chapter  5
46 Pages

From Sultanate to Secular State: The Rise and Fall of the Ottomans and the Successes and Limitations of Kemalism in Modern Turkey

Ibn Khaldun saw history as a cyclical process in which hardy pastoralists and nomads invaded and occupied decadent sedentary cultures. In the process, they infused their tribal and religious solidarity, or asabiyah, into the decaying polity and established a new dynasty strong enough to restore order. With the passage of time, the tribal conquerors would be softened by luxury and the spectacle of obedience secured through hierarchical instruments. The tendency towards concentration would inevitably lead to rifts within the conquering elite and the monopolization of power by one family, and, eventually, by one person. Slaves and clients would replace kinsmen, ritualism and clericalism would replace genuine religious fervor, and the pursuit of war and magnifi cence would consume the resources of the state. As the rulers became more remote and their government more extravagant the state would start to decline. Sooner or later this decline would lead to fragmentation into petty estates ruled by gangs and ostensible servants and chaos would be relieved only when a new set of tribal conquerors appeared from the margins of the empire. These conquerors were nemesis incarnate sent by the very nature of geography, culture and history, to bring down those unfi t to rule. The old dynasty would soon be wiped out, or, if they were lucky, allowed to subsist as pensioners and stooges of the new rulers. In time, however, the new rulers would succumb to the same tendencies manifested by their predecessors and the cycle would reset. This process normally took four or fi ve generations to complete, which corresponds to roughly a century of eff ective rule for a dynastic state.