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Cohesion and Identity: the Maghreb from Ibn Khaldun to Emile Durkheim

  • Ernest Gellner

IBN KHALDUN, LIKE EMILE DURKHEIM, IS PRIMARILY A THEORIST OF social cohesion. His central problem is - what is it that keeps men together in society? What is it that leads them to idendy with a sacid group, to accept and observe its norms, to subordinate their own individual interests to it, in some measure to accept the authority of its leaders, to think its thoughts and to internalize its aims? This is a question which sociologists, moralists and political osophers share. One of the interesting traits of Ibn Khaldun owever is the extent to which he is a sociologist rather than a moralist: modern sociologists may preach Wertfreiheit, he ractised it. Even when, as a kind of Maghrebin Machiavelli, he offers advice to princes, it is basically technical advice on points of detail, or on the wisdom of knowing things for what they are: but when it comes to the basic features of the social system, he indulges in no preaching. No advice is offered to the social cosmos as to how it should comport itself. Things are as they are. The thinker's job is to understand them, not to change them. Marx's contrary opinion would have astonished Ibn Khaldun. In this sense, Ibn Khaldun is more positivistic than Durkheim, whose thought is far more often at the service of values and of the concern with social renovation.

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* This paper was written for a conference in Tunis on the theme of national identity and marking the fortieth anniversary of the Neo‐Destour Party, and is also being published in Tunisia.

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Government and Opposition
  • ISSN: 0017-257X
  • EISSN: 1477-7053
  • URL: /core/journals/government-and-opposition
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