Theocratic Democracy and its Critics

Dr. Ahmad Va’ezi[1]

A theocratic democracy is a model of political system whose founders believe in a combination of theocracy and the people’s governance. That means while accepting every individuals’ right for interference and participation in the process of macro-scale decision making in political and social fields, and in political power distribution, the system also highly respects the supremacy of religion in social and political fields. This general definition does not all by itself show in which one of the assumed and probable frameworks of this combination and amalgamated form of governance can be fit. In other words, democracy in a theocratic mold is a comprehensible concept and at the level of political theorizing, too, it is possible to present various models and types of it; because on the one hand, democracy has the capacity of being presented in various models, and on the other hand, the role of religion in the fields of politics and society yields to interpretations.

Therefore, depending on our assumption and interpretation of the level of interference of religion in the social life of the mankind, and on which type of democracy we prefer, we would be able to present different models of theocratic democracy.

The present article has an eye in the model of theocratic democracy based on which the political system of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the framework of its Constitution are established. The axis of this interpretation of theocratic democracy is jurisprudence. In other words, a very vast realm in the field of social life is secured for the interference of religion, and the system is determined that the economic, cultural, and political affairs of the Islamic society must definitely be regulated keeping in mind the general and particular rules and regulations of the Islamic jurisprudence.

It is due to this pivotal interpretation of the jurisprudence that this constitution gives a very significant political power to the Supreme Source of Jurisprudence, or Vali-ye Faqih. [2]

In fact the political vicegerency of the jurist in this model of theocratic democracy is the interpretation of the prominent role of jurisprudence in the field of social life. That is the reason why some of the critics of this type of theocratic democracy have aimed at the issue of congruency of jurisprudence with the social relations of the contemporary world, and the incompetence of jurisprudence in regulating the social relations.

In this article I am going to categorize the major opponents of this interpretation of theocratic democracy, and to survey and evaluate these challenges. I hope this way through this review and survey the idea of theocratic democracy would be further clarified. Before dealing with these critic approaches it would be convenient to note that a part of these challenges are directly aimed at this particular mentality – jurisprudence-based – of the theocratic democracy, some others generally speaking reject any kind of theocratic democracy which is a combination of the rulership of the people coupled with the interference of religion in social life of the nation, and there is yet another group that rejects any type of political model that depends on acceptance of a certain type of particular ideology, religion, and ethical of philosophical school aimed at centralizing power in an undemocratic manner. The latter group is therefore opposed to the governance of the entire theocratic political systems.

The author in his survey of the critic approaches towards theocratic democracies does not segregate himself within the barriers of the first type of critics and tries to present to his readers a relatively comprehensive chart inclusive of the entire theories which in a way challenge the theocratic democracy in question.

1. General Criticism on Guardianship Governances

Throughout the history of political theorizing, probably the most serious competitor of the democratic system has been the group of political theories within the guardianship model. Various interpretations of the guardianship governance have been presented and some great and influential thinkers have had emphasis on this political approach. For instance we can refer to Confucius, Plato (who lived a century after Confucius), Carl Marx, Stinger, and Lenin. As some prominent supporters of democracy, like Robert Dahl emphasize, the guardianship system has strong and firm roots in the history of political thoughts hand keeping in mind its strong and firm logical background, it is the strongest and most serious competitor of the democratic system and just because of some practical weak points in the historical experience of the guardianship governances we cannot totally reject this important political idea. (Dahl, 1989, P.52)

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[1] Lecturer at Cambridge University

[2] High religious vicegerent of guardian