Tribal and urban people

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Feb 5 17:32:00 MST 2002

Jack Weatherford, "Savages and Civilization: Who Will Survive?"

The North African scholar and public official Ab-ar-Rahman Ibn
Khaldun (1332-1406) wrote the first historical analysis to focus on
the relationship between tribal and urban people as the key to
understanding world history and human civilization. His greatest work
was the seven-volume history of the world, Kitab al-'Ibar, in which
he stated his intention to invent a science of civilization, drawing
from his studies of Arabic, Greek, and Hebrew writings and from his
own political service in Spain, the Maghreb, and Egypt.

Ibn Khaldun regarded asabiyah, loosely translated as "group
solidarity" or "community," as the primary principle underlying
tribal society. For Ibn Khaldun, asabiyah arises from kinship, mutual
assistance, and affection and thereby forms the essence of tribal
social life and culture. Tribal people live on the earth in a simple,
natural way that satisfies basic needs, but they must maintain a
strong sense of community to survive in the harsh environment they

In Ibn Khaldun's analysis, city people needed tribal people because
the tribal people reinvigorated the civilized world. Tribes brought
new blood to the cities, and they brought ideas such as Islam or
Judaism from the desert to the city. Most important, they brought a
direct, simple, and honest way of dealing with one another and with
the world around them. These strengths of tribal community account
for the success of the Hebrew tribes in conquering the Canaanite
cities, of the Arab Bedouins in conquering the Middle East, of the
Moors in conquering Spain, and even for the success of the Turkish
tribes from Asia pressing on the urbanized Arab and Persian world
during Ibn Khaldun's lifetime.

The longer tribal people associated with urban people, however, the
weaker the former became. When tribal people came in contact with
urban civilization, asabiyah immediately came under attack from the
luxuries that weaken kinship and community ties of the tribe and by
the artificial wants for new types of cuisine, new fashions in
clothing, larger homes, and other novelties of urban life.

According to Ibn Khaldun, Civilization faces an eternal dilemma.
Civilization needs the tribal values to survive; yet civilized urban
life in most parts of the world destroys tribal people whenever
contact is made.

Louis Proyect, lnp3 at on 02/05/2002

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