The entire structure of Baha’i belief revolves around unity in diversity, aimed at the realization of the oneness of humankind.
Baha’u’llah’s vision of this emerging global order is captured in his call for a “New World Order.” Abdu’l-Baha’s analysis of modernity and development in his book The Secret of Divine Civilization presents a sociological and political extension of this same concept of a new world order.
For that reason, let’s explore the meaning of this term. Of course, the details of Baha’u’llah’s concept of the new world order go far beyond the scope of these short essays. In fact, the entire teachings and principles of the Baha’i Faith orient themselves towards this complex concept. At the same time, the Baha’i concept of a new world order is qualitatively different from the recent use of the same term in the political writings of some contemporary politicians and writers.
Baha’u’llah wrote frequently on the social and spiritual conditions that lead to order. Abdu’l-Baha also explicitly deals with the question of order in The Secret of Divine Civilization. The question of order comprises the fundamental question of political and social theory, because the mere fact of social life and collective organization requires some sort of order regulating the behavior of the individuals in society. No society is possible without order, or to say it differently, order is a fundamental condition of the possibility of society.
For this reason, the question of order became the first systematic question of modern Western political theory. Modern political theory is associated with Thomas Hobbes’ political writings during the 17th century. The question posed by Hobbes is normally called the Hobbesian problem of order. Hobbes in his famous book Leviathan investigated the basis of order in society. According to Hobbes human beings are naturally selfish, aggressive, and concerned with the pursuit of their interests. Therefore, Hobbes argued, in the state of nature humans will use any means to get what they want, and they will not refrain from stealing or murder. Consequently, in the state of nature there can be no order—there would be perpetual war of all against everyone else. Hobbes famously called such a life “nasty, brutish, and short.”
Hobbes’ solution to the problem of order is again rooted in his definition of human nature. Humans are for Hobbes selfish and yet rational. By the term rational, Hobbes means that people will try to maximize their pleasure and minimize their costs. In other words, rational people will follow their selfish interests efficiently and effectively. Since humans are rational, they understand that the state of nature is harmful to them and contradicts their interests. Therefore, because of their selfishness humans decide to engage in a social contract in order to create laws and political institutions so that the fear of punishment by a strong state will prevent selfish individuals from committing criminal acts. Order, therefore, is the product of the fear of punishment and coercion. Hobbesian theory inspired the philosophy of the Enlightenment of the 18th century. Although the philosophers of the Enlightenment disagreed with the dictatorial form of a Hobbesian state, they maintained and affirmed the basic principles of his theory of order.
The inadequacy of this rationalistic conception of order became increasingly evident in 19th century sociology and political theory. Modern social and political theory not only affirmed the normative and symbolic character of human action and motivation, but also re-conceptualized the relation of individuals in society in terms of new ideas like solidarity, common bond, common religion, shared values, shared culture, legitimacy, and normative integration.
Baha’u’llah’s concept of order should be understood in terms of this theoretical problem. In his writings, Baha’u’llah emphasized that a system of reward and punishment is the necessary but not the sole or sufficient condition for the maintenance of order in society. According to Baha’u’llah, order requires not only reward and punishment but also internalized moral values, religious belief, and love of humanity.
Strikingly, Baha’u’llah’s analysis of the concept of order was directly opposed to the Western Enlightenment’s concept. For the latter, human reason and his selfish orientation guarantee social order, which eliminates the need for religion and divine guidance in human life. In other words, Enlightenment’s theory of order called for a total rejection of religion and spiritual values. Baha’u’llah, on the other hand, conceived of the question of order as a proof of the need for religion and divine revelation in human history:
In formulating the principles and laws a part hath been devoted to penalties which form an effective instrument for the security and protection of men. However, dread of penalties maketh people desist only outwardly from committing vile and contemptible deeds, while that which guardeth and restraineth man both outwardly and inwardly hath been and still is the fear of God. It is man’s true protector and his spiritual guardian. – Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 93.
Elsewhere he wrote:
In truth, religion is a radiant light and an impregnable stronghold for the protection and welfare of the peoples of the world, for the fear of God impelleth man to hold fast to that which is good, and shun all evil. Should the lamp of the religion be obscured, chaos and confusion will ensue, and the lights of fairness and justice, of tranquility and peace cease to shine. – Ibid., p. 125.
In his other writings, Baha’u’llah calls on his believers to observe divine law and commandments because of their love for the divine beauty.
Now we can see the meaning of the term order in the concept of new world order. Baha’u’llah taught that human social order must be based upon not only scientific and instrumental rationality, but also on moral principles and divine guidance.