31.12.08 | English | Jamsheed Faroughi
STATE, LEGITIMACY, AND CHARISMA IN MODERN IRAN
An essay on scholarly interpretation and understanding of
the Islamic Revolution
In this study I have examined the process of political modernization in Iran and focused on the political crises resulting from this process. With concepts derived from Weberian political sociology I have examined the connection between legitimacy and efficiency in the context of Iranian history. I argued that, although the restricted political modernization increased the efficiency of the state and of the ruling political system, it had intensified the socio-political tensions between the state and society and led to a legitimacy crisis in pre-revolutionary Iran.
My purpose in this study was not to answer questions concerning the modernization path in a non-Western society, but rather to indicate the complexities inherent in the specificities of the transformation process in Iran with respect to its own logic of change. In contrast to historical studies, which are based on a chronological order, an analytical approach is based mainly on the logical interdependence of various conclusions. The problem of political stability/instability, the reasons of belief in legitimacy/illegitimacy and the characterization of the traditional and modern bases of power and political authority are issues based on the necessary information provided by historical and comparative case studies.
The Islamic Revolution and its unusual outcome have been the subject of more scholarly attention than any other recent historical event in non-Western societies. A large number of studies in this field has been published in the last two decades. These are all indirect manifestations of the high level of complexity inherent in the discourse of the Islamic Revolution. This study, as a critical analysis of the other studies on the modern history of Iran, was not only a review of the related literature, but rather an analytical approach of the turning points in the transformation process of the political system in Iran.
The definition of the Islamic Revolution, I have argued, is the characterization of the history of this revolution. The history of the Islamic Revolution is not restricted to the short period of the revolutionary situation. Revolutions are the political product of social tensions and conflicts. In contrast to the rapidity of political change inherent in the short period of the revolutionary situation, the history of a revolution comprises the whole period of the gradual changes in the state-society relationship prior to that revolution.
It has been discussed that the modern history of Iran is the history of the modern Iran. In this context, the history of modern Iran is the history of autocratic modernization and the emergence of a modern state in Iran under the Pahlavis. I have discussed that the outcome of the autocratic modernization in Iran was the creation of a modern state without modernizing the traditional bases and autocratic nature of the pattern of authority. Undoubtedly, the transformation of the political system in Iran has changed the pattern of power-relationship, and hence the pattern of authority. However, the autocratic nature of the pattern of authority has remained unchanged.
The Pahlavis’ autocratic modernization was the restricted political modernization and as such it modernized the state as an organized political machine without modernizing the state-society relationship in Iran. The non-tribal character of the Pahlavi dynasty enabled them to separate the political authority of the state from that of provincial and religious powers in Iran. The functional and institutional separation between the political power of the state and the power of the non-governmental forces were crucial steps in the emergence of the modern state in Iran. This was the political (and not the historical) end of the fragmentation of authority in this society. The emergence of the modern state during the Pahlavi era gradually increased the efficiency of the state as an organized machine and led to its monopoly on the physical force.
In a general sense, modernization of a political system in its entirety should increase the efficiency of the state and parallel to this should modernize the state-society relationship, which means legalizing the pattern of power relationships. The legalization of the pattern of power relationships is the manifestation of the modernization of the bases of legitimacy in that polity.
In contrast to the European experience of modernization, the aggregation of autocracy and modernization, in a political sense, means modernization of state power without changing the traditional nature of power relationships and without changing the autocratic nature of authority. The various crises resulting from this restricted political modernization led to the gap between the efficiency and legitimacy. In such societies, the increase in the efficiency of state power is not necessarily coupled with higher level of legitimacy. The Pahlavis’ autocratic modernization increased the efficiency of state control over its defined territory but at the same time led to the legitimacy crisis and to a gradual erosion of traditional reasons of belief in the legitimacy of the monarchical system in Iran.
Modern revolutions are supposed to be a radical transformative change in the pattern of power relationships which should lead to a higher level of the political participation of the masses in the decision-making process. I have argued that the Islamic Revolution is a modern revolution and the unusual outcome of this revolution could not change its modern character. However, the Islamic Revolution did not lead to the expansion of the political participation of the masses in the decision-making process. In this context, I have argued that we should distinguish between political participation of the masses and what is used to be called political involvement of the masses in the government and governing affairs. From this point of view, the Islamic Revolution was not a drastic change in the state-society relationship in Iran. The resulting high level of discontinuity in the form of the pre- and post-revolutionary Iranian government was not a discontinuity in the autocratic tendencies inherent in the pattern of the power relationships in Iran.
It has been argued that the political outcome of the Islamic Revolution was not a theocratic state but rather a totalitarian state based on the alleged numinous or divine bases of legitimacy, charisma and .a religio-political ideology based on the specific theory of the Islamic government suggested by Ayatollah Khomeini. As we have seen, the belief in the legitimacy of the Islamic state in Iran was based mainly on Khomeini’s charismatic leadership. However, the leader-followers relationship based on personal charisma is characteristically temporal and conditional.
Khomeini’s failure to routinize his charisma and institutionalize the power relationships led to the high level of the concentration of political power in his hands. The death of the charismatic leader was the end of the charisma-based legitimacy of the Islamic state. In other words, the death of Ayatollah Khomeini led to a legitimacy crisis and relatively political instability of the Islamic state in post-Khomeini era.
The analytical discussions of the various stages of the history of Iran presented in this study imply explicit positions concerning aspects of Iranian history. These positions were reached in conjunction with argumentations offered and are equal to conclusions reached. The following succinct statement of these conclusions therefore is identical with my positions on core issues in the history of Iran.
The autocratic modernization in Iran under the Pahlavis was mainly a political modernization. The main result of this political modernization was the emergence of the modern state in Iran. The establishment of the modern state in Iran was a significant discontinuity in the whole political history of this polity. The process of the political modernization in Iran led to the transformation of the central government without changing the autocratic nature of the political system. Therefore, the process of the political modernization in Iran was a restricted political modernization.
Various crises, such as identity crisis and legitimacy crisis, which resulted from the restricted political modernization, caused the collapse of the monarchical system in Iran. However, it should be emphasized that the political system in Iran was not rigid and underdeveloped. The history of nation-state building in Iran consisted of the process of state-building and the process of nation-building. The transformation of the central state in Iran, from a tribal state to a modern state, led to enforced transformation of various communities in Iranian society. Restricted political modernization led not only to the concentration of authority but also to the centralization of the political power based on a novel type of autocratic authority system.
The process of the establishment of the modern state in Iran was the process of the concentration of the political authority and hence political power. It was the end of the fragmentation of authority. The transformation of the political system under the Pahlavis implies the transformation of state-society confrontations from provincial tensions into nation-wide conflicts.
The question of authority in Iran was coupled with the question of territory. The fragmentation of authority in pre-modern Iran was the result of the coexistence of provincial, tribal authorities with the central authority in their historically defined borders.
The process of transformation of the various tribal and non-tribal communities (Gemeinschaft) into a society (Gesellschaft) implied the transformation of the inhabitants into citizens.
The Iranization strategy of the Pahlavi state did not lead to the gradual integration of various ethnic and linguistic groups and to the assimilation of minorities. The Iranization strategy was based on detribalization policy and as such it was the violent negation of tribal identity and it intensified the political tensions and conflicts between the state and tribal forces.
Concentration of the political power, and hence political authority without modernizing the political system in its entity led to the gradual political isolation of the Pahlavi state. The Iranian experience indicates that national identity cannot result from the development of tribal identity, but from its radical negation.
The modern state under the Pahlavis was a modern state based on a novel form of autocratic authority system. As the modern form of the autocratic system, the Pahlavi state was shaped by neo-patrimonial, totalitarian and sultanistic characteristics.
Within the autocratic political system of Iran, there was no clear distinction between the Power of the Shah as the autocrat and the political system. The Pahlavis’ autocratic state was also based on the fusion between the political and military power. Political power of the Shah was rooted in his military power. The efficiency of the autocratic system in Iran was mainly the efficiency of its military and security organizations.
Based on the monarchical tradition, the institution of the monarchy in Iran was multifunctional. There was no clear separation between the institution of the monarchy and the body of the political system. The king was ulū l-amr, and as such the leader of the umma. As commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Mohammad Reza Shah was constitutionally able to ignore the Constitution. The fusion between the state and armed forces in the person of Mohammad Reza Shah was the reason why the end of the monarch was also the end of the monarchy in Iran.
The autocratic nature of the Pahlavi state was logically incompatible with the quasi-democratic rights which mainly resulted from the structural weakness of the central government after the forced abdication of Reza Shah in 1941. Since the Pahlavi state was not a democratic state, it follows that this abdication led not to a crisis of democracy, but only to a crisis of autocracy. The separation between reign and rule in the years prior to the coup d’état of 1953 was mainly because of the weakness of the central government resulting from the military intervention and forced abdication of Reza Shah, and not because of constitutionalization of the monarchical system.
The opposition to the modern state in Iran was modern opposition. For the purpose of suppressing the tribal groups and minorities in Iran Reza Shah needed some more organized regiments rather than an organized intelligence agency. However, the suppression of the modern opposition during the Mohammad Reza Shah’s era necessitated the creation of an organized and efficient intelligence organization. The emergence of the modern state in Iran was based on state repression. This led to the transformation of the Pahlavi state into the repressive state. The efficiency of a repressive state is its efficiency in repressing rebellions and political opponents. The process of the consolidation of the political power in Iran was at the same time the process of transformation of state repression into the repressive state.
The enforced abdication of Reza Shah was the end of state repression with no change in the repressive nature of the Pahlavi state. In the years prior to the coup d’état of 1953, the various opposition groups had enjoyed some democratic rights without enjoying democracy. There were democratic institutions incapable of democratizing the state-society relationships and the existing pattern of power relationships in Iran.
The forced abdication of Reza Shah was the end of state repression which led to the creation of democratic institutions. The creation of democratic institutions was not the institutionalization of democratic rights. The period between Reza Shah’s forced abdication in 1941 and the coup d’état of 1953 was not the period of the birth of democracy, but rather the period of the crisis of autocracy in Iran. The creation of the political parties and labor unions, the existence of relative press freedom, free elections, and freedom of speech were not a result of the democratization of the political system but they resulted from political instability, chaos and weakness of the autocratic state. One of the main consequences of Reza Shah’s forced abdication was the separation of military power from political power.
In contrast to Reza Shah’s adversaries, the separation of political and military power had led to the politicization of the opponents to Mohammad Reza Shah’s regime. The Pahlavi dynasty changed the nature of the internal conflicts from inter-tribal conflicts into state-tribe and state-ulama conflicts. Reza Shah’s forced abdication was the end of the rule of an autocrat, but not the end of autocracy in Iran. His son, Mohammad Reza Shah was prior to the coup d’état an autocrat without possessing the power to keep his autocratic rule intact.
The coup d’état of 1953 was the end of political instability and chaos. The end of political instability was at the same time the end of the quasi-democratic rights. The coup d’état of 1953 was the end of the crisis of autocracy in Iran. The political character of the modernization process in Iran under the Pahlavis implies that the history of modernization of the Iranian state was mainly the history of the modernization of the bases of political power.
The intensification and radicalization of activities of the various oppositional groups in Iran were the characteristic signs of the legitimacy crisis and hence, the increasing political instability. The main tendency of the Shi‘i ulama during the Qajar era was the Islamization of the Qajar state rather than politicization of shari‘at. The emergence of the modern state in Iran has transformed the process of Islamization of the politics into politicization of Islam. The Islamic Revolution in Iran was a direct result of the autocratic modernization but not its historical end.
The emergence of the Islamic state in Iran was the end of the monarchical autocracy but not the end of autocracy. The Death of Ayatollah Khomeini led to the transformation of the theocracy into a clericocracy. The Islamic state is a modern type of autocracy rooted in totalitarian traditions. The failure of Ayatollah Khomeini to institutionalize his own charisma forced him to highlight the institutional charisma of the vilāyat-i faqīh.
The relatively low level of authority delegation by Ayatollah Khomeini and the necessity of his intervention in nearly all crucial decision making affairs were the reliable indicators of his difficulty in routinizing his charisma. The succession problem was the Achilles’ heel of Ayatollah Khomeini’s charismatic leadership. The death of Ayatollah Khomeini as the charismatic leader and the succession problem coupled with this, caused legitimacy crisis and political instability, but did not lead to the disintegration of the Islamic state in Iran.