1039 GMT January 17, 2022
I believe that a certain type of intellectual movement underlies social development. In that regard, Noam Chomsky contends that “It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies”. Ideally, public intellectuals, those without a vested interest in political, social, economic, or career ambitions, everywhere can perform such a task.
But Chomsky’s audience mainly resides in the liberal, democratic West. This task carries a great deal of risk for the public intellectual outside the liberal West. The Iranian public intellectual, like its Western counterpart, should engage the public to inform and to expose all forms of the ‘constructed’ truth. They must engage the public under the watchful eyes of the state and the historically bound, traditional social norms and values.
The Iranian public intellectuals from the Iranian Constitutional Revolution to the then-prime minister Mohammad Mossadeq era and to the present time have also been burdened with the challenge of the supposed tradition-modernity dichotomy in a rapidly changing world.
It’s in this context that they need to engage the public in discussions of the intricacies of state-society relations and ‘Effective’ (state-dominated, purposeful, and planned development) and ‘Good’ (state-private partnership and democratic) governance.
The public intellectual also needs to dissect the boundaries of the individual vis-à-vis the public or the state responsibility. Citizenship is more than a mere designation; it comes with responsibilities for both the state and society.
I believe the Iranian society has in the past forty years taken a giant leap forward in ‘social change’ for the better. And I prefer to use that term instead of ‘social development’ even though ‘change’ can be controversial at what is ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
However, the scrutiny over matters of religion as well as political authority from a Shia Islamic perspective, the role of the individual in society and civil society, and political campaigning and electioneering in governance are all positive developments. The future of civil society and good governance is bright, barring any drastic reversal in Iran’s social development due to wars or widespread social calamities. Only time will tell what is in store in a future Islamic Republic.
*Ali Abootalebi is a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.