Watch Carefully

Mass protests are underway in Iran against the totalitarian Islamic regime that has been in power since 1979.

Something very significant happened yesterday: as reported by the AP, Tehran has announced that it will no longer enforce the dress code for women that has been in place since the revolution.

This is a moment of great peril for the regime. Authoritarian regimes are in the most danger not when they oppress the people with an iron grip, but when they begin to reform, to make concessions, when conditions begin to soften and improve.

Eric Hoffer saw this with extraordinary clarity. In The True Believer, written in 1951, he said:

Discontent is likely to be highest when misery is bearable; when conditions have so improved that an ideal state seems almost within reach. A grievance is most poignant when almost redressed… Our frustration is greater when we have much and want more than when we have nothing and want some. We are less dissatisfied when we lack many things than when we seem to lack but one thing.

Hoffer made this astonishingly prescient observation about the Soviet Union:

The most dangerous moment for the regime of the Politburo will be when a considerable improvement in the economic conditions of the Russian masses has been achieved and the iron totalitarian rule somewhat relaxed.

An Iranian uprising like this happened during Barack Obama’s presidency. He looked the other way. Donald Trump almost certainly will not, and you can be sure that the mullahs of Tehran know it. To those who understand history and the psychology of mass movements, the concession Khamenei has just made is a sign that his regime is in grave danger this time around. It may have been a fatal misstep.


  1. Whitewall says

    The State Dept. is on the right track already:

    Posted December 30, 2017 at 9:17 am | Permalink
  2. Jason says

    Tocqueville argued this as well, that people do not obey the laws of physics, that they revolt not when the pressure is at its greatest but when it lessens.

    Posted December 30, 2017 at 1:51 pm | Permalink
  3. Malcolm says

    Right you are, Jason – in fact Hoffer quoted Tocqueville to that effect in The True Believer.

    Posted December 30, 2017 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

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