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Baha’u’llah’s new Faith attaches a spiritual, non-partisan dimension to the politics of international relations – so how do the Baha’i teachings propose to bring together a hyper-politicized world?
Briefly, the political project advocated by Bahaʼu’llah – an upright global governmentality – constitutes different arts, technologies, and tactics for governing and ruling, all elevated to a transcendental mode where governing or governance is concerned. This spirituality of polity, or spiritual realpolitik, thus encompasses a set of techniques and technologies, along with rationalities and mentalities, for governing by which the individual is politically transformed, “becoming other than what one is, other than oneself,” as the philosopher Michel Foucault wrote.
The Baha’i teachings call for the implementation of two powerful principles in pursuit of this spirituality of polity: that all people become citizens of one world under a single global government; and that in doing so we collectively avoid all othering, all division, and all political partisanship.
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In that sense, Bahaʼu’llah’s project of political spirituality is an inherently political process – political in the Foucauldian sense of the term – because Baha’u’llah rejects not only divisive partisanship, but also the incorporation of organized religion into the politics of international relations. Indeed, the Baha’i teachings iterate, time and time again, that priests or religious teachers “… should not invade the realm of politics.”
Doing so, both Baha’u’llah and his successor Abdu’l-Baha repeatedly warned, would destroy the foundation of religion itself while corrupting the body politic.
As a corrective, Bahaʼu’llah designated two separate modes of governmentality for world affairs, one politically spiritual and the other religious. That religious sphere, not doctrinaire but mystically oriented, is thus divorced from partisan politics. Baha’u’llah also advocated the abolition of priesthoods, not only to free humanity of the sometimes pernicious effects of the clergy but because a dogmatic priestly approach to the modern world is often attached to ancient superstitions and predisposed to denounce science.
The Baha’i teachings assert that science and religion must validate one another, considering religion without science as superstition. Abdu’l-Baha, in a speech given in London in 1911, said “religion and science are inter-twined with each other and cannot be separated.”
The Universal House of Justice, the democratically-elected global governing body of the Baha’i Faith, has written:
… faith in God and confidence in social progress are in every sense reconcilable … science and religion are the two inseparable, reciprocal systems of knowledge impelling the advancement of [a world] civilization.
In the same vein, Bahaʼu’llah’s world order, both in the realm of mysticism and political spirituality, is free of any mode or form of partisan politics. All this connotes that political spirituality, the sole bastion of Bahaʼu’llah’s upright governmentality, is free of the doctrinaire religious meddling endemic to partisan governments. In this way, Foucault agreed: “What is politics … in the end … if not both the interplay of [the] different arts [and technologies] of government with their different reference points and the debate to which these different arts of government give rise?”
Foucault wrote that the spiritual in political spirituality is intended to socio-politicize the individual to become “a subject acceding to a certain mode of being and to the transformation which the subject must make of himself in order to accede to this mode of being.” In this “mode of self-transformation” the individual remakes the inner self, working to “change, purify, transform, and transfigure oneself.”
This process of self-transformation, according to Foucault, comprises “certain practice[s] by which the individual [is] displaced, transformed, disrupted, to the point of renouncing [his] … own subject position. It’s no longer being the subject that one had been up to that point.”
This governmentalization of the self, or the voluntary regulation of self-conduct toward others, serves to validate, rationalize, and technologize a global upright governmentality, achieved by undergoing a politically spiritual transformation – an exploration and maturation of the self, of politics, and of the political self as well.
Yet this is no mere “self-transformation,” as Baha’is understand it, for in Baha’u’llah’s transcendental politics political spirituality also constitutes, for entire peoples, a unified mode of change and transformation.
Baha’u’llah announced that he had come to bring humanity “the Most Great Peace” – to be achieved by realizing a political goal, namely “the betterment of the world and the tranquility of its people.” In this way, Baha’u’llah’s teachings take Foucault’s notion of transformation of self to a higher plain, namely that of fundamentally altering “the whole character of mankind, a transformation that shall manifest itself both outwardly and inwardly, that shall affect both its inner life and external conditions,” as Baha’u’llah wrote. According to historian and UCLA professor Nader Saiedi, this represents a call for the “reconstruction of religion” at the service of a “reinterpretation of the world and [its] social order,” the purpose of which lies in “bring[ing] about a culture of unity in diversity and institutionaliz[ing] universal peace in the world.”
In this spirit Baha’u’llah emphasized, time and time again, the importance for all to adhere to his teachings as a prerequisite for bringing about what Foucault would call a “change in their subjectivity,” as a way for this ethical self-transformation can take shape. Baha’u’llah wrote:
Immerse yourselves in the ocean of My words, that ye may unravel its secrets, and discover all the pearls of wisdom that lie hid in its depths, [so] strife and conflict may be removed from the midst of men.
RELATED: Why Baha’is Don’t Participate in Partisan Politics
Foucault echoed the same sentiment. In arguing that for the global order to change for the better, scientists, world leaders, and their peoples alike must first change themselves by “renew[ing] their entire existence.” For Baha’u’llah, realizing these ends requires, as Nader Saiedi opines, “a fundamental transformation in all aspects of human existence.” This means, for Baha’is all over the world, that achieving a lasting peace must take the form, not of a ready-made project, but a complex and multidimensional process.
Apprehending this point is crucial, because realizing the grand project that is Baha’u’llah’s Most Great Peace implies, not the miraculous creation of a New World Order, but rather a paradigmatically-shifting, transcendentally-political association with certain new values, norms, rules, specific knowledges, and discourses that require years, indeed decades, of work, to achieve a state of upright governmentality both at the grassroots and global level.
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