The Iranian Precursors of the Fourth Political Theory


The intellectual forefathers of the Iranian Revolution, Ahmad Fardid, Jalal Al-e-Ahmad, and Ali Shariati, share many common points with the Fourth Political Theory. Drawing from the common intellectual heritage of Martin Heidegger, they both develop a critique of Western hegemony. In many cases, the ideas expounded by these Iranian thinkers prefigure the Fourth Political Theory, though in a specialized application to the country of Iran. Iran presents an example of an intellectual and political revolt against Western liberal hegemony that is beyond the categories of the Second and Third Political Theories, yet it draws important influences from them and re-contextualizes them in the unique framework of Iran's historical essence.

The intellectual forebears of the Iranian Revolution would successfully merge the most radical of 20th century thought with the Islamic tradition of Iran to develop a truly revolutionary synthesis. As in the Fourth Political Theory, Heidegger plays a key role, as the philosopher of a new beginning, who heralds the return of an authentic essence. The foundation of Iranian Heideggerian thought was laid by Ahmad Fardid, as Ali Mirsepassi notes in “Political Islam, Iran, and the Enlightenment:”

 “The thinker whose work contributed most to setting the ground for a Heideggerian political discourse in the Iranian context was Ahmad Fardid (1890–1994). He was the leading authority on German philosophy and Heidegger in particular from the 1950s on. Ultimately, he contributed enormously to the evolution of the intellectual discourses that culminated in the Iranian Revolution of 1979. His work involved redressing the Orient-Occident binary in a language of philosophical conceptions borrowed from Heidegger. In a historicist vein, he argued that the dominant “truth” of the era had been, since the eighteenth century, that of a Western civilization that robbed all “Islamic countries” and “oriental nations” of their “cultural memoirs” and their own “historic trust.” This position is constituted first of an anti-Enlightenment claim that the growth of empty and external Western civilization is a direct threat to the vitality of local non-Western cultures, and second of the claim that this threat must be met by way of a reclaiming of what is an erased cultural memory and seizing hold of a stolen past.” (pg 30-31)

As in the Fourth Political Theory, Fardid uses Heidegger to challenge the unipolar dominance of Western ideology by calling for a return to an “authentic” way of being. This great return of Being at the moment where history is darkest, at the moment when we have passed through the darkness of “Western nihilism”, is given a particular Iranian interpretation by Fardid. To quote Mirsepassi again:

 “In a refashioning of Heidegger’s account of the Western decline from and need to retrieve the original Greek experience of “being,” Fardid relocates the original and authentic spiritual experience of humanity in a nebulous Orient/Islam. In effect, Fardid’s modifications transfer the role of the “spiritual nation in the middle” from Germany to Iran, within the same problematic of Cold War encirclement and secular“universal” modernity. In this predicament it is necessary to abandon Gharb (the West) as both an ontology and a way of life. Curiously, in order to do so, it is first necessary to discover the “essence of the West” as a prerequisite for once more retrieving the true Islamic self. This is of course not unlike Heidegger’s idea of a bridge home to being through a deconstruction of the dominant tradition. The terms of the need for a socially grounded spiritual obedience have changed, but the need remains the determining idea.” (pg 119)

It is precisely this return of Being, termed Ereignis by Heidegger, which lies at the heart of the Fourth Political Theory, as Dugin states:

 “Heidegger used a special term, Ereignis – the 'event,' to describe this sudden return of Being. It takes place exactly at midnight of the world's night – at the darkest moment in history. Heidegger himself constantly vacillated as to whether this point had been reached, or 'not quite yet.' The eternal 'not yet'...

Heidegger’s philosophy may prove to be the central axis threading everything around itself – ranging from the re-conceived second and third political theories to the return of theology and mythology.

Thus at the heart of Fourth Political Theory, as its magnetic centre, lies the trajectory of the approaching of the Ereignis (the 'Event), which will embody the triumphant return of Being, at the exact moment when mankind forgets about it, once and for all, to the point where the last traces of it disappear.” (“The Fourth Political Theory”, pg 29)

For Fardid, Iran's Being, its control over its own historical narrative and fate, was being lost under the pernicious intellectual influences of the West, which would be termed “Westoxication.” Another great Iranian thinker, Jalal Al-e-Ahmad, would define this “Westoxication” as such: “the aggregate of events in the life, culture, civilization, and mode of thought of a people having no supporting tradition, no historical continuity, and no gradient of transformation.” Al-e-Ahmad's book “Westoxication,” would prove to be an intellectual guide for the burgeoning resistance. He was responding to the pro-Western modernizing regime of the Shah, which saw a rooted Iranian culture being destroyed by the values of the West, which posed as the universal values for all of humanity. “Westoxication” would bring about the obliteration of Iran's past and the future if left unchecked. As in the Fourth Political Theory, there is a common critique of the West's pretension to a global civilization, which is equivalent the death of Being, as Dugin notes:

“Globalization is equivalent to the end of history. Both go hand-in-hand. They are semantically linked. Different societies have different histories. That means different futures. If we are going to make a 'tomorrow' common to all societies existing on the planet, if we are going to propose a global future, then we first need to destroy the history of those other societies, to delete their pasts, to annihilate the continuous moment of the present, virtualizing the realities that are constructed by the content of historical time. A 'common future' means the deletion of particular histories. But this means no histories at all, including their futures, will exist. The common future is no future. Globalization is the death of time. Globalization cancels out the transcendental subjectivity of Husserl or the Dasein of Heidegger. There would neither be any more time, nor being.” (“The Fourth Political Theory”, pg. 165)

In order to develop his attack on Western modernity, Al-e-Ahmad drew influences from the German Conservative Revolution, particularly Ernst Jünger, whose work he translated into Persian and of whom he would say, “Jünger and I were both exploring more or less the same subject, but from two view points. We were addressing the same question, but in two languages,” Al-e-Ahmad sought to transfigure modernity, acknowledging the unavoidable presence of technology, however destructive, but utilizing it in service of a revitalized Shi'ite state. Like the German Conservative Revolutionaries, Al-e-Ahmad did not retreat into mere reaction, he realized that it was impossible to run back to pre-technological past, rather he pointed to a third position between subjugation by the technical might of the West and a retreat into primitivism, asking “Must we remain the mere consumers we are today or are we to shut our doors to the machine and technology and retreat into the depths of our ancient ways, or is there a third possibility?” The implied “third possibility” was to harness modernity to destroy its toxic effects. Al-e-Ahmad stated his wish to “break (the machine) into harness like a draft animal … and impress it with the human will.” Technology was to be subordinated, no longer be a force of social atomization and cultural rot, but a tool of construction. The titanic forces of modernity would be captured to dissolve modernity and return to the essence of Iranian civilization. In this context, Al-e-Ahmad becomes an Iranian Conservative Revolutionary. Conservatives, who would be the proponents of Islamic culture in the Iranian context, will lead the revolution, not oppose it. The continental project of Eurasia takes a similar Conservative Revolutionary stance by fusing revolution with tradition, as Dugin states:

 “I am convinced that political history will very soon force us clarify our positions and polish our rhetoric to make it more precise. We have no choice but conservatism: we will be pushed towards it from the outside, as well as from within. But what shall we do with the spirit of revolution, the will, the blazing flame of rebellion which secretly languishes in the Russian heart and disturbs our sleep, inviting us to follow it to faraway lands? I think that we should invest our continental strength in a new conservative project. And let it be the new edition of our Revolution, the Conservative Revolution, the National Revolution in the name of a big dream…” (“Putin vs. Putin,” pg. 157)           

Another great Iranian thinker who articulated a vision of revolution merging influences from Shi'a Islam, Third Worldism, and Heidegger was Ali Shariati. Shariati adapted the ideas of “Westoxication,” stating in “Shieh, Yek Hezb-e Tamam” (Shi'ism, A Complete Party), “They [the West (farang)] have polluted our world with their capitalism and our religion with their churches! They teach our modernists dandyism [gherti-bazi], dancing, cocktail partying, wine drinking, and mere sexual freedoms in the name of civilization.... They slowly roused the depths of our hearts and minds and our rational faith and progressive, practical, and humane religion. They obscured and ruined all that we previously held dear: the soul [ruh], intercession [shefaat], invocation [tavasol], trusteeship [velaayat], and martyrdom.” To combat the toxic influences of the West, Shariati would expound a Shi'ism of liberation, termed “Red Shi'ism”, so named for the blood of martyrs. Thus, Shariati invokes the revolutionary heritage of the Shi'ites who resisted Mongol occupation of Iran:

 “This was the beginning of the explosion, very simple and rapid! The host goes to the people and calling the Shi'ite masses, exclaims that the Mongol ruler is asking for their women. What is their reply? They say "We are prepared to die rather than be so defiled! Our women for the enemy shall be our swords". The result is inevitable. The masses have made up their minds. They kill the whole group at one attempt. As they know that there is no turning back, as they know that they have already chosen death, they stop wavering. The choice of death gives them such energy that their single village revolts against that bloodthirsty regime and is successful. The villagers overrun the town, fighting against the Mongol army and the decrees of the pseudo-clergy of the religion of the state. They are victorious. Their cry: "Salvation and Justice!" and "The destruction of the power of the ruling Mongols and the influence of the priests of the religion of the rulers and the big landowners of the ruling class". The victims of the ignorance of the pseudo-clergy and the prisoners of the oppression of the Mongols continue joining the ranks of the rebels. Sabzevar becomes a center of power; like a fire that spreads through dry brush, the Shi'ite revolutionary guards, who enjoy the backing of the rural warriors and champions of the masses, and have the ideology of Sheikh Khalifeh and Sheikh Hasan and similar kinds of well-informed, righteous and missionary men of learning, engulf the whole of Khorasan and northern Iran and even inflame the south of the country. And for the first time, a revolutionary movement based on Alavite Shi'ism, against foreign domination, internal deceit, the power of the feudal lords and wealthy capitalists, had an armed uprising, led by peasants seven hundred years ago, under the banner of justice and the culture of martyrdom, for the salvation of the enslaved nation and the deprived masses. 

And this is the last revolutionary wave of Alavite Shi'ism, Red Shi'ism, which continued for seven hundred years to be the flame of the spirit of revolution, the search for freedom, and justice, always inclining towards the common people and fighting relentlessly against oppression, ignorance and poverty.” (Red Shi'ism vs. Black Shi'ism)

Shariati gave an explicitly religious essence to the position of national liberation. While he adopted much of the rhetoric and ideology of Third World liberation from the left, Shariati refused to be bound by the capitalist-communist dichotomy, condemning economic conceptions of life as insufficient, stating:

 “Both these social systems, capitalism and communism, though they differ in outward configuration, regard man as an economic animal....Humanity is every day more condemned to alienation, more drowned in this mad maelstrom of compulsive speed. Not only is there no longer leisure for growth in human values, moral greatness, and spiritual aptitudes (but it has also) caused traditional moral values to decline and disappear as well.”

Instead he gave precedence to an apocalyptic force uniting the people, ideology, and God into a coherent power of spiritual rebirth, this linking national liberation and spiritual re-foundation. Mirsepassi summarizes the Shariati's critique of modernity, citing his affinities with Heidegger:

“The major critique of modernity in his work is the attack on what he called “the materialist cosmos,” where “man turns out to be an object.” In contrast, Islam shows “a fundamental bond, an existential relation (between man and the world), in regarding the two as arising from ‘a single (sublime) origin’.” This reproduces nearly term for term the central philosophy of Heidegger, who also felt a pervading religious background, had slipped away and left people atomized from the ontological bond to their community. Shariati’s purpose, then, was to bring this bond explicitly into the everyday political lives of Iranians, as a recovery of the ideal and unified Islamic society. He aimed to overcome the cultural rootlessness in everyday life inflicted by modern existence. Thinking along these lines, he depicted Iran’s domination by the West less in a political or economic sense and more in terms of Western infestation within Iranian society. Once again,then,it was necessary to divide contemporary society between the authentic and the inauthentic, or Gharbzadegi.” (“Political Islam, Iran, and the Enlightenment,” pg 127)

In seeking a return to a spiritual unity between man and God, Shariati shares an affinity with Traditionalist such as Evola or Guénon, yet he approaches this in a very revolutionary context, that seems to share more with the proponents of Third World liberation among the left. Shariati's refusal to accept the barriers imposed by the Western “left-right” dichotomy presages the Fourth Political Theory.  Just as Shariati fused Islamic tradition and revolution, so does the Fourth Political Theory, which seeks to “unite the Right, the Left, and the world's traditional religions in a common struggle against the common enemy. Social justice, national sovereignty, and traditional values are the three main principles of the Fourth Political Theory.” In articulating a response that draws influences from Islam and the radical thought of the 20th century to Western colonialism and exploitation, conducted with the acquiescence of a wealthy cosmopolitan Iranian elite, Shariati and others created a precursor of the Fourth Political Theory for Iran, asserting the spiritual essence of Iran against the domination of unipolar ideology.

By the time of the Iranian Revolution of 1979, only Fardid remained alive from the trio of Fardid, Al-e-Ahmad, and Shariati. Yet, their ideas exerted a definite influence on the opposition to Shah Reza Pahlavi, under whom a Westernizing and modernist regime ruled, aided by the repressive forces of the brutal SAVAK secret police. The popular and Islamic opposition mobilized millions, culminating in the ouster of the Shah. Upon his arrival in Iran, Khomeini himself visited the cemetery were many of the victims of the Shah that had fallen in the revolution were buried to pay tribute to their sacrifices. The “Red Shi'ism” of martyrdom had won a crucial victory. Following the Revolution, Iran would be reconstituted, not along the basis of the modern ideologies of communism or capitalism, but according to its own Islamic tradition. In the face of Cold War power struggles, Iran would chart an independent path, presaging the multipolar vision of the Fourth Political Theory. Moreover, Iran would eventually develop a nuclear program, bending the power of technology to the will of the Islamic state, a development that Al-e-Ahmad would surely embrace.

Intellectuals such as Al-e-Ahmad, Fardid, and Shariati planted the seeds of Iranian power, a power based on its historical essence, in a multipolar world. Their seamless integration of the ancient traditions of their country with the most revolutionary ideas of the 20th century provides a blueprint for the partisans of the Fourth Political Theory. The work of Fardid, Al-e-Ahmad, and Shariati is a superb example of what must be done in every country that seeks to construct the intellectual basis for its liberation from Western dominated globalism in order to secure its future in a multipolar world. They have shown a path for the revival of great traditional civilizations in an age of culturally annihilating forces emanating from the West.