Nation-State, Identity and Modernity

Beginning with a survey of the tribal nature of the Qajar dynasty in 19th century Iran, the author discusses the pre-modern patrimonial structure of political rule in the country and the process that led to its demise and the onset of the attempts to modernize Iran and reconstruct Iranian national identity. The failure of the constitutional revolution to reach some of its main objectives and the ensuing deterioration of Iran’s political and economic conditions led to the establishment of Pahlavi’s authoritarian rule. Reza Shah’s primary objective was to create an effective central government with modern civilian, educational and military institutions that could provide the essential elements for the revival and reconstruction of Iran’s national identity.

In surveying the history of twentieth century Iran, beginning with Reza shah’s reign, the author comes to the conclusion that the succeeding Iranian governments in their zeal to proceed either on the path to government-directed social and economic modernization, or in opposition to the development of a modern and secular society, neglected the role of individual as citizen. Thus, with scant attention to, and at times outright negation of the individual’s rights and responsibilities, the most salient element of modernization, i.e, civil society, has yet to be materialized in Iran.

Despite this major shortcoming, the modernization process, with all its ups and downs, has contributed to significant achievements particularly in economic, educational and social fields. Furthermore, all evidence indicates that the desire to continue on the path of modernization on the western pattern remains the implicit or explicit premise of Iran’s vibrant intellectual and social movements.

Jamshid Behnam
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