An academic trained as both an engineer and a political scientist, Azari’s first effort is an auspicious one, situating the tumult Iran currently experiences within a deeply informative historical context. His analysis hinges on two parallel strains of examination: an account of Iran’s evolution into a tyranny over time and the birth of the modern state. On the one hand, he argues that, contrary to conventional opinion, Iran is not culturally incapable of prospering as a modern nation and has, at various times in its long history, enjoyed extended periods of tolerance, diversity and economic success, as well as philosophical and artistic dynamism. In fact, for Iran, the “period from 850 CE to 1050 CE represents a truly amazing mixture of religious coexistence and community self-rule.” On the other hand, Azari is also critical of the modern state’s inherent deficiencies, using as an example the United States, doomed in ways the framers of the Constitution could not foresee to engender socioeconomic inequality and concentrate political power in the hands of a small, self-serving elite. In brief, the designers of American democracy failed to anticipate the effects of “industrialization, the concentration of capital, changing conceptions of commerce, and the new market system.” What Azari recommends for Iran, and by extension for all Middle Eastern and North African countries, is a more participatory form of democracy that eschews bureaucratic centralization in favor of local governance and small-scale republicanism. His philosophical command of both interlocking subjects is expert, allowing him to discuss Montesquieu and John Locke with as much facility as Al-Farabi and Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazali. The author’s ultimate recommendation—that the national wealth Iran has accrued be managed by a National Trust Fund Branch, which would be endowed with vast and somewhat ill-defined powers—seems to belie his call for more local versus federal governance. However, the book remains a timely, serious and original contribution to one of the most pressing political debates of our time.
A thought-provoking account of Iran’s potential to overcome its current authoritarianism and achieve pluralistic democracy.