The Baha’i social philosophy offers a universal perspective for explaining the necessary and dynamic relationships between people and nations.
You can find that universal Baha’i philosophy in the writings and teachings of Abdu’l-Baha, who puts his finger on specific cases of social problems and injustices, but moves on to define them in the context of a wide, integrating worldview. That unique global view of human destiny sees world unity as the culminating point in our collective history.
Abdu’l-Baha taught that a universal approach to the overall human condition is necessary in order to see social phenomena as integrated processes, rather than a series of isolated and unconnected events. In his writings and speeches, he employed a global perspective in identifying social problems—and then contextualized them beyond their usual binary divides, to show that focusing on only one side of a problem can create reductionist thinking that lacks a coherent frame of reference:
In cycles gone by, though harmony was established, yet, owing to the absence of means, the unity of all mankind could not have been achieved. Continents remained widely divided, nay even among the peoples of one and the same continent association and interchange of thought were well-nigh impossible. Consequently, intercourse, understanding, and unity amongst all the peoples and kindreds of the earth were unattainable. In this day, however, means of communication have multiplied, and the five continents of the earth have virtually merged into one. And for everyone it is now easy to travel to any land, to associate and exchange views with its peoples, and to become familiar, through publications, with the conditions, the religious beliefs and the thoughts of all men. In like manner, all the members of the human family, whether peoples or governments, cities or villages, have become increasingly interdependent. For none is self-sufficiency any longer possible, inasmuch as political ties unite all peoples and nations, and the bonds of trade and industry, of agriculture and education, are being strengthened every day. Hence the unity of all mankind can in this day be achieved. Verily this is none other but one of the wonders of this wondrous age, this glorious century. Of this past ages have been deprived, for this century—the century of light—hath been endowed with unique and unprecedented glory, power and illumination. Hence the miraculous unfolding of a fresh marvel every day. Eventually, it will be seen how bright its candles will burn in the assemblage of man. – Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 32.
Let’s look at a few examples of Abdu’l-Baha’s inclusive, nonpartisan perspective:
- Abdu’l-Baha defended the labor movement, but unlike the Marxist approach, did not define the course of history and society in terms of competing classes. He advocated decent, living wages for workers; profit-sharing by the employers among the workers; strong anti-trust laws to protect the workers; and the right of workers to use collective bargaining methods to negotiate with management, utilizing spiritual laws of justice and compassion. Meanwhile, he rejected intractable, excessive demands by both sides. The Baha’i teachings call for the elimination of the disparity between rich and poor as a fundamental principle of a just society and a prerequisite for world peace. Abdu’l-Baha condemned the excesses of capitalism and its inherent materialism, but did not call for the collapse of private ownership—in fact, he emphasized the need for individual incentives in the economic system. Abdu’l-Baha also exalted work to the rank of worship, encouraged individual responsibility, and recommended that everyone engage in useful work by learning and practicing an occupation, profession, trade or craft.
- Abdu’l-Baha held the West responsible for its militarism, colonialism and moral decline—but at the same time he praised the West for respecting liberty, supporting human rights, advancing science and technology, and defending tolerance and plurality.
- Abdu’l-Baha’s altruistic actions—especially feeding the hungry—became a source of reconciliation in Palestine during the turbulent years of the First World War and following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, and his love, kindness and service to all contending parties exemplify the universalistic approach all Baha’is try to manifest.
- Abdu’l-Baha condemned and actively defied racism in America—and yet rejected militant, separatist approaches, calling for reconciliation and unity on a higher plain of coexistence.
- Abdu’l-Baha decried the social injustices that tend to divide peoples into separate camps. However, he never deified or condemned any group, class, race, religion, or nation, seeing them all as subject to the universality of moral conflict and the new Baha’i teaching of the oneness of humanity.
In other words, Abdu’l-Baha’s teachings acknowledge the social factors that contribute to injustice, and recommend practical, spiritual solutions to remedy them through the rule of law and a global system of governance.