On Ibn Khaldoun and Comte (out of the clear blue sky)

Turkish politics in recent years has become like a volcano that is constantly grumbling and spewing gases and dust and that can erupt anytime, creating a big tremor with a lot of pain and destruction afterwards.

The president’s recent comments about Ibn Khaldoun and Auguste Comte while receiving an honorary doctorate at a university did not quite shake the country or the world but they certainly did not go unnoticed. He usually dwells on more mundane, or for want of a better term, more current issues delivered in ordinary (read colloquial) but high and mighty language; however, this time what he referred to were not within the pale of Joe Schmo, stirring some debate and bewilderment among the illuminati. He basically stated something to the effect that it was unfortunate that Ibn Khaldoun was given short shrift, and that Comte was problematic. He also added that Ibn Khaldoun’s ideas were almost condemned [to extinction]. From his speech, at least to the extent it was covered in the media, it was not clear how and why he considered Ibn Khaldoun a rather neglected or overlooked figure or how and why he determined Comte was “problematic.” One would expect that such assertions on the two great personalities of history and philosophy respectively should have been supported by solid evidence and scholarly references, considering that his talk was on the occasion of receiving an honorary academic title.
It was also curious that the president referred to Ibn Khaldoun in this manner because he and the party he is a member of often emphasize islamic principles and values that are antithetical to critical thinking and rationalism whereas Ibn Khaldoun was a historian and historiographer that derived his philosophical views within the rationalist tradition perhaps best represented by Averroes (that conservative/sunni muslims usually abhor because he considered reason and philosophy superior to faith and faith-based knowledge). Furthermore, and contrary to what the president claimed, the pinnacles of Western academia acknowledge the excellence of Khaldoun’s work that was not to be equaled for centuries to come. It is also known that the Ottomans that the president and his circles seem to be proud of being descendants of showed great interest in Ibn Khaldoun’s work during the 16th and 17th centuries. The great historian’s magnum opus, the Muqaddimah was also translated into Turkish in the 18th century, indicating that his significance as a historian/philosopher/sociologist was not ignored either in the West or in the Ottoman/Turkish realm.
Following in the footsteps of the “problematic” Comte (and Durkheim) and comparing their significance quantitatively would not be definitive, and more importantly, it would be absurd to do so. Nevertheless a simple and general search on Google Trends, much to the consternation of the president or his speech writer, indicates that since 2004 Ibn Khaldoun (represented by the blue line in the chart below) was on average searched more times than Comte  in the English Language and on a global scale. Measured in the category of Books and Literature, Ibn Khaldoun averages 18 against 11 for Comte. This seems to debilitate the president’s argument. Granted that these are crude methods to compare masters of intellectual achievement that left an indelible mark in the history of human civilization, but such quick and dirty ways of dealing with a problem sometimes can be quite telling (and fun).
Google Searches on Ibn Khaldoun and Comte
The moral of the story is, the president cannot be expected to be knowledgeable about everything; however, it goes without saying that he needs competent advisors.





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s