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When Power Overplays Its Hand June 17, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts.
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Jim Sleeper’s former student, reporting from Iran, suggests that the Iranian power structure may have gone too far:

From a temporarily secure and undisclosed location (when not in the streets), a former student of mine who’s freelancing in Tehran for a European newspaper and two online publications is telling the untold story behind the opposition demonstrations.

I won’t light up his name by linking him right now, but here’s his find: Many Iranians who voted for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad voluntarily and with a clear conscience are deciding that he used them to consolidate power in ways they don’t like. Yes, Ahmadinejad had legitimate electoral support. But where is it now?

The answer, almost literally, is blowin’ in the wind: The next 24 hours should tell whether the regime can suppress the rising anger. The clerks and teachers my former student describes aren’t all taking to the streets; they’re asking neighbors with friends in the thuggish militia,”Don’t the Basij have parents, don’t they have children?” Such appeals to decency from Ahmadenijad voters matter in nationalistic, “revolutionary” Iran.

Yes, the opposition is more conservative and nationalist than it is revolutionary, let alone “progressive” as many Americans use that term. It says it wants to redeem the Islamic revolution that overthrew the Shah. The American Revolution was conservative that way, too: Even though it did oust a monarch, it wasn’t as radically democratic as the French Revolution (or as President Sarkozy’s rhetoric about Tehran). It sought to confirm as many things as it overthrew. […]

While before the election Iranians spent a lot of time and energy debating the country’s rate of inflation and alternative names for the Persian Gulf, my student notes, “That’s forgotten now. The fight for more elemental aspects of political life has superseded the issues of the election; in the streets there is a desire to name simple facts and to call them such and treat them such: facts like election ballots, facts like gun shots fired at innocent bystanders. The demonstrators are bound together by their desire for truth.”

Call it God’s truth, or natural law, or human rights: This movement of its ordinary bearers may be asphyxiated tonight or tomorrow by the crackdown that keeps me from mentioning my former student’s name. Or it could be perverted and derailed, as it was in Iraq, by its would-be neocon champions. But something irreversible and, I think, more constructive, has happened, and it will be vindicated, even if not tonight or tomorrow.

What is happening in Iran is uniquely Iranian and its people are responding to local issues and local conditions. What is not uniquely Iranian, but universal, is that authoritarians always overplay their hand. When power is deployed for its own sake, corruption is easily recognized. 

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

or Visit the Website: www.revivingliberalism.com



1. Bobaloo - June 18, 2009


I am a UCSD philosophy student that visits your blog once and a while and I really liked this post. I am interested however, in your thoughts about how Nietzsche would view this situation. From the doctrine of the will to power we learn that the goal of power is either preservation or promotion, In this case (Iran) it seems to be a promotion of power from one state to another stronger state. It seems to me that if an individual is using power to in turn gain more of it then they are just satisfying their will to power. Don’t get me wrong, in no way do I think that this excuses the Iranian government from their trespasses, but its worth entertaining to better understand Nietzsche.

I guess my overall question is; how do you think Nietzsche’s doctrine of the will to power, would, if at all, apply to the current crisis in Iran?

2. Dwight Furrow - June 18, 2009


I don’t think Nietzsche has doctrines (in any ordinary sense) and I am especially skeptical that the will to power is a doctrine. His published writings contain only scattered, cryptic references to it. The book entitled “Will to Power” is a collection of Nietzsche’s notes put together by his sister, who is, to say the least, an unreliable guide to Nietzsche’s thought.

But he clearly was interested in this concept and fooled around with it quite a bit. He seems to have entertained the idea that that all organisms seek to extend their power. But what he means by “power” is not altogether clear since it takes so many forms. Even weakness can be a disguised will to power.

If there is any normative content to it at all, it is that there are life-affirming ways of expressing will to power, and life-denying ways of expressing it. And Nietzsche clearly preferred life-affirmation.

As to the relevance of this idea to the Iranian situation, I’m not seeing it. Nietzsche would have had no use for the Mulluhs or the advocates of democracy. Both are expressions of what he calls “slave morality”.

Nietzsche is one of my favorite philosophers. But I have never found him particularly useful in political philosophy.

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