L'état, c'est moi: the paradox of sultanism and the question of ‘regime change’ in modern Iran

Authors

  • ALI M. ANSARI

    1. Professor of Iranian History and Director of the Institute for Iranian Studies at the University of St Andrews, Senior Associate Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, and Vice President of the British Institute for Persian Studies.
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Abstract

In August 2009, in the aftermath of the popular protests that followed the highly controversial elections of that year, the Iranian authorities arrested hundreds of intellectuals/activists and charged them with sedition against the state. What was more peculiar was the decision to accuse ‘in absentia’ a number of western intellectuals for their role in fomenting the crisis, not least the long deceased German sociologist Max Weber. Weber was publicly denounced for his analyses of patrimonialism and sultanism, and their capacity for change. In sum, Weber was being accused of providing the ideological blueprint for ‘regime change’. This article looks at the way in which the concept of ‘regime change’ has been increasingly used as a political tool to suppress dissent within Iran and argues that far from being seditious, Weber's ideas remain more relevant today in Iran than they ever were. The prospect of ‘regime change’ remains more a product of the paradoxes of sultanism, than any threat—real or imagined—from abroad.

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