Saturday, September 10, 2011

Service on Institutions

Paragraph 28 of the letter of 28 December 2010 of the Universal House of Justice begins a new section dealing with service on Bahá’í institutions. Because of its importance, here is the full text of this paragraph.

“In setting out for you in these pages developments we are eager to see in the administrative work of the Faith during the next Five Year Plan, we are reminded of the repeated warnings raised by the Guardian in this regard.  "Let us take heed lest in our great concern for the perfection of the administrative machinery of the Cause," he stated, "we lose sight of the Divine Purpose for which it has been created."  The Baha'i administrative machinery, he reiterated again and again, "is to be regarded as a means, and not an end in itself".  It is intended, he made clear, "to serve a twofold purpose".  On the one hand, "it should aim at a steady and gradual expansion" of the Cause "along lines that are at once broad, sound and universal."  On the other, "it should ensure the internal consolidation of the work already achieved."  And he went on to explain:  "It should both provide the impulse whereby the dynamic forces latent in the Faith can unfold, crystallize, and shape the lives and conduct of men, and serve as a medium for the interchange of thought and the coordination of activities among the divers elements that constitute the Baha'i community."”

In many societies there is a tension between the individuals and social institutions. In particular institutions of governance in Western societies are seen as necessary evils for the maintenance of order. A libertarian argument goes something like this: legislative institutions, such the senate and the house of representatives, at state or federal levels, draw up and pass laws and regulations. These are enforced by executive institutions, including regulatory agencies, and coercive elements including the police, and correctional facilities. Year after year, as long as we have legislators, they will have to legislate. The total number and complexity of laws continues to increase. This will necessitate others to enforce these laws. Therefore even if the total size of the population remains stable, there is a tendency for the size of the government to grow. In an adversarial system the need for more and more lawyers then grows, unlike the number of educators or health providers.

This line of reasoning has lead many people to formulate a principle to reduce the size of the government, believing that governments are of little productive use and that they do not generate wealth. While these governments tax the working population and distribute wealth, and perhaps even bring a measure of social justice for the more unfortunate among us, they do not stimulate innovation or productivity. These are believed to come from what is termed market forces. But it is left to our imagination as what these forces are, if they are real or positive, and if society can be left at their mercy. While we can accept that many people do act in self-interested ways, and these actions will have aggregate effects, I want to suggest that it is misleading to believe in such “forces” as though they were some mystical or spiritual forces that exist and can influence social dynamics.

Institutions of governance exercise a certain authority and the people who operate in these institutions hold a certain power by virtue of the office that they occupy.  To reduce the abuse of power in the current society we have the ingenious arrangement of balance of powers. Such an arrangement is necessary in a society where there is little or no spiritual education about exercise of power.

The Bahá’í community is deliberately hoping to construct a different model. To begin with the Bahá’í electoral process is designed to promote the election of those members who are deemed to be least egotistical and most service-oriented in the eyes of the members of the Bahá’í community themselves. Then, once elected, there is great emphasis on the members viewing their service in a humble light. Service on the institutions is to be regarded as a means and not an end in itself. Therefore the whole discourse of power does not enter the conception of the duties and functions of the members of Assemblies.

If institutions are the means, then what are the ends? As we reflect on this question we note that there is a reference to “dynamic forces latent in the Faith”. These are mystical, and other-worldly, but very real and positive forces. These forces tap the roots of motivation. Such forces have been the driving energy behind many great accomplishments, both individually and collectively. What a contrast between these real forces, and the illusory forces of a self-centered market place!

In study of this paragraph the following questions come to mind:

  1. What does it mean to say that administration of community affairs is not to be regarded as an end in itself?
  2. The administration of community affairs should be regarded as a means to what ends?
  3.  Why such a warning might be necessary?
  4.  What are the twofold purposes of community administration?
  5.  What should be the impact of administrative machinery on the lives and conduct of the people?
  6.  What then are the salient differences between a rule-bound bureaucracy and a mature administrative machinery?

Baha'u'llah wrote: "Thy day of service is now come. Countless Tablets bear the testimony of the bounties vouchsafed unto thee... Thou must show forth that which will ensure the peace and the well-being of the miserable and the downtrodden. Gird up the loins of thine endeavour, that perchance thou mayest release the captive from his chains, and enable him to attain unto true liberty."

No comments:

Post a Comment