Unlike the ideas of secular Eastern or Western intellectuals, Abdu’l-Baha had a unique concept of development: both decentralized and global.
An essential aspect of the Baha’i theory of the development of society, which differentiates it from any theory of development in the 19th, 20th or 21st century, is the strong emphasis on the need for international cooperation, peace, and a global approach to modernity.
Although for a better understanding of this issue one must look at the totality of Abdu’l-Baha’s writings, we can find explicit analysis of this significant question in his book The Secret of Divine Civilization. Recognizing the complex interrelation of different parts of the world in economic, political, scientific, and cultural domains, Abdu’l-Baha argued in The Secret that the question of development cannot be adequately addressed simply through nationalistic measures and policies.
He called on the political and religious leaders of the world to come together and create international agreements for world peace. For Abdu’l-Baha, a hyper-militarized world in which much of the world’s resources are wasted on military pursuits and destructive weapons will never contribute to social, cultural, and economic development. Social justice within different countries would also be difficult to achieve if and when governments have to continually waste their resources in preparation for war and arms races. Abdu’l-Baha emphasized the need for universal disarmament, and an orientation to promote life—not death:
True civilization will unfurl its banner in the midmost heart of the world whenever a certain number of its distinguished and high-minded sovereigns … shall, for the good and happiness of all mankind, arise … to establish the cause of universal peace. They must … seek to establish a Union of the nations of the world. They must conclude a binding treaty and establish a covenant … In this all-embracing pact the limits and frontiers of each and every nation should be clearly fixed … In like manner, the size of the armaments of every government should be strictly limited, for if the preparations for war and military forces of any nation should be allowed to increase, they will arouse suspicion of the others … – Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, pp. 64-65.
While in The Secret Abdu’l-Baha does not discuss the issue in great detail, in his other writings he elaborates extensively and frequently on this de-militarized global Baha’i approach to the reformation of the planet. Indeed, this is not surprising, given the fact that Baha’u’llah declared the oneness of humankind to be the ultimate goal of the Baha’i revelation.
For Abdu’l-Baha the concept of oneness of humanity is simultaneously a moral and structural imperative. This means, from a Baha’i perspective, that both a new morality of love and fellowship, and new political, economic, and cultural structures are needed for realization of true unity.
Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha stressed the necessity of both individual and structural transformations of humanity. On an individual level, the oneness of humankind is based on a spiritual morality which sees all humans as equal and sacred. Humans as manifestations and mirrors of divine attributes are loved and dignified in this new moral and spiritual vision. So the morality of the Baha’i teachings is not simply a morality of consequences, but also a morality of pure intentions, adaptations to new situations, commitment to principles of equality and solidarity, and an orientation to self-sacrifice and preference for others over one’s self. In short, it is a morality of love—the same underlying morality of all great Faiths.
At the same time, Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha called for structural transformations of social institutions as well. An important component of this new Baha’i structural ideal is the emergence of international and global economic, political, linguistic, and judicial institutions. World peace, elimination of hunger, and global development are conditioned on these twin processes:
… man’s glory and greatness do not consist in his being avid for blood and sharp of claw, in tearing down cities and spreading havoc, in butchering armed forces and civilians. What would mean a bright future for him would be his reputation for justice, his kindness to the entire population whether high or low, his building up countries and cities, villages and districts, his making life easy, peaceful and happy for his fellow beings, his laying down fundamental principles for progress, his raising the standards and increasing the wealth of the entire population. – Ibid., p. 66.