Freedom as a Remedy for Decline: The Horizon of the Question of Freedom in Nineteenth-Century Iran

S. Ahmad Hashemi

Abstract


The intellectual elite in nineteenth century Iran gradually found the opportunity to become familiar with a new concept of freedom. Their discovery of this new meaning was less the result of abstract philosophical reflections and more the consequence of the observation of European social and individual lifestyles. They realized that Westerners (farangiyān) lived free from many restraints while in Iran such restraints, according to a long-lasting cultural and political tradition, had been unquestionably regarded as necessary conditions to preserve order and security and to provide happiness in this world and the afterlife. A number of the Iranian elite came to believe that Europeans, free from these restraints, were successful in building ordered societies, decent and secure citizenship, powerful and lawful states, and ultimately, developed countries; on the contrary, lack of this freedom had left Iranians as unfortunate and insecure subjects in a disordered society with an army defeated at the hands of “infidels” in the two Russo-Persian wars (1803-1813 and 1826-1828), in a critically weakened country ruled by an arbitrary state. This research aims to examine the various aspects of this new awareness through studying Iranian travelogues and reformist writings of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in order to argue that the concept of freedom was understood in the horizon of the question of decline.


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