The principle teaching of the Baha’i Faith is the oneness of humanity. Baha’u’llah wrote: “The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens,” over 100 years ago.

By now we can all see that humanity is essentially interdependent; the oneness of humanity has become a spiritual truth also confirmed by all the sciences of our era. That’s the fundamental purpose of the Baha’i Faith—to “promote the unity of the human race, and to foster the spirit of love and fellowship amongst men.”Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 215.

However, in the United States, like many other countries that rely upon a partisan system of governance, people are accustomed to taking sides. In an extremely heated political climate, the idea of fostering the spirit of love and fellowship with someone across the political divide may seem disingenuous at best, and life-threatening at worst. Our deepest fears and longings related to economics, race equity, immigration, and justice have all tied themselves into the values of our various political parties. Our sense of social progress and justice rests with our hopes for victory over the “other side.”

But if we really want to promote the oneness of humanity, why do we accept any partisan system of social organization that necessarily divides us into camps and pits us against each other? How can we expect to arrive at a state of unity by using a process that inherently creates and fosters disunity?

As a member of the Baha’i Faith and an American, I vote—but I do my best not to identify with any political party, and I avoid engaging in political activity. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have a sense of justice or a vision for real social transformation. I do. I just think that partisanship is fundamentally inimical to the principle of humanity’s oneness, and therefore it cannot logically move us forward to a place where the principle of oneness forms the basis of governance.

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The Limits of Partisan Politics

Political polls continually show that Americans are bitterly divided along party lines, but this shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. If anything, it should confirm that the Western liberal democratic tradition of multiparty competition is working as intended.

Our system is built around enormous and deeply questionable assumptions about human reality: primarily that humans are selfish and competitive by nature, and that it is in our own best interest to be antagonistic towards the needs, values, and interests of our political rivals. Partisan politics demands that we always have “winners” and “losers.”

In my country, across all party lines, Americans are cynical towards government and mistrustful of corporate, financial, and political corruption that serves the interests of only a few powerful people or groups. But, to many, no other way of social interaction seems possible. We are literally caught in a frantic cycle of adversarial political backlash, and social media only seems to fuel our anger, fear, and frustration.

Within this narrative, serious social change is framed in terms of rallying against the un-favored party or politician, and then electing the right party or politician who can transform society into what we want it to be. But regardless of whatever party or politician is in power, the real root of the problem is that we are trapped in a divisive “us versus them” framework of competition, with all of its inevitable corruption, which allows for certain voices and interests to be privileged over others, and which paralyzes ordinary citizens from becoming agents of change in their own communities.

The partisan political system itself, with all of its narrow, built-in assumptions about human reality, forms one of the biggest obstacles to realizing the truly united and freely-functioning countries we would all like to see.

So if we want real social transformation, honest change and justice for all, we shouldn’t be looking for the perfect new candidate. We should search for a whole new way of relating to each other, and a bold new vision of society to actively work towards.

Baha’is believe that the only way to really break free of the profound social disunity in our societies—whether politically, racially, religiously, or otherwise—is to build true, authentic human solidarity, in a systematic manner, among all people. If we really want to see positive social change, we have to learn to build unity:

The welfare of any segment of humanity is inextricably bound up with the welfare of the whole. Humanity’s collective life suffers when any one group thinks of its own well-being in isolation from that of its neighbours or pursues economic gain without regard for how the natural environment, which provides sustenance for all, is affected… The world is in desperate need of a shared ethic, a sure framework for addressing the crises that gather like storm clouds. – The Universal House of Justice, March 1, 2017.

Love and unity are the needs of the body politic today. Without these there can be no progress or prosperity attained. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 171.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BahaiTeachings.org or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.

6 Comments

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  • Mark David Vinzens
    Jul 29, 2017
    The first step begins with this insight: „The world is not a problem to be solved—it is a living being to which we belong.“~ (Llevelyn Vaughan-Lee, Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of Earth)
  • Jul 29, 2017
    Last section on civics. Minarchy/Minarchism: A minimal hierarchy—e.g. sometimes said to include Eco-anarchism. Libertarianism: A philosophy based on the premise that all individuals are sovereign over their own lives and that personal and economic freedom should be maximized as much as possible without Government intervening in personal and business matters. The purpose of Government would only exist to protect and defend the freedom of the people. Another term would be Constitutionalism set forth by The United States Constitution and the United States Bill of Rights. The people would live through Voluntary association through the Free market, This is commonly known ...as Limited government. Not to be confused with Anarchism.
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  • Jul 29, 2017
    More civics here. Constitutional monarchy: A monarch, possibly purely symbolic and devoted to moral example, avoiding vesting such popularity in any less trustworthy political figure—typically tied to at least some deliberative institutions, and making the monarch a tiebreaker or mediator or coach. Direct democracy: Decisions made directly by the people without guidance or moral suasion, usually relying on multiple choices laid out by experts. Deliberative democracy: Decisions made by locally grouped citizens obligated to participate in consensus decision making process. America is a constitutional republic with representative democracy, but I felt the previous comment was too Amero-centric and on similar ...countries. So I added some systems.
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  • Jul 29, 2017
    Civics education is an important thing regardless of the system one live in. Constitutional republic is a state in which the head of state and other officials are representatives of the people. They must govern to existing constitution. In a constitutional republic, executive, legislative, and judicial powers can be separated into distinct branches. Representative democracy: A political class of elected representatives is trusted to carry out duties for the electors – these may be responsible to any group in society, or none, once elected. Given the above, and that people have widely different beliefs and perspectives, getting rid of parties ...will be distrusted by everyone as a power grab by the other side to destroy opposition agenda wise.
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  • Chris Cobb
    Jul 28, 2017
    Fantastic article. The main problem with abandoning partisan politics, in wider western society, as I see it is it seems to be the most coherent way to different groups with contrasting ideas and interests to engage with each other. Sure its not utopian and it definitely causes social disunity but the truth is the parties have incompatible ideologies and goals so antagonism is kind of inevitable.
  • Melanie Black
    Jul 28, 2017
    Hi Misha, I, of course, agree with you. I hope you'll write soon about how we are to get from here to there, because, from my limited view of reality, I don't know how that's going to happen. I only have faith that God has a plan, but human beings need to carry out the will of God. Thank you for your contribution to this complex issue.