Monday, June 22, 2009

Ideas of Kant and Habermas in Iran

Ramin Jahanbegloo - an Iranian philosopher, now living in Canada - gave an interview in 2006, in which he evaluated the influence of Western ideas (liberalism, Kant, Habermas and marxism) on the protest movements in Iran.

Here are some excerpts from the interview:

"Thanks to the recent discovery and translations of the schools of liberal thought dominant in the Anglo-American world, as found in the works of Isaiah Berlin, John Rawls and Karl Popper, and an appreciation of older traditions of liberalism (Kantian, Millian or Lockean), a new trend of liberalism has taken shape among the younger generation of Iranian intellectuals."

"Habermas’s visit to Iran [in 2002] was a huge success. He was treated in Iran the way Bollywood actors are treated in India. Wherever he went or lectured, he was encircled by hundreds of young students and curious observers. This same phenomenon happened again when Richard Rorty visited Iran in 2004: around 1,500 souls came to his lecture on “Democracy and Non-Foundationalism” at the House of Artists in Tehran. Habermas’s visit to Iran was an important event in the process of democratic thinking and dialogue among cultures. (.....) Today in Iran philosophy represents a window on Western culture, on an open society and on the idea of democracy. This is the reason why Habermas, Rorty, Ricoeur, Berlin and many others are relevant in Iran. Most of the intellectuals in Iran today are struggling against different forms of fundamentalism, fanaticism and orthodoxy. Habermas is considered the inheritor of the Frankfurt School’s intellectual tradition that from the very beginning questioned all orthodoxies and authoritarianisms."

"I teach Hegel in Iran and I have made great use of Habermas’s work in my Hegel scholarship. I think Habermas’s reading of Hegel reinforces his approach to the philosophy of history, but it also consolidates his defense of the Enlightenment project as modernity’s self-understanding. This goes hand in hand with Habermas’s reading of Kant. (.....) As you might know, Kant is a very popular philosopher in Iran and there were several celebrations in Tehran for the 200th anniversary of his death in 2004. Well, once again as for Hegel, Habermas’s recasting of the Kantian principle of autonomy and its political implications shows how public reason lies at the heart of democratizing processes and is decisive to the survival of non-authoritarian political, social, and economic institutions in our world. And you can see how Kant — and Habermas’s reading of Kant — can be helpful in reformulating and re-elaborating a new democratic thinking in Iran."

"Thinking democracy and establishing democratic governance in a country like Iran is not an easy task. Unlike what people think, it is more than a simple political enterprise. The challenge here is to focus on the process of democratic consciousness-building which can provide continuity to the political structures of democracy by way of contrast with our authoritarian traditions. This is where philosophical thinking comes to our aid as a grammar of resistance to the tyranny of tradition. This does not mean that I consider the tremendous body of traditions in Iran as mere errors of the past. It means that our political and social traditions are acceptable as long as they enable us to think freely. We may find ourselves at home in our traditions, after all. But we need to distinguish between a false sense of belonging and respect for a common space where the plurality of voices can be realized."

The interview with Jahanbegloo was conducted by Danny Postel and was published in his article "Ideas Whose Time Has Come: A Conversation with Iranian philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo", Logos, vol. 5-2 (2006).

Jahanbegloo is educated at Sorbonne University and Harvard University. He became head of a philosophy department in Tehran, where he started a dialogue with many Western intellectuals and invited Jürgen Habermas and Richard Rorty to Tehran. He was arrested by the Iranian authorities in 2006. Jürgen Habermas and many other intellectuals signed a petition for his release (see here). Jahanbegloo is now associate professor at University of Toronto.

Read also Jahanbegloo's comments on the latest political developments in Iran: "Iran's Crisis of Legitimacy" (June 17, 2009).

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