Iran

By Clifford R. Barnett; Wendell Blanchard et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
LEGAL AND THEORETICAL BASE OF GOVERNMENT

Before 1906, Iran, or Persia as it was known then in the Western world, was an absolute monarchy. The Shihenshih was, according to Persian tradition, "the shadow of God upon earth". The word of the shah was the supreme law of the land insofar as it did not conflict with the basic principles of the Shiite sect of Islam. The land and all his subjects were his property. His subjects, contrary to Western principles of divine or natural law, obtained their rights only in the form of privileges granted by grace of the shah. Where "grace of the shah" was unavailable, rights were sought by petition, demonstration, riots, and assassination.

Even a shah was not sacrosanct; for while the Iranian people had and retain a tremendous tradition of loyalty, respect, and devotion to the shah as an institution, the person of any individual shah is not thereby made inviolable. The shah's purse and the country's treasury with its revenues and expenditures were identical. There was no division between executive and judicial power, and "legislation" was by imperial decree. Religion, philosophy, government, and law were one single unit.

Persian intellectuals and the bourgeoisie had learned, however vaguely they may have understood, of the achievements of revolutionary movements in the West. Foreign travelers, businessmen, scientists, and explorers had come to Persia and had told them about the French Revolution, and the "rights of man", including the rights of self-determination and self- government. This knowledge by no means extended to all the people, but enough of the educated class were affected to produce stirrings of a movement toward some representation in government.

By the beginning of this century, the Qajar dynasty, which had ruled for more than a hundred years, was on the decline, attended by state bankruptcy, extreme corruption, and internal disorder. The Shah,

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