“Accordingly, our respective Governments, through representatives assembled in the city of San Francisco, who have exhibited their full powers found to be in good and due form, have agreed to the present Charter of the United Nations and do hereby establish an international organization to be known as the United Nations.”
There have been a number of recent proposals which discuss the need for reforms in the United Nations system within a particular issue area. Our Common Future, the report of The World Commission on Environment and Development, for example, suggested a number of changes, such as the creation of a special UN “Board for Sustainable Development” to coordinate UN action in promoting development while protecting the environment.
Likewise, the report of The Brandt Commission, “Common Crisis North-South: Co-operation for World Recovery”, makes suggestions for reform in the critical area of finance, trade and energy, as they affect North-South imbalances.
The literature proposing widespread changes in the United Nations is also voluminous and continues to grow, especially in anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the United Nations. The first major and serious reassessments of the United Nations began in the 1950s, in anticipation of the 10th anniversary of the Charter. In this regard the publication in 1958 of World Peace through World Law by Louis B. Sohn and Grenville Clark, which was among the first solid proposals to suggest eliminating the veto power, must be considered a milestone.
More recent proposals range from The Stockholm Initiative, which offers a generalist vision of what might be done to strengthen the United Nations, to Harold Stassen’s recent United Nations: a Working Paper for Restructuring, which gives an article-by-article proposal for rewriting the UN Charter. Benjamin Ferencz’s latest book, New Legal Foundations for Global Survival, offers a series of hard-headed and legal-minded suggestions for reform based on the premise that nations, peoples and individuals must be free to pursue their destinies in whatever way they may see fit - providing it does not jeopardize or destroy the fundamental human rights of others to live in peace and dignity.
Many thinkers have recognized the reality of oneness and understood its implications for the development of human society, including paleontologist Richard Leakey: “We are one species, one people. Every individual on this earth is a member of ‘homo sapiens sapiens’, and the geographical variations we see among peoples are simply biological nuances on the basic theme. The human capacity for culture permits its elaboration in widely different and colorful ways. The often very deep differences between those cultures should not be seen as divisions between people. Instead, cultures should be interpreted for what they really are: the ultimate declaration of belonging to the human species.”
In general terms, the writings of Shoghi Effendi offer a thorough and extended exposition on the concept of the oneness of humanity. A brief summary of the concept, as Bahá’ís view it, can be found in The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh.
We are not alone in making this proposal. The Commission on Global Governance writes in Our Global Neighborhood: “Our recommendation is that the General Assembly should agree to hold a World Conference on Governance in 1998, with its decisions to be ratified and put into effect by 2000.”
Two commonly used maxims illustrate this principle. “Small is beautiful,” a maxim coined in the early ‘70s as an economic principle, applies equally to governance. Schumacher explains: “In the affairs of men, there always appears to be a need for at least two things simultaneously, which, on the face of it, seem to be incompatible and to exclude one another. We always need both freedom and order. We need the freedom of lots and lots of small, autonomous unities, and, at the same time, the orderliness of large-scale, possibly global, unity and coordination.”
“Think globally, act locally,” a slogan promoted by environmental and community development activists, captures a perspective in which the need for overall global coordination is carefully balanced against the need for local and national autonomy.
“Far from aiming at the subversion of the existing foundations of society… [a system of world governance] seeks to broaden its basis, to remold its institutions in a manner consonant with the needs of an ever-changing world. It can conflict with no legitimate allegiances, nor can it undermine essential loyalties. Its purpose is neither to stifle the flame of a sane and intelligent patriotism in men’s hearts, nor to abolish the system of national autonomy so essential if the evils of excessive centralization are to be avoided. It does not ignore, nor does it attempt to suppress, the diversity of ethnical origins, of climate, of history, of language and tradition, of thought and habit, that differentiate the peoples and nations of the world. It calls for a wider loyalty, for a larger aspiration than any that has animated the human race. It insists upon the subordination of national impulses and interests to the imperative claims of a unified world. It repudiates excessive centralization on one hand, and disclaims all attempts at uniformity on the other.”
Writing in the 1930s, Shoghi Effendi, who then led the worldwide Bahá’í community, sketched out some of the functions and responsibilities for a future world legislature. Among other things, he wrote: “a world legislature, whose members will, as trustees of the whole of mankind… enact such laws as shall be required to regulate the life, satisfy the needs and adjust the relationships of all races and peoples.”
This view is shared by such scholars as Jan Tinbergen, winner of the 1969 Nobel prize for Economics, who stated, “Mankind’s problems can no longer be solved by national governments. What is needed is a World Government. This can best be achieved by strengthening the United Nations system.”
Throughout His writings, Bahá’u’lláh consistently uses the terms “order”, “world order” and “new world order” to describe the ongoing and momentous series of changes in the political, social and religious life of the world. In the late 1860s, He wrote: “The world’s equilibrium hath been upset through the vibrating influence of this most great, this new World Order. Mankind’s ordered life hath been revolutionized through the agency of this unique, this wondrous System—the like of which mortal eyes have never witnessed.”
There are many ways that such a Commission, or even the World Legislature itself, might go about determining fair and just borders for all nations. But as daunting as the task may seem, it is an important part of the process of building a new order. Wrote ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá: “True civilization will unfurl its banner in the midmost heart of the world whenever a certain number of its distinguished and high-minded sovereigns—the shining exemplars of devotion and determination—shall, for the good and happiness of all mankind, arise, with firm resolve and clear vision, to establish the Cause of Universal Peace. They must make the Cause of Peace the object of general consultation, and seek by every means in their power to establish a Union of the nations of the world. They must conclude a binding treaty and establish a covenant, the provisions of which shall be sound, inviolable and definite. They must proclaim it to all the world and obtain for it the sanction of all the human race. This supreme and noble undertaking—the real source of the peace and well-being of all the world—should be regarded as sacred by all that dwell on earth. All the forces of humanity must be mobilized to ensure the stability and permanence of this Most Great Covenant. In this all-embracing Pact the limits and frontiers of each and every nation should be clearly fixed, the principles underlying the relations of governments towards one another definitely laid down, and all international agreements and obligations ascertained. In like manner, the size of the armaments of every government should be strictly limited, for if the preparations for war and the military forces of any nation should be allowed to increase, they will arouse the suspicion of others. The fundamental principle underlying this solemn Pact should be so fixed that if any government later violate any one of its provisions, all the governments on earth should arise to reduce it to utter submission, nay the human race as a whole should resolve, with every power at its disposal, to destroy that government. Should this greatest of all remedies be applied to the sick body of the world, it will assuredly recover from its ills and will remain eternally safe and secure.”
“Regarding the whole question of an International Language.… We, as Bahá’ís, are very anxious to see a universal auxiliary tongue adopted as soon as possible; we are not the protagonists of any one language to fill this post. If the governments of the world agree on an existing language, or a constructed, new tongue, to be used internationally, we would heartily support it because we desire to see this step in the unification of the human race take place as soon as possible.”
In making this proposal, we wish to call attention to the term “auxiliary.” The Bahá’í teachings value and promote cultural diversity, not uniformity. At this point in history, then, we do not envision imposing a single language worldwide. Rather, what we imagine is that peoples and nations would keep their own local and national languages—while at the same time be encouraged to learn a universal language. Certainly such a universal language should ultimately be taught, as a required subject, in all of the world’s schools. But this should in no way detract from legitimate expressions of national and local linguistic and cultural diversity.
“The day is approaching when all the peoples of the world will have adopted one universal language and one common script,” wrote Bahá’u’lláh in the late-1800s. “When this is achieved, to whatsoever city a man may journey, it shall be as if he were entering his own home.”
In a “special contribution” to the 1994 Human Development Report, James Tobin, winner of the 1981 Nobel Prize for Economics, observes that “a permanent single currency” would eliminate much if not all of the turbulence currently associated with the huge amount of currency speculation on world markets today. Observing that such a single world currency is probably a long way off, he proposes as an interim measure an “international uniform tax” on spot transactions in foreign exchange.
The principle of collective security was put forth by Bahá’u’lláh over a century ago
in letters to the kings and rulers of the world: “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 anyone among you take up arms against
another, rise ye all against him, for this is naught but manifest justice.”
Shoghi Effendi, trans. Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh. (Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá’í Publishing Trust. 1976.) p.254. ↩20
Glenview Foundation, The Stassen Draft Charter for a New United Nations to Emerge from the Original, to Serve World Peace and Progress for the Next Forty Years. (Philadelphia: Glenview Foundation. 1985.)
Boutros-Ghali, Boutros. 1992. An Agenda for Peace: Peace-making and Peace-Keeping. Report of the Secretary-General Pursuant to the Statement Adopted by the Summit Meeting of the Security Council, January 31, New York: United Nations.
This is not to say that steps to ban such weapons should await the full development and deployment of such a Force. We wholeheartedly support current steps to renew the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons and to firmly establish a comprehensive test ban, as well as any further efforts to eliminate nuclear, chemical and/or biological weapons. Likewise, stronger efforts must be made to restrict and control conventional weapons such as land mines, which kill indiscriminately. ↩23
About 75 years ago ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá offered the following suggestions for a future world court: “the national assemblies of each country and nation—that is to say parliaments—should elect two or three persons who are the choicest of that nation, and are well informed concerning international laws and the relations between governments and aware of the essential needs of the world of humanity in this day. The number of these representatives should be in proportion to the number of inhabitants of that country. The election of these souls who are chosen by the national assembly, that is, the parliament, must be confirmed by the upper house, the congress and the cabinet and also by the president or monarch so these persons may be the elected ones of all the nation and the government. The Supreme Tribunal will be composed of these people, and all mankind will thus have a share therein, for every one of these delegates is fully representative of his nation. When the Supreme Tribunal gives a ruling on any international question, either unanimously or by majority rule, there will no longer be any pretext for the plaintiff or ground of objection for the defendant. In case any of the governments or nations, in the execution of the irrefutable decision of the Supreme Tribunal, be negligent or dilatory, the rest of the nations will rise up against it, because all the governments and nations of the world are the supporters of this Supreme Tribunal. Consider what a firm foundation this is! But by a limited and restricted League the purpose will not be realized as it ought and should.”
Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá. Compiled by the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice. Translated by a Committee at the Bahá’í World Centre and by Marzieh Gail. (Great Britain: W & J Mackay Ltd. 1978.) pp. 306–307.
At the present time, for example, the Court’s jurisdiction is limited to 1) cases which the parties refer to it jointly by special agreement, 2) matters concerning a treaty or convention in force which provides for reference to the Court, and 3) specified classes of legal disputes between States for which they have recognized the jurisdiction of the Court as compulsory.
“The primary most urgent requirement is the promotion of education. It is inconceivable that any nation should achieve prosperity and success unless this paramount, this fundamental concern is carried forward. The principal reason for the decline and fall of peoples is ignorance. Today the mass of the people are uninformed even as to ordinary affairs, how much less do they grasp the core of the important problems and complex needs of the time.”
“This same difference is noticeable among animals; some have been domesticated, educated, others left wild. The proof is clear that the world of nature is imperfect, the world of education perfect. That is to say, man is rescued from the exigencies of nature by training and culture; consequently, education is necessary, obligatory. But education is of various kinds. There is a training and development of the physical body which ensures strength and growth. There is intellectual education or mental training for which schools and colleges are founded. The third kind of education is that of the spirit. Through the breaths of the Holy Spirit man is uplifted into the world of moralities and illumined by the lights of divine bestowals. The moral world is only attained through the effulgence of the Sun of Reality and the quickening life of the divine spirit.”
Governments and their partners must bear in mind that material equality is neither achievable nor desirable. Absolute equality is a chimera. At various points along the way, there will nevertheless be the necessity for the redistribution of some of the world’s wealth. For, indeed, it is becoming increasingly obvious that unbridled capitalism does not provide the answer either. Some regulation and redistribution is necessary to promote material justice. In this regard, a tax on income is, in principle, one of the fairest and most equitable means. There must also be a role for the voluntary sharing of wealth—both at an individual and an institutional level. Equal opportunities for economic advancement and progress, however, must be woven into the very fabric of the new order. Ultimately, the most important regulation on any economic system is the moral regulation that begins in the hearts and minds of people. ↩30
A further elaboration of this concept can be found in The Prosperity of Humankind, a statement of the Bahá’í International Community, Office of Public Information, published in February 1995: “The activity most intimately linked to the consciousness that distinguishes human nature is the individual’s exploration of reality for himself or herself. The freedom to investigate the purpose of existence and to develop the endowments of human nature that make it achievable requires protection. Human beings must be free to know. That such freedom is often abused and such abuse grossly encouraged by features of contemporary society does not detract in any degree from the validity of the impulse itself.
“It is this distinguishing impulse of human consciousness that provides the moral imperative for the enunciation of many of the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration and the related Covenants. Universal education, freedom of movement, access to information, and the opportunity to participate in political life are all aspects of its operation that require explicit guarantee by the international community. The same is true of freedom of thought and belief, including religious liberty, along with the right to hold opinions and express these opinions appropriately.
“Since the body of humankind is one and indivisible, each member of the race is born into the world as a trust of the whole. This trusteeship constitutes the moral foundation of most of the other rights—principally economic and social—which the instruments of the United Nations are attempting similarly to define. The security of the family and the home, the ownership of property, and the right to privacy are all implied in such a trusteeship. The obligations on the part of the community extend to the provision of employment, mental and physical health care, social security, fair wages, rest and recreation, and a host of other reasonable expectations on the part of the individual members of society.
“The principle of collective trusteeship creates also the right of every person to expect that those cultural conditions essential to his or her identity enjoy the protection of national and international law. Much like the role played by the gene pool in the biological life of humankind and its environment, the immense wealth of cultural diversity achieved over thousands of years is vital to the social and economic development of a human race experiencing its collective coming-of-age. It represents a heritage that must be permitted to bear its fruit in a global civilization. On the one hand, cultural expressions need to be protected from suffocation by the materialistic influences currently holding sway. On the other, cultures must be enabled to interact with one another in ever-changing patterns of civilization, free of manipulation for partisan political ends.”
Ultimately, respect for human rights must begin in the family: “Compare the nations of the world to the members of a family. A family is a nation in miniature. Simply enlarge the circle of the household, and you have the nation. Enlarge the circle of nations, and you have all humanity. The conditions surrounding the family surround the nation. The happenings in the family are the happenings in the life of the nation. Would it add to the progress and advancement of a family if dissensions should arise among its members, all fighting, pillaging each other, jealous and revengeful of injury, seeking selfish advantage? Nay, this would be the cause of the effacement of progress and advancement. So it is in the great family of nations, for nations are but an aggregate of families. Therefore, as strife and dissension destroy a family and prevent its progress, so nations are destroyed and advancement hindered.”
‘Abdu’l‑Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912. Comp. Howard MacNutt. (Wilmette, Ill.: Bahá’í Publishing Trust. 1982.) p.157.
“When all mankind shall receive the same opportunity of education and the equality of men and women be realized, the foundations of war will be utterly destroyed. Without equality this will be impossible because all differences and distinction are conducive to discord and strife. Equality between men and women is conducive to the abolition of warfare for the reason that women will never be willing to sanction it. Mothers will not give their sons as sacrifices upon the battlefield after twenty years of anxiety and loving devotion in rearing them from infancy, no matter what cause they are called upon to defend. There is no doubt that when women obtain equality of rights, war will entirely cease among mankind.”
“Let it be known once more that until woman and man recognize and realize equality, social and political progress here or anywhere will not be possible. For the world of humanity consists of two parts or members: one is woman; the other is man. Until these two members are equal in strength, the oneness of humanity cannot be established, and the happiness and felicity of mankind will not be a reality. God willing, this is to be so.” From a Talk by ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá to Federation of Women’s Clubs, Chicago, Illinois on 2 May 1912.
“The world in the past has been ruled by force, and man has dominated over woman by reason of his more forceful and aggressive qualities both of body and mind. But the balance is already shifting—force is losing its weight and mental alertness, intuition, and the spiritual qualities of love and service, in which woman is strong, are gaining ascendancy. Hence the new age will be an age less masculine, and more permeated with the feminine ideals—or, to speak more exactly, will be an age in which the masculine and feminine elements of civilization will be more evenly balanced.”
This principle, that women and girls should receive priority over men and boys in access to education, has been a long-standing principle in the Bahá’í teachings. Speaking in 1912, ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá said: “In proclaiming the oneness of mankind [Bahá’u’lláh] taught that men and women are equal in the sight of God and that there is no distinction to be made between them. The only difference between them now is due to lack of education and training. If woman is given equal opportunity of education, distinction and estimate of inferiority will disappear.… Furthermore, the education of women is of greater importance than the education of men, for they are the mothers of the race, and mothers rear the children. The first teachers of children are the mothers. Therefore, they must be capably trained in order to educate both sons and daughters. There are many provisions in the words of Bahá’u’lláh in regard to this.
The interfaith declaration entitled “Towards a Global Ethic,” which was produced by an assembly of religious and spiritual leaders from virtually every major world religion and spiritual movement at the 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, suggests that it is indeed possible for the world’s religions to find much common ground in this regard. The declaration states: “We affirm that a common set of core values is found in the teachings of the religions, and that these form the basis of a global ethic… There already exist ancient guidelines for human behavior which are found in the teachings of the religions of the world and which are the condition for a sustainable world order.” ↩43
Hinduism: “This is the sum of all true righteousness: deal with others as thou wouldst thyself be dealt by. Do nothing to thy neighbour which thou wouldst not have him do to thee after.” The Mahabharata.
The Commission on Global Governance writes: “As the world faces the need for enlightened responses to the challenges that arise on the eve of the new century, we are concerned at the lack of leadership over a wide spectrum of human affairs. At national, regional, and international levels, within communities and in international organizations, in governments and in non-governmental bodies, the world needs credible and sustained leadership.
“It needs leadership that is proactive, not simply reactive, that is inspired, not simply functional, that looks to the longer term and future generations for whom the present is held in trust. It needs leaders made strong by vision, sustained by ethics, and revealed by political courage that looks beyond the next election.”
“This cannot be leadership confined within domestic walls. It must reach beyond country, race, religion, culture, language, life-style. It must embrace a wider human constituency, be infused with a sense of caring for others, a sense of responsibility to the global neighborhood.”