KATOUZIAN Vs AMANAT: Is Absolutism Unique to Iran’s Historical Royal Heritage?


KATOUZIAN Vs AMANAT: Is Absolutism Unique to Iran’s Historical Royal Heritage?
by Darius Kadivar

One recurrent argument regarding the lack of democratic culture in Iran has been attributed to the country’s long Royal Heritage deemed as deeply rooted in “Absolutism” or “arbitrary rule”. But how true and fair an assessment is that ?


Amongst contemporary Iranian historians most vocally supporting this outlook is Oxford Professor Homayoun Katouzian who has put forward « the theory of arbitrary rule », and the fundamental state-society conflict in Iranian history" which has led him to comparative studies of the sociology of Iranian history with that of Europe. 

Yale Professor Abbas Amanat (more on him in his bio below) disagrees with Katouzian’s presentation by offering some interesting counter arguments notably by drawing specific examples from European and British history.


BBC’s Parkar Dariush Karimi Hosts Debate between Oxford Historian Homayoun Katouzian and Yale Historian Abbas Amanat


Part I:

Part II:












Amir Kabir (1807 – 10 January 1852) also known as Mirza Taghi Khan Amir-Nezam also known by the titles of Atabak and Amir-e Nezam; chief minister to Naser al-Din Shah Qajar (Shah of Persia) for the first three years of his reign and one of the most capable and innovative figures to appear in the whole Qajar period.[need quotation to verify] Amir Kabir served as Prime Minister of Persia (Iran) under Naser al-Din Shah. Born in Hezaveh, a county of Arak and murdered in 1852. He is considered by most Iranians as a " as "Iran's first reformer", a modernizer who was "unjustly struck down" attempted to bring "gradual reform" to Iran. But as prime-minister his largely positive legacy is nevertheless tarnished the killing of many Babis, and ordering the execution of the founder of the movement, the Báb. (More on him here)

Bebin TV Quick Summary of Amir Kabir’s Life and Death:

Amir Kabir and Nasseredin Shah converse Prior to the King’s Coronation:

Amir Kabir  (Nasser Malek Moteii) assassination disguised as a Suicide in his Bathtub:








Sir Thomas More (7 February 1478 – 6 July 1535), known to Catholics as Saint Thomas More since 1935,[1][2] was an English lawyer, social philosopher, author, statesman, and noted Renaissance humanist. He was an important councillor to Henry VIII of England and was Lord Chancellor from October 1529 to 16 May 1532.[3] He was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1935. He is commemorated by the Church of England as a "Reformation martyr".[4] He was an opponent of the Protestant Reformation and in particular of Martin Luther and William Tyndale. More coined the word "utopia" – a name he gave to the ideal and imaginary island nation, the political system of which he described in Utopia, published in 1516. He opposed the King's separation from the Catholic Church and refused to accept the king as Supreme Head of the Church of England, a title which had been given by parliament through the Act of Supremacy of 1534. He was imprisoned in 1534 for his refusal to take the oath required by the First Succession Act, because the act disparaged papal power and Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. In 1535, he was tried for treason, convicted on perjured testimony, and beheaded. (More Here)


A Matter of Conscience :The Trial of Sir Thomas More:

Based on "A Man For All Seasons" by Robert Bolt, the clash between Sir Thomas More (Paul Scofield) and Henry VIII (Robert Shaw) is brilliantly presented, as More refuses to sanction Henry's manipulation to make himself head of the Church of England. Directed by Fred Zinneman & the character of Sir Thomas More played by Paul Scofield, won the film 6 Oscars including Best-Pic, Dir, & Acting.

A Man for All Seasons - witty remarks:

Some memorable quotes and witty remarks from 'A Man for All Seasons' - a 1966 film about the life of Sir Thomas More.



The Trial and Execution of Sir Thomas More

Thomas More refused to take the oath of supremacy - which affirmed the King as head of the Church not the Pope, for this he was imprisoned in the Tower, where he cotntinued to steadfastly refuse, but not giving his reasons. On the 1st July 1535 he was tried by a panel of judges including [though it does not show it in the tudors] Anne Boleyns fathe, brother and uncle - hardly impartial.
He was found guilty and the old, faithful friend of King Henry was executed on the 6th July, on the scaffold he declared that he "died the king's good servant, but god's first."





The Archbishop of Canterbury



Thomas Becket (also known as Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Thomas of London,[1] and later Thomas à Becket;[note 1] circa 1118 – 29 December 1170) was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 until his murder in 1170. He is venerated as a saint and martyr by both the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. He engaged in conflict with Henry II of England over the rights and privileges of the Church and was murdered by followers of the king in Canterbury Cathedral. Soon after his death, he was canonised by Pope Alexander III. (More Here)

Becket Trailer: 

Henry II, who surprises England by naming his fellow rogue and trusted valet Thomas Becket (Richard Burton in a career defining role) as Chancellor.

But when Henry next appoints him Archbishop Of Canterbury, Becket shocks the world by openly defying the King with his newfound faith and compassion. Will a desperate ruler now destroy a beloved friend to save his splintering kingdom?

The Assassination of Becket:

"It is here now, the supreme folly. This is its hour."

A scene from this great, somewhat forgotten film with superb dialogue... The translation of the Latin verse is "O God, come to my assistance".






Nicolas Fouquet, marquis de Belle-Île, vicomte de Melun et Vaux(January 27, 1615 – March 23, 1680) was the Superintendent of Finances in France from 1653 until 1661 under King Louis XIV. He fell out of favor with the young king, probably because of his extravagant displays of wealth, and the king had him imprisoned from 1661 until his death in 1680. (More Here)






Abbas Amanat 

Abbas Amanat received his B.A. from Tehran University in 1971 and D.Phil. from Oxford University in 1981. His principal publications include Apocalyptic Islam and Iranian Shi'ism(2009), Pivot of the Universe: Nasir al-Din Shah and the Iranian Monarchy, 1831-1896 (1997) and Resurrection and Renewal: the Making of the Babi Movement in Iran, 1844-1850 (1989). He is the editor of Cities and Trade: Consul Abbott on the Economy and Society of Iran (1983), Crowning Anguish: Memoirs of a Persian Princess from the Harem to Modernity(1995) and coeditor of Imagining the End: Visions of Apocalypse from Ancient Middle East to Modern America (2002); Shari’a: Islamic Law in the Contemporary Context (2007); and U.S.-Middle East Historical Encounters: A Critical Survey (2007). He also edited The United States and the Middle East: Diplomatic and Economic Relations in Historical Perspective (2000) and co-edited The United States and the Middle East: Cultural Encounters (2002) and Apocalypse and Violence (2004).

Currently he is writing In Search of Modern Iran: Authority, Nationhood and Culture (1501-2001), a survey of Iranian history (Yale, 2008); a study of toleration and nonconformity in the Persianate world, a biography of the Babi leader and poet Fatima Baraghani Qurrat al-'Ayn (Tahirah) and a documentary history of Qajar Iran (in Persian).

Abbas Amanat was a Carnegie Scholar of Islamic Studies (2005-2007). He also was the recipient of the Mellon-Sawyer Seminar Grant for comparative study of Millennialism (1998-2001). He is a Consulting Editor and longtime contributor to Encyclopedia Iranica where his major entries include "Constitutional Revolution" (1994); "Great Britain in Qajar Persia" (2002); "Hajji Baba of Ispahan" (2003) "Historiography of Qajar Iran" (2004), "Historiography of Pahlavi Iran" (2004) and “Islam in Iran: Messianism” (2007). He is the General Editor of Persia Observed series (Mage Publishers) which includes extensive introductions to new editions of E.G. Browne's Persian Revolution (1995) and C.J. Wills The Land of the Lion and the Sun (2004). He was the Editor-in-Chief of Iranian Studies, the journal of the International Society for Iranian Studies (1991-98) ) and served as the chair of the Council on Middle East Studies at Yale (1993-2004). He is currently Director of the Iranian Studies Initiative at Yale MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies. 

His courses at Yale include “Middle East and the West: A Cultural Encounter,” “State and Society in the Modern Middle East,” and “Making of Modern Iran.” Among his graduate course are “Becoming the Middle East,” “Historiography and Methodology of the Modern Middle East,” “Political Theory and Practice in the Persian Historical Texts and Contexts,” “Apocalyptic Imagination,” and “Orientalism and Its Critics.”


More On His Official Page on Yale University Website Here


Homayoun Katouzian


Homa Katouzian, PhD (born Homayoun Katouzian, (born 17 November 1942 in Tehran) is an economist, historian, political scientist and literary critic, with a special interest in Iranian studies[1]. Katouzian’s formal academic training was in economics and the social sciences but he concurrently continued his studies of Persian history and literature at a professional academic level. He began studying the life and works of the modern Persian writer, Sadeq Hedayat, and that of the Prime Minister of Iran in the early 1950s, Mohammad Mosaddeq, while still a faculty member in the department of economics at the University of Kent at Canterbury. Having taught economics at universities in Britain and other countries for eighteen years, he took voluntary retirement in 1986 to devote his entire time to Iranian studies. In recent years, he has been teaching and writing on classical Persian literature, in particular the 13th century poet and writer, Sa‘di. Currently based at the University of Oxford, Katouzian is a member of the Faculty of Oriental Studies and the Iran Heritage Research Fellow at St. Antony's College, where he edits the quarterly Iranian Studies Journal. He is also a member of the Editorial Board of the Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Katouzian has taught the history of nineteenth and twentieth century Iran at Oxford University. He has published extensively on twentieth century Iranian history and has been responsible for a number of cases of historical revisionism, for example that the 1921 coup in Iran was not engineered by the British government; that the Anglo-Persian Agreement of 1919 was not intended to turn Iran into a British protectorate; and that the Iranian-Azarbaijani political leader, Sheikh Mohammad Khiyabani was not a separatist, was not pro-Bolshevik and was not opposed to the 1919 agreement.

Apart from writing descriptive and analytical history, Katouzian has put forward "the theory of arbitrary rule, and the fundamental state-society conflict in Iranian history" which has led him to comparative studies of the sociology of Iranian history with that of Europe. The theory has been described virtually in all of his major writings on Iranian history, but, within a single volume, it is propounded in his Iranian History and Politics, the Dialectic of State and Society (2003). Here, he has also introduced the concept of "the short-term society" or Jameheh-ye Kolangi, literally meaning "the pick-axe society", an allusion to the Iranian practice of demolishing buildings after only a few decades, considering them to be "dilapidated". He has developed and discussed this theory more extensively in the article, "The Short-Term Society, A Study in the Long-Term Problems of Political and Economic Development in Iran", published in Middle Eastern Studies, 40, 1, 2004.

Katouzian has both taught and written on modern as well asclassical Persian literature and has taught modern poetry and fiction at Oxford University. Modern writers he has written about include Sadeq Hedayat, and Mohammad Ali Jamalzadeh, the founder of modern Persian fiction. He has also published onmodern poets such as the Poet Laureate Mohammad Taghi Bahar and Iraj Mirza, and modernist poets such as Forough Farrokhzad and Ahmad Shamlou. He has taught classical Persian literature from the 10th century to the 19th century, both in prose and poetry. His special subject is the great Persian classic,Sa‘di, on whom he has published books in Persian and English.

More On His Official Page on Oxford University Website Here


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more from Darius Kadivar

Absolutely correct Shemirani

by anglophile on

Katouzian has no substance but posseses plenty of arrogance. He simply bamboozles his audience into thinking that he is "something". His academic "achivements" are broadly figments of his imagination, same as his PhD. His supporters, are invariably fanatic Mossadeghists.

His latest achievement was to provide Mehdi Hashemi-Rafsenjani Behramni, son of the infamous Akbar, with a reference to be accepted into the university of Oxford, which is no surprise as Oxford's Islamic and Persian studies have long been a bastion mediocre scholarship, hence the presence of Katouzian himself!




by Shemirani on

. Homa Katouzian  is a perfect "PizzaGhormesabzi thinker" ! Am i the only one to be shocked by what he said (8:52) " only god's power is unlimited " ??!!! When this Professor, who is living in a secular country for decades will finally learn to behave as a secular man   ?!  jahansevomi & totally out of topic !!!

. it's amazing that both of them nicely avoided to prononce the UK's big influence in Iran, When A. Amaniat said Qajar period they didn't have any army (or police force) ... He avoided to say army belongs to British in the south (and to Russia in the noth ), In Qajar time,  Iran was independant only in appearance  and in fact Iran was much more like a colony ....can we  ignore this important fact ?! Idem  when they talked of AmirKabir's death they said there was a plot but no one said a british plot :D

it shows that this two intellectuals are not independant thinker yet ! dommage !  the debate could be much more interessant if it wasn't on bbc. (ils s'autocensurent on ne sait pourquoi !) Ba khodeshoon tarof daran pendari :)

The student Mehrad was great, his first comment was perfectly put about cultural roots of estebdad, Katouzian avoided answering him (metaphysics?!!!lol)...probably because he didn't want to say religion was a big part of the problem ...but the student bravely asked about religion's role in our society  ! young generation are doing great, they are more impartial than predecessors ,they have less prejugés & clichés, and no dogme !! 

i only watched the first video, Thank you DK jan for your blog  !

Red Wine


by Red Wine on

این دو غَبي الكلمات دیگر چه صیغه‌ای هستند ؟ خود میرزا تقی‌ خان از این قِسم مراتِب و مَفاخر دوری می‌‌کرد.

با سپاس از مطلبِ شما داریوش جان.