In defense of the Iranian regime

Turning aside for the moment from the question of who really won the election (on which you already know my opinion), let us ask ourselves who we should have liked to have won it.  This is by no means the no-brainer that you might think from watching the liberal-secularist news. 

First of all, it is not true that Mr. Mousavi has expressed any desire to change Iran’s constitution.  The main policy difference between him and Mr. Ahmadinejad is economic, namely that the former supports privatization.  However, I will admit that Mousavi has become a symbol for various malcontents who would like to more fundamentally alter the Iranian state.  Let us ask ourselves, would replacing Iran’s current mixed-democratic-clerical constitution with a secular-liberal-democratic constitution, say on the U.S. model, be a good thing?

I maintain that it would not.  I have two arguments:  one general, and one particular.

1) The basic structure of the Islamic Republic of Iran is actually quite excellent.  The populace is allowed significant involvement in decision-making through the elected President and Parliament.  However, the current public is not allowed to rule unchecked.  The Assembly of Experts and the Guardian Council has powers to represent the revealed will of God and the living traditions of the current generation’s ancestors.  The Guardian Council acts as the repository branch of government, recalling the people to their basic, un-chosen commitments.   Whereas in a pure democracy, even the most savage evil can become law once 51% of the public approves, in Iran there is a body which could defend the natural justice in the name of Islamic law.  These checks have emboldened the regime to defend morality robustly, and to discourage blasphemy, immodesty, sodomy, and gender confusion–vices that the decadent West celebrates.  This is only to be expected.  Where the popular will is unchecked, there is always a moral “race to the bottom”, as one demagogue competes with another to offer the widest licence.

2) As Burke and de Maistre have pointed out, it is always folly to think that one can create a constitution.  Real constitutions are unwritten and unchosen.  A written constitution can only be an expression of some parts of a nation’s true, unwritten constitution.  If a convention can declare certain rights and procedures, then the same or another such convention can change them–they are not truely constitutional.  And no one would listen to a constitutional convention anyway, unless the authority of this body was already established, that is, unless the nation already had a constitution.  A constitution is nothing but a principle for recognizing authority.  It is the form of the body politic, and without it, a nation immediately ceases to exists and becomes a mere aggragete of individuals.  Now, let us ask ourselves, in so far as we as ignorant foreigners may presume to judge, what is the true constitution of Iran?

This is a valid question, because Iran is a real country; it is recognizably the nation of Persia which has existed in its modern form since the sixteenth century.  What are its pillars of legitimacy?  First, Shia Islam.  From the Safavid takeover, Persia has seen itself as a Shia nation, and the champion of Shia Islam.  The ulama have have always had a distinct place in the Persian state which is unique to the Muslim world.  In Persia, the clergy are a distinct corporate body established in the state and society.  Second, there was the Safavid dynasty.  The constitution has obviously evolved in the last century.  The Pahlavi dynasty rejected its role as repository and worked to transform Iran into a secular Western country.  Iran was in crisis; the two pillars of the constitutional order were in conflict, and one of them (the monarchy) had transformed itself beyond recognition and betrayed its original mission.  Under the circumstances, the only way for Iran to maintain its identity was to throw its support to the other pillar, the ulama.  Hence the Islamic Revolution of 1979.  It has a better claim to be a conservative revolution, a revolution “not made but prevented”, than either England’s Glorious Revolution or America’s War of Independence.

One Response

  1. […] Fortunately, as Daniel Larison points out, the embrace of liberal theology will be political suicide for the Greens.  By the way, my Burkean defense of the Iranian regime can be found here. […]

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