Today so much of our political wrangling, discord and division come from a single controversial topic: borders. We arbitrarily draw them on maps, and then fight, kill and die over them.
In ancient history, civilizations did not have the definite boundaries states have today—their borders could be more accurately described as frontiers.
The Roman Empire (27 BCE – 476 CE) became the first western civilization known to accurately define their borders. The basis of many succeeding governmental systems then emerged from authority or ideas borrowed from Roman or Greek city-states. Later, the European states of the Dark Ages and Middle Ages gained their authority from the Roman Catholic church. During that period loose, relatively undefined national boundaries were first established, mainly through conquests, wars, or colonization. Only recently in human history—during the last few centuries—have we demarcated firm national borders and boundaries.
Beyond those artificial borders, the primary principle of the Baha’i Faith—the unity of humanity and the oneness of the world—envisions a future state of society in which all people live and thrive as global citizens:
That one indeed is a man who, today, dedicateth himself to the service of the entire human race. The Great Being saith: Blessed and happy is he that ariseth to promote the best interests of the peoples and kindreds of the earth. … It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 167.
Does that basic principle mean the Baha’i teachings advocate, as some might suggest, a completely borderless world? Does it mean that Baha’is are globalists, who call for the elimination of all nations in favor of one world government?
Reading this speech, given by Abdu’l-Baha in the United States in 1912, you might initially be tempted to reach that conclusion:
This is one globe, one land, one country. God did not divide it into national boundaries. He created all the continents without national divisions. Why should we make such division ourselves? These are but imaginary lines and boundaries. Europe is a continent; it is not naturally divided; man has drawn the lines and established the limits of kingdoms and empires. Man declares a river to be a boundary line between two countries, calling this side French and the other side German, whereas the river was created for both and is a natural artery for all. Is it not imagination and ignorance which impels man to violate the divine intention and make the very bounties of God the cause of war, bloodshed and destruction? Therefore, all prejudices between man and man are falsehoods and violations of the will of God. God desires unity and love; He commands harmony and fellowship. Enmity is human disobedience; God Himself is love. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 299-300.
Abdu’l-Baha, however, offered a more detailed view of a potential future world commonwealth in his 1875 book The Secret of Divine Civilization. In it, he envisioned a globally-federated union of nations, much like the individual states of the United States or today’s individual nations of the European Union, sovereign and independently governed but also a unified part of a larger whole:
True civilization will unfurl its banner in the midmost heart of the world whenever a certain number of its distinguished and high-minded sovereigns—the shining exemplars of devotion and determination—shall, for the good and happiness of all mankind, arise, with firm resolve and clear vision, to establish the Cause of Universal Peace. They must make the Cause of Peace the object of general consultation, and seek by every means in their power to establish a Union of the nations of the world. They must conclude a binding treaty and establish a covenant, the provisions of which shall be sound, inviolable and definite. … In this all-embracing Pact the limits and frontiers of each and every nation should be clearly fixed, the principles underlying the relations of governments towards one another definitely laid down, and all international agreements and obligations ascertained. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 64.
The Baha’i teachings can’t be understood in isolation. These passages, from Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, further explain the Baha’i vision of how a united world—one that does not do away with nations, but brings them together in a global federation of countries—could work:
Unification of the whole of mankind is the hall-mark of the stage which human society is now approaching. Unity of family, of tribe, of city-state, and nation have been successively attempted and fully established. World unity is the goal towards which a harassed humanity is striving. Nation-building has come to an end. The anarchy inherent in state sovereignty is moving towards a climax. A world, growing to maturity, must abandon this fetish, recognize the oneness and wholeness of human relationships, and establish once for all the machinery that can best incarnate this fundamental principle of its life. – Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 202.
The unity of the human race, as envisaged by Baha’u’llah, implies the establishment of a world commonwealth in which all nations, races, creeds and classes are closely and permanently united, and in which the autonomy of its state members and the personal freedom and initiative of the individuals that compose them are definitely and completely safeguarded. – Ibid., p. 203.