A Comparison of Western Democracies with the Concept of Governance in `Abdu'l-Bahá's Writings

By Muin Afnani

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #81
Bosch Bahá'í School: Santa Cruz, California, USA
May 29 – June 1, 2008
(see list of papers from #81)

    The twentieth century witnessed the emergence of many forms of governments, some of which subsequently collapsed or changed. The origin of democratic governments in the modern times goes back to about 300 years ago. By the end of the twentieth century the western democracy was proclaimed as the best form of government in the history of the world. While various aspects and processes of western societies have been scrutinized and commented on extensively, the western democratic form of government, in comparison, has been viewed quite positively and has seen little criticism, even in the academic circles. Though there is no comparison between democratic societies and dictatorial regimes, whether secular or religious, in terms of human rights, freedom of speech and belief, progress of science and technology, relative economic well-being, and so forth, the legitimate question is whether western democracy is the best form of governance that we can hope for. The Bahá'í Faith claims that human beings are capable of creating a much better form of governance. The major features of the Bahá'í concept of governance are explained in works of `Abdu'l-Bahá, such as The Secret of Divine Civilization and A Political Treatise. `Abdu'l-Bahá's writings on the topic of governance are elaborations of the themes mentioned in Bahá'u'lláh's Tablets on this topic, including Tablet of the World. The fundamental difference between the Bahá'í concept of governance and western democracy lies in the underlying theories and concepts about the nature of human beings and groups. While the former views the human being as essentially a spiritual creation capable of cooperation and altruism, the latter relies heavily on the social theories of conflict and competition. The existing problems of western democratic societies are primarily manifestations of subscription to such theories.

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