Friday, July 24, 2009

Sustainability II: Legitimacy Pt. 1

I got into a discussion the other day about the future of Iran following the Iran Elections with my mother the other day (just wait, I promise this is about arts development). She was expressing her (understandable) frustration that Obama didn't intervene more in the Iran Election, to do something to help out the protesters. She didn't understand why Moussavi didn't call upon the world for help.

I tried to explain to her the crucial importance of legitimacy in government. An illegitimate government is an unsustainable government. In fact, I wish I had some high-power quotations from Rousseau or Montesquieu, or the founding fathers, because that's what the Enlightenment was based upon. Governments that are illegitimate are unstable, and the Enlightenment sought to bring stability to war-torn Europe by creating more legitimate governments into power.

Moussavi could ask for foreign intervention to help counterbalance the physical force of Khameni's government, but if he did, he'd lose that crucial bit of legitimacy that defines his movement. The movement is based on two key principles:

1) Allowing the Iranian people to self-determine their own government
2) Using legal, peaceful processes to ensure that this happens.

Clearly, whether or not Moussavi would be brought into power by a US-led intervention, or by UN Peacekeepers, is irrelevant. Forcing Moussavi into power violates both of those principles, and he loses his legitimacy. Moussavi understands legitimacy rather intimately, because the only reason he is in the position that he is is because Khameni rather stunningly gave up a huge foundation of legitimacy that the government was predicated on.

If you look at the above two principles, both of them were (at least to a large degree) applicable to the post-1979 Iran, well through Ahmadinejad's first election. There was a high degree of censorship (which is not what the people are protesting) and some election massaging, but in several structural ways you could demonstrate that Iran was holding to those principles more than any other Muslim nation in the area, minus perhaps Turkey.

To bring this to arts groups, which I've really been talking about all this time: the sense of "sustainability" of an arts organization is very much linked to the sense of "legitmacy." The question, really, is how does an arts leader:

1) Identify legitimacy
2) Cultivate legitimacy

I think I have a few posts left in me for today on the subject of legitimacy. But the first thing I want to say is that for an arts community, it is crucial to keep an eye on whether or not your actions are creating legitimacy--and not the window-dressing of legitimacy. For instance, a building is not legitimacy, never mind the fact that it tells the community that you're a powerful, stable organization. It is no more a sign of "legitimacy" than the Basij are symbols of the legitimacy. The demonstration of resources is not a sign of legitimacy (although the demonstration of stability might be, in some cases, part of legitimacy).