Here, then, is a sufficient inducement to maintain, with the utmost zeal, in every free state, those forms and institutions by which liberty is secured, the public good consulted, and the avarice or ambition of particular men restrained and punished.
David Hume (in Copley and Edgar, 1993, p. 21)
I. Ideas of civil liberties circulating in every society that subscribes to the cultural norms of the contemporary western civilization, whatever else may be claimed as their pedigree, owe their conception to the European Enlightenment. "Enlightenment" is a name given to a total "form of life" which stands at the other end of a cultural transfiguration that was initiated in various parts of Europe towards the end of the seventeenth century and reached maturity by the end of the eighteenth. As such it gave rise not only to novel conceptions of the foundations of moral values and ethical norms, modes of public conduct and organization of sociopolitical and economic affairs, but also to an unprecedented view of human individual and societies they comprise. The single most effective element fuelling the genesis of this remarkable transformation can, I submit, be located in a radical overhaul which, thanks to the works of Kepler, Galileo and above all Newton, resulted in the establishment of new principles governing the theory and practice of scientific inquiry.
An immediate and spectacularly successful byproduct of the application of these principles, the mechanistic world view, served very much as an exemplar for major players of the period engaged in theorizing about the nature of human individuals and the ideal society best suited to this nature. This proposition bears a considerable weight in the argument I am going to advance in the sequel. So, I shall start by sketching a view of human individuals and their civil liberties in terms of the mechanical style of conception, which would encapsulate all the ideals of the Enlightenment. This should make clear what I mean by "the Enlightenment idea" of civil liberties. Once a clear conception of this particular species of civil liberties has been attained, I shall turn to an examination of the question of its entry into the "psyche" of Iranian society. For this purpose I shall first consider the ideas of the intellectual founding fathers of the so-called Constitutional revolution of 1906. It is a widely held view, at least among the domestic authors writing on these issues, that this revolution was the first vehicle for the transfer of the ideas of the Enlightenment to Iran. I shall then follow the fate of these ideas during the period of the Pahlavis and subsequently the post Islamic revolution era. What I have found is that whatever has gone and is going under the title of "civil liberties" in Iran bears no resemblance to the kind inaugurated in the European Enlightenment. It is, in fact, grafted on one or perhaps several unarticulated conceptions of society and its constituents, the common feature of which had been the very conception that the Enlightenment proposed to overthrow and replace. It will be concluded that this incongruence is the reason why a century-long attempt to set up modern and working apparatus of state and institutional government in Iran has met with dismal failure.
II. When Kant (1784) tried to capture the spirit of the Enlightenment, little did he know he was giving expression to an idea that, to use a phrase coined by Imre Lakatos (in Buck & Cohen, eds., 1971, p. 114). was born refuted. The idea was that the Enlightenment means ridding human individuals from self-imposed bondage to authority and conferring on each the responsibility to make personally informed judgments on every matter of interest before them. The fact that no individual of any fame during the European Enlightenment actually lived up to this ideal can certainly be cited as one refuting instance of Kant's idea. A more serious refutation is provided by the fact that around the 10th and 11th century, a culture flourished in the north-eastern stretches of the then Iran, which actually did produce individuals (a notable among them being Ibn Sina or Avicena, as known in West) who actually lived up to Kant's ideal by distinguishing themselves as leading experts in fields such as theology, logic, metaphysics, psychology, medicine and music, without creating anything like the European Enlightenment (Lambton, 1988, p. 223). Refutation, however, does not amount to failure on all counts. An idea may fail due to straying from the path to the truth by just a bit. In this case, what Kant was expressing appears to capture neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for the Enlightenment. Yet there is something in what he says that, despite not being adequately expressed, goes a considerable way towards reflecting the spirit of this remarkable culture.
The understated ingredient is best highlighted in the comparison between two cultures: the one Kant was promoting and the one that produced the likes of Ibn Sina. The difference between these cultures lies in the theories of human society which were dominant in each and the consensus they generated among its constituents on what they are. One, which I shall call "orthodox," owed allegiance to a mélange of Platonic and Aristotelian political ideas and viewed society as an "organic" entity composed of various "elements" or parts. A common thread running through variations espoused by different authors of the period (including, incidentally, Ibn Sina himself (see Ibn Sina, 1303, Vol. 2) and its vicinity, would render these elements, to use Lambton's translations of Nasir al-din Tousi's terminology, as "men of pen," "men of sword," "men of affairs," and "husbandmen" (Lambton, 1988, p. 223). As such, the ideal state for the human society was thought to be akin to the state of health in living organisms. Each part of society in such a state would perform its "natural" function properly, so that the "end" for the realization of which human society is formed is fulfilled.
The "justification" for the orthodox view, as per the custom of the time, was provided merely by the "reasonableness" of the dominant cosmology and man's place in it (without there being any consensus on what the standards of reasonableness are). This cosmology was, in turn, based primarily on esoteric notions such as "natures," "ends" and "essential" versus "accidental" properties. Precisely for this reason, its tenets could not be weighed and assessed by all alike without submerging the whole of the learned community into an endless abyss of bickering and confusion. In the absence of a global consensus, standards for what is and is not "reasonable" had to be sought in the fancy of a handful of perennial authorities and adopted and followed by the lesser mortals in subsequent periods. Problems, disputes and disagreements at every period, therefore, had to be referred to and eventually resolved by those learned of the time whose claim to have access to the insights of the perennial authorities were at least not in dispute by a group or another. This necessity gave prominence to a few individuals, albeit different ones for different groups, as perennial and temporal authorities in knowledge and learning whose ruling had to be accepted (by the members of a group at any rate) as the ultimate solution to any unresolved problem that may have arisen.
This must have been what Kant had in mind when he was referring to the culture, from which in his opinion the Enlightenment sought to emancipate mankind. Autonomy as opposed to authority was to be the hallmark of the new culture. As, however, the remarkable cases of Ibn Sina, Farabi and Nasir al-din Tousi show, the ingredients that make up the Enlightenment ideal of autonomy are not exhausted by an individual's achievement of expertise in just any tradition of learning and inquiry. Our Iranian heroes, though each autonomous in his own right, are themselves established authorities for this or that group in Iran, even to this date. What differentiates them is precisely that tradition in which recourse to authority in the pursuit of truth is made entirely superfluous. Such a tradition was well in place in Europe long before Kant was even born. It was set in motion by the advent of the new science inaugurated by Kepler and Galileo, and nurtured to maturity by Sir Isaac Newton.
What made the new science so different from the former traditions of inquiry can be ascribed to two of its characteristics. The new science emulated the axiomatic feature of geometry and added an analytic perspective to inquiry. This combination renders the subject of an inquiry a complex comprised of simple elements, each possessing only a handful of simple properties. The behavior of each of these elements and interactions between them is subject to a few universal laws, which are applied in very much the same manner as the axioms of geometry are used to solve problems. The other characteristic restricts the laws and auxiliary statements needed to make derivations from them. According to this restriction, the laws and the auxiliaries must be couched in such a language that allows conclusions to be stated in observable terms. The first feature ensures that reasoning is confined to a few simple rules and steps, which can be executed and assessed by anyone who has a mastery of mathematical reasoning. This suffices as the standard of reasonableness and can easily generate a consensus. The second guarantees that claims and counter-claims can, for the purposes of assessment, be subjected to the arbitration of observation and experiments that everyone can perform on their own. Thus withers the indispensability of authorities in matters of judgment.
III. The spectacular success with which the science of mechanics met in the spheres of terrestrial and celestial motions, as well as the fact that the new modus operandi was initially proposed and generally conceived as facilitating the hunt for truth wherever it lay hid in night, naturally encouraged its extension to other fields of inquiry. In eighteenth century England the haste and pace with which this extension was carried out into various areas of humanities such as psychology, social and political theory, economics, as well as moral value theory, far surpassed that with which the archetype itself was being developed in that country. Voltaire, the champion of civil liberties in France at the time, found this situation in England so impressive that, alongside his extensive study of Shakespeare while there, devoted a considerable amount of time and energy to master Newton's Princcipia.
Using Newtonian mechanics as an exemplar, an account of human society may be roughly reconstructed as follows: First, individual human beings are the simple elements into which society as a complex whole should be resolved. Secondly, the basic properties that drive such elements are their wishes, desires, and decision-making capabilities. As such, these constitute internal forces, under whose action alone individual units would behave in certain ways so as to protect and prolong their health, engage in gainful activity, secure comforts and improve, as they see fit, the conditions under which they live. When such units interact with one another with limited resources in their shared environment, the driving forces of one would act as a constraining force for the other. If, therefore, a society of such individuals is to be formed and sustained, the actions of the opposing forces must be balanced. This would be analogous to the state of the equilibrium of forces in mechanics where each of the acting forces need not cease to act provided its action is regulated with the combination of the other acting forces.
If the sources of the internal forces driving our social units are regarded (either by nature or through conventions) as the latters' rights, then the state of equilibrium described above would be the only social condition under which individual human rights may be safeguarded. The reason is that what each human individual can enjoy as his or her rights, when a group of them interact within a social structure, is that portion of the internal forces of each that is allowed expression under the balancing act imposed by the state of equilibrium. Without this balancing act, one unit's internal forces would always face being entirely overcome by those of the other's.
The next question to consider is how this state of equilibrium is to be achieved? The quasi-mechanical analysis provided above rules out a Hobbesian answer. A Hobbesian leviathan, in the shape of either an individual or a group of individuals, is inevitably an internal force such that in order to function effectively as a constraint, it would have to be so large as to outweigh all other internal forces in society. This type of arrangement would, in effect, allow some social forces to gain supremacy over the others, thus setting one part of society against the rest. Whenever such a society is subjected to the action of external forces (in the shape of either scarcity or mismanagement of resources, or exhausting threats from outside powers and the like), conditions would appear which allow the imbalance to be reversed, thus making the whole structure unstable.
The only way in which constraining forces that are not internal forces may be introduced in society is by the creation of institutions (in the technical sense that follows). This may not be explicit in the writings of the chief protagonists of the Enlightenment, but is a requirement that should be observed if the ideals of their favored culture are to be realized in full. Institutions are machine-type entities (1) designed to be run by a particular type of human individuals, (2) whose inputs are information and commands, and (3) whose outputs are information and commands. Their functions are defined according to certain rules and regulations and although they share with human individuals decision-making capabilities, they exercise them through quasi-algorithmic procedures. It should, however, be noted that institutions are different from the familiar physical machines in important ways. An automobile would remain an automobile even when it is abused or not used at all. Not so with institutions! An abused or disused institution ceases to be an institution altogether and, in the former case, becomes an instrument for exercising authority in the hands of some individuals.
The social milieu into which institutions are borne and within which they operate has everything to do with their upkeep. This milieu, in turn, is determined by a consensus in society on how the basic elements, which form its constituent parts, are to be viewed. This brings me to the most important legacy of the Enlightenment, namely, the conception of social agents it proposes. According to this conception the basic units which make up human societies are persons, that is, social agents defined in terms of a shared set of rights and responsibilities. Only such agents meet the requirement of autonomy, which Kant (1784) had singled out as the salient characteristic the Enlightenment demands of humankind.
The reason for this is that autonomy may be claimed for social agents on two grounds: internal and external. The internal ground has to do with those features possessed by the social agents themselves, which justify the claim that they are autonomous. Rights and responsibilities do just that: a person's basic rights entitle them to chart their way through life as they see fit, and their responsibilities hold them, and no one else, to account for their actions. The turning of an individual into a social agent on account of a set of rights and responsibilities would thus dispense with any requirement for bondage to an authority or other in matters social, political, moral or intellectual. The external ground has to do with the conditions in an agent's surroundings, which allow him to remain autonomous. In a society comprised of persons every individual, as a social agent, is on a par with any other. No amount of learning, wealth, power, expertise, piety or wisdom of any kind can confer on any such agents the property of being an authority to whom other social agents ought to become bound. Thus no demand on a person for being subjugated in any way to the authority of another can be justified on the Enlightenment view of social agents.
Institutions are designed for such social agents and may be maintained only by them. The reason for this is that, as ingredients necessary for the creation of the state of equilibrium between social forces, institutions can neither operate as internal forces themselves nor become extended arms of those forces. One aspect of this requirement entails that none who occupy any position with respect to the running of institutions should, on account of holding that position, acquire socio-political attributes that entitle them to become anything other than social agents on a par with all others. The other aspect entails that those on the receiving end of decisions made by institutions should, on account of being in that position, not lose any attributes required for being social agents. This means that all individuals involved in running the machinery of institutions to produce decisions and commands should, as social agents, remain on a par with those who are to be affected by them. The sharing of rights and responsibilities, on the basis of which the Enlightenment idea of social agent is defined, provides the needed criterion for establishing the socio-political status of individuals so that those both inside and outside institutions remain all on a par with one another in this respect. This criterion thus guarantees that institutions remain merely constraining forces and, so long as they stand, never become instruments for the exercise of authority by some individuals over others.
Thus, the idea that all society's members are persons guarantees that the set of socio-political attributes on both sides of the divide between members of institutions and those of the society at large remains the same. To realize this idea on a social scale, however, agreement is needed among society's members on what they are. It is therefore both necessary and sufficient for the existence and operation of institutions that there should be a consensus in society that individual humans as its members are persons. The formation of such a consensus, in turn, requires not only that each human individual member of society actually be a person, but also that, for the most part, they should believe that they themselves and others like them are persons.
With such a consensus in place, institutions may be set up which, along with suitable instruments to enact their commands, would act as the only constraining forces in the social arena. Let us call these `constraining institutions'. Thus the state of equilibrium between social forces is realized by regulating the social and political behavior of persons through the interventions of constraining institutions. Foremost among these are the judiciary institutions, which adjudicate the quarrels among society's members and issue punishments as an ultimate form of constraint. Other important institutions of this kind are those charged with legislating laws and their execution.
Actions emanating from constraining institutions infringe one way or the other on the internal forces driving individual persons. Therefore, in order for the state of equilibrium between social forces not to be violated by possible excesses coming from the powers invested on these institutions, two further conditions must also be observed. One is that the more these institutions are separated from one another and from other undue influences on their performance, the less excess power will be generated in them. The other is that the more the workings of these institutions are subjected to the continuous scrutiny of the persons over whom they exercise power, the less would be the chance for errors creeping in their operations, ultimately resulting in their abuse.
In order for the culture of the Enlightenment to prevail two conditions must come together. Not only is it necessary that (1) the constraining forces in society should be introduced in the shape of institutions, but also it is necessary that (2) other types of institutions should be introduced to oversee, as well as improve, the performances of the former type. Together, these furnish the sufficient condition for the establishment and maintenance of equilibrium between social forces, thus laying the ground for the ideals of the Enlightenment to flourish. Kant, in 1784, had his heart in the right place, but just failed to bring his mind up to it!
The set of institutions required for the second of the necessary conditions for the state of equilibrium (let us call them "auxiliary institutions") includes the press, various types of associations, political parties and an assortment of public watchdogs. These institutions constitute auxiliary means to strengthen the arms of individual persons to exert their rights in the management of society as each sees fit. As such, they constitute powerful means for regulating the performances of the constraining institutions: surveying, testing and assessing their practices and introducing improvements to their procedures. The optimum performance of the auxiliary institutions, therefore, ensures the optimum performance of the constraining ones.
This line of thought naturally suggests a conception of civil liberties, that being informed by the basic tenets of the new science in eighteenth century Europe, is coupled to a novel conception of human individuals and the society that comprises them. According to this conception, civil liberties are a set of social sanctions encoded into the procedures and practices of institutions to ensure that their performance is optimum in order to is obtain and sustain the state of social equilibrium. To conclude this section, I retract my steps: civil liberties, as dictated by the tradition of the Enlightenment, are required so that the auxiliary institutions may perform optimally, and this level of performance is, in turn, required so that the constraining institutions may perform optimally. The optimum level for the performance of the latter is, moreover, determined by the maintenance of the state of equilibrium between social forces. Finally, it is in this state only that persons can enjoy their rights, in proportion to their responsibilities, to the maximum. In this sense, the Enlightenment idea of civil liberties is inextricably bound to that of person, and its implementation in society is geared to safeguarding its rights to the optimum.
A prime case in point is Hume's A Treatise of Human Nature. In it, all the cognitive operations of the mind regarding matters of fact, from the simplest perceptual experiences to the most complicated hypotheses about natural phenomena, are accounted for in terms of forces of attraction (three in kind) acting between ideas and impressions, and the conservation of `impetus' in the Imagination when moving from one idea to others. See the definitive Selby-Bigge edition, Book I, especially pp. 12 and 198.
An informative source book on the period (in Persian) is Gowharin (1331). Based on a vast reservoir of information contained in classic historical as well as literary, religious and philosophical texts, it paints a vivid picture of a culture in which a local grocer in a town is a teacher of mathematics and a wondering evangelist, that of Euclid's Elements and Ptolemy's Almagest. Also see Frye (ed.) (1975) and Mez (1937).
For a helpful discussion of these notions see Barker (1959, chs 3, [sections] 4 and 6, [sections] 2).
For a wonderful and detailed description of this species of inquiry as well as a devastating criticism of it see Galileo (1632).
For the state of the science of mechanics in England of the 18th century see the authoritative Grant (1852). For the state of the other sciences mentioned, see Barnes (1937).
The product of his labours, Voltaire (1738) is one of the best nonmathematical expositions of Newton's ideas in natural philosophy and exerted considerable influence in introducing them to France, where the development and applications of mechanics occupied the center stage in Europe from the second half of the eighteenth to the first half of the nineteenth centuries.
For a lucid and generally accessible introduction to the basic ideas of mechanics see Herschel (1830), particularly chapter II. The whole of this book provides a readable account of the influence the science of mechanics has exerted on general improvements in the quality of knowledge and life in 19th century Europe.
See what Popper has to say about institutions especially in Popper (1962, pp. 67f, 121 and 126). This seminal work is remarkably thin on the Enlightenment and its legacies for the main characteristics of the "open society."
Exactly what is to be included in a list of rights and responsibilities of course differs from society to society. For my purposes the items contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will suffice.