Ibn Khaldun

From 1332
 to 1406

Ibn Khaldun, considered the greatest Arab historian, is also known as the father of modern social science and cultural history. Born in Tunis to a politically influential and devout family, his early education was marked by the high intellectual stimulation that such affluence afforded. In 1349 the Black Death struck Tunis and took away his mother and father, as well as many of his teachers. He was therefore eager to exchange the loneliness of Tunis for a political post in Fez, the current center of political power and cultural life in North Africa. But Ibn Khaldun had a restless spirit, and spent much time traveling from city to city and from political post to political post in the Muslim world.

In 1375, craving solitude and exhausted by the business of politics, Ibn Khaldun settled down with his family near what is now the town of Frenda in Algeria and there wrote his masterpiece, the Muqaddimah. What began as a universal history of the Arabs and Berbers, developed into a philosophy of history. The subsequent study of the nature of society and societal change led him to develop what he understood to be a new science of culture.

As part of this new science, Ibn Khaldun aimed to analyze objectively economic issues, and to show the consequences of various policies. He thought that those things mandated by God can be shown scientifically to be the best social policies, and that this is the natural consequence of the fact that economic principles and the foundation of the good life were both created by God. These laws dictated that the state has certain limited functions: the defense of the community against injustice and aggression, the protection of private property, the prevention of fraud in exchanges between citizens, the overseeing of the mint to safeguard the currency, and the wise exercise of political leadership. He denounced high taxation and government competition with the private sphere because they lower productivity, take away the incentive of people to work hard, and ultimately ruin the state.

Sources: “The Political Economy of the Classical Islamic Society” by Imad A. Ahmad, and Ibn Khaldun's Philospohy of History by Mushin Mahdi (University of Chicago Press, 1971).