On Civilisation-Theoretical Aspects of “History from Below” as Democratisation and its Problems in Iran: Selected Aspect of Sociogenesis and Psychogenesis of the Islamic Republic as an Institutional De-democratisation

(A Contribution to the workshop: Twentieth-Century Iran: History From Below, 25-26 May, 2001 at the International Institute of Social History (HSH) in Amsterdam)



Abstract: Discussing the problem of „history from below“ is usually related to a heteronymous evaluation of the agents of social movements, whereby they are from the very beginning idealized as the agents of social progress in sense of democratisation of society. One is inclined to be less concerned with the actual dilemmas and necessities out of which groups and persons acted formerly, less with their direct plans, wishes and interests, than with the question whether this or that was good or bad for the things with which one identifies.

Without doubt does the emergence of social movements from below, i.e. of ascending-orientated groups, indicate a shift in the balance of power between the established and the outsiders of society in favour of the latter, meaning processes of latent democratisation. Consequently these processes of functional democratisation - in the sense of a shifting in the balance of power in society as a whole in favour of the former outsiders - are not recognized as the inevitable preconditions of institutional democratisation as well as of de-democratisation.

On the other hand, the term “democratisation” usually reduced to one of the institutionalised forms of control of those who govern by those who are governed. Hence “democratisation” – in this meaning – only refers to the establishing of institutionalised forms of democratisation, namely Parliamentary Democracies Western-type.  Therefore not only other potential institutional forms of democratisation are neglected, but also the institutional democratisation of further social relationships such as the relations of genders, generations, ethnic and confessional groups, economical classes etc.

Furthermore civilising processes of the social habitués of the agents involved in these power-struggles contributing to institutional democratisation or de-democratisation according to their different levels of civilisation, are not taken into account. Hence problems of democratisation, respectively developments towards institutional de-democratisation as they occurred most recently in Iran, cannot be explained sufficiently. Therefore, a lack of  “democratic culture” is usually given in a tautological manner as the key-explanation for problems of democratisation, without tracing the preconditions of the development of more democratic cultures.

In order to understand not only the current problems of democratisation in Iran, but also the emergence and development of more democratic cultures, I should like to focus on the relation between democratisation and the civilisation of the social habitués of the people involved in these power-struggles. This is supposed to contribute to the development of a theoretical framework of different empirical analysis of democratisation or problems of democratisation; which cannot just be reduced to the relations between those who govern and those who are governed.




I.         The formation of the Islamic Republic as an institutional de-democratisation:


1.         The scope and level of synthesis of this paper - The interrelation of general and particular


Before commencing this discussion, a fundamental problem must first be dealt with, which especially arises when discussing a culturally foreign context. Persons who deal with such matters are not generally expected to give explanations but to describe the events in terms of those “facts” which are not usually available to the outsider. If, especially, a “native” talks about how and why these facts have come to be, it is expected that he shows a certain degree of involvement which extends to a complete identification with those persons whose behaviour and experiences he is examining. As a sign of this involvement, a common language and way of thinking is expected of him. It is thus forgotten that the observer’s involvement is acceptable, insofar as it requires him to deal with the problem. Any examination would be less scientific and the results less appropriate if the observer were not capable of detaching himself to a certain degree.

If he delivers a more or less detached picture of the results and classifies them according to a theoretical model, then there is surprise at the high level of synthesis which is suspected as being Eurocentric and as disregarding the particularism of the culturally foreign correlation of events.  Thereby the fact is overlooked that the amount of information concerning the differences in societies can hardly be more than an accumulation or a collection of unconnected details[1], as long as one does not possess an empirically-based picture of the common features of all possible societies as a framework of reference for the intellectual processing of individual investigation (Elias 1986, p. 110). It becomes problematic if the empirically-gained picture of more developed state-societies that can be observer here and now is turned into an universal form of human societies, as is generally the case in the prevailing state-orientated sociological attitude towards the structure of human figurations as “stills” at a given time[2].


The thoughts which will be discussed here - as the infrastructure of “history from below” in the twenty-century Iran - are the result of an empirical study of the developments in twentieth-century Iran (Gholamasad, 1985), which have been compiled as a theoretical model for the explanation of certain events currently perceivable not only in Iran but also in other Islamic state-societies. It is to be understood as a theory of particular scope (or of a certain level of synthesis), explaining and understanding the sociogenesis and psychogenesis of “Islamic Fundamentalism“ as a “history from below”. It is a framework, a structural nexus perceived in the multitude of particular historical facts. The empirical investigation of the particularism of Iranian society itself would be impossible without a theory of a higher level of generalisation, without a picture of the common fundamental peculiarities of all societies as a general framework of reference for the intellectual processing of this individual investigation – without a theory of civilising process.


Without this insight in the interrelation of general and particular aspects as well as the interrelation of theoretical and empirical aspects as inseparable research efforts, the discussion presented here would certainly be misunderstood.

Apart from that, without an appropriate picture of humanity as a general framework of reference for the intellectual processing of social events in less developed societies, there is a danger of cultural relativism or Eurocentricity. Neither can contribute to the explanation or understanding of the social processes observed, especially in a culturally foreign context.


2. Islamic fundamentalism as a practical criticism of modernisation theories

In this context, developmental processes are meant which practically contradict modernisation theories - especially their supposition that the modernisation of less developed societies simultaneously brings about their democratisation. At present in Islamic state-societies, social movements can be observed which, in the name of Islam, are striving for an institutional de-democratisation of the state-society, or, as in the case of Iran, have constitutionally embedded this.

The revolutionary abolition of the king’s rule and the post-revolutionary development of Iran is thus not only in this respect a good example; it is also a deviation from the usual development pattern of democratisation processes. As a rule, every abolition of royal authority has been followed by the institutionalisation of the sovereignty of the people, although in practice legitimate power practised in the name of the people has proved itself to be just as varied as royal power. “The institutionalisation of the sovereignty of the people always showed the way in which royal authority was departed from. Conversely, each institutionalisation of this kind created a model which was adapted by other countries for their own purposes” (Bendix, R, Vol. 1, p. 17, my italics). The Islamic upholders of the Iranian revolution, however, expressly rejected moulding their revolution on previous models.


3.         Islam as a form of order

For this reason the saying “neither western nor eastern, but Islamic” emphasised, during the revolutionary events, not only the awakening of Islamicist self-consciousness as a special group which had been stigmatised for centuries. Moreover, as the consciousness of their own special existence was identical to that of the special existence of other people, the meaning of the term Islam was also emphasised as a social belief system as opposed to capitalism and communism.  This answers the question as to the form of order of their society, for at the centre of every social belief system is the question as to how people should order their own societal life with one another.

The question as to what was “Islamic”, however, was decided by the post-revolutionary balance of power, which, according to the plebiscite on the post-revolutionary type of state, moved towards Khomeini’s interpretation of theocracy. When the name of the new republic was being discussed before the referendum, Ay. Khomeini was clearly in favour of “Islamic Republic.” He declared, “I am for ‘Islamic Republic’, not a word more, not a word less.” And, “Anyone who votes for ‘Republic’ (without the addition of ‘Islamic’) is an enemy of Islam. Anyone who adds the term ‘democratic’ to (the term) ‘Islamic Republic’ is an enemy of Islam. He does not want Islam. But we want Islam.“ (Quoted from the foreword to the German edition of Ay. Khomeini, p. 10 ff.). The overwhelming majority of the population followed Ayatollah Khomeini’s demand for „Islamic Republic“ and his rejection of all other additions such as “democratic” as being contrary to Islam. 

Hence the Iranian post-revolutionary constitution is a good example of an Islamic state shaped by fundamentalism, which, according to many state-theoretical papers from various theoreticians of movements in Islamic types of state, is not only important in a constitutional sense. It is also important in terms of developmental sociology, because, in comparison to the pre-revolutionary constitution and the equally Islamic-influenced draft constitution of the “Revolutionary Council” of June 1979, it is an expression of institutional de-democratisation. As a model of actual Islamic fundamental order, it displaced Belgian respectively French-influenced concepts of state in favour of a fundamental interpretation of the classical Shi’ite teaching of state law.


4.         Islam as a continuum of change

In spite of the successive elimination of all pre-revolutionary coalition partners by the rulers of the “Islamic Republic”, the de facto fundamental hegemony of the post-revolutionary development in Iran, which went hand in hand with a struggle against all opponents who also understood themselves as being Islamic, led, occasionally, even in the academic community, to an undifferentiated identification of a type of development of the normative image which a specific group of people has of the social world, a specific form of development of the normative general vision, a group-specific form of development of the integrating general idea of people as individuals and as society with “the” Islamic faith. Thereby, the fundamental position of Khomeini’s followers was adopted and the incompatibility of “Islam” and “democracy” was declared.

This declaration of incompatibility (cf. Klaff, R., 1987) is a function of the social dynamics of the mutual stigmatisation of two interdependent groups who, as establishment and outsiders, each conceive of “Islam” or “democracy” as their own group charisma.[3]

Hence Islam is not understood as a continuum of change, or even as a recalled continuum of change, whose identity does not lie in an unchangeable natural core, but rather in the remembered continuity, with which a change of the affectively occupied means of orientation, control, and communication of Islamic-influenced people emerged uninterruptedly from another.  Instead of understanding the unity of the concretising process as Islam in the sense of a recalled continuity of the change of the cognitive and normative structure of societies[4], which were shaped over the centuries by clerics as one of dominant social channels of knowledge acquisition, it appears as some particular substance, which has apparently not changed in this period.

Additionally, no differentiation is made between “latent” and “functional” democratisation and “manifest” or “institutional” democratisation. From this, an equalising of democracy as a static concept of condition with some of its own symptomatic aspects generally follows, which at least suggests its incompatibility with the Islamic form of order shaped by fundamentalism.


5. The replacement of the “Constitutional Monarchy” by the “Islamic Republic” as an institutional de-democratisation of the Iranian state

The replacement of the “Constitutional Monarchy” by the “Islamic Republic” did indeed lead to an institutional de-democratisation of the Iranian state. The sovereignty of the people (Art. 26 & 30 of the “Supplementary Constitutional Law of October 8, 1907”, hereafter SCL) was replaced by the sovereignty of God, who alone has the right of power and jurisdiction (Art. 2, 56 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, hereafter CIR). His steward on earth may only be a theologian, who may announce and sanction God’s laws as an absolute ruler (Art. 5, 57, 110 CIR). Accordingly, even the limited human and basic rights of the pre-revolutionary constitution (Art. 15, 18, 20 SCL) were replaced by  man’s obligations to God, to whom the people should unconditionally subject themselves (Art. 2 Section 6 CIR). In addition, the legal equality of people and their equal treatment before the law (Art. 8 SCL) was replaced by the legal equality of believers (Art. 19 CIR) and their equal treatment before the sharia (Art. 20 CIR). This, being a standard continuum controlled by the clergy, sees people as having differing legal status: Male believers as full members of the community; women (Art. 21 CIR) with reduced rights: and finally non-Muslims, who are seen as wards of the state (art. 13 CIR).

The fundamental role of divine revelation in the legislative process can be shown by the clergy-dominated “supervisory council” (Art. 96 CIR), a body superior to the “parliament”, whose express approval is required before legislation can be enacted. The monopoly on deciding on divine law and order exercised by the clergy which accompanies this process does not only deny the sovereignty of the people, without whose revolutionary struggle such a constitution would not have been possible. To be sure, by emphasising belief in the “imamate and its continuous, fundamental and everlasting leadership role in the continued existence of the Islamic Revolution ” (art. 2, Section 5, CIR), the constitution establishes the permanence of the clergy’s claim to absolute power in the figure of the “leader” (rahbar) as the highest authority in the state, to whom every person is obliged to swear unconditional obedience for all times.

This law is based on the 12th Imam’s right of leadership over the Islamic community. In this point, the constitution corresponds to the view represented by Ay. Khomeini and other Shi’ite fundamentalist clerics, that believers must be led, because they are sheeplike (cf. Ay. Khomeini, p. 65). According to this fundamental interpretation of Shi’ite classical state thought, only a biological descendent of the prophet has the right of actual political power - and religious leadership of the community. The line of succession was broken when the twelfth in the genealogical chain of Imams, Muhammad al-Mahdi, 873 AD, disappeared. Shi’ites do not believe he is dead, but enraptured in “great seclusion”. His return is expected. Until this time, the leadership of the community lies in the hands of an Islamic theologian and a legal expert (faqih). This position is reflected in the Fifth Principle of the constitution: “During the seclusion of the mahdi (Vali-ye asr)... the administration of state affairs and the leadership of the community (valayat-e amr va valayat-e ummat) in the Islamic Republic of Iran lies in the hands of a theologian (faqih), who is of good reputation (noble) and virtuous, knows the requirements of the time, is courageous and capable of leadership....”

According to the revised Fifth Principle of the constitution[5], he is elected by a  “Council of Experts” consisting only of theologians of exceptionally high rank. Ideally, he receives the office for life without the “democratic control” of regular elections. The constitutional revision even eliminated the originally planned recognition of the “leader” by the majority of the population as a basis of legitimacy, as had practically been the case with the elevation of Ay. Khomeini to be the unassailable leader in the revolution. This recognition formally placed “divine sovereignty” over that of the people.


II. Sociogenesis and psychogenesis of “Islamic Fundamentalism”

In the face of a successful revolution - a change in the balance of power between rulers and ruled favouring the latter - the question rises as to why former outsiders voluntarily handed over the power they had won to a religious elite which had expressly declared their status as minors. Furthermore, the sole right of the clergy to a monopoly of state power was declared legitimate, and the unlimited obedience of the people in the name of God was demanded. In other words: what are the aspects of the sociogenesis and psychogenesis of “Islamic Fundamentalism” that led to an institutional de-democratisation of social control in the face of a functional democratisation that was occurring as a result of “modernisation”.


1. The problem of habitus as one of the unnoticed implications of modernisation

As a conceptual expression of the necessity of advancing less-developed societies to the same stage as those, which are more developed, “modernisation” implies a concept of development in the sense of technical or economic progress. This involves the actual introduction of machines or a change of economic organisation, with the aim of increasing Gross National Product. As a rule, less attention is paid to the fact that, in the course of such a development, the whole position of the individual within society changes in a specific way, and, consequently, so does the personality structure of individuals and their relation to each other.

Even if, as an exception to the rule, these complementary processes are taken into account, the possibility of simultaneous counter-moves, which can in certain circumstances become dominant, is hardy considered, because social processes are equated with natural processes, and are understood as equally irreversible.

In addition, it is scarcely noticed that both complementary processes and counter processes take place at different speeds and produce corresponding concomitant and consequential effects. There is especially no taking into account of the problem of such “modernisation” known as “unsimultaneous development” of the social structure and the personality structure. This can be called the “drag effect of the social habitus” (Elias, 1991, p. 214). 

In this sense, the institutional de-democratisation of post-revolutionary Iran is to be understood as a drag effect of the social habitus of the social representatives of the revolution - a revolution which followed a massive shift in the social differentiation and the accompanying functional democratisation.


2. Functional democratisation as a function of social differentiation

One of the central aspects of modernisation is a process of social differentiation, which accompanies corresponding processes of disintegration as well as social ascending- and descending-processes. This long-term trend towards a greater differentiation of social functions, shown by the increase in specialised social activities, is not only observable in less-developed societies. What at present especially characterises this process in these societies is, however, the massive shift in the specialisation in social occupations commonly known as an increase in the division of labour in society. This shift in the specialisation of social occupations can be seen inter alia in the statistics: the number of possible occupations has increased.

If we compare the oldest and, as such, only available statistics concerning observed professions in Iran, first collated in 1933 in Tehran only, with the corresponding amount of professions carried out in the whole of Iran in 1976, a rough picture of the development of occupational specialisation in this period can be made. In this period, the 549 professions counted in the capital, which then showed the typical agro-urban characteristics of the whole country, rose to 1847 in the entire land. This means that just before the revolution the number of occupations had almost quadrupled (multiplication factor of 3.37) in 43 years. This shift in occupational specialisation became more intense in the mid-70s and has continued. In 1987, there were 4267 occupations recorded. Therefore, in 11 years, i.e. since 1976, this number experienced a two-fold increase (multiplication factor of 2.3). The central statistical office of Iran added a further 1013 professions to the 1987 figure in 1995. The total amount of professions in Iran therefore rose from 1847 in 1976 to 5280 in 1995. Three times as many professions appeared in the 22 years leading up to 1995. In the 62 years since 1933, there has been a tenfold increase in the number of professions. This quantitative increase in occupational specialisation is not only a spin-off of the newly available professions. Many professions experienced a loss or decrease in their function in the same time-span. After the revolution, many forgotten professions were even reintroduced, such as the female and male guardian of public morals, whereas the functions of some professions were extended, for example that of the clergy.[6]

This shift in social differentiation accompanied processes of commercialisation, industrialisation and secularisation of a society in the throws of putting itself under state control. This, together with an enormous annual average population growth rate of 3%, led to a considerable increase in the degree of the society’s complexity. These processes began as a function of a massive thrust towards globalisation[7], especially since the Second World War.

The process of social differentiation evolved as one of commercialisation (especially of land in the course of land reform since the start of the 1970s), industrialisation (and the accompanying initially formal subsumption of labour by capital) and secularisation of education and law (which tended to lead to the defunctionalisation of the clergy as former functionaries in these areas). These, together with the disintegration of the agrarian and tribal integrationary planes, did not only lead to a perceivable acceleration of urbanisation in the sense of a ruralisation of the cities through the migration of the mass of peasants or to the hypertrophy of the tertiary sector (cf. D. Gholamasad, 1985). It led to a functional democratisation and a prolonged anomic phase of society, which was perceived by the people concerned as moral chaos.

During the course of the social development towards a growing differentiation and specialisation of social positions and functions, not only did the nature and degree of people’s interdependency change (The former peasant subjects became either small land owners, day labourers, peddlers or also industrial workers and craftsmen etc.). Through the increasing division of functions, the chains of interdependence binding people to each other grew in length. The result was that more and more individuals, because of the characteristic quality of their functions, had to rely on more and more people in order to satisfy existential needs (In our case, for example, the number rose from 549 to 5280 functions).

The change in interdependence in this direction signified a decreasing  of power differentials between the various social strata and groups in society, as long as they were integrated into the ever-changing circle of functions within this society. With this specific shift in the balance of power, not only did the relationship between parents and children, men and women, various ethnic and religious groups[8] and other social formations change. The relation of dependence between ruled and rulers also changed. The rulers - that group who possessed access to and disposed over the resources of power in society - became increasingly dependent on groups of outsiders who were refused access to the opportunities of power.

This change in the power structures, this functional and latent democratisation (Elias, 1986, pp. 70-72) in the sense of a lessening of the power differentials between people in different social positions did actually take place. However, it was not adequately experienced by the affected people and, therefore, could not pre-empt an institutionalisation of the changed balance of power.


3. Fundamentalism as a drag effect of the social habitus

With this, we come to a constellation in which the dynamics of unplanned social processes drive over a specific stage towards another one, while the personality structure or rather the social habitus of those people involved in this change remains in the earlier stage (Elias 1987a, p. 281). The common societal moulding of their individual behaviour, of their language and way of thinking, of their emotional state, and, especially of the formation of their conscience and ideals - in short, the basic pattern of their personality - changed relatively slowly in contrast to the relatively rapid process of social differentiation.

Specific conflicts of loyalty, generation and gender were, as conflicts of transition, as much drag effect of their social habitus as are both romantic and fundamentalist movements.

That the newly developed functional context was not able to act as an unit of integration, and that it could not fulfil the material and emotional needs of the people and therefore could not serve as a new object of identification was decisive for the direction of the development.[9] As the previous outsiders as the former weaker social groups were not permitted access to the available power sources and were not given any corresponding concessions, there was an escalation in the integrating tensions and conflicts. The smaller the power differentials accompanying the social differentiation process became, the clearer became the non-economic aspects of the tensions and conflicts. For example, questions regarding access to symbolic capital, i.e. social power of definition, became increasingly important in comparison to the distribution of the means of production and consumption. Apart from that, the relative reduction in power differentials heightened the intensity and severity of open conflicts.

A social movement of people emerged from such a constellation, which, although advocating the technical and economic advantages of modernisation, was not able to bear the accompanying necessary changes in the social habitus. This movement received its growing power from the social dynamics which led to a latent democratisation of society, but saw the “normative objective function” of the developing state-society  in an institutional de-democratisation of social control. Instead of “pluralism” as a multiplication of the institutional multi-plurality of control, this movement aimed for a “monism of ideas and groups”, which demonstrates their relatively small potential for conflict and consensus among the social groups.

This “monism of ideas and groups” assume, however, different chiliastic forms of articulation (Ghloamasad, p. 559ff.). They all have in common the rejection of a “pluralistic society”, an arrangement of institutions, which can exercise mutual control over themselves or over the government. As a collective readiness to set out on the creation of a heavenly state of happiness for humanity or as a movement unleashed by this, chiliasm (Mühlmann, 1964) is therefore an expression of the sum of counter-moves of functional democratisation, which can just as easily assume an Islamic form of articulation as a Christian, Marxist-Leninist or a National-Socialist. The pre-revolutionary coalition, which was partially not formally united, can be explained by means of these common points.

The characteristic of each form of its articulation, which manifests its nativism (Mühlmann, 1964) as a demonstrative emphasising of the values of the people involved, defined as being their own, is, however, a function of the fate of the relationship of their social players. This nativism, supported by chialism, assumes a mantle of faith and gives each individual member of such a movement a proud We-feeling. An idealised imaginative picture of their own merits emerges, of their own mission and of their own pre-eminence over other - especially already established - nations, against whom they are prepared to fight and die.

Hence the sort of fundamentalism supported by Shi’ite chialism is one of the possible forms of articulation of the group charisma of stigmatised social groups. These become supporters of an “anti-imperial” movement. It is an expression of the sudden change of the collective grief of Islamic-moulded outsiders into a hegemonic ecstasy of people gripped by the thrust of globalisation.[10]

As a movement of people idealising the standard and pattern of affect control of an old establishment as “culture” and “tradition”, it dominated the complementary social processes of functional democratisation and hypostatises both the standard and pattern of their experience (e.g., in the form of their threshold of shame and revulsion) and their behaviour (e.g., in the form of their rather formalised dress code) as God’s unchangeable law (Shari’a). This was only possible because there was a shift in the balance between structural change and the continuity of the pattern of behaviour and experience of its supporters tilting towards the continuity of their own, more or less habitualised pattern of behaviour and sentiment.  This familiar layer of their social habitus was idealised as being “Islam”, enjoying eternal validity due to the unchangeable nature of God’s commandments.

As a specific type of self-imposed regulation of human conduct and sentiment, these commandments and bans replace the ego-ideal of these people by helping them overcome the “inferiority complex” stemming from their role as outsiders by means of an imparted virtuous feeling of security and through a feeling of joy and self-satisfaction. This gives them a personal ideal of an individual purpose of sense. They form the core of their self-image, their social doctrine of faith and their scale of values, which, as an object of their common identification, lead to their cohesion as a group. This becomes an additional source of power.

For these people, these idealised commandments equipped with constraints through others take over the whole functioning of conscience more than ever, because their apparatus of self-control are inadequately developed for the change in the way groups of people are linked to one another: they are relatively open to impulses, are fragile, unstable and less autonomous. This change is a result of social dynamics. In this position, their self-constraint, which is lagging behind, apparently needs continuous support and strengthening through exterior constraints.

The actual constraints of both their own nature and the other members of society as well as groups considered enemies is too demanding for them, and they flee to the “constraints of the imagination” to dismantle their own tension, which appears unbearable. By this tension is meant the conflict between societal commandments and bans cultivated as self-constraints and the reserved spontaneous impulse to act (Elias, 1987a, p.168). This makes the “security of salvation” the “normative objective function” of their state.

Driven from this reference to imagination, they storm the power of the state with the intention of presenting it to a religious elite who considers them to be sheeplike and claims a monopoly on power which will be exercised in the name of God.

The basis of acceptance for replacing the sovereignty of the people with the sovereignty of God, whose commandments are interpreted and sanctioned as valid law by “wise and just legal scholars”, is the indirect recognition of the fragility of self-regulation. The accompanying fear of “individual freedom” resulting from a shift in the balance between social constraint and self-constraint in favour of the former also plays a role. Since the means of self-control they possess are not adequately strong and balanced, the “Islamification” of everyday life, such as the order on female clothing, is intended to blur the apparent sources of stimulation and tension. Likewise, the monism of ideas and groups is intended to prevent any uncertainty caused by the relatively inadequate ability for detachment through the threat of looming pluralism.

These people hardly have any access to a type of experience and an image which enables other people to perceive themselves apart from and independent of their own group, to become aware of being a person facing, as it were, his own group. Therefore, they are not only made uncertain by every institutional expression of a reduction in the power differentials between all groups and all individuals in the course of the growing specialisation or differentiation of all societal actions. Their relatively small ability to detach themselves, the measure and pattern of individualisation, manifests itself in a relatively less-developed potential for conflict and consensus in an image of the nature of politics, which, instead of a “daily fight over what is right” makes “the enforcement of the will of God, orientated by the implementation of the Shari’a” (Klaff, 1987, p. 47) into a dictum.


 4.        “Re-Islamisation” in the sense of “fundamentalism” is a symptom of a mentality of individuals moulded by Islam emerging as a function of a characteristic circulus vitiosus in crisis situations

This institutional de-democratisation is only understandable if one takes into account the fact that all human conduct towards self, towards other people and towards non-human natural processes can only be regulated by socially imparted concepts, and, as such, emotionally embedded ideas of self, other people and non-human natural processes. These symbolic representatives of reality as a “social a prioris” (Elias, 1989), with their corresponding ways of thinking, are collectively communicable means of orientation and control. But although they are subject to permanent change, they do reveal a certain structural continuity. Measured by an individual dimension of time, they appear as unchangeable natural or divine constants, because and as long as they are assimilated by them and have become second nature to them. As “social a prioris”, they shape individual conduct through various channels of socialisation. However, this process of socialisation is only possible by the individualisation of these patterns of individuals’ conduct and sentiment: as a condition of the possibility of reproduction or as a basic element of the relative stabilisation of human societies.

The survival value of this social influencing of individual conduct and sentiment, however, lies within an appropriate balance between structural change in a specific direction and the continuity of patterns of conduct and sentiment. The relative continuity of this pattern as a rigid “obsessional repetition” loses its life-saving function, acquired through the natural conditions of the constitution of human society, when it lags too far behind social development and thus leads to a misregulation of conduct and sensation. As an inadequate reaction pattern, therefore, the social habitus is responsible for the uncontrollable dynamics of social processes, and also for the increase in human uncertainty with regard to self and social processes.

With this uncertainty, there is a further increase in the level of involvement, which, with a growing degree of affect- and impulse-determined perception, contributes to an escalation of the “vicious circle” of involvement, with its corresponding images of desire and fear. In this sense, the “re-Islamisation” of society is a symptom of such a mentality resulting from this vicious circle.


5. “Islamic fundamentalism” as a function of “modernisation” orientated by growth alone

As a kind of revitalisation of earlier layers of the social habitus of Islamic-influenced people, this balance of personality, these attitudes of faith and values and this situation of affect are functions of “modernisation” seen as a purely growth-orientated economic development. This led to the disintegration of former units of integration - for instance, tribes, clans, extended families, villages etc. - and, as a consequence, to the accompanying traumatic social ascending- and descending-processes, without appropriately being able to integrate people torn from these social figurations. The “uprooting” of people which went hand in hand with the release from former social units did not therefore necessarily and simultaneously lead to further thrusts of individualisation, i.e. to a shift in the We-I-balance in favour of a stronger emphasis on the I-identity of the individual and an accompanying shift in the balance between their We-references in the sense of an emotional release from traditional groups and an extension of the scope of their identification with other people independent of ethnicity and religious persuasion.

Institutionalised means and ways of articulation, and a corresponding mediation of social conflicts could have played a decisive role here. They could possibly have reduced the disparity between the social orientation of the individual’s efforts and his social possibilities of fulfilling them - and helped to reconcile and link the perceived separation between individual persons and a larger social unit which was in the throws of becoming a state.

The tensions and conflicts of integration, fed by the confrontation between East and West, were, besides “economic” problems, mainly problems of habitus. Instead of leading to appropriate ways and means of social communication and co-ordination, these led to a massive repression of emerging democratic institutions such as the free press, trade unions, other organisations and political parties, which, as representatives of particular interests and co-ordinating organs could not only have taken over functions of social advancement for those involved, but, as factors of order, could also have taken over the function of holding together the whole society.

Such a function of preservation would above all exist in a socially more appropriate socialisation of “uprooted” people, by replacing their disorientation with more appropriate representatives of reality and integrating them better socially.

Without such institutional forms of participation, the necessary attitudes and patterns of conduct and experience which were needed for the new relations were either not at all acquired or remained superficial, forming a layer of the social habitus, or personality, which emotionally was not rooted deeply enough.

Without a sharper and firmer differentiation of the personality, through which the outwardly-directed psychological functions take on the character of a more “rationally” functioning consciousness, less directly coloured by drive impulses and affective fantasies (cf. Elias, 1976), the “uprooted” persons act in a relatively disorientated way, only having at their disposal the earlier layers of their social habitus as representatives of earlier stages of integration or earlier elites.


Made uncertain by the social transformation processes, which repeatedly challenge them, their survival in their new social functions and positions depends entirely on the more reliable, reluctance-avoiding adoption and repetition of certain social standards of conduct. These norms offer themselves to these people in the form of familiar patterns of conduct and systems of faith that have seemingly been valid for aeons, or in the shape of “charismatic personalities” as living means of orientation.

By means of the narcissistic fantasy of fusion of these “uprooted” people, systems of belief like “the” Islamic faith, and leading charismatic figures such as Ay. Khomeini receive their power, i.e. the social opportunity to regulate people’s conduct.

Hence, that former layer of the social habitus of less individualised people idealised as “the” Islamic faith, can be elevated to become the “centre and kernel of the state” (Klaff, p. 23), while its personification rises to become an unlimited, absolute ruler.

The leading charismatic figures of such social movements are usually recruited from among the circle of people who put up the strongest resistance to the transformation of the structure of society in a specific direction, both because of the harassing problems of habitus and because of the painful experience of social de-functionalisation and devaluation, and the accompanying loss of power and prestige.

The core unit of such leaders, in spite of the possibility of economic participation in modernisation, shares similar experiences and ideals. These obtain a mass character by means of mass identification.

This mass identification constitutes a charismatic form of rule, which, being characterised by advancement, is generally fuelled by crises. This is a problem of habitus.

For this reason, such rule, hostile towards any democratic institution, not only seeks to control the network of state regulations, but also to control everyday life, or, in other words, to Islamise it – as re-formalisation of behaviour in some aspects of people’s life. We are facing here a counterspurt of the civilizing process, which usually moves along in a long sequence of spurts and conuterspurts towards diminishing contrasts between the behaviour of different social groups – like the contrasts and sudden switches within the behaviour of individuals - and increasing varieties of code of conduct.

This re-islamisation of everyday manifest itself especially in an increasing contrasts between both formal and informal behaviour-regulation in the post- revolutionary Iran at the same time.

It is this increasing formality-informality span”[11] of the post- revolutionary Iran, which is – especially – experienced as an institutional de-democratisation in the relationship between men and women as well as between the older and younger generations. Besides the differences between the younger and older generations, there are at the same time some official attempts to decrease even the scope of informality in the key areas of informal behaviour. Simultaneously the younger generations who were born after the revolution have been endeavouring quite consciously to break down the formality of behaviour even further. The tendency – partly unintended, partly intended – towards equalisation of patterns of behaviour regarding all situations, depends on the shift of the functional and institutional power balances and the transformation of the experience of the people involved.

The iranian eperiance proofes the fact, as Norbert Elias feststellt: Again and again a rising outsider stratum attains the functions and characteristics of an establishment in relation to other outsider strata, on their part, are pressing from below, from their position as oppressed outsiders, against the current establishment. And again and again, as the grouping of people, which has risen and has stabilised itself is followed by still broader, and more populous grouping attempting to emancipate itself, to free itself from oppression, one finds that the latter, if successful, is forced in turn into the position of an established oppressor. The time may well come when the former oppressed groups, freed from oppression, do not become oppressors in turn; but it is not yet in sight.






Ajatollah Khomeini: Der islamische Staat, Berlin, 1983

Baladie-je Teheran, Servise Maaref, Dajere-je Ehsai-je: Sarschomari-e Nofuse Teheran dar sanawate 1262, 1270, 1301, 1311- persisch), Teheran 1312 ( Die Volkszälungen der Jahre 1883, 1891, 1922, 1933), Teheran 1934

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Bendix, R. Könige oder Volk, : Machtausübung und Herrschaftsmandat, 2 Bde, Ffm 198o

Binswanger, K.: Das Selbstverständnis der Islamischen Republik Iran im Spiegel ihrer neuen Verfassung; in: Orient, 21, 1980, S. 320ff

Botschaft der Islamischen Republik Iran (Hg): Verfassung der Islamischen Republik Iran, Bonn 1980

Elias, N.: 1987a: Die Gesellschaft der Individuen, Ffm. 1987a

Elias, N.: Engagement und Distanzierung, Ffm. 1987b

Elias, N. Sociology of Knowledge: New Perspectives, in : "Sociology", 1971, V, Nr. 2, S. 149-168 und Nr. 3 , S.355-370

Elias, N.: The Symboltheorie, in: Theory, Culture & Society, voll. 6, Nr. 2, Mai 1989, S. 169-216 sowie Nr. 3, August 1989, S. 339-386 und Nr. 4, Nov. 1989, S. 499-537

Elias, N.: Über den Prozeß der Zivilisation, Bd. 2, Ffm. 1976

Elias, N.: Die höfische Gesellschaft, Frankfurt/M, 1983

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Elias, N.: Über Menschen und ihre Emotionen: Ein Beitrag zur Evolution der Gesellschaft; in: Semiotik, Bd. 12, H. 4, 1990, 337ff.

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Fehrest-e Kodhaje goruhbandi-e Maschaghel behamrahe Fehrest-e Alefba-je Maschaghel, Azar 1355 (Verzeichnis der Kodes für Klassifizierung der Berufe und alphabetisches Verzeichnis der Berufe, Dez. 1976 - persich)

Freud, S.: Massenpsyschologie und Ichanalyse, in : Sigmund Freud Studienausgabe, Bd. IX, Frankfurt /, 1974

Gholamasad, D.: Iran: Die Entstehung der "Islamischen Revolution", Hamburg 1985

Kämpfer, E. : Am Hofe des persischen Großkönigs (1684-85), Leipzig 1940

Klaff, R.: Islam und Demokratie, Ffm.  Bern, N.Y., Paris, 1987

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Mühlmann, W. E. et al.: Chiliasmus und Nativismus, Berlin 1961, 2. Auflage 1964

Sarschomari-e Omumi-e Nofus und Maskan 1365, Madjmue-je Kodha (National Census 1986, Sammlug der Kodes, persisch), Hg.: Plan and Buget Organization, Statistical Centre of Iran

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Verfassung der Islamischen Republik Iran, herausgegeben von der Botschaft der Islamischen Republik Iran. Bonn Presse- und Kulturabteilung, Mai 1980.



[1] A characteristic shared by the great majority of studies into “re-Islamisation” or “Islamic Fundamentalism”.

[2] In this predominant sociological opinion social situations treated as if they normally existed in a state of rest serve as the frame of reference for all change.  Thus a society is regarded as a “social system”, and a “social system” as a “system in a state of rest”. The present study upholds the Idea, based on abundant material, the change is a normal characteristic of society. A structured sequence of continuous change serves here as a framework of reference for investigating states located at a particular points in Time. (Elias, n. 1994, P. 181ff)


[3] Each established group tends “to ascribe the ‘bad’ characteristics of the ‘worst’ of its sub-groups, the anomic minority, to the group of outsiders as a whole. Conversely, the self-image of the established group is shaped by the minority of its ‘best’ members, by its most exemplary or ‘most nomic’ sub-group. This pars-pro-toto distortion in opposing directions enables the established group to prove the justification of its axiom of belief to itself and others. They always have proof that their group is ‘good’ and the other ‘bad’ (Elias, Scotson, p. 13).

[4] Even in the constitution of the Islamic Republic (Art. 12), this recalled continuity of change is partially taken into account, whereby other schools of law which have developed over the centuries are recognised: “The official religion of Iran is Islam and the Djafaritic school of law, the school of the twelve Shia. ...Other Islamic schools of law such as the Hanafitic, Shafi’itic, Malakitic, Hanabalitic and Zaiditic are recognised without limitations; their followers are free to practice their religious obligations according to their own school of law and to order religious education and upbringing, as well as matters of the status of persons such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, will...”

[5] The constitutional revision, completed in August 1989, provided for the following: 1) competences of the leader were considerably extended; 2) the leadership system of the executive and judiciary, radio and television was fundamentally changed; 3) ‘Parliament’s’ name changed from ‘National Consultative Assembly’ to ‘Islamic Consultative Assembly’; 4) two institutions were founded, ‘National Security Council’ an ‘Council for the Establishment of the Interest of Order’, which exercise important state functions, and finally; 5) institutional rules were set down for further possible constitutional revisions.

[6] The dramatic dimension of this process of social differentiation can only be appropriately comprehended if the century-long relative stagnation of societal development is considered in the sense of a structural transformation of social relationships.

[7] Aspects of this globalisation are:

a)     Reduction in the distance between many states and groups of states since the start of social development as a result of the motor car and the aeroplane.

b)     Increase in mass communication since the development of the telephone, radio and television, in short the means of mass communication.

c)     The largely unlimited global movement of tourists and goods.

d)     Intensification of the network of  interdependence between states. The network has intensified in the course of the 20th century.

[8] Religious conflicts intensified in Iran due to the relative increase in the opportunities of power for Bahais, Jews and Christians as opposed to Muslims in the course of the modernisation of society. With the exception of the Bahais, who were otherwise persecuted as heretics, the other groups were once obliged to show respect to Muslims. According to Kämper’s account of Iran, where he stayed for several years at the end of the 17th century, they even had to dismount from their horses or donkeys if they met a Muslim on the street as an acknowledgement of his social pre-eminence. They even had to avoid the streets if it was raining, as this would have increased the likelihood of Muslim impurity by rain water rebounding from non-Muslim bodies.

8 There are two types of social bonds - personal and relatively impersonal. The significance of relatively impersonal ties increases with the growth in occupational differentiation, whereas personal bonds are increasingly differentiated into immediate and symbolically imparted. Language, ethnicity, religion and also state symbols become objects of common emotional identification by people. The chance to broaden the extent of identification of people with one another beyond their group-specific ethnic and religious etc. boundaries grows with social differentiation and the accompanying lengthening of the chain of dependence. Their emotional bond, however, is probable through the investing of emotional energy in symbols of reality of people involved as their common ones, which communicate the personal ties . (cf. Elias 1986, p. 146ff.) State and party political ties are, inter alia, two of the possibilities of these symbolically imparted emotional bonds. The integrating process can indeed lag behind advanced social differentiation.

[10] Globalisation refers to silent reduction in distances, the growing integration of humanity, without necessarily imposing itself as a global integration process of human experiences. A humanisation of human relations would take place with the global integration of human experiences. This would possibly and probably, though not necessarily, be a concomitant and consequential effect of globalisation. The process of social ascending and descending of people as establishment and outsiders in interstate relations which accompanies the globalisation of the interdependence of people is responsible for the blocking of the transformation of the experiences of those persons involved in this process. The nativism of the outsiders is a reaction to a globalisation process, which is perceived as “imperialism” and “cultural imperialism”.

[11] This relates to the operation of both formal and informal behaviour-regulation in a society at the same time; or, to express it differently, it concerns the synchronic gradient between formality and informality. This is different from the successive informalization gradients observed in the course of social development, the diachronic gradient of informalization. (Elias, 1996, p. 28ff.)