Saturday, February 29, 2020
In the Nation, Reading Richard Rorty in Tehran.
Heidegger in particular is central to the Iranian story. Beginning in the 1960s, during the rule of the American-aligned and dictatorial Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, and continuing through the 1979 Islamic Revolution until today, the German thinker has been one of the dominant philosophical figures in Iran. His critique of Enlightenment liberalism, and his emphasis on the need to “remember” an authentic way of being that modernity has forgotten, resonated particularly strongly. Heidegger’s thought owes continuing prominence in Iran to a single figure, Ahmad Fardid. Born in 1910, Fardid left Iran to study in France and Germany in the years after the Second World War and returned a committed Heideggerian, espousing a doctrine of “Westoxification,” the idea that Iran had been infected by and must rid itself of Western culture and ideas. Writers and thinkers like Jalal Al-e Ahmad and Ali Shariati, who shaped the intellectual climate that led to the revolution, adopted Fardid’s views and terminology—“Westoxification” was popularized by Al-e Ahmad in a book by that same name—casting Heidegger a famous Western philosopher who legitimized their already existing anti-modernism.
Before the revolution, Fardid employed his convoluted rhetoric, heavy with mysticism and dubious etymologies, to defend the shah’s regime; afterward, he applied the same tactics to justify Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini’s rule. This species of Heideggerian-infused thought, in style as well as substance, remains popular among both secular and religious intellectuals, those inside the regime as well as among its opponents.
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