Ibn Khaldun’s Asabbiyah and Althusser’s Ideological state apparatus. A comparison.

It was not long ago when I came across Ibn Khalduns theory about Asabbiyah, a concept he puts fore within the intellectual realm of politics and philosophy in his magnum opus titled Muqaddimah.

Before I dwell into the correlation of this theory with an essay titled Ideology and Ideological State Apparatus written by a Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser, I will stress on what the word Asabbiyah really means.

The word Asabbiyah can convey various meanings and interpretations—with prime inclination towards meaning of solidarity and a sense of unification amongst consciousness of individuals within the same community. Although the meaning in past was mostly based on an environment dominated by notion of tribalism, in modern era, it can be knotted with ideology of republicanism and a sense of unification that resonates with being a citizen of a republic. Similarly, analysis of the root of asabbiyah introduces us to word asabah—which refers to a relative from the paternal side of one’s family. Thus, within an idiomatic platform, asabbiyah is support of one’s social group, despite the fact if they are right or wrong.

Ibn Khaldun propogates the assabiyah theory based on this framework to comprehend the cyclical nature of rise and fall of empires that he himself had witnessed (his immigration to Tunisia from Spain, where Christians had conducted a Reconquista of the Muslim territory of Cordova and Seville respectively).To understand this change and pattern; therefore, had instigated a desire in Ibn Khaldun into understanding the flux of historic incidents that were unfolding in front of him.  He concluded that the dominant group would settle itself in the periphery region and hence merge itself with traditions and cultures of the periphery subjects. As time progresses,  dominating groups adaptation with the subject’s culture develops a complex urban life, which helps them attain centrality, and power in due course. However, the attainment of luxury and power makes them laxer, causing conflict, jealousy and causes economic decline. This results the state to become fragile and face another incoming dominant group, leading to repetition of the cycle.

Ibn Khalduns idea about penetration within the periphery subjects and dominating while establishing a new network of culture, practices and norms can also be contrasted with Althussers concept of ideological state apparatus in his essay titled on Ideology and Ideological state apparatuses published in 1970.

Marxism revolves around the bipartite composition of a society consisting of base and the superstructure. The former is composed of production of forces, relations of production, and the materialistic aspect of society; whereas the latter is comprised of two instances—political law and ideology. One thing that needs to be mentioned within this emblem is the dependence of superstructure on base and the reciprocal relationship of the two: superstructure maintains the base and base shapes and maintains this superstructure. Althusser further elaborates this notion by  including the concepts of Repressive and Ideological state apparatus. I will, therefore, argue about the essence of commonality between the idea of Ideological state apparatus and  theory of Asabbiyah.

The ideological state apparatus is within the periphery or the private sphere of a society and its main function is via ideology on the masses. The dominant class in society deems to be powerless if it is not able to reinforce the facets of ideological state apparatus in their society— religious institutions, education systems, and family framework  are all different dimensions of this Ideological state apparatus. Thus, looking at this narrative within Ibn Khalduns model, he proposes us with a similar concept of the Assabbiyah, that of the tribes or nomads establishing themselves within ideological framework of the periphery and with time fighting against a center or the ruling class, which results in an uprising of their own tribe and  a disintegration of  leaders at present state.

It is remarkable that Ibn Khaldun and Althusser  despite being 600 years apart have common views about mechanisms of people and society. History can sure teach us a lot: repetitive patterns,  working of human beings whether through espirit de corps or a revolt, can all be regarded as incidents to understand how universal laws govern the nature of different communities through the span of time.


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