Toward the Most Great Justice: Elements of Justice in the New World Order
Author: Charles O. Lerche
Publisher: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, London, 1996
Review by: Brad Pokorny
If asked to summarize the teachings of the Bahá'í Faith
in a single word, many of its followers would give this simple answer:
Yet, as a new book from the Bahá'í Publishing Trust of
the United Kingdom shows, the question could as easily be answered by the
For as Toward the Most Great Justice: Elements of Justice in the
New World Order demonstrates, a deep concern for the concept and promotion
of justice is a major theme in the Bahá'í writings - and
a major thrust in the activities of Bahá'í communities.
Composed of nine essays by Bahá'í authors from around
the world and edited by Charles O. Lerche, a professor of political science
at the University of Limburg/Maastricht in the Netherlands, Toward the
Most Great Justice offers readers a broad survey of how Bahá'ís
approach questions of justice, covering issues from its theological underpinnings
to its practical expression in society.
More specifically, the essays address the creation of social justice,
the relationship between justice and law, the necessity of establishing
equality between women and men as a requisite of justice, the means by
which our economic system might be made more just, and the imperative of
including justice in the formulation of a new global ethic.
In an essay entitled "The Process of Creating Social Justice,"
for example, Holly Hanson argues that simple obedience to religious law,
such as the exhortations to act unselfishly or to associate lovingly with
others, can foster a powerful movement for the creation of social justice.
"If we think concretely about what happens when people follow the
exhortation to associate and love each other and create the emotional bonds
that are to characterize a united community, it is clear that love of God
is the essence of economics. When we begin with the human heart, we can
arrive at a redistribution of wealth that incorporates a redistribution
of power, authority and the right to be perceived as honorable and worthy."
Sun Libo, an assistant professor of politics and law at China University
in Beijing, contrasts the Confucian, the Western (as rooted in ancient
Greece), and the Bahá'í views of justice. Confucianism, Prof.
Libo writes, essentially argued that justice is best achieved through the
proper moral education of individuals, who will then act justly in society.
The Greeks and the West, he writes, essentially believe that justice comes
from the establishment and enforcement of good laws, which keep injustice
In the Bahá'í view, he writes, these two ideas come together,
saying that while it "emphasizes the importance of individual spiritual
development in realizing justice, it also stresses the need for the establishment
of a universal administrative orderƒ." Without such an order, he writes,
"universal peace, unity and love will be like a beautiful flower which
will eventually wilt."
In an essay entitled "Shifting the Balance: The Responsibility
of Men in Establishing the Equality of Women," sociologist Hoda Mahmoudi
argues that the implementation of true justice on a global scale requires
full equality between women and men - and that such a step can only be
achieved when men adopt new attitudes toward women. To achieve that, she
writes, men must come to understand that the promotion of equality is in
their best interests. She quotes from the Bahá'í writings
in support of this view:
"'Abdu'l-Bahá writes: 'As long as women are prevented from
attaining their highest possibilities, so long will men be unable to achieve
the greatness which might be theirs,'" Ms. Mahmoudi quotes. "This
view explodes traditional notions characteristic of dominance hierarchical
thinking, that if one group flourishes or benefits it must necessarily
be at the expense of another group's well being."
One of the most revealing essays in the book is the opening one, entitled
"Justice as a Theme in the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh."
In it, the book's editor, Prof. Lerche, discusses the philosophical and
theological underpinnings of the Bahá'í view of justice,
stating that it can be seen as stemming from a "perfect" standard
established by God. Although this is perhaps an oversimplification of Prof.
Lerche's point, he essentially compares the Bahá'í view to
an updated and more modern version of Plato's theory of a "universal
"The Bahá'í writings unequivocally portray justice
as a reality, and as a fundamental, attainable virtue for both the individual
and social institutions," Prof. Lerche writes. "Furthermore,
they provide a unique perspective on, and insight into, many of those problems
and contradictions in current thinking which have contributed in large
measure to the prevailing skepticism."
It is on that point, really, that the power of this entire volume hinges.
In an age when, as Prof. Lerche points out, many traditional standards
of justice have been rejected as inadequate and secular approaches have
bogged down in the cross-fire of cultural relativism and ideological analysis,
the views expressed in these nine essays offer a refreshing antidote.