The Baha'i Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience

From: Juan Cole <>
To: <>
Cc: <>
Subject: Re: [bahai-faith] mutilation theology
Date: Friday, September 04, 1998 2:06 AM

Someone asked where Shoghi Effendi spoke of the administrative order being
mutilated without a Guardian.  It is World Order of Baha'u'llah p. 148:
"An attempt, I feel, should at the present juncture be made to explain the
character and functions of the twin pillars that support this mighty
Administrative Structure--the institutions of the Guardianship and of the
Universal House of Justice. To describe in their entirety the diverse
elements that function in conjunction with these institutions is beyond the
scope and purpose of this general exposition of the fundamental verities of
the Faith. To define with accuracy and minuteness the features, and to
analyze exhaustively the nature of the relationships which, on the one
hand, bind together these two fundamental organs of the Will of
`Abdu'l-Bahá and connect, on the other, each of them to the Author of the
Faith and the Center of His Covenant is a task which future generations
will no doubt adequately fulfill. My present intention is to elaborate
certain salient features of this scheme which, however close we may stand
to its colossal structure, are already so clearly defined that we find it
inexcusable to either misconceive or ignore. 13 It should be stated, at the
very outset, in clear and unambiguous language, that these twin
institutions of the Administrative Order of Bahá'u'lláh should be regarded
as divine in origin, essential in their functions and complementary in
their aim and purpose. Their common, their fundamental object is to insure
the continuity of that divinely-appointed authority which flows from the
Source of our Faith, to safeguard the unity of its followers and to
maintain the integrity and flexibility of its teachings. Acting in
conjunction with each other these two inseparable institutions administer
its affairs, cöordinate its activities, promote its interests, execute its
laws and defend its subsidiary institutions. Severally, each operates
within a clearly defined sphere of jurisdiction; each is equipped with its
own attendant institutions--instruments designed for the effective
discharge of its particular responsibilities and duties. Each exercises,
within the limitations imposed upon it, its powers, its authority, its
rights and prerogatives. These are neither contradictory, nor detract in
the slightest degree from the position which each of these institutions
occupies. Far from being incompatible or mutually destructive, they
supplement each other's authority and functions, and are permanently and
fundamentally united in their aims." 
The uhj tries to interpret this passage away by pointing out that the
Guardianship operated just fine without a house of justice, so obviously
the house of justice can operate without a living Guardian.  Moreover, the
lack of a living guardian does not detract from the fact that the
guardianship did exist at one point, leaving a great deal of guidance.  
The problem is that the Guardian *did* think it essential that a house of
justice come to be asap, and he constantly put things off or made rulings
provisional upon their future acceptance.  Obviously, this schema cannot
work the other way around--the uhj cannot put things off or rule only
provisionally on issues in hopes of a future guardian arising, since there
can be no further guardians.  Moreover, it is also clear from his diction
that he felt that key checks and balances in the Baha'i system were
provided by a *living* Guardian.
On pp. 154-155 of World Order of Baha'u'llah, Shoghi Effendi continues,
"The hereditary authority which the Guardian is called upon to exercise,
the vital and essential functions which the Universal House of Justice
discharges, the specific provisions requiring its democratic election by
the representatives of the faithful--these combine to demonstrate the truth
that this divinely revealed Order, which can never be identified with any
of the standard types of government referred to by Aristotle in his works,
embodies and blends with the spiritual verities on which it is based the
beneficent elements which are to be found in each one of them. The admitted
evils inherent in each of these systems being rigidly and permanently
excluded, this unique Order, however long it may endure and however
extensive its ramifications, cannot ever degenerate into any form of
despotism , of oligarchy, or of demagogy which must sooner or later corrupt
the machinery of all man-made and essentially defective political
Shoghi Effendi is referring to Aristotle's division of government into rule
by the one, rule by the few, and rule by the many.  Aristotle thought each
of these forms of government, in turn, had a virtuous and corrupt form.
Rule of the one is ideally a virtuous monarchy, but it could deteriorate
into despotism.  Rule of the few is ideally a noble aristocracy, but it
could deteriorate into oligarchy (we would say a junta).  Rule of the many
is ideally a just Republic or Polity that protects the rights of
minorities; but it could deteriorate into demagoguery and a tyranny of the
Shoghi Effendi was saying that the Baha'i system had all three elements:
rule of the one was the Guardianship, rule of the few was the Hands (?),
and rule of the many was the elected officers of the houses of justice
(including NSAs and LSAs).
Now, according to Aristotle, the rule of the many, i.e., the rule of the
houses of justice, was liable to deteriorate into demagoguery and the
tyranny of the majority (a sort of populist fascism, we might say).  Shoghi
Effendi says explicitly that it is the hereditary principle of the
Guardianship (i.e. the Baha'i equivalent of monarchy) that keeps this
deterioration from occurring.  Obviously, in the absence of a living
Guardian and with the end of the institution of the hands of the cause, the
Baha'i system no longer has a living, breathing representative of the
monarchical principle nor of the aristocratic.  This means that the houses
of justice have become a Republic.  And according to Shoghi Effendi's
analysis, this Republic is open to going bad and becoming demagogic.
Notice that he does *not* say that what prevents the uhj from becoming
tyrannical is its own infallibility, or divine guidance, or anything so
airy fairy.  He is concrete and explicit.  It is the simultaneous presence
of the monarchical, aristocratic and republican forms of governance that
act as institutional brakes on one another.  That institutional brake is no
longer effectively present.
And this is the only way I can understand how things have gone so wrong in
the Baha'i faith.  Things are so corrupt that people like Firuz Kazemzadeh
go about publicly and explicitly identifying the elected officials of the
faith with an "aristocracy!"  This does so much damage to both Aristotle
and Shoghi Effendi (not to mention common sense) that one cringes.  I
suppose it must be nice for Firuz, though.  And one of the reasons I left
was that in spring of 1996 the uhj mangled the interpretation of this
passage by insisting that *it* is the 'rule of the one'!  Well, of course,
they aren't authorized to interpret things, though, are they?
What would replace the role of the Guardian in keeping the elected
officials from becoming demagogues?  Well, maybe nothing can.  But maybe
public opinion could.  Just the censure of ordinary Baha'is.  And the
wonderful thing for the Baha'i faith at this juncture, and the thing that
gives even me hope for those still clinging to the crimson ark, is that
cyberspace is creating a Baha'i public opinion, and the uhj and the nsa's
are beginning to feel pressure from it.  They hate it.  They had liked
thinking of themselves as 'aristocrats' (or actually oligarchs given how
they often have behaved).  But they had better shed the velvet robes and
dump the silver wine goblets, with the $200 million palaces, and get back
to being plain democratic representatives of the Baha'i Republic or
eventually they will lose all their power and perquisites, altogether.
cheers    Juan