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  • Independence without Freedom: Iran’s Foreign Policy by R.K. Ramazani
  • Kevan Harris (bio)
Independence without Freedom: Iran’s Foreign Policy, by R.K. Ramazani. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2013. 383pages. $39.50.

As any academic knows, the prestige of a university department can be assessed by its campus location. The University of Tehran shuffled the social sciences off-site in 1973, arguably to keep pesky sociologists away from engineers and lawyers in the making. One discipline remained on the old downtown campus, however: political science. Incorporated into the law faculty in 1934, political science in Pahlavi Iran was closer to the German tradition of Staatswissenschaft — science of the state than the Whiggish idealism of the British version. This made sense, since questions [End Page 477] of state-building, political authority, and the international order were obligatory for any Third World late developer. Even with the tempestuous rebuffs of mundane social science in the wake of the 1979 revolution, the discipline was soon rehabilitated in the Islamic Republic for the same reasons. One afternoon several years ago in the Planning Organization’s library in Tehran, I flipped through inky back issues of Ettela‘at-e Siyasi-Eqtesadi (Political-Economic Information), the long-running Iranian foreign affairs journal. Already by the early 1990s, one could see political science and international relations returning to the center of elite discourse and self-presentation after the rebel yell of tiers-mondisme and dependency theory. Alongside articles by Samuel Huntington, Francis Fukuyama, and Paul Kennedy, one Iranian name kept popping up in translation: Ruhollah Ramazani.

Ramazani came of age in World War II while Iran’s national sovereignty existed largely on paper. With the abdication of Reza Shah in 1941, the relative weakness of the state was paralleled with considerable intellectual and social ferment among leftists, Islamists, and liberals for a decade. Ramazani saw it all as a student in University of Tehran’s law school, where he even witnessed firsthand the assassination of his dean, the Kurdish lawyer-politician ‘Abdolhamid Zanganeh. As the Mosaddeq crisis raged from 1951 to 1953, Ramazani headed to the US and completed a doctorate at the University of Virginia. The Jeffersonian surroundings remained his professional home up to the present, where Ramazani penned a stunningly large corpus of books and articles on the history and politics of Iranian foreign policy. A scholarly capstone, Independence without Freedom contains 20 essays spanning his entire career.

Refreshingly light on theoretical jargon, Ramazani’s essays probe the determinants and consequences of 20th century Iranian statecraft. By the early 1960s, American political science had inherited the German tradition of combining diagnosis and counsel under the guise of modernization theory. Ramazani’s early essays dip into this conceptual inkwell, but his lack of theoretical rigidity allows for analytical foresight. A series of articles written in the wake of Mohammad Reza Shah’s 1963 “White Revolution” contain two prescient insights. First, the Pahlavi monarchy’s Bismarckian centralization of state power and big push for industrialization would not erase a historical pattern whereby coalitions of nationalist-religious intelligentsia sporadically challenged the political elite from the late 19th century up through the Mosaddeq period (pp. 14–15). In other words, there was nothing anachronistic about political Islam as a corollary of self-proclaimed socioeconomic modernization. Second, organizing political order and economic growth without deepening popular participation through “viable political infrastructures” would push the state to expand a role outwards into the Persian Gulf (pp. 28–29). The Shah’s sub-imperial foreign adventures were a response to the weakness of the Pahlavi monarchy’s domestic political bloc.

Ramazani stresses that the disparate social groups and classes which united in the 1978–79 revolution shared the common trait of “alienation” from the Shah’s political order (pp. 37, 61, 111, 342). Alienation and its commonly used antithesis, legitimation, are frequently found in discussions of Iranian political dynamics even to this day. Unfortunately, since they cannot be easily operationalized, such macro-level Durkheimian concepts are rarely satisfactory in accounting for those dynamics. Like art or obscenity, one is supposed to know alienation or legitimation when one sees it, and such abstractions are almost always...


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