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The Conception of Revolution in Persianate Political Thought 1

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Abstract The modern Persian term for “revolution,” enqelāb, often used in conjunction with dawlat as the divinely ordained turn in power, stretches way back to the medieval period, and was in fact even used shortly before the revival of literary Persian to describe the Khorasanian uprising against the Umayyads. We find two very different ideas of revolution in the Persianate literature. The first is a deterministic theory of revolution in earthly kingdoms as a natural phenomenon; this has received little or no attention in the secondary literature on the subject. The idea had Indian origins, was developed in the late Sasanian Iran and absorbed in the astronomical theories of the early ʿAbbasid period. The second conception is a normative one, and belongs to the literature on statecraft and political ethics. It explains revolution as a consequence of the moral decay of the ruler and his failure to uphold the principles of statecraft. According to this second theory, revolutionary upheaval and changes of dynasty result from the failure of the rulers to maintain the prosperity of the kingdom through justice. This conception, too, can be traced to the Khorasan uprising. The mutual articulation and reconciliation of the deterministic and the normative conceptions of revolution represents the Persianate understanding of human agency within the framework of cosmic laws.

Affiliations: 1: State University of New York at Stony Brook


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