Monday, January 26, 2009

An Early Peace Plan

Comenius's peace plan, Part II

2009 Jan 26

I have been reading Daniel Murphy's "Comenius, A Critical Reassessment of His Life and Work," which devotes an entire chapter to the precedents and influences on the great educator's thinking. I learned, for example, that the principle of universal education, although advanced significantly by Comenius, was very much a part of the Zeitgeist of the reformation, especially after the invention of the printing press. The idea had been put forward by several previous thinkers, including Erasmus, Montaigne, Luther and Calvin, as well as several others I was not familiar with, such as the German educational innovator and pioneer Wolfgang Ratke, John Henry Alsted and the Spanish philosopher of education, J. L. Vives, an early advocate of universal education for girls as well as boys. Clearly, a great number of giants have to stand on one another's' shoulders to see something as great and panoramic as a divine principle like universal education, equality of the sexes, or peace.

Plus, it is one thing to advocate a beautiful sounding desideratum and quite another to implement it universally, to see that it applies wherever human beings live. In that sense we are as far from principle as ever we were. Even in the wealthiest country, America, poor students who should be considering higher education are refraining for fear of the massive debts that it entails.

In order for an idea like universal education to be applied, there has to be set up, as Comenius taught, though not in as many words, a dynamic equilibrium or feedback loop among knowledge, volition and action. Without such direct experience a thinker remains just that, a mere theorizer or utopian. For example, although Frances Bacon advanced the idea of "nursery gardens of the mind," it was Comenius who took that idea, molded it in his broader hands-on experience running educational institutions, and presented it in a form that became the inspiration for the England's Royal Society, the "think tank" that became the model and impetus for modern science.


I left off two weeks ago broaching Comenius's peace proposal in the Panorthosia. Let us continue broaching today. Comenius wrote that,

"The goal of human society is general peace and safety. And the good of the people must be the greatest concern of any republic or kingdom. Thus everything must be prevented which could in any way disturb society, confuse or complicate or sever social ties and personal safety. And the first among these things is war." (Comenius, Consultatio, in Wikiquotes)

Since the danger of war and disputation is not going to go away, an indefinite peace must be protected by permanent institutions designed to work what Comenius calls "Universal Politics,"

"Universal Politics is the light of the human mind so directed to all human affairs that over the entire field of human activities fighting, confusion, and revolution are forbidden, but all things are restored to harmony and contribute their share to the common good of all human society." (Panorthosia, Ch. 13, para 12, p. 205)

Just as universal reform is a completely different animal from mere reform, universal politics has completely different goals and rules from mere politics. The present-day United Nations came from mere politics and mere reform, and in fact is designed to prevent their universal forms from coming about. It has at its center a security counsel dealing with politics in its narrowest sense. Upon that other institutions such as UNESCO, UNICEF, and NGO's were tacked on later as afterthoughts.

Indeed, in the 1950's when UNESCO was founded, the three chapters of the Panorthosia dealing with this subject, chapters 15-18, were translated into English from Latin for the first time. Only some three decades later was the project of translating the entire Consultatio (that is, the General Treatise on the Remedy of Human Affairs -- De Emendatione Rerum Humanarum Consultatio Catholica -- which includes the Panorthosia) begun. As far as I know, Daniel Murphy is the only academic to try to assess this later body of work of Comenius, and he is primarily concerned with education rather than peace.

Comenius's vision of a world government in Panorthosia is the most universal and integrated that I have seen outside the Baha'i Writings. It avoids tokenism and takes in philosophy, science, language and religion on an equal basis from the get-go. Comenius is unlike other thinkers about peace who split off into mutually exclusive religious and secular schools, expunging one essential or overvaluing another. Each and all are required for full universality to come into effect.

The governmental pillar, which Comenius termed the "Dicastery of Peace," was just one of three foundational institutions, the other two being a parliament of religions and a ministry of science and philosophy. This is similar to the Baha'i "three onenesses," Mankind, science and religion each aspects of one reality. Each of the three institutions has its own ideal or virtue, and can never be in opposition with any other.

"But please notice that although Universality, Simplicity, and Agreement (the three banners of Christ in his triumph over Babylon) seem to apply to all three estates of Wisdom, Religion, and Politics, yet there is good reason for close relationship between the first and the first, the second and the second, or the third with the third. For example, our new Universal Wisdom or Philosophy ought to be just as universally available to all human minds as is the light of day to all men's eyes, our new Religion just as pure and simple as God, who is its object, and the new Government of man by man just as peaceful as that of the body by the soul." (Panorthosia II, Ch. 10, para 49, pp. 171-172)

Each of the three institutions is charged with a clear sphere of influence and a specific goal of purifying and vivifying one of the three stages of all real, conscious progress: knowing, willing and acting. Each is charged with formulating a common language based on a unitary educational agenda -- thus excluding any need for compulsion, manipulation or propaganda -- and takes in all three phases, knowing, willing and acting. Each institution has its own particular questions, science has "What do I know? What can we know?", politics, "What can we do?" and religion, "Why am I here? What will become of us?"

"This will come to pass if philosophy submits all things to the human intellect, and politics commits human power itself to human prudence, and religion truly refers all men and all things to God. To achieve this, Philosophy must be a true mirror of God's wisdom, which contemplates all things; Politics must be a living example of the power of God, which manages all things rightly; and Religion must sweetly dispense the goodness of God, which spreads through all things." (Panorthosia II, Ch. 10, para 38, pp. 167-168)

Keeping to an overall plan for the entire human race would give to each individual a clear role in carrying it out. That is, it would be based on what Baha'is call the principle of independent search for truth,

"Universal Politics will strive to keep the common faculties of all men in order so that we do not disagree in our policies and endeavours, but every individual plays his private part peacefully and thereby fosters and promotes public peace." (Panorthosia II, Ch. 13, para 12, pp. 203)

As mentioned, Comenius was not at all pie-in-the-sky; he held that every ideal requires a means for carrying it into action. As Benjamin Jowett put it, "We cannot seek or attain health, wealth, learning, justice or kindness in general. Action is always specific, concrete, individualized, unique." Each of the three institutions, therefore, has its own means as well as its own questions and purposes,

"The means or instruments of Philosophy are all books of divine and human authorship according to necessity and choice. Nothing is excluded except what is evil, useless, or harmful. Those of Religion are all manner of ceremonies appropriate to the needs of the occasion, as for example in prayer, sitting, standing, kneeling, or bowing the head, etc. Those of Politics are any measures, popular or unpopular, which make for the introduction and maintenance of peace and tranquillity." (Panorthosia, Ch. 13, para 12, pp. 205-206)

When he speaks of philosophy (science) as being concerned with "books," he meant the "book of nature" as well as what we now would call the media and information technology. Thus the press and public opinion would not be left to the devices of private ownership as they are now, but would the direct instrument of the science wing of a world system of governance.

Next time we will look at who will make up these three institutions of world order.

John Taylor


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