The Concept of Modernity in Ahmad Kasarvi’s Writings

This article attempts to analyze and evaluate thought of Ahamad Kasravi in relation to the discourse and phenomenon we know as modernity. Kasaravi’s thought can be considered as an attempt at adaptation of modernity in the Iranian socio-political discourses of the earlier part of the 20th century that still has some relevance to our age. By drawing on the German critical thought, this article first tries to suggest a theoretical framework for an understanding of modernity.

In Critical Theory, the notion of “subjectivity” refers to the autonomous, self-consciousness and self-determining individual agent as one of the “pillars” of modern world. The idea of “universality,” referring to the inner and outer “nature,” on the other hand, is discussed as a counterpart to subjectivity, which in a dialectical fashion constitutes the other “pillar” of modernity wherein a synthesis of subjectivity and universality may be thought of as possible solution to dilemmas of modernity. One the most recent attempts to reconcile subjectivity and universality in the socio-political sphere is that of Jürgen Habermas who wishes to transform the foundation of modern world from mere subjectivity to “intersubjectivity”.

A very brief discussion of this attempt is presented in this paper. In this essay it is argued that Kasravi’s thought was very much tilted toward the notion of “disembodied” positivistic subjectivity that was withdrawn from nature, and hostile to the Dionysian elements in the Persian culture. However, the discourse of Hossein Kazemzadeh Iranshahr is discussed briefly first because it anticipated that of Kasravi and influenced the latter’s work. Iranshahr posited a complete separation between the intellect and spirit on the one hand, and the “body” and matter on the other, that was wholly adopted by Kasravi. As a result of Kasarvi’s lopsided emphasis on disembodied subjectivity his thought arrived at a notion of extremist rationality that allowed little space for the development of other aspects of the modern world or the creation of intersubjectivity necessary for the emergence of rights of citizenship for Iranians in a civil society.

Farzin Vahdat
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