Iran’s Political Culture and Foreign Policy: Reform or Revolution?

June 16 - June 30, 2015

Tuesdays, 8 PM Tehran time

Since the 1905 Constitutional Revolution, critiques of Iran’s political culture have mostly focused on the approaches, beliefs, and feelings that define and regulate the political process within the country. They have spent much less time on the presuppositions and rules governing the behavior of Iran’s ruling systems outside the country. In other words, critiques of Iran’s political culture have overlooked the concepts and norms that shape Iranians’ visions for Iran, its position in the region and in the world, and its relations with neighboring countries as well as allies and rivals. Despite multiple changes in government, the foundations of many approaches, strategies, and assumptions contained within Iranian foreign policy remain unaltered, whether among the public or among policymakers.

The attainment of freedom, civil rights, and a stable democratic system requires a revolution in the political culture of a society living in the shadow of autarchy. Similarly, a positive role in the maintenance of peace, security, and stability in the region requires fundamental changes in political culture. The ideas and ideals that govern the actions of governments (and political and civic organizations) in matters of foreign policy have not yet been properly analyzed. In three sections, we will examine how political culture–as a product of the history of political systems and interactions between politics and society, rooted in public events and individuals’ personal experiences–play a role in forming Iran’s foreign policy. To what extent is this political culture based on the principles of interaction with the outside world and the pursuit of peace, stability, and security? Does it need reform or an inevitable revolution?