A little like France under the Ancien Régime, we can try to divide the pie of Iran into estates. The slices are messy, but it’s still worth doing:
- Clergy, the Qom religious establishment, encompassing both the religiously liberal, and hardliners. It has institutional resemblance to the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages.
- IRGC, the Guard. A warrior class, it analogizes with the French nobility.
- Secular society, with a Western orientation, tending towards higher economic status.
- Religious society, tending towards lower economic status. The peasants.
The monarch is missing. Unlike the relationship between the Papacy and the monarchs of Europe in the late age of the Roman Empire,the president of Iran is kept on a short leash. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president from 2005 to 2013, tried to slip his leash by establishing a religious basis of legitimacy outside the clerical establishment. I don’t want to vet the articles, so just google “Ahmadinejad mystic“, and pick it over.
Had he succeeded, he would have analogized well with the Holy Roman Emperor, the Pope’s irritating rival. The clergy noticed this and became extremely irritated, So irritated, in fact, that it was expedient to replace him by a liberal, Hassan Rouhani, just to get rid of him. If it had not been so urgent to get rid of Ahmadinejad, who pulled support from religious society, Qom might have had a better-for-them choice than Rouhani as the most conservative electable candidate.
The clergy is closed to those without training, but religious society could be bundled with the IRGC, making a bundle of the “lay religious.” The secular government is not itself a a group; it’s a battleground. Political machinery is short lived. Ahmadinejad’s machine had the greatest potential longevity, but he overplayed his hand.
The liberal tide reached a peak with the election of Mohammad Khatami in 1997. In 2005, unable to deliver on his platform of liberal reform, his second term ended with deep personal frustration. With political fluidity the measure, it marked the end of the Iranian Revolution. It bears comparison with French Revolution, which by the same measure ended with the Paris Commune revolt of 1871. Eventually, every revolution declares itself the last.
To make sure that the 1979 revolution was the last, Iran has impressive machinery of repression. There are so many hidden hands there can be traffic jams behind the curtain. The security establishment is working on the diagnosis. Protestors have been released so the secret police can observe who is talking to who. Then there will be a sweep.
Differences between the 2009 Green Movement and this one have been noted:
- To the extent that the protests are not spontaneous, the leadership lacks previous political visibility.
- The Green Movement was a clash between secular society and the clergy. This time, it’s different.
The current protests cross the societal divide. In the years following 1979, the IRIG became an avenue of opportunity for poor young men. In return for ideological fervor, and willingness to enforce internal repression, they had jobs. Slowly but inevitably, in the absence of external challenge to the state, or of a “renewal movement” internal to the IRIG, things have taken the natural course, further towards flab and corruption.
If we except monosyllables, Iran is the last ideological state in the world today. Corruption is dressed with ideas. So is money. Religious and ideological ardor opens the door to financial gain. This should not surprise; it’s just one more recapitulation of the history of Western Europe. In Qom, the currency of personal advancement is religious exegesis, a special kind of literature. This seems strange to us, but as Bitcoin shows, all money is based on an abstraction. It also shows that quantity beats quality. The quantity is huge, the results are poor, but the money is still green.
The minds of the decision makers and religious establishment of Iran are totally occupied with the vast indigenous ocean of thought. There are divergences, which even those immersed in it poorly understand, if they are aware of it at all, between:
- Stated reasons for something.
- Real reasons, as understood by them.
- Real, unconscious reasons, of which they are not aware.
- Collective unconsciousness.
But we can do a little exegesis on the above. In order:
- The constitution of Iran contains clauses aggressive to other nations, expressions of the theology of Iran.
- Preserve the power structure of the theocratic state.
- Personal status would vanish in the absence of a theocratic state.
- Expansionism, which could be the root cause instead of the expression.
An expansionist phase, as occurred following the French and Russian revolutions, Hitler’s putsch, and now, Iran, is one of the most common, but poorly understood motifs of history. Does it have a rational basis, or is it a mechanism of evolutionary/socio biology for species dispersal? If it is the root cause, we can drop a lot of boring academic papers in the trash can. We’re done!
We haven’t used the phrase “political change.” But if you want it, compare Trotskyism (build socialism everywhere) to Stalinism (build socialism in the Soviet Union first). While you’re at it, compare Trotsky’s complaint about Stalinist bureaucracy to the motives of Mao’s Cultural Revolution.
If ideologies have mass, Iran has stability in mass. In the idea-mill of Qom, the current topics of discussion are probably something like this:
- If political stability is best served by creating the largest cohesive political bloc, is the presidency of Hassan Rouhani the best choice?
- How can the challenge of expansionism be represented as a threat by foreign powers, so as to unify the country?
This is not a revolutionary situation. It lacks the potential instability of North Korea. Because Iran is drowning in ideas, Iranians are likely to be tone-deaf to ours.
Containment may eventually blunt Iran’s expansionist drive.