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Human life on our little planet didn’t change very drastically or very quickly until about two hundred years ago.
In the early 1800s, most people on Earth lived pretty much the same way they did for the past couple of millennia.
Technology? Not so much. The slow pace of mechanical progress still relied on rudimentary tools and ancient metallurgy. Science? Not really—science had just begun to attempt to understand the natural world comprehensively; the word “scientist” wasn’t even coined until the 1830s. Medicine? You would probably be horrified by what passed for medicine two centuries ago, and so were its victims. Education? The great preponderance—maybe 98%—of the world’s people worked in agriculture and had no formal education at all. Democracy? Hardly—just a handful of countries allowed only white, land-owning men to vote. Modern transportation, communication and information technology rarely occurred in the best and brightest’s wildest dreams.
Then came the Industrial Revolution, and the Information Age, and the technology boom, and the world changed dramatically. In two hundred years, we took a gigantic leap from a basically medieval existence to a post-modern one. Humanity revolutionized itself. Dynasties failed. The old patterns of colonialism, slavery and subjugation largely disappeared. Education became widespread. Modern medicine and public health saved millions of lives, and doubled the average human lifespan. Transportation surged forward into the jet age, and then catapulted us into space. Science thrived; the world’s store of knowledge exploded; human beings explored every corner of the planet; democracies flourished; a global communications system developed; the world shrunk into a virtual neighborhood.
But we certainly haven’t experienced uniform progress across all disciplines or categories. Despite the enormous pace of change during the past two centuries, we still cling to some very antiquated ideas, institutions and structures. Maybe most perplexingly, humanity continues to hang on to the old 18th-Century, pre-Industrial Revolution idea of the nation-state.
Modern nation-states, defined as sovereign central governments with physical borders, emerged in the late 1700s with the revolutions in France and America. Many historians argue that nations existed earlier—the Dutch, the British, the German, even the ancient Egyptian—but those early nations looked more like empires, loose confederations of various kingdoms and fiefdoms, all with shifting rather than fixed borders. With the rise of the modern nation-state and its defined and rigidly-defended territories, we also saw the rise of national antagonisms and battles, which led us to the most destructive military conflicts in human history, the two World Wars in the first half of the 20th Century.
As a way to unify and provide an identity for people, the nation-state did a passable job for a few hundred years. It supplanted tribalism, city-states and feudal kingdoms as the world contracted, as distances shrunk, as technology advanced, and as participatory government grew.
But today, antiquated, artificial and dysfunctional, inherently conflictive and warlike, the system of nation-states has outlived its usefulness, according to the Baha’i teachings:
The principle of the Oneness of Mankind—the pivot round which all the teachings of Baha’u’llah revolve—is no mere outburst of ignorant emotionalism or an expression of vague and pious hope. Its appeal is not to be merely identified with a reawakening of the spirit of brotherhood and good-will among men, nor does it aim solely at the fostering of harmonious cooperation among individual peoples and nations. Its implications are deeper, its claims greater than any which the Prophets of old were allowed to advance. Its message is applicable not only to the individual, but concerns itself primarily with the nature of those essential relationships that must bind all the states and nations as members of one human family. – Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, pp. 42-43.
This overarching principle—the oneness of humanity—challenges all people and every one of our leaders to recognize and act on a new reality: we all live on one globe. We are one. We can no longer serve and administer billions of people and their issues and problems with a fractious collection of a few hundred divergent countries and their ineffectual, clashing political ideologies. It is time to unite. Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, went on to say that this powerful principle of the oneness of humanity:
… does not constitute merely the enunciation of an ideal, but stands inseparably associated with an institution adequate to embody its truth, demonstrate its validity, and perpetuate its influence. It implies an organic change in the structure of present-day society, a change such as the world has not yet experienced. It constitutes a challenge, at once bold and universal, to outworn shibboleths of national creeds—creeds that have had their day and which must, in the ordinary course of events as shaped and controlled by Providence, give way to a new gospel, fundamentally different from, and infinitely superior to, what the world has already conceived. It calls for no less than the reconstruction and the demilitarization of the whole civilized world—a world organically unified in all the essential aspects of its life, its political machinery, its spiritual aspiration, its trade and finance, its script and language, and yet infinite in the diversity of the national characteristics of its federated units. – Ibid., p. 43.
In today’s world, where international communication, travel, commerce, trade and interchange happen across national borders every millisecond; where the ebb and flow of human migration never ceases; where our knowledge, abilities, mobility and longevity have extended themselves to previously-unheard-of levels; and where freedom of expression and movement have become commonplace for the majority of the planet’s population; the outmoded conceptual framework of the nation-state and its restrictive borders can only offer humanity a set of obsolete conflicts, hindrances and barriers to its continuing growth and development.
Instead, Baha’is believe the time has come for all people to work toward a unified world:
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.