October 27, 2022

Tyranny of The Guardians: Plato's Influence On The Islamic Republic

An excerpt from, "Iran’s Revolution Reconsidered" By Luma Simms, Law & Liberty, February 20, 2019:

In the city of Qom is Iran’s premier Shi’a Islamic seminary; this is where the Ayatollah Khomeini studied. The curriculum at Qom includes Plato and Aristotle, which is what clerics-to-be (like the young Khomeini, once upon a time) study. Iran, as Gerard Russell writes in Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms:Journeys Into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East (2014), kept alive these philosophers. Although Russell’s primary concern is the state of the small and disappearing religions of the region, he says something very perceptive and fascinating about the Ayatollah Khomeini:

In fact, his idea that Iran should be run by the ‘most learned cleric’ not only marked a sea change from the traditional Shi’a view that government was intrinsically wicked but is not found in the Koran. Instead it is perhaps the closest approximation on earth to Plato’s vision, set out in his Republic, of a state that is run by the “wisest philosopher.” Khomeini always denied that there was a connection, although he approved of Plato and once said that he considered him “sound.”

And this brings me to what I’ve long believed to be at the heart of Near Eastern events: fideism, and the struggle between faith and reason. In Iran, Plato and Aristotle may still be taught in some seminaries, but with a religion that subjects reason to faith rather than harmonizing the two, the teachings of these classical philosophers can easily be twisted or cast aside. I believe the struggle for structural modernity along with the continued practice of Islam, will only come about when the deeper intellectual problem is solved: the proper coupling of faith and reason. Only then can all the world see that one can indeed practice one’s religion with sincerity, while participating in a society that also respects civil liberties, encourages economic growth, and makes structural and technological advances. For it is a lie that a people must give up their religion in order to have human dignity.

An excerpt from, "Supplement to Hauptli's Lecture Introducing Plato's Republic" By Bruce W. Hauptli, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Florida International University, 2015:
In his Wheels in the Head: Educational Philosophies of Authority, Freedom, and Culture from Socrates to Human Rights, Joel Spring draws out what he takes to be the core authoritarian character of Plato’s educational process, and he critiques Plato’s rejection of democracy:
using education to train individuals to sacrifice for the common good is premised on the belief that the common good can be defined by some element of the state.  In Plato’s Republic, philosopher-kings define the common good, while in Makarenko’s Soviet state the role is given to the Communist party.[8]  Of course, people must be taught to believe that the ruling group has the ability and authority to know the common good.  This type of education is aided by the use of patriotic exercises and the development of martial spirit, both of which are designed to link personal emotions to a belief in the ability of the state to proclaim the common good.  In other words, people learn to love to sacrifice their self-interest for the common good as defined by the state.
Of course, the flaw in this argument is the belief that particular individuals or groups have the ability and authority to know what is good for the rest of the population.  In most cases, what is defined as the common good is really what is good for the group making the definition.
An excerpt from, "How Al-Farabi drew on Plato to argue for censorship in Islam" By Rashmee Roshan Lall, aeon, November 12, 2018:
Al-Farabi fashioned a political philosophy that naturalised Plato’s imaginary ideal state for the world to which he belonged. He tackled the obvious issue of leadership, reminding Muslim readers of the need for a philosopher-king, a ‘virtuous ruler’ to preside over a ‘virtuous city’, which would be run on the principles of ‘virtuous religion’.

Like Plato, Al-Farabi suggested creative expression should support the ideal ruler, thus shoring up the virtuous city and the status quo. Just as Plato in the Republic demanded that poets in the ideal state tell stories of unvarying good, especially about the gods, Al-Farabi’s treatises mention ‘praiseworthy’ poems, melodies and songs for the virtuous city. Al-Farabi commended as ‘most venerable’ for the virtuous city the sorts of writing ‘used in the service of the supreme ruler and the virtuous king.’

It is this idea of writers following the approved narrative that most clearly joins Al-Farabi’s political philosophy to that of the man he called Plato the ‘Divine’. When Al-Farabi seized on Plato’s argument for ‘a censorship of the writers’ as a social good for Muslim society, he was making a case for managing the narrative by controlling the word. It would be important to the next phase of Islamic image-building.