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Doesn't work
Totalitarianism will fail as it has elsewhere

By Hamid Zangeneh
February 15, 2001
The Iranian

Two weeks ago I read the follwoing quote from a speech by Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (I paraphrase): "Iran has become the most independent country in the world. All cultural, foreign, and economic aspects of Iranian life have been transformed to comply with Islamic principles. At no time in history the content of people's life has been more Islamic than it has become under the Islamic Republic of Iran."

I have nothing against Islam and Muslims. As a matter of fact, the Muslim clergy, to their credit, have been in the forefront in many freedom movements in Iran and elsewhere. However, I have much problem with the implications of these and similar statements that are issued by the Iranian leadership of and similar totalitarian regimes.

My problem, just like many others, is not Islam or Islamization of the country or, for that matter, the world. My problem is the price that we, as citizens, must pay. Any country that has tried to impose dogma, other than free market liberalism, has failed.

This is exactly because of the spirit of individualism that, at the end, determines our individual interests and behavior. This is because, regardless of the common good will and common good, each and every one of us does what is in his/her best interests.

This is true in spite of the fact that in a civil society, each and every one of us must give up some of our rights and privileges for the sake of societal harmony. This is true in spite of the fact that some of us are more willing and able to forego some of our rights and privileges for the good of our fellow travelers than others.

But at the end of day, it remains that no one has the wisdom to issue us our opinions on all aspects of life and be able to enforce it successfully.

The history of China, Soviet Union, North Korea or of Nazi Germany have all point to this fact that totalitarianism does not work and while it is being enforced, it is not efficient and productive.

The question that is before us is this: Why would anyone think that it could be successfully done in Iran despite its failure everywhere else? What is the most likely expected outcome of these attempts?

One of the obvious outcomes of any mass indoctrination is to make people more dishonest with themselves and with the society. It leads to the creation of an Orwellian society.

People, in the short run, accommodate the enforcers of codes by being duplicitous and deceitful to their own selves and to the society at large. They put a mask on their true beliefs, desires, and tendencies in their everyday lives as well as their political activities and affiliations.

On the individual level, they become unreliable fellow travelers and, in the long run, their mere existence hurt their own selves, family, and at the end the community of mankind by not achieving their own destiny and fulfillment.

On higher levels, this treachery translates into political opportunism. Once a new opportunity arises, they lift their masks and change their alliances and start all over again.

To make the point, one could point to the behavior of Iranian men and women within and without the country. Women and men are forced to wear "modest" cloths such as the manteau and chador and long sleeve shirts, etc. However, we see both men and women change their attire and circumvent the rule, at least marginally, the first chance they get.

Politically, even those who are ardent supporters of the system are hedging their bets and are sitting on the fences and are waiting to chant in favor of a "new messiah."

We need to take these masks off and behave as who we are and let the chips fall wherever they may.


Hamid Zangeneh is professor economics at Widener University, Chester, Pennsylvania. He received his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

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