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Iranian Government

The first time I looked at the BBC’s background piece on the Iranian government I was struck by the similarity to the structure of a university.

That isn’t surprising, given that the government was the creation of Shi’ia clerics, who are really the equivalent of university professors, i.e. their title indicates their level of education, as well as their publication history. The two most important Shi’ia hawsas [theology/law schools] are at Najaf and Qom, and they can easily be compared to Oxford and Cambridge in ranking. [Most in the West have forgotten that the original purpose of their universities was to produce clerics.]

So the system of government devised by Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini incorporating the Vilayat-e Faqih [guardianship of the jurists] reflected his life, which was almost entirely within the walls of hawsas.

I would note that Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri was originally designated Ayatollah Khomeini’s successor because he was the only other “true believer” in the Iranian system. He still believes in the system, but he lost his place when he sought to moderate what he saw as repression after the revolution. He recently sided with the protesters by stating that the election was obviously fraudulent.

In the back of my mind I knew that there was something familiar about the system. It wasn’t only like a university system, there was something else, some other point of recognition that nagged at me.

It took a while for the answer to form, because it has been a very long time since I first took PoliSci 101: Plato. This is an implementation of the philosopher kings from The Republic. In point of fact the Wikipedia article on “philosopher king” I have linked to, mentions Khomeini’s interest.

If you are looking for an “ideal” solution that totally ignores the reality of human nature, there is no mine richer than the ancient Greeks. There’s nothing like quoting a guy who has been dead for a few thousand years and wrote in a foreign language to provide gravitas to an obviously unworkable system.