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Tribal and urban people
by Louis Proyect
06 February 2002 00:31 UTC
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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@panix.com on 02/05/2002

Marxism list: http://www.marxmail.org

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