ABSTRACT

Voltaire is famously noted to have remarked that the “Holy Roman Empire” was neither holy, roman, nor in any meaningful sense an empire. Much the same can be said of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the twenty-first century. It can no longer claim to be a “republic” and its identification with Islam has long since ceased to be orthodox, while its application and exploitation of nationalism is increasingly regarded as both cynical and insubstantial. This is a remarkable achievement for a state that was founded on the back of a revolution against a monarchy that was widely perceived as exclusive and alienated from many of its subjects. The Islamic Republic of Iran was constructed with a view to be an inclusive alternative that drew strength and social depth from its multiple sources of legitimacy. It was both popular and divine, religious and national. Yet, few states in the contemporary period have been as effective as the

Islamic Republic of Iran in deconstructing their own sources of ideological legitimacy. Never a state at ease with itself, the continued turmoil within reflected its mixed political heritage, which drew both on ideas of republicanism and radical new innovations in Islamic political thought. It sought in many ways to cement these contradictions through a healthy dose of nationalism, which was regularly conscripted into political discourse as the need arose. The continued frictions between the republican and Islamic wings of the revolution have resulted in a greater dependency on nationalist motifs, which reached its apogee during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejadwho proved remarkably liberal in his use of nationalist rhetoric and evocation of Iranian exceptionalism. Even this rhetoric has proved something of a double-edged sword as Iranians have contrasted it with the reality of power in the Islamic Republic. This paper will argue that far from building on its inheritance the Islamic

Republic has moved with alarming alacrity to a highly personalized form of government more akin to the pre-constitutional period and that not only has the Islamic Republic transformed itself into a new “dynasty,” it has sought to compensate for its institutional weakness by articulating a theory of personal rule far in excess of anything aspired to by traditional Iranian dynasts. The paper will be divided into three broad sections, looking first at the

republican foundations of legitimacy before turning to Islam and concluding with perhaps the most controversial section, the state’s use and abuse of nationalism.