Seyyed Hasan Taqizadeh: Three Lives in One Lifetime

At the turn of the 20th century, Taqizadeh, the young and brilliant scholar of religious and traditional sciences was captured by the mood of revolution and modernization. He became the leading intellectual of the Constitutional Revolution, and the spokesman of the Democrat party in the Majils. Although radical in his views and aspirations, his tact and thoughtfulness were rare among his intellectual and revolutionary peers. He was in the United States, when shortly after the outbreak of World War I German diplomats contacted him and offered financial help for setting up an anti-imperialist Iranian movement in Germany.

Having gone to Berlin at the invitation of the Imperial German government, he led the National Committee with the help of some Iranian leading intellectuals, and published the famous journal Kaveh. He returned to Iran in the early 1920s, was elected to Majlis and, in 1925, opposed the elevation of Reza Kahn to be shah But later joined the government, becoming finance minister in 1930. His carrier reached its anti-climax when, despite his own wishes, he ex officio signed the 1933 oil agreement that extended the D’Arcy concession by 60 years. By then his relations with Reza Shah had considerably cooled and he was sent off to Paris as Iranian minister counselor. Fearful of returning to Iran he accepted an offer from the University of London in 1936. He returned to Iran a few years after the shah’s abdication in 1941 and resumed his political career as a Majlis deputy and later as member and president of Senate.

There thus emerged three Taqizadeh’s in one person: the young and idealistic, though thoughtful and balanced, young man, who lost his zeal for advanced democracy and rapid modernization in Iran in his forties; the experienced middle-aged politician who lost hope in a strong, centralizing and modernizing state because of the return of arbitrary rule in a modern form; and the old man who later in life gave up all effort in persuading the state and society of the benefits of an able and  strong democratic government, and of realistic long-term policies, as opposed to unrealistic and short-term measures,  for modernization.

He was accused of being no less than an agent of British imperialism for putting his signature to the 1933 oil agreement despite the many occasions on which he explained that he had no choice in the matter; and it is clear that had he refused to do so he would have put his own life in jeopardy while the agreement would have been signed with or without him as finance minister. He was accused of being the harbinger of thoughtless modernization because he once wrote in Kaveh of the need for Iran to be Europeanized in every respect, though he later explained that he had meant the need for acquisition of modern education and modern methods of government and social conduct, not pseudo-modernization.

In his long letters and writings he stressed the dangers of both arbitrary rule and chaos, nationalist and racist ideologies which suppressed the ethnic and linguistic communities, the conspiracy theory of politics and pseudo-modernizing as opposed to realistic development policies. He repeated the same views back in Iran on a few public occasions. He supported both the nationalization of oil and Mosaddeq’s government, but later thought that Mosaddeq had gone too far.

Taqizadeh’s depth and breadth of knowledge, both Iranian and European, was such that Gholamhossein Sadiqi described him as the most learned Iranian since the 13th century. Yet he will be remembered even more as a political thinker and activist as well as politician, far ahead of his times to be understood by his countrymen long after his death.

Homa Katouzian
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