Outnumbered, outgunned, but not outdone: Smells like team spirit

I was going to write about the current situation and how media plays a role in it, or, should I say its role in it, but I haven’t really finished that, so it’ll just have to wait. It’s something that I managed to forget, that I had written about it, and the recent events made me think, like, didn’t I already write about this? Well, I did and I didn’t. I did write about it, a bit, but I didn’t cover properly. Anyway, I’ll see to it when I have the time and the inspiration to get it done.

So, instead of doing writing about the media and how current events have been covered, I’ll look into something else. Because … all happens these days, not that it changes my life that much, as I’m used to everyone else taking their sweet … time to do anything (in contrast, I’ve reviewed manuscripts and MA theses in a day, giving detailed constructive feedback), I’ve found time to start working out properly again. That’s hardly worth mentioning, in itself, but it has also given me time to listen to podcasts while I’m working out, which led me to this. The cancellation of sports (and, well, anything and everything, really, but sports being highly relevant to my life) also made me think of what I’m about to cover in terms of sports, because, to me, it’s always a team effort.

I think you can notice what I’m about to cover in sports, how, on paper, you can a very good team, with the good athletes or players, coaches, support staff, equipment and training facilities, yet, somehow, a supposedly worse team, one that doesn’t have all that, can outperform the better team. Why? Well, because they might not have all that, but they do have team spirit. It’s simple as that. But what is team spirit? What is it? How does it come to be? Why do some have it while others don’t?

Right, to get on with this, to answer all those questions, I happened to listen a podcast on Ibn Khaldun, because, why not, and, while I was listening to it, what was said sounded quite familiar. It turned out that I had read about him in ‘A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia’, written by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. They (366) mention him on the plateau on nomads, the one on the war machine, noting that:

“Ibn Khaldun defines the nomad war machine by: families or lineages PLUS esprit de corps. The war machine entertains a relation to families that is very different from its relation to the State. In the war machine, the family is a band vector instead of a fundamental cell; a genealogy is transferred from one family to another according to the aptitude of a given family at a given time to realize the maximum of ‘agnatic solidarity.’”

Now, before I continue on this, I think it’s worth clarifying that according to a dictionary, such as the Oxford English Dictionary, esprit de corps (OED, s.v. “esprit”, n.) has to do with how members of a body act as parts of a whole, not by simply being parts of a whole, as given as such, but by acting in relation to another, which creates the sense of belonging to the whole:

“[T]he regard entertained by the members of a body for the honour and interests of the body as a whole, and of each other as belonging to it.”

The notion of body (corps) is particularly important, because, for Deleuze and Guattari (366) it is never “reducible to an organism, any more than esprit de corps is reducible to the soul of an organism.” As I’ve discussed in my previous essays, for them, a body is just any body, like, say, a body of water, not just the human body. Moreover, a body is not merely an organism, in the sense that organism is a matter of how something is organized, in this and/or that way, which is why they (30) state that “[t]he body without organs is not a dead body but a living body all the more alive and teeming once it has blown apart the organism and its organization.” Anyway, they (366) specify that they prefer to use the word ‘spirit’ because they considered it to be volatile and decentralized whereas “soul is weighted, a center of gravity.”

I think it’s also worth clarifying what they (366) refer to as agnatic solidarity. Now, solidarity (OED, s.v. “solidarity”, n.) is not a tough word to comprehend, considering that it has to do with:

“The fact or quality, on the part of communities, etc., of being perfectly united or at one in some respect, esp. in interests, sympathies, or aspirations[.]”

And, in a legal sense (OED, s.v. “solidarity”, n.):

“A form of obligation involving joint and several responsibilities or rights.”

In contrast, agnatic is a probably something that you may want to check. It (OED, s.v. “agnatic”, adj.) has to do with:

“Of or relating to agnates; related through the male line[.]”

In other words, agnatic solidarity has to do with solidarity, some sort of unison, between male kinsmen. I wouldn’t say it’s a legal obligation. It’s more of a unwritten rule, that you stick your neck out for others and they do the same. Anyway, back to the point where Deleuze and Guattari (366) define this:

“[I]t is not the public eminence of a family that determines its place in a State organism but the reverse; it is the secret power (puissance), or strength of solidarity, and the corresponding genealogical mobility that determine its eminence in a war body.”

So, as I just pointed out, there’s strictly speaking nothing set in place so that people must act in a certain way, but rather that they do. I’ll let them (366) finish, before I move on:

“This has to do neither with the monopoly of an organic power (pouvoir) nor with local representation, but is related to the potential (puissance) of a vortical body in a nomad space.”

Pierre Clastres elaborates on this in ‘Archeology of Violence’. He (88) points out that 16th century European explorers made note of how the locals in South America were organized in small groups but no one ran the show, or so to speak. They did have leaders, yet, the explorers thought that there was no clear hierarchy, no clear chain of command, no policing, as he (88) goes on to elaborate. He (88-89) adds that this puzzles people even contemporarily, because it’s hard for someone accustomed to a state society to explain how leaders can be “stripped of all power”, how “chieftainship is located outside the exercise of political power.” It comes across as absurd to think of the exercise of power outside a hierarchy because it appears, well, simply contradictory to be a leader, a chief, if it doesn’t mean power over the community, as he (89) further clarifies the issue.

How does it work then? How the hell that makes any sense? Well, according to Clastres (89), the leader or the chief, whatever you want to call that person, is rather a spokesperson, someone who stands in for the society on certain occasions, not as its representative, but as someone who gives the group identity when dealing with other groups. So, I guess, in this arrangement the leader is more like a diplomat, someone who works for the group. He (89) adds that primitive societies are not divided internally, so people are either of us or of them, friends or enemies. Anyone who is a friend is an ally, someone you look after and someone that looks after you, whereas enemies are those who do not meet this condition, which is why war is waged upon them, as he (89) goes on to clarify. So, yeah, the leader is indeed more like a diplomat, someone who is tasked “to consolidate the networks of alliance”, as he (89) puts it. The leader does, however, also play a role in relation to the enemies, in the sense that it is the allies who are called upon to defend against enemies or to attack them. The leader does, of course, need to display courage under such circumstances (to lead by example, I guess), so, in a way, the leader is not only a diplomat but also a marshal or a general. Most importantly, the leader does not make decisions for the society. To reiterate the earlier point, the leader does not rule over others. Instead, the leader only executes the will of the society, as agreed by the members of the society, as he (89) points out. It wouldn’t make any difference if the leader did attempt to do otherwise because the leader doesn’t have any power over the members of the society, as he (89) goes on to clarify. On top of that, if the leader ends up on a power trip, the members of the society are not bound to follow the leader and the leader can thus be replaced, even by force, as he (91) goes on to specify that. I mean, it sort of makes sense, considering how you only differentiate between friends (allies) and enemies. The leader is considered a friend, a prestigious friend, but if that friend becomes an enemy, then the leader not only can be replaced, but must be replaced.

Now, how does one become a leader if it does not involve an exercise of power. Well, in this arrangement one is selected for this position because one displays the necessary qualities, diplomacy and courage, or, in short, prestige, as he (89) puts it. One doesn’t get to be the leader if one isn’t of use to one’s society. The point is that people may call such society primitive, even consider it a non-society, but, if you ask me, members of such society discussed by Clastres are clearly not dumb. He (90) adds that while members of the society tend to value the leader’s views and, in some cases, value them more than the views of other members of the society, the leader is never in a position that would allow these views to be turned into commands that the members of the society would need to obey. This also applies in cases where members of the society, that is to say friends, challenge one another and argue over something. As he (90) points out, the leader can only appease the parties involved and appeal to them in order to stop them from feuding.

There is another occasion in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ where Ibn Khaldun is mentioned. Deleuze and Guattari mention him when they (481) contrast nomads with sedentaries:

“When Ibn Khaldun speaks oibadiya, bedouinism, the term covers cultivators as well as nomadic animal raisers: he contrasts it to hadara, or ‘city life.’”

It is worth noting here, as they (481) do, that being sedentary is not, in itself, merely defined as a matter of farming, cultivating the earth, but rather a matter of organization, hence the earlier point about organism being about organization, how something is delimited and/or partitioned. They (481) point out that in Greek terms, the undelimited and unpartioned open (smooth) space is nomos, including but not limited to “the pre-urban countryside; mountainside, plateau, steppe”, and the delimited and partitioned closed (striated) space is polis, what one calls the city and the town.

In the notes section (555), it is clarified that Ibn Khaldun approaches this “sociological problem of the esprit de corps, and its ambiguity” in what they call his “masterpiece”, ‘The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History’. I’ll try my best to summarize the three main points here. Firstly, in bedouinism (nomadism) the way of life builds on a shared understanding of eminence as subordinated to solidarity between people, which is to be ‘secret’ (implicit), whereas in cities (sedentarism) the way of life builds on subordination to eminence, which is to be public (explicit). Secondly, bedouinism (nomadism) involves “great purity and great mobility of the lineages and their genealogy”, whereas, in stark contrast, city life (sedentarism) is fertile for “lineages that are very impure, and at the same time rigid and fixed.” Importantly, what is considered solidarity is open in bedouinism (nomadism), extending within the community, not only within one lineage but also between lineages, whereas in city life (sedentarism) solidarity is much more limited between them. Simply put, in the former case people are marked by solidarity, whereas in the latter case there is solidarity, but only inasmuch it serves another purpose, hence the subordination. Thirdly, and most importantly, as they (555) stress this, in bedouinism (nomadism) the “lineages mobilize an esprit de corps and integrate into it, as a new dimension” known as asabiyyah (عصبيّة), in which there is no fixed state that would guarantee a leader power over others, hence the great social mobility, whereas in city life (sedentarism) it works the other way around, “the esprit de corps becomes a dimension of power and is adapted for ‘autocracy.’”

Now, that’s only my summary of their summary. I’ll now have a closer look at what Ibn Khaldun actually wrote. He actually wrote quite a bit and there’s no way I’m covering it all, so I’ll just take a look at the relevant part of his book, which can be found in the second chapter of the first volume. It’s worth noting that this was written in 1377, which is why the examples deal with something as remote (to most contemporary people) as camel herding and why it may contain passages that just wouldn’t do contemporarily. My point is that the fact that I look at it and cover parts of it does not mean that I wholeheartedly endorse its contents. Of course, for me, that applies to just about anything, really. I don’t think you need to buy into something wholesale. I can’t really comment on the religious aspects either, so I won’t go into detail with all that.

I’ll start from the beginning, from the point where Ibn Khaldun (249) emphasizes the importance of social organization. Summarizing the main aspects of this, how things start to get going, he (249) notes that people lead different lives under different circumstances, some cultivating land, whereas others have animals graze on it. Land is particularly important aspect of this because whereas farming is typically done intensively, on good land, in hopes of high yield, animal husbandry takes a lot of land, which is why, according to Ibn Khaldun (249) “the call of the desert” is highly tempting, even though, as you probably already know, life in the desert is tough and riddled with perils. The desert is always either too damn hot or too damn cold. On top of that there’s the obvious need for water, food and shelter, what he (249) calls bare necessities. The upside of this way of life is that once you are accustomed to needing only that, just the bare necessities, you won’t be bothered by what some might call the lack of anything beyond bare necessities, convenience and luxury, anything that involves wealth and comfort, whatever it is that city dwellers typically seek to acquire and take great pride in, as he (249) puts it. Everything is functional. Therefore housing only exists to provide temporary shelter from the elements and food is supposed to provide nutrition, as he (250) goes on to elaborate the Bedouin (nomad) lifestyle.

To avoid being overly simplistic, Ibn Khaldun (250-251) does point out that this is not simply an either or type of a deal. It’s not that you are either a nomad or a sedentary. There are also people who are what one might contemporarily call semi-nomadic, such as pastoral herders, people who move from one pasture to another, but do not venture into areas where the conditions are not as favorable as they are in the areas that they are familiar with, as he (251) goes on to point out. He simply opts to focus on those who venture into the desert because, for him, they are the most clear cut example of nomads. I guess you could say that he focuses on them because they are most hardcore. He (252) actually calls them “the most savage human beings that exist”, “on a level with wild, untamable (animals) and dumb beasts of prey”, if compared with the sedentaries.

I think it’s worth emphasizing that he (252) doesn’t actually think that the Bedouins (and other nomads) are somehow crude or savage, dumb or wild (etc.) as that’s a matter of perspective. It’s rather that he (252) gives them credit for their austere lifestyle. They don’t get carried away, thinking that they are entitled to something as they make due with bare necessities, as he keeps repeating. For him (252), this lifestyle is the basis for the lifestyle of the city and, similarly to the call of the desert, there is something alluring about the conveniences and luxuries of the city that attracts the Bedouins (nomads). It sort of makes sense, really. I mean you wouldn’t have people in the cities, unless there was something that drew them there. It’s interesting that he (252-253) considers the Bedouins to be prior to the sedentaries, yet, at the same time, he considers settling down (sedentarism) an aspiration or a goal for the Bedouins. So, in a way, he is stating what Deleuze and Guattari state in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ when they (429), following Clastres, propose that:

“[S]ocieties termed primitive are not societies without a State, in the sense that they failed to reach a certain stage, but are counter-State societies organizing mechanisms that ward off the State-form, which make its crystallization impossible[.]”

To be more elaborate, Clastres (87-88) addresses this in the ‘Archeology of Violence’:

“[P]rimitive societies are societies without a State; they are societies whose bodies do not possess separate organs of political power. Based on the presence or absence of the State, one can initially classify these societies and divide them into two groups: societies without a State and societies with a State, primitive societies and the others.”

Now, to be clear, what is meant by primitive, by Deleuze and Guattari, as well as Clastres, has nothing to do with actual inferiority, which is why Deleuze and Guattari indicate that these societies are termed as primitive, rather than being primitive. As explained by Clastres (90-91) such views that present these societies as embryonic or childlike, degree zero, something to grow out of, presuppose that they are inferior, which, in turn reinforces the notion of a state society as the way to go about things. So, instead, as aptly expressed by Clastres (87), “we no longer cast upon primitive societies the curious or amused look of the somewhat enlightened, somewhat humanistic amateur; we take them seriously.”

What they, Deleuze and Guattari, as well as Clastres, are saying is that what we call a state, a country or a nation, a clearly delimited territorial entity, is not a given, even though we are tempted to think that way, as they (427) point out:

“We are always brought back to the idea of a State that comes into the world fully formed and rises up in a single stroke, unconditioned Urstaat.”

And (360):

“We are compelled to say that there has always been a State, quite perfect, quite complete.”

So, as they (360) emphasize, it’s the other way around.

“[T]he State itself has always been in a relation with an outside and is inconceivable independent of that relationship.”

To make more sense of this, what they call the State is something as simple as the matter of sovereignty, who controls a certain delimited area of land, a territory, as they (360) go on to elaborate. States come in all shapes and forms, for example as despotic states (think of empires, kingdoms, duchies, etc.), liberal bourgeois states and totalitarian states (think of the Soviet Union, for example), as Clastres (88) points out. Ibn Khaldun (253) makes the same observation when he notes that not unlike the Bedouins (nomads), “sedentary people differ also among themselves in their conditions (of life)”, so that clans and tribes, as well as cities and towns vary in terms of their population and the territory they occupy or hold. States also operate by delimiting and partitioning, as pointed out by Deleuze and Guattari (481), whereas non-state societies do not, as elaborated by Clastres (88). Importantly, what follows from the delimiting and partitioning (designating this and, followed by dividing it) is a hierarchy (you know, like a taxonomy, a tree), meaning that some are deemed superior to others who are, conversely, inferior to them, but, possibly superior to others, who are, in turn, inferior to them (and so on, and so on), as explained by Clastres (88). He (88) also stresses that this is particularly western (albeit not exclusively so) way of thinking (an imperial state of mind, if you ask me), in which thinking otherwise, that there could even be a society outside the (hierarchically organized) state, is inconceivable. It just doesn’t compute.

What is the outside then? Well, it’s anything that isn’t controlled by the various states, what doesn’t adhere to territoriality. Deleuze and Guattari (360) point out that, territorially speaking, they can be larger or smaller than states, but, be as it may, what’s common in both cases is that they undermine the sovereignty of the states. They don’t play by the rules, or so to speak. They (360) list multinational corporations and religions as these entities that are larger than states and various bands, margins and minorities as the entities smaller than states. They (360) add that these two extremes of the outside are not mutually exclusive, so you can have what Marshall McLuhan famously called the ‘global village’. To be more specific, they (360) note that a multinational company may appear to engage in pillage or piracy, in the sense that they seek to deplete resources, coming from the outside, as if raiding a territory like a band marauders. Similarly, they (360) point out world religion may be adopted by small bands, like it was the case with the Bedouins. To further explain the outside, from the perspective of the outside, they (427) note that:

“[T]he war machine explains nothing; for it is either exterior to the State, and directed against it; or else it already belongs to the State, encasted and appropriated, and presupposes it.”

Here the point is that the nomad war machine exists outside the various states. It is the outside, or so to speak. That said, as they point out here, the war machine also presupposes the state. Why? Well, you can’t be against the state, unless the state exists. I like to think of this as a matter of mutual presupposition. This takes us back to the earlier point that what Deleuze and Guattari, as well as Clastres, define as the state is not a given, but rather a mode of organization, among other modes. The state is, of course, the dominant mode of organizing a society, which is why it appears to us as a given, but it is not the only one and, by no means, inherently the best mode of organizing a society. That’s exactly what Ibn Khaldun is stating.

Right, so, to get back on track here, summarizing Ibn Khaldun (252-253), the Bedouins (nomads) are primary to the city dwellers (sedentaries), but only because their way of life is based on bare necessities. Conversely, what’s beyond bare necessities, anything of convenience or luxury is thus secondary. All that is accrued only after one has secured the bare necessities. That said, I think he does take into consideration that while nomadic way of life appears to be primary, the temptation to settle down, to be form a state, i.e. to be static/statist, is already there, like a seed, hence my earlier point about this being about mutual presupposition. In other words, settling down is a state of mind, or so to speak, how one seeks to stop and hunker down. Conversely, the temptation to adopt a nomad lifestyle is also present for those who have settled down, even though going from riches to rags, or so to speak, is certainly less tempting to most people. It’s not entirely erased when people settle down. By formulating it this way avoids asserting that one way of organizing a society is, in itself, better than other ways of organizing it and that they necessarily succeed one another in a given order.

Ibn Khaldun (253) states that the Bedouins (nomads) are “closer to being good than sedentary people”. Why is that? Before I provide the answer to that, it’s worth noting that he (253) actually doesn’t believe that people are inherently good or evil. For him (253-254) people are brought up as this or that, so it is the education that defines whether are in the habit of doing good or evil deeds. He (258) further elaborates this point:

“[M]an is a child of the customs and the things he has become used to. He is not the product of his natural disposition and temperament. The conditions to which he has become accustomed, until they have become for him a quality of character and matters of habit and custom, have replaced his natural disposition.”

It’s also interesting that he (254) doesn’t say that one’s education makes one good or evil, but rather that if one is brought up in a certain way, it will be difficult for the person to act otherwise. Now, what is meant by good and evil is left somewhat open and one has to figure that out by oneself. He does elaborate on this, when he (262) indicates that “[e]vil qualities in man are injustice and mutual aggression”, which would amount to good qualities being justness and restraint. Anyway, for him (254), because of what has already been mentioned a number of times, because the sedentaries end up taking all the convenience and luxury for granted, to the point of decadence, they tend to exhibit “all kinds of blameworthy and evil qualities”, what I guess one might call vices. In stark contrast, the Bedouins (nomads) tend to exhibit much less “evil ways and blameworthy qualities”, as he (254) points out. I think it’s crucial to emphasize here that he is not saying that the Bedouins (nomads) are (inherently) good, nor that they are better than sedentaries. What he (254) is saying is that “[t]hey are closer to the first natural state” than the sedentaries. In other words, what he is saying is that the Bedouins (nomads) are not clearly marked by either good or evil. So, they are closer to being good than the sedentaries not because they have been brought up to be good, but, because their indifference to good and evil, they are not evil either. They lead very simple lives, having customs that are appropriate to the conditions they find themselves in, so it’s hard to find anything blameworthy about them, not to mention opulent or decadent. This does not, of course, make them paragons of virtue either.

He (257-258) also considers the Bedouins (nomads) to be more likely to display courage and fortitude than the sedentaries. Much of this is rather obvious, so I’ll just summarize the main points. If you live a sedentary life, you rely on others to do things for you. Importantly, these things that you entrust others to do for you, such as protect you, you wouldn’t and, in all likelihood, couldn’t do yourself, for yourself, nor for others. In other words, being sedentary makes you weak, in the sense that you end up depending on others. In stark contrast, the Bedouins rely on themselves and stay ever vigilant. They pay attention to their surroundings at all times, watching and listening. Even sleeping is serious business to them, so they sleep only in the company of fellow Bedouins or when on the move, when mounted.

It is at this point that he does, however, distance himself from the Bedouins (nomads) that he otherwise gives plenty of credit to when he (258) states that, “[a]s a rule, man must by necessity be dominated by someone else.” I’d say he almost contradicts himself, considering that he does consider the nomads to be self-reliant and thus not dominated by someone else, but, then again, he (258) actually states that “[n]ot everyone is master of his own affairs”, not that no one is master of his own affairs. Okay, you could argue that he (258) is, in fact, stating that some are fit to rule and thus others must simply obey the ruler, be ruled, but, then again, this does leave room for the other interpretation, that by having enough courage and fortitude one can be self-reliant.

This leads him (259-260) further praise the Bedouins (nomads), their courage and fortitude, their self-reliance, because they do not cave in when they are faced with “brute force and intimidation” unlike the sedentaries who end up being deprived of their power of resistance. He (259) notes that this actually pertains to the enforcement of laws and argues that the fear of being punished and/or humiliated is enough to break the fortitude of sedentary people. He (259) adds that this also pertains to education because when “people grow up in fear and docility”, they “consequently do not rely on their own fortitude.” They end up being “deprived of much of their own fortitude” when they are subjected to formal instruction, regardless of whether it concerns crafts, sciences or religious matters, as he (259-260) goes on to further specify. He (260) really wants to emphasize this point, so he bluntly states that:

“This is the case with students, whose occupation it is to study and to learn from teachers and religious leaders, and who constantly apply themselves to instruction and education in very dignified gatherings.”

So, in short, he (260) reckons that formal education makes people weak because it only teaches people to be reliant on the very people who dominate them. Now, as if that wasn’t clear enough, he (260) goes on to add:

“This situation and the fact that it destroys the power of resistance and fortitude must be understood.”

In other words, if you didn’t notice it already, he for sure isn’t fond of weak people, nor organizing the society in a way in which a handful of people dominate the vast majority of people. I don’t know, maybe he’d be okay with it if it was a matter choice or a matter of combat, having to yield to domination because that would involve a test of courage and fortitude, as well as include the potential for resistance, but considering that people do not choose their parents, nor their educators, he really seems to be against the system. Related to this, he (260-261) blames people for using religion, and its tenets, for their own purposes, to making people reliant on them.

Following this discussion, he (262) jumps to characterizing how the Bedouins (nomads) and the city dwellers (sedentaries) handle injustice and mutual aggression, the two evil qualities mentioned in this context. He (262) states that the mutual aggression and the sense of injustice between sedentaries is handled by the authorities and the government, unless it is the ruler who happens to be the one responsible for the injustice (quite the snarky comment, in 1377, if you ask me!). He (262) adds that aggression coming from the outside of the city can be thwarted in by government troops and/or having walls that keep the aggressors from entering the city. In stark contrast, the Bedouins are expected to exercise self-restraint out of respect to their leaders, as he (262) goes on to point out. This reminds me of how Clastres explains the role of leaders in the South American context. Ibn Khaldun (262-263) states that confrontations with outsiders are handled by their militia, consisting of a tightly-knit groups of young and well trained Bedouins (nomads) that share a common descent, because the close bonds increase compassion and affection among them, which, in turn, makes them appear more courageous and fearsome to their enemies. This has to do with what has already been referred to as asabiyyah (عصبيّة), group feeling, what I’d call team spirit, as he (263) goes on to exemplify:

“This means that one cannot imagine any hostile act being undertaken against anyone who has his group feeling to support him.”

Now, the emphasis here is on blood bonds, on lineages, because those of kin tend to be those who people care for, feel affection for and have compassion for, or, at least did, back in the day. He (263) expresses this particularly aptly in inverse fashion:

“Those who have no one of their own lineage (to care for) rarely feel affection for their fellows. If danger is in the air on the day of the battle, such a one slinks away and seeks to save himself, because he is afraid of being left without support and dreads (that prospect).”

He (264) provides a more general formula for this:

“If the direct relationship between persons who help each other is very close, so that it leads to close contact and unity, the ties are obvious and clearly require (the existence of a feeling of solidarity) without any outside (prodding). If, however, the relationship is somewhat distant, it is often forgotten in part.”

He (264) then expands this to others, anyone close really, such as “neighbors, relatives” or anyone that shares “a blood relation in any degree (of kinship)”. This also applies to client-master relationships and to one’s allies, as he (264) goes on to add. What really matters is whether one would feel injured if the other person were to be harmed or treated unjustly. I think it’s also worth recognizing that not all blood bonds lead to this group feeling or team spirit. I mean there are a lot of bad relations among relatives, of which, I’m sure, Ibn Khaldun would disapprove of. He doesn’t really cover that aspect, perhaps because it may have been quite rare in his day, but he (265) point out that there are limits to the notion of blood bonds. If the tie is too remote, going back many and many generations, it doesn’t count, even if that tie can be proven. That’s why he (265) emphasizes that the tie must be close, here and now, not … yawn … somewhere, back in the day.

The bits about concerning purity and impurity of lineage (blood line), as discussed in the notes section of ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ (555) are not well explained, so I think it’s worth addressing them the way Ibn Khaldun discusses these notions. At first, when you think of purity of lineage, it may make you think of genetic purity, which, in turn may make you think of racial purity and the like, but, that’s not really the case. Anyway, so, to reiterate what was mentioned earlier, the Bedouins (nomads) are thought to have pure lineages, whereas the townsfolk, the city dwellers (sedentaries), are thought to have impure lineages. So, to make sense of this, do not think of genetic or racial purity or impurity, despite the fact that nation and race are mentioned by Ibn Khaldun (266).

Right, so, for Ibn Khaldun (265), the Bedouins (nomads) are the ones with pure lineages. What is meant by this is that purity, this unmixing, this unsulliedness? Now, if you read his (265-267) accounts, it may indeed come across as being concerned with genetic or racial purity. However, I reckon he is actually saying that the Bedouin (nomad) way of life is such that the clan or tribe, that is to say the extended family, is a tight-knit unit that stays together, instead of spreading out geographically. In contrast, these days family is typically understood as a tree, as in a family tree, and typical behavior would be that the children go their own way, settling apart from the parents. This was already the case with European feudal nobles of Ibn Khaldun’s time, where the sons (or, if no sons were born, the oldest daughter or the oldest daughter with a son) would inherit the title or titles (the oldest typically getting everything or the main title, the others getting nothing or just some minor titles). This arrangement makes it so that what, I think, Ibn Khaldun considers to be a lineage is effective split into cadet (OED, s.v. “cadet”, n.1) branches, the branches of, effectively, dispossessed younger sons (oldest brother inhereits it all), who then have to find their place elsewhere, outside the family, which, later on, was typically in the military (hence junior officers in the making are nowadays called cadets). So, what Ibn Khaldun (267) is really saying is that such arrangements where members of the family go their own way wipes out the group feeling, which is (or at least was) typically found among members of the same (extended) family.

The intensity of group feeling is further specified in the notes (269) as pertaining to how close or distant the members of the same common descent are; the closer to one is to one’s kin, the stronger the tie and the stronger the group feeling. So, for example, one tends to have strong bonds with one’s siblings, but the bond with one’s cousins tends to be not as strong. This is sort of self-explanatory really. That said, it’s worth noting here that this is not posited as a necessity, so, in actuality, one may well have strong bonds with one’s cousins, while having been estranged from one’s siblings.

This emphasis on blood lines may still bother you, I get that. That’s why it’s important to make note of what Ibn Khaldun considers family. For him (267), one may change one’s descent (blood line) by attaching to another descent, voluntarily or involuntarily. As he (267) points out, “the only meaning of belonging to one or another group is that one is subject to its laws and conditions, as if one had come into close contact with it” because “[i]n the course of time, the original descent is almost forgotten” as “[t]hose who knew about it have passed away, and it is no longer known to most people.” In short, lineages continually change in this way as people become attached to other lineages, that is to say change lineages through coming to close contact with them and not with their previous lineage, as he (267) goes on to specify. This applies basically to anyone, even servants, captives and slaves, as he (276-277) points out later on. So, yeah, oddly enough, for him, while descent is important (because it can result in group feeling), it’s not strictly speaking biological. In short, you can jump between blood lines, which, I know, may seem a bit contradictory. Whether you are considered this or that lineage, well, that really depends on whether others, the people involved, are willing to consider the person making the jump as one of their own, as he (268) goes on to ponder. There’s no clear cut, yes or no, answer to this and no check list as to what one has to accomplish in order to be considered one of them. Again, I think this is quite self-explanatory. I mean there are people who fit right in, with like almost no effort, it seems, and then there are people who’ll never seem to fit in, no matter what they do, not because they can’t fit in or don’t fit in, but because it’s the others who get to make that call. Also, if switching was not possible, the group would have to intermarry, which would be disastrous, at least in the long run.

Anyway, be as it may, you are always considered as being of some descent, unless that has become muddled and you haven’t been adopted into some descent, I guess. He (269) emphasizes descent, being considered part of the group, because, for him, leadership is a matter of group feeling or, as I like to call it, team spirit. Simply put, you can’t become a leader of a group, a captain of a team, unless the group feels that you are worthy candidate to lead them, as he (269) goes on to point out. This issue of leadership is further specified in the notes (269) as a sort of shared sense of superiority, what, following Clastres, one might define as a matter of prestige. I think prestige is apt here because, as Ibn Khaldun (270) goes on to indicate, there is no shortage of people who claim to be brave, noble or famous. In other words, if you need to claim that you are brave, noble or famous (that you have this or that desirable quality), it’s only likely that you are an impostor, as he (270) also points out. So, yeah, I’d say that what he calls superiority is not actual superiority over others, but rather a sense of superiority or prestige that the members of the group sense, considering that he (270) states “that superiority results from group feeling” and that (273) “nobility and prestige are the result of (personal) qualities.” He (284) expands on this, noting that:

“Leadership means being a chieftain, and the leader is obeyed, but he has no power to force others to accept his rulings.”

He (284) contrasts this with what he calls royal authority or mulk, which he considers to be more than (local) leadership. It seems to work the same way for him (284-286), but it pertains to a larger scale, when one group dominates an another group, which then feeds into it, permitting it to dominate yet another group, and so on and son, until this ruling dynasty grows decadent and thus lacks royal authority. This way, I guess, you can have groups in groups, without simply homogenizing all the groups. Of course, this is already implied by how you can have client-master relationships where the prestige of the master is carried over to the client, inasmuch the client is recognized for its services to the master, as he (278) points out in reference to a case where a Persian house retained its descent under Arab rule, but the prestige it earned during that time was from being the client to a master descent, not of its own.

Whether or not the groups become decadent depends on the circumstances, but, given that conquests tends to results in increased wealth and prosperity, it’s only likely that decadence starts creeping in, not necessarily in the ruling branch of the common descent, but in the other branches, as they may find themselves content with how things are, taking it easy while the ruling branch takes care of things, as he (286) characterizes the situation. This also applies on the larger scale, in the cases where one group functions as the master and the clients become decadent, being content at how things are under the protection of the master, as he (287-290) goes on to add.

It is stated in the notes (268-269) that group feeling pertains to everyone who shares a common descent, what one might call the extended family, the different branches of the same family, but only the members of a particular descent, of a particular family branch, can be candidates for leadership. Simply put, the most prestigious family branch is considered responsible for providing leadership for everyone who is considered as sharing a common descent. However, this does not mean that leadership remains in the same family branch. It may, of course, remain in a particular family branch, but it may also be transferred to another branch if it is deemed more prestigious than the previous branch. I think that this is why it is stated in notes section of ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ (555) that the Bedouins (nomads) are very mobile in terms of their lineages and genealogy. In fact, I’d argue that it might even be misleading or simply erroneous to call the particular descents family branches, because the group feeling of common descent only pertains to living members of a group of varying proportions. Simply put, not everyone of common descent is necessarily considered of being part of that group, even if they can prove that to be the case, as also stated by Ibn Khaldun (265):

“If, however, existence is known only from remote history, it moves the imagination but faintly. Its usefulness is gone, and preoccupation with it becomes gratuitous, a kind of game, and as such not permissible.”

And (265):

“[W]hen common descent is no longer clear and has become a matter of scientific knowledge, it can no longer move the imagination and is denied of affection caused by group feeling. It has become useless.”

So, in a way, what Ibn Khaldun (265) considers to be a common descent is not a matter of knowledge, but of sense, feeling or affection. For him this would typically apply for about (up to) four generations, considering that he (278-280) states that, in general, prestige is relevant within four generations and after that it’s no longer relevant to the members of the group. It’s not that prestige doesn’t transfer from one generation to another. It certainly does, at least to some degree. However, the problem with the transfer is that whatever the quality once was, generations ago, is unlikely going to be manifested generations down the line. As he (279-280) points out, the fourth generation is already so distanced from the first generation that whatever was great about one’s ancestor or ancestors is now in them a shallow imitation but which the fourth generation still thinks is the real deal and take it for granted that the group respects them for that. He (280 argues that therefore the group end up replacing leader before the fifth generation, transferring the status to some other particular branch of the common descent.

This exactly why it might be better to think of the particular descents as strands of a common descent, rhizomatically, rather than as branches of a common ancestry, as a matter of arborescence. This also means that there’s great purity among the Bedouins (nomads), as also mentioned in the notes section of ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ (555), because those who abandon their descent or are forced to abandon their descent, for turning against one’s own kin or for having become decadent, for example, are no longer considered as part of that common descent. Once you no longer have group feeling, that team spirit, you are no longer considered part of that group or team. It’s that simple. This also explains why leadership can never be transferred outside of the group, to anyone who is not considered as sharing a common descent, as specified in the notes of ‘The Muqaddimah’ (269). Ibn Khaldun (271) provides plenty of examples of how leadership or authority is never about claims but about group feeling, but I really cannot verify any of the examples, even though I recognize the Abbasid and Fatimid dynasties among the examples. I’m just not familiar enough with who’s who, who did what and what not. Anyway, the point he (271-272) is making is that talk is cheap and the problem with that is that it doesn’t take much for a claim, a fabrication, to be taken as an irrefutable fact.

To explain how the city dwellers (sedentaries) are impure in terms of their lineage, as mentioned in the notes section of ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ (555), it should not be hard to comprehend how that might be in the light of what has been covered thus far. Ibn Khaldun (273-274) isn’t specific about this, but he does indicate that the sedentaries can only have prestige in a metaphorical sense and thus they are mere pretenders when it comes to leadership. This is because, for him (274), a group includes all the descendants, good and evil, prestigious and non-prestigious, noble and ignoble, whereas the city dwellers (sedentaries) tend to be highly selective when they discuss their lineage. Only the ones that are remembered as having good qualities and having done good things get mentioned. Then, as already mentioned, there are also those who stake claims lineages that were not really theirs, but a good story is always a good story, as they say. So, in short, they are impure because they don’t really care about their lineage, their people, only themselves and, at times, go as far as to claim position in some other lineage, some other group of people, not because they want to be part of that lineage, that people, but because it benefits them. On top of all that, these people may also truly believe that they are men of the people (yes, men, because they were men, and, in most cases, probably still are), or so to speak, which is why he (274-275) calls them delusional.

So, in summary, why does Ibn Khaldun consider the desert dwelling Bedouins (or, more generally, the nomads) superior or more prestigious than anyone else, the townsfolk and city dwellers in particular (or, more generally, the sedentaries)? Well, as he (282-283) goes on (and on) to discuss, the way of life based on bare necessities, basically just for the sake of existing, if you will, doesn’t give them much opportunity to become decadent. That’s why. They retain their group feeling because they look after one another, not themselves, and those who, for some reason, for example taking too much pride in their own particular strand of common descent, start elevating themselves above everyone else will be struck down from their self-created pedestals.

I’ll stop here with Ibn Khaldun as the rest of the chapter ends up repeating itself quite a bit. By going on and on about royalism, it also risks coming across as more of a justification of it, rather than distanced discussion of it (which I think it is, at least earlier on). Some might feel tempted to compare his views on this with Thomas Hobbes, but I think he is far too conscious, far too aware, if not personally familiar with, of how monarchy has a tendency to become self-serving, which is why, I think, that he isn’t in favor of hereditary rule, such as primogeniture, in which the oldest son, the firstborn, always becomes the next ruler. I’d say that, for him, this isn’t balanced because it isn’t legitimated by the group, those who are of common descent. For him, leadership and authority always depend on the group and the group is in the right to replace their leaders if they’ve become self-serving. In other words, it’s always bottom-up, regardless of the situation. Plus, he goes into great detail on this, how transferring leadership from one leader to another in a close circle, like from father to son, tends to end up taken for granted, quite delusionally, and thus becomes self-serving, which leads to an eventual intervention by the group. So, I’m not really convinced that he is a royalist in the strict sense. I think he is too aware of how it will fall apart. I’m more tempted to think that, somehow, this reminds me of Friedrich Nietzsche when it comes to how it appears that there is this underlying will to power, the power to affect and to be affected, which, in some cases, ends up as the mere will to dominate, as pointed out by Deleuze (134) in ‘To Have Done with Judgment’, as contained in ‘Essays: Critical and Clinical’. For example, in ‘On the Genealogy of Morality’ (1994 translation by Carol Diethe) Nietzsche (58) states that (pagination from 2006 edition):

“I think I have dispensed with the fantasy which has it begin with a ‘contract’. Whoever can command, whoever is a ‘master’ by nature, whoever appears violent in deed and gesture – what is he going to care about contracts! Such beings cannot be reckoned with, they come like fate, without cause, reason, consideration or pretext, they appear just like lightning appears, too terrible, sudden, convincing and ‘other’ even to be hated.”

Now, contrast that with what Ibn Khaldun (258) has to say about the Bedouins (nomads), those whom he (250-254) considers the primary society in the world:

“As a rule, man must by necessity be dominated by someone else.”

He uses the word domination, but he (258-259) goes on to qualify its use:

“If the domination is kind and just and the people under it are not oppressed by its laws and restrictions, they are guided by their courage or cowardice that they possess in themselves. They are satisfied with the absence of any restraining power.”

Alternatively (259):

“If, however, the domination with its laws is one of brute force and intimidation, it breaks their fortitude and deprives them of their power of resistance as a result of the inertness that develops in the souls of the oppressed[.]”

So, there are two ways of exercising power over others. The first one is the Bedouin (nomad) way, in which people restrain themselves from aggression and injustice out of respect to their leaders, who, in turn, are only their leaders because they are deemed worthy of the position (until they aren’t). The second one is the city dweller (sedentary) way, in which people are disciplined and punished, so that they would know their place and would not rise up against the rulers. Now, as discussed by Ibn Khaldun, the leaders may slip from the first way to the second way, which leads them to dominate others, in the sense that Nietzsche (58-59) uses the word dominate. In Nietzsche’s (58-59) words:

“What they do is to create and imprint forms instinctively, they are the most involuntary, unconscious artists there are: – where they appear, soon something new arises, a structure of domination … that lives, in which parts and functions are differentiated and related to one another, in which there is absolutely no room for anything that does not first acquire ‘meaning’ with the regard to the whole.”

As he points out, this is, at first, more less instinctive, unconscious and thus involuntary. It then tends to create a structure of domination. They (59) don’t really even think about it, so they don’t even care. For him (20) this disparity between the ones who dominate and the ones who are dominate result in ressentiment. It’s sort of inevitable for that to happen, because, as explained by Ibn Khaldun (306), the way things are handled “require[s] the leader to exercise a restraining influence by force” because otherwise “his leadership would not last.” For the Bedouin (nomads) themselves, there can be no domination of the Nietzschean kind within the group, among those of common descent, as they are expected to be self-reliant and self-restraining, as pointed out by Ibn Khaldun (259, 262). Their society is organized around the group feeling. Turning against members those who are deemed to be of common descent, be it through direct aggression or indirect self-serving behavior, will be punished. Such people have to seek refuge elsewhere, in some other group that may or may not be willing to adopt them, or be killed. So, to cut a long story short, I’d say that their society is organized around mutual dependence, not a mutual contract. In Ibn Khaldun’s (306) words:

“Their leader … is, therefore, forced to rule them kindly and to avoid antagonizing them. Otherwise, he would have trouble with the group spirit, and (such trouble) would be his undoing and theirs.”

Going back to the earlier point about will to power and will to dominate, the nomad way is the former and the sedentary way is the latter. In ‘To Have Done with Judgment’ Deleuze (128) also refers to the former as a system of cruelty and to the latter as the doctrine of judgment. This matches Ibn Khaldun’s depiction of the Bedouin (nomad) way of life as harsh and cruel, but not judgmental. He (302) refers to it as “savagery”, bluntly stating that they damage, pillage and plunder and that they take anything that they can. He (302-303) isn’t saying that it’s a human nature to do so (remember the importance of upbringing and education for him), but that it has become their nature to be “savage”, so, for them “it means freedom from authority and no subservience to leadership.” For him (303), such a “disposition is negation and anthesis of civilization”, “the antithesis and negation of stationariness, which produces civilization” and “the negation of building, which is the basis of civilization.” Importantly, under their rule, people live “in a state of anarchy, without law”, as he (304) points out. There can be no judgment if there is no law.

While Ibn Khaldun certainly praises the underlying group feeling, he should not, however, be understood in suggesting that people should live like the Bedouins (nomads) do. He may find Bedouinism (nomadism) to be praiseworthy in that regard, but, as he (304-305) goes on to elaborate, many Bedouins foster self-serving tendencies, which eventually results in a dog-eat-dog world, which, in turn, well, kind of negates what he finds particularly valuable in Bedounism. He (308-309) points out that while the Bedouins (nomads) are self-reliant, their simple way of life is not crafty, which undermines their self-reliance. They need “carpenters, tailors, blacksmiths, or other (craftsmen whose crafts”, which means that they need to either trade with the city dwellers (sedentaries) or take what they need by force. The problem is that if they only do the latter, there won’t be anything to take in the long run. Then again, the more they do the former, the more it undermines their self-reliance, which, in turn, erodes their way of life. That’s quite the conundrum alright.

But does this mean that because actual Bedouins (nomads) are a bunch “savages” to him, he supports the stationary or sedentary way of life? Well, no. I’d say no. It’s evident that he isn’t fond of the decadence that comes with it. Convenience and luxury has a tendency to make people lazy and self-serving, so I can’t really say that he is in favor of that way of life either. I reckon he wants to get the best out of both worlds, to combine the -ism of Bedouins (nomads), Bedouinism (nomadism), with everything that comes from staying put, all that what the Bedouins (nomads) destroy. But, for that, he needs religion, which he (305-306) thinks can temper the Bedouins (nomads). That said, his (307-310) own account of how the three aspects, the solidarity of the Bedouins (nomads), the stability of the city dwellers (sedentaries) and the temperance of religion, have meshed does not make it seem like he has figured out a solution to the problem of inequality. I think the issue has to do with how the second aspect, what Deleuze and Guattari (360) call the State, is in contradiction with the other two aspects that are the two directions of the outside, the first aspect being local and the third aspect being global. I’d say that the state certainly tries to capture them and integrate them. I reckon it also succeeds in that, but that ends up transforming them into something which they are or were not, which means that the society doesn’t become marked by solidarity and temperance.

Anyway, Ibn Khaldun’s take on group feeling is not only interesting, but also quite unique or at least well ahead of its time. I think this is what one should focus on in his work. This is what one can learn from the Bedouins (nomads) and I think Ibn Khaldun would agree with me on that. I’m not sure the shift from leadership based on group feeling to royal authority is that well argued though. To me, it’s more of the same, but on a different scale, really. I don’t mind it that much, but given that he goes on and on about it, it risks coming across as sort of apologetic, in defense of royalism (this may, of course, be a problem with the translation, how it makes me think of despotism and feudalism).

There is that religiosity that runs through the chapter, which I’m sure you’ll notice if you read it yourself, but, to me, it seems to be there because, most likely, it was expected of him. He appears to first explain something in great detail, how something happened, only to finish it by saying it that this happened because God willed it, but that’s like saying whatever just happened, happened because not only did God made it possible to happen and God allowed it to happen, but because God also willed it to happen. Sure, okay, but, stating that, after the fact, that’s like saying it is what it is, regardless of what happens. It’s like sure, okay, what about it? Why did this make me think of Baruch Spinoza here?

This book chapter also includes some pretty racist segments, but, considering that this was written in 1377, I’m not that surprised, nor shocked, really. To be honest, I’m more surprised that it isn’t more racist than it is. For me, it’s more of a letdown. It’s like you are rooting for someone, someone unknown, someone unheralded, for coming out of nowhere and being better than the household names, only to end up slightly disappointed. Of course, it’s me who is projecting such high expectations to a fairly obscure text that is certainly ahead of its time, hoping that it’d be even more ahead of its time than it is. I don’t know if that’s giving him a fair shake.

To elaborate on the issue, he seems to contradict his rather open views regarding people, how anyone can become part of this or that lineage, yet, he goes on to assert that black people, what I assume to be in reference to people who live in the southern parts of Sahara desert and/or south of it, “have little (that is essentially) human and have attributes that are quite similar to those of dumb animals”. I mean, come, come on! Really? Really? You go on and on about the different groups of people, including Arabs, Israelites, Kurds, Persian and Turks, and the various dynasties, in great detail, but then you make sweeping statement like that in passing. Like, what, you didn’t bother to investigate more and you just threw in something? Is that it? It’s even worse in chapter one, where it becomes evident that it’s based on mere speculation. To be fair, he comes pretty close when he attributes skin color with air temperature, black people being black because the air is hot and white people being white, blue eyed, freckled and blonde because the air is cold, which is, to be honest, not a bad guess, for 1377. That’s not the problem. The problem is that this leads him to flirt with, I never thought I’d say this, brown supremacy, the supremacy of the temperate people, the people who have temperate moral qualities because they live in areas which are not too hot, nor too cold, but temperate. Right … lets just say that these parts of the book haven’t aged well and leave it at that.

Again, as this was written in 1377, it’s pretty obvious that the status of women was so low that they aren’t really even worth mentioning in this book, except in some familial context. It was clearly a man’s world back then and there’s no apologizing for that and, no, I’m not going to write that it was what it was, in the sense that it was thus meant to be so.

In his defense, if I’m allowed to do that, it’s fair to say that you’ll find recent texts that are way more problematic than this text. I’m actually quite surprised how he manages to distance himself from many issues (albeit not all) that just wouldn’t fly contemporarily. I for sure wasn’t sure what I’d think about the purity or impurity aspect, it first being about blood lines, but then it was clarified that what is meant by that is, well, rather flexible, as one can adopt another line of descent if one’s own isn’t working for oneself, assuming that others are okay with it, of course.

The good thing is, of course, that you don’t have to subscribe to everything that someone else says or does, wholesale, so, like with other books (or texts, in general), I recommend to just take what you find useful. He is clearly a product of his time, which, I think, he would agree with, considering how he considers one’s upbringing and education crucial to one’s life, albeit not in a simple deterministic manner.


  • Clastres, P. ([1980] 1994). Archeology of Violence (J. Herman, Trans.). New York, NY: Semiotext(e).
  • Deleuze, G. ([1993] 1998). To Have Done with Judgment (M. A. Greco, Trans.). In G. Deleuze, Essays Critical and Clinical (D. W. Smith and M. A. Greco, Trans.) (pp. 126–135). London, United Kingdom: Verso.
  • Deleuze, G., and F. Guattari ([1980] 1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (B. Massumi, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Ibn Khaldun ([1377] 1958). The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History, Vol. I. (F. Rosenthal, Trans.). New York, NY: Pantheon Books.
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  • Nietzsche, F. ([1887] 2006). On the Genealogy of Morality (C. Diethe, Trans.). Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
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