A Baha'i's Perspective on
The Gospel of Wealth

bruce@webpal.org
Bruce M. Beach


Prolog

There comes a time in the thread of civilization when it is necessary to re-examine and reconstruct its institutions. Such a time is fast approaching when the present thread of civilization will have snapped in a world-wide catastrophe. The mountains on the present landscape of civilization consisting of anarchistic national governments, gigantic international soulless corporations, beyond huge resource gobbling militaries, power hungry political systems of self-interest, secret consortiums of financial affluence and influence, dogmatic and fanatic movements of religion, unjust legal systems based upon archaic statements of law that perpetually let the wealthy go free and are unaffordable by the poor, media and educational systems that propagandize the missions of the establishments, no matter in what part of the world they may be - these and many other ills and immoralities of the present society will have been momentarily crushed to dust in the face of the catastrophe. Such catastrophe demonstrates the necessity of restoring civilization on a basis that will remove the seeds of its own destruction and prevent the reoccurrence of that which will have just occurred.

The study presented here consists of three strands of dialog for bringing forth a new thread of civilization. First there is the practical advice of a man recognized to be one of the most successful businessmen and the greatest philanthropist the world has ever known. Secondly there is the organization of the presentation by a trained institutional economist. And thirdly, and most importantly, there is the philosophical and moral underpinnings of a recognized Prophet to this day and age.

Dialog

These web pages are meant to be a dialog. Those who are willing to participate are invited to do so by writing to Bruce Beach at the above email address. Appropriate critiques, comments and contributions will be embodied in future uploads of the page to the Internet. It will be appreciated if all contributors will boldly state, as I have, as to who are their lights of guidance.

History of this Web Site

Some decades ago, I first read mention of Carnegie's The Gospel of Wealth, (first printed as a complete volume in 1900) and now referenced in Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá (compiled by the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice, Baha'i World Centre, Haifa - printed in Great Britain by W & J Mackay Limited, Chatham 1978). It was several years later that I managed to acquire through a rare book source a copy of the then out of print, "The Gospel of Wealth and Other Timely Essays by Andrew Carnegie", edited by Edward C. Kirkland and published by The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press in 1962.

As one trained in Institutional Economics I was greatly impressed with the work and it was my desire to make the work more readily known and available to others who, after coming across the reference by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, might be similarly interested. For many years this has remained on my list of things to do. Recently, with the popularity of the Internet, family and friends hearing me mention the work, asked why I did not put it on the Internet. This struck me as an excellent suggestion and my son and wife started the process of scanning in my copy for me.

Amidst this activity, and some arduous editing and repair, (my copy having been severely underlined by the original owner) my wife asked me if the book were not already on the Internet. Until this point I had neglected to search and mind my astonishment that I found many hundreds of references. I spent many hours checking them all and while I found many copies of the first half of "The Gospel of Wealth" essay, I did not find either that complete essay or any of the other dozen essays in the work. I therefore decided to proceed and to put the complete work on the Internet.

As a contemporary work, in the time of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the book and essays were quite well known. In the interim it became so obscure that I could not find a reference in the public library, but now once again it has amazingly returned to some considerable popularity, at least in a certain venue of college courses. I can only say that I am most gratified.

More than merely increasing the availability of this work and encouraging its occasional reading, it is my goal to use it as a vehicle to develop a dialog regarding Baha'i Principles of Economics.

Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919), was considered in his day as being the richest man in America, if not the world. He has also been recognized as one of the leading philanthropists that the world has ever known, although he has not been universally admired for this quality by some socialists and others.

      "No one ever considered Carnegie libraries steeped in the blood of the Homestead steelworkers, but they are. We do not remember that the Rockerfeller Foundation is founded on the dead miners of the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company and a dozen other performances."
              Harry Truman, 1937 speech to the Senate.
I am a great admirer of "Give 'em hell, Harry", who always called them - as he saw them. Many of the modern day university courses treat the "Wealth of Nations", as an example of Social Darwinism (usually considered an epithet). Names and titles and opinions of other's aside, it should be our purpose to examine, as openly and as honestly as we can, the ideas expressed therein.

While I now have in my library other books by and about Andrew Carnegie, I shall not belabor a biography here, other than the chronology included with the the source edition, but will allow the interested reader to seek such information elsewhere. However, to enliven the atmosphere, I will share one anecdote.

      Andrew Carnegie was a generous supporter of the New York Philharmonic Society, meeting its annual deficits in its early years. One year the society's secretary came as usual to Carnegie's mansion, this time requesting $60,000. Carnegie was just about to sign the check when he paused and said, "No, I've changed my mind. Surely there are other people who like music enough to help with their own money." He then told the secretary to go out and raise half the necessary amount, promising to match it with the other half when this had been done.

      The following day the secretary was back at the Carnegie mansion, announcing that he had raised the requisite money. Carnegie commended the man's enterprise and wrote out and signed his check for $30,000. As he handed it over he said, "Would you mind telling me who gave you the other half?" "Not at all. Mrs. Carnegie."

The Baha'i Connection to the Work

Andrew Carnegie actually met 'Abdu'l-Bahá in America in 1912 and gave two copies of his publications to 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Since the "The Gospel of Wealth and Other Timely Essays" was published in 1900, it is quite possible (I would think probable) that the original version of the entire book presented here, were among the works give by Andrew Carnegie to 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Whether this was before or after the famous quote, by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, I do not know, and have not been sufficiently historically inclined to seek the answer out. There are numerous other ways in which 'Abdu'l-Bahá, might have seen the essays because they were widely printed at the time, in a variety of sources. The original letter from 'Abdu'l-Bahá (the date of which I have not been able to determine), is reported to still be extant in the Carnegie Trust in the town of Dunfermline, which was the ancient capital of Scotland.

The Famous Quote as from
Selections From the Writings of `Abdu'l-Bahá
pp114-115

      O respected personage! I have read your work "The Gospel of Wealth" and noted therein truly apposite and sound recommendations for easing the lot of humankind.

      To state the matter briefly, the Teachings of Bahá'u'lláh advocate voluntary sharing, and this is a greater thing than the equalization of wealth. For equalization must be imposed from without, while sharing is a matter of free choice.

      Man reacheth perfection through good deeds, voluntarily performed, not through good deeds, the doing of which was forced upon him. And sharing is a personally chosen righteous act: that is, the rich should expend their substance for the poor, but of their own free will, and not because the poor have attained this end through force. For the harvest of force is turmoil and the ruin of social order. On the other hand, voluntary sharing, the freely-chosen expending of one's substance, leadeth to society's comfort and peace. It lighteth up the world: It bestoweth honour upon humankind.

      I have seen the good effects of your own philanthropy in America, in various universities, peace gatherings and associations for the promotion of learning, as I travelled from city to city. Wherefore do I pray on your behalf that you shall ever be encompassed by the bounties and blessings of heaven, and shall perform many philanthropic deeds in the East and West. Thus may you gleam as a lighted taper in the Kingdom of God, may attain honour and everlasting life, and shine out as a bright star on the horizon of eternity.

There has been sent to me from Baha'i sources, a further reference reference regarding Carnegie.

"Star of the West" IX:3, 28 April 1918, page 35:

      'Abdu'l-Bahá said: "His aim is good and a service to the world of humanity. O how I wish that all of the leaders of the people would spend their energy for unity and peace among all nations and sects!" At that moment, letters and newspapers arrived from the occident and Persia, bearing the glad-tidings of the harmony and purpose of the believers in teaching the Cause. 'Abdu'l-Bahá became exceedingly happy and prayed for confirmation from the Kingdom of Abhá and for the protection of the believers. He said: "They must step with steadfast feet into this field and must think of naught else save the unity of the people and the elevation of the Word of God."

The Work At Hand

Without further ado then - I shall leave the reader to the original baker's dozen essays. At the time of this update, and since my initial statement here, Bruce Barrick has thoroughly edited all the essays for scanning errors and Bob Haugen has provided annotation for about half of the essays.

With the help of you the reader, I hope to enlarge upon what has been done here, for all the essays. The paragraphs were not numbered in the original, but I have numbered them here for your ease in making commentary. Your help in this sizable project will be greatly appreciated.

Go to:
Table of Contents
or
The Gospel of Wealth (The Problem of Administration of Wealth)
(the main essay most often quoted)