The History of an End

I have just published my latest book, Controversy and Crisis, the Question Concerning the Unquestioned in Ibn Khaldun, Machiavelli and Carl Schmitt

The idea in the book is that politics can be understood as a dialectic of what I call the unquestioned and questions. 

By unquestioned we can think of the sacred in religion, or the reverence shown to a person in a monarchy or principles such as the rule of law or popularity in a republic.When this authority is largely unquestioned, we say it enjoys legitimacy. 

Invariably any unquestioned source of power benefits some people and discriminates against others. Those others then ask questions of established power. These others are arranged into groups but frame their objections to power in moral terms. As is said in the book “Politics is social manoeuvring disguised as ethics.

To avoid revolution, those in authority must rationalize their power and fortify themselves. While this avoids revolution it also means that their grip on public affairs is weakened. The process is continually repeated. There is controversy and crisis, there are responses to controversy and crisis, disaster is averted, the cycle starts again. At some stage the balancing act between maintaining power and pretending that power doesn’t exist, that it’s just natural, reaches a fatal point and there is usurpation, overthrow, and revolution. 

Western and Islamic philosophers, both of whom are steeped in the Greek tradition, have generally explored the idea that politics, controversies, and crises, can be ended. They have believed in the unquestioned. The general ideological, intellectual, sociological, and historical trends of the last several centuries can all be categorized in a box marked: The end of controversy and crisis.

A famous exposition was given bythe celebrated neo–conservative philosopher Francis Fukuyama (b. 1952) who captured a prevailing mood in his book The End of History And the Last Man (1992). He admitted to the imperfections of liberal democracy, but was convinced that it yet was the best way to balance competing and conflicting principles such as liberty and equality. 

Not surprisingly, endimg history has been accompanied by a desire to end all forms of domination by humans over other humans (i.e. an ending of authority). The words ‘crisis’ and ‘controversy’ may still be used, but they will inaccurately depict situations that will more precisely be.described as events that are slight wrinkles on the fabric of the ‘new’ history. 

The three intellectuals who form the focus of my new publication rebelled against this tradition. Ibn Khaldun, Niccolò Machiavelli, and Carl Schmitt were realists. They did not seek to make  controversy and crisis history. They appreciated that authority would want to make itself unquestioned but they were also aware that such policies were ultimately fatal. 

For Ibn Khaldun, imprudent taxation was the fatal mistake, for Machiavelli, it was allowing corruption to set into a political system, and for Schmitt the death-blow was when the sovereign refused to take vital decisions. 

As an example, let’s look at Ibn Khaldun. He applied a five step model of dynastic power with the concept of ‘asabiyyah – loosely translated as group–feeling or group–ethic – at its heart. 

Step 1: Once a dynasty loses ‘asabiyyah, it is overtaken by a rival with greater ‘asabiyyah

Step 2: The insurgents are foreign and thus their usurpation is controversial. To rationalize their power and make the dynasty unquestioned the incumbents first consolidate their rule. This is accomplished largely through just dealings and light burdens being placed on the populace. 

Step 3: Then, the dynasty purges itself of its former supporters and finds new clients who will support it. This is to avoid crises stemming from internal power struggles.

Step 4: Later, the demands of the court outstrip those of fair and equitable dealings. More laws, taxes, and intrusions are needed to de–personalize power but are also products of an inner corruption and decadence. 

Step 5: Finally, the dynasty is ripe for overthrow and can no longer call on the same store of zeal as its competitor who overthrows it.

For Ibn Khaldun, but also in different ways for Machiavelli and Schmitt, its not the end of history, but the end of a world. They asked disturbing and important questions about politics, questions that are especially relevant today because we are aware that history has not ended.

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!

Machiavelli’s Republic: A Disciplined and Religious Liberty

In his writings Machiavelli repeatedly discusses liberty in the context of republican virtue. It is tempting to consider him the forefather of our modern liberalism. There are three main reasons why this is incorrect. 
Firstly, Machiavelli was outright opposed to the notion of a licentious mob unimpeded by any moral restraints. Secondly, he promoted religion as a means of constraining bad habits and social diseases. Lastly, he was convinced that dictatorships and revolutions were healthy and necessary: the specific reason was that they restored virtue and purged corruption. 

This last point – whereby he supported the suspension of freedom for basically puritanical reasons – offers us the clearest glimpse into Machiavelli’s anti-liberal mind.

Under normal circumstances, Machiavelli supported civic equality, although he was not an egalitarian. Public offices were to be kept open and not used as personal fiefdoms, but only the cream of society would be likely to fill them and wield power. A free society was seen as a good thing, but not a good in and of itself. Nonetheless, he drew the line at an irreligious disorder, recognizing that as much as republicanism involved freedom from domination, it also involved freedom from decadence. 

When we think of Machiavelli the republican, we should have a picture of someone who envisioned responsible adults regulating themselves and sometimes being harsh on their own inclinations.

I am currently writing a book exploring themes relating to Machiavelli, as well as Carl Schmitt and Ibn Khaldun. Stay posted for details.


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.