Ibn Khaldun’s Influence on Social Thought
Prof. Hasan A. Yahya, Ph.Ds الدكتور حسن يحيى
The wealth of the ideas provided in the Muqaddima has enabled several specialists to find in it the early beginnings of a number of disciplines which have become independent sciences only very recently. There is of course no argument about Ibn khaldun’s quality as a historian. Y. Lacoste writes: ‘If Thucydides is the inventor of history, Ibn khaldun introduces history as a science’ (Ibn Khaldoun, 187). But he has been regarded also as a philosopher, and it is surprising in particular to discover in his Muqaddima a very elaborate system of sociology. His ‘new science’, his ‘ilm al-‘umran, the discovery of which dazzled even himself, is basically, strictly speaking, nothing but a system of sociology,–conceived it is true as an auxiliary science to history. He considers that the basic causes of historical evolution are in fact to be sought in the economic and social structures. He therefore set himself to analyse them, elaborating as he did so a certain number of new operative concepts, the most pregnant of which is incontestably that of ‘asabiyya [q.v.]. It should be mentioned that this concept of ‘asabiyya, and that of ‘umran, have given rise in modern times to many discussions–which cannot be enumerated here–regarding their interpretation (see M. Talbi, Ibn khaldun et le sens de l’histoire, in SI, xxvi (1967), 86-90 and 99-112). He was interested particularly in the influence of the way of life and of methods of production on the evolution of social groups. In a famous sentence, he states: ‘The differences which are seen between the generations (adhyal) in their behaviour are only the expression of the differences which separate them in their economic way of life’ (210). This sentence is often compared with an equally famous one of Marx: ‘The method of production in the material matters of life determines in general the social, political and intellectual processes of life’. The similarity is indeed striking, and it is not the only one between them. Thus Ibn khaldun’s thought is often interpreted, particularly in recent years, in the spirit of dialectical materialism. But, in spite of the undoubted similarities, it would be difficult to regard Ibn khaldun as a forerunner of materialism. Moreover the explanation he gives is not exclusively a socio-economic one but also psychological. ‘The Prolegomena do not contain only a general sociology but also a very detailed and subtle social psychology which may be divided into political psychology, economic psychology, ethical psychology and general psychology. The intermingled and closely linked elements of this social psychology and this general sociology form a whole complex which it is difficult to disentangle’ (N. Nassar, op. cit., 178).
There have been identified also, in this complex, economic doctrines sufficiently detailed to justify a study devoted to them, and a philosophy of history to which M. Mahdi has devoted an important work. It also provides ethnographic, anthropological and demographic information of real value.
(M. Talbi, H. A. Yahya). www.arabamericanencyclopedia.com
Note: Bibleography may be found at number one in this series. (The Editor)