How do the terms ‘community’ and ‘communitarianism’ apply in non-Western contexts? How useful are they as social science terms in understanding Iranian and, generally, Middle Eastern politics? What is the impact of communitarianism as a political project in one of the few countries where it has been tried, namely Iran after the Revolution of 1979? This article seeks answers to these questions as a way of modestly advancing the liberal-communitarian debate in international relations theory. Its argument, built on limited but precise evidence, is that the concept of ‘community’ suffers from irremediable conceptual problems and ambiguities and that the project of communitarianism has pernicious political implications. The critique is in three parts. The first points to the inapplicability of the term ‘community’ to national society and its superfluousness as a social science term, using Iran and the Middle East as testing grounds. The second part develops the anti-essentialist argument on Islam and culture as a way of refuting the essence of ‘community’. The third part is an exposition of the links between ‘community’ as a political project in Iran with ideology, hierarchy and corruption
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