Previous posts in this discussion:
PostLeague of Nations and Collective Security: Woodrow Wilson (Alain de Benoist, France, 02/14/12 9:35 am)
I am not surprised that Vincent Littrell (9 February) finds a close affinity between Woodrow Wilson's ideology and the teachings of Abdu'l-Baha, founder of the Bahá'í enterprise.
Actually, IMHO (in my humble opinion), Woodrow Wilson, president of the US between 1913 and 1921, was one of the most harmful politicians of modern times. His ideology was a typical blend of deontological ethics, idealism, universalism, and wishful thinking, the kind of ideology which in history has caused the worst and most catastrophic events (in the name of Good, of course), as repeatedly shown by realist thinkers, from Edward Hallett Carr and Hans Morgenthau to Reinhold Niebuhr and Henry Kissinger.
Wilson's famous "Fourteen points" (speech delivered to the US Congress on 8 January 1918), described by Marzieh Gail as having been "influenced by the Bahá'í teachings," were mainly directed against European diplomacy. They had for main results the dismantling of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and of the Ottoman Empire, two of the most beautiful supranational bodies of history, where minority rights were respected--a dismantling which had engendered all the violence and "tribal" wars which have happened until now in the Balkans and in the Near East.
Any universalism being a concealed ethnocentrism (which is very logical, as universalism is itself a particular view to which nobody is obliged to subscribe), Wilson assigned of course a "special mission" to the US, in the spirit of the Puritan Founders of the 17th century (John Winthrop and the US as a "new Jerusalem") and of the so-called "Manifest Destiny," which has been one of the main sources of the American "exceptionalism." For Wilson, the American model was "morally superior" and has to been exported (that is, imposed) to other peoples because God has chosen the US, the "only ideal nation of the world" to "show the way" to the others. In other words, to paraphrase Orwell, all nations were supposed to be equal, but one of them was more equal than the others... (It is not surprising that, in March 2003, George W. Bush was described by The New Republic as "the most Wilsonian US president since Wilson himself.")
Wilson was the "spiritual father" of the League of Nations (Société des Nations, SDN). He obtained the introduction of the Charter of the SDN at the Treaty of Versailles (1919). The League, which contained up to 58 members at its greatest extent in 1934-35 (while the US refused to become a member), was supposed to prevent future wars, promote disarmament, discourage aggression, and encourage business and trade cooperation. Wilson thought that this new internationalist body would transform international relations and usher in a new era of world peace. Of course nothing of that sort happened, and the League of Nations was a tragic failure because it was build on universalist unrealistic principles. Throughout its existence there were multiple conflicts and disputes which the League was unable to resolve successfully. When the SDN, whose all members wanted the solution that suited them the best, was called upon to intervene in the case of aggression by a great power against a small power, it regularly tilted towards the more powerful political actor. The League was also unable to put an end to the Spanish Civil War or to prevent the rise of Nazism. Finally, the League failed miserably.
Vincent quoted Wilson as having said: "The rights of humanity are greater than the rights of sovereignty." Such a bombastic proclamation is a very good example of an incoherent thought, because to say that "the rights of humanity are greater than the rights of sovereignty" means only that from now on "humanity" will be the real sovereign. The "rights of sovereignty" are not at all dismissed or supressed, but transfered to a greater body, which will get more power than the previous ones. One wonders immediately what kind of "sovereignty" would be a "human sovereignty," what would the the source of its legitimacy (certainly not a democratic legitimacy), how its representatives would be designed, etc. Like all idealists bleating about "global ethics," Wilson forgot that the basic question in politics is always and ever: "Quis judicabit?" (Who decides?).
His wish to establish the "Cause of Universal Peace," built on the naive belief in the possibility to "suppress war," expressed the same ignorance of what human nature is as the ridiculous "Projects for a perpetual peace" written by the Abbé de Saint-Pierre in the 18th century and by Immanuel Kant in the 19th. The Briand-Kellogg Pact (signed in Paris on 27 August 1928), conceived to "outlaw war," which was signed by more than 60 nations (including Germany and Soviet Union), was exactly of the same vein: a typical exemple of "proclamatory diplomacy" which had for only result to make the wars more violent and more destructive.
I did not know that former Stanford University president David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) was also in contact with Abdu'l-Baha. My thanks to Vincent for this information.
David Starr Jordan, a gifted ichtyologist, was president of the World Peace Foundation from 1910 to 1914, dean of the American section of the World Peace Congress at The Hague in 1913, and president of the World Peace Conference in 1915. He became a "progressive internationalist" (Vincent's words) because he was a theoretician of eugenics and a leading advocate of eugenic sterilization. He condemned war because, in his eyes, war was detrimental to human species in that sense that it removed the best organisms from the gene pool, leaving "inferior" members of society to produce the next generation.
In his book The Blood of the Nation. A Study of the Decay of Races Through the Survival of the Unfit (1901), Jordan expressed views very close to those of Madison Grant or Charles Davenport, stressing that the "blood of a nation determines its history." "When the fit, brave, and strong are sent to battle to die, he wrote, the weak and unfit remain home and reproduce." The book decried the decrease of birth rate among the educated as leading to "race suicide."
David Starr Jordan served as a member of the initial board of trustees of the Human Betterment Foundation, a eugenics organization established in Pasadena in 1928 in order to distribute information about compulsory sterilization legislation in the US, for the purpose of eugenics. He was also key in establishing the eugenics committee of the American Breeder's Association. Compulsory sterilization was afterwards actively promoted in California by one of his students, Paul Popenoe.
It is sufficient to look at history and at the real world of today to see that what the peoples of the Earth want is not a "united mankind" which would regard the differences between them as transitory, secondary or unimportant. They regard globalization as a way to get more liberty, not as a way to "unite" them. They want an open society, not a "unified" society. What they want is to retain their own customs and habits, their own specific cultures and languages, their own personality and shared values, their own specific ways of thought, their particular sociopolitical systems. The general law of the evolution of living forms is divergence, not convergence. The general aspiration of the peoples, as expressed everyday and everywhere, is today more than ever summarized by two words: autonomy and diversity.
JE comments: David Starr Jordan has come up on WAIS before. On 30 May 2005, Prof. Hilton raised the question of Jordan's role in the eugenics movement:
This is Stanford stuff, which rings close to home. I know that Norman Tutorow (we miss you, Norman!) would have a lot to add to this conversation.
For Alain: in what way are the Austro-Hungarian and the Ottoman Empires "beautiful"? "Dysfunctional" is the term we more commonly expect. Just ask the Good Soldier Schweik.
Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires "Beautiful"?
(Alain de Benoist, France
02/15/12 2:09 AM)
In response to my post of 14 February, JE asked: "In what way are the Austro-Hungarian and the Ottoman Empires 'beautiful'? 'Dysfunctional' is the term we more commonly expect. Just ask the Good Soldier Schweik.
They were not perfect, of course. But I think they constituted two very achieved examples of multinational political bodies which, through a patient process of construction, reached a good equilibrium between unity (transcending the differences) and diversity (recognizing the liberties of the different peoples living together in the Empire). Quite the contrary of the Jacobine Nation-State. Unfortunately, as always, I do not have time enough to develop this judgment...
JE comments: I have a colleague in Political Science at Adrian College, Philip Howe, who is currently spending his sabbatical year in Vienna researching the Austro-Hungarian political system. I'll see if he'll comment.
Might the Ottoman and A-H Empires, the "Sick" and "Almost as Sick" Men of Europe, be ripe for a re-evaluation? We recently observed that Ottoman nostalgia appears to be on the rise in the Middle East--at the very least, Turkey is becoming very popular. I sense this is due to Turkey's embracing modernity without "selling out" to the West.
Austro-Hungarian Empire "Beautiful"? Philip Howe Responds
(John Eipper, USA
03/23/12 2:46 AM)
On 15 February, Alain de Benoist described the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires as "beautiful" examples of multinational political entities (https://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=68193&objectTypeId=62413&topicId=106 ). At that time I mentioned my friend and colleague at Adrian College, political scientist Philip Howe, who is presently in Vienna researching the A-H political system. Just yesterday Phil sent a comment, which I post below.
Thank you for the interesting note, Phil! We miss you very much in Adrian.
Philip Howe writes:
Thanks for the mention, JE! I would only slightly amend your judgment concerning Austria-Hungary: it is not "ripe for a re-evaluation," said re-evaluation is already well underway, in particular for the "Austrian" half of the Dual Monarchy. Aside from my own work on the subject (shameless plug: I am currently completing a book manuscript on parliamentary elections and politics in Austria 1867-1918), a growing number of historians are providing increasingly nuanced accounts of the practical accomplishments of Austrian political parties and politicians, including a sizable literature on specific parties and regional elections (Binder, Boyer, Garver, Höbelt, Winkler, etc.). For those who read German, Höbelt's Franz Joseph I. Der Kaiser und sein Reich provides an excellent, brief, provocative defense of the overall political system. One should also check out Jonathan Kwan's recent review article "Nationalism and all that" in the European History Quarterly.
Simultaneously, our picture of the "Nationalities Question," indeed of nationalism in general, has shifted considerably since the mid-1980s. Of particular note is the recently arisen "national indifference" or "national flexibility" school of Habsburg historians (Cohen, Judson, King, Wingfield, Zahra, and others), one that has brought such phenomena as widespread multilingualism, "national amphibians," and popular reluctance to accept the rigors of nationalist politics to the center of scholarly discussion. This has been accompanied by an increased awareness of alternatives to national identities, such as dynastic loyalism (e.g. Cole & Unowsky, Deák) and regional identity (e.g. Wolff's work on Galicia).
I have emphasized electoral politics and nationalism here because those are my immediate interests. Much the same could be said of Habsburg economic historiography, however, and of course recognition of the Monarchy's contributions to modern culture goes as far back as Carl Schorske's classic Fin de Siècle Vienna.
In short, there is much good to be said of Austria-Hungary. Such praise should not be exaggerated, however. Although politics were certainly becoming more democratic by the turn of the century, it was still not a democracy, and Austrian parliamentary life, though in my view not as useless as generally believed, remained messier than was probably healthy. State finances were shaky towards the end. The Hungarian minority's privileged position within the Dual system and within Hungary itself was an ongoing source of instability. And the Imperial government did manage to make at least one fatal foreign policy misstep. Nevertheless, in my judgment much potential for progressive development remained had WWI only been avoided. At the very least, the standard textbook portrayal of Austria-Hungary as an archaic "Cage of Nations" inevitably torn apart by the rising modern forces of nationalism does not retain much credibility these days.
I will refrain from judgment on the Ottoman Empire during the 19th and 20th centuries, as I am not (yet) sufficiently informed. It is worth noting, however, that its millet system, which granted non-Muslims a large degree of communal autonomy, has given that state a reputation for religious tolerance far exceeding conditions in Europe in the early modern period.
JE comments: I've been a numismatist since I could barely read, and foreign money was my first encounter with WAISworthy topics. The Austro-Hungarian banknotes have always struck me as fascinating--they were written in German, Hungarian, Italian, Czech, Polish, Slovene and two or three other languages as well. Soviet currency also featured many languages and scripts. Now we are stuck with the incomparably bland Euronotes.
Germanic-dominated patchwork of incompatible nationalities, opaque governance, Byzantine bureaucracy--might the EU be the spiritual successor to the Austro-Hungarian empire? Discuss.
Austro-Hungarian Empire "Beautiful"?
(Gilbert Doctorow, Belgium
03/24/12 12:58 PM)
Plaudits all around, to our Moderator and to Philip Howe for opening this fascinating subject. (See Philip Howe's post of 23 March.)
Something like three years ago, at the start of the Obama regime, our foreign policy heavyweights, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Clinton, were explaining to the press, and over their heads to the general public, what would be the underpinnings of US foreign policy going forward. They instinctively threw out the notions of balance of power as outdated, ideas dating from what?, the 18th, maybe even the 17th century? Heaven forbid! Just look at the calendar and you know those notions will not fly in our super-duper 21st century, when Soft Power and Public Diplomacy are all the rage.
Indeed, when you haven't the intellectual wherewithal to explain yourself, nothing serves better to dispatch an opponent than the "old hat" argument, unless, like some, you just go ad hominem.
Wilson may have been misunderstood and ineffective in his age among Americans, though he was given all chances to use his "self-determination" of nations dynamite in Europe, but his disparaging view of multinational empires as prisons has lived on and has become the mantra of the American foreign policy establishment, whatever its intrinsic merits.
Therefore it is delightful that some today find a good word for multinational states--not multi-ethnic states, but precisely multinational states such as was the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Bravo to Professor Howe for his mention of Wolff's book on Galicia. I had the great pleasure to attend the panel session devoted to that book at last year's ASN (Association for the Study of Nationalities) convention in New York. The author beamed as he collected the professional bouquets for his labor of love. Among those with laudatory remarks was indeed Professor Istvan Deak.
However, I must remark, regrettably, that study of nationalities has in recent years taken a very special coloration. Out of the more than 100 panels last year, nearly all were dedicated to Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The one exception, a case of nationalities strife in a "normal" West European country that almost brought the country to break-up, was the Round Table on Belgium that I shared. It says volumes that this year, the ASN directorate could not find room in its 140 panels for one to deal with follow-up in Belgium.
Indeed, the area has become a haven for Russia-bashers, as each smaller nationality or ethnos gets its place in the sun to complain about how they "was had" under the Soviet empire. It is in that very context that sentimental tears tend to be shed among those reminiscing about the jolly old Kaiser Franz Josef and A-H.
Meanwhile the Russian Federation under its fearless leader Vladimir Putin (statesman or no statesman, I expect even his opponents concede his personal bravery) has come out differing with the US not only over the validity for our time of certain relic ideas from the past like balance of power, Realpolitik and pursuit of national interests as opposed to universalist ideals as the basis for conducting foreign policy. No, the debate goes even further and deeper into the very question of multi-national states, which the present-day Russian Federation claims to be. Putin specifically rejects the American notion of "melting pot" and insists on the Russian tradition of a state comprising many nationalities, though with one lead nationality, all of which is bound together by shared language and civic culture, and by first (not sole, just first) loyalty to the Russian Federation. For anyone with an interest in going to primary sources, do check out the Prime Minister's website, where you will find his position paper on The Nationalities Question among the 7 pre-electoral manifestos to which I have alluded previously. And do judge for yourselves whether this idea is any more antiquarian than E pluribus unum.
- Divergence or Convergence? (Vincent Littrell, USA 02/25/12 4:36 AM)
I thank Alain de Benoist for his 14 February post. He touches on a number of issues worthy of discussion. I have to admit that in regards to our exchanges over the last few years, Alain and I tend to repeat our quite opposite positions. Sometimes I wonder if, on some issues, we are talking past each other.
I've pasted in below an example of Alain's anti-universalist thought from his last post:
"It is sufficient to look at history and at the real world of today to see that what the peoples of the Earth want is not a 'united mankind' which would regard the differences between them as transitory, secondary or unimportant. They regard globalization as a way to get more liberty, not as a way to 'unite' them. They want an open society, not a 'unified' society. What they want is to retain their own customs and habits, their own specific cultures and languages, their own personality and shared values, their own specific ways of thought, their particular sociopolitical systems. The general law of the evolution of living forms is divergence, not convergence. The general aspiration of the peoples, as expressed everyday and everywhere, is today more than ever summarized by two words: autonomy and diversity."
My thinking is that people's wants tend towards the "wrong" without divine revelation.** If as many religions state, a key purpose of man's existence is development of spiritual attributes (due to our spiritual nature), then "wants" tend to be in direct opposition to that notion (why for example do religions have fasting periods? One important reason is to teach and shape discipline from want). From a spiritualized religious perspective (which upholds the essentially spiritual nature of the human condition) what people want is far less important than what they need, and it is through revelation that people's needs are addressed (how and when divine revelation occurs is of course debated amongst the religions).
There are many peoples who are ignorant of, or who ignoring the underlying ontological reality of mankind's oneness, want things of a particularist, and therefore limiting if not spiritually corrosive nature. Of course those advanced thinkers of the "realist" paradigm of political thought (and its many offshoots) are master observers and/or manipulators/overseers of humankind's lower nature. This lower nature of man is emphasized and even sacrilized through free will, where the needs of the self or particularist collective as opposed to choosing a path that recognizes the totality of mankind's spiritual nature and its "oneness" takes on an importance not in concert with the teachings of the great religions. Religious reality is that man's spiritual capacity in significant part is developed through high moral behavior, something that animals don't have (I am well aware of the Pauline-derived "faith" vs "works" argument in some major branches of Christianity). Mankind obviously in part has animal impulses, but also transcends the animal plane of existence, despite many humans' efforts to be worse than beasts. Thus Alain's view that "the general law of evolution of living forms is divergence, not convergence" flies in the face of mankind's higher spiritual nature, which gravitates towards unity with the divine in spite of the weakness of rational intellectualism that, not in concert with intuitive intellect developed through striving towards high morality and spiritual perception, blinds people from recognition of a higher reality. Isn't man made in God's image? Of course I'm aware that Alain doesn't accept the existence of God, which poses a problematic in any attempt of convergence of our views regarding human nature.
Mankind isn't an animal. The laws of evolution impact the physical body and brain capacity of the human, but man's higher nature transcends the physical. We see this tendency of mankind's gravitation towards higher unities in human political evolution, despite intense resistance (also despite Alain's mention of realist writers in his effort to state the dangers of political unity), with mankind generally evolving (albeit not always sequentially) from clan, tribe, tribal confederation, city-state, empires, nation-state, League of Nations/United Nations. What's next in human political evolution? I don't think the nation-state is an end-state in human political evolution. The world is in such travail today, that a higher evolution is inevitable. The question is, just after how much human suffering?
I have no problem with Alain's view to "autonomy and diversity," as to me autonomy doesn't mean absolute sovereignty, which is the concept I find detrimental to the human political condition. Over-centralization of government leads to terrible problems too. The key is finding the balance in an overarching unity of diversity.
My opinion is that Woodrow Wilson's key significance is that he is the first world leader to begin the process of transcending the nation-state. He brought the idea of transcending sovereignty into the mainstream, in spite of the ferocious resistance he faced from multiple quarters (US Congress, British, Germans, "realists," particularists of various stripes, etc.). Yes, his personal efforts weren't fully vindicated in his lifetime, and the League of Nations failed to prevent the rise of Nazi Germany and other tyrannies of the 20th century. But, the idea of an organization to regulate relations between nations did stick, thus the creation of the United Nations. Increasingly, responsible thinkers are recognizing the terrific shortcomings of the United Nations and are arguing that reform within that body/organization is needed. Of course the United Nations resides in a terrible paradox of trying to regulate the relations and behaviors of sovereign nation-states. Until the generality of humankind recognizes that sovereignty isn't workable and the United Nations' mandate is paradoxically both relieving oppression in some contexts while exacerbating it in others, via its attempt to defend the sacred cow of the sovereignty of nations which contributes to key anarchic aspects to the global order, the downward spiral of the international state system as a resolver of global problems will continue. The continued dominance of pure secularism in international relations policy within nation-state governments is another problem in this line. This is another beat of my "interfaith dialogue needs a larger role on the global stage" drum.
Regarding other aspects of Alain'd post:
One correction I'll make is his reference to Abdu'l-Baha as being the "founder of the Baha'i enterprise." The founder of the Baha'i Faith (an emerging world religion, something that far and away transcends "enterprise," though literature can be found online regarding the concept of a "Baha'i social enterprise") was Mirza Hussein Ali-Nuri, titled and called by Baha'is "Baha'u'llah." Abdu'l-Baha was Baha'u'llah's son. He was appointed by Baha'u'llah to be the latter's successor to leadership of the then nascent Baha'i Faith and as authoritative interpreter of the revelation of Baha'u'llah. I rather wonder at Alain's description of the Baha'i Faith. Does he view Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Buddhism and other world religions also as "enterprises?"
Regarding Former Stanford University President David Starr Jordan:
Though I agree David Starr Jordan's views towards the now defunct ideas in eugenics played some part in his thinking towards universal peace as Alain correctly mentions, I don't think Alain's post encompasses all that influenced Jordan's views towards international relations and universal peace. Jordan's 1918 book Democracy and World Relations provides an excellent sampling of his views in the "progressive internationalist" mode (see Jordan's book online at http://www.archive.org/stream/democracyandwor02jordgoog#page/n16/mode/2up ). Jordan stated:
"The old morality of nations was limited in scope, with no higher ideal than national advantage. It relied on force and boasted of its triumphs. This point
of view was an outgrowth of the mediaeval conception of the sovereign state, an ideal entity inherent in a moral vacuum. The germ of the "new morality" inheres in the spirit which called us into the war. Its essence, international and unselfish, is the appeal for a new world-order. "Without that new order," says President Wilson, "the world will be without peace."
"We would base the liberties of all on the same stable foundation as our own. We crave no triumph except to block aggression. We mean to allow no considerations of force to aflFect the final adjustment. In 'fruits of victory' or 'dust of defeat,' our efforts shall inure alike to the well-being of the whole world.
"Out of these purposes rises a new moral might which cannot fail to appeal even to our adversaries. Once understood, it must become the standard around
which free men of all nations shall rally. 'The force of America is the force of moral principle.'" (p. 4)
There clearly is a moral/spiritual aspect to David Starr Jordan's thought. His views on patriotism and nationalism reflect sourcing for his views that I think transcend eugenics:
"an adequate expression of patriotism was that of Carl Schurz in 1848: 'For my country when she is in the right; if wrong, then every effort to make
her right again.' Patriotism naturally begins at home, involving primarily good-will toward one's neighbor. But it should extend and entrench itself beyond the boundaries of city or province, to embrace the whole nation and in a degree the whole world."
"Love of home and family does not preclude devotion to the state. Nor does the most whole-souled love of country abridge the broadest humanitarianism. Thus
'planetary patriotism' must be the final goal, and the boundaries set up by a narrow nativism must be considered temporary and crude. This process of widening sympathy, begun so long ago, acquires a steadily increasing momentum, and nationalism, itself the successor of feudalism, becomes in reality a stepping-stone toward the broader relations of internationalism and federation." (p. 27)
**I digress, but this got me to thinking about the teaching of "Commanding the Right and Forbidding the Wrong" in Islam. This concept isn't explicit to other religions (and in the Baha'i Faith it has been formally abrogated, in that not commenting on or pointing out others' "sins" is preferable now unless absolutely required). However the idea of morals and the "right" and "wrong" of individual and collective behaviors are deeply imbued into the fundamentals of most other revelational religions/traditions and philosophies throughout history.
JE comments: Lots to think about here--and yes, I don't ever see Vincent Littrell and Alain de Benoist coming to a consensus on the "divergence/convergence" issue. First I'd like to ask our religious historians: what is the origin of "Man is made in God's image"? Is it in the Old Testament, or before? Atheists would retort that it's the other way around: God is made in man's image.
Also, it strikes me that pointing out others' sins is a cornerstone of institutional religions, despite the "speck in the eye/log in the eye" teachings. I am intrigued that this is not the case in Baha'i. I'd like to know more.
Commanding the Right and Forbidding the Wrong in Islam and Baha'i
(Vincent Littrell, USA
02/27/12 4:10 AM)
John Eipper (25 February) asked about the Baha'i view towards not pointing at other people's sins after my comment on the Baha'i abrogation of "Commanding the Right and Forbidding the Wrong" in Islam.
For an in-depth review of this concept of commanding right and forbidding wrong in Islam, one may refer to Michael Cook's Commanding Right and Forbidding Wrong in Islamic Thought (2000). It covers Qur'anic and Hadith literature, as well as years' worth of Muslim scholarly commentary from most major branches of Islamic thought. The book is a treasure, and approaches the subject of commanding right and forbidding wrong in Islam from many different perspectives and contexts.
There are a number of verses in the Qur'an that point to the responsibility of Muslims to command right and forbid wrong. Surah 3:104 provides a starting point:
"Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong; they are the ones to attain felicity." (Surah 3)
Another verse is Surah 9:112: "Those that turn (to Allah) in repentance: that serve Him, and praise Him; that wander in devotion to the Cause of Allah; that bow down and prostrate themselves in prayer; that enjoin good and forbid evil; and observe the limits set by Allah (these do rejoice). So proclaim the glad tidings to the Believers."
There are many Surahs that address this subject and much Hadith also. Michael Cook discusses the interpretations of these various Surahs and traditions regarding how, when, who, where and under what circumstances commanding right and forbidding wrong is to occur. Interestingly Cook also discusses various Surahs, Hadith and Muslim scholar commentary that point to holding one's tongue, finding the right time and place for correcting wrong and what qualifies one to point out error in another believer. For example, a tradition that states, "One ought to put oneself to rights before venturing to command and forbid others." (Cook quoting Ibn Abbas's "prophetic tradition that describes the grim punishment meted out in hell to those who commanded right while themselves acting wrongfully," p. 43). Cook also discusses the debate amongst Muslim scholars regarding Surah 5:105, which states, "O ye who believe! guard your own souls: if ye follow (right) guidance, no hurt can come to you from those who stray. The goal of you all is to Allah: it is He that will show you the truth of all that ye do." (Surah 5)
This is interesting in that some scholars have interpreted this verse to mean that the requirement to command right has been abrogated (keep in mind there is a debate in Islam to this day over the concept of Qur'anic verses abrogating other verses of the Qur'an). Cook also discusses the political connotations of the diverse lines of tradition that originated from different geographic locations like the Kufan vs. Syrian traditions that emphasize different points in regards commanding right and forbidding wrong. The Kufans argued not to play down the duty of commanding right (Kufans were known as being resistant to Damascene Ummayyad authority), while Syrian traditions played down the duty. (p. 45) There have been instances in history where Muslims of humble circumstance confronted Caliphs publicly and commanded them to right (sometimes it appeared with expectation of resulting execution)! Traditions from sources of centralized power might have played down certain verses with political intention. Debate within Islam over commanding right and forbidding wrong covers positions like: 1) only those who can command right and forbid wrong are those on jihad holy warriors; 2) the entire community of believers had a responsibility to command right and forbid wrong; 3) only certain qualified elites could command right and forbid wrong, etc. Despite the debate in Islam, there certainly has been a powerful current in the Muslim world where a significant percentage of Muslims have felt okay in commanding right and forbidding wrong with their fellow believers and non-Muslims to such a degree that it has been enculturated to a large extent.
I myself have had Muslims (as well as non-Muslims from Muslim cultural roots) very righteously "command" me when they felt some aspect of my interaction with them wasn't in concert with their understanding of "right." This sense of commanding to right has permeated deeply into Muslim world social dynamics. Though other societies do this as well, it is my experience that in Muslim society there is a strong cultural penchant for it with its own unique detectable characteristic that is difficult to describe.
Regarding the Baha'i Faith and Commanding Right and Forbidding Wrong: An Iranian Baha'i scholar once told me that the prophet founder of the Baha'i Faith Baha'u'llah had explicitly abrogated the Qur'anic requirement to command right and forbid wrong. Though I've not seen it explicitly worded as this scholar worded to me, my search of the Baha'i scripture in English (much of Baha'i scripture hasn't yet been translated to English) reveals a strong implication that Baha'u'llah did abrogate the requirement. Baha'u'llah's successor Abdu'l-Baha stated: "We must look upon our enemies with a sin-covering eye and act with justice when confronted with any injustice whatsoever, forgive all, consider the whole of humanity as our own family, the whole earth as our own country, be sympathetic with all suffering, nurse the sick, offer a shelter to the exiled, help the poor and those in need, dress all wounds and share the happiness of each one." (Abdu'l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 41)
Regarding specific directives of Baha'is confronting other Baha'is for detected transgressions of teachings and law, we find: "... There is a tendency to mix up the function of the Administration and try to apply it in individual relationships, which is abortive, because the Assembly is a nascent House of Justice and is supported to administer according to the Teachings, the affairs of the community. But individuals toward each other are governed by love, unity, forgiveness and sin-covering eye. Once the friends grasp this they will get along much better, but they keep playing Spiritual Assembly to each other and expect the Assembly to behave like an individual... "(from a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual believer, Lights of Guidance, p. 77; [Note: The "Guardian" of the Baha'i Faith was Abdu'l-Baha's grandson Shoghi Effendi, also considered by Baha'is to be a central and authoritative figure of the Baha'i Faith--VL].
From the above I extrapolate that Baha'is are to not correct each other publicly or with hard words when a Baha'i's transgression from Baha'i law or moral right is detected. The Baha'i administration is to work gently with individual members if significant transgressions from "right" are detected. This is a different view than many Muslims have towards the transgressions of their fellow Muslims, though Michael Cook, drawing from specific Islamic traditions, also discusses the fact that there are Muslims who take a gentle approach as well: "Thus the Prophet states that one should not forbid wrong unless one possesses 'three qualities': civility, knowledge and probity. At the same time one must respect privacy. One should not seek to expose people: a well-known Prophetic tradition states that he who keeps concealed something that would dishonor a Muslim will receive the same consideration from God. All in all, if one cannot perform the duty [of forbidding wrong--VL], then one cannot, and it is that God should know that one disapproves in one's heart." (p. 44)
Baha'i scholar Dr. J.E. Esselmont in his book Baha'u'llah and the New Era states: "On no subject are the Bahá'í teaching more imperative and uncompromising than on the requirement to abstain from faultfinding. Christ spoke very strongly on the same subject,
but it has now become usual to regard the Sermon on the Mount as embodying 'Counsels of Perfection' which the ordinary Christian cannot be expected to live up to." (p. 82) Esselmont then quotes Baha'u'llah on the subject: "O Son of Man! Breathe not the sins of others so long as thou art thyself a sinner. Shouldst thou transgress this command, accursed wouldst thou be, and to this I bear witness." "O Son of Being! Ascribe not to any soul that which thou wouldst not have ascribed to thee, and say not that which thou doest not. This is My command unto thee, do thou observe it." (p. 82, quoting Baha'u'llah's The Hidden Words of Baha'u'llah)
JE comments: A fascinating topic. I suspect all major religions exhibit a tension between keeping one's brother and (not) throwing the first stone. Baha'i, if I correctly understand Vincent Littrell's analysis, leaves "Commanding the Right" to the authorities (House of Justice). Might this have its roots in the historical context of Baha'is living as a religious minority, where keeping a low profile among neighbors is a practical necessity?
- Divergence or Convergence? (Alain de Benoist, France 02/25/12 10:27 AM)
I have read with interest Vincent Littrell's latest post (25 February). I think that all WAISers have well understood the differences between Vincent's view of the world and mine.
Time constraints limit me to just two points:
1) Vincent repeatedly speaks about the "spiritual nature" of mankind. I do not
know what he means exactly with these words. He also writes that "mankind
isn't an animal. The laws of evolution impact the physical body and brain
capacity of the human, but man's higher nature transcends the physical." This
is a problematic which can be analyzed through quite different ways (following
Aristotle, Descartes, Condillac, Hume, John Stuart Mill, Imanuel Kant, Max
Scheler, Arnold Gehlen, etc.). Nobody disputes the fact that mankind discloses
specific characteristics which are not present in the animal realm (like the
"double conscience": to have conscience of one's own conscience), though the
question of knowing if the difference is a difference of nature or a difference
of degree is still under discussion. But there is no need for a "divine
revelation" to explain such a fact. Our "spiritual nature" is entirely located
in our brain which is the result of evolution. Specific human traits are
usually called "emergent properties." (See for instance: William Hasker, The
Emergent Self, 1999; Paul Humphreys, "How
Properties Emerge", in Philosophy of Science, 64, 1997, pp. 1-17). To believe
there is an evolution for animals and an other evolution for humans is just
2) Vincent asks me a question: "Does [Alain] views Christianity, Islam,
Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Buddhism and other world religions also as
Answer: yes false creeds, delusional beliefs and failed enterprises.
- Divergence or Convergence? (Alain de Benoist, France 02/25/12 10:27 AM)
- Divergence or Convergence? (Vincent Littrell, USA 02/25/12 4:36 AM)
- Austro-Hungarian Empire "Beautiful"? (Gilbert Doctorow, Belgium 03/24/12 12:58 PM)
- Austro-Hungarian Empire "Beautiful"? Philip Howe Responds (John Eipper, USA 03/23/12 2:46 AM)