From Opperssion of Empowerment
The Journal of Bahá’í Studies 26.1-2 2016
in fact central to the identity of the Bahá’í Faith and a frequent theme in the Writings of its Central Figures, which analyze the root causes of op- pression and provide a comprehensive approach to its elimination. During the nineteenth century, hu- manity became intensely conscious of the issue of oppression. In the past, most people considered their own fate to be a consequence of the natural or divinely ordained order of things, but nineteenth-century social and polit- ical philosophers began to view the existing order of things as arbitrary, unjust, and morally indefensible. A search for the causes of oppression en- sued and has continued into the twen- tieth and twenty-first centuries. But none of those efforts actually identi- fied the root cause of oppression. The dominant discourse on oppression and injustice, while offering great insights, accepts—and thus at times reproduc- es—some of the tacit premises of the very culture of oppression that it criticizes. Hopeful and optimistic rational- ists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were convinced that atheism would replace religion; reason would rule; and peace, freedom, and pros- perity would reign. In the twentieth century, oppression, rather than re- ceding, reached unprecedented levels of intensity, culminating in the geno- cide of millions. As a result, the con- fident rationalism of modernity was replaced by an inconsistent postmod- ernism that simultaneously rejects the possibility of universal values and
yet paradoxically condemns practices like racism, colonialism, patriarchy, and cultural intolerance as univer- sally immoral. The end of the Cold War brought a temporary optimism, which was subsequently shattered by the events of the last twenty years, and we are now witnessing a growing attitude of pessimism, cynicism, and hopelessness. It is useful at the outset to review the meaning of the concept of oppres- sion. Oppression refers to the exercise of power to keep others in a state of subjection and to treat them unjustly by denying what is due them as their right by virtue of their humanity. Oppression therefore, by definition, is the essence of injustice. Although it encompasses material deprivations of every kind, it also includes forms of psychological and spiritual oppres- sion. The act of oppressing others— denying them their rights as human beings—presupposes the dehuman- ization of the oppressed. Historically, attempts to justify oppression as mor- ally acceptable have relied on defining the oppressed group as outside the boundaries of the moral community and therefore as subject to exclusion, exploitation, degradation, abuse, and deprivation of the rights due to those to whom we owe moral duties.
T HE L AW OF N ATURE AS R OOT C AUSE
In recent times, the most prominent and influential theoretical approach to the problem of oppression and injus- tice has beenMarxism.Marxian theory
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