Monday, 3 November 2008

Some excepts from Ibn Khaldun's book Muqadima

Courage is a cardinal virtue among country people, he observes. They have neither militia nor walls nor gates. They see to their own defence, bearing arms and keeping themselves on the alert at all times. In them, therefore, ‘daring has become a character trait, and courage second nature’. Among townsmen, however, this virtue is nearly absent since they are brought up in a state of dependence, sheltered behind their walls and protected by their militia and their governors; they are used to peace and comfort. In addition, their spirits are weakened and their courage annihilated by the weight of the constraints imposed on them by ‘governmental and educational laws’.15
Corrupt morals are virtually inescapable for urban dwellers. An affluent life leads to the search for pleasure, the appearance of new habits and of new needs. These become increasingly difficult to satisfy, particularly when dynasties decline and taxes become heavier. Townspeople use any means, good or bad, to cope, ineluctably entering ‘the ways of immorality’.16 In rural areas, on the other hand, a life of making do with necessities constantly calls for control over appetites. The vices and defects that can be acquired are few compared to those of townspeople, and country people remain close to their original natural state and are more inclined to good.17
Imitation is held by Ibn Khaldun to be a general phenomenon: the dominated always imitate those who dominate them. This is true of children vis-à-vis their parents, pupils vis-à-vis their Teachers, subjects vis-à-vis their princes and dominated nations vis-à-vis dominant nations; it holds true as much for custom and behaviour as for all aspects of civilization. Ibn Khaldun finds the 4 explanation for this phenomenon in the fact that the dominated believe in the perfection of those who dominate them.18
In all three examples the question of values and their transmission is no longer presented as an exclusively individual matter. The courage of rural folk, like the corrupted morals of Towns people and the phenomenon of imitation, do not depend only on subjective will, nor are they the result of incitement: they are the outcome of actual conditions.
As can be seen, without stating the matter explicitly or systematically, Ibn Khaldun deals with all aspects of the reproduction of values in Muslim society. He begins by assuming, in a sort of philosophical anthropological postulate, that human beings, who are endowed with the faculty of thought, organize their relations with the world and each other according to laws and rules that each individual learns through his or her own personal experience, and especially by impregnation from the family and cultural milieu. At the same time, he reveals deeper values, connected with the very functioning of society, whose reproduction occurs independently of individual wills.

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