239 Days in America

A Social Media Documentary following 'Abdu'l-Bahá in 1912

September 4, 1912
Montreal, Canada
Storify Feature

Economics and Spirituality

“THE GREAT QUESTION raised by the Socialists was of paramount importance,” the Montreal Daily Star reported ‘Abdu’l-Bahá telling a packed parlor at the Maxwell home at 716 Pine Avenue West, on the evening of September 4, 1912. One night after receiving enthusiastic press coverage of his talk on economics, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá explained that while the Socialists asked the right questions, they were unable to provide society with any permanent settlement to its most important problems.


Unfortunately, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá noted, although the question of economic disparity was of great importance, “the governments of the world had failed to give it the earnest attention it deserved.” In 1912, weak labor laws and the absence of social benefits throughout the industrializing world meant that many members of society lived in conditions of abject poverty. Growing expectations of economic justice had to be met, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said, “otherwise disorder everywhere would be the culmination.”

In the same way that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s repeated warnings of a catastrophic war in Europe were prescient, so too his 1912 forecasts of widespread social disorder preceded by five years the world’s first Socialist Revolution in Russia. By the late 1910s and early 1920s, labor strife was ubiquitous in industrial societies worldwide.

To adequately address the “the economic ills of the nations,” the paper reported ‘Abdu’l-Bahá saying, would first require the “establishment of a great spiritual brotherhood worldwide.” He noted that political movements such as socialism were unable to do this. And the Socialists had extreme views. While some people idealized the notion of a classless society, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá commented that “grades in society could not be abolished. . . . Public order was impossible without this conservation of degrees.” On many occasions throughout his time in North America, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá argued in front of audiences that governments could not mandate absolute economic equality. Different degrees in wealth were desirable, necessary in fact, but the significant disparity between poverty and wealth had to be resolved.

The evening before, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had spoken about what governments could do to help reduce this disparity. At the Maxwell home today, he added that a lasting remedy must be based on a “true brotherhood amongst all the people of the earth.” The basis of such a brotherhood, however, could not be based on blood, or nationality, or class. While “families quarreled,” nations had civil wars, and “even socialists fought each other,” there could be no unity that would be lasting “save that of the spiritual type.” That is, a unity based on our common qualities as human beings instead of material considerations like politics, culture, or class. The reporter from the Montreal Daily Star wrote that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá told the audience how the establishment of “a great brotherhood for the illumination of the human heart” had been planned out by Bahá’u’lláh in his works.

Earlier that afternoon, when the Maxwells and their friends were commenting on the positive press coverage of the previous evening’s talk, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá told them that explaining his father’s economic prescriptions in theory was insufficient: their implications couldn’t be fully grasped unless they were put into practice. “Not one of a hundred has as yet come into force,” he said.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s talk at the Maxwell home that evening closed with an encouragement for his listeners to take this concept of a global spiritual brotherhood and make it a reality. “Let us bring the kingdom, the earthly paradise, out of the potential and into the real.”


  • Anne Perry

    Class prejudice and separation. . . . Taxation that rewards the rich and punishes the poor. . . . The challenges of the current economy. . . . Joblessness. . . . Yet, still, we can help “brotherhood” become “real” by seeing / emphasizing equality and potential. . . .

  • esther bradley-detally

    Ever so tiimely.

  • Claudia

    Fear is a huge barrier.
    Immigration is a major barrier across the entire planet. Living in silos is a huge barrier to realizing the “great brotherhood”. These silos consist of our family loyalties, our religious affiliations, our sporting event loyalties, our political affiliations, our education levels, our economics and more… We barely know what occurs on a local level, let alone regional, statewide, across borders and oceans.
    Compassion, understanding, reaching out to others… happens randomly – not consistently and often enough. A major event can trigger brotherhood and then disinterest and distance (in time and space) causes it to wane…
    We must model good behavior, practice what we teach, and pray for our Higher Power to intervene in the hearts of man (and woman).

  • shahla

    Sadly, economic systems are based on the assumption that man is inherently selfish and aggressive; therefore, from an early age, all are trained to compete not just in sports but for all material benefits. Those who establish businesses, especially large corporations, consider success in maximizing profit, and except for huge compensations for a few at the top of the organization, paying each worker as little as possible. If social justice improves in one society, corporations will not hesitate to move the jobs to another society where it is still easy to abuse workers.
    ‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells us that whenever abject poverty exists together with extreme wealth, this is a sign of tyranny. Each of us should be conscious of injustice wherever it happens and speak out.

    • http://twitter.com/MasterCopyWrite Karridine

      Fortunately, many economic systems today (the ‘free market’ in the ‘free’ world) are based today on the assumption that informed humans CAN and DO practice enlightened self-interest and, therefore, are trained to compete with themselves first, and ‘vie, one with another’ for the benefits that flow from an abundance mindset. (see Diamandis, Peter; “Abundancez; The Future Is Better Than You Think”, still on the NY Times best-seller list)

      Large corporations today, and small corporations, and small, loose associations of concerned people around the world, consider maximizing profits’ POSITIVE IMPACT by re-investing in target areas, target markets, target people… paying workers as much as possible… when economic justice improves in one society, corporations don’t hesitate to leverage that to further improve both the corporation’s benefits and the benefits that can flow to that corporations’ workers. True, abuse is still possible, but Diamandis points out that MASSIVE, UBIQUITOUS CHANGES are positively reforming what corporations can and CANNOT do, in earnest, in practice, today…

      We rationally assess a situation, and through consultation reach consensus that economic disparity in a region is such that ‘tyranny’ exists there, at which point we can take constructive steps to shift energy-flows, change attitudes, grow consciences and bring about ‘Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in Heaven…” http://bit.ly/OT040i

  • Kimberly K Oak Park Il

    In my opinion, fear comes from ignorance, and fear holds us back from considering all humanity as our brothers and sisters. One thing I admire the technological advancements happening all around for is that they shorten the distance between people, literally and virtually. But there is still far to go. Say, I want to help stop the genocide in another country, but what can I do? The process is time consuming and full of ‘red tape’ and while I am trying to vote for the ‘right’ person to get in the ‘right’ office, millions die…Maybe technology can eventually help with this problem, and in order for it to have an impact that is immediate and mighty, technology needs to be available to everyone, regardless of class, race, place, or education level. It seems to me that this is achievable, as it has been in the USA. Some of the poorest, -even homeless folks have cell phones, for instance, and access to the internet. We need to learn about what is going on, person to person, country to country, and travel and visit to see with our own eyes, as Baha’ullah said, and not through the eyes of others. Cure ignorance, and we will have brotherhood.

    • http://twitter.com/MasterCopyWrite Karridine

      Indeed, Kimberly, our bodies and brains are HARD-WIRED to respond positively, at a non-conscious level and higher, to people THAT WE PERCEIVE TO BE ‘similar’ to us… similar skin coloring, eye shape, hair color, language, dress, locale…

      Because of this inborn bias we MUST RISE to our true humanity, and recognize the love, knowledge and rational soul of ALL HUMANS as being similar to ours, and worthy of our time, attention and honest love. ‘As I have loved you, love ye one another… a new Commandment do I give you…’ said Jesus of Nazareth…

  • penny

    In my own life, I am struck by the impact of study circles in helping to increase feelings of brotherhood among participants from widely diverse backgrounds. I believe that service to and with others is one of the best ways of breaking down barriers.

  • http://www.facebook.com/GTARealtor Peter Sigurdson

    At issue is the disconnections of the control systems of economic and industrial production and distribution. These will be integrated and synthesized in in alignment with our spiritual values as a result of each person increasing their knowledge and ownership of how these systems work. Light dispels darkness. The knowledge of a thing changes its reality. I know that there are many people who will dispute this assertion and insist that individuals are powerless to effect large scale complex systems, and that legal and political action is required, however this meme is based on an invalid model of the human mind and its connection to the world of physical and social reality. That belief is discordant with Baha’i teachings which state that the mind is the choreographer of reality and that knowledge is the shaper and influencer of the structure of the world. The release of new knowledge and capacities into the collective human psyche by advert of Baha’u’llah’s Dispensation, the Revelation of the remaining 25 Letters of Knowledge as the Bab stated in the Bayan, was summarized by Abdul Baha when He stated that this is a new cycle of human power. By getting large numbers of people to think in that certain way which is foundationed on the power of individual awareness to shape and structure the world, these systems will grow and adapt to resonate with our spiritual beliefs. Complex systems theory is just starting to be able to formulate the math to express the power of a single processing node in a network to alter the topology of all the connections that make up that network. (http://www.sciencenews.org/view/feature/id/343939/title/When_Networks_Network)