Taqizadeh and the Problem of Modernity

Nearly eight decades ago, Taqizadeh, in one of his seminal articles, set forth the suggestion that in order to overcome Iran's backward and still decaying state of affairs, "Iranians must in substance and appearance, physically and spiritually, become westernized." This single sentence has been the topic of discussion and various interpretations by Iranian intellectuals and politicians ever since. Most critics have suggested, incorrectly, that these words sum up Taqizadeh's general definition of modernity for Iran and have, therefor, made him the subject of their scathing attacks. However, Taqizadeh's ideas about modernity and its application to Iranian society were gradually formed in a long period of exposure to modern ideas and practices in the West. It was during the constitutional movement in Iran and in the Democrat Party, that Taqizadeh began developing and expressing his views on the subject. Later on, during his sojourn in Imperial Germany and as one of the founders of, and contributors to, Kaveh, he further refined his ideas on modernity. Finally, in the last two decades of his life, he slightly revised and summed up his views on the issue.   

Contrary to the claim of his critics, Taqizaheh, did not advocate the adoption of western values and institutions at the expense of the essential components of Iranian national identity. In fact, he forcefully argued for preservation and promotion of the Persian language, appreciation for Iranian cultural values and upholding the best of Iran’s millennial traditions. His numerous scholarly articles and essays on Ferdowsi’s Shahnahmeh , Iran’s ancient history, old Iranian languages and calendars attest to his abiding interest in Iranian national identity. Nevertheless, he argued that adoption of the best elements of more advanced civilizations has throughout history been the wellspring of the cultural and material growth of all human societies. In his opinion, centuries long isolation of Iran from the western world had greatly set back Iran’s cultural and scientific advancement and material development.

Jamshid Behnam
Current Issue: 
Past Issue