The End of History Comes to Iran


Like a lot of Americans, I’ve sort of let myself get distracted away from the news out of Iran, which has taken a turn for the worse lately. But I did like this post from Peter Juul at the Wonk Room:

While I can’t read minds (I’m no Charles Xavier or Emma Frost), I think Roger Cohen hit the dynamic on the head in another recent column: “…the loss of trust by millions of Iranians who’d been prepared to tolerate a system they disliked, provided they had a small margin of freedom, constitutes the core political earthquake in Iran. Moderates who once worked the angles are now muttering about making Molotov cocktails.”

These two Irans – the vibrant, diverse coalition that voted for change and then demonstrated in the streets versus the authoritarian, rule-by-force regime – will remain in conflict no matter if the government manages to disperse street protests in the short run. Khamenei and his successor(s) may be able to hold onto power by force for years, but they must do so now knowing large swaths of the population find their rule illegitimate and their system discredited. As Cohen wrote earlier, “Whatever happens now, all is changed in Iran.” We can only hope that the change is positive for the Iranian people, and that it comes sooner rather than later.

One way to think about this is in terms of Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” thesis. The geographical scope in which Shi’a Islamism and velayat-e faqih could possibly become the dominant form of government is obviously pretty limited because there aren’t that many Shia Muslims in the world. But despite that limit the Islamic Revolution represented the only real example I think you could come up with of a true ideological alternative to liberal democracy in the world. And part of what we’ve seen over the past several weeks is the collapse of that alternative.

The Mullahs haven’t been willing to contest the basic democratic idea that he who gets the most votes ought to win the election. Nor have they been willing to actually permit fair voting. They can, plausibly, get away with this just as lots of autocrats (most importantly, though hardly exclusively) get away with all kinds of things. But when that’s done, it’s just unmasked as rule by force and by fraud rather than some genuine alternative political model that people can embrace.