Is UK Election a 1964 Redux?

Undoubtedly, the snap UK election was called by Theresa May with 1983 in mind, when a rejuvenated Thatcher, bouyed by a successful Falklands campaign, trounced the hapless Michael Foot. When she called the election about four weeks ago, opinion polls were showing a similar outcome on June 8th. Now, with less than two weeks to go, the gap has narrowed considerably, and Tory strategists are probably hoping for a slim majority as opposed to a landslide. Rumours of Corbyn’s demise were exxagerated. He has shown himself to have a comfortable, if rather uncharismatic, presence on the hustings. Theresa May, on the other hand, has presided over a disastrous campaign, with her approach drawing unfavourable comparisons with Far Eastern dictators.

So, 1983 is not being bandied about anymore. Will we witness a repeat of another year in the mists of time, 1964 and all that? That election took place against a war of sorts that had been quietly raging for a little less than two decades. The incumbent Tory Prime Minister, Alec Douglas-Home, had taken power without an election and was PM for only a year. The Tories had been in power for a long period, but the economy had begun to slow and there was uncertainty in the air. A recently elected Labour leader far to the left of the political spectrum with suspected ties to outside enemies had recently taken the reins of the party from a more left of centre individual in Hugh Gaitskell. As for the election itself, the Tories were expected to win, but suffered a narrow defeat.

1964’s shock election of Harold Wilson seems very close to the scenario being played out at the moment. Theresa May will certainly lose if she continues to hide her face. Corbyn took a gamble today when he made a statement on the Manchester bombing. It is unclear whether he will be seen as someone opening a door of hope, or as someone demonstrating gross insensitivity at a time of national mourning. The former seems the more likely as of time of writing.

The election of Harold Wilson heralded years of crisis, but also a vast transformation of British society. With less than two weeks to go before polling day, that would seem to be the outlook if the outsider clinches victory on the home straight.

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Trump in Saudi: Good Performance, Bad Foreign Policy

Donald Trump and wife spent the weekend in Saudi Arabia, a destination which probably wouldn’t be the weekend destination for many couples the world over. For Trump, it was a bold move, given that he has repeatedly bashed Muslims in general and Saudi Arabia in particular. It seemed a bit like a KKK Grand Wizard going into a black church in Chicago. Yet, Trump navigated his first trip abroad as President comfortably. Everything went according to plan, for once, and he didn’t spurt too much on Twitter. Massive deals were signed and he gave a speech in front of an audience of Muslim leaders, which he managed to do without sounding patronizing. Probably the highlight of an awful presidency so far.

Trump gave a maestro performance. However, he is the spokesperson for a short-sighted foreign policy. Trump made abundantly clear that he supported the Saudi-Egypt alliance which is fighting a rearguard action against Islamism. This position was reinforced by castigating Iran in terms which will prick ears in Teheran.

What is the problem with this foreign policy, which differs so greatly from the largely enlightened direction (at least towards Iran) taken by Barack Obama and John Kerry? Trump has hitched his star to two governments in the Middle East which enjoy little credibility. Now, don’t get me wrong. I think Saudi deserves credit for the way it has managed itself in the world. Many countries possess a plenitude of material resources like Saudi, but haven’t been able to progress and been prone to rash decision-making. At the same time, are Saudi the future of the Middle East? They seem more like a cat with nine lives.

Someone like Kerry likely understood that – like it or loath it – Iran is going to play a part in Mid-East politics for a longer time than Saudi Arabia or Egypt’s military dictatorship. Like Turkey, Iran is blending the modern with the traditional. It is open to the world, but not at any price. This wins it broad legitimacy. Of the GCC countries, Qatar also follows this path. Unlike Turkey and Iran, Qatar is sparsely populated, and the sheer weight of numbers makes Turkey and Iran the long-term regional players.

By honouring Saudi Arabia in the way he did, Trump has given it a security guarantee which will be difficult to redeem. Nonetheless, Saudi probably doesn’t have a free enough academic and political environment for there to be an Iranian-style revolution. However, the other favourite of Trump’s has the ingredients for such a dramatic change of power. Egypt could easily fall prey to any Shah-like overthrow. Trump’s open support for Sisi will only accelerate this process, and this will have consequences for Saudi.

The reasonable policy of the Obama administration has been ditched. Trump gave it his best over the weekend, but Saudi and the Egyptian military are ill-equipped to deal with changes which inevitably will occur in the Middle East. Another domino of American power is likely to give way. Saudi and Egypt may fit in with Trump’s way of viewing the world, but will the world return the favour in kind? Trump may be seen in years to come as the unwitting mid-wife of the future Middle East.

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Ibn Khaldun and Royal Authority

This is the last part of a serialized discussion on Ibn Khaldun (see the previous post here) which is to support a book I am writing on the interaction between the economic and the political in the thought of Ibn Khaldun, Machiavelli, and Carl Schmitt.

‘Umran is the consequence of the primal drive of ‘asabiyyah. It is, however, an unintended effect. The aim of ‘asabiyyah is that of royal authority, the dominance of one house over all others, along with the legitimation and institution of elitist hegemony. Where there is political organization, there is hierarchy. To bring this hierarchy into being, there must have been ‘asabiyyah. Only if the political will exists, can ‘asabiyyah be of any historical significance. Even pipe-dreams about perfect societies or projects for classes or nations to band together for peace and prosperity remain meaningless if there is no concrete realisation of these through authority and power. With the harvesting of structures of power and authority come the consequent material sophistications, and there is a feedback effect (at least for a time), one strengthening the other.[1]

For Ibn Khaldun, dynastic power/royal authority has the same relation to the evolving civilisation as form has to matter. Culture is formed by the dawlah. Without authority and a state of governance, culture is still-born, only existing as a possibility.[2] This is an important point because there is a tendency to believe that the sophistication of a civilized society somehow exists separately to a group-ethic. In our day, republics have gained vast power in the world, both political and economic, and a certain belief has descended in some quarters that governments can be run in the same manner as economies. Thus, it may be tempting to draw analogies between the acquisition of political power and someone who acquires through commerce, but this is a false comparison. Five and a half centuries after Ibn Khaldun wrote his Prolegomena, Carl Schmitt would state that:

There are certainly analogies between a monarch, the absolute master in the state, and a capitalist, who (naturally in a completely different sense) is the absolute master in his business.

However, while the masters of trade deal in hard finance, and they essentially live to a large degree in the world of numbers (profits and losses), those who master others in a political sense rule according to a different set of values.

There are possibilities on both sides for participation by the subordinates, but the form and content of authority, publicity, and representation are essentially different. Finally, it would also contradict every rule of economic thought to apply by way of analogy political forms which have been created on very different assumptions to modern economic conditions, or, to use a well-known economic image, to transfer the construction of a superstructure onto an essentially different substructure.[3]

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Ibn Khaldun makes an important distinction between leadership and authority. An authority figure is necessary because human beings partake in social organization. Therefore, there must be hierarchies, and given that people are ambitious, rungs on the hierarchy will be contested. Therefore, the authority figure must command loyalty so that he can exercise a restraining influence. When it comes to the leader, however, Ibn Khaldun merely says that he is a chieftain who is obeyed but whose opinions have no force.[4] He seems to mean that the leader is obeyed merely within his own group, but what if there was a conflict between the leader and the ruler? Ibn Khaldun does not explore this point.

Whatever his views on this matter, Ibn Khaldun is clear that military strength, law and order, as well as civilisation in general, is made possible by group-feeling.

Group feeling produces the ability to defend oneself, to offer opposition, to protect oneself, and to press one’s claims. Whoever loses (his group feeling) is too weak to do any of these things.[5]

We could not imagine a position much further away from the Lockean view that the State protects claims of private property that existed before agreement on political form.

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Those who have royal authority have a special monopoly over the use of force. When they are in a position of strength, the very thought of rebellion does not occur to would-be competitors, Ibn Khaldun tells us. Those who own wealth prior to the rise to power of the dynasty have to share their gains and property with the new Crown. Whatever taxes and customs are levied are then distributed amongst the tribes and because of the strength of the dynasty, there is a state of subservience and acceptance of the ‘way things are.’ Members of the lesser tribes can become satisfied with prosperity, luxury, and imitation of the leading house. They pay taxes and imposts, and Ibn Khaldun asserts that no one who is proud will meekly hand over their wealth for peace and security. This satiation is corrosive, and certainly, on Ibn Khaldun’s analysis, never something which inspires a will to fight for political power. At the same time, the leading house can become corrupted by its life of ease and plenty. Consequently, other families can prey opportunistically on its decay.[6] In particular, he says that “luxury is an obstacle on the way toward royal authority”[7] and that holds whether a house is in the driving seat or not.

It is also suggested that goodness and noble character are inimical to a life of wealth and luxury. Man desires royal authority because he is equally desirous of good things. ‘Glory’ requires that a person has corresponding characteristics that make him glorious in the sight of others. Imitation is a heuristic of glory; those who live under the shade of the glorious ruler or house seek to imitate its ways of living, dispositions of thinking, and belief systems. At the pinnacle of glory is that of royal authority. As Enan puts it:

The state comes into existence through tribal force and Asabiyah … and … has peculiar characteristics and forms which vary according to those who control it. Religious doctrine has its effect on strengthening the state, but such doctrine cannot also be upheld without Asabiyah … Sovereignty, like the state, has qualities, characteristics of which are: monopolizing glory, luxury, comfort and tranquillity – characteristics which, when rooted, bring the state to old age and then to downfall.[8]

While group-feeling is necessary for royal authority, prestige is not complete without good qualities being manifested by the ruler. Of course, the most salient characteristic of any holder of office, in any jurisdiction, is that of justice. With the just ruler possessing royal authority comes good laws that are also signs of Divine justice and power.[9]

He who thus obtained group feeling guaranteeing power, and who is known to have good qualities appropriate for the execution of God’s laws concerning His creatures, is ready to act as (God’s) substitute and guarantor among mankind. He has the qualifications for that. This proof is more reliable and solid than the first one.[10]

Ibn Khaldun’s espousal of royal authority was predicated on the natural tendency for humans to dominate and suppress one another. Mahdi characterized Ibn Khaldun’s opinions in this striking manner:

Man is by nature a domineering being; and his desire to overcome … others, and subdue and coerce them, is the source of wars and of trespassing the properties of others. It moves those desiring victories to struggle for political supremacy and for establishing the state in which they intend to be leaders. Those who are conquered and enslaved, on the other hand, wither away, since to be enslaved is contrary to human nature and leads to the loss of hope.[11]

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This does not wholly do justice to Ibn Khaldun’s depiction of history. It doesn’t quite convey to the reader the fact that Ibn Khaldun recognized the limits between power-politics and those realms where rulers must do justice or otherwise perish. Nonetheless, if we remember the idea that justice is an expression of domination – albeit in a velvet glove – the statement becomes closer to the intent of Ibn Khaldun.

Humans not only could not survive without the group in a material sense; they are incapable of living up to standards of Divine justice in the absence of group-feeling and authority. ‘Asabiyyah essentially supplants human ignorance by promoting civil association and the feeling of group solidarity motivates people to cling together. Ibn Khaldun had cynical views of human nature but also felt that organization could help men realise their potential.[12]

In keeping with his view that ‘asabiyyah represents a ‘pure’ mode of living, Ibn Khaldun lists out a number of activities inimical to those who have obtained royal authority. The authority-figure is liberal with wealth, generous to the weak, charitable, respects religion and customary law, supports morality, venerates sacred objects and persons, is fair to all and sundry, displays an open ear, is scrupulous with respect to obligations, and cracks down on all sorts of vice and corruption. The corollary of this is that a dynasty declines when these qualities are turned on their head.[13] The spread of vice and corruption is economic in nature, i.e. the lusting after luxuries, squandering wealth, and poor fiscal policy.

‘Asabiyyah ultimately aims at royal authority or superiority (dawlah) and it drives cultural activities which include propaganda. Religious propaganda requires ‘asabiyyah. So despite the universality of Islam or indeed of Christianity, these religions have to be realized in a particular context. ‘Asabiyyah must have a principle like religious devotion. For example, the Children of Israel lost their ‘asabiyyah because they forsook their covenant with God, the guiding principle of their group. Action is an outcome of true group-ethic. If political power doesn’t result from ‘asabiyyah, then legal activity, cultural activity, and mere survival are unable to flourish. Justice, good governance, and good administration depend on a vibrant group-feeling. Since cultures are complex, royal authority does not always have to be monopolized by one house for the group-feeling to be manifested.[14]

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References

[1] Ibn Khaldun’s Theory of Social Change: A Comparison with Hegel, Durkheim and Marx. The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences, 15(2), 25–45.

[2] Ibn Khaldun and Hegel on Causality in History: Aristotelian Legacy Reconsidered. Asian Journal of Social Science, 35(1), 47-83; Mahdi, M. (1957). Ibn Khaldun’s Philosophy of History: A Study in the Philosophic Foundation of the Science of Culture. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press; 235-236.

[3] Schmitt, C., & Kennedy, E. (2000). The crisis of parliamentary democracy. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press; 25.

[4] Ibn Khaldun,  A. A-R. b. M. (Rosenthal, F.; Trans.) (1958). The Muqaddimah [pdf version]. Retrieved from http://scribd.com; 185.

[5] Ibid.; 188-189.

[6] Ibid.; 185-189.

[7] Ibid.; 187.

[8] Enan, M.A. (1941). Ibn Khaldun: His Life and Work. Kashmiri Bazar, Lahore: Shaikh Muhammad Ashraf; 131.

[9] Ibn Khaldun. The Muqaddimah; 190; Ahmed, A. (2002) Ibn Khaldun’s Understanding of Civilizations and the Dilemmas of Islam and the West Today. Middle East Journal, 56(1), 20–45.

[10] Ibn Khaldun. The Muqaddimah; 190.

[11] Katsiaficas, G. (1996). Ibn Khaldun: A Dialectical Philosopher for the New Millennium. In Pan African Conference on Philosophy. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

[12] Ibid.; Ibn-Khaldun as a Modern Thinker. Area Studies Tsukuba24, 129-152.

[13] Ibn Khaldun. The Muqaddimah; 190-192.

[14] Sumer, B. (2012). Ibn Khaldun’s Asabiyya for Social Cohesion. Electronic Journal of Social Sciences,11(41), 253-267.

 

UK Voters Shouldn’t Hand a Blank Cheque to Tories

With less than 3 weeks before D-Day in the UK, the Conservatives are still adamant that only a massive majority is in the national interest. There are two reasons why this is incorrect. Firstly, the UK has had coalition governments when facing massive national crises. The UK had coalitions in both world wars, and also during almost the entire 1930s, there was a national government in place. Ramsay MacDonald, who was as much of an outsider for his time as Jeremy Corbyn is now, was PM during that period. If the Brexit negotiations are that big and that important, then British history would indicate that it shouldn’t matter who is in charge, and a rotating or shared leadership between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn would be perfectly legitimate. Having cross-party participation in dire times won’t weaken Britain. History shows this.

Another reason why UK voters shouldn’t go into blank cheque territory is that the post-Brexit arrangements – whatever they may be – are effectively a new constitutional order. The next three generations will likely be shaped by whatever is decided between Brussels and London. Therefore, a huge Conservative majority in 2017 would set the tone for the next several decades. On the other hand, a broad spectrum of opinion would make the new legal and political order of the UK sustainable and accepted.

And lastly, as a post-script, the idea that Corbyn is ‘radical’ (and therefore shouldn’t be allowed influence in negotiations) simply isn’t true. Corbyn’s proposals about nationalizing public utilities, or about state spending – whatever you may think about them – are shared by many countries in Europe and beyond. His proposals are not even as radical as what is accepted as de rigeur in Sweden or Canada.   Granted, the UK is a different ‘kettle of fish’ to Scandinavia but is it really wise to completely freeze out social democrats? Perhaps, Corbyn should call the bluff of the Tories and propose a government of unity post-Brexit. History would support him.

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World War Two: Myth of a Rescue Mission

Since 1945, the victors of WWII have portrayed their role in the bloodiest conflict known to man in moral terms. WWII, for France, the US and UK, was a war of liberation. It was a moral crusade which freed the world from tyranny. It was a just war. So deep does this narrative run that even Jeremy Corbyn, who refuses to play by ‘their’ rules, said that WWII was the last just war fought by Britain. Essentially, the war is promoted as a particularly sophisticated rescue mission.

We know that this simply isn’t true. WWII was fought by the Allies to maintain the balance of power in Europe. Britain wanted to prevent any great power attaining hegemony on the continent. France wanted to maintain a system in Eastern Europe that would prevent Germany turning its eyes westward. In 1939, Hitler overthrew a Polish dictator with the help of a Russian dictator and the political system which was considered central to Anglo-French security lay in ruins. Less than two years later, England and France allied themselves with the same Russian dictator, Stalin. That is the reality.

Yet the myth of the just war has come to be a founding principle of the world post-1945, copper-fastened by events like the Nuremberg trials. Not only is WWII a founding principle; it is also a technique. If the US, for example, sees a part of the world where its political interests are threatened, it will cite the suffering of people in that area, who in turn need to be rescued. Its invasions are never invasions; they are rescue missions.

The myth of WWII is far from abstract. It is the very bread and butter of the War on Terror. Undoubtedly, the war is to protect American geo-political interests, particularly oil and access to the Suez canal. Yet, soldiers will not go and die for such values. Instead, the myth of the rescue mission has to be invoked. The Shia or the Yazidi or women or Kurds need to be protected. Then we can feel good about cynical politics.

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Conservative Election Campaign a Classic Case of Emperor’s New Clothes

A minority of one person pointed out that the Emperor was not wearing any clothes in Andersen’s classic fairytale. The majority agreed, after some disquiet, that he was indeed fully clothed. Officially, he became clothed. Similarly, the radical ‘Bolshies’ and co. are pointing out that Theresa May’s maiden election campaign as Conservative leader is laying bare her authoritarian credentials because of her unwillingness to engage with the public, but most of the mass media is choosing to hush up the obvious.

The sheer boldness of the May ‘bubble’ has shocked everyone, but should we be surprised? Remember, this is the woman who just last year wanted to use the royal prerogative (defined by celebrated British jurist A.V. Dicey as “discretionary or arbitrary authority … legally left in the hands of the Crown”) to shunt through Brexit without parliament. It’s as if the Emperor has put on this bizarre show before.

As with last year’s lurch towards dictatorship, the spectacle of May touring the country, clearing out any possible dissenters from whatever factory or centre she visits, bussing in a few handfuls of loyalists to get selfies taken, and then answering pre-selected questions from a muzzled media cohort, would seem to any fair-minded person to be autocratic. And while there are grumblings of discontent in the media about such behaviour, it is readily swept under the carpet because ‘at least she’s not Corbyn.’

But hold on a second. Isn’t that what happened in the Emperor’s New Clothes? People realized the Emperor was naked, but refused to listen to the boy because the feelings of the masses wouldn’t tolerate such betrayal? Yes, complaints persist, but it seems as if May will continue to sweep to one of the largest majorities ever in UK election history because of the sychophantic support of large sections of the media and the unwillingness of a fair swathe of the viewing public to break ranks.

The UK has become one rotten borough. The silence is deafening. But only someone with the honesty of a child is able to see through it all.

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Exception, Judgement, Revelation: An Essay on the Arbitrary

 

EXCEPTION, JUDGEMENT, REVELATION: AN ESSAY ON THE ARBITRARY

1

No one ever crosses the same river twice, but there is also nothing new under the Sun. The latter proverb captures the world of rules, where we generalize and provide templates within which we can standardize activities, whilst the former proverb captures the world of facts, where every case appears in a different guise. Rules are based on past knowledge, facts are in an ever–unfolding present. We attempt to anticipate with rules, but the future confuses us with facts. Rules comfort us, facts mock us.

In the world of rules, there is regularity; there are laws, norms, parameters, and guidelines. On the factual ‘event horizon,’ there is irregularity, glorious chaos. On the event horizon, each case is unique, something not easy to discern but nonetheless indisputable (if you don’t believe me ask any judge who hears a case!).

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Yet, despite the seeming superficiality of regularity which we impose ex post facto on the event horizon, it remains the case that in the kingdom of rules we are forced to make arbitrary judgements. Regularity arises from the irregular. In particular, we need to decide – ‘judge’ – where the limits of rules reside. For example, if we make a rule forbidding ‘violence,’ do we mean violence linked to a fatality, or violence that leaves ‘observable’ marks on its victim, or is it threatening behaviour, or still yet psychological abuse, violence felt on the inside? Where do we draw the line? Furthermore, if we forbid violence (however we define its limits), we must make an arbitrary judgement about who is authorized to punish, or pass judgement on, the perpetrator of violence. By this process, we legalize and legitimize violence, a paradox that need not concern us, but which still raises questions about what rule governs who is empowered to use authorized violence. Is it the sovereign who is authorized, or a judge, or can private citizens make judgements as to the use of violence? It is likely to be any or some of the three depending on the situation, but there still are questions relating to the circumstances under which the subject of authorized violence acts in a legal sense. The what, the who, and the where, are all indeterminate, but provide the basis for our systemization.

So, our rule is permeated by the arbitrary. On the other hand, the arbitrariness of facts present themselves to us. The facts of what happened, who did what, the where and why, remain accessible, at least in theory. Facts exist in a lawless realm, because we have not imposed our rules on the event horizon. There is no arbitrary judgement involved, or no subjective discrimination; facts (which in principle can be determined) are facts, events are events. The paradox of making standardized judgements is that of imposing arbitrariness, while the arbitrary nature of facts involves no act of judgement on our part.

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The tragedy is that in our striving to regularize, we can’t avoid the extraordinary, the exceptional. Exceptions are the currency of rules, when we make arbitrary judgements that define what is regular. By contrast, a factual and irregular world knows no rules. Facts may tell us who was fatally shot and the circumstances, whereas rules tell us under what circumstances such shootings constitute crimes, and under what circumstances such shootings may be legally permissible. It is the nature of rules that new events will emerge which will confound the arbitrary rules laid down but at the same time which will confirm them, i.e. which will lead us to a deeper understanding of the rule. At the same time the incompleteness of the rule will be demonstrated by the exception. Above all, exceptions show what the event horizon consists of, something concealed when two events appear the same.

In sum, rules require exceptions, norms require abnormalities. This is an uncomfortable reality in a sophisticated society which attempts to rationalize everything, but is perhaps less painful, or even unnoticed, in the primal stages of a polity. Rule of law republics grow out of dictatorships and monarchies, but periodically the rule of law society will have to make arbitrary judgements that will throw its legal and political machine into chaos. The ghosts of the arbitrarily-acting king, the tyrant who was overthrown, then come back to haunt the republic which tries to implement its own rules through constituent assemblies, new constitutional orders, new modes, and the like, but which leaves itself all too vulnerable to J’accuse.

4

One intellectual provided valuable speculations on the subject of the exception. During the ascendancy of mechanization, with all its notions of calculability and predictability, the Danish philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard attempted to make light of the exception in a series of letters collected under the title, ironically enough, of Repetition. He discusses the exception from two different perspectives; first, the exception is a tool that assists a free enquiry into the nature of the universal, and secondly the exception is instantiated in the story of Job, the Prophet. Job, Kierkegaard tells us, suffers. He suffers, not merely from the obvious ailment, but more so from the humiliation of his disease. No one understands the test in the terms Job understands it, and his physical condition suggests to those lacking faith that God has abandoned him. Nevertheless, Job persists and this makes him an exception.[1]

Kierkegaard pursues the question of the exception with more aggressiveness in another passage. Here, he contrasts and compares the universal and the exception. The exception asserts itself, its legitimacy, its right to exist, against the universal. Exceptions are prodigal sons; the universal is nonetheless captivated by them. A strange, exotic creature, the exception perplexes the universal but also imbues it with vitality. As opposed to the universal having to integrate the exception into its system, or otherwise cast it aside, the exception makes its own reality and the universal is brought towards the defiant exception. The universal almost has to ‘forgive’ the exception and welcome it into its structured existence.

Kierkegaard here is not only using the exception as an analytical tool that “explains the universal … present[ing] everything much more clearly than the universal would itself”[2] with examination of a “legitimate exception” necessary to “study the universal”:[3] there is also value in pondering the exception for epistemological reasons. Exceptions push the boundaries of knowledge and we must somehow come to terms with them, not on our territory, but on the territory of the exception. A “rupture” is introduced by the exception.[4] Exceptions painfully tell us that we do not control facts. Events confound the norms we lay down but we must regularize extraordinary facts somehow. Exceptions stand as monuments to our inability to control the world, especially painful in a post–Francis Bacon world, where we feel we must conquer nature and render it subjugate, which we can only achieve by converting nature into a system. Yet, no matter how uncomfortable we feel about the extraordinary disturbing our ordered existence, we have to make the journey the exception invites us to make.

With both the story of Job, and the more philosophical inquiry Kierkegaard engages in, there is a strong theological theme. This is fitting. What makes the stories of the Prophets so memorable is their unique narratives, unparalleled elsewhere in literature or historical accounts. We feel the lives of the Prophets, as well as their miracles. We are moved deeply, and their life-stories evolve with our life-cycle. For whatever the challenge we face in the world, the lives of the Prophets, unravelled through Sacred Revelation, is rendered fresh and renewed by our experiences.

Revelation is thus the rupture introduced into the world by the actions and words of the Prophets. Revelation is the great exception in history.

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5

In the political world, Donoso Cortés, the famous 19th century Spanish diplomat, discussed the exception in terms of both the Divine and political miracle during a speech he gave in early 1849. Revolutions rocked Europe at the time, convulsions which Cortés (quite naturally for a political thinker) likened to bodily diseases. Dictatorship, the ultimate manifestation of the arbitrary and the exceptional in politics, was then the antidote to this malady. Justifying this radical turn, Donoso insisted that it was necessary to accept exceptions in the law which fully endowed one man with absolute and arbitrary power.[5] The Spaniard didn’t stop at calling for a tyranny devoid of rules. He invoked a Divine metaphor. “God governs the Universe constitutionally …by certain precise and indispensable laws,” stated Donoso. Yet, “if God is the Legislator of the physical world … does God always govern according to the same laws which He has imposed upon Himself?” Cortés answered in the negative and said that God “sometimes manifests His sovereignty directly, clearly and explicitly by breaking those laws which He has imposed upon Himself and deflecting the natural course of events”, i.e. through miraculous intervention.[6]

6

No author in modern history has so consciously made use of the exception as Carl Schmitt. Both Kierkegaard and Cortés provided the Catholic-educated Schmitt with a suitable angle for tackling the fraught question of sovereignty in the manically liberal Weimar republic, and the French renaissance thinker Jean Bodin also bolstered Schmitt’s thesis.[7] For Schmitt, the entire question of sovereignty revolved around whoever decided on an exception, i.e. which figure of authority or power went outside the set constitutional order in rendering a judgement on an event which crossed the parameters of normal legal boundaries. Schmitt went so far as to equate exceptions with decisions; one way in which they are equivalent is that just as exceptions are independent, so are decisions.

What I have referred to up to this point as ‘factual,’ or ‘residing in the event horizon,’ was for Schmitt denoted as the ‘concrete.’ Rules are abstract, exceptions are concrete. He thus was able to portray liberalism as having little to say about life in general, and sovereignty in particular, because it turned its face away from a ‘philosophy of concrete life.’ Exceptions, brought about by emergencies, are where there is no pre-existing guidance within a constitutional liberal scheme. A liberal–constitutional framework is at a loss to incorporate such events into its ambit.[8] The factual nature of an exception is such that the “precise details … cannot be anticipated, nor can one spell out what may take place in such a case.”[9] However, Schmitt goes on to say that the legal order is nothing but a set of arbitrary judgements; “the legal order rests on a decision and not a norm.”[10] The abstract is a product of the concrete. Traces of the decision linger even in normal times because the “autonomous moment of the decision recedes to a minimum” during the normal situation, but “the norm is destroyed in the exception.”[11] Just as God is always present but hidden, and the world manifests itself to our senses but is yet just a creation, God is all that truly exists and His emergence destroys our illusion of creation. Furthermore, the “exception confirms not only the rule but also its [i.e. the rule’s] existence, which derives only from the exception.”[12] Like Cortés, Schmitt claimed that the sovereign, like God, could suspend the entire order, and in fact the extraordinary was necessary for proving the absolute and unlimited nature of sovereign rule in such a circumstance.[13]

7

At the point at which the concrete, the factual, the event horizon, makes contact with the somewhat mythic and abstract structure we have flimsily constructed, we are then taught by absolute knowledge. Truth then comes to pass. We are taught in an authentic sense by the arbitrary and the exceptional, while rules are merely rote-learning and repetition. Rules are just dogma, whose scripts immediately become dog-eared, while knowledge – in its true meaning – is fresh parchment.

Since the concrete is firmly equated with knowledge, rules represent a knowledge gap. In instituting government, or drafting constitutions, or indeed founding any order, humans involved in these procedures invariably suffer from epistemological deficits. They cannot know everything but only the general, the universal. In a way, we can say that they know nothing, until they bash their heads against the concrete. Hence, knowledge is not so much a case of ‘knowing,’ as in having memory of something acquired in the past. Knowledge, paradoxically, is all about ‘not-knowing.’ Our body of ‘knowledge’ is built on an edifice of pure discovery, a journey into the unknown which we are not even aware is a journey until we have reflected.

We become most aware of ‘not-knowing’ when confronted with a challenge to the acorns of learning we had previously gathered. And yet, this is not a matter of simply adding to what was already known. The objects of ‘not-knowing,’ most vividly instantiated in the exception because it ‘rocks our world,’ return us to a primordial state of truly knowing, of remembering. We only truly ‘not-know’ when faced with an exception that we cannot integrate into our cosmology, our world-view, and then we proceed to knowledge. Subsequently, we scurry about trying to impose order, but we are in reality the prodigal sons who have gone out in the world, made a mess of everything, been schooled by what we did not know or could never have even anticipated, although we thereafter slump into the habit of retreating into a mythic world of half-eaten memories and mouldy information, or reflection and fuzzy memory.

8

Before the exception occurs, we have endeavoured to cobble together our views into some body of thought, a system perhaps, with general patterns and instances of these patterns. By this, we intend to seal off any surprises and institute an order in our own existence. But what does this order presuppose? Isn’t it really the case that we are aware that there is a fluid, rapidly changing and unknown dynamic which we are the same time unaware of, by which I mean that our awareness is piqued by an awareness of this ‘unaware-of.’ This ‘unaware-of’ will be called ‘concealment.’

Now concealment does not imply that something is completely hidden from view. We hear rustles of the concealed, we glimpse shadows. We are aware of the concealed and have a faint idea that it is something critical but we lapse back into an unawareness. This unawareness is not a complete ‘blissful ignorance’; we cannot delight in our ignorance and consummate it fully because we still sense the concealed lingering around.

When we become fully aware, when our Kierkegaardian ‘universals’ can no longer rest content, we look down the barrel of a new revealing. A complete awareness is only possible when the concealed has been revealed. That is the remarkable thing about Prophetic Revelation; to the believer it keeps on giving continuous revelation even if the same sentence or thought is mediated upon. Revelation is the twin brother of concealment. What is revealed must have been present in some sense. Looking at the etymology of this word we can see this; velare is simply a ‘veiling’ in Latin. Revelation and concealment is the dialogue of the curtain.

Let we remind ourselves once more however that the concealment is not something behind a pure ex nihilo revealing. The reality, the intellectual and emotional impact of the revelation, is only possible because the concealment had quietly announced itself to us in such a low voice that we could detect the possibility of a revealing, but could not have it announce itself to us loudly prior to an instance of the revealing. Thus the concealed, in its almost silent voice, introduces the revealing. That which most captures our hearts and imaginations in the heat of the exception is also that which has an almost sinewy quality with respect to how we can grasp it intellectually and emotionally in the coolness of the normal. This is the nature of the revealing, and there is truly a manifestation when the curtain which guards the concealed opens momentarily. The revealing is given power by its secretive nature – secrecy is the attribute of power. The greatest secret is that Day when the decisive rupture leaves nothing untouched.

So, it is thus the case that the abstract has the concrete as the reference point, Revelation depends on concealment, rules are merely exceptions, and openness is only possible if there is secretiveness. When we witness such wonderful things, a terrible beauty is born out of the extraordinary which we inauthentically convert through systemization into a rational order.

Endnotes

[1] Kierkegaard, S., Piety, M. G., Mooney, E. F., & Kierkegaard, S. (2009). Repetition ; and, Philosophical crumbs. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 65–67.

[2] Ibid; 78.

[3] Ibid; 78.

[4] Ibid; 77–79.

[5] Menczer, B. (1962). Catholic political thought, 1789-1848. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press; 163–164.

[6] Menczer p. 164

[7] Schmitt, C. (2005). Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty (George Schwab, Trans.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press; 8.

[8] Ibid.; 5–6.

[9] Ibid.; 6.

[10] Ibid.; 10.

]11] Ibid.; 12.

[12] Ibid.; 15.

[13] Ibid.; 13.

UKIP Disaster Proves Britain Rejects Full-Frontal Fascism

Odd bunch, the British. A reputation for eccentricity. Everyone around the world, in America, in Turkey, in France, in South Korea, has a party who are beating their chests, waving the flag, breathing threats, emphasizing distinctions between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ Britain had a great chance to row in behind the tidal wave of ultra-nationalism that UKIP was offering them in the local council elections yesterday, but they went ahead and blew it in front of an open goal! I’m beginning to think the British take this liberal nonsense seriously.

A lot of the UKIP disaster has to go down to the stupidity of Paul Nuttall. He simply played his hand too strongly. UKIP are basically without a cause after last year’s referendum. Nuttall thought he could just import proto-Fascism from the European continent into Britain, which is the height of irony when you think about it. Historically, the British electorate have flirted with Fascism, but it has been a brief and uncommitted flirtation. For example, Moseley never did that well in elections, either in the 1930s or in the late 1950s when he tried to capitalize on anti-West Indian sentiment. And, just when the Fascists looked to have a real chance of stirring up the House of Commons in 1979, the National Front were side-armed out of the way by Mrs. Thatcher, who made more civilized appeals to British nation-hood. Nuttall failed to read the script and so is just another one of those footnotes to British ultra-nationalism.

Why does Britain reject pulling burqas off women in Oxford Street or sending black people packing to ‘where they belong’? It is likely in Britain’s history. Britain is a maritime power which generally looks outwardly, albeit which coats its open-ness in a certain parochialism. British people are probably aware that part of the price they pay for having access to the high seas is that of tolerating the mysterious habits of other nations. By contrast, continental powers like France tend to be more insular and prefer coercing foreign cultures to behave like them. Fascism is thus more of a European phenomenon.

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Ibn Khaldun and the Eclipse of ‘Asabiyyah

This is the seventh part of a serialized discussion on Ibn Khaldun (see the previous post here) which is to support a book I am writing on the interaction between the economic and the political in the thought of Ibn Khaldun, Machiavelli, and Carl Schmitt.

Early on its life, political units discriminate strongly, as they are in a state of heightened ‘asabiyyah. Close kinship is the basis of tribal loyalty and honour. At a later date the units driven by group-feeling find that discrimination must be more nuanced if they are to develop. A narrowly constructed group-feeling, discriminating strongly between friends and foes, meets competition and also comes into contact with those outside the group-ethic. Something has to give if the dynasty is to progress further, if it wants to expand its population, and also add layers and networks of civilizational complexity. At a very crude level, this sophistication may merely be the joining together of two large families or tribes through marriage or mutual alliance. At a higher level, it involves development of trade, and of cultural, social, and political links, all of which lead to centres and networks of power, authority, coercion, bureaucracy, martial organization, etc … Techniques of government, sources of wealth, and cultural flowering are all important in helping the dynasty gain dominance. However, religious belief is by far the most effective solidifier and cultivator of an expansive ‘asabiyyah. In common with later thinkers like Machiavelli, Ibn Khaldun was all too aware of the power of religion to overcome differences and he said that: “Dynasties of wide power and large royal authority have their origin in religion based either on prophecy or on truthful propaganda.”[1]

Religion is critical because, instead of discord, disunity, mutual rivalry, and jealousy, the tenets of religious faith induce an asceticism, acceptance of the goals of the group and a willingness to co-operate for a higher purpose. There is a kind of ‘magic,’ a synergetic alchemy, that results from religious brotherhood. Clearly, Ibn Khaldun understands this religious asabiyyah in the Latin sense, religio as a ‘binding together.’[2] Religion fulfils a social function, while ultimately being based on a principle that inspires loyalty. Unity of meaning and purpose is crucial to Ibn Khaldun’s analysis, moreover, and ultimately this has its end in trading death for the benefit of the group. What separates those who drink from the religious group-feeling is the “willing[ness] to die for (their objectives)” while those who are attacked (assuming they are dissolute and irreligious) is a variation in purposes, and a fear of death accompanies lack of conviction and cohesion with regard to a shared ethos.[3]

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At the same time, military strength is also necessary for propagating religion. That Ibn Khaldun is no idealist is attested to by the following assessment of the role of the martial arts in a historical context.

Rulers and dynasties are strongly entrenched. Their foundations can be undermined and destroyed only through strong efforts backed by the group feeling of tribes and families … Similarly, prophets in their religious propaganda depended on groups and families, though they were the ones who could have been supported by God with anything in existence, if He had wished, but in His wisdom … He permitted matters to take their customary course.[4]

This ‘customary course’ indicating that arms backed faith. Religious belief alone cannot substitute for martial prowess, while martial prowess can either manipulate religious belief or promote a sincere faith. Ibn Khaldun gives two general examples of either a sincere attempt to reform religion which is dogged by a lack of political backing or, alternatively, a blatant misuse of religion for worldly ends, the latter which he (in contrast to Machiavelli) pours scorn upon.

If someone who is on the right path were to attempt (religious reforms) in this way [i.e. without material support], (his) isolation would keep him from (gaining the support of) group feeling … and he would perish. If someone merely pretends to (achieve religious reforms) in order to gain (political) leadership, he deserves to be hampered by obstacles and to fall victim to perdition. (Religious reforms) are a divine matter that materializes only with God’s pleasure and support, through sincere devotion for Him and in view of good intentions towards the Muslims. No Muslim, no person of insight, could doubt this (truth).[5]

Ibn Khaldun takes an Aristotelian turn in his thinking, because he sees social organization as being – not an attempt by selfish, calculating beings, strategizing for their own profit – but rather as representing innate needs in humans for social organization.[6] Also, his speculations on political organization based on religious group-feeling (siyāsa shar‘iyya or siyāsa dīniyya) are not ‘pie-in-the-sky.’ While he notes that rule based on religious tenets is both this-worldly and other-worldly, he suggests a kind of ‘political theology,’ in that people who live in a domain where governance is based on reason also hope for a reward from the ruler. Reason-based rule (siyāsāt ‘aqliyya) is divided into two types, the first where either the public interest is paramount and that where the ruler’s interest in ruling is balanced with the common good. This type of rule is something extinct, he tells us, but is based on a distinct philosophical outlook. Then, there is the second type which Ibn Khaldun says is practised by both unbelievers and Muslims, that of power politics where the interests of the public are secondary to the dynamic of rulership. While Ibn Khaldun claims that religious considerations are important for Muslims, it is also the case they may encounter the realities of political life.

[P]olitical norms here are a mixture of religious laws and ethical rules, norms that are natural in social organization together with a certain necessary concern for strength and group feeling. Examples to be followed in (the practice of) this (kind of politics) are, in the first place, the religious law, and then, the maxims of the philosophers and the way of life of rulers (of the past).[7]

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In addition to religiously based rule authorized by the institution of the Caliphate, and also the two types of rational rule, one of which was living and one extinct during his epoch, there is also the idealist version of politics which would dispense with group-feeling and hence political organization. This might have been an insight of the Prolegomena that was of little interest at the time, but if we are studying Ibn Khaldun today, his thoughts here surely have major relevance. In his presentation of political utopianism, Ibn Khaldun holds out a portrait of Platonic idealism, where people are led to moral perfection (presumably through education), and where the state ‘withers away’ in a Marxist sense.

By [“political utopianism” (siyasah madaniyah)] the philosophers mean the disposition of soul and character which each member of a social organization must have, if, eventually, people are completely to dispense with rulers. They call the social organization that fulfills these requirements the “ideal city.” The norms observed in this connection are called “political utopias” (siyasah madaniyah). They do not mean the kind of politics (siyasah) that the members of a social organization are led to adopt through laws for the common interest. That is something different. The “ideal city” (of the philosophers) is something rare and remote. They discuss it as a hypothesis.[8]

Utopianism, then as now, was understood as a root-and-branch transformation of human nature with the eventual, hoped-for result being that rulership – or domination – could be jettisoned, possibly for a mere governorship, or stewardship. What may have surprised Ibn Khaldun with modern utopianism is the extent to which it relied initially on economic arguments, given that his own realist theories were so grounded in the economic. While Socialism/Communism still relies heavily on economic foundations, the New Left proposes a cultural revolution to transform human nature, and this is something that Ibn Khaldun may have understood, although he wouldn’t have endorsed such idealism.

A religiously-based ‘asabiyyah conceives of group-feeling as existing beyond a tribal/nationalist basis. There are two elements to this; on the one hand, group-feeling is augmented by religion and, on the other hand, higher human virtues – those which pertain to an advanced civilisation – are benefits of a religious group-ethic. We can also infer, with some reason, that religion protects the morality of a human grouping when it is in its expansion phase and thus dampens blameworthy passions that are not only irreligious but politically destructive because of the jealousy and greed they wreak. ‘Asabiyyah derived from religion allows for civilisation to flourish without at the same time voiding the group feeling.  A charge often hurled at religious societies is that they encourage ‘fanaticism,’ not a totally untrue accusation, but one which seems to portray a loyalty to one’s own as something perverse. Nevertheless, it must be conceded that tribalism can uphold a narrow existence, whereas the dilution of fanaticism that occurs when a purely tribal ‘asabiyyah gives way to a more universal ideal can bind people of diverse backgrounds into the striving for a higher set of principles. Despite the necessity of diluting the group-ethic, it remains a social fact for Ibn Khaldun that religious ‘asabiyyah cannot emerge without strong tribal ties, but client-relationships can retain something of the nature of familial ties because of the closeness involved. In a sense, we may simply say that the higher virtues of religion require the more down-to-earth realities of zealousness, and it is also the case that merely maintaining blood-ties is simply inadequate in terms of maintaining and developing political dominion.[9] Ortega y Gasset wrote something of immense value on this point in his celebrated essay The Revolt of the Masses which goes some way to capturing Ibn Khaldun’s fluid theory of ‘asabiyyah. Here, the organizing principle was not that of the dynastic house, but that of the State, but the principle of organized expansion remains key:

[T]he reality which we call the State is not the spontaneous coming together of united by ties of blood. The State begins when groups naturally divided find themselves obliged to live in common. This obligation is not of brute force, but implies an impelling purpose, a common task which is set before the dispersed groups. Before all, the State is a plan of action and a programme of collaboration. The men are called upon so that together they may do something. The State is neither consanguinity, nor linguistic unity, nor territorial unity, nor proximity of habitation. It is nothing material, inert, fixed, limited. It is pure dynamism – the will to do something in common- and thanks to this the idea of the State is bounded by no physical limits.[10]

Religion thus serves as a substituting family bond for a group-feeling that is no longer purely tribal, but is an ersatz tribe, and we often hear devout people referring to those who they are not related to as ‘brother’ or ‘sister.’ And although the group-feeling is dampened, we are once more a million miles away from the calculus of profit and loss which would determine a purely liberal-economic world-view. Here we exist in the realm of belief and faith, and also, as Ibn Khaldun tells us, in a state where concern for others has a real manifestation.

As a state of narrow fanaticism wanes, as religious beliefs turns its face less to conquest and more to consolidation, the life of the sedentary increasingly turns to ‘health and safety.’ Dynastic protection provides the environment within which the entrepreneur and artisan can develop their own skills and buttress their lifestyle, although they mingle with the genuinely religiously inspired. What sustains the latter is not wealth, but their righteousness supported by the group-ethic. By contrast, those who have given themselves over completely to the ‘religion’ of the sedentary culture find it hard to be motivated to make even small sacrifices. Even the concept of public service becomes corrupted when higher principles beyond the individual wane.

They consider their allowances the government’s payment to them for military service and support. No other thought occurs to them. (But) a person would rarely hire himself out to sacrifice his life. This (situation) debilitates the dynasty and undermines its strength. Its group feeling decays because the people who represent the group feeling have lost their energy. As a result, the dynasty progresses toward weakness and senility.[11]

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It seems to be one of the tragedies of the political that zealousness in a primal state must give way to a more sophisticated culture, if the dynasty wants to thrive, but this complexity then ‘comes back to haunt’ the dynasty. Nonetheless, with Ibn Khaldun, there are ‘optimal’ points in the life of dawlahs (i.e. a word which the equivalent of States in Arabic) whereby the gifts of sedentary culture meet the vitality of ‘asabiyyah. When in a low level of civilisation, ‘asabiyyah disposes itself to be, for want of a better word, ‘tribal.’ At a later date, this tribalism is insufficient and religiously based ‘asabiyyah displaces, without supplanting, the familial bond. At this stage, sedentary culture is highly developed, but can corrode the self-reliance and strength initially generated by the group-feeling. Nonetheless, the fruits of civilisation do not simply end, although the dynamism of the nurturing dynasty, and hence the immediacy of its particular culture, is dissipated.

Interplay of the group-ethic, civilizational perfection, political structure, and the economic was given life by Ibn Khaldun in a five-stage model which somewhat mirrored the life of a human being who lives to a natural length of years. In the first stage, there is the decisive victory of the dynasty, coupled with the defeat of the old guard. Group-feeling means that the head of the dynasty enjoys the confidence of his people. He defends property, is just in collecting taxes, and is trusted with military affairs. Because taxes are only imposed for what is necessary, there is often a surplus in the public purse.

When the dynasty follows the ways of group feeling and (political) superiority, it necessarily has at first a desert attitude … The desert attitude requires kindness, reverence, humility, respect for the property of other people, and disinclination to appropriate it … except in rare instances. Therefore, the individual imposts and assessments, which together constitute the tax revenue, are low. When tax assessments and imposts upon the subjects are low, the latter have the energy and desire to do things. Cultural enterprises grow and increase, because the low taxes bring satisfaction. When cultural enterprises grow, the number of individual imposts and assessments mounts. In consequence, the tax revenue, which is the sum total of (the individual assessments), increases.[12]

Nonetheless, while there is a determined effort to realise principles of the party of ‘asabiyyah through martial exertions, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact either that concrete, material interests are being defended. However, at this stage those interests are obscured by the more ephemeral loyalties of the group.

In the next stage, the ruler becomes power-hungry and less inclined to share power with his former allies. At the same time as he excludes the old guard from power, he gains new followers and clients as replacements. In this way, he is able to cut off the former supporters who could press legitimate claims to authority, while also buttressing the power of his closest family members. At this stage, a tendency of the first stage is ‘reversed’; while initially, outsiders were kept away and close tribal members brought close, now outsiders are brought in from the cold and members who share in ‘asabiyyah but who are slightly removed from the core of power are kept at arms length. We can say that initially, there is a less technical-bureaucratic approach to rulership, while later on governing and ruling becomes more a matter of administering. In the beginning,

a ruler can achieve power only with the help of his own people. They are his group and his helpers in his enterprise. He uses them to fight against those who revolt against his dynasty. It is they with whom he fills the administrative offices, whom he appoints as wazirs and tax collectors. They help him to achieve superiority. They participate in the government. They share in all his other important affairs.[13]

Yet, in the second stage,

the ruler shows himself independent of his people … claims all the glory for himself, and pushes his people away from it with the palms (of his hands). As a result, his own people become, in fact, his enemies. In order to prevent them from seizing power, and in order to keep them away from participation (in power), the ruler needs other friends, not of his own skin, whom he can use against (his own people) and who will be his friends in their place. These (new friends) become closer to him than anyone else. They deserve better than anyone else to be close to him and to be his followers, as well as to be preferred and to be given high positions, because they are willing to give their lives for him, preventing his own people from regaining the power that had been theirs and from occupying with him the rank to which they had been used.[14]

Public offices are filled with the new followers, and even titles which are the preserve of the monarch are given to new supporters. However, even at this stage, dangerous enemies are made. Actions of the ruler “announces the destruction of the dynasty and indicates that chronic disease has befallen it, the result of the loss of the group feeling on which the (dynasty’s) superiority had been built.”[15]

Then the third stage is the one where economic considerations dominate. The consequence is that of

the things that human nature desires, such as acquisition of property, creation of lasting monuments, and fame. All the ability (of the ruler) is expended on collecting taxes; regulating income and expenses, bookkeeping and planning … expenditures; erecting large buildings, big constructions, spacious cities, and lofty monuments … presenting gifts to embassies of nobles from (foreign) nations and tribal dignitaries; and dispensing bounty to his own people. In addition, he supports the demands of his followers and retinue with money and positions. He inspects his soldiers, pays them well, and distributes fairly their allowances every month.[16]

Whereas before there was a surplus from taxation, the lavishness enjoyed by the ruling house no longer can be met by ordinary taxation. So, taxes rise to meet the shortfall. But the complexity of civilization, and the fact that there are large groups of people under the wing of the ruler means that the injustices and corruption can be hidden from view.

Following on from this period of political stability, cultural glory, and economic prosperity, there arrives that of peace, consolidation, and imitation of tradition. There is both a fondness for past glories but also a sense of stagnation. Perhaps the words of Cardinal Newman are of relevance here: Growth is the only evidence of life.

Then there is the last stage. This is characterized by poor economic management. Corruption becomes rife. Incompetent individuals fill public office. Civil strife results from the inability of the ruler to either foster loyalty or discern who is friend or foe. Soldiers are annoyed by not being paid or by being denied access to the ruler. Taxes end up draining more from the public, but giving less return. Clients and followers who were ‘paid off’ to lend their support become put upon for money as the ruler attempts to re-assert control but these allies have become powerful in their own right and can challenge the ruling dynasty, even with a dip in their short-term fortunes. There is a kind of inverse proportional relationship between ‘asabiyyah and taxation, between zealousness and financial prudence. When the group-feeling is strong, taxes are low, and vice-versa. However, in an insight shared my many modern economists, the law of higher taxation is also the law of diminishing returns because enterprise is discouraged. Subjects no longer can afford to engage in non-economic activity (what we may call civic society), they grumble about the unfairness of the assessments, and they become increasingly decadent.[17] Eventually, with group-feeling all dried up, financial prudence also is jettisoned, with disastrous consequences.

In the later (years) of the dynasty, (taxation) may become excessive. Business falls off, because all hopes (of profit) are destroyed, permitting the dissolution of civilization and reflecting upon (the status of) the dynasty. This (situation) becomes more and more aggravated, until (the dynasty) disintegrates.[18]

Ibn Khaldun also warns against the ruler engaging in commercial activity. This happens when the dynasty is either in decline or has reached its peak and therefore when those engaged in business activity are under considerable pressure from being taxed. The wealth of the ruler is often greater than those he competes against, and he is also more secure because, where he needs to, he can procure additional capital. Furthermore, the monies invested must be realised immediately and so are not stored; this means that the ruler may compel other businesses to purchase from him and to do so at high prices. Business is about buying low and selling high, so these transactions put strain on businesses, possibly crippling them. It is a curious argument but not one which is wholly without application in today’s world, where governments often enter the market and are accused of engaging in inefficient or even corrupting business practices. Such intervention is in fact disastrous to civilisation in general if taken to extreme conclusions;[19] we know from the Communist experience how truthful such assertions are. Ibn Khaldun makes an economic argument which essentially states this law of diminishing returns:

Were the ruler to compare the revenue from taxes with the small profits (he reaps from trading himself), he would find the latter negligible in comparison with the former. Even if (his trading) were profitable, it would still deprive him of a good deal of his revenue from taxes, so far as commerce is concerned. It is unlikely that customs duties might be levied on (the ruler’s commercial activities). If, however, the same deals were made by others (and not by the ruler), the customs duties (levied in connection with them) would be included in the tax total.[20]

Ibn Khaldun goes on to warn against princes and other powerful individuals using their political prestige to engage in business after they come into contact with merchants and farmers. Once more, Ibn Khaldun’s sounding is prescient and of relevance to all those lamenting the close interaction of government with the economy.

Amirs (princes) and other men in power in a country who engage in commerce and agriculture, reach a point where they undertake to buy agricultural products and goods from their owners who come to them, at prices fixed by themselves as they see fit. Then, they resell these things to the subjects under their control, at the proper times, at prices fixed by themselves. This is even more dangerous, harmful, and ruinous for the subjects than the afore-mentioned (procedure). The ruler is often influenced to choose such a (course) by that sort of people – I mean, merchants and farmers – who bring him into contact with the profession in which they have been reared. They influence the ruler to choose this (course). They work with him, but for their own profit, to garner quickly as much money as they may wish, especially through profits reaped from doing business without having to pay taxes and customs duties. Exemption from taxes and customs duties is more likely than anything else to cause one’s capital to grow, and it brings quick profits. These people do not understand how much damage is caused the ruler by each decrease in the revenue from taxes. The ruler, therefore, must guard against such persons, and not pay any attention to suggestions that are harmful to his revenues and his rule.[21]

Despite the rigour with which he approached history, Ibn Khaldun did not propose that the rise and fall of dynasties, as he portrayed it, was an ‘iron law of nature,’ but rather a sort of ‘gold standard.’[22] The rise of fall of dynasties is essentially an anthropomorphic principle; just as humans move from weakness to strength to weakness, so do dynasties undergo a similar process.[23]  In a similar vein, there is often a tendency for humans to believe they will live forever, and States suffer from the same delusion.

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A revolving door was in operation in human affairs and throughout history where power changes hands and often in unexpected and unforeseen way. This stands to reason; no one surely chooses to be less powerful than anyone else, but we often hear from many people that we have reached the end of history, that there will be no more advances in politics, that we are the climax of historical evolution, and the implication of this climax is that the days of fighting for hegemony have run their course because (in principle at least) no one accepts a monopoly on centralized power anymore, but also we are largely content with who is in charge at the moment. Such sentiment is an understandable human condition; everyone can be lulled into seeing the present circumstances as permanent and optimal. It took a certain amount of courage on Ibn Khaldun’s part to see past the smokescreen of temporary power, a smokescreen that tells us “it has always been thus and ever shall be” and blinds us to inevitable changes that will rock some people’s worlds and lift other boats.

Another observation of Ibn Khaldun’s, which again was courageous, was to state openly that power is unevenly distributed and that this is something that is not unjust or just (as this criterion is inappropriate for politics) but that is merely a fact of history. We do not like to admit that some cultures have superseded each other (albeit temporarily) and that the gaps between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ are immense.[24] Yet that is what we see when we look at the world and we observe what could be described as ‘order of magnitude’ differences between cultures. Here, we cannot any longer speak of legal rules that dictate this state of affairs. Instead, we must leave our world of ethics and enter the world of brute facts. Personally, I believe that Ibn Khaldun would have looked at the current cultural and political hegemony of North-Western European nations, who enjoy some primal family ties, as being a wholly natural expression of his sociological theories. His words speak to us across the centuries. On the other hand, notions that tell us that this is an ‘end of history,’ would have appeared to him as laughable.

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References

[1] Ibn Khaldun,  A. A-R. b. M. (Rosenthal, F.; Trans.) (1958). The Muqaddimah [pdf version]. Retrieved from http://scribd.com; 210.

[2] Gierer, A. (2001). Ibn Khaldun on Solidarity (“Asabiyah”) – Modern Science on Cooperativeness and Empathy: a Comparison. Philosophia Naturalis, 38, 91-104.

[3] Ibn Khaldun. The Muqaddimah; 211

[4] Ibid. 213

[5] Ibid. 213-214

[6] Ahmed, A. (2002) Ibn Khaldun’s Understanding of Civilizations and the Dilemmas of Islam and the West Today. Middle East Journal, 56(1), 20–45.

[7] Ibn Khaldun. The Muqaddimah; 388

[8] Ibid. 388

[9] Sumer, B. (2012). Ibn Khaldun’s Asabiyya for Social Cohesion. Electronic Journal of Social Sciences,11(41), 253-267.

[10] Gasset, J. O. (1994). The revolt of the masses. New York: W.W. Norton; 162.

[11] Ibn Khaldun. The Muqaddimah; 224.

[12] Ibid. 352.

[13] Ibid. 244.

[14] Ibid. 244.

[15] Ibid. 127-132, 244; Mohammad, F. Ibn Khaldun’s Theory of Social Change: A Comparison with Hegel, Durkheim and Marx. The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences, 15(2), 25–45.

[16] Ibn Khaldun. The Muqaddimah; 233. “… for Rousseau the word slave has an entirely consequential meaning attained in the construction of the democratic state; it signifies those who do not belong to the people, the unequal, the alien or noncitizen who is not helped by the fact that in abstracto he is a “person,” the heterogeneous, who does not participate in the general homogeneity and is therefore rightly excluded from it.” Schmitt, C., & Kennedy, E. (2000). The crisis of parliamentary democracy. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press; 13-14.

[17] Ibn Khaldun. The Muqaddimah; 233-234, 244, 247, 358, 362-363, 374-378; Mohammad. Ibn Khaldun’s Theory of Social Change.; Gierer. Ibn Khaldun on Solidarity (“Asabiyah”).

[18] Ibn Khaldun. The Muqaddimah; 358.

[19] Ibid. 359-360.

[20] Ibid. 185.

[21] Ibid. 360.

[22] Salama, M. (2011). Islam, orientalism and intellectual history: Modernity and the politics of exclusion since Ibn Khaldūn. London: I B Tauris & Co; 84-86.

[23] Sumer. Ibn Khaldun’s Asabiyya for Social Cohesion.

[24] One could even go further than politics per se and note that is human life in general, there are those who excel and those who languish. Without making a moral case for fame, for example, we can see that some people overflow with correspondence and even hero-worship, whereas there are many in the world who struggle to string together a few friends. The celebrated name of uneven-ness in human affairs is that of Vilfredo Pareto.

Alternatives to ‘Strong and Stable’ Leadership

Theresa May is fixated on the phrase ‘strong and stable’ leadership. She parrots it with disturbing relentlessness, and even this morning on the Andrew Marr show, couldn’t avoid using the phrase despite being prodded not to! Given that Mrs. May seems to suffer from a dearth of Queen’s English, I decided it would be good to provide her with some synonyms for ‘strong and stable’ to get her through the next few weeks of the election. Here are my suggestions, and don’t worry, Theresa, you can have them free of charge! Instead of S&S, you can say:

‘Forceful and uninterrupted’ leadership.

‘Muscular and monotonous’ leadership.

‘Bullish and continuous’ leadership.

‘Stringent and unalterable’ leadership.

‘Domineering and unchangeable’ leadership.

‘Powerful and permanent’ leadership.

‘Staunch and perpetual’ leaderhip.

Or if you get bored of using three words, use any of the following single words which convey the same meaning as ‘strong and stable’:

Authoritarian

Despotic

Dictatorial

Absolutist

Tyrannical

Totalitarian

Autocratic

Hobbesian

Caesarist

I’m sure its exactly what the people want!

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