched by its incapacity for synthesis directed toward the future.

What emerges from consideration of this frank and sincere assertion is awareness of the artificial limitation assumed by the rational intelligence in dealing with the process of human history. By the phrase “old world” and “new world” it means civilization as formal institutions and established habits, and thereby overlooks the significant fact that civilization is an effect and not primarily a cause.

For civilization, long before it emerges in formal institutions, exists as an aspiration of the heart, as an ideal to be pursued and fulfilled by every faculty of mind and soul. It is only when human aspiration and ideal, shared by a considerable group or community, has gathered force and thrust through to the plane of social action, that civilization actually begins. Without this preliminary period of spiritual action, no civilization has ever become manifest. That period is to the later formal institutions and habits and doctrines as the root to the visible tree. Though the entire tree is potentially present in the seed, the great trunk and the widespread branches are contingent upon a period of prior and invisible growth within the soil.

To complete the thoughtful statement uttered by the historian, it is necessary to seek for the future “world” not in different programs and expedients adopted by the institutions of the dead “world” but in evidences of a spiritual life intense enough, universal enough, to establish within humanity that inner power required to raise the trunk and spread forth the branches of a tree whose fruit shall be universal peace.

World order, it is clear, represents a goal which includes the reconciliation of two values or ideals: the spiritual value of human brotherhood, and the social value of a united, an organic civilization. Without a firm and enduring basis in moral unity, the institutions of society, no matter how far extended, cannot alone produce peace but will remain as centers of disunity and strife. On the other hand, those instinctive anarchists who preach a “brotherhood” conceived as absence of governmental institutions are naïve and immature. Society without institutions would be a body without vital organs capable of expressing its various capacities and maintaining its existence.

These two values—humanity and civilization—have never been reconciled and united within the brief historic period known to the present age. We have had races but not mankind, cultures but not spiritual knowledge, nations but not civilization, and religions but not a brotherhood embracing the earth. We therefore approach the vital problem of world peace without experience of what world peace really is. World order—the goal of human evolution—cannot rightly be conceived as a mere truce or treaty between groups or institutions each born of past strife and discord, each cherishing a secret or avowed superiority and each committed to an ideal of sovereignty incompatible with the needs of permanent peace. Nor can world order be effectively upheld on terms of “non-cooperation” with existing agencies responsible for the little public order which now remains. Peace does not consist in abhorrence of war but in maintaining a steadfast conviction that the end of faith is human unity and the fulfilment of intelligence is a new social form, worldwide in scope and superior to the local forms which can no longer protect mankind and serve its highest interests.

In addition to a political world order, the attainment of universal peace involves:

  1. The harmony and cooperation of races.
  2. The unity of religions in a world faith.
  3. An economic world order in which capital and labor are conjoined in a relationship of partners and not competitors.
  4. Compulsory education throughout the world, and an education grounded in universal ethics and adapted so as to prepare every child for a useful trade, art or profession.
  5. A universal secondary language.

Compared to these organic aims, the peace efforts aimed at occasional details such as reduction of armaments or the signing of new treaties are insignificant. The character of this age is wholly new. It is charged with a spirit of transformation superficially violent but in reality constructive. The whole problem of world order consists in attaining an attitude of reverence and humility to that creative spirit.

The principles briefly stated here were promulgated more than twenty years ago by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, in whom the spirit of the age found its most faithful interpreter and its noblest exemplar. He declared that humanity is entering upon its period of maturity, when powers will be given the world to achieve an organic unity never possible in any previous age. But ‘Abdu’l-Bahá made the enjoyment of these powers conditional upon purity of motive and acceptance of the oneness of mankind. Not for the people of prejudice and division, not for the organized selfishness of the rich nor the organized envy of the poor, but for those who have become truly human the day of universal peace has dawned. The way backward has become a door that is forever closed. Revolutions and wars bring no lasting fruit; arbitrary social laws, divorced from human values, bring no true security nor repose. The world needs a central point of inspiration raised above the clamors of history, a divine element, to supply a foundation for the latent unity within all people of good will.

“The foundations of all the divine religions are peace and agreement, but misunderstandings and ignorance have developed. If these are caused to disappear you will see that all the religious agencies will work for peace and promulgate the oneness of humankind. For the foundation of all is reality, and reality is not multiple or divisible. His Holiness Moses founded it, His Holiness Jesus raised its tent, and its brilliant light has shone forth in all the regions. His Holiness Bahá’u’lláh proclaimed this one reality and spread the message of the ‘Most Great Peace.’”

By Horace Holley

To an unprecedented degree, the power of constructive thought has been released from the realm of private affairs for study of the basic social structure, as responsible men in all countries have since the European War come to realize their new obligation to give concern to the general problem of depression and unrest.

The time is therefore favourable for more widespread knowledge of the fact that a plan of world order was advanced more than 50 years ago which not only anticipates many proposals now receiving serious consideration, but rests upon the substantial foundation of a true analysis of the malady afflicting modern life.

It is, in fact, a matter of importance for the serious student of current conditions, whether his interest is primarily economic, political or sociological, to learn that a body of literature has existed for two generations in which are to be found explicit principles and teachings meeting the very difficulties now so profoundly felt throughout the world.

The world economy of Bahá’u’lláh transcends in scope and purpose the belated response to the risk of calamity made by economists and statesmen under the pressure of events in recent years. His principles are established upon organic laws of human evolution. They interpret the modern problem not as a temporary maladjustment of industry and trade – the effects of an “industrial revolution” – but as a movement in humanity itself. They make the necessary connection between the spiritual and practical affairs of men which alone can breathe the breath of life into any social mechanism.

Careful study of this body of literature makes it apparent that Bahá’u’lláh stood at that major turning-point of social evolution where the long historic trend toward diversity – in language, custom, civil and religious codes and economic practises – came to an end, and the movement was reversed in the direction of unity. The human motive in the new era is necessarily cooperative.

From this point of view it becomes clear that the European War and the uninterrupted sequence of international disturbances since 1918 are, essentially, vital indications that by sheer spiritual inertia humanity has continued to function under the old competitive motive when conditions have arisen which make cooperation and unity imperative to the very existence of mankind.

Instead of temporary “maladjustment” we have the urgent necessity to transform the whole structure of civilization. Institutions and social organisms created in the age of diversity and competition have become unfit to serve human needs in the age of cooperation and peace. Our present “crisis” discloses more and more clearly the tragic fact that people turn for the divine gifts of peace and sustenance to agencies adapted for the opposite ends of war and destruction.

The new conditions affecting every branch of human activity today are the result of the physical unity of the world achieved during the last century through technological equipment. As the arena of human affairs has become one unit, and is no longer a series of unrelated territories, the law of cause and effect, for the first time in history, operates for society as positively as it operates for the material universe. The consequence is that every public action has its immediate reaction. National and racial or class movements are no longer isolated and irresponsible; they no longer can be made to secure definite and limited objectives, like a small, compact medieval army turned loose among unarmed peasants, but every social movement and influence today affects the structure of society and brings about results of a general character.

Just as this new law of cause and effect connects in one common destiny hitherto isolated geographical areas, so likewise, within the single political or economic area of each nation, consequences of political or economic action now cannot be confined to their own special field, but flow throughout the whole nation and produce effects in all fields.

That is, not only has humanity become an organic unit by reason of geographical relationship, but in addition its structure of civilization has become interdependent by reason of the new relationships affecting such apparently unrelated activities as business and religion, or government philosophy. The real significance of this vital fact is that politics is no longer politics alone, and economics is no longer economics alone, but both are nothing else than facets of the one, indivisible substance of human life.

We have arrived, in other words, at a stage in human evolution when moral value – that which serves the good of humanity and not merely the interest of any one group – determines not alone the desirability but also the feasibility of every public policy and every social program.

That is why the present world crisis escapes every effort to bring it under the control of normal social agencies. When another international war seems imminent, we call the crisis “political” and effort is made to control it by political bodies. When the economic depression seems most acute, we call the crisis “economic” and seek to control it by economic bodies. It would be just as logical to call the crisis “religious” and base our hope of recovery upon the influence of the churches. In reality, the crisis is at once political, economic and religious, but humanity possesses no responsible, authoritative agency capable of coordinating all the factors and arriving at a world plan which takes all factors into account.

These considerations reveal the vital importance of a new principle of action, a new attitude and a new quality of understanding such as the student of society encounters in the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. Here one makes contact with a world view raised above local and partisan interests, and a spirit of faith in divine Providence so profound that it sustains the certitude that mankind will be guided through the most terrible storm of confusion and strife the world has ever faced.

In contradistinction to those social plans which attempt to rationalize an abstract system of political economy and apply it, with or without the element of compulsion, to the body of humanity in naive disregard of the complexity of human nature, the principles of Bahá’u’lláh operate from the heart outward to the social structure. His principles interpret the realities of man’s spiritual nature, upholding an ideal civilization which will come into being gradually, by voluntary action of those who understand it, accept it as truth and strive for its attainment as the fulfillment of their own highest aspiration.

His aim was the unity of mankind in the world of the mind and spirit, that the external unity in process of realization might become man’s blessing, the means of peace and cooperation, rather than a bitter curse, the means of chaos and strife. Through the leaven of spiritual knowledge those prejudices which now divide the hearts and confuse the minds, setting nation against nation, class against class and creed against creed, will be transmuted into a common loyalty and positive fellowship identifying social order with true ethics and true mystical experience.

If we desire material abundance, leisure, security, opportunity for broader knowledge, a larger conquest of nature and a social environment enabling men to enjoy creative relationships – we seek to give actuality to those visions and desires which society now resists and makes impossible – the door of attainment is unity and cooperation. As unity of personality brings power to individuals, so human fellowship will release yet dormant capacities in the race.

Bahá’u’lláh exemplified the possibility of this human fellowship and its capacity to transform society from the clash of hostile communities to an organic structure embracing the world. The literature expressing his insight into human reality, when responsive to the transforming spirit of the one God, links together those necessary steps in evolution which lead from the new outlook required by the individual to a world order coordinating the different aspects of social activity now functioning separately and aimlessly: education, religious devotion, industry, finance, trade, government.

Before adding certain important details to these fundamental tenets, it is desirable to meet the attitude which represents the chief danger to human welfare at this time, namely the opinion that a few superficial alterations in the political and economic organization are sufficient to overcome the difficulties we new confront.

The Nature of World Unrest

Warfare and strife have ever been present in human society, but since the outbreak of military operations in Europe seventeen years ago, the principle of war has been enormously reinforced. The cessation of hostilities by no means meant the termination of war. The military period served to exhaust and destroy all the human and social resources at the command of governments, but the consuming flame was communicated from the field of battle to the broader field of business, where its destructiveness assumed new forms.

In passing from the military to the economic domain, the principle of war escaped the control vested by society in government, which throughout history has served to confine the area and duration of violent combat within the attainment of definite objectives. The principle of war today – that is, the condition of organized conflict – spreads throughout the body of society, engaging all civil activities and setting not only nation against nation but class against class and interest against interest. In this domain no government nor any other social institution is powerful enough to stamp out the flames. Civilization has become one continuous crisis, a state of unending civil war. Meanwhile, under the steady pressure of fear arising as much from the possibility of domestic revolution as of foreign aggression, the military establishments directed by all leading governments have accumulated means of violence sufficient virtually to destroy the human race.

As long as war can be regarded as abnormal, a temporary emergency within the control of responsible governments, ended at will by victory or surrender, its operation does not interrupt fixed social habits nor affect fundamental ideas. A people during war temporarily abandons its civil routine and its inherited moral and religious tenets, as a family abandons a house injured by storm, to re-enter it when the storm has subsided and repair whatever damage has been done. But when the principle of war has carried over from the limited field of government operation to the unlimited field of general social activity, we have a condition in which the inherited capital of social loyalty and constructive idealism is readily impaired. The steady, relentless pressure exercised by a society divided against itself and reduced to the elemental struggle for existence affects the form and nature both of government and other responsible institutions. It affects also the aims and habits of the mass of the people. The failure of social philosophies emanating from ancient religious teachings opens the door to philosophies and doctrines essentially materialistic in aim and outlook. These compete for the control of the state and its complex agencies of legislation, finance and public education, altering radically the traditional relations of political parties. Industry has the alternative of entering this political struggle at the risk of separating the interests of labor, capital and consumer, or of concentrating upon its business task at the risk of finding its international markets crippled by nationalistic policies abroad and its domestic market interfered with by socialistic programs at home. As materialistic philosophies spread among a confused, a burdened and disillusioned people, religious bodies follow industry in its effort to control legislation and education in order to safeguard their special interests and values, with the result that the power of the state to adopt broad and fundamental public policies is sacrificed to the clash of determined interests. Only occasionally, and timidly, can the state rise above this interminable wrangle to consider its true relations to the world situation as a whole.

The individual, meanwhile, finds himself more and more conditioned by this general, ever-changing and menacing competition. He finds himself becoming a lone being in a social jungle threatening his welfare at many points. Isolated goodwill and personal integrity tend to lose their meaning as he finds that they no longer produce their habitual result in terms of his life and work. He feels that there is no longer any connection between ultimate faith and today’s shelter and food. He finds materialism in his church and idealism in his economic party.

Above all, he witnesses the confounding of leadership in high places and recognizes that the balance of competing forces is so complete that no social group can through political influence successfully enforce its will upon the whole population. Under these conditions the final impact of world unrest upon the mass of people is anti-social, manifested in indifference, in uneasy fear or in determination to seek the short cut through direct action.

The combined and successive shock to human nature of the butchery during the war, the depreciation of currencies, the post-war revolutions, unemployment, public dishonesty, and the rise of materialistic philosophies to the stature of fully developed institutions, not to mention other vital factors such as the inadequacy of the education afforded by public school and sectarian church, and the social blindness exhibited by responsible leaders in all fields of human activity since 1914, has been underestimated in the promotion of plans promising general improvement. The ultimate triumph of the principle of war has been to reduce the richly varied capacities of people to the sheer instinct to survive. Society is no longer under control – it is a rudderless ship, an unpiloted plane. No one can predict events, and no authority can deal properly with the emergencies that continually arise.

An adequate social diagnosis, one on which a permanent plan of betterment may be founded, can at this time scarcely afford to overlook these three essential facts: first, that through their inability to establish real peace and their endorsement of universally destructive instruments of warfare, governments no longer protect life and property, but, on the contrary, have become the chief source of peril to mankind; second, that as the result of the concentration of the means of production and distribution, without corresponding social policy, industry and commerce no longer feed, clothe and shelter the people, but, on the contrary, have increased the area and intensity of poverty and destitution; and, third, that through the diversity and strife of creeds, and their materialistic dependence upon civil authority to enforce moral principles, established religion no longer intensifies the inner life of man, relating people one to another in the spirit of cooperation and sincere consultation for mutual protection and general betterment, but, on the contrary, poisons the very sources of loyalty and understanding and fans the flame of competition and dissension which, passing out from the church into life, sanctioned nationalism in the state and self-aggrandisement in business affairs.

By gradual, imperceptible stages, the constructive instruments of civilization have acquired destructive aims. The condition called “peace” is one in which antagonisms and strifes grow to the breaking point within each nation; the condition called “war” is the only one in which people in each nation attain solidarity and exercise collective will. The logical end of either condition is the same.

Regarded from the institutional point of view, this age marks the end of a civilization which no longer serves mankind. From the point of view of human experience, it marks the complete and final frustration of the instinct of physical self-preservation, which man shares with the beast, as the dominating social motive. Both statements reflect the same truth, for it is the instinct of physical self-preservation which throughout history has impelled humanity to organize the competitive institutions of state, industry and church which are miscalled “civilization.”

Disillusion would only be justified if human society could be successfully established on the war principle. An age which has fully proved that war no longer leads to the fruits of victory, and that a competitive economy no longer produces wealth, is an age permeated and sustained by providential forces. The complexity of the problem, and the greatness of the crisis, is in itself the true measure of human capacity.

To realize that antagonism and hatred, no matter how magnified by the leverage of social institutions, no matter how gilded and refined by cultural and doctrinal philosophies, threaten the very existence of humanity, is to perceive that human life functions under other and higher laws than those which condition the life of the brute. It is likewise to perceive that, all along, the external man-made world of civilization has had no true inner correspondence with the spiritual nature and infinitely varied talents, desires and thoughts of the race. Only by continuous suppression of one entire aspect of his being – his latent and passive reality – has man, acting from emergency to emergency, made competition the dominant motive in comparison to cooperation. Both motives are always present; if competition has created governments and industrial systems, the vision of unfulfilled love has supplied the power and inspiration for true music, art and poetry in every age.

The rise of science in the modern age has enormously reinforced the latent powers of men in comparison to those faculties developed during the era of external struggle against the physical environment. Important as its technological achievement has been, the ultimte value of science lies not in its inventions but in its assertion of yet-undeveloped resources within the mind and soul. The faculties that make for discovery in the realm of the material universe can, and will, be employed in the more important realm of spiritual reality. Science restores the balance between man as being and man as desiring and doing. It reveals a new measure of human capacity, and confirms the integrity of the race as the vehicle for further evolution. While the effects of science so far have been negative no less than positive, a spiritual science conceived with the central problem of human welfare can provide the agencies necessary for the functioning of the spirit of cooperation throughout society.

The providential character of the crisis actually consists in the fact that it is a crisis – a challenge to human understanding not to be diverted or put off to a more convenient season. Because it is worldwide, it lays its burden as heavily upon America as Europe, upon the East no less than upon the West, upon government as upon industry, and upon religion as upon government. Humanity shares one universal experience of suffering and grief, bears one unavoidable responsibility, reacts to one supreme stimulus serving to quicken the slumbering, passive “inner” powers – hence humanity grows in understanding of its fundamental reality and is trained to function through collective resources and instruments.

The present unrest has no real meaning or ultimate value until it is recognized as a movement in humanity and only secondarily a disturbance in the institutional elements of civilization. Political exigencies and economic depression have become so acute that the symptoms are mistaken for the actual disease. The first principle, and the foundation upon which the new order stands, is the oneness of humanity – the interdependence of the race in a common origin and destiny. The social organization that now fails to function is one constructed upon the assumption of diversity and separateness, which has produced a society motivated by competition.

The Analogy of Rome

Fortunately, the history of our own civilization offers, on a smaller scale, an era closely paralleling the present condition.

The Roman Empire, at a certain point, also established a civilization opposed to the best interests of humanity. Its institutional society likewise entered a time of “transition” when the competitive instinct began to fail, faced with political, economic and religious problems too complex for solution by traditional means. But through the power of the Christian faith, those problems were transmuted into a higher human process. The claim of that faith no doubt remained consistently ignored or condemned by those indoctrinated with the social science of the period, but the fact remains that the stream of human evolution abandoned the institutions of civilization and flowed onward through the channels of a movement reflecting the needs and capacities of humanity. The restoration of society came about through the loyalty of regenerated individuals welded in a cooperative group, not through the reorganization of tariffs, wages, public statutes and trade. Up to the limit of human capacity, the people of faith constituted a society in which a bond and relationship, like that animating the members of a family, replaced the formal procedures and unfeeling contacts sanctioned by the political and economic science of the ruined state.

The essence of that experience was the triumph of humanity over civilization. The early Christians dipped themselves in the eternal stream of human reality, recovered the vision of God, and armed only with devotion and faith, stood fast against the shocks of a collapsing society and eventually laid the foundation for a “new age.” Their faith in Christ released the mysterious forces of the spirit within; by sacrifice they were able to re-create society on a higher moral basis, nearer the ultimate aim of a cooperative world.

The early Christian world was, however, a definitely limited area, hemmed in by barbaric hordes and prevented from expanding the Christian experience to include humanity. The movement outward came to an end; Christianity organized itself for defence, admitting within itself the fatal influence of dissension and force; the new social body after it had repudiated the law of universal love revealed the presence of spiritual disease by dividing on issues of scientific truth; this fissure gradually widened until Protestantism made it permanent, and modern civilization, with its inner conflict between “secular” and “religious” values was the inevitable result. Nothing in this gradual decay can be made to serve as argument against the true significance of religion. Christianity restored the power of the heart.

The “truth” of Christianity, and of all religions founded by a prophetic spirit, is, however, not a constant but a variable; a rise toward the vision of God, followed by a darkening and degeneration. It is a spring time of spiritual fertility, followed by summer and the harvest of autumn, and terminating in the cold of winter. Civilization may be likened to a clock that must be wound. The historic process that reduced Christianity from a source of inner renewal to a mere institutionalism operated also in the case of Judaism, Muhammadanism, Buddhism and the other religions. Each regenerated an area of humanity, revived civilization, created new and better conditions for mankind and slowly died, to yield place to another prophet and a renewal of faith.

A New Cycle of Human Power

Bahá’u’lláh, whose mission was promulgated by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, in Europe and America, completed the circle or religion as the expression of man’s real nature and possibility in relation to God, to society and to the physical universe. He joined the arcs described Jesus and the prophets of other races. In his teaching are made those necessary connections between ethics, science and sociology which carry into society and civilization the full integrity of the principle of love. Bahá’u’lláh is the first interpreter of humanity as a unified organism capable of coordinating its resources of mind and heart. “Let not a man glory in this, that he loves his country,” Bahá’u’lláh declared more than fifty years ago, “rather let him glory in this, that he loves his kind.” Standing in the same relation of sacrifice toward the unmoral institutions of modern society that Jesus held toward the civilization of Palestine and Rome, Bahá’u’lláh manifested a spiritual power which likewise created a movement of faith and devotion among the people paralleled by exreme hate and antagonism on the part of the official leaders in his environment. Today his teaching has the dimension of history — a story written indelibly in the blood of Persian martyrs.

The movement entered the West in the person of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, who travelled throughout Europe and America during 1911 and 1912 to expound Bahá’u’lláh’s doctrine in relation to the political, economic and social problems of the age.

Speaking in the City Temple, London, in September, 1911 – on the eve of the great war which he foresaw and warned people against – he used these significant words: “This is a new cycle of human power. All the horizons of the world are luminous, and the world will become indeed as a garden and a paradise. It is the hour of the unity of the sons of men and of the drawing together of all races and all classes. You are loosed from ancient superstitions which have kept men ignorant, destroying the foundations of true humanity.

“The gift of God to this enlightened age is the knowledge of the oneness of mankind and of the fundamental oneness of religion. War shall cease between nations, and by the will of God the ‘Most Great Peace’ shall come; the world will be seen as a new world, and all men will live as brothers.

“In the days of old an instinct for warfare was developed in the struggle with wild animals; this is no longer necessary; nay, rather cooperation and mutual understanding are seen to produce the greatest welfare of mankind. Enmity is now the result of prejudice only…There is one God; mankind is one; the foundations of religion are one. Let us worship Him, and give praise for all His great prophets and messengers who have manifested His brightness and glory.”

This conception of world unrest as the gathering of the latent resources of mankind for release in a “new cycle of human power” emanates from the depths of truth. It focuses in one point the complex issues which specialists in many fields are separately unable to meet; it recovers for human imagination, human understanding and human will the control of events apparently dominated by an uncontrollable social “machine.”

But with this statement should be paralleled another statement, made by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá at Baptist Temple, Philadelphia, June 9, 1912 : “True religion is the source of love and agreement among men, the cause of the development of praiseworthy qualities; but the people are holding to the counterfeit and imitation, negligent of the reality which unifies, so they are bereft and deprived of the radiance of religion. They follow superstitions inherited from their fathers and ancestors…That which was meant to be conducive to life has become the cause of death; that which should have been an evidence of knowledge is now a proof of ignorance; that which was a factor in the sublimity of human nature has proved to be its degradation. Therefore the realm of the religionist has gradually narrowed and darkened and the sphere of the materialist has widened and advanced; for the religionist has held to imitation and counterfeit, neglecting and discarding holiness and the sacred reality of religion. When the sun sets it is time for bats to fly. They come forth because they are creatures of night.”

Here we have the obverse of the picture – the negative condition opposed to the positive, the blind submission to external, “institutional” truth in contradistinction to faith in human values; in other words, civilization in active opposition to the real interests of humanity. Between these polar extremes, currents of immeasurable power flow through modern society, destroying all forms of organized selfishness and at the same time quickening human minds and hearts with the capacity to realize that only through unity and cooperation can the race survive.

The concentration of moral force and intelligence upon one objective creates a tool for the accomplishment of the greatest task. The objective laid upon conscience and reason alike in this stage of evolution is world order and peace. In this aim the ideals of religion become identical with the requirements of economics and social science.

Up to the economic depression, world peace was held to be merely a political problem, a matter of treaty between the sovereign states. The depression served to reveal the fact that world peace in reality is a question of social justice and not merely the cessation of military strife. It revealed also that from the point of view of social justice the states are no longer sovereign, but have become areas of economic and psychological revolution. This fact makes the League of Nations, as now constituted, an inadequate instrument for international control. It is as though the Federal Government at Washington consisted merely of delegates from nearly fifty sovereign states, whose deliberations to become effective had to be ratified separately by each state legislature and who possessed no Federal army or navy, while each state maintained a complete military establishment in competition with every other state, and refused to yield to Washington any essential elements of its local sovereignty. Such a condition in one country could not be termed a national government, nor can the League be properly regarded as an international government. The League at Geneva seems to represent the limit of attainment possible to the old civilization; it is not yet an organism of humanity.

Objectives of Social Progress

Chaos and revolution will continue, with increased momentum, until social justice creates an instrument of world government, a government possessing the sovereignty of mankind, to which the national states are subordinated as provinces having only local jurisdiction. This is the central issue of the world today, the unescapable obligation written in financial, political, social and moral terms that all may eventually read.

For world government differs from the present national governments not merely through an extension of the physical area of jurisdiction, but in the dimension of social responsibility as well. It alone can effect disarmament, create a safe currency, reconcile the discord of classes, establish an education conforming to basic human needs, and overcome the sinister peril resident in the divergent theories of capitalism and communism. Not until world government exists can the divorce between “religious” and “secular” values be ended, the greatest curse in human experience. World government implies social administration by the elect of mankind – men whose executive talents are imbued with moral principles. It is the partisan politician who maintains social disunity that he may have the privilege of fishing in troubled waters.

World government is the only source of stability for local communities in all nations. The local community today is the victim of the evils of civilization, dragged as it is by the chariot wheels of national politics and large scale industry. In the unemployment prevalent in larger towns and cities, and the prostration of agriculture which saps the life of small towns and villages, we see the brake applied which is gradually bringing civilization to an absolute standstill.

As world government is the first, so a regenerated local community is the second objective of social progress. The essential human relations are all maintained locally. It is our community environment which finally determines the quality of human life. Here our inner attitudes begin that cycle of social influence culminating either in peace or war. Here takes place the impact of education upon the unprejudiced child soul which produces the motives and reactions of adult life.

The transformation needed to make the local community over from the condition of a diseased cell in a disordered social body, into the condition of a healthy cell in a sound organism, is the extension of the social relationship from the political to the economic realm. In a vital social organism, the individual would have not merely the inalienable right to vote and receive the protection of the courts, but also the inalienable right of economic livelihood – not insulting charity but fundamental human right. The political structure today is a sieve through which runs away in loss the noblest aspirations and the most effective motives and qualities of mankind. Nothing can redeem the fact that modern government originated as an agency for the conduct of war rather than for the maintenance of peace.

This new and higher human status, moreover, does not depend upon the success of socialism and far less upon the success of communism. Both these social theories fail to correspond to the standard of human reality. They are, at bottom, an effort to organize materials and processes and not an effort to unify human beings. The emphasis is entirely upon the mechanism instead of upon the nature of man. Their complete application might produce the semblance of external order, but this would be at the expense of the human spirit. Only after we have uncovered the spiritual principles of human association can we evolve a social order corresponding to the divine reality.

Both world government and regenerated local community are possibilities in human evolution the realization of which depends upon the existence of a new scale of personal motives and a new range of social understanding. The ultimate goal of a world economy therefore has a third objective, correlated to the two objectives already outlined. The third objective is the need of spiritual education – the reinforcement of man’s passive idealism to the point where people consciously strive together for mutual ends, and are no longer socially indifferent waiting for “good times” to come of itself or to be received as a gift from a few bankers, manufacturers and statesmen.

The profit motive will not sustain a balanced, enduring civilization. Far stronger, far truer – in fact, far more humanly natural – is the motive of self-expression and fulfilment found in children and surviving in the few artists, artisans and spiritually conscious men and women who refuse to be moulded by the external forces prevailing in their environment. The inadequacy of the profit motive appears when we imagine the result if it were extended to family life. Every family is a cooperative economy attempting to maintain itself in a competitive community. The dissolution of the family marks the end of an age.

At present, education is limited to the aim of assuring personal survival in a competitive society, and the effect of this mental and moral strangulation is to leave the essential core of personality – its understanding of fundamental purpose and its motives – to the overwhelming influence of an already perverted society. As the expression of a collective social mentality, education can and must deal with the basic human values.

Spiritual education has little connection with the systems of education developed by churches for partisan ends. It is education of the whole being for useful life in a united society which derives its laws and principles from the universal law of love. It is education conscious of the modes of social evolution and hence subduing the means of life to its true purpose and outcome. One single generation raised by spiritual education above the false guides who rationalize class, race, national and religious prejudices can give humanity a definite foothold in the new age of cooperation and unity.

These three objectives – world government, a regenerated community and spiritual education – are interdependent. Neither can exist without the other two. All three are latent in human society at the present time. They are emerging to the degree that the highest type of people in all countries recognize one or more of them as the most worthy values for idealism and effort. The sheer inertia of past evolution, however, still carries the race in other directions. By comparing the numbers and resources devoted to the promotion of these three ideals, with the numbers and resources available for the promotion of all vested interests dependent on a competitive order, we appreciate anew the depth of the crisis in which we are plunged.

What is needed above all at this time is a valid source of conviction that, whatever the immediate future may be, bright or dark, the reinforcement of universal truth stands behind the movement toward world order and peace, and that the opposition is in essence negative and will ultimately be overthrown. Conscious faith alone can turn the scale between evolution and revolution, between order and chaos.

Principles of Bahá’u’lláh

Bahá’u’lláh is the source of this conscious faith. His teachings transform political and economic problems into occasions for human virtue and love. A summary of the teachings will emphasize the following essential truths.

  1. There is an organic cycle in human evolution, marked by the duration of the life of a religion, approximately one thousand years. A social cycle begins with the appearance of a prophetic founder of religion, whose influence and teaching renews the inner life of man and releases a new wave of progress. Each cycle destroys the outworn beliefs and institutions of the former cycle and creates a civilization based on beliefs in closer conformity with actual human needs. This civilization in turn decays, with the passing of time, as human doctrines are substituted for the reality taught by the prophet, and must give way to a fresh conception of God.
  2. In the past the influence of each founder of religion has been limited to one race or region by reason of the physical separation of the races and nations. The present cycle has worldwide influence and meaning. It upholds faith in the spiritual oneness of humanity and will accomplish the creation of an organic world order. As Bahá’u’lláh is the spiritual proof of the coming of a universal cycle, so the rise of science is its intellectual proof and evidence. The rise of science has made the definite cleavage between the age of competition and the age of cooperation. Science has drawn man up from his physical helplessness in nature, multiplied his powers and at the same time given man an entirely new degree of moral responsibility. If the old tribal morality persists, science will be a destroyer. Its forces can only be controlled by a united humanity striving for the general welfare and well being.
  3. Sectarian churches will be abandoned and replaced by a spiritual centre in each community devoted to meditation and prayer, without a professional clergy. Religious ideas and practises not in conformity with science are superstitions and will not survive. Not ritual and creed but the inspiration of the prophet’s life and message is the foundation of religion. As science progresses, men will not fail to recognise that humanity has ever depended on the vision of love and brotherhood revealed by the prophets from age to age, and that they have the unique office of inspiring a higher capacity for life through conscious knowledge of the will of God. The prophet is the focal point of human evolution.
  4. As the local community is dependent upon the national community, so the nation is dependent upon the community of nations. The theory of national sovereignty has been overthrown by the fact of economic interdependence; it should be discarded in political practise. Statesmen are responsible to the Creator for the protection of the people. They must take steps to create a world body on which alone complete sovereignty can be conferred. More essential than the fact that metals and products are distributed throughout the world, beyond the control of any one nation, is the fact that humanity is one organism and must have one law and one executive control. All morality is fulfilled in loyalty to mankind through the orderly processes of world government.
  5. The law of the struggle for existence does not exist for man when he becomes conscious of his mental and spiritual powers. It is replaced by the higher law of cooperation.Under this higher law the individual will enjoy a far larger status than that of passive political citizenship. His organic rights will include universal education and the means of livelihood. Local communities will be organized so as to give this status effect. Public administration will pass from partisan politics, which betray the people, to those who can regard office as a sacred trusteeship in which they can serve divine principles of justice and brotherhood. Income taxes are to be paid to the local community rather than the national state, which will give the community a secure material basis and enable it to provide the necessary agencies for the welfare and protection of the people. The national treasury is to receive its income from local communities rather than from individuals. The emphasis is thrown back upon the local community, where the issues of life are first raised and are first to be met.The present national state, during the era of war, developed many agencies and instruments which will be unnecessary when an international state is established. The international state will enact statutes making for world order and progress.
  6. Economic stability depends upon moral solidarity and the realization that wealth is the means and not the end of life, rather than upon the working out of any elaborate socialistic or communistic plan. The essential point is the rise of a new mind, a new spirit of cooperation and mutual help, not universal subservience to a formal system, the effect of which would be to remove all individual moral responsibility. Under conditions of cooperation and peace, the tragedy of unemployment could be transformed into the opportunity for leisure for cultural progress and personal development. Employees are to receive not only wages but also a fixed share of the profit of industry, as partners in the firm. The foundation of industry is agriculture, and first concern must be given those who live and work upon the land. Industry will become simpler as men attain a balance between being and doing.Bahá’u’lláh also reveals a method or system of inheritances by which the handing down of great fortunes can be made to serve the community as a whole, without depriving the individual of a just measure of liberty. By this method, an inheritance is divided into proportionate parts for the surviving relatives, and significantly enough, teachers who have contributed to the decedent’s character and development are given a share of the estate.Another principle emphatically laid down is that loyalty to representative and just government is a requisite of the religious attitude toward society. No justification is given the view that ecclesiastical doctrines and policies can claim a higher loyalty than that rendered the civil state. Faith in God may not be controlled by the state; the state may not require the individual to betray his spiritual conviction; but apart from this, matters of public policy are wholly under government control.
  7. Neither democracy nor aristocracy alone supply the correct basis for society. Democracy is helpless against internal dissension; aristocracy survives by foreign aggression. A combination of both principles is necessary – the administration of affairs by the elite of mankind, elected by universal suffrage and controlled by a world constitution embodying principles having moral reality.
  8. The spiritual basis of humanity consists in universal education – combining in every individual both economic and cultural values, coordinating mind and emotion, and quickening the powers of the soul through knowledge of the tenets of true religion. “The source of all knowledge,” as Bahá’u’lláh has said, “is knowledge of God.”The basic social principle confirmed by Bahá’u’lláh is the law of consultation. He has declared that the solution of all problems depends on the sincere meeting for discussion of all parties to the question, and their willingness to abide by the decisions so made. The spark of clashing opinion, as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has said, reveals the truth. At present the “truth” of practically any situation is obscured by prejudices and vested interests. From the human point of view, truth must include all parties. The new social organism cannot be anticipated in detail. It must evolve.
  9. At this time of transition between the old age of competition and the new age of cooperation, the very life of humanity is in peril. It is a major stage in human history, a turning-point in the evolution of mankind. Between spiritual ignorance, nationalistic ambition, class strife, economic fear and greed, tremendous forces are arrayed for another and fatal international war. Only a divinely sent, providential power, an influence like that of Christ, can avert the supreme catastrophe. The world is in dire need of the conviction of kinship and solidarity, of mutual cooperation and interdependence, of common principles and a definite program combining the validity of religion with the aim and purpose of social science.

The bitter experiences of the past nineteen years throw a revealing light upon the statements made by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to public audiences in Europe and America during 1911 and 1912. The following quotations will serve to illustrate the character and scope of his outlook, and indicate the manner in which he appealed to humanity rather than to institutional values.

The Religion of God

“The body politic today is in need of a physician. It is similar to a human body afflicted with severe ailments. A doctor diagnoses the case and prescribes treatment. He does not prescribe, however, until he has made the diagnosis. The disease which afflicts the body politic is lack of love and absence of altruism. In the hearts of men no real love is found and the condition is such that unless their susceptibilities are quickened by some power so that unity, love and accord may develop within them, there can be no healing, no agreement among mankind. Love and unity are the needs of the body politic today. Without these there can be no progress or prosperity attained. Therefore the friends of God must adhere to the power which will create this love and unity in the hearts of the sons of men. Science cannot cure the illness of the body politic. Science cannot create amity and fellowship in human hearts. Neither can patriotism nor racial allegiance effect a remedy. It must be accomplished solely through the divine bounties and spiritual bestowals which have descended from God in this day for that purpose. This is an exigency of the times and the divine remedy has been provided. The spiritual teachings of the religion of God alone can create this love, unity and accord in human hearts.” (June 8, 1912, at 309 West 78th St., New York City.)

The Body Politic

“Although the body politic is one family, yet because of lack of harmonious relations some members are comfortable and some in direct misery, some members are satisfied and some members are hungry, some members are clothed in most costly garments and some families are in need of food and shelter. Why? Because this family (of mankind) 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 insure happiness. They do not provide comfort, Therefore a law must be given to this family by means of which all the members will enjoy well being and happiness.” (September, 1912, at a meeting of Socialists, Montreal.)

Socialism and Communism

“The question of socialization is very important. It will not be solved by strikes for wages. All the governments of the world must be united and organize an assembly the members of which should be elected from the parliaments and the nobles of the nations. These must plan with utmost wisdom and power so that neither the capitalist may suffer from economic losses nor the labourers become needy. In the utmost moderation they should make the law, then announce to the public that the rights of the working people are to be strongly protected; also the rights of the capitalists are to be protected. When such a general plan is adopted by the will of both sides, should a strike occur, all the governments of the world collectively should resist it. Otherwise, the labor problem will lead to much destruction, especially in Europe. Terrible things will take place. “The owners of properties, mines and factories should share their incomes with their employees and give a certain fair percentage of their products to their workingmen in order that the employees may receive, beside their wages, some of the general income of the factory, so that the employee may strive with his heart in the work.” (Spoken in 1912 at the home of a government official, reported in Star of the West, vol. 13, page 231.)

“Lycurgus, king of Sparta, who lived long before the day of Christ, conceived the idea of absolute equality in government. He proclaimed laws by which all the people of Sparta were classified into certain divisions…Lycurgus, in order to establish this forever as a law, brought nine thousand grandees together, told them he was going upon a long journey and wished this form of government to remain effective until his return. They swore an oath to protect and preserve his law. He then left his kingdom, went into voluntary exile, and never returned. No man ever made such a sacrifice to insure equality among his fellowmen. A few years passed and the whole system of government he had founded collapsed, although established upon such a wise and just basis.

“Difference of capacity in human individuals is fundamental. It is impossible for all to be alike, all to be equal, all to be wise. Bahá’u’lláh has revealed principles and laws which will accomplish the adjustment of varying human capacities.” (July 1, 1912, at 309 West 78th St., New York City.)

Material and Spiritual Civilization

“In the western world material civilization has attained the highest point of development but divine civilization was founded in the land of the East. The East must acquire material civilization from the West and the West must receive spiritual civilization from the East. This will establish a mutual bond. When these two come together, the world of humanity will present a glorious aspect and extraordinary progress will be achieved.” (June 2, 1912, at Church of the Ascension, New York City.)

“While thousands are considering these questions, we have more essential purposes. The fundamentals of the whole economic condition are divine in nature and are associated with the world of the heart and spirit. This is fully explained in the Bahá’í teaching, and without knowledge of its principles no improvement in the economic state can be realized…Economic questions are most interesting, but the power which moves, controls and attracts the hearts of men is the love of God.” (July 23, 1912, at Hotel Victoria, Boston.)

The Supreme Tribunal

“At present Universal Peace is a matter of great importance, but unity of conscience is essential, so that the foundation of this matter may become secure, its establishment firm and its edifice strong…Although the League of Nations has been brought into existence, yet it is incapable of establishing Universal Peace. But the Supreme Tribunal which His Holiness Bahá’u’lláh 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 that these persons may be the elected ones of all the nations 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 defendent. 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, because all the governments and nations of the world are supporters of this Supreme Tribunal. Consider what a firm foundation this is! But by a limited and restricted League the purpose will not be realized as it ought and should.” (December 17, 1919, in a letter written to the Central Organization for a Durable Peace, The Hague.)

The Oneness of Reality

“The source of perfect unity and love in the world of human existence is the bond and oneness of reality. When the divine and fundamental reality enters human hearts and lives, it conserves and protects all states and conditions of mankind, establishing that intrinsic oneness of the world of humanity which can only come into being through the efficacy of the Holy Spirit. For the Holy Spirit is like unto the life in the human body, which blends all differences of parts and members in unity and agreement.

“Consider how numerous are these parts and members, but the oneness of the animating spirit of life unites them all in perfect combination. It establishes such a unity in the bodily organism that if any part is subjected to injury or becomes diseased all the other parts and functions sympathetically respond and suffer owing to the perfect oneness existing. Just as the human spirit of life is the cause of coordination among the various parts of the human organism, the Holy Spirit is the controlling cause of the unity and coordination of mankind. That is to say, the bond or oneness of humanity cannot be effectively established save through the power of the Holy Spirit, for the world of humanity is a composite body and the Holy Spirit is the animating principle of its life…

“Today the greatest need of the world is the animating, unifying presence of the Holy Spirit. Until it becomes effective, penetrating and interpenetrating hearts and spirits, and until perfect reasoning faith shall be implanted in the minds of men, it will be impossible for the social body to be inspired with security and confidence. Nay, on the contrary, enmity and strife will increase day by day and the difference and divergences of nations will be woefully augmented. Continual additions to the armies and navies of the world will be made, and the fear and certainty of the great pandemic war – the war unparalleled in history – will be intensified.” (September 16, 1912, at 5338 Kenmore Avenue, Chicago.)

“The most important principle of divine philosophy is the oneness of the world of humanity, the unity of mankind, the bond conjoining East and West, the tie of love which binds human hearts…For thousands of years we have had bloodshed and strife. It is enough; it is sufficient. Now is the time to associate together in love and harmony.

“All the divine Manifestations have proclaimed the oneness of God and the unity of mankind. They have taught that men should love and mutually help each other in order that they might progress. Now if this conception of religion be true, its essential principle is the oneness of humanity. The fundamental truth of the Manifestations is peace. This underlies all religion, all justice. The divine purpose is that men should live in unity, concord and agreement and should love one another. Consider the virtues of the human world and realize that the oneness of humanity is the primary foundation of them all.” (April 19, 1912, at Columbia University, New York City.)

The Divine Prophets

“The holy Manifestations of God, the divine prophets, are the first teachers of the human race. They are universal educators and the fundamental principles they laid down are the causes and factors of the advancement of nations. Forms and imitations which creep in afterward are not conducive to that progress. On the contrary these are destroyers of human foundations established by the heavenly educators.

“Therefore there is need of turning back to the original foundation. The fundamental principles of the prophets are true and correct. The imitations and superstitions which have crept in are at wide variance with the original precepts and commands. His Holiness Bahá’u’lláh has revoiced and re-established the quintessence of the teachings of all the prophets, setting aside the accessories and purifying religion from human interpretation.” (May 3, 1912, at Hotel Plaza, Chicago.)

“Religion is the outer expression of the divine reality. Therefore it must be living, vitalized, moving and progressive. If it be without motion and non-progressive it is without the divine life: it is dead. The divine institutes are continuously active and evolutionary; therefore the revelation of them must be progressive and continuous.” (May 24, 1912, at Unitarian Conference, Boston.)

“The divine Manifestations since the day of Adam have striven to unite humanity so that all may be accounted as one soul. The function and purpose of a shepherd is to gather and not disperse his flock. The prophets of God have been divine shepherds of humanity. They have established a bond of love and unity among mankind, made scattered peoples one nation and wandering tribes a mighty kingdom. They have laid the foundation of the oneness of God and summoned all to Universal. Peace. All these holy, divine Manifestations are one. They have served one God, promulgated the same truth, founded the same institutions and reflected the same light. Their appearances have been successive and correlated: each one has announced and extolled the one who was to follow and all laid the foundation of reality. They summoned and invited the people to love and made the human world a mirror of the World of God. Therefore the divine religions they established have one foundation; their teachings, proofs and evidences are one; in name and form they differ but in reality they agree and are the same.” (May 28, 1912, at Metropolitan Temple, New York City.)

The Divine Spirit of the Age

“That which was applicable to human needs during the early history of the race could neither meet nor satisfy the demands of this day and period of newness and consummation…From every standpoint the world of humanity is undergoing a reformation. The laws of former governments and civilizations are in process of revision, scientific ideas and theories are developing and advancing to meet a new range of phenomena…This is the cycle of maturity and reformation in religion as well. Dogmatic imitations of ancestral beliefs are passing. They have been the axis around which religion revolved but now are no longer useful; on the contrary, in this day they have become the cause of human degradation and hindrance.

“Heavenly teachings applicable to the advancement in human conditions have been revealed in this merciful age. This reformation and renewal of the fundamental reality of religion constitute the true and outworking spirit of modernism, the unmistakable light of the world, the manifest effulgence of the Word of God, the divine remedy for all human ailments and the bounty of eternal life to all mankind.

“His Holiness Bahá’u’lláh, the Sun of Truth, has dawned from the horizon of the Orient, flooding all regions with the light and life which will never pass away. His teachings which embody the divine spirit of the age and are applicable to this period of maturity in the life of the human world are: The oneness of the world of humanity; the protection and guidance of the Holy Spirit; The foundation of all religion is one; Religion must be the cause of unity; Religion must accord with science and reason; Independent investigation of truth; Equality between men and women; The abandonment of prejudice; Universal Peace; Universal educatian; A universal language; Solution of the economic problem; An International Tribunal.

“Everyone who truly seeks and justly reflects will admit that the teachings of the present day emanating from mere human sources and authority are the cause of difficulty and disagreement amongst mankind, the very destroyers of humanity, whereas the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh are the very healing of the sick world, the remedy for every need and condition. In them may be found the realization of every desire and aspiration, the cause of the happiness of the world of humanity, the stimulus and illumination of mentality, the impulse for advancement and uplift, the basis of unity for all nations, the fountain source of love amongst mankind, the center of agreement, the means of love and harmony, the one bond which will unite the East and the West.” (November 17, 1912, at Genealogical Hall, New York City.)

Immeasurable Upward Progress

“In this present cycle there will be an evolution in civilization unparalleled in the history of the world. The world of humanity has heretofore been in the stage of infancy; now it is approaching maturity. Just as the individual human organism, having attained the period of maturity, reaches its fullest degree of physical strength and ripened intellectual faculties, so that in one year of this ripened period there is witnessed an unprecedented measure of development, likewise the world of humanity in this cycle of its completeness and consummation will realize an immeasurable upward progress.” (April 21, 1912, 1219 Connecticut Avenue, Washington, D. C.)

“According to an intrinsic law, all phenomena of being attain to a summit and degree of consummation, after which a new order and condition is established. As the instruments and science of war have reached the degree of thoroughness and proficiency, it is hoped that the transformation of the human world is at hand and that in the coming centuries all the energies and inventions of man will be utilized in promoting the interests of peace and brotherhood…

“The powers of earth cannot withstand the privilege and bestowals which God has ordained for this great and glorious century. Peace is a need and exigency of the time. Man can withstand anything except that which is divinely intended and indicated for the time and its requirements.

Now, praise be to God, in all countries of the world peace lovers are to be found and these principles are being spread among mankind, especially in this country. Praise be to God, this thought is prevailing and souls are continually arising as defenders of the oneness of humanity, endeavouring to assist and establish international peace. There is no doubt that this wonderful democracy will be able to realize it and the banner of international agreement will be unfurled here to spread onward and outward among all the nations of the world.” (May 13, 1912, at meeting of New York Peace Society, Hotel Astor.)

“May America become the distributing centre of spiritual enlightenment and all the world receive this heavenly blessing. For America has developed powers and capacities greater and more wonderful than other nations. While it is true that its people have attained a marvellous material civilization, I hope that spiritual forces will animate this great body and a corresponding spiritual civilization be established.” (April 16, 1912, at Hotel Ansonia, New York City.)

“Though these quotations are but a few fragments of the complete text, nevertheless they reveal the outline of a religious philosophy which penetrates to the soul of history and explains the strange disorders tormenting the present age. In Bahá’u’lláh a spiritual Sun has arisen above the darkness of the world, a touchstone dividing the false and the true, compelling a final, struggle between the forces of materialism and those of reality. He evokes a new and universal loyalty which alone can sustain the burden of world administration and develop in men their latent higher powers. He reinforces the hope of peace and the desire for social justice, by the assurance that they emanate from the very order of human evolution. Enshrined in the teaching of Bahá’u’lláh is the principle of a worldwide social structure, an organism fitted to the present needs of humanity. His teachings universalize the teachings given by prophets in the past.