New Book Announcement: Carl Schmitt, Ibn Khaldun, Politics, and Economics



Following up on the previous books I have authored, I am now working on a new book which both explores the political and politico-economic thought of two of the greatest thinkers in history, Carl Schmitt (1888-1985) and Ibn Khaldun (1338-1408), and which will furthermore attempt to build on the work of these two great thinkers with respect to the realist and existential nature of their philosophy.


Here is a brief synopsis:

Overview: Ibn Khaldun, who was born in Spain but lived mostly in North Africa, was a dominant thinker within the Western Islamic world. His book Al Muqadimmah, released around 1400 CE, is a sweeping masterpiece, replete with theories of history, sociology, culture, and economics. It is by far the most advanced book of its kind for the time it was written, and its breadth of vision was probably not matched in Europe until the Enlightenment.

The Andalusian scholar is especially renowned for developing a theory of political history that was groundbreaking. Central for his interpretation of political dynamics was the concept of ‘Asabiyyah, loosely translated as ‘group-feeling.’ Economics also held a central place in Ibn Khaldun’s overall world-view. His theories on economics were novel and Adam Smith very much re-stated arguments of Ibn Khaldun for European audiences in the late 18th century. As well as his fundamental economic theories, Ibn Khaldun perceived the interface of economics and politics as crucial. A polity derived strength and fostered its own downfall by the way it managed both public finances and the clients who were drawn to the rulers for financial reasons.


Centuries after Ibn Khaldun, in the 20th century, a giant of European realist philosophy emerged. Carl Schmitt, who was trained as a jurist, increasingly gained notoriety in the 1920s for his seeming disparagement of the youthful Weimar republic. During the first half of his career, Schmitt’s reputation underwent a shift (or even a sea-change) from one of notoriety to that of permanent infamy for his association with the National Socialist movement. Even without his support for the National Socialists, Schmitt likely would still be reviled by many progressives for his critiques of liberalism. He argued that liberalism is inconsistent with a truly political representation, an authoritarian form of government (which Schmitt appeared to support), and Schmitt even put forward the charge that liberalism was an intellectual movement running counter to democratic theory. Despite serving as Crown Jurist of the Third Reich and despite his anti-liberalism, Schmitt’s prescient insights were rehabilitated a few decades after WWII and he began to be appreciated once more by thinkers across the political spectrum. Today, his reputation remains sullied by his political leanings but he is also widely respected as someone who identified the precise nature of political challenges facing modern nation-states.


Like Ibn Khaldun, Schmitt made serious contributions to many fields of study, one of those being a celebrated discourse in The Concept of the Political (1927). Furthermore, Schmitt also produced a critique concerning the interaction of economics with politics although, unlike Ibn Khaldun, he didn’t formulate an economic theory per se, i.e. formulate speculations concerning the creation and distribution of wealth. And, interestingly, somewhat of a tenuous link does exist between Schmitt and the earlier Islamic tradition: Schmitt’s student Leo Strauss – who produced a stunning critique of The Concept of the Political, an analysis which went so far as to shock and surprise Schmitt – used the age of Islamic philosophy as a reference point for his own criticisms of modern Western thought, with both Strauss and the Medieval Muslim and Jewish philosophers taking Plato as their point of departure. Strauss had been deeply affected by Schmitt’s contemplations on politics and argued that a pre-modern, i.e. a Medieval Islamo-Judaic philosophy, was key to grasping human existence as instantiated in political life.


Preliminary Outline of the Book: In these days of heightened tension between Western Christendom and Islam, this project will aim to compare and contrast both the political and economic thought of Carl Schmitt and Ibn Khaldun. Both characterized politics as an attrition-based and conflictual field of study that had at its core irreducible group dynamics. Both can be said to have approached politics existentially and realistically.

Furthermore, both philosophers shared a genuine concern regarding the infiltration of economics into the political sphere, with Ibn Khaldun even formulating a theory of political economy. However, while Ibn Khaldun’s economic theories have often been examined, Schmitt’s own speculations on how the economic intersects with the political has often taken a back seat to other sources of the ‘dilution’ of the political, such sources of dilution being, for example, liberalism, communism, or technology.

As well as exploring how the two thinkers conceptualized political history and the role of economics within politics, the study will both serve to critique liberalism (the intellectual movement which brings economics to the foreground of politics) and determine how Ibn Khaldun and Schmitt can help us to conceptualize a truly group-based politics. This aspect of the study is vital because politics for the last several hundred years in the Western tradition has been dominated by an individualism which portrays humans as only needing a State to tend to their material needs and wants, and, above all, to provide security (security being the real essence of the State). This view is in opposition to that of humans integrally being part of a political fabric, or perhaps even being the fabric itself. Let it be said that it is the assumption of the author that the individualism of liberalism is fundamentally an incorrect approach to politics and treats solitary humans, as opposed to groups, as the objects of political science and philosophy.


Aims: Why write a book about two thinkers separated by such a historical gulf? I am writing this book out of a conviction that the liberal ideal of individualism mediated by a strong yet non-interventionist state ignores the genuine need of humans to realise themselves within a group and have found from my research that Ibn Khaldun and Carl Schmitt are two thinkers who can provide the intellectual foundation for an alternative to the misleading dilemmas and contradictions of liberalism. Also, we need to build on the foundations offered by Schmitt and Ibn Khaldun to both critique modern liberalism and construct a genuine political theory based on the theories of the two thinkers.

Therefore, this study has several aims:

1)     To compare and contrast how Ibn Khaldun and Schmitt perceived group dynamics and its projection into the political sphere.

2)     To also compare and contrast how both thinkers perceived the interaction of economics and politics.

3)     To identify whether a common theme emerges, one that can help us produce a general theory of politics and/or the interface between politics and economics.

4)     Criticize the theories of both and see where improvements can be made so as to promote a genuinely politicized group-ethic.

5)     Characterize challenges faced by the political theories of both; Schmitt met the obstacle of liberal individualism while for Ibn Khaldun it is of interest to probe how his theories were contextualized within the framework of the Muslim believer’s association within the broader religious community and the believer’s need for personal salvation.

6)     Critique individualism using the theories of both marquee exponents of group-feeling.

7)     Produce a political theory where Schmitt and Ibn Khaldun provide the ‘point of departure.’

Concluding Remarks: It is expected that the study will be released possibly a year from todays date, i.e. sometime around the end of 2017. In the meantime, I will strive to keep visitors to this blog abreast of any research and developments.


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