Beyond personal refinement, the Baha’i teachings seek global refinement. So just for a moment, try to mentally answer this question: what would a refined system of governance look like?
In the end, we cannot leave this discourse about refinement as it relates to attention to personal details, about daily assessment of our own inner progress, without citing a passage that, perhaps more than any other in the Baha’i teachings, sums up the overall importance of personal refinement as the essential building block for universal progress:
Not by the force of numbers, not by the mere exposition of a set of new and noble principles, not by an organized campaign of teaching—no matter how worldwide and elaborate in its character—not even by the staunchness of our faith or the exaltation of our enthusiasm, can we ultimately hope to vindicate in the eyes of a critical and skeptical age the supreme claim of the Abha Revelation. One thing and only one thing will unfailingly and alone secure the undoubted triumph of this sacred Cause, namely, the extent to which our own inner life and private character mirror forth in their manifold aspects the splendor of those eternal principles proclaimed by Baha’u’llah. – Shoghi Effendi, Baha’i Administration, p. 66.
At the other end of the spectrum, we can consider refinement in terms of its largest global expressions. We can explore refinement as it becomes expressed in ever more expansive structures of a spiritualized social order, concluding in this dispensation with the establishment of a global commonwealth. Its own refinement will no doubt be demonstrated by the extent to which that commonwealth is capable of ensuring justice for all on a global level, while simultaneously being no less attentive to the needs of the health, education, and general well-being of each individual.
We can with little effort instinctively sense how much better off the individual would fare in a system wherein human rights are recognized as the God-given inheritance of every citizen within the world community. This unique feature of the Baha’i vision—how refinement is achieved at every level—applies to the individual, the family, and the community.
Every social system, which has in the past, attempted to control vast areas of the globe, most often has been or has become a tyrannical empire that colonized and enslaved other peoples. Therefore, we can rightly ponder what makes the Baha’i vision of a global commonwealth “refined,” so that it will ensure justice, peace, and security, while simultaneously ensuring individual rights and freedoms?
One simple response is to call to mind a statement by Shoghi Effendi in which he cites as one of the hallmarks of the unique properties of the Baha’i design for a global federation as being comprised of the best qualities of various forms of governmental structure, while containing none of the negative features associated with those same forms:
The Baha’i Commonwealth of the future, of which this vast Administrative Order is the sole framework, is, both in theory and practice, not only unique in the entire history of political institutions, but can find no parallel in the annals of any of the world’s recognized religious systems. No form of democratic government; no system of autocracy or of dictatorship, whether monarchical or republican; no intermediary scheme of a purely aristocratic order; nor even any of the recognized types of theocracy, whether it be the Hebrew Commonwealth, or the various Christian ecclesiastical organizations, or the Imamate or the Caliphate in Islam—none of these can be identified or be said to conform with the Administrative Order which the master-hand of its perfect Architect has fashioned. – Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 152.
He further noted that:
This new-born Administrative Order incorporates within its structure certain elements which are to be found in each of the three recognized forms of secular government, without being in any sense a mere replica of any one of them, and without introducing within its machinery any of the objectionable features which they inherently possess. It blends and harmonizes, as no government fashioned by mortal hands has as yet accomplished, the salutary truths which each of these systems undoubtedly contains without vitiating the integrity of those God-given verities on which it is ultimately founded. – Ibid., pp. 152-153.
In continuing to detail the salient features of this divinely guided body politic outlined in the Baha’i teachings, Shoghi Effendi observed that the “the Administrative Order of the Faith of Baha’u’llah must in no wise be regarded as purely democratic in character” even though the governing body of the Faith, the Universal House of Justice is elected, because this body is not
… responsible to those whom they represent, nor are they allowed to be governed by the feelings, the general opinion, and even the convictions of the mass of the faithful, or of those who directly elect them. – Ibid., p. 153.
Then the Guardian wrote:
Nor can the Baha’i Administrative Order be dismissed as a hard and rigid system of unmitigated autocracy or as an idle imitation of any form of absolutistic ecclesiastical government, whether it be the Papacy, the Imamate or any other similar institution, for the obvious reason that upon the international elected representatives of the followers of Baha’u’llah has been conferred the exclusive right of legislating on matters not expressly revealed in the Baha’i writings. Neither the Guardian of the Faith nor any institution apart from the International House of Justice can ever usurp this vital and essential power or encroach upon that sacred right. – Ibid.
Shoghi Effendi observed that the Baha’i Administrative Order is also not to:
… be confused with any system of purely aristocratic government in view of the fact that it upholds, on the one hand, the hereditary principle and entrusts the Guardian of the Faith with the obligation of interpreting its teachings, and provides, on the other, for the free and direct election from among the mass of the faithful of the body that constitutes its highest legislative organ. – Ibid., p. 154.
We can only guess how this refinement of the human social construct will look, especially since, like all other organic structures, it will constantly evolve and become ever more refined over time.