By Mohammad Mazhari

U.S. heading to authoritarian model of governance: Iranian sociologist

July 26, 2021 - 16:34

TEHRAN – An associate professor of sociology at the Institute for Humanities and Cultural Studies predicts that the U.S. will degenerate into an authoritarian state as democratic values no longer can resolve the disputes.

“This is the moment that was foreseeable in U.S. history as we saw differences between political actors step by step come to a point the institutions per se cannot resolve disputes,” Javad Miri tells the Tehran Times.

“I guess in the coming two decades we will see diminishing and weakening democratic institutions in America with a trend that has been anticipated by Andre Gunder Frank in 1999,” Miri adds.

The following is the text of the interview:

Q: How do you evaluate the U.S. democracy while American officials always boast of their democracy while making claims that countries like Iran are undemocratic?

A: At the beginning let me state my position and say how I am going to approach this question. I won’t address this question as an expert in international relations. My approach is sociological.

When we look at America and ask about democracy in this country, it would be better to understand this problem within a sociological framework. We have had three great revolutions in the world; First the French revolution, second the Russian revolution, and third the Iranian revolution. Each of these three revolutions tried to give an understanding of the world’s historical changes in the context of humanity. The revolutions after the French revolution, the American Revolution, and also the British revolution tried to conceptualize the French revolution based on three very important elements of the latter: liberty, equality, and fraternity. Out of these if you want to build a good society you need first and foremost to concentrate on the question of liberty. If liberty is established in a society, after that the two other elements of a good society (i.e., equality and fraternity) will come.

The American democracy, the British democracy, and in general the European democracy are based on these factors.

But what happened a few decades after the establishment of what we call the European or Euro-Atlantic model of democracy? Within their societies, they tried to present themselves as societies that have established a democratic rule of law.  But what kind of policies did they develop outside the geography of Euro-Atlantic civilization? Total militarism is called in the sociological literature “the era of colonialism”. These countries and peoples who call themselves the heirs of the French revolution, claim that they have established democratic societies. But outside this zone, they have pursued total militarism which came under the concept of colonial Rome that wants to rule India, Asia, Africa, and many parts of the globe.

However, the most interesting point is that not only they pursued militaristic policies towards others, they also failed to achieve what they call fraternity or solidarity within their own societies.

Capitalism by its nature always reproduces a class society. So, when we go for example to America or Europe, we can see some sort of class division which after two hundred years of liberalism and democracy has not been able to realize what they call a society based on fraternity. So, what happened when the Russian revolution and afterward the Chinese revolution occurred? These kinds of revolutions tried to cast a doubt on the French revolution’s claims that if we establish liberty then we can have equality and fraternity. According to the Russian and Chinese revolutions, the European dreams failed to be realized because the most significant elements of a good society are equality and justice. So first and foremost, we need to establish a just society. The Russian revolution tried to work on this aspect but after seven decades it collapsed because a society without liberty or solidarity can’t be a model of a good society. That is why the Russian revolution that represented the Soviet Union turned to another form of colonial rule in the world. The Iranian revolution was based on the idea of the “Tawhidi” society, which means the common grounds of humanity. All human kinds have one common ground. If we can establish a society based on this notion then we will have liberty and equality. Iran’s revolution also faces other different kinds of problems which can be discussed later. 

But what can we learn from these different forms of revolutions in history? In a word, we can see that how American or Euro-Atlantic experts, sociologists, or philosophers tried to build a model of democratic rule in the world based on the notion of Euro-centrism or the Euro-Atlantic concept of democracy. I mean that these societies have their own history or what in sociology we call Euro-centric view of history; their experience of self, society, religion, and values are unequally Western and we cannot apply it in other societies, cultures or civilizations wherein you can see different forms of reality, history, value systems, and political rules.

Q: Is the American democracy a universal model or is it just a local form of democracy that has developed through militarism?

A: The Americans have been able to export or create some sort of hegemony. This hegemony by mistake has been understood as universalism. What we are facing is an American hegemony under the title of the universal form of democracy. So the U.S. model is not universal, rather it is a local form that has been able to globalize itself.

Q: Do you agree that we have various forms of democracy in the world including liberal democracy, social democracy or even Islamic democracy?

A: It should be noted that democracy or democratic tradition in history, at least over the past two hundred years, has coupled with different approaches. One of them is the liberal tradition which has been dominant so far. However, we have other approaches like socialism that have impacted democracy in Scandinavia; they have a social democratic system. But the hegemony of the Euro-Atlantic doesn’t allow other forms of traditions and political ideologies to come forward and try to work through democratic institutions. 

In regard to the concept of Islamic democracy, I should tell you that this term is wrong as Islam is a revealed religion that has hosted Islamist tendencies on society, state, governance, and the relation between state and religion since the nineteenth century.

Islamism or political Islam is not a single position; we have at least five different tendencies within Islamism in Iran. There is Islamism with a jurisprudential approach where Ayatollah Khomeini was its founding father. Ayatollah Khomeini had a normative approach towards Islamic society and the Islamic state. Then we have another position within Islamism which can be called the liberal approach where the founding father of this position is Mehdi Bazargan (who was appointed prime minister in the interim government in February 1979 by Ayatollah Khomeini). The third approach is a socialist concept of Islamism that was represented by Ali Shariati (one of the most influential Iranian intellectuals of the 20th century). The fourth approach is a democratic concept of Islamism that Ayatollah Mahmoud Taleghani (a senior scholar and Tehran's first Friday prayer imam after the Iranian revolution in 1979) was its founder. The fifth approach is Salafism, but it doesn’t have a great number of proponents in Iran while it is widespread outside Iran within the larger geography of Islamic civilization. Sheikh Ibn Baz can be considered one of the founders of this approach (in Sunni countries). 

So, we cannot reduce democracy to either social democracy or liberal democracy. We can have other forms of democracy, but if you look at political literature inside and outside Iran, most of the textbooks do not mention Islamism as a political ideology or legitimate approach that can host democracy, state, morality, women’s rights, etc. 

Mainly when they talk about Islamism, they say it is tantamount to extremism, fundamentalism, and terrorism, whereas Islamism is a diverse ideology that grew in the context of Islamic civilization. This should be taken into consideration, but most experts have been silent about this. We cannot expect Europeans, Americans or non-Islamic pundits to work on it or reflect this approach. It is upon us to make every effort to build a non-Euro-Atlantic approach based on Islamism.

Q: Many American experts consider the U.S. as the bedrock of democracy whilst successive American administrations have undermined democratic states in history and consolidated relations with despotic states. How is it justifiable? 

A: We need to review the history of two hundred years ago when the colonial forces entered the geography of Islamic civilization. In the 18th century we can see there are four major powers which are called Turku-Persian empires. One of these empires was established in the Indian subcontinent, what is known in the history as Gurkani dynasty (by mistake in English they are called the Mughal empire while they were from Central Asia). Then we have Ottoman Empire besides the Safavid Empire as well as Sheibanian in Central Asia. These four empires were ruling in Muslim territories or Islamic civilization. When the colonial forces approached or in other words encroached and invaded this area, step by step they started to talk about democracy, liberal ideas, and philosophical questions inside their own countries. When you scrutinize and try to understand their philosophers even the most famous ones like Kant and Hegel, they have a racist approach toward non-European peoples. Subsequently, the European policies towards other people are totally based on colonialism which has not changed a bit so far.

Western states are trying to present themselves at home as civilized liberal countries but when it comes to other countries, the Euro-Atlantic civilization spares no effort to bombard under the pretext of human rights and what they call humanitarian bombardment; or they try to contain their rivals including China, Russia, Iran, Cuba or other countries.  

Either they contain them or sanction them. What they did against Iran was not a policy but a total genocide. It was economic genocide through efforts to destroy a country in its entirety.

Their sanctions against Iran and Yemen and before them against Iraq and many other countries were not human-centered. It always reminds us that what they call democratic rule at their countries has not been applied outside as their policies over the past two hundred years have been an extension of militarism and even supporting state terrorism such as what they did in Haiti. They went to another country and assassinated the president and then claimed that they were not aware of the connection between the FBI and the killers of the Haitian president. It is naked state terrorism.

Q: Successive American administrations have supported Israel whenever it has waged wars against Palestinians. How can a democracy help ignite devastating wars?

A: According to terms of international relations, it is double standards. Inside their country, they have the discourse of democracy but outside they spread discourse of militarism. If you look at the map of West Asia and Eastern Europe and even in the China Sea, the Korean peninsula, Latin America, Panama, and Africa, you can see that they are full of American military bases. If any country tries to disobey or decide to get away from the world order it would be doomed to pay a heavy price. Without any doubt what we call today's world order is Pax Americana which was established after 1945. This system, as long as it is possible, uses soft power like punishing other countries through WTO or by other different institutions, and whenever it is not possible, they resort to their military capacities to wage a total war. 

Q: How do you read the riots that followed the November 2020 presidential election in the U.S. after Trump refused to concede defeat?

A: There was a German-American sociologist called Andre Gunder Frank. He was a leftist social theorist who said in 1999 he can hear the footsteps of fascism in the White House. I think what he meant by fascism was that political solutions based on democratic negotiations no longer would succeed to settle differences. This is the moment that was foreseeable in U.S. history as we saw the differences between political actors step by step come to a point where the institutions per se cannot resolve disputes. We expect within ten or twenty years by the rise of China in the world order the American society would be exposed to deep transformation. Definitely, America would not be able to rule the world order which by the rise of China will look totally different. I don’t argue that it will be a good or bad world order. 

But China by itself is a country with a system where capitalism has coupled with authoritarianism. When capitalism is compounded with authoritarianism in politics, definitely it will result in a system with a great influence on the world order. Even other European, American, and other countries in the world will need to re-organize their political institutions. Consequently, the political institutions in America within ten or twenty years will become more authoritarian than they were before. Of course, outside the Euro-Atlantic context, for example in Iran, we always have faced these authoritarian aspects of European and American colonialism and militarism.   

We are aware of that. We know what happened to Salvador Allende in Chile. Or look at Nicaragua, Cuba, Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. As non-Euro-Atlantic people, we always have experienced the authoritarian face of America and colonial powers in Europe, but Americans and European people during the past two hundred years were feeling they are living in liberal societies. There was some sense of freedom in some aspects in these countries but the masses never really realize how their governments deal with others outside the Euro-Atlantic zone; for example, how they killed Allende or how they were involved in the 1953 coup d'état in Iran and deposed the government of Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq and why the Western powers supported Saddam Hussein in an eight-year war he waged on Iran. Don’t forget how Americans gave a green light to Saddam to invade Kuwait to send their arms to the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. We know how they infiltrated Syria but the Western public is feeling that they live in free countries.

With the gradual rise of China within ten or twenty years and the authoritarian capitalism of China, the world order will change in a way that will affect the U.S. domestic politics if they want to survive.

I guess in the coming two decades we will see the weakening of democratic institutions in America with a trend that has been anticipated by Andre Gunder Frank in 1999 and even some scholars like Immanuel Wallerstein and Noam Chomsky have talked about it. Alexis de Tocqueville, a French political scientist, and historian, in the nineteenth century, warned about the future of American democracy where he discussed a kind of mass society that may result in populist government.

That is not just because of internal dynamics but due to external dynamics. In the coming decade, we may face a different scenario in the global arena as China is rising as an “other” in the eyes of Europeans.  America was somehow an extension of the European development but China is a totally different story in terms of history, civilization, value system, the concept of humanity, and power.           


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