By Nasser Kandil
There has been no agreement between European and Arab social scientists about the precise roots of the historic scholar Ibn Khaldun’s political sociology theories in in his examination of phenomena associated with the rise, disintegration, and demise of states. Any reader of Ibn Khaldun’s texts in the current American epoch will believe that this great scholar had written his work to explain what is going on in America today, with his phenomena having a degree of congruence approaching prophesy.
With the departure of the ex-President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden in the White House, world and regional attention has been focused on new American policies. Part of the discussion about the Trump phenomenon will remain in the background of the American scene, along the political competition which will dominate the future mid-term elections two years from now, and the Presidential election in four years, both preceded by the outcome of Trump’s impeachment trial before the Senate.
The cardinal long-range question is whether what America is witnessing is a political crisis, or a structural crisis, or is it more the beginning of the demise of the empire? The beginning of the end of the American Empire era in response might be seen by many as an exaggeration and a prevalence of wishful thinking over reality. However, a systematic examination impervious to political cacophony will reveal a reality more profound than political discourse, economic outlook, durability of institutions, concept of deep state, and foreign policy headlines, despite their great importance. An examination from the perspectives civilization, culture, and society is even more important today than an examination from political, economic and military perspectives.
Ibn Khaldun draws the course for the rise of states, and not any state, but rather of empires. He points to the presence of a zealotry which becomes the foundation for the establishment of a state, and the success of such zealotry in possessing the might to hold power. He maintains that it is followed by legitimizing dominance through a project of statehood and nationhood, which succeeds in convincing the people and enfolding them, and provides them with opportunities for agriculture, production, trade, cultural, educational, and artistic activity. It instills in them a belief and hope in the value of such effort and its role in the development of civil and political peacefulness based on stable legal standards. In turn, such ascent establishes the ground for expansion through raids and the accumulation of sources of power and stature, which results in a spread in means of comfort and an increase in demand for them, new economic endeavor, and new consumption. He posits that it continues until it reaches the stage when further expansion becomes impossible, and such lack of possibility coincides with an imbalance in the standards for ascent and descent in the social ladder, when excessive luxury juxtaposes harsh poverty, and standards to energize economic activity become absent. As a consequence, hope dies, stature declines with the insurgence in foreign dominions, exaggerated spending on armies emerges and depletes resources, disease and epidemics spread and become widespread, the economy freezes and shrinks, and zealotry becomes divided unto itself. The people who had accepted its project of nationhood and statehood becomes dissatisfied, merchants and industrialists no longer find the security necessary to continue their activity, and the decline of the empire begins.
A review of the course of the decline of the Soviet Union will reveal many intersections with the course outlined by Ibn Khaldun, in that the Communist Party and its Russian branch constituted the zealotry nucleus, while a reading of the American course will reveal even more intersections with Ibn Khaldun’s outline. In the United States, the European Whites who founded the country constitute this nucleus of zealotry, and the revolt against the results of the 2020 Presidential elections and accompanying sharp vertical national divide with tens of millions on either side, signals only the tip of the iceberg of historic exhaustion and the beginning of decline. The zealots are no longer satisfied with the grounds they had laid for their project of state and nation, and want a more exclusive hold on power and resources, while the rest of the American population comprised of non-whites are no longer accepting of a second-class citizenship.
All indicators suggest that in the last two decades all US wars failed as defense spending increased, protection for the poor decreased, poverty doubled, and the gap between rich and poor widened. The scale for socio-economic mobility became unbalanced, the 2008 banking and real estate crisis emerged, along with the phenomena of extreme richness versus wide sector of poverty, leading to widespread talk about despair and the plummeting of standards. Procurement of weapons by individuals and groups became more rampant, while the political discourse reached moral rock bottom, and the White zealotry fractured into a majority represented by racists calling for exclusivity, and a minority holding on to the project of country and nation backed by the rest of the non-White population.
A point of note is that Ibn Khaldun believes that pandemics are a sign of the decline of the state, “ the empire”, because it is the result of opulence and irresponsible behavior towards natural resources. In the scholar’s words:” A pandemic is mostly from air pollution due to over-building and associated decay and putrefied dampness…When purification is strong, illness befalls the lungs, which is what plagues and its associated illnesses specific to the lung are, with the reason for such excessive rot and putrefied dampness and abundant over-development being the decline of the state.”
Ihsan Abdel Kuddus’ novel ”I Will Not Live In My Father’s Robe” summarizes the perspectives of the White Majority and Non-White Minorities across the United Sates. The White Fathers invested in civil decades to build an economy, the basis for labor of which were the non-Whites, who in turn found a great accomplishment in the semi-justice meted by the White Fathers in comparison to bloodthirsty racism. The sons of the White fathers feel constricted by the robe of the civilized decades with the dwindling in resources and regression in development. More importantly they became apprehensive about demography and the fear of the slip of their control over the state because of legislature they had forged for the country’s administrations, and now talk about the country as theirs in which they host others. This has coincided with a feeling of constriction by the father’s robe among the sons of non-Whites who no longer are accepting of the gap between the civilized culture and racism, translated into an existential apprehensiveness with the rise in calls for ethnic cleansing and militant extremism, along with the widening in differential in securing a living and procuring means of comfort.
The United States, balanced in the number between Whites and Non-Whites, will become an arena of bloody confrontation, and will not be assuaged by Biden’s incantations. States with a majority of one of the two groups will organize according to the desires of the ethnic majority, the hold of the central authority will diminish, and independence projects in some States will be witnessed, while the empire reels for the duration of the pandemic.