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Last week I drove across a border without seeing any checkpoint or border control station. No passport was necessary. Nobody asked me my destination or the purpose of my trip. I didn’t even slow down.
That open border – between my home state of California and the neighboring state of Nevada – only has a small sign indicating the dividing line between the two jurisdictions. As I drove past it, I thought “What if the whole world were like this?”
In some places, it already is. The European Union, a federalized political and economic entity made up of 27 distinct countries, has existed since 1993. Nineteen of those member nations use one currency, the Euro. EU citizens from any one member nation can move freely between any other member states to live, work, travel, vacation, attend school, or retire. Borders between EU countries have been de-emphasized, and in some cases are as easy to traverse as the one I crossed last week.
The EU, the world’s first successful example of multi-state cooperation and unity, takes the 50-state American concept of federalism one step further, bringing together 27 nations for the first time in human history.
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What is Federalism?
Anyone familiar with the United States Constitution, first adopted in 1789, probably has a good idea of the definition of the word federal:
feˑdeˑral adj. <Latin foedus, a league, treaty, pact, or covenant> 1. a union of states in which each member subordinates its power to a central authority.
Federalism, at least in the way the United States and dozens of other countries currently practice it, describes a mixed mode of government with a central or “federal” component coordinating and overseeing regional governments in a single system. In the U.S., these modes have a division of powers based on parity.
Most of the developed and democratized large countries of the world now utilize some version of federalism: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Belgium, Canada, Ethiopia, Germany, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, etc. Citizens of federalized political systems now make up 40 per cent of the world’s population.
Can We Federalize the Entire World?
In 1912, during Abdu’l-Baha’s eight-month sojourn in North America, an American congressman asked him “How can I best serve my country?”
The surprising answer the congressman received – recounted here by Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, in his book Advent of Divine Justice – can apply to us all:
Abdu’l-Baha’s counsel to a highly placed official in its government comes to mind, with peculiar appropriateness and force: You can best serve your country if you strive, in your capacity as a citizen of the world, to assist in the eventual application of the principle of federalism, underlying the government of your own country, to the relationships now existing between the peoples and nations of the world.
Establishing a federated union of all the world’s nations into one democratic global commonwealth represents the main social goal of the Baha’i teachings, as proclaimed here by Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith:
Be united, O kings of the earth, for thereby will the tempest of discord be stilled amongst you, and your peoples find rest, if ye be of them that comprehend. Should any one among you take up arms against another, rise ye all against him, for this is naught but manifest justice. … Should anyone seek refuge with you, extend unto him your protection and betray him not. Thus doth the Pen of the Most High counsel you, as bidden by Him Who is the All-Knowing, the All-Informed.
Abdu’l-Baha, affirming Baha’u’llah’s vision of a unified world and clearly envisioning its eventual establishment, said:
The people of the future will not say, “I belong to the nation of England, France or Persia”; for all of them will be citizens of a universal nationality — the one family, the one country, the one world of humanity — and then these wars, hatreds and strifes will pass away.
When Abdu’l-Baha gave his advice about federalism to the congressman, only a handful of the world’s governments employed a federal system. But today, more than a century later, many if not most of the world’s most stable, successful large governmental structures have adopted federalism as their model.
Baha’is want to see that trend encompass the whole world, and believe that a new system of federated nations joined together in world unity can bring an end to warfare, stop the expenditure of enormous sums on weapons and armies, increase the world’s prosperity, reduce taxation, and save the lives of millions of people who die from starvation, lack of proper health care, poverty, and armed conflict.
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Baha’u’llah wrote “If the learned and wise men of goodwill were to impart guidance unto the people, the whole earth would be regarded as one country.” Abdu’l-Baha described what that could mean for all of us:
… the ages of darkness have passed away, and the century of light has come. Ignorant prejudices are being dispelled, and the light of unity is shining. The differences existing between nations and peoples will soon be annulled, and the fundamentals of the divine religions, which are no other than the oneness and solidarity of the human race, are being established. For thousands of years the human race has been at war. It is enough. Now let mankind, for a time at least, consort in amity and peace. Enmity and hatred have ruled. Let the world, for a period, exercise love. For thousands of years the nations have denied each other, considering each other as infidel and inferior. It is sufficient. We must now realize that we are the servants of one God, that we turn to one beneficent Father, live under one divine law, seek one reality and have one desire. Thus may we live in the utmost friendship and love, and in return the favors and bounties of God shall surround us; the world of humanity will be reformed; mankind, enjoy a new life; eternal light will illumine, and heavenly moralities become manifest.
Then divine policy shall govern the world, for the divine policy is the oneness of humanity.
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