Procrastinating on December 29, 2016

Should-Read: Cosma Shalizi (2015): ibn Khaldûn, 'Abd-ar-Rahmân Abû Zayd ibn Muhammad ibn Muhammad, 1332--1406: "Having tried my hand at explaining the core of ibn Khaldûn's theory of history already, I will basically repeat myself for the next three paragraphs...

...Ibn Khaldun's theory of culture and society was [a] complicated... science in the ... Aristotelian mode, starting from... premises regarded as secured... from which it deduced the formal, material, efficient and final causes of human societies, especially their growth, their decay, and their built-in drives to attain certain ends (entelechy). A full and proper exegesis would require a mastery of Arabic, and of medieval philosophy, which I lack, but the core... of a historical cycle, and its causes... concerns the inter-relationships between economic life, social solidarity, cultural refinement, and military effectiveness.

The goal of human society, ibn Khaldun thought, was the development of culture and the sciences... [thus] specialists must train and practice for long periods of time, in order to develop the necessary habits to a high pitch.... They must live in cities... flourishing economically... [with] demand for their specialties, and... a surplus to pay for such luxuries as poetry, skilled craftwork and astronomy. This is only possible if there is government and... [a] militarily effective [state]... depend[ing] not just on individual courage, but also the solidarity ('asabiyya) of the soldiers with one another and with their leaders....

People raised in conditions of luxury do not (reliably, or for the most part) have such feelings of solidarity, nor do ordinary townsmen and peasants.... It is only barbarians living in mountains and deserts... who will develop the feelings of solidarity on which military power rests.... The leaders of tribal groups which possess the necessary size and solidarity... will... seize control of cities and their states.... The size of the state they will be able to found will depend on their degree of solidarity and the size of their armies. Initially, the rulers will be vigorous, expansive, and uncultured. Gradually their descendants, raised in the luxury and security of cities, will grow more refined and improve their patronage of the arts and sciences; this condition, at the peak of a dynasty, is in ibn Khaldun's view the natural end (telos) of human society.... Decay takes the conjoined form of the dynasty losing the feelings of tribal solidarity... and at the same time hastening their economic decline through corruption and excessive taxation. This sets the stage for a new dynasty to emerge from the hills or deserts....

Why didn't this go anywhere? Or is my impression that it didn't an illusion? (The only book on ibn Khaldun's influence I can find is Ibn Khaldun et ses lecteurs, by Ahmad Abdesselem, and my French is definitely not up to the test.) And how many other astonishing productions like this are sitting un unread medieval manuscripts, or have vanished because they never aroused the interest which ibn Khaldun's history proper did, and so not been copied?...

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