New Book Released!

Its been a long, hard slog but finally I have put my 5th book out there into the publishing ether. My new work – entitled “Controversy and Crisis: The Question Concerning the Unquestioned in Ibn Khaldun, Machiavelli, and Carl Schmitt” has seen the light of Kindle. I focus on three of the greatest philosophers in human history and set them in opposition to the broad swathe of Muslim, Christian, and other intellectuals who have sought to ‘end history’ through politics. In the book, I argue that Ibn Khaldun, Machiavelli, and Carl Schmitt, adopted a realistic approach to politics which yet was formal and did not deprecate civilized life. They were anarchists, but not nihilists. The book consistently explores themes of judgement, authority, revolution, establishment, and uncertainty to produce a compelling narrative. And its great value to buy as well!

The Question Concerning Ibn Khaldun, Machiavelli, and Carl Schmitt

Sometime next month (February 2018) I am planning to publish my fifth book. Here is some info presented as a conversation I am having with myself (I do that a lot!).  

What is the name of the book?  Controversy and Crisis: The Question Concerning the Unquestioned in Ibn Khaldun, Machiavlli, and Carl Schmitt.

What is it about? It’s about how Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) and Carl Schmitt (1888-1985) rebelled against the political establishment in their thinking and about how right I think they were. I’m kinda shoe-horning my own beliefs into theirs but being faithful to their philosophy.

Explain the book in terms of the title: Key words are ‘question’ and ‘unquestioned.’ Every political authority – assuming it is the real authority – tries to remove questions from its rule. But under any form of government you will have losers and winners. The losers will question authority with the hopes of gaining power themselves. Invariably, authority must constantly adapt to changing political shifts and try to make itself unquestioned. So there are ‘controversies’ and ‘crises.’ The triumvirate are called upon to describe this basic phenomenon in politics.

Many writers on politics have addressed controversies and crises. How do your so-called ‘triumvirate’ differ from the pack?  Most other authors on political matters would approach the challenge of political disputes in two ways; either (a) disputes will always exist but can be domesticated, or (b) disputes can be done away with. Our triumvirate not only integrated questions into their discourse but they recognized the value of controversies and crises as a permanent and necessary feature of politics.

Who is the audience for the book? A well-educated readership, but not an academic one. I have tried to make the book as accessible as possible but it will be a challenging read in places. So, a mature audience who is prepared to read a few pages, put the book down and absorb what I’ve said, read on a bit more, etc …

Roughly how long is it? At the moment it is a little less than 250 pages, standard book size, about 250 words per page. It is relatively short.

Price? No one buys my books so I usually sell them at cost price, about $8.50 for paperback and 99 c for e-books.

This has been me in conversation with me. Further details over the next few weeks. I should have two more books after this out in quick succession as well. Stay tuned. 

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]

Ibn Khaldun Blog Post 22052017 Image2

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.

Ibn Khaldun Blog Post 22052017 Image3

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]

Ibn Khaldun Blog Post 22052017 Image1

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]


Book Cover DesignPixlr_Smashwords Hi Res colmgillis2d (1)Emroidery of the Eternal (1)Mysteries of State Image


[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; 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.


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]

Ibn Khaldun Blog Post 02052017 Image1

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]

Ibn Khaldun Blog Post 02052017 Image4

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]

Ibn Khaldun Blog Post 02052017 Image5

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.

Ibn Khaldun Blog Post 02052017 Image2

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.


Book Cover DesignPixlr_Smashwords Hi Res colmgillis2d (1)Emroidery of the Eternal (1)Mysteries of State Image


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

Ibn Khaldun and ‘Asabiyyah

This is the sixth part of a serialized discussion on Ibn Khaldun (see the previous post here) which will be published over the coming weeks (Jan-April 2017) and 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.

In contrast to a classical liberal view of existence, the role of violence and of the irrational is critical for ushering in the new worlds within the thought of Ibn Khaldun. Tribal bonds, mutual sacrifice and subservience to a higher group-state … these Ibn Khaldun identified as the genesis of civilisation, of abundance, and still later of decadence. The name Ibn Khaldun gave to the group-ethic, which in turn served as the motor of history – determining how the various civilisations rose and fell – was ‘asabiyyah (note this can be spelled differently in the same Latinized dialect).

First of all, what does ‘asabiyyah mean linguistically and etymologically? Halim tells us the root, ‘asab’, has the meaning of ‘to bind,’ Baali adding that the binding refers to being bound to a group. The Enyclopaedia of Islam denotes‘asabiyyah as having meanings of tribal kinship and there is a masculine sense to the term, the implication that of a strengthening bond. The Arabic-English Lexicon again gives yet more depth to the possible meanings of ‘asabiyyah; a person demonstrates group-feeling when he feels angry or compelled to act in defense of his group. The same dictionary also tells us that, etymologically, ‘asabiyyah has the meaning of a turban being bound around one’s head (the turban could be a metaphor for the tribe and for the head, the latter representing individual disposition but the former seems more likely). Goodman tells us that the root word is that of ‘nerve,’ as in the “fiber or sinew by which a group is held together.”[1]

Old Bedoin tents

When it comes to ‘asabiyyah, we could say that there is the implication of a certain fanaticism or sectarianism. A sense of righteousness or morality is not inherently implicit in the use of the word. Another volume, the Lisan-al-Arab, says that ‘asabiyyah has the meaning of the request of mutual self-aid or co-operation. There is also the connotation of a metric, i.e. one could imagine is whether their ‘measure’ of ‘asabiyyah is waxing strong or waning weakly. Importantly, while it does undoubtedly evoke feelings of factionalism, it should not be confused with nationalism. There are numerous terms in Latinized dialects that can be used interchangeably with the word. One author gives us the following catalogue of approximate or equivalent terms in a few European languages (most are from English):

Rosenthal translates it as ‘group feeling’, Monteil mostly as ‘esprit de corps’ or ‘esprit de clan’. It seems misleading to equate it with Durkheim’s mechanical solidarity and ascribe to Ibn Khaldun the claim that this is solidarity tout court … Some others have used it as group consciousness, gemeinsinn, nationalitatsidee, corporate spirit, feeling of solidarity, group solidarity, group will, communal spirit, social cohesion, martial spirit, striking power and social solidarity.[2]

For our purposes it is sufficient to translate ‘asabiyyah as ‘group-feeling’ or ‘group-ethic’ even though these words may not convey the sense of purpose and dynamism that ‘asabiyyah entails. As a matter of fact, the meaning of ‘asabiyyah seems to be close to the original meaning of what we in English term ‘religion,’ which meant a ‘binding together.’ However, there is no sense of a set of religious rites implicit in the term ‘asabiyyah, so this usage will be generally avoided.

In the Islamic religion itself, the concept of ‘asabiyyah is frowned upon but not something that is categorically forbidden.[3] A hadith of the Prophet says the following:

He is not of us who proclaims the cause of tribal partisanship and he is not of us who fights in the cause of tribal partisanship; and he is not of us who dies in the cause of tribal partisanship.[4]

Camels and swords

However, the Prophet elaborated on this by saying in response to a question that ‘asabiyyah is “helping your own people in an unjust cause.”[5] While someone may rightfully possess a love for their tribe or nation in Islam, Islam teaches Man’s individual relationship with Allah is paramount and this means that men shouldn’t jettison divinely ordained laws and justice for the sake of experiencing or partaking in group-feeling.[6] Given that he was a notable scholar of Islam, it is interesting that Ibn Khaldun chose this particular word. His own life-story indicates that he may have considered it appropriate to use where legal relations are inappropriate (i.e. between rival dynasties, rival religious factions, or in the domain of power politics) but blameworthy in normal circumstances. He may also have used such a charged term for sectarianism to give his teachings a universal colouring but also to tell his main audience of Muslims that the enemies of Islam have this primal urge to defend each other against outsiders while Muslims have lost this quality. There was also a risk involved in, not only using the term but, rotating his entire philosphy on the axis of ‘asabiyyah. The word was associated with the times of ignorance (Jahiliyyah), the pagan era of Arabia which preceded Islam, and early scholars generally employed ‘asabiyyah in a pejorative sense. Later scholars of Islam adopted a more nuanced use of the term, whereby ‘asabiyyah is not always recommended but sometimes commendable.[7] Despite this more favourable approach to ‘asabiyyah, it still took courage on Ibn Khaldun’s part to use the word so liberally, and this confidence in how he employed the term, as well as the context he gave it (i.e. within his analysis of civilizational growth and decay) was innovative because, it is fair to speculate, the tendency of scholars would have been to consider the universality and station of Islam as a given. While we know that the early Muslims had quite strong bonds between them that were based on religion, but also to a degree on blood, this fact was likely effaced somewhat as time went on and Islam moved further away from its roots. Nevertheless, while he positions group-ethic as the motor of civilization, Ibn Khaldun doesn’t see ‘asabiyyah as necessary and in fact can envisage a perfectly stable state without it. He also had high regard for civilisations that suppressed group-feeling. In a civilized state, there is the possibility of no ‘asabiyyah and also the possibility that a Bedouin culture might advance politically without becoming sedentary.[8]

Whatever the various etymological and linguistic speculations concerning ‘asabiyyah are, we can say for sure that the idea of rational self-calculation, essential to a liberal-economic view of the world, does not enter into any understanding of the term. ‘Asabiyyah as the focal point of a political inquiry represents the very antithesis of a rationalist account of politics. As Sumer says in a research article:

For many centuries, the focus of the West has been on .. individuality. For Ibn Khaldun, the group, not the individual, was history’s focal point and determining factor. Individuals seldom- if ever, unless they were divinely inspired- have more than a minor influence on the overwhelming forces of history. Indeed, the individual for Ibn Khaldun is practically neglected as a philosophical topic.[9]

Ibn Khaldun ignored or possibly even rejected the individual as an object of socio-political discourse investigation, or alternatively as the subject/agent of politics. Instead history was determined by group dynamics. That does not mean he neglected how humans behaved or their motivations. He merely went beyond individual psychology, turning to group dynamics to understand sociology and consequently history, but turned to individualism when explaining why groups formed in the first place.[10]

So, what is ‘asabiyyah? A research paper summarizes Ibn Khaldun’s portrayal of asabiyah as existing

due to the primitive life possesed by certain groups or nations when they face difficulties. These force them to stand together to protect themselves and their fellows from any danger outside their group … The spirit of ‘Asabiyyah usually arises from the blood relationship, which is the core element of this spirit. On the other hand, the sense of ‘Asabiyyah could also exist in those who have no blood relationship, yet have a common view from ‘…alliance and clientship’…

Another point to note is that religion plays a crucial role in binding the members of a group through the spirit of ‘Asabiyyah. The spirit of ‘Asabiyyah is essential in spreading the teaching of a religion. Religion eliminates the jealousy among the members of a group that possesses ‘Asabiyyah … Furthermore, having a common sense of religion allows the members of a group to work together, to the extent of being willing to die to achieve the objectives that they believe in. Accordingly, the physical aspect of hardship and the spiritual aspect … of religion actually uphold … ‘Asabiyyah in developing their group or nation.[11]

Toynbee elegantly described ‘asabiyyah as “the basic protoplasm out of which all bodies politic and bodies social are built up.”[12] Ibn Khaldun himself says that group-feeling means “(mutual) affection and willingness to fight and die for each other.”[13] At the same time, Ibn Khaldun argues that generally group-feeling is only necessary at the beginning of a dynasty – “group feeling makes it possible for a dynasty to become established and protected from the beginning”[14] – and can be watered down or dispensed with as a dynasty grows in strength. As a matter of fact, political strength can exist for a long time in the absence of group-feeling, but Ibn Khaldun’s surmises that the dynasty does not have the vital life force which enabled it to grow strong initially. It may live on extended time also because of the lack of will-power on the part of challengers to openly oppose the ruler, or because those under the ruler are content with building their own private sources of power. Where a dynasty lasts without group-feeling, subjects have become weak and used to being ordered, and act with subservience and obedience as a matter of course.[15] There may also be problems when ‘asabiyyah confronts those without the same group-ethic. At the beginning of a dynasty, those who are outside the group are unfamiliar with how the dynasty operates and there is a suggestion that they may not trust those who are dominating them. At this stage, group-feeling can be a hindrance because the rule of the dynasty has become familiar to the ‘strangers’ it rules over (we will discuss royal authority in more detail later).

[P]eople find it difficult to submit to large dynastic (power) at the beginning, unless they are forced into submission by strong superiority … But once leadership is firmly vested in the members of the family qualified to exercise royal authority in the dynasty, and once (royal authority) has been passed on by inheritance over many generations and through successive dynasties, the beginnings are forgotten, and the members of that family are clearly marked as leaders … People will fight with them in their behalf, as they would fight for the articles of faith. By this time, (the rulers) will not need much group (feeling to maintain) their power. It is as if obedience to the government were a divinely revealed book that cannot be changed or opposed.[16]

Bedouin gathering

Lack of ‘asabiyyah represents a blind spot from which the military power – if not the legitimacy – of the incumbent dynasty can be attacked.[17] As an example, referring to the North African Sinhajah, Ibn Khaldun relates as follows:

Their group feeling was destroyed in the fifth [eleventh] century, or before that. Dynastic (power), but of decreasing importance, was maintained by them in … frontier cities of Ifriqiyah. Frequently, some rival aspirant to royal authority would attack these frontier cities and entrench himself in them. Yet, they retained government and royal authority until God permitted their dynasty to be wiped out. Then the Almohads came, fortified by the strong group feeling among the Masmudah, and obliterated all traces of the (Sinhajah dynasty).[18]

‘Asabiyyah is a condition of power, it is not a necessary condition for the maintenance of authority, but if allowed to lapse can be fatal to the fortunes of a dynasty. When we analyse the various statements of Ibn Khaldun concerning asabiyah however, we can see that one thing is a constant; namely, a dynasty requires at all stages of its life those who will lay down their lives, or alternatively, kill other humans, in defense of the dynasty. In the primordial state where ‘asabiyyah manifests itself most strongly, the population of the group-ethic driven faction is small in number. What these small groups do possess is a fanaticism, a factionalism, and a devotion to each other. This weighs heavily in the balance because they are willing to take the lives of other fellow-humans, sacrifice their own lives and comforts, and also consummate their bond with the group-ethic. Yet despite the fact that group-feelings inspires valour, an adventurous spirit, and possibly even a certain ruthlessness, there is a creative element to ‘asabiyyah that is critical. Men are willing to jettison their own personal ambitions and accept subordinate positions because of the group-feeling. Asabiyah is important in providing the will to find a political structure, calming intra-factional passions, and giving solid foundations for social solidarity. We could even say simply that it gives a sense of meaning and purpose, or perhaps that most cherished of commodities accruing from association, an identity. Since there is a common basis for organized, socialized, life there is also mutual loyalty.[19] We are here far beyond the limits of the liberal-economic view of the world, even though we may be tempted to ascribe the entering into a group-ethic as reflecting more practical, ‘selfish’ motivations. A person may merely seek community to avoid loneliness, to augment their capital, to cultivate relations which may ‘come in handy’ someday. He may internalize a tribal spirit so as to gain access to the romantic feeling of complete self-annihilation or otherwise enjoy voyages into the unknown which command his attentiveness and emotions. Yet, we become prisoners of our own egocentric rationalism, which is undoubtedly a product of our education and civilized existence, when we try to neatly encapsulate all human experience into the rationalist model. In fact, despite the highly organised lives we live, we still see examples of human heroism and self-sacrifice that astound us. In the state of strong ‘asabiyyah, it becomes even more difficult to uphold the argument that humans are merely agents of their autonomous intrigues to better themselves materially.

(To be continued …)


Book Cover DesignPixlr_Smashwords Hi Res colmgillis2d (1)Emroidery of the Eternal (1)Mysteries of State Image


[1] Goodman, L. E. (1972). Ibn Khaldun and Thucydides. Journal of the American Oriental Society,92(2); 256.

[2] Sumer, B. (2012). Ibn Khaldun’s Asabiyya for Social Cohesion. Electronic Journal of Social Sciences,11(41); 256-257.

[3] Abdul Halim, A. (2014). Ibn Khaldūn’s Theory of ‘Aṣabiyyah and the Concept of Muslim Ummah. Jurnal al-Tamaddun Bil,9(1), 33-44; Abdul Halim, A., Nor, M. R., Ibrahim, A. Z., & Abdul Hamid, F. A. (2012). Ibn Khaldun’s Theory of ‘Asabiyyah and its Application in Modern Muslim Society . Middle-East Journal of Scientific Research, 11(9), 1232-1237; Qadir, H. (2013). Sociological Insights of Asabiyyah by Ibn Khaldun: An Inevitable Force For Social Dynamism. International Journal of Recent Scientific Research ,4(8), 1220-1224; Alatas, S. F. Ibn Khaldun and Contemporary Sociology. SSRN Electronic Journal SSRN Journal; Mohammad, F. (n.d.). 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.

[4] Abdul Halim, A., Nor, M. R., Ibrahim, A. Z., & Abdul Hamid, F. A. (2012). Ibn Khaldun’s Theory of ‘Asabiyyah and its Application in Modern Muslim Society . Middle-East Journal of Scientific Research, 11(9); 1233.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Abdul Halim, A. (2014). Ibn Khaldūn’s Theory of ‘Aṣabiyyah and the Concept of Muslim Ummah. Jurnal al-Tamaddun Bil,9(1), 33-44.

[7] Qadir, H. (2013). Sociological Insights of Asabiyyah by Ibn Khaldun: An Inevitable Force For Social Dynamism. International Journal of Recent Scientific Research ,4(8), 1220-1224; Ibn Khaldun,  A. A-R. b. M. (Rosenthal, F.; Trans.) (1958). The Muqaddimah [pdf version]. Retrieved from; 851.

[8] Çaksu, A. (2007). Ibn Khaldun and Hegel on Causality in History: Aristotelian Legacy Reconsidered. Asian Journal of Social Science, 35(1), 47-83.

[9] Sumer, B. (2012). Ibn Khaldun’s Asabiyya for Social Cohesion. Electronic Journal of Social Sciences,11(41); 256-257.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibn Khaldun’s Theory of ‘Asabiyyah and its Application in Modern Muslim Society . Middle-East Journal of Scientific Research, 11(9); 1234.

[12] Qadir, H. (2013). Sociological Insights of Asabiyyah by Ibn Khaldun: An Inevitable Force For Social Dynamism. International Journal of Recent Scientific Research ,4(8); 1220.

[13] Ibn Khaldun,  A. A-R. b. M. (Rosenthal, F.; Trans.) (1958). The Muqaddimah [pdf version]. Retrieved from; 205.

[14] Ibid. 207.

[15] Ibid. 376

[16] Ibid. 206.

[17] Ibid. 205-206.

[18] Ibid. 206.

[19] Goodman, L. E. (1972). Ibn Khaldun and Thucydides. Journal of the American Oriental Society,92(2), 250-270.

Ibn Khaldun’s Sociology

This is the fifth part of a serialized discussion on Ibn Khaldun (see the previous post here) which will be published over the coming weeks (Jan-April 2017) and 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.

The overarching purpose of Ibn Khaldun’s inquiries is to offer a convincing explanation of the dynamics which underpin the totality of human affairs, i.e. explore ‘what makes’ human civilisations. For this task, the tool which he was going to use, the instrument which would prise open the secret vault of history – he literally uses the Arabic word for ‘secret,’ sirr[1] – would be sociology. Sociology is simply the science of society. Some philosophers, most famously Karl Marx, have interpreted history solely on the basis of social factors. In Marx’s case, he saw the modes of production as determining history. Long before Marx, Ibn Khaldun proposed that history could be understood as an expression of underlying social conditions. The specific word which he chose to describe his science by was al-‘umran, although sometimes he would also use the term al-ijtima’-al-basharii.[2] Critical to an understanding of Ibn Khaldun’s philosophy, ‘umran can be translated as ‘civilisation’ or ‘culture.’ However, it should be stressed that there must be some dynamic of development into fields of human activity such as the economic for ‘umran to be manifested. Etymologically, the root word has the same meanings in Arabic as that of European languages which are variations of colo (e.g. culture in English). Furthermore, it has meanings of dwelling in a certain place, ‘stocking’ (as in populating), to be in a good state of upkeep, and also that of cultivation. It has both the meaning of being present somewhere but also that of growth and elaboration.[3] Mahdi illustrates use of how derivatives of the root word for ‘umran are employed:

The verbal adjectives ‘āmir and ma’mūr (is cultured) point to the existence of the various results of man’s labour without further specification, and are equally applicable to a land, a house, a fortress, or a marketplace, and indicate a flourishing state or a general state of prosperity … They can become more specific in two ways. First, by the object described. Thus, when a house is called ma’mūr, what is meant is that it is inhabited, taken care of, and in a good state of repair; while when the same adjective is applied to a harbour, what is meant is that it is bustling with merchants and ships … Second, through the use of additional defining words or phrases. Thus a marketplace is said to be ‘well-stocked with goods’ or ‘frequented by merchants.’[4]

Fez streets

‘Umran is a social complexity, a social organization, and population increase. Increasing complexity ultimately lay in the arts and crafts and societies were structured according to how they earned their livelihood, i.e. by the modes of production. However, Ibn Khaldun was not an early Marxist. He saw modes of production as ‘outcomes’ of human sociability, and not the other way round, i.e. the Marxist view that people have a skill and then form culture on the basis of their artisanship.[5] As Mahdi puts it, culture “is not an independent substance, but a property (khāṣṣa) of another substance which is man.”[6] Man is “not the product of his natural disposition and temperament,” and conditions “have replaced his natural disposition.” Instead, Man “is a child of the customs and the things he has become used to.”[8] Although he focused strongly on the effect of arts and crafts in determining the characteristics and differences humans manifest, Ibn Khaldun also cited numerous other factors, such as the climate, food, and diet.[9] Nevertheless, these ‘natural factors’ form a lesser role in his theory, although they do feature in his lesser Muqaddimah portion of the greater Muqaddimah whole. The dominant motor of human history, for Ibn Khaldun, is the varying tendencies to engage in arts and crafts.

Before Ibn Khaldun, it doesn’t seem that such a sociological science ever existed – or at least, was consciously elucidated – and in this respect he certainly stands apart. Prior to Ibn Khaldun, and even for some time after him, there was always the impression that the great law-giver or leader, or even the form of government, would impose order and thus culture, for better or for worse (this informs Machiavelli’s The Prince). History was thus merely the plaything of the great who, for better or for worse, made decisions from positions of rationality, aloofness or, if they were corrupt, self-interest. When it came to society, we of course had the speculations of Aristotle but he never studied society in a scientific manner; society was an expression, a heuristic we may say, of important features of human psychology, not the bread and butter of history. Of course differences were noticed by the ancient philosophers on variations of human cultures. But they never put social analysis on a scientific footing and still less made universal claims that linked sociology to history.

‘Umran is an expression of the tendency of humans to use their God-given faculty of intelligence to advance beyond mere subsistence, co-operating together so as to live a higher form of life than would be possible in the wild. Men are deficient physically and so compensate by using their mental abilities, their reason, intellect, and imagination. Greater numbers of people co-operating results in a higher level of civilization, but co-operation is the operative word. Once co-operation wanes, ‘umran declines, regardless of the numbers an area of civilization. So, an uncivilized people can increase their ‘umran, whereas in a sophisticated people, the same quality can decline. Thus Ibn Khaldun made one of his great linkages between principle and interest. In the wild, men struggle to meet the bare necessities of life. Gathering around a principle entails no loss to them in material terms, and in fact has the promise of material increase, personal glory, and the intoxicant of tribal superiority. The headline of one of the chapters of  Book V is The Arabs, of all people, are least familiar with crafts and Ibn Khaldun directly follows up this heading (this is a feature of his literary style) by saying that “Arabs are more firmly rooted in desert life and more remote from sedentary civilization, the crafts, and the other things which sedentary civilization calls for.”[7] On the other hand, the Bedouin are self-reliant, go out heavily armed, are constantly vigilant, rarely given to relaxation, and are at home in the challenging environments of the wilderness. As a consequence, they are courageous and will apply their bravery and steadfastness when called upon.

Spices in souk

Sophistication in arts and crafts may not lead to dominance. As an example of how hardy peoples can unite around a principle and overwhelm those who have lost their roots in the wild, the example of the early Islamic conquests is cited. In their primordial stage, Ibn Khaldun tells us, a pillow on which to sleep was unknown to the Arabs. Their standard of living was rudimentary and the obvious correlate with this was that the arts and crafts were woefully underdeveloped. For instance, and in spite of their power, the early Umayyad dynasty gave its clients camels as rewards for services rendered, such was the hold the desert life exerted on them even when they were probably the most powerful dynasty in the world at the time.[10] Later, under the Abbasids, this all changed and Ibn Khaldun gives a startling description of a wedding of Harun al-Rashid in the 9th century:

On the wedding day, al Hasan b. Sahl [the father of the bride] gave a lavish banquet that was attended by al-Ma’mun’s retinue. To members of the first class, al-Hasan distributed lumps of musk wrapped in papers granting farms and estates to the holders. Each obtained what chance and luck gave him. To the second class, (al-Hasan) distributed bags each of which held 10,000 dinars. To the third class, he distributed bags with the same amount in dirhams. In addition to all this, he had already spent many times as much when al-Ma’mun had stayed in his house. Also, al-Ma’mun gave Burin a thousand hyacinths (rubies) as her wedding gift … on the wedding night. He burned candles of amber each of which weighed one hundred mann [a mann about .75 kg] … He had put down for her carpets woven with threads of gold and adorned with pearls and hyacinths … One hundred and forty mule loads of wood had been brought three times a day for a whole year to the kitchen and were ready for the wedding night. All that wood was consumed that very night … Boatmen were ordered to bring boats to transport the distinguished guests on the Tigris from Baghdad to the royal palaces in the city of al-Ma’mlin … for the wedding banquet. The boats prepared for that purpose numbered 30,000, and they carried people back and forth all day long. There were many other such things.[11]

One characteristic of a civilized people is the evolution of legal rationality. In a manner Carl Schmitt would somewhat echo centuries later (albeit with a different purpose in mind), Ibn Khaldun cited law as a corrupting factor in the life of civilizations. He does exempt religious law because this exerts an inner influence on people; it disciplines them because of their belief in religion and the obligations it lays on them as a product of their beliefs. By contrast, laws in an urban environment are usually either of two types; (1) they are merely to punish because of the lack of self-restraint on the part of urban-dwellers, or (2) they are habitual and instrumental to the needs of technical and scientific education. We could summarize Ibn Khaldun’s entire view on this matter by saying that laws are least effective, promoting sedition, weakness, and irreligiousness when such laws are seen as being imposed on the individual from ‘outside,’ rather than being merely an expression of a culture. Where there is a cleavage between culture and law, then law has a corrosive effect.[12]

(The influence of) religion, then, decreased among men, and they came to use restraining laws. The religious law became a branch of learning and a craft to be acquired through instruction and education. People turned to sedentary life and assumed the character trait of submissiveness to law. This led to a decrease in their fortitude.[13]

A way of interpreting Ibn Khaldun’s opinion on law is that he differentiated between law and justice. On the one hand, there is law, a mechanistic, formalized, technical apparatus which can be valid law even where it does not approach even a semblance of ‘right.’ On the other hand, we have justice. Justice might ‘break’ law, it might be in harmony with it, but it touches something deeper than merely rationalized forms of propagating or implementing technical legalities.

Ibn Khaldun adopted a dichotomy when describing ‘umran. There was desert, nomadic life, or even what may be called the ‘outsiders’ (those who live outside urban civilized culture) which was denoted as badawah, and then there was urban/sedentary life, or hadarah (al-’umrān al-badawī and al-’umrān al-haḍarī, respectively). Today, this could be simply stylized as the opposition of town versus country but in Ibn Khaldun’s time (as indeed is still the case in some parts of the world, and as is even coming back into fashion in ‘developed’ parts of the world), ‘urban’ areas engaged in agriculture. The key difference between ‘town’ and ‘country’ in Ibn Khaldun’s world was that there was an observable gap in population density. But this population density was, at base, a product of the increasing social organization inimical to sedentary life. Once a people transcend the mere day-to-day existence of cultivating food, tending to animals, foraging, or those essentials of shelter and clothing, once a people begin to diversify and expand their range of products, this is when they have progressed from a rural to a sedentary culture. Although Ibn Khaldun doesn’t state it as such, he is suggesting that the two groups are different ‘breeds,’ with one transforming into the other, but the other – the Bedouin – as essential to the sedentary.[14] Effectively, Ibn Khaldun postulated a ‘clash of civilisation’ but whereas American propagandists like Huntington proposed a clash of civilisations between monolithic constructs that are largely the result of fiction – or even a hangover from the strange era of the Cold War where two monolithic nation-states really did stare across well-defined borders from one another, threatening to annihilate each other at a moments notice – Ibn Khaldun’s collision of historical forces is far more sophisticated, polycentric and empirically sound, whatever other shortcomings the theory may have. His theory is also scientific, in that it is either falsifiable or verifiable. There are many examples throughout history where we can think of a more urbane and sophisticated culture transcending the ‘call of the wild’ or the rough-hewn taking charge of the more luxurious and stately. The hardy Romans, based in the countryside, dominated the Greeks, the Romans themselves were overthrown by Germanic tribes, there were the conquests of Islam which have been alluded to.[15] Ibn Khaldun adopts what may be loosely termed a ‘noble savage’ view; he attributes moral virtue to the Bedouin – or at least the capacity for moral virtue – while at the same time pointing out the difficulties of reforming a sedentary people or making them act in ways which go beyond their selfish desires. Sedentary masses can become corrupted and unable and/or unwilling to change because of their habits.[16] Nonetheless, we shouldn’t portray Ibn Khaldun as a hopeless romantic. While he had much praise for the Arabs or Bedouins – and indeed most people would see qualities like fortitude, resilience, and courage as worthy characteristics – he was not someone who deprecated civilised life. On the contrary, he portrayed sedentary existence as the goal of human development.

Towns are dwelling places that nations use when they have reached the desired goal of luxury and of the things that go with it.[17]


Furthermore, he says that “sedentary culture is the goal of Bedouin life.”[18] Where Ibn Khaldun does criticise sedentary life, it is with regard to the corruption the sophisticated co-operation unwittingly brings into being. Law, which has been cited earlier, is one example of this. He cites particulars of this corruption. Prices rise, customs and taxes are levied at an ever more unwieldy level. As a result (and we are becoming familiar with this phenomenon nowadays), prosperity goes hand in hand with poverty as more and more people are unable to make ends meet.[19] In tandem with the economic crisis comes the social chaos, whereby greed cultivates immoral and blameworthy characteristics, with obscenities openly broadcast and shamelessness abundant.

Corruption of the individual inhabitants is the result of painful and trying efforts to satisfy the needs caused by their (luxury) customs; (the result) of the bad qualities they have acquired in the process of obtaining (those needs); and of the damage the soul suffers after it has obtained them … The soul comes to think about (making a living), to study it, and to use all possible trickery for the purpose. People are now devoted to lying, gambling, cheating, fraud, theft, perjury, and usury. Because of the many desires and pleasures resulting from luxury, they are found to know everything about the ways and means of immorality, they talk openly about it and its causes, and give up all restraint in discussing it, even among relatives and close female relations, where the Bedouin attitude requires modesty (and avoidance of) obscenities. They also know everything about fraud and deceit, which they employ to defend themselves against the possible use of force against them and against the punishment expected for their evil deeds. Eventually, this becomes a custom and trait of character with most of them, except those whom God protects. The city, then, teems with low people of blameworthy character. They encounter competition from many members of the younger generation of the dynasty, whose education has been neglected and whom the dynasty has neglected to accept. They, therefore, adopt the qualities of their environment and company … even though they may be people of noble descent and ancestry … The person who is strongly colored by any kind of vice and whose good character is corrupted, is not helped by his good descent and fine origin. Thus, one finds that many descendants of great families, men of a highly esteemed origin, members of the dynasty, get into deep water and adopt low occupations in order to make a living, because their character is corrupt and they are colored by wrongdoing and insincerity. If this (situation) spreads in a town or nation, God permits it to be ruined and destroyed.[20]

Personal dissoluteness means that the good habits inculcated by the habits of religion and self-discipline wane. Man then becomes merely an animal.[21]

‘Umran is both a natural state for mankind and also a telos. Humans are naturally sociable and thus ‘umran is a word which doesn’t denote some kind of structure into which men and women enter into. Rather, ‘umran should be understood as the essence of mankind. It is a constitutive state of Mankind. A human existing in a non-umranic state can be said to be non-existent as a human. At the same time, the essence of human nature is to desire the augmentation of a natural, Bedouin state. As opposed to what we may loosely call ‘natural’ ‘umran, the ‘developed’ or ‘consummated’ ‘umran – the realization of a sophisticated human existence – is not a constitutive state of Man. Instead the image of Man that he projects into the future – the will to transform oneself via artisanship and increasingly sophisticated modes of production, communication, and organisation – it is this projection which is constitutive. Man’s being is both determined by ‘what is’ and ‘what is possible,’ by a realism of present circumstances, experience of the past, but also an idealism thrown forward into the future. We can loosely call primitive ‘umran a ‘natural’ state in the sense that it is a state that all humans either exist in, or have emerged from. It is the state of subsistence, or authenticity, of merely existing as a traveller who takes only what they need for sustenance, it is most easily realised in a desert life, where Man is confronted by a barren vastness, by the need for quick calculations as to who constitutes friend or foe, by constant uncertainty and fearfulness, but also the absence of either material goods or ideological speculations – both of which are products of increasing human interactions and both of which are poles representing sheer realism or a logical positivism – which can exacerbate tensions.

So, in the void of a sophisticated existece, the vacuum of material prosperity or cultural diversity, in the most straitened of circumstances where the most scanty of provisions is matched by an adundance of familial and tribal loyalties, there yet comes into being the seed, the flower of whose being is the fruit of complex civilisation. Ibn Khaldun also conjured up a remarkable image, strikingly modern in its formulation; each civilization finds itself as if in a new world, and here he somewhat precedes the phenomenonology of the 20th century. Every expression of human sociability, and presumably the interpretation of this social existence by the constituent humans, is unique.

When there is a general change of conditions, it is as if the entire creation had changed and the whole world been altered, as if it were a new and repeated creation, a world brought into existence anew.[22]


Book Cover DesignPixlr_Smashwords Hi Res colmgillis2d (1)Emroidery of the Eternal (1)Mysteries of State Image


[1] 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; 152

[2] Corbin, H., Sherrard, L., & Sherrard, P. (2014). History of Islamic philosophy. London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group; p. 279; Enan, M.A. (1941). Ibn Khaldun: His Life and Work. Kashmiri Bazar, Lahore: Shaikh Muhammad Ashraf; 122-123.

[3] Mahdi. Ibn Khaldun’s Philosophy of History; 184-187.

[4] Ibid. 186

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

[6] Mahdi. Ibn Khaldun’s Philosophy of History; 173

[7] Ibn Khaldun,  A. A-R. b. M. (Rosenthal, F.; Trans.) (1958). The Muqaddimah [pdf version]. Retrieved from; 167.

[8] Ibn Khaldun. The Muqaddimah; 127-132; Mohammad, F. (n.d.). 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. Some of Ibn Khaldun’s remarks with regard to climate and its influence upon dark-coloured peoples may be viewed as racist. He saw the climate they live under as rendering them more stupid, prone to exert themselves physically, and slavish than people living in cooler climes. A defender of Ibn Khaldun might say that his focus was not colour per se, but the actual environments people live under, regardless of skin colour. It just so happens to be incidental that an excess of sunshine produces the effects he talks of.

An incredibly interesting study which focuses more on these environmental factors as being determinative of human history is the book: Crotty, R. D. (2001). When histories collide: the development and impact of individualistic capitalism. New York: AltaMira Press.

[9] Ibn Khaldun. The Muqaddimah; 511; Ibn Khaldun insists that this co-operation is ‘necessary.’ I think its somewhat of a moot point whether civilisation is ‘necessary.’ Such an ascription of necessity to civilised life is as spurious as saying that the reason we have tools is purely for the purposes of ‘use.’ Mahdi. Ibn Khaldun’s Philosophy of History; 187-188


[10] Ibn Khaldun. The Muqaddimah; 229-231

[11] Ibid. 229-230; 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.

[12] Ibn Khaldun. The Muqaddimah; 168-169.

[13] Ibid. 169.

[14] Ibid. 850-852; Sumer. Ibn Khaldun’s Asabiyya for Social Cohesion; 253-267; Mohammad. Ibn Khaldun’s Theory of Social Change; 25-45; Alatas, S. F. (2006). Ibn Khaldūn and Contemporary Sociology. International Sociology,21(6), 782-795.

[15] A famous name in English history is the eccentric politician, Turnip Townshend, who brought methods of developed agricultural techniques to England, long after such methods had been used in many other parts of the world. The US also benefitted greatly from increasing agricultural methods in stimulating its rise to global hegemony.

[16] Mohammad. Ibn Khaldun’s Theory of Social Change; 25-45.

[17] Ibn Khaldun. The Muqaddimah; 440.

[18] Ibid. 468.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid. 469. One can possibly think here of Oliver Stone’s movie Wall Street and the famous speech by the chief protagonist Gordon Gecko, where he famously states that “Greed is good.”

[21] Ibid. 470.

[22] Ibid. 80.

Ibn Khaldun: Anatomy of Al-Muqaddimah Pt. 2

This is the fourth part of a serialized discussion on Ibn Khaldun (see the previous post here) which will be published over the coming weeks (Jan-Feb 2017) and 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.

The theme of the book I am working on is the way in which personal interest overtakes an original, pristine, group-ethic based on firmly shared principles, where the zealot (the political type) and the artisan (economic type) provide a juxtaposition. Ibn Khaldun was both a zealot, exploding out of the desert of academic civilisation at the time, but he also applied all the techniques of high Islamic civilisation and artisanship to his enterprise, placing great store on his imagination and creativity. Since he was a zealot, he hearkened to tradition. In his critique, he presents himself and the other ‘rightly-guided’ historians like at-Tabari and al-Mas’udi as those representing the ‘true’ historical tradition, and the later historians, who compose the majority, as filling the ranks of the ‘false’ or unprofessional researchers.[1] There is more than a hint here of his dichotomy between the dynamic Bedouins and ossified sedentary dwellers, or those with effective group-feeling and those sinking into decay. So, psychologically he may have felt that he was doing far more than merely writing a book on history but that his endeavour was in and of itself a rejuvenating factor within the house of Islam. Ibn Khaldun seems to link thoroughness in the kingdom of the intellect with the freshness and energy of a newly-emerging civilisation.

Ibn Khaldûn … characteriz[es] … historians and distinguishes the few, commonly accepted and respected, authorities whom he calls experts and leaders (fuḥūl, a’imma) from the many childish dilettantes (mutaṭaffilūn), the imitators (muqallidūn), and the writers of skeleton summaries (aṣḥāb al-ikhtiṣār). The works of both groups are subjected to a distinction in their method; and here Ibn Khaldûn differentiates the method of critical enquiry (naẓar) from mere copying (naql). This in turn leads Ibn Khaldûn to the distinction between two attitudes of mind among the students of history: the critical (nāqid) attitude which penetrates into the origins, nature, and causes of events and studies them on the background of their general properties (both constant and changing); and the uncritical (literally, stupid: balīd) attitude which compiles information with no regard to origin, nature, or causes. Finally, Ibn Khaldûn distinguishes between the ‘Ibar as a book of history from all previous histories. The ‘Ibar is concerned with both the external and internal aspects of history; it developed from its author’s awakening to the necessity of a critical attitude toward historical information, and it employs the critical method. In contrast to all previous histories known to its author, it seeks the true nature and causes of historical events in an explicit and systematic fashion.[2]


Dismissing the dross that came between him and the purer historians, Ibn Khaldun stated certain conditions the genuine historiographer must meet. He must:

(1)   Investigate the origins of dynasties.

(2)   Determine forms of governmental organisation.

(3)   Analyse how dynasties interact with one another, why they separated or merged with one another.

(4)   Explain how dynasties superseded one another.[3]

From this brief summarization, we learn that Ibn Khaldun took the view that the content (how the dynasty originated) had to be considered along with form of the dynasty. This is more of a subtle point that may be at first appreciated. For example, nowadays it is natural for scholars to discuss the forms when it comes to politics (whether a nation-state is a democracy, republic, monarchy, etc …) but to then assume the content comes with such forms (e.g. economic liberty is often portrayed as something that can only exist in a democracy, which is as absurd as saying that tyranny could never occur in the same form of government). To his great credit, Ibn Khaldun did not repeat this mistake and considered both the form and content of political communities in his historical analysis.

Before him, Muslim scholars had treated the subject of government, but the objects of investigation were generally the Sultans, Imams, and official departments. Al-Dinawari was an example of this tradition. At other times, the great philosophers of early Islam devoted their energies to adumbrating the virtues of the ideal city in neo-Platonic or neo-Pythagorean manner, Al-Farabi a notable example of this tradition, although here once more the ‘great man’ took centre stage, he needing to be a man of virtue. In these neo-Platonic/Pythagorean speculations, the laws (again another Platonic influence) permeate the entire structure and these needed to be sublimely instituted. Cities had to be perfectly constructed. Taxes and levies on the population is another noteworthy aspect of these books, i.e. the wise ruler not over-burdening his subjects, as are several other pertinent topics, e.g. war and military strategy.[4]

On the face of it, Ibn Khaldun deals with all of these topics, but whereas those earlier philosophers dealt with these topics on an ‘ought’ basis, i.e. the ruler ought to do this or that, what Kant would call the world of the Sollen, Ibn Khaldun investigated politics, history, culture, and economics, largely from an ‘is’ basis, i.e. this ‘is’ what happens in reality, what Kant would term Sein. Ibn Khaldun was astute enough to notice that many of those who did not do what they were ‘supposed’ to do (in a strictly moral sense) prospered culturally, and without a strong and stable political order – and emphasis on the Sein – the way that Muslims ought to behave in the world of the Sollen would be impossible to realise. As we have seen from his own life, Ibn Khaldun saw power politics – the domain of the ‘is’ – as an amoral domain where, like love, ‘all is fair’, while he was scrupulous about the theory, practise, and application of law, viewing it as a domain where a universal ethical outlook was appropriate.


Ibn Khaldun laid down the law when it came to analysing history, politics, culture, and economics, going deep down into the basement of civilisation. Despite his earnest religious convictions, he was not going to impose his own system on the world. In no way was he an ideologue. Rather, he genuinely subscribed to the notion that hidden forces were at work that were amenable to being understood by human reason, these forces could be set at the disposal of any of God’s creation, and furthermore that the dynamics of history were as immutable as scientific laws.

(To be continued …)


Book Cover DesignPixlr_Smashwords Hi Res colmgillis2d (1)Emroidery of the Eternal (1)Mysteries of State Image

[1] Ibn Khaldun,  A. A-R. b. M. (Rosenthal, F.; Trans.) (1958). The Muqaddimah [pdf version]. Retrieved from; 55.

[2] 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; 147.

[3] Ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddimah; 56.

[4] Enan, M.A. (1941). Ibn Khaldun: His Life and Work. Kashmiri Bazar, Lahore: Shaikh Muhammad Ashraf; 137-144.

Ibn Khaldun: Anatomy of Al-Muqaddimah Pt. 1

This is the third part of a serialized discussion on Ibn Khaldun (see the previous post here) which will be published over the coming weeks (Jan-Feb 2017) and 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.

We see that in the very names he accorded to the two parts of Al-Muqaddimah, Ibn Khaldun appealed to both our imagination and intellect. Referring to history writing as an art (fann), as opposed to the mere presentation of facts, Ibn Khaldun yet adopted a scientific approach which subjected history to causal factors (nawāmīs al-sababiyya) and, to re-emphasize, this was in opposition to the broad strain of Islamic historians who framed history largely in terms of Divine Providence.

The father of sociology pursued historical research ‘outside’ of the domain of pure theology, proclaiming that history “is firmly rooted in philosophy,” and “deserves to be accounted a branch of (philosophy).”[1] At the same time, Ibn Khaldun was committed to a true and factual account; he was determined that history would not be based on either myth (khurāfa) or on fictions. Yet again, he was not a relativist; the world had certain forms, but at the same time was subject to changes, and Ibn Khaldun sought to rationally understand both the forms and the content of these forms, the permanent and the temporal, the stable elements and the drivers of historical evolution.


Methodologically, Ibn Khaldun was distinguished from other Arabic historians by treating history as a science, as opposed to a narrative, and the purpose of his historical method was to develop a technique that would enable him to separate the true from the false and what is possible from what is impossible.[2] In addition, he also was not merely looking for the ‘efficient cause’ (e.g., if we were to discuss WWI, this cause would be the shooting of Franz Ferdinand that started WWI) when analysing history, but the underlying causes (e.g. for WWI, the development of European state-hood lay behind the events which exploded in 1914). Causes constituted the horizon of his epistemology,[3] yet he was not an occasionalist (at least not in a scientific sense) who saw humans as ‘floppy’ puppets, or chess-pieces, directed by the Creator.[4] Ibn Khaldun’s presentation of history will not be merely a repetition of events and facts, but rather the presentation of material that enables us to glimpse into the inner core of what we are presented with.[5]

In keeping with his entire critique of civilisation (and possibly also taking a ‘stab’ at the decay of Muslim power), Ibn Khaldun praises the early Muslim historians who were meticulous in their recording and collection of events, but then laments the unprofessionalism of later historians, who listened to specious gossip, fabricated events, and who based their method on gross exaggerations. This arose from a lack of personality and group-think. He claimed in the part of his discussion dealing with the corruption of historical research that “[b]lind trust in tradition is an inherited trait in human beings.”[6] Even with a historian like al-Mas’udi whom he admires, Ibn Khaldun notes certain exaggerations he made with respect to the Children of Israel at the time of Moses, a mistake easily corrected by considering conditions at the time.[7] In the same way as slight corruption in a dynasty has a snowball effect on the health of their successors, the sloppy historians then corrupted later generations of historians who took on both their inventions and their bad habits. Perhaps even more bitingly, Ibn Khaldun also accused these historians of lacking imagination, and one might say that he was hinting here at his own abilities. Despite the lack of imagination possessed by many historians, it was  yet forgivable for the earlier historians, but less mercy was to be shown to more recent predecessors. His reasoning here was that while the genuine historians could only mine information and were living either historically in, or close to, the sources they reported from, whereas these later historians could apply a more global perspective from a safe historical distance, rather like observing a landscape from a mountain. Yet, this they did not do so and instead merely copied those who had beat their own track.[8] When analysing the fate and fortunes of a dynasty, all these feeble-minded historians do is

report the historical information about it (mechanically) and take care to preserve it as it had been passed on down to them, be it imaginary or true.

However, Ibn Khaldun continues, they

do not turn to the beginning of the dynasty. Nor do they tell why it unfurled its banner and was able to give prominence to its emblem, or what caused it to come to a stop when it had reached its term.[9]

(To be continued …)


Book Cover DesignPixlr_Smashwords Hi Res colmgillis2d (1)Emroidery of the Eternal (1)Mysteries of State Image


[1] Ibn Khaldun,  A. A-R. b. M. (Rosenthal, F.; Trans.) (1958). The Muqaddimah [pdf version]. Retrieved from; p. 55

[2] Enan, M.A. (1941). Ibn Khaldun: His Life and Work. Kashmiri Bazar, Lahore: Shaikh Muhammad Ashraf; pp. 121-126

[3] Salama, M. (2011). Islam, orientalism and intellectual history: Modernity and the politics of exclusion since Ibn Khaldūn. London: I B Tauris & Co; pp. 79-82; Ibn Khaldun and Hegel on Causality in History: Aristotelian Legacy Reconsidered. Asian Journal of Social Science, 35(1), 47-83.

[4] For more on occasionalism and its place in Islam, see section 1.1 of the following article:

[5] Mahdi, M. Ibn Khaldun’s Philosophy of History; p. 24; Mahdi, M. Ibn Khaldun’s Philosophy of History; pp. 64-72

[6] Ibn Khaldun. The Muqaddimah; p. 55

[7] “For example, al-Mas’udi and many other historians report that Moses counted the army of the Israelites in the desert … He had all those able to carry arms, especially those twenty years and older, pass muster. There turned out to be 600,000 or more. In this connection, (al-Mas’udi) forgets to take into consideration whether Egypt and Syria could possibly have held such a number of soldiers. Every realm may have as large a militia as it can hold and support, but no more. This fact is attested by well-known customs and familiar conditions. Moreover, an army of this size cannot march or fight as a unit. The whole available territory would be too small for it. If it were in battle formation, it would extend two, three, or more times beyond the field of vision. How, then, could two such parties fight with each other, or one battle formation gain the upper hand when one flank does not know what the other flank is doing!” Ibid. pp. 59-60.

[8] Ibid. pp. 55-56.

[9] Ibid. p. 56.


Ibn Khaldun’s Mission Part 2

This is the second part of a serialized discussion on Ibn Khaldun (see the previous post here) which will be published over the coming weeks (Jan-Feb 2017) and 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.

The Empire Ibn Khaldun constructed – by and large while in his country retreat at Bani Salama, Algeria, from 1374-1377 – goes under the popular name of Al-Muqaddimah, the Prolegomena or, alternatively, the Introduction to History. Al-Muqaddimah is roughly translated as ‘premise’ or ‘proposition’ but can have many other meanings such as the idea of an analytical proposition (a proposition that is logically true without needing any further elaboration). This is only a short-hand, however. The entire tome is in reality composed of a short introduction and book, called Al-Muqaddimah, and a collection of five other books termed by Ibn Khaldun the Kitab al ‘Ibar, roughly translatable as the Book of History. Ibn Khaldun himself originally meant the former to only contain a short introduction, with the latter to serve as his book of history, but he later incorporated the first book into the Prolegomena.[1]

The original Prolegomena commences by describing why history is popular and sought after by people of all classes. He then divides history into a superficial part that we sense and that exists in the realm of facts, and a part where speculative reasoning enables us to analyse the seeming randomness of events.[2] Speculative reasoning involves ascribing some sort of ‘brain’ to history, and this also implies that human affairs are governed by a higher plan.

The inner meaning of history … involves speculation and an attempt to get at the truth, subtle explanation of the causes and origins of existing things, and deep knowledge of the how and why of events.[3]


Although we have said that Ibn Khaldun composed a book of history which complemented the short introduction, it is evident from the very title that he was intent on systematizing the kaleidoscope of historical events. For his Kitab, Ibn Khaldun deliberately chose the word ‘ibra as an adjective, as opposed to synonyms like tarikh or khabar, the latter words more indicative of history as a set of arbitrary but chronologically ordered events than ‘ibra. Mahdi tells us that the root of ‘ibra has connotations of a ‘crossing beyond’ (i.e. like a bridge over a river) or of connecting two points. It can intimate a violation of something, as well as a penetration into the inner meaning of a concept. Mystics also used the term in a special sense in their meditations. It can even call to mind death, but in a special sense; even here, it contains the idea of ‘piercing a veil,’ and there is always the connotation of a revealing of some sort. This sense of ‘ibra was inherent in the revealed books of Islam and the Prophet-hood of Muhammad.

[‘I]bra was most commonly used in the Koran and in the Tradition of the Prophet. Man was urged to ‘consider’ the past as the evidence. allusions, and examples, through which he could pass from the appearance of things to the knowledge of the unseen … The Islamic community was urged to view past events, both reported and experienced, as ‘indications’ that should awaken its moral sense and enhance its ability to act according to the demands of God : to penetrate behind the apparently meaningless succession of events and discern the ever-present design of the Creator.[4]

Although he was writing a scientific enterprise, Ibn Khaldun chose history as this was a branch of learning that could be taught to the masses, unlike, say, mysticism or the intricacies of law. In fact, in a manner of speaking, we could say that history was ‘democratic.’ In Islam, it did not stir controversies like theology or philosophy. The learned and unlettered, rich and poor, master and slave, alike could meet on the common ground of historical interpretation. It was not a theoretical or ‘pie-in-the-sky’ field, but contained a means of understanding existence, and furthermore could be pressed into practical service. Diverse groups within the house of Islam could each interpret history in its own way without coming to blows as was, for example, the case with theology. As well, in contrast to something like mysticism, someone could merely read history without delving into its finer points but could also treat it as an ‘ibar, as a bridge to deeper truths.[5]

History is a discipline widely cultivated among nations and races. It is eagerly sought after. The men in the street, the ordinary people, aspire to know it. Kings and leaders vie for it. Both the learned and the ignorant are able to understand it. For on the surface history is no more than information about political events, dynasties, and occurrences of the remote past, elegantly presented and spiced with proverbs. It serves to entertain large, crowded gatherings and brings to us an understanding of human affairs. (It shows) how changing conditions affected (human affairs), how certain dynasties came to occupy an ever wider space in the world, and how they settled the earth until they heard the call and their time was up.[6]

Mahdi also astutely points out that while history and the study of revelation both are similar to the degree that they investigate and even interrogate sources to ensure that the correct material is published and taught, commands dwell in the realm of the ‘ought,’ what should be done, while historical reports dwell in the realm of the ‘is,’ what actually happened. Ibn Khaldun also makes this distinction between politics, which again is an ‘ought’ science, and sociology, which is factual.[7] This distinction is crucial and often missed by even modern academics; while law and morality are not true or false but prescriptions to a better or ideal life, history – or indeed the natural sciences – purport to be factual accounts. Legal rulings and moral teachings cannot be reduced to mere social ‘facts,’ as legal and moral realists want to do. There will always be an ‘ought’ involved even if a historical report of what, for instance, a Prophet said is determined to be correct or reliable. On the other hand, history, among other sciences, must aim for accuracy, something which is denied to the moral or legal world where beliefs as a guide to action are what count.



Book Cover DesignPixlr_Smashwords Hi Res colmgillis2d (1)Emroidery of the Eternal (1)Mysteries of State Image


[1] Ibn Khaldun,  A. A-R. b. M. (Rosenthal, F.; Trans.) (1958). The Muqaddimah [pdf version]. Retrieved from; 846. Corbin, H. (1993). History of Islamic philosophy. London: Kegan Paul International; 279; Alatas, S. F. (n.d.). Ibn Khaldun and Contemporary Sociology. SSRN Electronic Journal SSRN Journal 2006 Vol 21(6): 782–795; Adem, S. (2005). Ibn-Khaldun as a Modern Thinker. Area Studies Tsukuba, 24, 129-152; Ibn Khaldun: The Last Greek and the First Annaliste Historian. International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies. 38, 431–451; 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; 63.

[2] Ibn Khaldun,  The Muqaddimah; 55

[3] Ibid.

[4] Mahdi Ibn Khaldun’s Philosophy of History; 67-68. Later, Mahdi gives the following impressive account of Ibn Khaldun’s theory of language; “Language, according to Ibn Khaldûn, is not a product of nature, but, like other arts, a habitus {malaka) … To express meaning through words is to clothe mental images with external forms … The spoken word mediates between the speaker and the hearer. It interprets meaning but also conceals it, it is simultaneously a bridge and a veil … Understanding is a struggle with words and meanings, and a continuous exploration of the relationship betweeen them. To understand the meaning we have to understand the word that expresses it, and to understand the word we have to understand the meaning for which it stands. Through this process, meanings, words, and their relationship, become more precise, the veil recedes, and we progress to knowledge.” Ibid.; 113

[5] Ibid.; 116-117

[6] Ibn Khaldun,  The Muqaddimah; p. 55

[7] Mahdi Ibn Khaldun’s Philosophy of History; 155, 157-158, 168-169


Ibn Khaldun’s Mission Part 1

This is the first part of a serialized discussion on Ibn Khaldun which will be published over the coming weeks (Jan-Feb 2017) and 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.

Ibn Khaldun consciously set himself the task of explicating and adumbrating the process by which dynasties explode into the world, how they gain strength, how they prosper and win followers, and how they arrive at enfeeblement and senility, before being superseded by the new pretenders to the throne. It was evident to him that elites enter the world as fireworks, or as flames, or even as mere shooting stars, and that they tail off. First and foremost, the historians job was to explain these historical facts. Ibn Khaldun railed against acting as a mere hagiographer, and instead sought to engage history with the weapons of scientific and analytical reasoning.[1]

To accomplish his task, Ibn Khaldun was going to invoke, on the one hand, the principles which inspire men to fame, heroism and glory, which inculcate in groups of men the will to seek power and authority, but also, on the other hand, postulate that the personal and selfish interests of men can only come to fruition in the midst of struggles for those same reservoirs of power, authority, fame, glory, and heroism. Essentially, he juxtaposed the zealots who ‘make history’[2] with the artisans who create and represent the world and who respectively, in their social relationships, performed as discriminators or indistinguishables. Superficial similarities seem evident between the two. Both the zealot and artisan are manifestations of human will, human determination to overcome, to transcend, to transform. Both the zealots and artisans can be said to sacrifice, to go out on a limb, to stand naked and exposed, in their endeavours. Humans are inherently sociable and just as the discriminators need principles to unite under, the indistinguishables must co-operate to create. What fundamental differences are there, what can we say separates the zealous and the artistic, those who discriminate and those who do not? For one, the conquests and glory of the artisan are of a personal nature; we only speak of these esoterically. For the zealot, their triumphs and losses, rising and falling, ebbing and flowing, fate and fortunes – whether good or bad – can be spoken about in more realistic terms. For example, an artist may ‘kill themselves’ metaphorically (like Michelangelo) to execute a commission, whereas the zealot trades in life and death in a literal sense. The objects of the zealot are also vastly different to those of the artisan – glory, prestige, honour, which are to a degree personal, but more to the point which are done out of devotion for the group – whereas the artisan produces and manufactures optimally where the quality of workmanship matches a price commanded.


The discriminator inhabits a world of ‘us and them,’ for the indistinguishable competition may provide such a contrast, but once more only in a highly esoteric sense and not literally. And – and notwithstanding any deeper philosophical questions about why men must make, or what ‘making’ is – the artisan is motivated by the rational, the zealot by the irrational and the emotive. On this last point, Carl Schmitt would provide us with a wonderful image which starkly portrayed the contrast in vivid terms. Referring to Auguste Comte’s attempt to found a positivist church, where rational agents would represent the public in the political sphere in a similar fashion to aristocrats and clerics in the Middle Ages, Schmitt said that it was a

mistake to consider the modern Savant and Business Man as genuinely representative types … The Merchant sits in his office, the Savant in his study or laboratory. Both … are salaried servants of some big business concern … It would be futile to inquire if they are representative of anything. They are either private individuals or exponents, not representatives.[3]

A sign of the gulf existing between the zealot and the artisan is on show in disputes which govern the dividing lines between conservatives and liberals; for the liberal, tangible, material benefits are what dictate the shape society should take, whereas for the conservative, it are those intangible symbols of country, history, and tradition which form society. To even try to bridge this gulf is to not recognise the fundamental divergences about the nature of the ‘good’ which separate zealots and artisans, although, at the same time, some sort of truce and set of compromises can be cobbled together between the two parties. The transcendence of religious festivities may not be understood by the artisan, but they may comprehend that people spend more money when Christmas is around. The conservative might live with the hope that immigrants whom he is powerless to stop may one day accept the superiority of his world-view. ‘Blood and soil’ love of the earth confounds the rationalist, but they may enjoy the tribal spectacle and pomp of sporting occasions. On these, and many other points, the volcano of civil strife is silenced.[4]

Nonetheless, in Ibn Khaldun’s analysis, the artisan and zealot enjoy a symbiosis. In the shade of violence, underneath the canopy of domination, civilisation is made possible. Artisanship provides the ‘glitter’ for the zealot, while the zealot shelters the artisan, providing him with sanctuary. Both poles of artisanship and zealousness are abstract opposites but inform one another. They engage in a dialogue. Without civilizational development, glory is stagnant, without glory, civilisation remains merely a dream and not concrete reality.

Principle and interest, represented in human form by the zealot and the artisan, respectively, claimed their place in Ibn Khaldun’s grand scheme. At the beginning of any dynasty’s life, there would be the urgency which calls forward the great surges, revolutions, conflicts and dramas of arms, money, supplies, and furious aggression which appear on the horizon of history. By the end of the dynasty’s life, luxury and decadence would do to a dynasty what force of arms couldn’t, and eventually unseat the incumbent, the flagging shell, the ossified grandeur, before some new elite writes its own story, its own version of events, prints its own distinctive stamp.


Exegesis of the historical manuscript was his aim, and in that enterprise the zealot and artisan would be central figures. With his great mission in mind, Ibn Khaldun set out to accomplish in the realm of the intellect what he was unable to accomplish in the halls of power and intrigue. He instituted himself as the grand monarch of historiography, overthrowing the previous chroniclers within the house of Islam, who – while fastidious in their mining of sources and critical in their assessment of narrators – seemingly never advanced to the point where history could be understood as a science in the same way as other ‘Islamic’ sciences were fashioned. Instead, the intellectual predecessors of Ibn Khaldun formulated history as an incoherent stream of events, these events reported in the same faithful manner as an award-winning reporter would comment on breaking stories, but these events would also be presented as haphazardly as an evening news bulletin. Nonetheless, in spite of the seeming chaos and arbitrariness, some pattern did seem to be evident; this was Ibn Khaldun’s firm conviction.

Throughout his sojourns in North Africa, the Iberian peninsula, and the Levant, Ibn Khaldun witnessed, among other things, still-born attempts to grab power, dynasties in full bloom, centres which once were glorious but which not had lost their lustre, successful usurpers, and conquerors who scythed the opposition like a harvester in a wheat-field. At the same time, he saw varying levels of prosperity and observed the vast gulf in civilized complexity which separated certain cultures. In particular, he homed in on the Bedouins, knowing – even from the annals of Islamic history – that it was often the poor who inherited some portion of the earth, and furthermore, it was the most rough-hewn stones who historically could throw themselves to the summit, to the point where they began to be seen as the very crowning jewel of humanity by at least by some portion of humanity.

Of course, success and failure couldn’t have come about Allah’s will and in one sense it was enough to leave the bric-a-brac of history rest at that. But, it is also true to say that Allah’s will animates matter and therefore, since the Creator is imbued with purpose, the creation must also be, to some degree, rendered intelligible.

So in spite of faith in Divine Providence, a natural philosopher shouldn’t desist from designing both causal chains and also ends to which physical and natural bodies tend to; the acceptance of God’s power and creation, on one side, doesn’t mean that humans shouldn’t seek to understand things on their own terms. This world-view defined how Ibn Khaldun, religious judge and secular historian, approached the historical method; underneath the chaos, certain laws existed that rendered the workings of history comprehensible ( … to be continued …)


Book Cover DesignPixlr_Smashwords Hi Res colmgillis2d (1)Emroidery of the Eternal (1)Mysteries of State Image


[1] One famous example of a controversial academic struggle between two historians concerned A. J. P. Taylor’s Origins of the Second World War (1961). The book was written with the intent of casting a cold eye over WWII. In particular, Taylor intended to analyse Hitler as a historical figure. This method was in opposition to the popular mood (even held today) of merely castigating him as a monster. While undoubtedly such an approach was academically sound, Taylor found himself up against powerful enemies, most notably Hugh-Trevor Roper who also wrote about issues of historical importance (it is a moot point whether Roper was a professional historian). For example see: Goda, N. J. (2001). A. J. P. Taylor, Adolf Hitler, and the Origins of the Second World War. The International History Review, 23(1), 97-124.

[2] I have deliberately put this in abbreviations; perhaps no terms is more odious to my ears and empty of meaning. Everyone ‘makes history,’ whether for good or bad, but the phrase has an especially positive currency for liberals who believe their world-view is an inevitability and any step on the way is ‘history.’ In the way I have meant it here, it is in the sense those events which stand as landmarks in history are generally those which are brought about as political events.

[3] Schmitt, C., & Codd, E. M. (1931). The necessity of politics; an essay on the representative idea in the church and modern Europe. London: Sheed & Ward; pp. 58-59.

[4] On this note, I call to the readers’ attention W. B. Yeats’ poem September 1913. Although it was written in support of an artistic project, and against an infrastructural project, the close collaboration between artists and revolutionaries in the burgeoning Irish independence movement at the time make it a poem of zealousness aimed against mere artisanship.