In “Iran’s Revolutionary Impasse,” Ali Banuazizi has provided a bifurcated account of the recent developments in Iran (i.e., the coexistence of a dynamic society and a rigid, intolerant regime) that ultimately adopts the popular characterizations of Iran under the guise of debunking them.
Banuazizi displays disdain for all that the Islamic government has done. He overlooks the embeddedness of the project of modernity in the infatn republic, the multiple channels of influence between the state and society, and the two-sided character of institutions in the country. Complex post-revolutionary institution building has entailed institutional developments in civil society involving not only domination-coercion, but also providing the basis for autonomy and expansion of rights. Instead of focusing on the shifting boundaries between public, private and social life, the quantitative expansion of the “political society” and the crisis-prone welfare system, Banuazizi offers the pathetically familiar story of ruling factions, gingerly invokes the insubstantial term of “leadership crisis,” and finishes with an enlightened call for gradual reform. His invocation of “revolutionary impasse” denoted an implicit teleological clairvoyance about the future direction of the revolution. But the reformist position is internally inconsistent, since Banuazizi reproduces the revolutionary groups’ tendency to view the state as self-referentially closed. This view locates emancipatory potential solely on the level of civil society, and not in the institutional articulation of the state.
This is not to advocate an obverse romanticization of the Islamic Republic and ignore its major (internally and externally induced) defects of the system. Rather, we must move to a different analytical level in order to avoid a one-sided view of present-day developments.
F. L. Afrasiabi