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Prophets armed: Muhammad Ibn Khaldun and Niccolò Machiavelli
John Kennedy Theology 2011 114: 101 DOI: 10.1177/0040571X10391843 The online version of this article can be found at: http://tjx.sagepub.com/content/114/2/101
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com at Institute of Philosophy RAS on April 4. but each also holds powerful religious convictions. Ibn Khaldun gloriﬁed religious conquest as wholly in keeping with the tenets of Islam. 2013 .com Downloaded from tjx.1177/0040571X10391843 tjx. Ibn Khaldun’s intellectual formation was complex. Of equal interest is the ibn Muhammad ibn Khaldun and Niccolo contrast in worldview between these two thinkers and the way in which they responded with such marked diﬀerences in their settings. Their signiﬁcance lies partly in the turbulent nature of their times. Everybody has heard of Machiavelli. It is partly true that Ibn Khaldun needs to be recovered for a new generation of theologians. but Machiavelli is more mischievously so. Both thinkers have an empirical mode of approach.co. Methodist minister Email: john.sagepub. Their thought is contrasted. Both lived in societies that were continually embattled.uk/journalsPermissions. but it is chieﬂy founded on their attempts to make empirical judgements on those times. Keywords conflict. the religious motivation of Machiavelli must also be delineated. He held that the glory of God was celebrated in the continual advance of Islam through conquest and through competition between Muslim aspirants to achieve this aim. Machiavelli was also born into a conflict-torn world in which Christian ideals and reasons of state lived uneasily.nav DOI: 10.Article Prophets armed: Muhammad Ibn Khaldun ` Machiavelli and Niccolo John Kennedy Methodist minister Theology 114(2) 101–107 ! The Author(s) 2011 Reprints and permissions: email@example.com. Ibn Khaldun.com Abstract ` Machiavelli (1469–1527) lived more than a Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406) and Niccolo century apart. almost nobody of Ibn Khaldun. but his central beliefs were simple. Both are controversialists. Machiavelli looked for an end to constant strife but desired above all that the Church would practise peace rather than simply mouth the texts that called for it. Equally. Machiavelli Two leading thinkers of their age were Abd-al-Rahman Abu Zayd ibn Muhammad ` Machiavelli. Islam. Each was an experienced Corresponding author: John Kennedy. It is important to outline these diﬀerences.
the aggressors tend to relax into luxury.3 Ibn Khaldun had taken part in the religiously motivated uprising of 1360. however. Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History. or solidarity. eschewing all selﬁsh or sectarian motives.com at Institute of Philosophy RAS on April 4. the immense force of the Crusades was resisted. leaving only Granada to ﬂy the banner of Islam. When deployed in battle. A century later. The struggle should continue. violent people who believe their depredations to be divinely justiﬁed. as S. Ibn Khaldun: Victim to perdition Islam in the Middle East is seen as a relentlessly aggressive force. the lesson was clear to Ibn Khaldun. Each endured a historic crisis. the Seljuk Turks. 2013 . He points out how early this occurred in the Islamic period. He claimed that what is needed above all is the sense of ‘asabiya. a Berber in an Arab world. Machiavelli remained a short walk from Florence Cathedral. Islam needs to show the unique truth of God’s universal power through the witness of conquest. Islam appeared to be in continual decline. Ibn Khaldun travelled widely as a magistrate. E. Finer testiﬁes in his History of Government. the kind of group feeling. from Abu Bakr around 630 CE to ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib around 660. Solidarity.1 This ‘restraining inﬂuence’ simply meant uniting the warring Arabs of Islam as a force of righteousness. Once the spoils are shared. Each had a distinctive approach to religion in an age of faith. This is a sharper notion than mere consensus. it holds death and wounds in contempt. He acknowledges the God-given pattern of advance. is ideologically shaped. The Caliphate struggled to remain intact. that creates victory.sagepub. its successes marked by advancing boundaries over a thousand years. but now it must be about the mission of Islam. focusing on the need to pursue justice against the unbeliever. wilted under the power of Timur in 1400. That was so throughout the period of the Caliphate. He knew the disaster of the Reconquista in Spain. Downloaded from tjx. just ten kilometres away. which saw the fall of Seville in 1248. It is only with the coming of the Ottomans. That country suﬀered a forceful campaign of recovery. but the successors to the Caliphate. He has an intriguing discussion on the merits of Aristotle and Avicenna. but conﬂict continued at its periphery. just after Ibn Khaldun’s time.2 But his central beliefs are simple. Ibn Khaldun gives a complex empirical account of his society. He saw it even in his hilltop exile. in contrast. Ibn Khaldun survived his. He knew that the means of conquest are there for whoever risks grasping them. and I today am in charge of men like you!’ He referred to the restraining inﬂuence of Islam. tells the story from a Muslim perspective. that the provinces were tamed.102 Theology 114(2) public oﬃcial. from Granada to Damascus. He has a laconic comment: Somebody asked ‘Ali: ‘Why do the people disagree concerning you and why did they not disagree concerning Abu Bakr and ‘Umar?’ Ali replied: ‘because Abu Bakr and ‘Umar were in charge of men like me. reckoning only victory as the greater glory. But there is always a supply of hungry. Machiavelli did not. By 1150.
4 The situation remained dynamic. there. known to us as Tamerlane. he deserves to . which are consequently rewarded with plunder. A veteran dissident. Ibn Khaldun’s main text is somewhat sanitized against atrocities.’6 The brevity speaks volumes. fall victim to perdition. knowing that merciless destruction awaited it. Both these conditions appeared to obtain for more than a millennium. This claim was soon put to the test.Kennedy 103 Ibn Khaldun recognizes that the term has many sources. . rose to power in Damascus. . Group feeling is the secret divine factor that restrains people from splitting up and abandoning each other. he simply commented: ‘This was an absolutely dastardly and abominable deed.5 Ibn Khaldun claimed that the hopes of Islam depended on the power of God. among others. and a more naturalistic version of history was in play. insurgency always carries risks. and decides in His Kingdom as He wills. So the remarkable achievement of Arab Muslim hegemony seems less so given the dynastic realities of the time. but changes in aﬀairs are in the hands of Allah – He does with His creatures as he wishes. but it becomes special in the case of Islam. Ibn Khaldun argued for the survival of the city.com at Institute of Philosophy RAS on April 4. and the ﬁnal conquest of Byzantium was achieved by hordes of Ottoman Turks only in 1453. Downloaded from tjx. Solidarity. . It is the source of unity and agreement. and the guarantor of the intentions and laws of Islam. he has a sharply negative attitude to likeminded folk. and the combination of force and solidarity can usually be justiﬁed only with hindsight. with competing Arab tribes seeking to fulﬁl their God-given mandate. Pretence is disastrous: If someone merely pretends to achieve religious reforms in order to gain political leadership.sagepub. yet it is consigned entirely to the will of God. The age of miracles has now passed. Timur. but a greater good than human ethical judgement is clearly dominant here. and the inhabitants were massacred. But the Arab force faltered from around 1000 CE. makes everything easier. This terrible atrocity is recognized. With the destruction of the city. it has the general property of utility and the speciﬁc value of truth. The original Arab force appeared to be continually renewed by a cycle of civil war. through sincere devotion to Him and in view of good intentions towards Muslims. This creed had certain sustainability: a predatory belief is likely to succeed if it requires skill and valour. They in turn collapsed under an eastern threat in 1400. When this is understood. especially the kind that may be regarded as a gift from God. Ibn Khaldun takes a sophisticated view of God’s purposes. 2013 . allied by the Seljuk Turks. God’s wise plans with regards to His creation . . the promise of plunder and religious conviction. will become manifest. Religious reforms are a divine matter that materializes only with God’s pleasure and support. He deployed all the rhetorical resources at his disposal.
Mass was celebrated in the Cathedral in Florence. Only force makes things happen. Machiavelli was appointed the Third Secretary. A problem remained. as he had reconquered Spain in the name of Christ. Machiavelli takes Ferdinand of Aragon. suﬀered exile and wrote – ﬁrst The Prince (possibly 1514) and then The Discourses on the First Ten Chapters of Livy (possibly 1517). sodomy and the Jews. When he tried to escape. the young Archbishop of Florence. despite its commitment to a vision in which only Christ is King. as his example. but his brother barricaded himself behind the great bronze doors of the Sacristy. over 14 years. He saw the urgent need to arm his city. Insults were yelled from the battlements. he was hurled from the second ﬂoor of the Signoria with a rope around his neck. of course. Francesco Salviati. although it proposes rather diﬀerent visions of a renewed Christian polity.com at Institute of Philosophy RAS on April 4. Nearby was Niccolo Some 20 years later. or Good Republic. according to custom. The Pope took the unusual step of leaving the existing government in place. He travelled north of the Alps to seek advice on creating his force. the militia ﬂed and the inhabitants were massacred. The Mayor of Florence captured Salviati. the most famous prince in Christendom. Machiavelli fell. Girolamo Savonarola. Many notable Florentine artists were gathered and scribbled away. had ruled the city for four years.104 Theology 114(2) Machiavelli: In many a snow In April 1478. but it is not the sort that any perceptive person would wish. He had raged against usury. He joked that his epitaph should be ‘For the sake of his country. His holy mission was beyond doubt. Dependable government lies within human capability. and forcible men tend not to share power. but that they simply cannot stomach.sagepub. but it represents an honesty about the prospects for Florence. after a fashion.’7 Eventually the militia defended themselves against the Spaniards at the fortress of Prato. had arranged for Lorenzo and his brother Giuliano to be murdered as he raised the Host. Florence was again in turmoil. The combination of Savonarola and Machiavelli may appear outlandish. Machiavelli frequently teases his readers with accounts of the atrocities that go with princely success. Pope Alexander VI had forcibly intervened. who tended to charge a fortune and who would treacherously switch to the opposing troops. Such a polity was. power attached only to the relatively few who claimed to have distinguished themselves. Giuliano died. responsible for foreign aﬀairs. so we have an immortalized depiction of mortality in the death of the prel` Machiavelli. he pissed in many a snow. Machiavelli reveals his Downloaded from tjx. among them Leonardo da Vinci. an oligarchy rather than a democracy. 2013 . He was nine years old. Civil life clearly required the creation of a Repubblica Bene. The radical Dominican monk. ate. Savonarola was hanged and burned in the Piazza della Signoria. and he wanted the logic of this process to be evident. It is signiﬁcant to note this continuity with the aspirations of the Savonarola government. Machiavelli aimed to replace the continual pack of mercenaries. The problem is solved in The Prince.
The armies of Charles V advanced on Rome and inﬂicted rape and massacre on their co-religionists. and with more audacity command her. always woman-like. he devoted himself with a pious cruelty to driving out and clearing his kingdom of the Moors. His vision has two aspects. however – the fact that politics requires continual change. ‘Arms are hallowed’ if the choice is just. ` . a cloud has led the way. because that war is just which is necessary.11 This is a ﬁne. and must therefore value justice for Italy: With us there is great justice. So Lady Luck and Captain Prowess dominate the scene. nor could there be a more admirable example. Further than this. He tells the story of the expulsion of the Moors from Spain. He banks on one key feature. its own pattern of illusion. the other by Virtu ` . because they are less cautious. In The Discourses. and arms are hallowed when there is no other hope but in them .’8 ‘Pious cruelty’ is a ﬁne turn of phrase. in Machiavelli’s notorious phrase: It is better to be adventurous than cautious. a lover of young men. Italy then became part of a patchwork empire governed by a Downloaded from tjx. Daring is invaluable.10 Decisions about the divine justice of war cannot be left simply to the warriors. while aiming at his own relentless acquisition of power. Machiavelli then oﬀers an exhilarating proposal for his Prince. She is. so it seems as if the populace has by some hidden power discerned the evil and the good that was to befall it. however. therefore. early insight into the potential virtues of the Republic. he reﬂects endlessly on the issue. but he claims that God is just. by force or fraud. According to Machiavelli: ‘[A]lways using religion as a plea.9 Machiavelli’s moral and confessional sense begins to betray itself. so as to undertake greater schemes. . though it refuses to come about.Kennedy 105 other characteristics. the hope of the Good Republic fell. For public opinion is remarkably accurate in its foresight. you ought to do the rest. The ﬁrst property is that of Fortune. A diverse population has a better chance than any other to achieve success: Not without good reason is the voice of the populace likened to the voice of God. one deployed by Fortuna. So Machiavelli has a passionate hope for a stable civil order. how extraordinary the ways of God have been manifested beyond example! The sea is divided. Ferdinand played oﬀ the barons against one another. . or one more rare.sagepub. In 1527. 2013 . And it seems she allows herself to be mastered by the adventurous rather than by those who go to work more coldly. however. containing. He mocks the God of the Church. better styled ‘Lady Luck’. it has rained manna. everything has contributed towards your greatness. in contrast. more violent. because fortune is a woman and if you wish to keep her under it is better to beat and ill-use her.com at Institute of Philosophy RAS on April 4. the rock has poured forth water. is emphatically not the conventional practice of virtue but of Virtu doing the necessary – the mastery of prowess.
He remained ardent in his hope for a true and eﬀective expression of solidarity. but the latter is clearly the area in which his hopes lay. In Florence. that justice is rooted in the vision that he has for a civil order. he has the resource to look open-eyed at the worst horrors. but the accounts they gave of themselves are dramatically diﬀerent. seeking to save the city he had so graphically depicted a decade before. He knew that resistance to such God-given conquest has to be overwhelming if it is to succeed. Ibn Khaldun goes with the grain of Islamic thought. Both The Prince and The Discourses deal in hypothetical positions. and this is the clue to his primacy in competition with Machiavelli. it is possible to justify unspeakable atrocities in the name of God. These societies behaved in rather similar ways. even to the point of his death. Both are marked by violence.com at Institute of Philosophy RAS on April 4. but Machiavelli was clear about the means to reverse its fortunes. He gained some encouragement from its collective talents. but in the meantime the prudent went armed to the teeth. whereas for Machiavelli the hypocrisy attaching to such violence demands examination. the position was more complex: the city was notionally ruled by the Prince of Peace. but both embracing sharply diﬀerent creeds.106 Theology 114(2) series of petty princelings. whose terms he spells out in The Discourses. from assassination to siege. Machiavelli was taken fatally ill on horseback. For Machiavelli. Machiavelli takes life as he sees it. Unorthodox and sarcastic Machiavelli may be. yet to hope realistically for a civil regime. Downloaded from tjx. For Ibn Khaldun. but his aspiration is clearly for a civil regime that rejects much of the injustice of his age. We may deplore his desire to make our ﬂesh creep. He felt his society to be in almost continual decline. But for Ibn Khaldun. but his realism is broad enough to show that proper ﬂourishing can take place only in a heavily armed civil order. elective governance remains a feature of life still anticipated by Italians. but sceptical as to its likely success. and his braggadocio certainly irritates and confuses. and for our purposes they may be regarded as representative. Reasonable. Ibn Khaldun is steel-clad.sagepub. His commitment to the Good Republic had few illusions about the world. and even more in the world outside. not least from the conviction that God is just. all this is part of the Godly plan. It is impossible for Machiavelli to accept Ibn Khaldun’s view that the worst is divinely willed. But Machiavelli is uncomfortable in armour. even when the victims are his own. For the defence of his city. he looked to common bravery rather than to death-defying fanaticism. yet his hopes remain undiminished. So ethical issues remained clearly opposed. including Lorenzo’s cathedral. Such precautions were evident in the city. as his beliefs require. True believers: Ibn Khaldun and Machiavelli Here we see the contrast between two societies – each similarly cruel. 2013 .
3. 8. 725.sagepub. p. p. J. p. 174. Author Biography John Kennedy is a Methodist minister. Lawrence (Princeton. The Prince. The Discourses. 11. Niccolo 9. The Prince. 255. p. Niccolo 1970). 1999). Ibn Khaldun. trans. 2. abr. The Muqaddimah. 5. p.com at Institute of Philosophy RAS on April 4. S. 127. 2. Machiavelli. p. Bull (London: Penguin. 431. 170. The Intermediate Ages (Oxford: Oxford University Press. Bernard Crick (Harmondsworth: Penguin. The Prince. S. Downloaded from tjx. pp. Finer. 10. Ibn Khaldun. 2005). 2003). Oxford: Princeton University Press. 383–6. 6. p. ` Machiavelli. 1989). Ibn Khaldun. E. Ibn Khaldun. Franz Rosenthal. Machiavelli in Hell (Princeton. 7. NJ. trans G. J. and intr. 4. de Grazia. The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History. p. ed. x–xi. 123–4. The History of Government from the Earliest Times. Ibn Khaldun. The Muqaddimah. He served as Secretary for Political Aﬀairs in the Methodist Church and as Secretary for Church and Society in the Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland. p. with a new introduction by Bruce B. Machiavelli. and ed. The Muqaddimah.Kennedy 107 Notes 1. pp. The Muqaddimah. ` Machiavelli. 269. 168. NJ: Princeton University Press. 2013 . Dawood.