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We live in unsettling times—and part of that sense of unease comes from the fact that the world has contracted into a virtual village.
For thousands of years geography and great distances divided humanity into small isolated islands of people around the world, totally separated by time and space. We lived in villages with limited populations, and rarely traveled more than a short distance from where we were born and died.
But as we progressed through the centuries following the age of discovery, the world progressively shrunk to a new pattern. As transportation and technology developed, the distances between us diminished. We encountered new cultures, new peoples, new ways of thinking. The people of the Occident and Orient embraced, but they came together in a hostile way that brought humanity to the edge of world peril. Through the flash fires of the last century’s World Wars, we went through conflagrations that threatened the very existence of life on the planet—but we also approached the possibility for a world free of war.
Why did this happen, and where are we going as a result?
The Baha’i teachings say that global peace and the unity of humankind has never been possible before now, because we did not have the simple means for the unity of the planet:
In cycles gone by, though harmony was established, yet, owing to the absence of means, the unity of all mankind could not have been achieved. Continents remained widely divided, nay even among the peoples of one and the same continent association and interchange of thought were well-nigh impossible. Consequently intercourse, understanding and unity amongst all the peoples and kindreds of the earth were unattainable. In this day, however, means of communication have multiplied, and the five continents of the earth have virtually merged into one. And for everyone it is now easy to travel to any land, to associate and exchange views with its peoples, and to become familiar, through publications, with the conditions, the religious beliefs and the thoughts of all men. In like manner all the members of the human family, whether peoples or governments, cities or villages, have become increasingly interdependent. For none is self-sufficiency any longer possible, inasmuch as political ties unite all peoples and nations, and the bonds of trade and industry, of agriculture and education, are being strengthened every day. Hence the unity of all mankind can in this day be achieved. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, pp. 31-32.
To accomplish this visionary goal, Baha’u’llah wrote to the kings and rulers of the world at the time, and told them to convene an all-inclusive representative assembly:
It is incumbent upon the Sovereigns of the world … to convene an all-inclusive assembly, which either they themselves or their ministers will attend, and to enforce whatever measures are required to establish unity and concord amongst men. They must put away the weapons of war, and turn to the instruments of universal reconstruction. – Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 30-31.
This global convocation, Baha’u’llah said, would lay the basis for world peace, disarmament, and the unity of the planet—the beginning of a world civilization.
But Baha’u’llah, perceived by some rulers as an enemy who threatened the establishment of that time, did not immediately prevail. The kings and clerics of the empires of Persia and Turkey jailed, tortured and exiled him. Finally banished to Akka, Palestine, the rulers hoping they would never hear from him again, Baha’u’llah suffered forty years of exile and imprisonment. Of course, these efforts to silence Baha’u’llah’s message in the nineteenth century failed. His followers, even though they were killed by the thousands in genocidal efforts to wipe them out, did not suffer extermination. The lofty goals in his letters did not sink into oblivion. The spiritual impetus in his new Faith did not fade away. Instead, his ideas advanced, his followers increased and the Baha’i Faith became a world religion.
During the Twentieth Century, national leaders did convene the first international assemblies to establish the League of Nations and then the United Nations—and although neither of those worldwide institutions lived up entirely to the Baha’i principle of a democratically-elected Parliament of Man, they opened up the possibility of global governance and lasting peace:
Acceptance of the oneness of mankind is the first fundamental prerequisite for reorganization and administration of the world as one country, the home of humankind. Universal acceptance of this spiritual principle is essential to any successful attempt to establish world peace. It should therefore be universally proclaimed, taught in schools, and constantly asserted in every nation as preparation for the organic change in the structure of society which it implies.
In the Baha’i view, recognition of the oneness of mankind “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.” – The Universal House of Justice, The Promise of World Peace, October 1985, p. 3.
Those leaders convened global institutions because they knew that unity forms the basis for every successful society. The next essay in this short series will examine how the process of integration and creating ever-wider unity has advanced society from family, to tribe, to city-state, to nation—and explore why humanity now faces the frontier of global unity and the end to war.