Kaveh and the Challenge of Iranian Renaissance

The publication of the journal Kaveh in Berlin must by all accounts be considered the first significant collective step of Iranian intellectuals in their journey on the road to prepare the Iranian society for the adoption of western modernity. With its bold and provocative essays and articles on the causes of Iran’s cultural stagnation and material backwardness, it influenced more than one generation of Iranian thinkers and left its mark on the intellectual discourse of the time. Traditionalists and most religious leaders, however, began to voice their opposition to the pro-modernist ideas expounded by Kaveh, particularly by its leading and most notable contributor, Seyyed Hasan Taqizadeh.

Those who steadfastly argued for the necessity of adopting western modernity as the only response to Iran’s continued decline also pointed to the failure of the constitutional revolution in attaining its political and social objectives. In their view, short of a clear rejection of the constraining values of tradition and total embrace of the modern values and practices of the western civilization, Iran’s march towards material progress and cultural renaissance would be inconceivable. Accordingly, there should be no attempt to reconcile between the old traditional superstition-laden practices and the rational, human-centered  values of the west.

Fundamental internal reforms, particularly in the field of education, were considered the essential prerequisites for constructing a modern society in Iran. A nation-wide literacy campaign, building of schools and libraries across the country to raise public awareness of, and interest in, modern sciences were presumed to be the primary areas of such reforms. Above all, however, the writers of Kaveh believed that without the creation of a stable and effective central government, capable of insuring a safe and secure environment, modernization process would hardly take hold. The creation of such a government, they further argued, would not be possible without an overhaul of Iran’s tradition-bound political process by the country’s modernizing elites.

Hossein Bahmanyar
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