Saturday, December 31, 2005

* The Guardian State (3)

The Guardian State (3)
Legitimacy: Religious Approach

Ali-Asghar Kazemi


A government is said to be “legitimate” if the people to whom it orders are directed to believe that the structure, procedures, acts, decisions, policies, officials, leaders and the whole political apparatus possess the quality of rightness, propriety, or moral goodness.[1] When a political system bases its ideology on religious standards, subjective elements are used to justify and strengthen legitimacy. Thus, scholastic rhetoric becomes a useful tool for the leader to narrow the gap between the reality of the society and the goals and objectives prescribed by the ideology. But, experience has shown that legitimacy can not get established with simple rhetoric, even though the instrument of power may be in the hands of the ruler. This means that it requires a number of other elements in order to transform the power into authority and hence to legitimacy.[2]

The guardian state, as said before, is the product of social crises, political radicalism and economic inefficiency. This system, with the attributes mentioned in previous sections of this research, has no other choice than to rely on religious, ideological or revolutionary fervor in order to continue to remain in power and hence tends to overcome and suppress any challenge or dissention.

The Function of Political Legitimacy

In order to pass judgment on the legitimacy of a particular political system, one must find out first, how it performs, second whether it is able to produce expected outcome and third, how it functions in producing the desired outcome.

A systematic approach to the analysis of a political unit helps to highlight the properties of the system separate from individual or group interests.[3] The performance of a political system includes two dimensions: effectiveness and efficiency.[4] There is a distinction between these two concepts as regards the performance of a political system. The idea relates to the question such as: what does a political system perform to attain a goal or value at what price and for whose benefit?

Here, of course, other considerations such as defining goals and priorities come into play. Who determines what is good for people? Indeed, what is good for people is not necessarily good for a political system, and vice versa. Then, who shall have the final word? Indeed, decision making for the people in a society is part of the political process, and on the face of it, power and politics are intertwined. Yet power by itself being a crude concept, in many respects fails to satisfy as an explanation of the prevailing situation presented by a mixture of both conflict and accommodation.

In the domestic-and perhaps equally on the international level-power has more varied and subtle sources than in either force and violence or wealth and other tangible elements. It can be said that power grows and functions on legitimacy and without this latter, no individual or group in a political system can effectively claim authority. However, when the power is pretended to be acquired from a source outside the common will of the people, then a problem arises as to its legitimacy. This is the case when religion is the primary foundation and source of state power. Below we shall examine the matter on Islam as a polity with emphasis on the Shiite doctrine.

Islam and the Legitimate Authority

Islam is a religion in which all Moslems belonging to the Islamic community (umma) are made to resign a good part of their freedom and to forego their free choice of a leader.[5] They are required to bow to the authority whose legitimacy is derived from the divine law.[6] This is, at least theoretically, the model of a theocracy, a “community of God” or a state in which the supreme political power is held by Allah, his apostle Muhammad and his legitimate successors.

In Islamic political thought, contrary to Christianism, any distinction between church and state (in the Christian sense), is totally superfluous. Since, the umma, or the Islamic community of believers, partakes of the nature of both and the purposes of one is the very raison d’ être of the other. Hence, Islamic leader, in the true sense of the doctrine, derives his political power from his divine office and is not subordinate but to the will of Allah. Thus, religion and politics as well as social order, economic matters and other business of life and society, come to be intertwined in the administration of the umma.[7]

In spite of the intimate relationship between the temporal and spiritual spheres in the Moslem community, the Qur’an does not contain explicitly what may be considered civic or state legislation.[8] The nearest approximate to anything of the kind is a broad provision addressed to the faithful Moslems to obey God and his apostle, and “them that have command among you”.[9]

The Caliphate or the Imamat, according to a Moslem scholar Mawardi who wrote on The Laws concerning Ruler-ship, were divinely appointed in succession to the office of the Prophet, in order to defend the faith and secure the right government of the world. The qualification of the legitimate authority in Islam varies according to different branches: Sunni orthodox and various sects of Shiism. The following section focuses on the Shiite Doctrine.

The Shiite Doctrine

From an early date, after the founder of the Islamic faith passed away, legitimacy of the so-called Islamic government and the authority of the incumbent rulers were opposed to and challenged by a group of faithful Moslems. The opposition was based on the belief that the leaders of the faith and the Islamic community had deviated from the true Islamic teaching and traditions as well as the divine law of Qur’an. They were charged to have acquired power through usurpation and brought tyranny instead of justice and thus led the Islamic community into error.

This faction of Moslem believers who identified itself with Shiism, held the opinion that God would send a true leader (Imam) who some day in the future would end the time of troubles, overthrow the kingdom of evil and establish the true reign of God and the true Islam, by means of Imamat. This messianic deliverer came to be known as the “Mahdi”, the rightly guided one.[10]

During the past centuries, many contenders and pretenders arose to claim the office, but most of them failed. Some, however, succeeded and established new sects and schisms. Shiism is one such deviation which, right from its inception, mounted opposition against the usurping rulers and associated with Imam Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and son in law.

The Shiites, or the followers of Imam Ali and his descendants, have always claimed the right of rebellion against evil and illegitimate governments which had taken away the political power from the authentic successor of Prophet Muhammad. The question of legitimacy has always been a dominant issue in Shiism, and the quarrel between Imam Ali’s legitimate successors to imamat and the Caliphs has lasted too long. The martyrdom of Imam Hossein, the younger son of Imam Ali, in Karbala (a city situated in present Iraq), is a symbolic event of important political and religious dimensions which represents a decisive confrontation between “truth and falsehood.” This self-sacrifice for the cause of Islam, by opposing the powerful and tyrannical ruler, has set an example which even now, after fourteen centuries, is the noblest guide of Moslem Shiites[11].

Iran is a typical country which after its people accepted Islam in the first century of the Hegra,[12] replaced its former religion and followed the Shiite school. In this respect, some scholars assert that Persians extreme devotion to the Shiite doctrine and its symbol of faith and martyrdom, Imam Hossein, stems from the fact that he married the daughter of the last Persian king (Yazdigerd) defeated by Moslems. They believe that Shiism is an outgrowth of dominant Persian social and political traditions, translated into a more bearable and tolerable doctrine associated with Islam.[13]

Presumably, these arguments have originated from the belief that Islam extended itself into larger world by means of external power before its fundamental doctrine had crystallized and taken on definite form.[14] Some historians contend that those who participated in the expansion of Islam were Moslems who had not yet incorporated religion and Islamic faith into their consciousness to any substantial degree.[15] It is also suggested that from the beginning Moslem practice had to come to terms with the existing facts, prevailing traditions and norms which of necessity look beyond the dogmatism of canonical and divine law.

Thus, a prominent feature of Islamic theology has been its recognition of the fait accompli through which elements that was actually incompatible or opposed to the original doctrine, but through time had gained customary force, was accepted under the label of normative religious tradition (Sunna).[16] There are some who believe that the particular aspect of Islam developed in Shiite tradition is a result of such dynamism.

Henry Corbin,[17] a French scholar who has done extensive work on Shiism and Moslem mysticism, attempts to demonstrate the continuity (or resurgence) of the principal Zoroastrian themes in Persian Shiism. The argument suggests that the Shiite doctrines have been transposed and harmonized through interpretation with Zoroastrian themes and even with Hellenic philosophy.[18] If one follows Corbin’s analyses, Shiism presents a spiritual world or a mode of religious thought strangely coherent and permanent, transcending the boundaries of religious doctrine”.[19]

Whether Shiism is an outgrowth of Persian spirituality derived from Zoroastrianism, Hellenic philosophy in its oriented form,[20] or the illuminative mysticism of Suhrawardi,[21] or simply a sui generis doctrine developed out of Islam in a particular socio-political environment and historical period, it is the foundation of an important ideological and revolutionary movement. This ideology has shown continuous hostility toward secular and temporal state power and legitimacy. By endorsing the principle of Imamat, Shiite Moslems only recognize Imam Ali’s twelve successive descendants as legitimate authorities who can govern the community of Moslems. On the question of application of this principle after the long absence of the twelfth Imam, however, there is no consensus among various scholars and religious leaders.

Muhammad Ghazali, the learned Persian Moslem scholar of twelfth century A.D., wrote “there are those who hold that the imamat is dead, lacking as it does the required qualifications. But no substitute can be found for it; what then? Are we to give up obeying the law? Shall we dismiss the qadis; declare all authority to be valueless, leaving the populace to live in sinfulness? Or shall we continue, as we are, recognizing that imamat really exists and all acts of the administration are valid….?”[22]

Most Shiite scholars of various periods seem to agree with Ghazali and prefer the kind of government which claims legitimacy through divine law, even if accompanied by tyranny, turmoil and civil war.[23] They even went as far as to suggest that rebellion against such government would mean rebellion against the Imam of the time (valieasr), and ultimately rebellion against the Prophet and God. The implication of such charges and its political consequences are indeed very serious and practically it is impossible for a Moslem believer to challenge the authority and legitimacy of the office-holder and the leader (imam) of the Islamic community.

Once Shiism became state religion in Iran by the Safavids (1499-1736),it rejected the religious legitimacy of the Caliphate and adhered to what was akin monarchy. At that period the belief was that monarchy was the best form of government in the absence of the Mahdi (the savior). Thus, to this extent the Persian monarchy carried a positive religious aspect along with the traditional hereditary succession of kingdom. The monarch was considered as the legitimate ruler who was supposed to rule with the consent of the religious scholars. His essential responsibility was to safeguard the Sharia or the divine law and promulgate Islam. Subsequent rulers of various dynasties capitalized on this aspect of Shiism and linked their legitimacy to religion and God.[24]

Islamic Governance: Toward the Guardian State

Despite the fact that Islamic teachings in general provide for socio-political as well as individual guidance for Moslems and the Islamic society, in recent time no such governance was organized in Moslem communities. Of course, some endeavors to restore the laws of Shari’ah and to form an Islamic government have taken place, but so far no consensus has been reached on the matter of unified and uniformed governance. Thus, each attempt has reflected one particular interpretation of Islam.

It is not quite clear whether the emerging new phenomenon, identified with Islamic fundamentalism, has any relevant connection with Shiite doctrine. But, there are some arguments that this radical social and political behavior has originated from the Shiite revolutionary fervor in Iran and gradually propagated its vehemence throughout the Middle East. However, most social and political observers are caught in a dilemma in the analysis of the situation. In effect, so far it has proved to be very difficult to appreciate the true origin, the path and the implications and future trend of the Shiite movement in the region. On the one hand, it is suggested that what has happened in Iran was a revolutionary social movement directed against the Shah’s dictatorship by the people who identify them-selves by religious rather than political affiliation.

The above suggestion is supported to the extent that, from a cultural point of view, Iranians, have not yet acquired maturity in order to participate in party politics and to make known their social desires in society. Thus, the only unifying element, capable of changing the status quo without formidable political organization was religion, i.e. Shiism, as a revolutionary party, with numerous headquarters- the mosques- scattered throughout the country.

On the other hand, the leader of the movement was a religious man (Ayatollah Khomeini), deeply attached to the Shiite doctrine and widely accepted as the political enemy of the Shah whose legitimacy was permanently challenged by the spiritual leader. This latter benefited to a great extent from his charisma and capitalized on Islamic teachings for launching mass protests and demonstrations against the legitimacy of the constitutional monarchy in Iran. In so doing, he was more a political contender than a religious leader. Thus, when Shah’s regime fell apart, the spiritual man saw automatically the whole power of the state in his hands and became considered by a great majority of Moslems of Shiite faith, as the Imam or the true leader of the Islamic Umma.

The political philosophy of Shiism is rather complex and in some instances lacks concrete methodology. This is at least the impression a lay-researcher gets from examining the classical literature about the Shiite school and ideology.[25] More modern Shiite scholars, who have been acquainted with Western social, scientific research and methodology, have attempted to provide convincing justifications for Shiite doctrine on state authority and legitimacy.

According to the late Iranian religious teacher and intellectual, Ali Shariati, “Society is like a garden, founded upon God’s customs….The Qur’an, while admitting that society is built upon unchangeable laws, does not in any way; deny the responsibility of humanity and human being.”[26] This is in sort, the rejection of the fatalists’ point of view or the view of historic determinism. Not surprisingly, Shariati approach to the question of political power and legitimacy in Islamic Shiism is rather biased and somehow tilted toward apologetic stance.[27]

As Shariati’s study was the sociology of religion, he tried to compile a kind of sociology of religion on the basis of Islam and the Qur’an. He discovered in his own words: “scientific suggestion of history and sociology which reflect the prophet’s customs.”[28] This is presumably the opposite of what happens when one tries to analyze and interpret the Qur’an as philosophy or when one uses contemporary science to study the policies of the prophet or the political, social, and moral system which he presented to the society.[29]

This Moslem scholar endeavors, though perhaps not vainly from the Shiite point of view; to associate the question of legitimate political power in society to God’s will. Arguing that the prophet Mohammad was not an elected individual, therefore his mission and the continuity of his movement shall be guaranteed by Prophet’s appointment (his son-in-law Imam Ali). The argument continues like this: “As the Prophet announced his mission without the permission of the people, built society… his school should be continued by one who is most similar to him…”[30] this succession by appointment does not terminate here. It opens the door for a thoroughly different system of legitimate political and religious authority i.e. the concept of Imamat. The basic tenet of the principle, as stated very briefly earlier, involves the endowment of the leadership of the Islamic society to twelve generations of Imam Ali’s descendents, called Imams, the last of them believed to have disappeared, but lives an eternal life. He will reappear one day as the messiah and the savior of mankind from sin and corruption.

Shariati does not elaborate explicitly on the concept of “velayate faqih” or clerical regency which is based on the theory that during the absence of the twelfth Shiite Imam, the political leadership of the society is vested to a clergy (faqih) who is placed on the top of the religious hierarchy. However, he distinguishes two historic phases after Prophet: “one is a temporary phase of the twelve leaders (Imams) of Islamic society. They guide Islamic history in order to foster Islamic society. This is organized by means of twelve particular individuals chosen by the prophet.”[31] With regard to the second phase, the Prophet has been silent. One interpretation of this silence is that during the remaining time the Islamic society will be guided on the principle of council and allegiance, tradition of the Prophet and the spirit of Islam. A liberal construction of this latter viewpoint suggests a fully democratic system of political legitimacy founded upon reliance on people, public council and majority vote.[32]

From a political point of view, it is interesting to note that advocates of a continuing political role for the clergy and those who firmly oppose to the exercise of political power and authority by religious sector, both use Shariati’s arguments and writings to justify their respective positions.

In practice, the quarrel between the two sectors is not merely an academic and intellectual debate, but it involves a fundamental conflict over the political legitimacy of the regime and hence the very nature of Iran’s revolution and political system.[33]

From a legal and practical perspective, the questions of state’s authority and legitimacy are settled in the following terms in Iran’s new constitution:

“The Islamic Republic is a system of government based on the faith in:

- The one God ..; that He establishes the Shari’ah (canon law), and that man should resign to his will;
- The divine revelations and their fundamental role in the interpretation of laws;
- The resurrection and its constructive role in man’s perfection towards God;
- The justice of God in creation and in establishing the Canon law;
- The uninterrupted imamat and leadership and its fundamental role in the continuity of the revolution of Islam.[34]

The principle of Imamat in the absence of Mahdi the savior is further established in Article 5 of Iran’s constitution as follows:

“During the total absence of Hazrat-e-Vali-ye Asr (Ruler of the Time) may the Almighty let his advent come to pass soon, the authority to command and lead the people shall be an Islamic theologian and canonist, just, virtuous, abreast of the time, brave, organizer and judicious, whom the majority of people accept as their leader.”[35]

The Article further provides for a council of leadership with the above qualifications in the case no single person can acquire the consent of the people.[36]

Outside the theological foundation of the above constitutional provisions, and metaphysical Islamic principles embodied therein, many of the rules codified in this document are akin to every modern constitution of the world. Commonly included among such principles are e. g. freedom of individual and property, freedom of association, separation of state power, equal justice and due process, political, cultural, and economic independence and a host of other humanitarian and democratic principles. In practice however, many of the provisions lack the necessary clarity in certain primordial issues and leave ambiguities and room for political interpretation, thus paving the ground for violations.[37]

For the first time in the history of Islam and the particular faith identified with Shiism, a system of state has emerged through revolution and asserts legitimacy by embarking on dual concepts: On the one hand, it claims to be establishing the Shari’ah or the canon law of Islam; on the other hand, it attempts to incorporate social, political, and other democratic concepts of life into its constitution.

Indeed, there are obvious links between such declaratory principles as separation of power, democratic freedoms and rights, the rule of law and equal justice, etc, since all of these ideals seek to restrain the coercive power of the state in the interest of the people. But, even fully constitutional and guaranteed rights are apt to be illusory, since when religion identifies itself with the very substance of politics and social matters, the man-made laws are always at the risk of being repudiated by the divine principles whose interpretation is the monopoly of the religious sphere. In such circumstances, the true believers of the faith forcibly lose the ability to make political choice and distinction. Because, every individual Moslem is religiously bound to imitate its political behavior and action according to the patterns dictated or established by the faqih or mujtahid (Authorities on Islamic theological and canon law).[38]

The notion of legitimacy and state’s power and authority in the Shiite faith is in a state of flux and the process is still a continuing one, fermenting under the influence of opposing socio-political forces. Thus, at this stage no realistic attempt to define the true framework, path, substance, objects, and destination of the movement, seems to be possible.

State legitimacy as viewed from the religious perspective can be tested in many ways, depending on the circumstances and the sources it is acquired. Though the means of such evaluation may be different, their natures are often the same and the degree of their efficiency usually determines their viability and endurance. Legitimacy through sacredness by mean of ideology and legitimacy through perpetual revolution are the subjects of the following sections.

The Ideological Dimension

There is usually a pitfall in creating a dominant ideology for the sake of acquiring power and legitimacy. That is when the ideological leader endeavors to make a sacrosanct out of state existence or political objectives, he himself become prisoner of his invention. Since, there is always the risk that his legitimacy comes under serious scrutiny when the established norms are violated.[39]

Given the fact that an ideology, especially when it emerges with a social revolution, can not remain static, usually new elements come into play and new situations create a need for new objectives and therefore new explanations and rhetoric’s to justify the case. When inconsistencies show up, ambiguities result both in the eyes and perception of people and hence legitimacy of the leader runs into trouble.

If we approach a political system by considering its inherent or acquired capability in dealing with various situations or problems of the society, we may get a feeling of its legitimacy and long-run viability. There is no doubt that various political systems respond differently to the challenge of new emerging situations and crisis in peace or in war.

Democratic systems respond to the crisis or situations variables by “trying to mediate between contending groups in order to produce effective politics that can ameliorate the causes of tension.”[40] In this case the effectiveness of the decision and its success lie on the one hand upon the government or the political apparatus as a dependent variable and on the other hand upon the people or society as an independent entity.[41] In this case the legal and institutional framework determines the relationship between the people and government.

In a totalitarian political system the above situation is usually reversed. This is to say that in the case when a problem arises, the political apparatus considering it an independent entity tries to transform the entire society and to push it towards its own objectives.[42]In the above situation, the only way to dominate the will of the people and the society as a whole is to define the goals of the political system in a manner to give them a sacred character i.e. to make a taboo out of objectives. Thus, ethical and religious precepts tend to become ideology as political symbols which help to provide legitimacy.[43] Unlike a democratic government, the totalitarian system which seeks to justify its existence by means of religion and metaphysics tends to become monopolistic and monistic. Therefore, the two systems represent fundamentally different approaches to the question of political power and legitimacy.

Considering the fact that government is the unique organ in a society which has virtual monopoly over the instruments of force, it is the sole legitimate agency for the exercise of power. The question which arises in this respect is whether government and the political system act on behalf of the society or on its own behalf. That is to say, which one-people or government- has the preeminence? Where and when government acts on behalf of the society, power tends to be more or less egalitarian and decentralized. While, in the opposite situation it becomes very highly monopolized and centralized and usually society’s claimed objectives acquire a sacred or taboo character.[44]This is the situation when the guardian state justifies its existence for the society in crisis or facing an imminent threat.

The interesting point to note in the above approach to the analysis of political systems is that the sacred or sacrosanct character of political objectives does not belong to early religious societies but it applies to many modern states as well. Such is the case of Marxism-Leninism whose sacred attributes were so cruelly visible in the late Soviet Union during the horrendous purges and trials of the 1930s. China’s attempt to ritualize the authority of its charismatic leader, Mao, was due to the sacred characteristic attached to his words and teachings during his lifetime. Nazism and Fascism both had created sacred objectives for their proper societies upon which dictators such as Hitler and Mussolini built their power and political legitimacy.

Western modern societies have been dragged to this trap after the September 11th terrorist attacks and other violence threatening their democratic values and security. The phenomenon is spreading all over the world. There is only a consequential difference between modern and traditional countries. The common trait of all is their attachments to some sort of governance based on ideology, religion, race, language, nationality or purely philosophical considerations, be it Islam, Christianity, Buddhism or others.

The Perpetual Revolution

Newly emerged traditional regimes, through a process of social revolution and political independence, usually tend to organize their structure according to the accepted norms of the world community. By and large this initially enhances the process of acquisition of legitimacy. Since, the unity of a nation and legitimacy of its government are urgent problems of political leaders, often a new regime that comes to power after a social revolution tries to respond to the will and wishes of the people. Thus, newly established political apparatus are imitative after constitutional patterns of Western democracies. A constitution enshrining freedom and justice, popular government, parliamentary practice, separation of state power, etc. becomes the symbol of legitimacy.

In real world, however, the actual function of laws, principles and doctrines is a quite different story. In practice, often soon after the regime has succeeded to establish its power and authority, it starts to go its own way and deviate from the principles and promises upon which it founded its authority and acquired legitimacy. Then the political system gradually transforms its very nature by becoming an independent variable in the society where people must follow the dictate of the regime.

When a political system fails to offer the people what it had promised, in a democratic system it has no other choice than to recede itself from the power and leave the ground as provided for in the constitution or other legal provisions of the state. But a revolutionary regime that seeks conformity by force and coercion and leans upon a charismatic or religious figure for strict allegiance, has no other choice than to continue to claim legitimacy and rule despite people’s will. In such situation, naturally, dissention and discontent begin to surface and the regime, relying on its coercive power and force, tends to suppress opposition. This process creates an atmosphere in which the seeds of dictatorship will be scattered.

The implication of the above phenomenon is that gradually both governments, political and social system tend to be subsumed under the authority of a single person or party which in real sense determines the fate of a nation and stand not only above the law but also over the will of people. When religion and metaphysics, as an important dimension of social and political order, come to the support of such revolutionary regime, the situation becomes very complex. In other words, when revolution is identified as a product of religious movement for salvation, the issue of political legitimacy in a democratic sense tends to be considered a secondary matter with respect to the supreme will of God. Along the same line, everything else, even decision making process and socio-political apparatus, all become subordinate to the divine order, as of course interpreted by his apostle.

In such circumstances, legitimacy becomes imbued with faith and religious principles and rituals. Even legally and structurally responsible agents of the government can make decision and maneuver only within a limited framework and “line” which is determined by the supreme leader or on his behalf by his entourage and protégés. In other words, the political apparatus spells out only technical and bureaucratic decisions within the pre-established policy line dictated explicitly or in an implicit manner to it.[45] Thus, the role of the government representing the executive branch, parliament or legislative and the judiciary becomes secondary and overshadowed by the authority of revolutionary, charismatic or religious leader.[46]

To evaluate this type of regime, one runs into trouble, since normative criteria at hand, most often are associated with democratic systems evolved under different political environment. How far individual rights and liberties, separation of power, the actual functioning of constitutional checks and balances and other essential democratic and human principles must be observed, protected and cherished, is certainly the dilemma of new emerging revolutionary or fundamentalist regimes of the traditional World.

On the one hand, to use the accepted standards of behavior in the international community (if indeed such things exist) for judging a new political system emerged out of a revolution, this might produce misleading results. On the other hand, if we make a case out of every single situation, we may run into the trouble of analyzing such sui generis situation in vacuum or isolation of the world order. For example, Cuba in Latin America, Libya in North Africa, Iran in the Middle-East, Vietnam in the Far East, and many other typical cases, have each overthrown the existing government through violence, civil war or revolution and established new ones on new principles and premises, but non of them have followed the path they had promised to their people. Each of them acquired legitimacy under different circumstances and through different means, though their general political outlook may seem alike.

Sometimes the set of criteria on which basis a regime emerges out of a social revolution or builds its legitimacy may appear quite irrational, banal or primitive. The contrary may also be true; that is, a regime may claim legitimacy by means of highly complex and sophisticated set of ideas. Shiite revolutionary principles may be of this type for which no adequate and scientific knowledge is still available in Western academic thought. It represents a complex social phenomenon in which religion and politics are intertwined to the point that one identifies itself with the other, while revolution is an indivisible element of both. It is a very sophisticated model whose application and viability as a new set of political philosophy for modern state system, are yet to be observed and evaluated.[47]

Often in revolutionary condition, many irrational and unconventional acts committed or decisions are made under the cover of emergency measures for the benefit of the regime. In such circumstances both government and officials are tempted to set aside the essential and basic rights of the people. But soon after when revolutionary fervor recedes, the difficulties begin to surface for which the political system can no longer advance a persuasive explanation for the continuing violation of constitutional rights and disregard of the preferred values and interests of the people.

A political system may survive in such change of condition only if it has acquired the needed capacity to continue to perform efficiently and respond to the people’s expectations. Naturally, if the political system loses its self-confidence, it will lose its credibility, legitimacy and finally its survivability.[48]

If the question of political legitimacy of a revolutionary or religious regime in the 21st century is considered from a practical point of view, that is, not only the manner it came to power, but by the way it functions or responds to the basic needs, interests, and values of the people, then, the viability of a religious revolution in the contemporary scene comes under serious doubt. This point is amplified when the efficiency of the regime is tested against its performance and capacity for development in economic, social and political fields.

Assuming that there is a certain limit on people’s tolerance and threshold for enduring scarcity, poverty, insecurity, and injustice, a revolutionary regime that lacks those basic requirement or is otherwise incapable to achieve those objectives, will encounter serious challenge to its legitimacy from within. Since, masses usually know political regimes by their fruits.[49]

So long as there is consensus about what is legitimate, politics and government will continue to function.[50] When legitimacy is challenged, the nature of the political system and its safety-valves determine the outcome of the conflict. A revolutionary regime, by its very nature, lacks the capacity to self-correction and avowal of failure. The result is either a prolonged dictatorship or a sudden collapse, depending on the force of opposition and the viability of political alternatives.



[1]. See Robert A. Dahl, Modern Political Analysis, 3rd ED. (Englewood cliffs. Prentice Hall International, Inc., 1983) p. 60.
[2]. CF. Ibid. P. 62.
[3]. Karl W. Deutsch, Politics and Government, op. cit. p. 229.
[4]. Effectiveness is making an unlikely outcome more likely to happen. Efficiency is the ratio between change in the probability of the outcome and the costs incurred in producing it. See Deutsch, Ibid. p. 230.
[5] See e.g., Shahram Akbarzadeh, Abdullah Saeed, eds. Islam and Political Legitimacy, Originally Published: 22 May 2003. This is a most recent book which explores the challenging issues of Islamisation of political power. It presents a comparative analysis of Muslim societies in West, South, Central and South East Asia and highlights the immediacy of the challenge for the political leadership in those societies. Islam and Political Legitimacy contends that the growing reliance on Islamic symbolism across the Muslim world, even in states that have had a strained relationship with Islam, has contributed to the evolution of Islam as a social and cultural factor to an entrenched political force. The geographic breadth of Islam and Political Legitimacy offers readers an appraisal of political Islam that transcends parochial peculiarity. Contributors to this volume examine the evolving relationship between Islam and political power in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan. This review is taken from Taylor and Francis e-bookstores. Islam and Political Legitimacy - More Information.htm

[6]. See e. g. Reuben Levy, The Social Structure of Islam, 2nd Ed (London: Cambridge University Press, 1969), p. 275.
[7]. In Roman Jurisprudence also the ius sacrum was part of ius publicum, while the emperor was just the same Pontifex maximus. See ibid. p. 276.
[8]. Idem.
[9]. Commentators have interpreted this verse differently; some have included the Caliphs, qadis (saints), commanders of troops and those who know law. The Shiite interpretation is directed toward the principle of Imamat. See: infra.
[10]. It was generally agreed that the savior would be of the seed of the Prophet Muhammad. CF. Heresy and Revolt, in Islam, edited and translated by Bernard Lewis (New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1974), pp. 50-68: see also Ali Shariati, Art Awaiting the Savior, Translated by Homa Fardjadi (Tehran Iran: The Shariati Foundation, 1979), passim.
[11] It has to be noted that not all Islamic historians support the contention that Imam Hossein fought for the defense of rightful authority of Imam Ali’s descendents, but rather it was a tribal quarrel between families. See in general Islamic history written by unbiased historians other than Shiites.
[12]. Hegra or Hegira is the year of migration of the Prophet Muhammad from Mecca to Medina in A. D. 622, according to most account on September 20. This is the milestone of Moslem calendar dates counted on lunar or solar system.
[13]. CF. Morteza Motahari, Mutual Services of Islam and Iran [in Persian] (Ghom, Iran: Sadra Publishers, 1980), p. 122.
[14]. CF. Ignaz Goldziher, “Catholic Tendencies and Particularism in Islam”, in Merlin L. Swartz, (ed. Trans.), Studies on Islam (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), pp. 123-4.
[15]. Ibid. p. 124.
[16]. Ibid. p. 126.
[17]. Henry Corbin, Terre Céleste et Corps de Resurrection, de l’Iran Mazdeen a l’Iran Shiite (Paris: 1960), passim.
[18]. See: R. Casper, “Muslim Mysticism: Tendencies in Recent Research,” In Merlin L. Swartz (ed. Trans.), Studies on Islam (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), 164-184, at p. 166-167.
[19]. Idem.

[20]. That is to say e. g. Neo-Pythagorism and Platonism transmitted by Persian Philosopher Ibne Sina (Avicenna) and his school.
[21]. Iranian Moslem scholar of 12th. Century A. D.
[22]. Iqtisad fil-itiqad (Cairo: A. H. 1321), p. 98. Quoted in Reuben Levy, The Social Structure of Islam, op. cit. p. 291.
[23]. CF. Idem. See also generally Seyyed Hossein Nasr. “Ithna Ashari Shiism and Iranian Islam in: Religion in the Middle-East, op. cit. pp. 96-118.
[24] This was true even after the constitutional revolution in Iran at the beginning of 20th century. Thus, Iran’s old constitution vested unto the Shah the rightful and legitimate authority of the state on behalf of God and the sovereign ruler was considered as the shadow of the Almighty on earth.
[25].Extensive works have been done by Shiite scholars on many aspects of the faith, but few of them, however, are available in Western languages. Therefore, it is not practical for studies such as the present to give references of books in Persian or Arabic which are not readily available to English readers for consultation.
[26]. See his: An approach to the Understanding of Islam (Tehran: The Shariati Foundation and Hamadani Publishers, 1979), p. 31.
[27]. It is worth noting that the late Ali Shariati (died in 1977) is one of the few, if not the only, Iranian scholar by modern standard who has devoted his life in studying and teaching Islam and the Shiite doctrine. Through his numerous courses he delivered prior to 1979 revolution in Iran, he advanced a liberal and open-minded interpretation of the Islamic philosophy. It should bee noted that Shariati’s approach to understanding Islam and Qur’an (which have more appeal to intellectuals), is no longer endorsed by fundamentalists as well as the majority of the clergy now in power in Iran.
[28]. CF. Ali Shariati, An Approach to the Understanding of Islam, op. cit. pp. 22-23.
[29]. Ibid. p. 23.
[30]. The Sunni orthodoxy believes that “the prophet formed an Islamic society, revealed the Qur’an and ended his mission… the principles and directives of Islam for the community were fixed. Therefore after the Prophet, we only need a political and social leader to rule and defend the community and we will select him according to our own discernment. “See: Ali Shariati, Selection and/or Election (Tehran: the Hosseiniyeh Ershad and the Hamadani Foundation 1979), pp. 3-4.
[31]. Ali Shariati, Selection and/or Election, cit. 10-11.
[32]. CF. Ibid. at p. 6. Shariati who regarded religion in general and Islam, translated into the political doctrine of Shiism, as a revolutionary movement, died in 1977 and did not witness the actual happening of Iran’s revolution. Presumably the kind of movement he persistently advocated had a much more bearable view of Islam and Shiism. His views were particularly appealing to what may be called non-secularized youth prior to the revolution and after it. A group of this youth Moslems associated themselves with the Mojahedin-e-Khalq Organization (MKO) as sympathizers or active participants. This group is now staging opposition against the ruling regime in Iran.
[33]. Thus far politically active clergy and their supporters have the necessary positions and instruments of coercive power to intimidate dissidents and impose what they believe to be true and authentic rules and traditions of Islam and demand adherence and conformity. They have not hesitated to use that power against those who are considered infidels or hypocrites and who oppose to the ruling elites’ interpretation of Islam and revolution in Iran and contest the power of the clergy.
[34]. Unofficial translation of Article 2 of the constitution. In the same article paragraph 6. a, the continuity of the revolution is secured in the “uninterrupted administration of Canon law by fully qualified jurisprudents on the basis of Scripture (the Qur’an) and the tradition of the fourteen Innocents for whom we invoke God’s blessing.”
[35] Idem
[36]. Article 107 of the constitution determines the manner in which a group of experts elected by the people shall consult about the qualifications of those considered competent as to be vested with the legitimate authority and religious leadership. If one such person is known to be pre-eminent above all others, he shall be appointed as the leader of the nation; otherwise, three or five authorities fully qualified for the leadership shall be appointed as members of the Council of leadership. The leader of the Council shall be a person of “scientific eligibility and theological virtues …..[With] political and social insight…”
[37]. For example, Article 19 of the Islamic constitution of Iran provides the following on the rights of people: “The people of Iran belonging to whatever ethnic or tribal group shall enjoy equal rights and the complexion, race, language, and the like shall not be considered as a privilege.” Curiously, these provisions fail to explicitly make mention of the important question of “religion”. Some critics assert that such an omission is not merely of a drafting nature but it entails the very substance of the matter which simply stems from religious intolerance and fundamentalism.
[38]. In Shiite faith, every individual is either a muqalid (an imitator) or mujtahid (a canonist or theological expert). The former is duty-bound to follow the latter.
[39]. CF. Ibid. P. 62.
[40].David E. Apter. Introduction to Political Analysis (New Delhi: Prentice Hall of India. Private Limited. 1981) p. 431.
[41]. CF. Idem.
[42]. Idem.
[43]. CF. Ibid. p.432.
[44]. CF. Ibid. p. 433.
[45]. Such may be the case of post-revolution Iran with respect to the so-called “Imam’s Line”. The “Party Line” of post-revolution Russia. Other classical example of this phenomenon can be found in varying forms in Nasser’s Egypt, Nyerere’s Tanzania, Ghana under Nkrumeh, and Algeria under Ben Bella. CF. David Apter, op. cit. p. 450.
[46]. Interestingly, in the case of Iran all of the above characteristics are assembled in the unique personality of the supreme leader (Imam) who is a religious revolutionary with powerful charismatic leadership.
[47]. The model has only been applied during the Prophet of Islam’s rule in the city of Medina. The society of Medina has now an overwhelming attraction to the modern revolutionary Moslems and it is considered the ideal type of government where the ruler is at the same time the leader of the faith and religion.
[48]. The downfall of the dictatorial regime of the Shah of Iran began the moment he admitted his defaults. There after, neither coercion nor use of force and violence helped to restore the lost order to save an apparently strong and stable monarchy. The Shah’s successor has learned by experience not to admit failure and stick firm to the power. Thus, the Islamic regime softly escaped numerous blows which took away its precious elites.
[49]. Cf. e.g. R. Hrair Dekmejian, “The Anatomy of Islamic Revival: Legitimacy Crisis, Ethnic Conflict and the Search for Islamic Alternatives,” The Middle-East Journal, 34, 1 (Winter 1980); Roger Homan, “The Original of the Iranian Revolution,” Book review in the Journal of International Affaires (1982), 673-677.
[50]. CF. Karl W. Deutsch, Politics and Government, op. cit. p. 16.

Monday, December 26, 2005

The Guardian State(2)

The Guardian State (2)
Basis of Political Legitimacy

Ali-Asghar Kazemi

"Religion, which is regarded as being the firmest of all the supports of political authority, and which would indeed play this role if it were rightly understood and rightly practiced, is ordinarily the force that does most to hamstring political authority."

Pierre Bayle[1]


We have explained elsewhere[2] the characteristic of an emerging new type of polity called the “Guardian State,” which is the outgrowth of the current crisis in the world order and international system. The guardian state seeks its mandate from the implicit consent and “general will” of a political community terrified by insecurity and violence. It makes no distinction between private and public sphere, ethics and politics, or the inner and outer world. It thus encompasses the governance of not only the external affairs of man in societies but also his personal and internal business as well. Since, its self-acclaimed responsibility goes beyond the assurance of man’s security and fulfillment of potentialities on earth, but also his salvation in the outer-world.

With the gradual collapse of radical secular regimes, a new form of polity, seeking its source from religious teachings of the past centuries, emerged in the world political arena with new ideas, goals and institutions. Islamic state is one such polity which in the last quarter of 20th century re-emerged through a revolution in Iran and which at the beginning of 21st century is becoming an important contestant in world political order. In an attempt to rationalize this resurgence we ought to assess its premises and basic conceptions as well as the appeal of its revolutionary teachings which led to its wide spread influence among Moslem believers of all sects. Among these a new group emerged as well known as fundamentalist zealous who are challenging the prevailing norms of modern societies at this juncture of history.[3]

State and the Legitimate Authority

The concept of legitimacy[4] in political is commonly applied to the manner in which a government, ruler or office-holder has attained office. Legitimacy being a relative rather than an absolute concept raises multiple questions of subjective nature. Thus, it has acquired various interpretations through time in different political cultures.[5]

Making use of religion for seeking political legitimacy is deep rooted in history. The political struggle between empire and papacy was long and complex and the main issue involved power and legitimacy. The dominant belief in Christian Medieval thoughts was somehow similar to what is still prevailing in Islamic doctrine. That is: human law is inherently subordinate to divine law, and political to theological authority. The idea further asserts that God possesses the supreme power over his whole creation and any lesser individual or institution can be said exercise legitimate authority only in so far as it is received from God through His grace.[6]

The period between the collapse of the Roman Empire and the advent of modern nation- state is referred to as the Middle Ages and the medieval era.[7] The cultural issue during this period was centered on the question of influence of religion over state affaires or relation between church and government. The real problem involved a fundamental political query about the nature of the state and the source of legitimate civil authority.

The recognition of the fact that state receives its legitimacy through the church is one thing and to say that political rule comes into being and independent of the religion is quite another matter. The concept of two swords originated from the recognition of two distinct spheres of power with harmonious relationship. The civil power and its political task ceases on the threshold of the spiritual domain. Conversely, the jurisdiction of the religious sword stops at the gate of secular power. In this situation, both church and state had theoretically autonomous sphere of activity and respected each other’s authority and legitimacy.[8]

Philosophers and thinkers of great eminence of the middle ages Christian era have given thoughtful consideration on the question of state legitimacy and the place of religion in the realm of politics.

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 A.D), like St. Augustine is primarily a theologian rather than a political philosopher. His writings constituted the principal medium through which Aristotelian political ideas were incorporated in Western thought.[9] St. Thomas demonstrates that it is neither necessary nor possible to connect the origin of the state and its legitimacy with any supernatural act. Thus in his thinking, God remains the first and the ultimate, but not the proximate of the state.[10] As a Christian theologian he regards the man as a rational and moral creature with an ultimate and eternal end to be found in union with God.[11]

The whole tenor of Thomas political speculation is based on the premise that state power is of a limited nature and subject to law. In this view, human law is derived from natural law in two ways: as a conclusion from principles and as a determination from principles.[12] Furthermore, divine law was a gift of grace rather than as a discovery of natural reason.

St. Thomas asserts that public action, and not individual violence, is the proper remedy against a tyrant ruler who in the eyes of people has lost credibility and legitimacy. St. Thomas feels that it would be detrimental to civil order if private individual could assume the right to murder their rulers whenever they believe them to be tyrants. However, he recognizes the right of the people to revolt against the authority in power when oppression and tyranny have become intolerable and revolution has reasonable chance to succeed without provoking greater social evil than those it attempts to eradicate.[13] Revolution in such circumstances is presumably more in the nature of masses than individual and private act.

The immediate end of the state, according to St. Thomas, is to preserve an orderly society by maintaining internal and external peace and by insuring man’s needs. To a Christian, however, there are needs that can not find their fulfillment in the political order. As moral being, the individual is ordained ultimately to a supernatural objective that transcends the temporal sphere. Thus comes the responsibility of religious institution to take care of man’s soul and moral needs in the society.[14]

John Calvin sought to penetrate all aspects public and private life with influence of religion. Calvin, like Luther, believes in the divine ordination of the secular rule. Calvin tries to bridge the alleged dialectical opposition between the religious and secular societies and to re-establish the moral status of the political order without making it to appear as a substitute for religious society.[15] Calvin makes it clear that religious matters shall be outside the purview of political rulers.

In Calvin’s practice, the religious authorities were free to their own standards of doctrine and moral in accordance with their interpretation of Holy Scripture. Once this was done, it became the duty and responsibility of the civil authority to enforce those standards. Thus the state was the instrument of the church for the establishment of God’s glory.[16]

While Calvin made the state a virtual agent of the religious authorities and combined both swords in their hands, Martin Luther deviated from the traditional doctrine of the two swords by entrusting the primary responsibility for the care of religious society to civil authorities. In so doing he had unwittingly permitted the spiritual sword to come under the control and domination of the temporal power.[17]

Perhaps the most important aspect of Luther’s political theory, as distinguished from his political actions, is the doctrine of non-resistance to political rule. The citizens, he asserts, own the full obedience to their government. Even if the ruler is tyrannical and abuses his office, the people have no right to rebel against him and to challenge his legitimacy. To him, it is improper for a Christian to set himself up against his government for any reason.[18]

It is worth to remember that Luther was a theologian founder of a great religious movement, and the political theory he did express was wholly related to his religious objectives. To him, relation of man’s soul to God was far more important than man’s position to temporal authorities. He felt that if man stood in the proper relation to God, his relation to society would right itself.[19] Luther’s religious radicalism stands in strange contrast to his extreme conservatism in social and political affairs. On the religious side he advocated far-reaching reforms while on the political side he urged pacifism in an orderly society.[20]

Other leading thinkers of the Christian world, like Jean Bodin and Hugo Grotius, inspired their political thought on state and sovereignty mostly from the medieval tradition by putting the legitimacy of the ruler under a moral obligation both God and community. The social contract era saw the deviation from moral and divine foundation of state and the development of a doctrine based on an intellectual recognition by isolated individuals to associate in order to create a civil society. Hobbes was the champion of this thought.

John Lock’s approach to the question of state and source of its legitimacy is not unlike that of Hobbes, although his conclusion is different. Locke is considered as the godfather of the American Revolution and a source of inspiration for contemporary principles and practice of limited and constitutional government.[21]

The age of reason and rationalism went a step forward to disavow state’s legitimacy dependent upon religion and metaphysics. Descartes and his followers known as the philosopher of the Enlightenment, turned to the model of contemporary natural science.[22] The movement based the foundation of the state on secular and not religious principles.

Rousseau makes the state an artificial creation of man established by social contract. The legitimate authority to exercise state power in the social contract is government which is an intermediate body set up between the subject and the sovereign to secure their mutual correspondence, charged with the execution of the laws and the maintenance of liberty both civil and political.[23] While Rousseau’s Social Contract was repudiated by English conservative Edmund Burke, it became the bible of the French Revolution and later Hegel and Marx benefited from its “general will” idea to devise socialism as a political philosophy.

The utilitarian scholars of the nineteenth century were not concerned with the moral legitimacy of the political authority and government. They simply regarded the state as a fictitious body formed by the association of individuals for the promotion of happiness. Thus the basis of government in this view is human needs rather than the drive for social contract. It regards the law as nothing but the expression of the sovereign will of the state. If government insist to remain in power despite the general will of the people, it begins to lose credibility and legitimacy in the eyes of masses that through their constitutional rights can use their political leverage to oust it from political office. In practice the utilitarian school has much in common with the Western tradition, though there are philosophical differences between the two.[24]

With the advent of scientific socialism of Marx, democratic socialism of the West, communism, revisionism and other, “isms”, gradually the image of religion and metaphysics or the divine laws as sources of political legitimacy faded out, instead positivism and pragmatism became dominant philosophy of modern state systems.

The twentieth century gave birth to many kinds of totalitarian states such as Nazism, Fascism and other absolutist governments which acquired power and claimed legitimacy through demagoguery and propaganda. Totalitarianism of both left and right denies the existence of any objective moral law. To the fascist Mussolini, for example, the only absolute good was the success of the state; and Hitler viewed a moral code as nothing more than a self disciplining weapon in the community’s struggle for power?[25]

The Secular Approach

In a democratic society, as we understand it in Western political tradition, government is a dependent variable or subunit that is vested the responsibility of managing the affairs of the state. In order to be able to assume its duty, government must have the power along with the legitimate authority to employ instrument of force on behalf of the society and for its benefit. A political system is said to be formed and organized when this relationship is properly established and the authority in power has acquired legitimacy.

Legitimacy in broad sense is- according to one definition- “the promise that the pursuit of one value will prove compatible with the pursuit or enjoyment of other values.[26] Hence, the idea of legitimacy is not quite a black and white issue; it is rather perceptual than objective. Furthermore, it is relative rather than absolute. It is a relationship among values within a situation that makes them compatible or put them in conflict.[27]

In the West, the separation of church and state or the secularization of political norms and the process by which legitimacy was acquired followed three historic steps.[28] The first step was the breakdown of the political universalism of the Church and the emergence of various national churches.

The second phase saw the extension of the church nationalization process to the authority of government. In this period, the legitimacy of the political authority was traced to God in the expression “divine right of kings”, which was in the hands of royal families through the process of inheritance.

The third step was the growth of Protestantism which provides the ground to a secular system of government which merely reflected religious values. Reliance upon secular authority in Protestantism, to police the church and to enforce a degree of religious uniformity had important consequences. A religion which had denied itself the power of an ecclesiastical organization was forced to reply on political rulers.[29]

In a secular political system, legitimacy is usually derived either by procedure or by representation.[30] In any event, legitimacy is derived from the implicit or explicit consent of people and the authority which holds the office or possesses the means of lawful coercion, is accountable to people. In practice, neither legitimacy by procedure nor legitimacy by representation is properly set in a rigid framework. They may in fact overlap and one takes the place of the other through tradition, norms or customs. The essential thing is that the power-holder shall be perceived as legitimate in the eyes and hearts of people whom he governs.

As we stated earlier, political rulers of left and right have claimed legitimacy merely because they were able to attract masses through charisma, emotion or coercion. Mussolini, the founder of Italian Fascism, insisted: when millions of individuals recognize the authority of a state, this latter acquires legitimacy and total supremacy over the individual; that should not be interpreted as tyranny or despotism.[31] In the Fascist conception it is not the individual but the state that determines truth and justice; hence the individual is free only so long as he conforms to this determination.[32]

If legitimacy is derived from the will of the people, it can easily be contested, corrected or ousted through the established laws, rule and democratic procedures. Thus a leader or ruler may lose his legitimacy and credibility in the eyes of his people who are the ultimate judge of what is good or bad, just or unjust.

When legitimacy is claimed to have been acquired from the divine source, the invisible God, then we run into a much more complex situation. In this case the spiritual ruler or the political leader, who is supported by religious sector, will assert the right to judge the right or wrong, and once he has established his coercive power he can repudiate people’s will by hiding behind Holy Scripture and his inconspicuous Master.

Political sociologists, who attempt the interpretive understanding of social action for arriving as a causal explanation of its course and effects, define the state as “an imperatively coordinated corporate group: in which the enforcement of its order is carried out continuously by the threat of physical force within a given territorial area. In this situation the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force belongs to the state.[33]

Max Weber, the leading scholar of political sociology has classified the legitimate authority by taking a functional view of social interaction. Weber is concerned solely with the manner in which power functions in a society and not necessarily with its moral legitimacy. Thus, he distinguishes between three fundamental types of legitimate authority: rational, traditional and charismatic.[34] The classification is based on the claim to legitimacy that is made by each type of authority. In his view, the nature of this claim determines the kind of obedience that is rendered to a particular system of authority, the kind of institution that is developed to guarantee its continued existence, and the mode in which it is exercised.[35]

According to this classification, Weber’s first category of legitimate authority, i.e. the rational or legal legitimacy, is the case in which people obey the law-an impersonal order- and obedience is owed to those exercising authority only by virtue of the office they legally hold.[36] This type of legitimacy is ordinarily found in Western democratic society. In this type of authority, what is important is the fact that the particular claim to legitimacy is to a significant degree treated as valid, and this fact confirms the position of the person claiming authority and that it helps to determine the choice of means of its exercise.[37]

In contrast to the above, the traditional authority seeks its legitimacy in the sanctity of tradition in a society such a hereditary monarchy. In this case if the ruler failed to observe the traditional limits of his authority, usually the opposition is directed towards his person and not the whole state system. This is to say that legitimacy of the state is not merely challenged by the failure or incompetence of an individual ruler, unless indeed people perceive that the prevailing system is the cause of political deviation or corruption.[38]

Charismatic authority- often referred in connection with dictatorship-relates to certain quality of an individual personality by virtue of which he is set apart from ordinary man. The charismatic leader is usually believed as endowed with supernatural, superhuman or at least some kind of exceptional powers or qualities.[39] When such an individual with exceptional moral and spiritual attributes is endorsed by the people and hailed as national leader, he gains legitimacy by virtue of which political and physical power of the state are vested upon him.

Charismatic leadership entails emotional enthusiasm and complete personal and mass devotion to the ruler. It can be motivated by many forces including religious zeal, political attachment or simply personal and human affection. There are instances in the history of a nation when people or the society as a whole are caught between hope and despair, and the ground is paved for the emergence of a charismatic leader. Hitler, Mussolini, Mao and Gandhi are typical examples of personalities who rose to power through charisma in different circumstances.[40]

Iran’s leader of the revolution-Ayatollah Khomeini- is a more recent example of spiritual charismatic authority that ousted a secular dictatorship to establish a theocratic autocracy on the premises of Islam.[41]

Most of charismatic personalities tend to be authoritarian. Whether they claim direct communion with the people or God, they seldom tolerate restraints on exercise of power. Even democratically elected leaders, after they become a charismatic figure, due to special circumstances or political environment, they often end up by imposing authoritarian rule and intolerance to dissension. This is the reason why most political analysts believe that charisma, attained or inherited, is always a threat to democracy.[42] Charisma by inheritance is also a phenomenon that is found in some traditional Third World states.[43]

A new kind of charismatic authoritarianism has appeared in the last decade, in which religion-Islam in particular- plays a legitimizing role. Libyan leader Ghaddafi, a seemingly religious soldier who uses religion to advance his secular aims, is characterized as a “hellion on the international stage”.[44] Elsewhere in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sudan, etc. the authoritarian generals defend their rule and legitimacy in the name of faith.

The essential problem with legitimacy acquired through charisma, whether religious or temporal, is that the leader becomes so much a personality cult that soon he eclipses out of the purview of law and above the constitutional organs of the state. Thus, he, as the supreme legitimate authority and power-holder, escapes from responsibility and can not be taken accountable to anybody. In such circumstances, even the constitutional checks and balances, where they exist, become wholly superfluous, since it is in him- the charismatic ruler- that the will of the people is realized.

This is how the Nazi used every conceivable means of propaganda to indoctrinate German people that Hitler was sent by God to save Germany and he was always right;[45] he could do no wrong. The Cultural Revolution in Communist China was the most terrible fiasco of Chairman Mao’s initiative which only after his pass away came to light. But, even after, the political elites are reluctant to admit the great failure.[46]

When legitimacy is acquired through unusual social and political circumstances, such as revolution or mystical devotion to an individual, this type of authority cannot become stabilized without radical change in the prevalent institutions. Seldom can the continuity of such type of authority be guaranteed through attempt at institutionalization of succession. Thus, almost always a struggle for power is certain to ensue in order to fill the vacuum.

Need for further Research

The question of legitimacy in modern secular states with democratic socio-political institutions is not a critical issue of the contemporary world order; but elsewhere in the Third World, especially the traditional Islamic societies, it has become a major problem. A cursory examination of legitimacy issue in newly emerged regimes, which professed to be establishing the long awaited religious state on the premises of Islamic principles, is well to the point at this juncture. The next section will briefly review the question of legitimacy in Islam with special reference to the Shiite doctrine. (See Part 3 of this paper.)


[1]. Dictionnaire Historique et Critique, Quoted by: Arnold Toynbee, An Historian’s Approach to Religion, p. 254.
[2] See my paper: Ali-Asghar Kazemi, “ The Rise of the Guardian State” in Scholar E-Journal
[3] The main structure of this study is taken from : Ali-Asghar Kazemi, Religion and Politics: In Search of Compatibility and Compromise, Monograph, 1986
[4]Legitimacy in political science, is the popular acceptance of a governing regime or law as an authority. Whereas authority refers to a specific position in an established government, the term legitimacy is used when describing a system of government itself —where "government may be generalized to mean the wider "sphere of influence." The word legitimacy can be interpreted in either a normative or a positive way. For the former, which gets greater attention in moral philosophy, something is "legitimate" if one approves of it. For the latter, which gets greater attention in political science, an institution is legitimate if such approval is general among those subject to its authority. Issues of legitimacy are linked to those of consent, both explicit and tacit.
Legitimacy is considered a basic condition for rule: without at least a minimal amount of legitimacy, a government will deadlock or collapse. Robert A. Dahl explains legitimacy using the metaphor of a reservoir: as long as it stays at a certain level stability is maintained, if it falls below this level it is endangered. Regimes are sometimes seen as requiring the assent of a large proportion of the population to retain power, but this need not necessarily be the case: many unpopular regimes have been known to survive provided they are seen as legitimate within a small but influential elite. See:Legitimacy (political science) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.htm
[5]. Karl Deutsch, Politics and Government, How People Decide their Fate? . p. 16.
[6] CF. Henry J. Schmandt, A History of Political Philosophy, op. cit. pp. 134-135.
[7]. Ibid. pp. 127-142.
[8]. CF. Henry J. Schmandt, Ibid. p. 142.
[9]. See: Ernest Cassirer, The Myth of the State (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1946), p. 114.
[10]. Henry J. Schmandt, op. cit. p. 162.
[11]. Ibid. p. 160.
[12]. CF. e.g. Thomas Gilby, The Political Thought of Thomas Aquinas (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1985), passim.
[13]. CF. Henry J Schmandt. Op.cit. p. 146.
[14]. Ibid. pp. 150-152.
[15]. See: e. g. S. Wolin “Calvin and Reformation: The Political Education of Protestantism” American Political Science Review June, 1957, quoted in Ibid. p. 181.
[16]. Ibid. p. 182.
[17]. See: H. J. Schmandt op. cit. pp. 182-183.
[18]. CF. supra. Chapter IV, Section B. on Luther’s reason to turn away from oppressed peasants who revolted against the status quo, Luther’s main preoccupation was the preservation of social order.
[19]. See: H.J. Grimm, “Luther, Luther’s Critics, and peasant Revolt”, The Lutheran Church Quarterly XIX 1946, pp. 115-132.
[20]. Luther thought it was necessary to keep the sword constantly hanging over people’s heads and to place them under the compulsion to renter full obedience to legitimate authority. See Schmandt, Ibid. p. 180.
[21]. Ibid. p. 264.
[22]. The leaders in the new movement were a group of French liberal minded and writers with an antagonistic stand toward the Church and supporter of Lock and Newton. Voltaire, Diderot, Helventius, and Holbach are among these philosophers.
[23]. Some scholars believe that Rousseau’s doctrine on the nature of the state is inconsistent. Since while he refers to the social contract as the basis of state legitimacy he nonetheless considers it as a moral and collective body with a will of its own separate and apart of the will of its members. See J. J. Rousseau, Social Contract III. 1.
[24]. The nature of utilitarianism or philosophical radicals can be observed in the work of its two most noted representatives: Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. This school was a passing phenomenon in English political thought. It did not add much to the political philosophy beyond what Hobbes and others contributed.
[25]. CF. A History of Political Philosophy, op. cit. passim.
[26]. Karl W Deutsch, Political and Government, op. cit. p. 15.
[27]. Ibid. p. 16.
[28]CF. David E. Apter, Introduction to Political Analysis, op. cit. p. 444.
[29]. See: S. Wolin, politics and Religion: Luther’s Simplistic Imperative”, American Political Science Review, March, 1956. p. 33.
[30]. There is another kind of legitimacy mentioned by Professor Karl Deutsch that is legitimacy by result. This concerns with the substance of what is done and what exists in politics and not just with the procedure by which political power is obtained or the representation through which it is exercised. See his Politics and Government, op. cit. p. 18.
[31]. See: A History of Political Philosophy, op. cit. p. 450.
[32]. Idem.
[33]. Max Weber, The Theory of Social and economic organization 2nd edition, translated by A. M. Henderson and Talcott Parsons (Glencoe: Free Press, 1947), passim.
[34]. Ibid. pp. 327329.
[35]. Max Weber, Ibid. P. 327.
[36]. Idem.
[37]. The validity of the office and the authority in power as well as the manner in which the authority I and responsibility of the office-holder is exercised are all established and defined by law. See Idem.
[38]. Max Weber, op. cit. p. 358. Quoted also in Henry J. Schmandt, A History of Political Philosophy, p. 476.
[39]. Idem.
[40]. It is interesting to note that Hitler was described by Herman Goering, one of the Nazi war lords, as the infallible leader that God had sent to save Germany. See his: Germany Reborn (London: Mathews and Marrot, 1934), pp. 79-80. Quoted in H. J. Schmandt op. cit. p. 467.
[41]. The Shah’s downfall in 1979, which resulted the collapse of the constitutional monarchy in Iran, was a direct consequence of the perennial crisis of legitimacy which had existed in Iran’s political tradition, deep rooted in the Islamic (Shiite) concept of state and political authority. See: Infra. Section on Islam and Shiism.
[42]. CF. Bharat Wariavwalla, “Authoritarianism in the Third World”, Strategic Analysis, vol. VIII, No. 12. March 1985 New Delhi, P. 1242.
[43]. For example Argentina has been caught for four decades in the web of charismatic personality of Juan Peron and his wives, Evita and Isabelita (a former strip-tease performer).
[44]. Ibid. P. 1943.
[45]. Hitler hat immer recht.
[46]. Mao Tsetung died in September 1976 two years after launching his second Cultural Revolution. The first blow to Mao’s legacy was the trial of his widow and her colleagues, the so-called “Gang of Four”.