||"dawnbreak in the west"|
Sunday, September 29, 2013
It has been five years since the release of Pourshariati's Decline and Fall of the Sasanian Empire. (About two since I first read it.) Google Books shows that this book has challenged to the core how we read the Sasanid regime as "Persian" - has perhaps even upended our reading of it. Even the armchair Orientalists amongst us have read Tom Holland's Shadow of the Sword, in its first part basically a popularisation of Pourshariati.
Iranians have been reading Pourshariati too. Reza Akhlaghi, for instance, sees her book as a lesson for modern Iranians; on the classic Oriental model of how a regime should work (or not).
We in the West tend to view government as something that comes from someone's will: the will of the Gods, then of Christ the Despot and, lately, of the People and most lately of the best people (that is, Obama). In the East, while the gods certainly cannot be mocked, the gods' personal feelings aren't really the point. There exists a Divine Order transcending the gods. Bronze Age Egypt called it ma'at. CS Lewis couldn't find a word for it in English and so picked up the Chinese concept, Tao. The classical Greeks didn't quite have a word for it either, but - at least their tragedians (not so much Homer) - knew that there were some things which were just intrinsically wrong, and that had to be corrected; they approximated this concept with moira, fate. It was accepted in every city east of the Adriatic that no amount of burnt-offerings could buy off Nemesis. Aryan peoples called their cosmic-order Ṛta; pronunciation seems to have varied by dialect, and it was arta in Old Persian.
What brings on "oriental despotism" isn't the belief in arta. Believers in arta are the best of leaders: Cyrus comes to mind. The first step toward the infernal dozakh is in telling people that your regime is full of arta even when it's not. The next step is when you decide that your regime is arta and that anything else is a "lie". Darius came very, very close in his wall-reliefs; forbearing only to speak the word - he went with happiness-for-mankind instead. Nemesis comes in the form of an enemy who, in his victory, proves you the liar. The epilogue is where you're fleeing for your life toward Afghanistan for, er, refuge and your enemy burns all your books. (This seems to happen a lot in Persian history.)
As for America . . . nah, Nemesis doesn't apply. None of that could ever happen here.
UPDATE 3/17/2017: Happiness for mankind.
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