Khamene’i: the prophet armed?

He has put Ahmadi-nejad and the security forces in power; but does he command their loyalty?

If in fact what just happened in Iran indeed represents the transfer of power from the clerics and civilian politicians/businessmen/kleptocrats to the security forces, it’s not without precedent: just so the Parliamentarians and Puritan divines lost power to the major-generals in Cromwellian England.

The good news, if you believe that history rhymes: the major-generals didn’t last long. The squires got so disgusted they decided to bring back the Stuarts, with the apparent goodwill of most of the population.

The insecurity of a purely ideological power-base was noticed a long time ago:

It is necessary, therefore, if we desire to discuss this matter thoroughly, to inquire whether these innovators can rely on themselves or have to depend on others: that is to say, whether, to consummate their enterprise, have they to use prayers or can they use force? In the first instance they always succeed badly, and never compass anything; but when they can rely on themselves and use force, then they are rarely endangered. Hence it is that all armed prophets have conquered, and the unarmed ones have been destroyed. Besides the reasons mentioned, the nature of the people is variable, and whilst it is easy to persuade them, it is difficult to fix them in that persuasion. And thus it is necessary to take such measures that, when they believe no longer, it may be possible to make them believe by force.

It looks as if the Supreme Leader has decided that his supremacy will be more secure if he aligns himself with the Revolutionary Guards. But is he right? Will they obey him, or Ahmadi-nejad?

As Machiavelli also says, “It has always been the opinion and judgment of wise men that nothing can be so uncertain or unstable as the reputation of power not founded on one’s own strength.” And “Between an armed and an unarmed man no proportion holds, and it is contrary to reason to expect that the armed man should voluntarily submit to him who is unarmed, or that the unarmed man should stand secure among armed retainers. For with contempt on one side, and distrust on the other, it is impossible that men should work well together.”

Khamene’i, having put Ahmadi-nejad and the Revolutionary Guards in the driver’s seat, should heed Machiavelli’s other warning: “He who is the cause of another becoming powerful is ruined.”

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: