September 19, 2023


Lessons from the Ayatollah : When a special class of moral guardians is permitted to be above the rule of law, there is no check on their own corruptibility. (Max J. Prowant, 9/19/23, Law & Liberty)

The most extreme solution is offered by the Catholic integralists who explicitly seek to subvert "temporal power" (i.e., the state/government) to "spiritual power" (i.e., the Catholic Church). Along similar lines, Patrick Deneen proposes "Aristo-populism" to oust corrupt liberal elites. Add to the bunch National Conservatives, new-age Pentecostals, and Reformed Protestants and it seems that all the cool kids are coming up from liberalism. No solution is agreed upon. But all agree that the regime centered on the protection of individual rights must be replaced by some new system with more intrusive powers to direct our lost souls. 

The leaders of this broad coalition are not stupid and, therefore, their arguments should be confronted honestly and given due diligence. But dissuading them from their objectives will require more than pointing out how illiberal, homophobic, or un-democratic they are. Nor will it prove sufficient to point out how unrealistic their aims are in the context of the United States. Movements always begin with foolish hopes. What is needed instead are modern examples of states where similar revolutionary projects have been executed and produced less-than-ideal results. One state fits the bill nicely: the Islamic Republic of Iran. Ayatollah Khomeini's project in Iran was surely more extreme and violent than what most post-liberals would endorse. But given the authoritarian affinities of many post-liberals (consider their muted defenses of Vladimir Putin, East Germany, and the Chinese Communist Party), a comparison to Khomeini's Iran is more than appropriate. Indeed, given the character and aims of Khomeini's Iran, it is necessary.

The example of Khomeinism in Iran is instructive because it illustrates two lessons that classical liberals have long known. First, when a special class of moral guardians is permitted to be above the rule of law, there is no check on their own corruptibility, which all but ensures future abuses of power. And second, using the full powers of the state to enforce religious belief will render both the state and its religion illegitimate in the minds of the people. If post-liberals are serious about reviving moral virtue or shoring up religious faith, they should study the tragic example of Khomeini.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (1900-1989) is not a figure most think of when discussing American post-liberal intellectuals. After all, he was a Muslim cleric who defended Islamic civilization against Western civilization, the integrity of which post-liberals generally seek to defend. What is more, American conservatives despised the man while leftist intellectuals like Michel Foucault celebrated him as an authentic warrior fighting against the corroding tyranny of bourgeoise values. But there is plenty that connects Khomeini and his political project with today's post-liberals. 

First are the more superficial similarities. Khomeini adamantly opposed liberalism, secularism, and capitalism.

Posted by at September 19, 2023 5:24 PM