Western Standard

The Shotgun Blog

« The existence of evil: the real divide between libertarians and social conservatives | Main | Heart of Darkness »

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Is Iran more republican than America?

Iranians protest the election results

Iranians took to the streets again today to protest Friday's contested election results, while defeated reformist candidate Mirhossein Mousavi continued to level accusations of electoral fraud. Critics of the regime, however, continue to stress that presidential elections are of little consequence since real power in the Islamic Republic is held by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

"On the nuclear question, it's very clear that the ultimate decision maker is Ayatollah Khamenei," said Mahsen Milani, an Iranian expert at the University of South Florida, in an interview with Fox News. "The central question of security or war and peace is not in [Ahmadinejad's] domain. It's unambiguously in the domain of the supreme leader."

This is because Iran has a unique quasi-democratic system of government. While the country does hold presidential and parliamentary elections, all of the candidates have to be specifically approved by the Guardian Council. The council is composed of 12 members, six of whom are appointed by the supreme leader, while the other six are nominated by the head of the judicial system of Iran, who is appointed by the supreme leader as well. The supreme leader has many other powers:

According to Iran's Constitution, the Supreme Leader is responsible for the delineation and supervision of "the general policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran," which means that he sets the tone and direction of Iran's domestic and foreign policies. The Supreme Leader also is commander-in-chief of the armed forces and controls the Islamic Republic's intelligence and security operations; he alone can declare war or peace. He has the power to appoint and dismiss the leaders of the judiciary, the state radio and television networks, and the supreme commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The quasi-democratic nature of Iran's government has led many to question the legitimacy of the system itself. "They try to keep people occupied with this fake political system on the outside while they run a corrupt government in the background, and to entertain this system is to just indulge in their corruption," said Iranian-American Keyvan Mehrabi in an interview with FrontPage Magazine. "Iran is not a democracy. Don't forget that."

Despite the fact that Iran may not be considered a true democracy, it does appear to fit the definition of a republic. The word "republic" is often used to describe a state that is not led by a monarch. Political philosopher Nicolo Machiavelli argued that there are really only two types of states. "All states, all powers, that have held and hold rule over men have been and are either republics or principalities," wrote Machiavelli in The Prince. Yet, the term is often used in political science to describe a system of government similar to the Roman Republic. One that is a combination of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy.

In the Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livius, Machiavelli advocated a republican form of government and he uses the Roman Republic as his example of the ideal form of government. Machiavelli admired the Roman style of government for a number of reasons. First, it's what led Rome to become a flourishing empire that withstood the test of time. If un-contained political conflict often results in a change in the state's system of government, then systems that have endured a long time must clearly do a good job of containing said conflict. Secondly, republics are designed to divide power between various groups within society. For example, the Roman Republic divided power between the one, represented by the Consul, the few, represented by the Senate, and the many, represented by the Tribunes and Assemblies.

Similarly, the Iranian constitution shares power between the supreme leader, the aristocracy (represented by the Guardian Council and other appointed bodies), as well as the people (represented by parliament and the president). The American presidential system was also designed in a similar manner with the president, Senate, and House of Representatives representing the centers levels of power respectively. In fact, while the U.S. constitution guarantees "every State in this Union a Republican form of Government," it does not guarantee democracy. Yet, the seventeenth amendment to the U.S. constitution transformed the Senate into an elected body and the distinction between those who reflect the interests of the aristocracy and those who represent the people has become increasingly blurred.

The American system of government makes it difficult for small parties and independents to get elected and a high percentage of seats in congress see very little turnover. In effect, the political elite have become the new aristocracy, leaving one to wonder who's left to defend the interests of the people. Does this make Iran more republican than the U.S.?

Not if the accusations of electoral fraud are true. The supreme leader already has a tremendous amount of control over who is able to run in elections. If he has used his power to determine the outcome of the election as well, then the people are left without representation and the entire system is exposed as a sham.

Posted by Jesse Kline on June 14, 2009 in International Politics | Permalink

Comments

Jesse,

This is an excellent post. Have you seen this video?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KcHT8-ps64w

Awe-inspiring stuff.

Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2009-06-14 9:35:24 PM


If you think there is anything "republican" about Iran, you are wholly uninformed about how Iran works! Iran is run by the Mullahs. PERIOD.

Posted by: Warner Todd Huston | 2009-06-14 10:36:51 PM


The similarities above exist but are not quite what you had in mind. The US republic has evolved into a theocratic state with pantheism (Gaia, enviro-fascism, AGW,) as a dominant ratonalization of the state as opposed to Islam in Iran. They are both, essentially watermelon states with the green shell representing different theologies.

Posted by: John Chittick | 2009-06-15 10:47:24 AM


"Yet, the seventeenth amendment to the U.S. constitution transformed the Senate into an elected body and the distinction between those who reflect the interests of the aristocracy and those who represent the people has become increasingly blurred."

I'm not sure I understand this statement. Are you suggesting that the Senate was designed by the Framers to represent "the aristocracy"? In point of fact, the Senate was - as is made clear by The Federalist Papers - designed to represent the sovereign states. Senators were to be the state's ambassadors to the national government, helping to provide one of the only meaningful checks on the will of "the people" / mob / majority rule. The 17th was a terrible blow for the concept of federalism and ushered in a system where one power (that of the citizenry) dominates all others at the expense of financial stability. http://www.restorefederalism.org

Posted by: RestoreFederalism | 2009-06-15 9:24:47 PM


I'm not sure I understand this statement. Are you suggesting that the Senate was designed by the Framers to represent "the aristocracy"?

I am suggesting that appointed bodies--such as the Roman Senate, the British House of Lords, and the American Senate--were designed to be the voice of the aristocracy. The electoral college is another element of the American republic that helped fill this role.

Posted by: Jesse Kline | 2009-06-15 11:43:22 PM


Saying that the U.S. Senate and the Electoral College was designed by the authors of the constitution to be the voice of the aristocracy is historically and philosophically incorrect, and I can not think of a single credible constitutional scholar who would agree with you. Can you name one? I'm willing to be wrong, but this notion of yours is radically divergent. Perhaps to suggest that the post-1913 U.S. Senate has become a club for an aristocracy of sorts may or may not be true, but this is absolutely not the way it was intended by the Framers.

Posted by: RestoreFederalism | 2009-06-16 10:34:05 PM


...post-1913 U.S. Senate has become a club for an aristocracy of sorts may or may not be true...
Posted by: RestoreFederalism | 2009-06-16 10:34:05 PM

Oh its true alright.

"The real truth of the matter is, as you and I know, that a financial element in the large centers has owned the government of the U.S. since the days of Andrew Jackson. History depicts Andrew Jackson as the last truly honorable and incorruptible American president."
~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

And I can find you 50 more just like that in under 5 minutes.

I'll bet "Tongo" is more republican than America.

Posted by: The original JC | 2009-06-16 10:59:59 PM


Saying that the U.S. Senate and the Electoral College was designed by the authors of the constitution to be the voice of the aristocracy is historically and philosophically incorrect, and I can not think of a single credible constitutional scholar who would agree with you. Can you name one? I'm willing to be wrong, but this notion of yours is radically divergent. Perhaps to suggest that the post-1913 U.S. Senate has become a club for an aristocracy of sorts may or may not be true, but this is absolutely not the way it was intended by the Framers.

I could certainly find a number of political science professors that would tell you the Senate was designed to be the aristocratic element of the U.S. republic. Traditionally, the upper house of a bicameral legislature serves this function. Examples include the British House of Lords and the Canadian Senate. Also, it's no coincidence the American Senate is named after the Roman body, which also housed the aristocracy. If you don't believe me, however, a quick Google search yielded some results:

From American republicanism
By Mortimer N. S. Sellers
:

The balance of 'monarchy', 'aristocracy' and democracy' in the United States Constitution, assured that each branch of the 'compound legislature' was always under the supervision of the other, and both subject to the 'qualified negative' of the President, who would be a 'MAN OF THE PEOPLE', regulating the entire United States with 'paternal' care and affection.

From Indopedia:

According to some interpretations, the tri-political concept of government and the tripartite form of mixed government (monarchy, aristocracy, democracy) can be allegedly seen in the United States Constitution.

The Presidency is the element of the monarchical office. The United States Senate is the representation of the aristocracy (Senators were elected by state legislatures until the ratification of the seventeenth amendment). The House of Representatives is the element of democracy, representing the people. The Senate was originally intended to be the representative body of the aristocracy and the landed gentry, as well as a representation of state's interests, as a corporate entity, in the Federal Government. Madison said, "The Senate, on the other hand, will derive its powers from the States, as political and coequal societies; and these will be represented on the principle of equality in the Senate, as they now are in the existing Congress."

This is the original principle of a bicameral legislative house; i.e. the senate and the representatives. In Article III, sec 4, it states, "The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government..." This can be interpreted to mean that all the state governments must have a bicameral house with the upper house being the seat of the aristocracy, not elected by the people. However, it should be noted that not all states have a bicameral legislature, a fact that blunts the argument of those who claim that a Republican form of government as described in the constitution necessarily entails bicameral legislatures.

I'm sure I could find more, but I don't have the time.

Posted by: Jesse Kline | 2009-06-17 12:05:45 AM


With no disrespect intended toward professor Sellers, works on the Roman Empire and Indoapedia are hardly credible sources on this issue. The Sellers passage that you've cited asserts something without any examples, and his speciality is Roman Republicanism, not American Constitutionalism.

"According to some interpretations, the tri-political concept of government and the tripartite form of mixed government (monarchy, aristocracy, democracy) can be allegedly seen in the United States Constitution."

"Some interpretations"? "Allegedly"? I don't think that we can use that argue that the U.S. Senate was designed to represent "the aristocracy". Saying that Jefferson and the overall U.S. framework took inspiration from the Roman and other classic republican states is obviously true. Saying that the Founders - who had just fought a revolutionary war against titled privilege - wanted to give "the aristocracy" a voice is simply not true.

The strongest argument you have presented here is:

"The Senate, on the other hand, will derive its powers from the States, as political and coequal societies; and these will be represented on the principle of equality in the Senate, as they now are in the existing Congress." (Madison)

Madison - who should know - does not say that the Senate will derive its power from the aristocracy, so how does this support the notion that the original design does exactly this? I'm not following you. In fact, elsewhere, Madison even argued extensively (as does The Federalist) for why the Senate as designed was structurally prevented from becoming an aristocractic body, and thus a limit on liberty.

The state legislatures were (and are) themselves democratically elected bodies that wanted to retain their sovereignty as independent states. Their representatives / ambassadors to the national government were elected (not appointed) to the U.S. Senate by those legislatures. Where does "the aristocracy" fit into that picture?

Please understand that I'm not arguing your central point - that some other countries may be more or less "republican" than the U.S., only that the U.S. Senate was never intended to represent "the aristocracy".

Posted by: RestoreFederalism | 2009-06-17 10:28:38 AM



The comments to this entry are closed.