In my first piece relating to Ibn Khaldun’s work I examined his theory of asabiyah and then in my last piece I expanded on it and focused more deeply on asabiyah. In this final piece relating to Ibn Khaldun’s work I want to wrap up by looking at the transitory process that takes place in society where group-forms undergo transformation or evolution, thus, from Umran Badawi (Rural) to Umran Hadari (Urban).
Ibn Khaldun, therefore, uses umran badawi more broadly and beyond the framework of nomadic life to include human groupings with ties to each other beyond shared ancestry including trade partners and political allies.
Thus, people involved in agriculture, vegetable farming, animal husbandry, and so on, in all geographical areas outside the major towns, Ibn Khaldun refers to them as umran badawi.
In contrast, the umran hadari (sedentary people, urban dwellers or the urbanite society) lacks a sense of solidarity as individuals pursue self-interest, life of luxury, and compete for limited resources often in an egocentric manner.
Life is based on material pursuit of happiness underpinned by hedonism and extravagance leading to moral decadence and social disequilibrium. Ibn Khadun explains:
They corrupt the city generally in respect to business and civilization. Corruption of the individual inhabitants is the result of painful and trying efforts to satisfy the needs caused by their (luxury) customs; (the result) of the bad qualities they have acquired in the process of satisfying (those needs); and of the damage the soul suffers after it has obtained them.
Immorality, wrongdoing, insincerity, and trickery, for the purposes of making a living in a proper or an improper manner, increase among them.
The soul comes to think about (making a living), to study it, and to use all possible trickery for the purpose. People are now devoted to lying, gambling, cheating, fraud, theft, perjury, and usury (1967:286).
Umran hadari is civilized or a sedentary way of life characteristic of urban living or urbanism. People in this group are distinguished by their decadence and self-indulgent living. They lack the willingness to cooperate with each other and if cooperation is ever undertaken then some self-benefit is expected as an outcome.
The dichotomy between umran badawi and umran hadari is expressed in the contrast between rural living (ruralism) and urban life (urbanism). With the use of asabiyah Ibn Khaldun offered the explanation and reasons for the rise and fall of societies. In asabiyah where the emphasis is on unity, group consciousness, and shared purpose, he found the basis for the progress of human collectivities.
In the way of explanation, he created the stages and division of societies where a society go through a change process; from nomadic to sedentary and gave them names – umran badawi and umran hadari.
The dynamic change from umran badawi to umran hadari is cyclical in nature.
Since states and dynasties represent umran hadari, Ibn Khaldun claims that they cannot be established without strong asabiyah. Asabiyah is critical for state formation or the development of urbanism.
Nomadic people strive for urbanism; it is their goal. They possess strong asabiyah and, therefore, they can achieve this goal. Once they have achieved basic necessities of life, as hard workers they start working towards securing comfort, luxury, and delight of sedentary life.
With strong asabiyah, courage, fearlessness, and willingness to fight nomadic people defeat the sedentary people and establish their own dynasty. Once the dynasty is established the people become absorbed, over time, into a sedentary lifestyle.
This lifestyle, inherently self-destructive inevitably contributes to the gradual erosion of asabiyah. Sedentary lifestyle, by nature, has the effect of weakening the feeling of social cohesion and when social cohesion is seriously impaired concurrently is damaged the military strength, social structure, and the state power.
In the natural cycle of rise and fall, the cycle come to full circle when the dynasty is subdued and replaced by a group of pre-sedentary people with stronger asabiyah.
It is true that dynasties rise and fall but there is, according to Ibn Khaldun, a solution to the “dying factor” which causes the demise of dynasties. The solution is that it helps the dynasty stay in power, not for ever because there is no such thing, but for longer.
In times of dynastical crisis or decline the power can be maintained or restored with the emergence of a “good” and strong leader who can unify and consolidate the people with his own asabiyah.
Here, Ibn Khaldun introduces his concept of the institution of leadership (imamate) which will be the topic of my next discussion.