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Sadiqi's Introduction to Aristotle's Athenian Constitution



Sadiqi enjoyed a near mythical reputation amongst a generation of Iranian intellectuals. He was known for his impressive erudition, his unfailing intellectual honesty, his indefatigable search for scholarly rigor and finally his support for modernity's ideas about representative democracy and the rule of law. His introduction to Bastani-Parizi's translation of Aristotle's The Athenian Constitution shows how well deserved that reputation was.

The history of political philosophy can, in one sense, be divided into two tendencies. Some see political philosophy as a instrument of "soul-craft." They have no tolerance for the imperfections of the human soul, and seek to build a Utopia where the custodians of an absolute truth rule. The origins of totalitarianism, and varieties of theocratic despotism, can be found in this tradition. Others see the goal of political philosophy as "state-craft." They are cognizant of human imperfections and thus want to create not a Utopia, but the most pragmatic, workable system. Citizens are not the tools of politics, but its goal, and governments are not masters, or shepherds, of the people, but their servants. As Sadiqi's "Introduction" clearly shows, he belongs squarely in this tradition, advocating elements of the Aristotelian philosophy along with the theory of modern representative democracy. Contrary to the tradition of Islamic thinkers of the past who used Aristotle's concepts to buttress the fundamental tenets of Islam, Sadiqi's use of Aristotle is strictly secular in purpose.

The first important point about the "Introduction" is the time of its publication. The essay was published in 1964, precisely at the time when claims of theocratic rule began to appear in Iran. It was also the time of the rise of dogmatic ideologies of the left. Finally, it was the period when the Shah's autocratic rule was eroding the foundations of constitutional rule in Iran. Might not then Sadiqi's "Introduction," be seen as his political intervention in the ongoing, albeit informal, debate in Iran at the time? Is the "Introduction" not a dress-rehearsal for the valiant political positions he took on the eve of the Islamic revolution? The second point about the "Introduction" is the parsimony and precision of its language. Principles of economy of thought and language are key epistemic principles of modernity and Sadiqi's narrative style is a study in such modern discursive rules.

Sadiqi situates Aristotle's ideas about the origins of ethics, and the relationship between ethics and politics at the core of his political philosophy. Contrary to Plato's monist view, Aristotle had a more historical approach to the question of the genealogy of ethics. He also believed in the plurality of ethics. Furthermore, instead of Plato's Philosopher King, Aristotle saw the rule of law, in a state founded on the ideas and ideals of middle class, to be the most pragmatic political system. For Sadiqi, one of the defining methodological principles of the Aristotelian system is his disdain for dogma and absolutes. Following the model of "The First Teacher," Sadiqi criticizes Aristotle for his defense of slavery, and his views on women.

If there is any criticism of the "Introduction" itself, it must be in the fact that no where in it is the mention of the fact that according to some scholars, The Athenian constitution might have in fact been the work of one of Aristotle's students.

* Abstract prepared by the author.

Author: 
Abbas Milani
Volume: 
15
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