Covenant and the Foundations of Civil Society

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The Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh
Wendy M. Heller explores the religious origins of the organizing principles of civil society, tracks their secularization in the modern era, and examines the prospect of an inclusive global moral order based on the enduring concept of covenant. This article appeared in the 1995-96 edition of The Bahá'í World, pp. 185-222..

Over a century ago, Bahá'u'lláh, Founder of the Bahá'í Faith, wrote of the impending disintegration and collapse of the established order of civilization: "Soon will the present-day order be rolled up," He proclaimed, "and a new one spread out in its stead." 1 In the interval, experience has borne out the prescience of revelation; this century has seen Bahá'u'lláh's prophetic terms, of disequilibrium and chaos, of the shaking of foundations, become so much a part of daily life that, because of the pervasiveness of such disintegration, some have been led to mistake an abnormal state for a normal one, and to conclude that there simply are no foundations for any human endeavor, and that, in consequence, strife and conflict are the inevitable condition of existence. Yet an increasing number of scholars are now willing to shed the "obtuse secularism" 2 that, as a feature of contemporary frameworks of thought, has systematically excluded serious appraisal of the central importance of religion and spiritual reality in human life and society. Faced by the evidence of the bankruptcy of modernity, whose promises of prosperity through materialism and ideology have proven hollow, thinkers and scholars have begun to turn the light of critical scrutiny upon the far-reaching effects that the displacement of religion by secular ideology has had on civilization in the modern era. That same secularism which was once heralded as the emancipation of civilization is now increasingly identified as the root cause of its disintegration.

This conclusion had been anticipated in the Bahá'í writings, which affirm that social and moral deterioration is directly related to the decline of religion as a social force. "Religion," Bahá'u'lláh wrote, "is verily the chief instrument for the establishment of order in the world and of tranquillity amongst its peoples. The weakening of the pillars of religion hath strengthened the foolish and emboldened them and made them more arrogant. Verily I say: The greater the decline of religion, the more grievous the waywardness of the ungodly. This cannot but lead in the end to chaos and confusion." 3 Material civilization, cut loose from the moderating influence of spiritual values, He warned, "will prove as prolific a source of evil as it had been of goodness when kept within the restraints of moderation... The day is approaching when its flame will devour the cities...." 4 Affirming the central role of religion in the civilizing of human character, `Abdu'l-Bahá explained:

Universal benefits derive from the grace of the Divine religions, for they lead their true followers to sincerity of intent, to high purpose, to purity and spotless honor, to surpassing kindness and compassion, to the keeping of their covenants when they have covenanted, to concern for the rights of others, to liberality, to justice in every aspect of life, to humanity and philanthropy, to valor and to unflagging efforts in the service of mankind. It is religion, to sum up, which produces all human virtues, and it is these virtues which are the bright candles of civilization. 5

In the 1930s Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith, singled out as an agent of social decline the "prevailing spirit of modernism with its emphasis on a purely materialistic philosophy which, as it diffuses itself, tends to divorce religion from man's daily life," resulting in the erosion of "conceptions of duty, of solidarity, of reciprocity and loyalty" as the center of gravity shifts to the individual self. Symptoms of such a society that has lost its spiritual bearings, he wrote, include religious intolerance, racism and xenophobia, terrorism, crime, alcoholism, the weakening of the family, and the breakdown of political and economic structures, to name but a few. 6

In the Bahá'í view, however, the current experience of disorder and turmoil is only one aspect of a two-fold process that is ultimately therapeutic and evolutionary, rather than solely destructive. It clears the way for a recovery and renewal of the true and enduring foundations upon which a global moral order can be constructed. Though grounded in eternal verities, this process of spiritual and social evolution is forward looking and cannot be confused with a return to a vanished and unrecoverable past.

Sociologist Robert Bellah has remarked that the characteristic modern attempt to substitute "a technical-rational model of politics for a religious-moral one does not seem to me to be an advantage. Indeed it only exacerbates tendencies that I think are at the heart of our problems. If our problems are, as I believe them to be, centrally moral and even religious, then the effort to sidestep them with purely technical organizational considerations can only worsen them." Although the contemporary combination of the morality of self-interest, capitalism, and technological rationality has departed from the earlier religious and moral world view, he argues, it does not follow that the only possible alternative to modern secularism is the "literal revival of that earlier conception." Indeed, he suggests, "only a new imaginative, religious, moral, and social context for science and technology will make it possible to weather the storms that seem to be closing in on us in the late 20th century." 7

The Covenantal World View

In the search for solutions to current social problems, attention has been drawn to the importance of social institutions such as the family and religion that represent "seedbeds of virtue": the spiritual foundations provided by religion imbue individuals with the virtues on which both civic participation and governance depend. 8 Yet the connection is even stronger. Religion provides not only the foundations but the bricks and cement of society--the shared beliefs and moral values that unite people into communities, as well as the world view and account of the meaning and purpose of life that infuses those moral values with sense. 9 These, moreover, provide the basis of all legitimation for authority, the source of legal institutions, as well as the touchstone and standard for evaluating the direction of society. 10

Many of those who in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries influenced and fashioned modern Western political institutions understood the pivotal importance of religion to the coherence and maintenance of a social and political order. They were far less influenced than has often been thought, by that typically modern secular rationalism that displaces God by human reason; 11 on the contrary, the world view that informed their thinking was based on the scriptural account of human nature as having a spiritual purpose, which was summed up in the idea of the divine Covenant between God and humankind. The purpose of human reason was to know the existence of God, whose handiwork was evident in creation; the summit of human freedom was to recognize and to give assent to the superior authority of revelation, thus entering into a covenant to willingly obey His commands.

This covenantal account of human nature, shared by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, is reaffirmed in the Bahá'í Faith as an eternal truth. So it is not surprising to find that some of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings about freedom and rights, for instance, bear a similarity to certain ideas of earlier ethical thinkers, for the very reason that the concepts of religious freedom and conscience are directly related to the idea of the divine Covenant. But to confuse this transhistorical continuity for simple influence would be a mistake underrating its great significance. John Locke (1632-1704), for instance, drew his vastly influential ideas on religious toleration and liberty directly from the Bible and the logical implications of the Covenant. According to Daniel J. Elazar, the long history of deliberation about the rights and obligations of parties to compacts in medieval Jewish public law anticipated the seventeenth-century political theorists precisely because "both schools flowed from a common source"--the biblical covenants. 12 David Little points out that modern doctrines of freedom of religion, including that in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, far from being reducible to the influence of Enlightenment rationalism, are "unthinkable" apart from the religious concept of conscience, a concept also asserted in the Qur'an. 13

Much has been written about the tremendous impact of seventeenth-century covenant or "federal" theology on the founding of the American colonies and subsequent developments of the U.S. constitutional era. The pivotal concept of the covenantal view is a distinctive idea of freedom, which throughout its history and in various diverse settings has retained a remarkable unity and consistency. "Covenant liberty" has been conceptualized as a dialectic of freedom and duty: the liberation gained was from the bonds of selfish desire; the supreme achievement of human freedom and agency was submission to the divine law. According to Bellah, the "profoundly social" nature of this "covenant liberty" was reflected in the words of the eighteenth-century New England Baptist, Isaac Backus:

The true liberty of man is, to know, obey and enjoy his Creator, and to do all the good unto, and enjoy all the happiness with and in his fellow creatures that he is capable of; in order to which the law of love was written in his heart, which carries in it's nature union and benevolence to Being in general, and to each being in particular, according to it's nature and excellency, and to it's relation and connexion with the supreme Being, and ourselves. Each rational soul, as he is part of the whole system of rational beings, so it was and is, both his duty and his liberty to regard the good of the whole in all his actions. 14

In the nineteenth century, through a number of factors, not least of which was the corrosive effect of secularization and its resulting atomistic individualism, the social consensus in this religious vision of social and moral order became steadily eroded. Today that original religious concept of freedom as "true liberty" that "meant freedom to do the good and was almost equivalent to virtue," a conception embedded in a context of social obligation and divine purpose, has been displaced by an ideological notion of freedom as the liberty of the isolated individual to pursue self-interest without interference. 15

Locke on Religious Freedom

In the world view within which Locke composed his doctrine of religious toleration, the primacy of freedom of the individual conscience was due to the importance of genuine belief (that is, freely given consent to divine authority) in attaining salvation, for "Faith only and sincerity, are the things that procure acceptance with God." 16 Although Locke is usually identified with the theory of social contract, his views on human nature, purpose, freedom, and the good were squarely within the covenantal perspective. For Locke the testimony of revelation was, as reason itself must conclude, of an authority necessarily superior to human reason, and as such "carries with it Assurance beyond Doubt, Evidence beyond Exception"; "faith" was the assent of reason to revelation and constituted the supreme degree of assent possible by human reason. 17 The "highest perfection of intellectual nature" lay "in a careful and constant pursuit of true and solid happiness; so the care of our selves, that we mistake not imaginary for real happiness, is the necessary foundation of our liberty." That "real happiness" was spiritual, not material. The "great privilege of finite intellectual Beings" did not consist in freedom to do whatever the will chose, but rather "the great inlet, and exercise of all the liberty Men have, are capable of, or can be useful to them, and that whereon depends the turn of their actions...[consisted] in this, that they can suspend their desires, and stop them from determining their wills to any action, till they have duly and fairly examin'd the good and evil of it as far forth as the weight of the thing requires." 18

Within the covenantal world view, the perfection of human freedom was, in essence, to become determined by the good. Thus, Locke wrote, "If we look upon those superiour Beings above us, who enjoy perfect Happiness, we shall have reason to judge that they are more steadily determined in their choice of Good than we; and yet we have no reason to think they are less happy, or less free, than we are." Rejecting the vulgar notion of liberty as license, he observed: "Is it worth the Name of Freedom to be at liberty to play the Fool, and draw Shame and Misery upon a Man's self? If to break loose from the conduct of Reason, and to want that restraint of Examination and Judgment, which keeps us from chusing or doing the worse, be Liberty, true Liberty, mad Men and Fools are the only Freemen." 19

Though all men desired happiness, and thus sought the good, it was evident that not everyone thought the same thing good. But the apparent existence of a plurality of goods, he argued, would only be true "were all the Concerns of Man terminated in this Life," that is, if ultimate happiness could really be found in material pursuits and the satisfaction of desire. Were this the case, there could indeed be no way to judge between individuals' conflicting choices, or conceptions of their highest good, such as "why one followed Study and Knowledge, and another Hawking and Hunting; why one chose Luxury and Debauchery, and another Sobriety and Riches." The good would be defined by the object one pursued. Yet Locke dismissed this conflation of desire and human good as a dangerous delusion, remarking: "'twas a right Answer of the Physician to his Patient, that had sore Eyes. If you have more Pleasure in the Taste of Wine, than in the use of your Sight, Wine is good for you; but if the Pleasure of Seeing be greater to you, than that of Drinking, Wine is naught." 20 For Locke, freedom of conscience was the necessary precondition for fulfilling one's duty to God and thus attaining the object of existence (the good), for "the end of all religion is to please him, and that liberty is essentially necessary to that end." 21

Locke conceptualized the theory set forth in his Letter on Toleration (1689) as an explicitly religious idea, required by the scriptural command of "charity, meekness, and good-will in general towards all mankind, even those that are not Christians." 22 Indeed, he characterized the concept of religious toleration as the hallmark of true religion itself. While the Letter is a foundational document of modern liberalism, it is possible to see in it the extent to which Locke took seriously not only the rights of individuals but their social obligations, as well as the civil rights of communities. In proper perspective, individual rights were located within a context that took account of correlative responsibilities; rightly understood, the individual's freedom of conscience did not conflict with, and thus did not supersede, the right of society to maintain the conditions of order upon which all its individual members depend. This was true with regard to religious, as well as civil, society.

The principle that defined the scope of, and linked together, the domains of freedom and obligation was that the exercise of freedom in the act of recognizing an authority (that is, giving "consent") entailed a strong obligation of obedience. 23 Provided that membership in a religious society was by choice and "absolutely free and spontaneous," Locke argued, "it necessarily follows, that the right of making its laws can belong to none but the society itself, or at least, which is the same thing, to those whom the society by common consent has authorized thereunto." 24 What of those who, having joined, later came to disagree with some part of the doctrine, or who disobeyed the code of conduct required of members? Individual freedom of conscience remained unabridged so long as one was as free to leave as to enter a religion. As for those who disobeyed the laws, Locke recommended that "The arms by which the members of this society are to be kept within their duty, are exhortations, admonitions, and advice. If by these means the offenders will not be reclaimed, and the erroneous convinced, there remains nothing farther to be done, but that such stubborn and obstinate persons, who give no ground to hope for their reformation, should be cast out and separated from the society.... I hold," he wrote, "that no church is bound by the duty of toleration to retain any such person in her bosom, as after admonition continues obstinately to offend against the laws of the society. For these being the condition of communion, and the bond of society, if the breach of them were permitted without any animadversion, the society would immediately be thereby dissolved." 25 Excommunication, he argued, was the just and reasonable way to treat those violations of norms which, as he correctly realized, if permitted unchecked, would dissolve the unity, order, and integrity of the community.

It is important to note that in arguing against the use of coercion in religious matters, Locke was arguing against the sometimes brutal, physical punishments notorious to the era ("galleys, prisons, confiscations, and death"26) used by the civil authority in matters concerning belief, and especially when imposed on persons of a different religion. The use of force was appropriately exercised by the civil authority in enforcing civil laws, which did not concern belief. But far from considering expulsion to be coercive, he regarded it as a simple matter of holding people accountable to their solemn promises, freely given. Nor did it have anything to do with civil rights: "Excommunication," as such, Locke argued, "neither does nor can deprive the excommunicated person of any of those civil goods that he formerly possessed." For no one had "any civil right" to partake of the privileges that accrued to membership in a voluntary religious association. 27

Religion and Civil Order

To see how much the common understanding of the relationship between religion and civil order has changed, it is useful to look at what Locke says about religion and civil government in the Letter. In his argument about the separation of the "ecclesiastical" and the "civil," the distinction involved was not between a religious sphere and an irreligious one: Locke took for granted that religious principles were the foundation of the civil order. He also acknowledged the justice of theocracy in principle (by which he meant specifically a commonwealth in which civil and religious law and authority were combined). His famous contention that there could be no Christian commonwealth did not rest on any claim that theocracy itself was inherently unjust, but rather on the simple fact that no Christian commonwealth, or indeed any specific form of government, was prescribed in the Gospel; and only what was clearly warranted by the revealed scripture could be considered binding. However, where theocracy was ordained in the Holy Scripture itself, as it had been in the Law of Moses, Locke insisted, it was obligatory. 28

Locke was concerned, rather, with the just extent of the jurisdictions of civil and religious authority in a society where the general consensus in Christianity among the majority of citizens was obscured and overshadowed by violent dissensus between denominations. This disunity was intractable in the absence of any universally recognized source of authority to adjudicate the competing interpretations which had led to the fractionation of the body of the religion into sects. In proposing that the "civil" should be separate from the "religious," by "religious" Locke was referring primarily to the contentious sources of difference between denominations, not to the broad foundation of religious morality which was uncontested. It seems he was also trying to apply to the problem at hand a conceptual distinction, familiar to Christians, between "the `religious' duties owed directly to God," as contained in the first four of the Ten Commandments (concerning matters of faith and worship), and the "`moral' duties owed to fellow human beings" which made up the rest of the commandments (the social or moral laws concerning actions against persons and property, and so on). 29 While laws concerning inner belief applied only to believers, the laws concerning outward behavior justly applied to every citizen, regardless of belief, as they constituted the moral basis of the civil order.

But the origin of both these duties in the revealed scriptures underscores the fact that the domains of the spiritual and the temporal, the "religious" and the "civil," are ultimately not radically separate but are two aspects of one reality. 30 The relevant distinction in this case involved that of competence to judge, and thus to impose punishment: only God could judge the sincerity of one's belief; but human authorities could judge actions in society. Locke wanted to ameliorate a prevalent condition of his time--the subjection of people to civil punishments for not belonging to the state church or attending worship--by putting things in their proper order. He proposed that membership in religious associations should be voluntary and never compulsory; that different faiths should be free to practice their beliefs (provided they did not engage in sedition against the civil order), and that civil power should be used only to enforce the civil, public laws of morality, public security, and order, while religious institutions should hold only the members of their own community to be bound by that religion's beliefs, practices, and laws. In making these proposals, Locke was in effect articulating the religious--not secular--principles for the just governance of a religiously plural society. The theocracy of the Israelite Commonwealth, Locke pointed out, was the source of the concept of "separation" he was arguing for, and he cited this fact as the highest possible warrant of its justice.

Locke also argued against the use of physical punishment or deprivation of property, whether imposed by religious or civil authorities, on anyone at all in matters of belief and worship, primarily because it was unwarranted in the Christian scriptures, and secondarily because it was ineffective anyway as coercion could never procure belief. 31 But it would distort him out of context, and collapse a crucial conceptual distinction, to read this classic argument against coercion in matters of religion as an extension of rights of conscience specifically pertaining to the civil domain, into the domain of the voluntary religious community, as if its internal life were also, like the civil sphere, a space undefined by any commitments to particular beliefs or a distinctive way of life. To do this, as Locke correctly saw, would condemn any association based on belief to dissolution.

It is important to recognize that for Locke, and, for example, the framers of the U.S. Constitution, the fact that the revealed social laws of religion were the moral foundation of the civil order was never in question. In the U.S. constitutional era the "disestablishment" issue primarily concerned doing away with public tax support for churches, which amounted to extracting compulsory contributions to religious funds from nonbelievers. Yet introducing that explicitly financial "disestablishment" did not contradict the general expectation by all that government ought to operate on the basis of the moral principles of religion. 32 Thus it can be said that, in a broader sense of the term, the "establishment"--that is, institutionalization--of those religious laws and values with civil application was never in question, nor even mentioned, except affirmatively, because it was the indispensable foundation of the society.

And it still is, for the deep structure of the Western legal system in general remains the biblical moral code and even church canon law, although the religious origins of the civil law have been largely effaced. 33 According to sociologist Mattei Dogan, in spite of a decline in religious belief "in Europe, Christian morals have been absorbed into the State. The philosophy of the Ten Commandments, the prophets and the apostles is embodied in the civil legislation of the whole of Europe." 34 In the sense that a society's governmental structures, processes, and laws represent the institutionalization of the moral values of its people, no state can exist without an "established," that is, institutionalized, set of beliefs that define its moral orientation. Those beliefs, implicitly, are prior to the institutional structures; without them, "institutions" are a hollow shell. And, inescapably, the moral authority of civil laws depends on an underlying belief in a legitimating conception of good that makes those laws right.

The Secular Turn

In the modern era, those distinctive concepts of freedom and of toleration became detached from their original religious foundations and anchored to another, secular system of thought that rejected any preexisting obligation of divine origin. The idea of the good was demoted from its universal transcendent position and relativized to the individual. This shift reflected the displacement, in modern secular philosophic liberalism, of the religious view of human nature as a creation of God, by a (sometimes tacit) materialist account of human nature as self-creating and autonomous, of ultimate good as something private and (potentially, at least) different for each individual. Individual freedom retained its prominent position, but instead of freedom to recognize the good (that is, God), it was construed as freedom to choose between a plurality of goods or to create one's own good, but in any case, the self, not a transcendent source of that self, was the autonomous measure of its own good. The concept of covenant, as the origin of society, was replaced by social contract, in which the people themselves, and their private interests, were seen as the authoritative source of the social bond. 35 By the twentieth century, a process that had begun with the attempt to apply religious principles to mitigate the problem of religious disunity had resulted in the eviction of the religious basis of the entire collective moral system which had been taken for granted as an indispensable foundation and the purpose of championing religious liberty at all.

A key feature of the secular turn in modern moral philosophy has been the attempt to separate the right, or justice, from any substantive conception of human good, such as would be found in a religious world view--that is, an account of reality, human nature, and purpose which gives direction and meaning to human life. This conception of justice is regarded as prior to the good and as universally valid because it does not depend on, and thus give privilege to, any particular conception of the good. While it has been given various renderings, the neutral conception of justice is generally concerned with ensuring a maximum, or an equal amount of, liberty (and thus opportunity) for individuals to pursue their own self-chosen conceptions of the good life.

However, the view that it is possible to do right independently of reference to the good would have been foreign to the thinking of such a religious philosopher as John Locke. According to Locke,

A good life, in which consists not the least part of religion and true piety, concerns also the civil government: and in it lies the safety both of men's souls and of the commonwealth. Moral actions belong therefore to the jurisdiction both of the outward and inward court; both of the civil and domestic governor; I mean, both of the magistrate and conscience. 36

Likewise alien would have been the modern secular notion of an autonomous human reason able to formulate its own morality or ethics without reference to God. For Locke,

A dependent, intelligent being is under the power of and direction and dominion of him on whom he depends and must be for the ends appointed him by that superior being. If man were independent he could have no law but his own will, no end but himself. He would be a god to himself and the satisfaction of his own will the sole measure of all his actions. 37

Locke's conviction that belief in God was the essential ground for a commitment to justice is reflected in his refusal to grant atheism the status of a moral foundation equivalent to religion. For "Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all. Besides also, those that by their atheism undermine and destroy all religion, can have no pretense of religion whereupon to challenge the privilege of a toleration." 38 This often misunderstood passage did not imply atheists should not have the same civil rights as other citizens; it merely refused to allow religious toleration to extend, by sophistry, to an opposite, antireligious position that, because it denied the source of legitimation for "the bonds of human society," lacked the basic commitment to authority necessary to uphold any civil order (and, of course, lacked any reason to consider religion worthy of toleration).

Locke, in sum, thought that the right was intrinsically dependent on the good, that the good was necessarily the divine good, and that while the coercive enforcement of sectarian dogmas and forms of worship--quite correctly--had no place in civil government, religious principles and moral values were inseparable from it.

In recent years, the idea that justice can be conceptualized in the absence of any commitment to a set of transcendent values, or with a minimal set of values, has been abundantly criticized and its contradictions enumerated, from a variety of perspectives, particularly with respect to its implications for community life.

Modern secular liberal philosophy was never intended to constitute communities but rather to provide a theory of neutral arbitration among the various individuals and communities over which the modern state has jurisdiction. Thus it is not surprising that the principles of liberal polity, emphasizing difference and individualism, should be in tension with the concerns and needs of communities, which depend upon unity and mutuality. In the historical experience of irreconcilable religious sectarianism which gave rise to modern liberal political theory, the irreducibility of disunity arose, as Locke was keenly aware, from the fact that the points of contention involved the assertion of secondary doctrines and practices above and beyond what was clearly warranted in the scripture. But because such doctrines were not warranted--or were not clearly warranted--they could never gain consensus by a conclusive proof of their authority, and thus could only appeal to probability; hence they could always be disputed. In contrast, he observed, clearly warranted deductions caused no division. 39 Under the circumstances, without any universally recognized authority (for the same reason--absence of a clear scriptural warrant for any such institution), dissensus was inevitable and at best might be managed but never eliminated.

It is thus the absence of any infallible, scripturally warranted center of interpretive authority that is the root of the historical, religious problem to which the theory that would become modern secular liberalism was originally proposed as the solution. The presumption of irreconcilable difference, and hence of disunity, is ingrained in that system of thought; and this, along with the primacy of individual liberty (which as Locke noted became a practical necessity precisely because of dissension and the need to choose between competing sects), continues to shape contemporary concepts of the liberal polity. On the resulting model, the community, as Philip Selznick observes, is not to be "based on shared identity, shared purpose, or shared understanding of the common good; rather it is constituted by the principles of right ordering that govern liberty." But that emphasis on individual freedom and autonomy meets its limitations precisely where community life begins: for communities are constituted by unity and sustained by commitments to shared purposes. Regulatory rules and procedures for ensuring individual liberty cannot account for or provide, for example, "ideals of caring and social justice--including care for children, health, families, the environment, aesthetic values, opportunity, and the well-being of future generations." 40 Such goals guided by ideals are unintelligible apart from a vision of human good, excellence, and happiness.

The limiting consequences, as Selznick has noted, of conceiving the community as a mere "framework within which autonomous choices can be made" are that "The political quest for a distinctive kind of community is abandoned. We are not to seek, through politics and government, the kind of community that will best redeem the promise of fellowship or most closely approximate the potential for human growth, creativity, and responsibility." 41 As the strictly value-neutral state attempts to exclude from public institutions and governance any reference to the kinds of ultimate goals associated with a particular good way of life--and thus with religion--it precludes and indeed disqualifies itself from being able to "advance human excellence." 42 For to do that requires a conception of the good, something to which the neutral state disclaims any access.

As many have pointed out, modern liberal theory contains deep contradictions. It is now widely recognized that, despite disclaimers, a conception of the good and a theory of human nature--and thus a set of particular beliefs--is being implemented all the same in liberal theory, and this implies an exclusion of other beliefs:

Any conception of the human good according to which, for example, it is the duty of government to educate the members of the community morally, so that they come to live out that conception of the good, may up to a point be held as a private theory by individuals or groups, but any serious attempt to embody it in public life will be proscribed. And this qualification of course entails not only that liberal individualism does indeed have its own broad conception of the good, which it is engaged in imposing politically, legally, socially, and culturally wherever it has the power to do so, but that in so doing its toleration of rival conceptions of the good in the public arena is severely limited. 43

According to Selznick, "fundamental values--not only basic requirements of justice and citizenship but broader ideals of personal and social well-being" are inevitably employed if only tacitly; for instance, merely to have decided that human beings need liberty is already to have committed oneself to a belief about human nature. "The presuppositions of liberalism represent genuine moral choices, and their reaffirmation is a continuous act of moral choice, the more so as liberalism takes seriously the quest for social justice." As the pursuit of social justice becomes an aim and purpose in government, that endeavor embodies an ensemble of values far beyond any neutral or procedural concept of basic liberties. Thus, for example, "Education for basic skills may arguably be morally neutral, but not education for citizenship, for enlightenment, for social responsibility, for deferred gratification, for intellectual and aesthetic appreciation." 44 And the same is true of a wide range of other social issues.

Ever more urgently, social theorists now call for recovering a balance between the individual and society, between rights and responsibilities within a coherent framework. "Our situation today," Selznick writes, "calls for a more robust idea of community, one that gives greater weight to the claims of mutuality and fellowship. Liberalism's thin theory of community weakens its capacity to speak with a clear voice where the public interest demands discipline and duty as much as (and in a given context perhaps more than) freedom and self-realization." For that same insistence on value neutrality and emphasis on individualism undermines the security and well-being of all when it eliminates any basis for calling upon individuals to sacrifice their individual preferences and concrete, short-term interests for the needs of a more abstract common good: "it is hard to justify sacrifice--a ban on gas-guzzling vehicles, a program of compulsory national service, a required course of study--when individual choice is held sacred." 45

The idea that civil governance requires a value-neutral ethic that strictly avoids all reference to a transcendent good is a peculiarly modern secular development, which appears to be an attempt to extend the principle of noncoercion in matters of belief into a vastly altered context. In the new context, the possibility of moral consensus upon any religious foundation has been wholly abandoned, and instead it is taken as axiomatic that the only available ethical common ground is secular, that is, nonreligious. And yet, every attempt to construct such a secular public ethic or conception of justice with universal validity discloses a tacit dependency upon what turn out to be spiritual values. 46 When we trace the concepts and principles on which justice--including the essential ideas of human equality and obligation--order, governance, and citizenship depend, it becomes clear that any theory of these that was entirely stripped of all its borrowed religious values would be little different from the theoretical Hobbesian "state of nature": a war of all against all. Such a condition, ruled only by the unrestricted competition of self-interest, is nothing less than radical individualism. 47 Yet the consequence of unbridled individualism is ultimately the erosion of the altruistic values on which community, civil society, and, some argue, human evolution itself, depend. 48

It has been suggested that even after the modern secular turn, and the resultant weakening of the authority of religion, the social order continued to run on the "accumulated moral capital" of the past, 49 a fact that temporarily concealed the true social cost incurred by abandoning religion. As this reserve has gradually exhausted itself, we have witnessed an acceleration in the rate of social and moral deterioration, expressed in the loosening of every form of personal obligation, and have seen secular ideologies and theories go bankrupt, unable to create community, to teach moral values and virtues necessary to sustain the political order, or to stem the rising tide of conflict and violence. The progression of this disintegration has only thrown into relief the fact that "no matter how undermined, a remnant of the older morality provides much of what coherence our society still has." 50 Such recognition has led to an emerging interest in the underlying principle at the basis of that morality, the idea of covenant, as "an idea whose time [has] come back." 51

The Concept of Covenant

Covenant, it has long been recognized, is not merely a theological concept but it has been termed the most powerful and enduring form of political foundation and one of the "fundamental political concepts illuminating the origins and basis of political life." 52 Since the earliest biblical covenants uniting the Israelite tribes, the idea that human political relationships, like the relationship between God and humanity, ought to be based on "compact, association, and consent" has provided various peoples the inspiration and pattern for community organization and state building. According to Elazar, the resurgence of this world view in sixteenth-century Reformed Protestant Christianity in Europe gave rise to the federal theology on which English and American Puritans, Huguenots, and Scottish Covenanters based their political theories and constitutional principles, and which influenced the development of federal states in Switzerland and the Netherlands as well as the federation of the New England colonies into the United States of America. Moreover, he notes, "the biblical vision for the `end of days'--the messianic era" includes an extension of this divine "grand design" for human polity to "a world confederation or league of nations, each preserving its own integrity while accepting a common divine covenant and constitutional order. This order will establish appropriate covenantal relationships for the entire world." 53

The idea of covenant refers to a constellation of concepts: the free and willing recognition of a binding duty, originating in or guaranteed by a transcendent source, to act together in a collective enterprise defined by a purpose and according to a set of precepts or laws, with accountability in the form of blessing and benefits for fulfillment and punishment and retribution for failure. 54 The vast ramifications of this idea become apparent when we consider a few of the implications that can be traced to the idea of covenant. The element of free and willing recognition is the origin of the principle of consent, as the basis of free society and self-government. The recognition of a binding duty generates the concept of strong obligation through the recognition of authority. The location of the duty in a transcendent, divine source is the pivot of the idea of legitimation. In the summons to a collective, purposive enterprise the community is created, implying for each individual a commitment to participate and engendering a sense of identity, loyalty, and responsibility. The set of precepts that guide and direct this enterprise define the character of the moral and political order of the community. It is here we find the content of law, rights and responsibilities, the hierarchy of values, and the virtues entailed by them. It can also be seen here that, because of its centrality to the lives and well-being of all the individuals who belong to it, that collective enterprise is itself an entity which has rights (in virtue of its responsibilities), and all those who identify themselves with this community share an obligation to give attention and care to the protection of the community as a whole. And finally, the element of retribution and proportionality is the basic principle underlying all forms of accountability and is a fundamental component of all moral codes. 55

The vehicle for ensuring the orderly practice, maintenance, and transmission of a society's values is its institutions. 56 The specification of institutional structure can be considered as a separate formal element of a covenant, 57 but the history of revealed covenants is notable for the absence of provisions for institutions or the scope of their authority. That this absence has been the prime cause of intrareligious conflict and schism highlights the profound significance and unprecedented potentiality of the institutional arrangements in the Bahá'í Faith. The structures and principles of the Bahá'í Administrative Order are not only clearly specified in the texts whose authority is universally recognized by Bahá'ís, but they are the subject of a special revealed covenant. The specific provisions of Bahá'u'lláh's Covenant ensure the integrity as well as the flexibility and responsiveness of the system of governance, and guarantee the unity of the Bahá'í Faith itself by eliminating the historical cause of schism. 58

It has been pointed out that the covenantal element specifying the precepts governing social behavior is the historical source of bills of rights, not as a "legalistic limit on the power of government, but rather as a celebration of the fundamental value commitments of a people." According to Donald S. Lutz, the current concept of a "legalistic bill of rights...is a direct descendent of [this] foundation element found in covenants." 59 Numerous colonial Bills of Liberty exemplifying the people's "value commitments all point to the earlier covenants, and the Bible that underlies them, rather than to any Magna Carta or English common law tradition." It has also been suggested that, in addition to the tendency to federal structure, democratic participation and collective, consensus-oriented decision-making are intrinsic aspects of covenantal polity. 60

In the covenantal concept of authority, the obligation to obey the law arises as a consequence of the relationship one recognizes and freely affirms between oneself and the source of those laws. Bahá'u'lláh begins His Most Holy Book, his Book of Laws, with a renewal of the great Covenant. "The first duty" is recognition of the authority of the Lawgiver; the second is to observe His ordinances. 61 Here, we can see, morality is grounded in belief as "conscious knowledge" 62 and begins with a duty, not a right. Consequently, it can be seen, the right to religious freedom comes into being, as a human right, in order to be able to fulfill the duty of obedience to God. That is, it becomes a civil right as a result of being held as a religious conviction.

The order of the two duties of recognition and obedience has an important implication. Obedience, in a covenant, follows only as a consequence of the genuine recognition of a source of authority higher than oneself. This is why the covenantal form of legitimation and authority can never be confused with authoritarianism because it is noncoercive by definition, beginning as it does with the free, uncoerced consent of individual reason. Thus, those who have seen coercion lurking wherever there is "transcendent authority," who feel that anyone who believes in a universal truth is bound to feel justified in forcing it on someone else, simply fail to recognize the critical point that coercion is entirely inconsistent with, and indeed, vitiates the principle of covenant. Although recognition of God is a duty, it cannot be performed at all unless it is consent willingly given, for coerced belief is no belief at all. 63 Thus, in the past when ecclesiastical institutions undertook, without warrant in their own scriptures, to make affiliation in a particular faith or sect mandatory and to use force upon those who were not believers, this was itself a contradiction of the most basic principle of the divine Covenant. 64

However, the voluntary principle means that once one has given consent, recognized the authority of the lawgiver, and become a party to the covenantal relationship, one has obligated oneself to the relationship, with all its provisions and implications. This conception of consent makes the covenantal relation very different from the social contract, and contemporary notions of contract, where individual interests are the measure of the contract itself. Selznick writes: "a social ethic is the linchpin of the covenant.... This social ethic is something more than a natural, unconscious acceptance of social norms." It "suggests an indefeasible commitment and a continuing relationship." Moreover, as he has noted, covenant is the foundation for all other particular promises and contracts. 65 In a covenant, we enter into a relationship, which is not determined by purely individual interests. Entering it constitutes an affirmation that our own best interests are necessarily located within it, and that they are inextricably interrelated with those with whom we share membership in this collective enterprise. The covenant thus integrates the private and the public, the spiritual and the temporal, as through the personal covenant with God the individual enters the social covenant. Miller writes of this idea as it was once conceptualized:

The personal covenant of the soul with God is impaled on the same axis as the social, like a small circle within a larger. Before entering into both the personal and social covenants men have a liberty to go their own gait; afterwards they have renounced their liberty to do anything but that which has been agreed upon. The mutual consenting involved in a covenant, says Hooker, is the "sement" which solders together all societies, political or ecclesiastical; "for there is no man constrained to enter into such a condition unlesse he will: and he that will enter, must also willingly binde and ingage himself to each member of that society to promote the good of the whole, or else a member actually he is not." 66

The covenantal concept of social interdependence is expressed as an encompassing, global perspective in the Bahá'í writings, in the central principle of the oneness of humanity. `Abdu'l-Bahá writes of Bahá'u'lláh's teaching:

The Blessed Beauty saith: "Ye are all the fruits of one tree, the leaves of one branch." Thus hath He likened this world of being to a single tree, and all its peoples to the leaves thereof, and the blossoms and fruits. It is needful for the bough to blossom, and leaf and fruit to flourish, and upon the interconnection of all parts of the world-tree, dependeth the flourishing of leaf and blossom, and the sweetness of the fruit.

For this reason must all human beings powerfully sustain one another and seek for everlasting life; and for this reason must the lovers of God in this contingent world become the mercies and the blessings sent forth by that clement King of the seen and unseen realms. Let them purify their sight and behold all humankind as leaves and blossoms and fruits of the tree of being. Let them at all times concern themselves with doing a kindly thing for one of their fellows, offering to someone love, consideration, thoughtful help. Let them see no one as their enemy, or as wishing them ill, but think of all humankind as their friends; regarding the alien as an intimate, the stranger as a companion, staying free of prejudice, drawing no lines. 67

This view of human interdependence is reflected in Shoghi Effendi's explanation of the Bahá'í conception of society as based on the subordination of "every particularistic interest, be it personal, regional, or national, to the paramount interests of humanity, firmly convinced that in a world of interdependent peoples and nations the advantage of the part is best to be reached by the advantage of the whole, and that no abiding benefit can be conferred upon the component parts if the general interests of the entity itself are ignored or neglected." 68 As the Universal House of Justice has explained,

This relationship, so fundamental to the maintenance of civilized life, calls for the utmost degree of understanding and cooperation between society and the individual; and because of the need to foster a climate in which the untold potentialities of the individual members of society can develop, this relationship must allow "free scope" for "individuality to assert itself" through modes of spontaneity, initiative and diversity that ensure the viability of society. 69

The implications of such a model, and such a vision, to serve as the foundation of a global social order are developed in the Bahá'í International Community's statement, The Prosperity of Humankind:

Human society is composed not of a mass of merely differentiated cells but of associations of individuals, each one of whom is endowed with intelligence and will; nevertheless, the modes of operation that characterize man's biological nature illustrate fundamental principles of existence. Chief among these is that of unity in diversity. Paradoxically, it is precisely the wholeness and complexity of the order constituting the human body--and the perfect integration into it of the body's cells--that permit the full realization of the distinctive capacities inherent in each of these component elements. No cell lives apart from the body, whether in contributing to its function or in deriving its share from the well-being of the whole. The physical well-being thus achieved finds its purpose in making possible the expression of human consciousness; that is to say, the purpose of biological development transcends the mere existence of the body and its parts.

What is true of the life of the individual has its parallels in human society. The human species is an organic whole, the leading edge of the evolutionary process. That human consciousness necessarily operates through an infinite diversity of individual minds and motivations detracts in no way from its essential unity. Indeed, it is precisely an inhering diversity that distinguishes unity from homogeneity or uniformity. What the peoples of the world are today experiencing, Bahá'u'lláh said, is their collective coming-of-age, and it is through this emerging maturity of the race that the principle of unity in diversity will find full expression....

...Because the relationship between the individual and society is a reciprocal one, the transformation now required must occur simultaneously within human consciousness and the structure of social institutions. 70

The principle of interdependence and the relationship of the interests of the individual and society naturally has crucial implications for the concepts of governance and of justice.



Covenant and the Foundations of Civil Society: Part II

  1. Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, trans. Shoghi Effendi (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1976), p. 7.
  2. Perry Miller, "From the Covenant to the Revival," in Religion in American Life, ed. James Ward Smith and A. Leland Jamison (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961), vol. 1, p. 336, n. 20.
  3. Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh revealed after the Kitab-i-Aqdas, comp. Research Department, Universal House of Justice, trans. Habib Taherzadeh, 2d ed. (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1988), pp. 63-64.
  4. Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 343.
  5. `Abdu'l-Bahá, The Secret of Divine Civilization, trans. Marzieh Gail (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1957), p. 98.
  6. Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, rev. ed. (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1955), pp. 183, 187.
  7. Robert N. Bellah, The Broken Covenant: American Civil Religion in Time of Trial (New York: Seabury, 1975), p. xiv.
  8. Mary Ann Glendon and David Blankenhorn, eds., Seedbeds of Virtue: Sources of Competence, Character, and Citizenship in American Society (Lanham, MD: Madison Books, 1995).
  9. Bellah, Broken Covenant, p. ix.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ellis Sandoz, "Philosophical and Religious Dimensions of the American Founding," The Intercollegiate Review 30 (1995): 27-42; A. James Reichley, Religion in American Public Life (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1985).
  12. Daniel J. Elazar, "Covenant as the Basis of the Jewish Political Tradition," The Jewish Journal of Sociology 20 (1978): 5-37, p. 18.
  13. David Little, "The Western Tradition," in David Little et al., Human Rights and the Conflict of Cultures: Western and Islamic Perspectives on Religious Liberty (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1988), p. 26.
  14. Quoted in Bellah, Broken Covenant, p. 20.
  15. Bellah, Broken Covenant, p. xii.
  16. John Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration, in The Works of John Locke, 10 vols. (London: 1823; reprint, Aalen: Scientia, 1963), vol. 6, p. 28.
  17. John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed. Peter H. Nidditch (Oxford: Clarendon, 1975), 4.xvi.14.
  18. Ibid., 2.xxi.51-52.
  19. Ibid., 2.xxi.49, 50.
  20. Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 2.xxi.54.
  21. Locke, Letter Concerning Toleration, Works, vol. 6, p. 30.
  22. Ibid., p. 5.
  23. Locke, Letter Concerning Toleration, Works, vol. 6, p. 13.
  24. Ibid., p. 14.
  25. Ibid., p. 16.
  26. Ibid., p. 49.
  27. Locke, Letter Concerning Toleration, Works, vol. 6, p. 17.
  28. Ibid., pp. 37-38. See also The Reasonableness of Christianity as delivered in the Scriptures, in The Works of John Locke, 10 vols. [London: 1823; reprint, Aalen: Scientia, 1963], vol. 7, pp. 13-16.
  29. Little, "Western Tradition," p. 19; Locke, Letter Concerning Toleration, Works, vol. 6, pp. 39-43.
  30. Cf. Little, "Western Tradition," p. 20.
  31. Cf. `Abdu'l-Bahá, Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 46.
  32. Reichley, Religion in American Public Life, p. 113.
  33. Harold J. Berman, Law and Revolution: The Formation of the Western Legal Tradition (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983), p. 198.
  34. Mattei Dogan, "The Decline of Religious Beliefs in Western Europe," International Social Science Journal 145 (1995): 405-17, p. 417.
  35. Bellah, Broken Covenant, ch. 1; Miller, "From the Covenant to the Revival," p. 335.
  36. Locke, Letter Concerning Toleration, Works, vol. 6, p. 41.
  37. Quoted in John Dunn, The Political Thought of John Locke (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969), frontispiece.
  38. Locke, Letter Concerning Toleration, Works, vol. 6, p. 47.
  39. Locke, Letter Concerning Toleration, Works, vol. 6, p. 57; cf. Shoghi Effendi, World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, pp. 20-21.
  40. Philip Selznick, The Moral Commonwealth: Social Theory and the Promise of Community (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), p. 381.
  41. Ibid., p. 382.
  42. John Rawls, quoted in ibid., p. 382.
  43. Alasdair MacIntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988), p. 336.
  44. Selznick, Moral Commonwealth, pp. 383, 384.
  45. Selznick, Moral Commonwealth, pp. 385, 386.
  46. Some contemporary theorists acknowledge, in passing, the religious origin of the ideas as a once-helpful ladder that can now be kicked away. Locke wrote of the epistemic dependence of philosophers on revelation: "He that travels the roads now, applauds his own strength and legs that have carried him so far in such a scantling of time, and ascribes all to his own vigour; little considering how much he owes to their pains, who cleared the woods, drained the bogs, built the bridges, and made the ways passable; without which he might have toiled much with little progress.... It is no diminishing to revelation, that reason gives its suffrage too to the truths revelation has discovered. But it is our mistake to think, that because reason confirms them to us, we had the first certain knowledge of them from thence; and in that clear evidence we now possess them." (Reasonableness of Christianity, Works, vol. 7, p. 145.)
  47. See also Bellah, Broken Covenant, p. 26.
  48. Ronald Cohen, "Altruism and the Evolution of Civil Society," in Embracing the Other: Philosophical, Psychological, and Historical Perspectives on Altruism, ed. Pearl M. Oliner et al. (New York: New York University Press, 1992), pp. 104-29.
  49. James Q. Wilson, "Liberalism, Modernism, and the Good Life," in Seedbeds of Virtue: Sources of Competence, Character, and Citizenship in American Society, ed. Mary Ann Glendon and David Blankenhorn (Lanham, MD: Madison Books, 1995), p. 19.
  50. Bellah, Broken Covenant, p. xiii.
  51. Daniel J. Elazar, "What Happened to Covenant in the Nineteenth Century?" in Covenant in the Nineteenth Century: The Decline of an American Political Tradition, ed. Daniel J. Elazar (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1994), p. 4.
  52. Elazar, "Covenant as the Basis," pp. 6, 10.
  53. Daniel J. Elazar, Exploring Federalism (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1987), pp. 119, 126-27, 120.
  54. Cf. a different rendering of elements in Donald S. Lutz, "The Evolution of Covenant Form and Content as the Basis for Early American Political Culture," in Covenant in the Nineteenth Century: The Decline of an American Political Tradition, ed. Daniel J. Elazar (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1994), p. 35.
  55. Alison Dundes Renteln, "A Cross-Cultural Approach to Validating International Human Rights: The Case of Retribution Tied to Proportionality," in Human Rights: Theory and Measurement, ed. David Louis Cingranelli (New York: St. Martin's, 1988).
  56. Selznick, Moral Commonwealth, pp. 232-33.
  57. Lutz, "Evolution of Covenant Form and Content," p. 37.
  58. Shoghi Effendi, World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, pp. 143-57.
  59. Lutz, "Evolution of Covenant Form and Content," pp. 42-43.
  60. Elazar, "Covenant as the Basis," pp. 17, 36.
  61. Bahá'u'lláh, The Kitb-i-Aqdas: The Most Holy Book (Haifa: Bahá'í World Centre, 1992), par. 1.
  62. `Abdu'l-Bahá, Bahá'í World Faith: Selected Writings of Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá (Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1976), p. 383.
  63. See Locke, Letter Concerning Toleration, Works, vol. 6, p. 11.
  64. Although the use of force is authorized in the Qur'an, it is permitted only in defense, and never against peaceful nonbelievers. See, for example, Mohamed Talbi, "Religious Liberty: A Muslim Perspective," in Religious Liberty and Human Rights in Nations and in Religions, ed. Leonard Swidler (Philadelphia: Ecumenical Press, 1985), pp. 175-87; Little, "Western Tradition," pp. 29-30.
  65. Selznick, Moral Commonwealth, p. 479n (citing Pitkin).
  66. Perry Miller, Errand into the Wilderness (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1956), p. 90.
  67. `Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of `Abdu'l-Bahá (Haifa: Baha' World Centre, 1978), pp. 1-2.
  68. Shoghi Effendi, World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 198.
  69. Universal House of Justice, Individual Rights and Freedoms in the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh (Wilmette: Baha' Publishing Trust, 1989), p. 20.
  70. Baha' International Community, The Prosperity of Humankind, reprinted in The Baha' World 1994-95, pp. 277-78.
  71. Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 251. This warning evokes the judgment upon Belshazzar in the "handwriting on the wall" read by the prophet Daniel: "Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting" (Daniel 6:27).
  72. Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, pp. 37-38.
  73. `Abdu'l-Bahá, Secret of Divine Civilization, pp. 96-97.
  74. Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 64.
  75. Ibid., pp. 166-67.
  76. Selznick, Moral Commonwealth, p. 290.
  77. Quoted in Shoghi Effendi, World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, pp. 39-40.
  78. Elazar, "Covenant as the Basis," p. 29.
  79. Elazar, "What Happened to Covenant," pp. 14-15; Elazar, "Covenant as the Basis," p. 10.
  80. Elazar, "Covenant as the Basis," pp. 27, 25.
  81. Ibid., p. 7.
  82. Shoghi Effendi, World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 155.
  83. Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 217.
  84. Shoghi Effendi, World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 203.
  85. `Abdu'l-Bahá, Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 97-98.
  86. See Selznick, Moral Commonwealth, ch. 14.
  87. Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 170.
  88. See Glenn Tinder, Tolerance: Toward a New Civility (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1976), pp. 152-58. A vital Baha' principle, articulated by Shoghi Effendi, is that "Unlike the nations and peoples of the earth, be they of the East or of the West, democratic or authoritarian, who either ignore, trample upon, or extirpate, the racial, religious, or political minorities within the sphere of their jurisdiction, every organized community enlisted under the banner of Bahá'u'lláh should feel it to be its first and inescapable obligation to nurture, encourage, and safeguard every minority belonging to any faith, race, class, or nation within it." (The Advent of Divine Justice [Wilmette: Baha' Publishing Trust, 1990], p. 35).
  89. Universal House of Justice, Individual Rights and Freedoms, p. 8.
  90. See Samuel P. Oliner and Pearl M. Oliner, The Altruistic Personality: Rescuers of Jews in Nazi Europe (New York: Free Press, 1988).
  91. See Sissela Bok, Common Values (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1995).
  92. Paul Gomberg, "Universalism and Optimism," Ethics 104 (1994): 536-57.
  93. Shoghi Effendi, World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, pp. 197-98.

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