IRAN: Iranian History and Politics: The Dialectic of State and Society

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IRAN Iranian History and Politics: The Dialectic of State and Society, by Homa Katouzian. London, UK: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003. 304 pages. $114.95.

This book consists of 12 chapters, most of which have appeared before as articles in scholarly journals over a long period of time. The book is divided into two distinct parts, the theoretical and the historical. The first few chapters deal, from different angles, with the nature of Iranian politics and society. Here Katouzian attempts to present a theory of social and political change that explains historical developments in Iran. His underlying argument is that Western political and social theories are ultimately unable to explain developments in Iran because the nature of Iranian society and polity has been so different from that of the West.

This reviewer finds himself, to some extent, agreeing with Katouzian's basic argument, for what separates Iran from Europe, politically, socially and culturally, is greater than what binds her to it. The author argues that the major difference between Iran and Europe has been that whereas European societies and polities have been based on law, the Iranian society and polity have always been essentially lawless. Katouzian writes:

"The theoretical upshot ...is that Iran has been an arbitrary state and society throughout its history...power and authority has [sic] not been based in law; state and society have been virtually independent from, hence, antagonistic towards, each other; the state has not been representative of the higher social classes; on the contrary, they have been its clients by virtue of the privileges it has bestowed upon them" (p. 10).

The absence of a framework of law means that the fall of the state lets loose the arbitrary society and ends in anarchy, which, in turn, leads the way for the emergence of another form of arbitrary rule. Iranian history is a closed circle.

Katouzian's central argument that Iranian society and polity have been arbitrary is not new; Charles-Louis de secondat, Baron de Montesquieu made the same point in his The Persian Letters and The Spirit of Laws. …