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1. Introduction to the Politics of Power

01B • Civilisation & Society 1 • Politics of Power • Lecture 1 • Introduction & Overview • 01.09.12 from The Muslim Faculty on Vimeo.

1. Introduction to the Politics of Power

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم وصلى الله على سيدنا محمد وعلى ءاله وصحبه أجمعين وسلّم

Title: Introduction to the Politics of Power

Author: Uthman Ibrahim-Morrison

Publication date: 01/09/2012

Civilisation & Society I: Politics of Power

1. Introduction and Overview - Sat. 1st Sept. 2012

Assalamu alaykum. Welcome to the Civilisation & Society Programme of the MFAS. This is the first of 12 sessions which make up the Politics of Power module and is intended to provide a formal introduction and overview. The lecture will last approximately 40 minutes during which you should make a written note of any questions that may occur to you. 

Traditional 10 point framework for the introduction (mabadi) of any topic of study:

1. Definition

An examination of the roots of power and governance in modern society with reference to the legacy of the French Revolution and the insights of Ibn Khaldun regarding the cyclical nature of societal development.

2. Subject

The impact and historical legacy of the French Revolution as they relate to the forms of authority and power in the modern age. Also the post-revolutionary shift in the sphere of power from politics to economics and technology. 

3. Its Fruit 

The recovery of historical memory and knowledge of precedents which are the foundation for awareness and understanding of the current political, economic and philosophical climate, avoiding the repetition of errors and making well informed predictions.

4. Its Merit

It has a high merit due to its importance as the foundation for strategic behaviour in the present political and economic environment.  

5. Its relationship to other sciences

It is related to the sciences of history, politics, economics, philosophy, jurisprudence and other social sciences.

6. Its founder

a) The history of the French Revolution has been studied by numerous scholars within academia since the time of its occurrence.  

b) Politics of power is an ancient discipline, largely derived from the ancient Greeks and includes the works of Aristotle and Plato among others. It has appeared throughout history under different names and has been treated within various disciplines.

7. Its name: The Politics of Power

8. Its sources and references

a) Primary sources include contemporary accounts and records.

b) Secondary historical, academic and literary materials.

c) The Time of the Bedouin (2006) by Ian Dallas gathers the above from an unprecedented perspective incorporating a unique synthesis of unusual Muslim and non-Muslim references.

9. The judgement of the Sharī‘ah on it is:

It is a collective obligation - fard kifaya - due to its necessity in our times for the achievement of that which is fard which is the establishment of the deen in its entirety.

10. The topics it covers:

a) Historical development during and after the French Revolution:

Political governance.

Revolution and terror.

Societal power and authority.


Individual and social transactions.

Ideological and philosophical developments.

The impact of technology.

b) The contemporary situation concerning power:

Revolution in our times.

The collapse of contemporary politics.

The power shift from politics to economics.

The impact of technology.

Narratives and ideology in the post-revolutionary society.

The formation of a new nomos. 

The Politics of Power: An Overview

The title of this module reflects the title of the seminal book - The Time of the Bedouin: on the politics of power which was written in 2006 by the leading contemporary Muslim thinker and intellectual Ian Dallas, better known in the Muslim world as Shaykh Dr Abdalqadir as-Sufi, head of the Darqawiyya-Shadhiliyya-Qadiriyya Tariqa (sufic order) and is compulsory reading for this course. The Dallas thesis requires us first to examine and seek to comprehend how authority, kinship, conflict, opportunity, political philosophy, individual will, human genius, personal character, property and wealth have combined historically to give rise to the present-day life transaction or way of life, which we hear described variously as late capitalism, consumerism, post-modernism, globalism, the age of technology, the information age and the age of the media; but perhaps all of this is best captured in the term advanced western democracy. It is imperative that we understand where we are and how we arrived here before attempting to set out on a new departure. The study of these matters belongs to the realm of the politics of power.  

The being he identifies as the Bedouin is a key expression of the politics of power, who emerges out of the historical cycle brilliantly described in the 14th century by the great Andalusian thinker, diplomat and high ranking Maliki Qadi Ibn Khaldun. They are the people who embody the positive and politically transformative characteristic he defines as Asabiyya. The advent of the Bedouin is not a singular event, on the contrary, it has happened repeatedly throughout history. Being himself of Berber origin, Ibn Khaldun was more than aware of what would have been for him the relatively recent historical occurrences surrounding the dramatic rise and decline of first the Murabitun (1040-1147), to be followed by the Muwahhidun (1121-1269); and no doubt his own lifelong involvement with the constantly shifting power politics of his own day and his direct witnessing of the Timurid ascendancy, which included a series of diplomatic encounters with Emperor Timur himself, provided him with the motivation and determination to apply his considerable intellectual acumen and powers of observation to the matter of societal change. The translator’s introduction to the Princeton edition of the Muqaddimah comes close to capturing the nature of his particular genius:

"…the Muqaddimah itself clearly shows that Ibn Khaldun had neither the desire nor the equipment to make original contributions of note to any of the established disciplines. He was endowed with that rarer gift, a deep insight into the essentials of the accumulated knowledge of his time, and he possessed the ability to express this gift clearly and forcefully. This gift helped to place his ‘new science’ upon firm foundations." [Translator's intro. p. xli]

In similar fashion and with no less brilliance, Dr Dallas achieves an extraordinary synthesis between a totally revealing analysis of the complex vicissitudes and driving personalities of the French Revolution as the key to understanding the birth of modernity (as well as its fate), a penetrating exposition of the 20th century’s leading politico-philosophical exponents of modernity’s own lucid apprehension of its predicament, and his reading of the Khaldunian thesis as it can only be read by another similarly endowed with that rare gift: 

“… a deep insight into the essentials of the accumulated knowledge of his time… [possessing] the ability to express this gift clearly and forcefully.” [ibid.]

What this enables us to realise is that a confident grasp of the historical, philosophical, political and technological ‘enframing’ which has given rise to the present we inhabit is what will provide us going forward, with the capacity in political terms to distinguish friend from enemy, gain from loss, power from impotence, wealth from poverty, freedom from entrapment, safety from peril and victory from defeat; and most importantly, it will enable us to recognise where we stand on the Khaldunian cycle of political renewal and degeneration, to identify the true moment and to seize the given opportunity. 

Looked at from this perspective, a telling example of the failure to apply the high calibre of analytical discrimination I have just described may be found, by and large, in those modern movements whose political aim is the Islamic nation state. Unfortunately, this concept is little short of being an oxymoron. The modern nation state, of which the so-called Islamic state appears to be nothing more than a superficially ‘islamised’ counterfeit, has grown out of a determined experiment in rational structuralism requiring the destruction of the natural order of legitimate personal rule exercised within a societal context predicated upon the customary dynamics of family, clan and tribe. This has given rise over the last two centuries to the various parliamentary models of government by representative democracy that currently appear to dominate the modern world. 

It was the complete failure of these structuralist systems to ensure freedom from oppression, moral certitude and social justice, that generated the conditions for the anomie and nihilism so clearly signalled by the great Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky who sounded the alarm in novels such as Crime and Punishment, The Devils and The Brothers Karamazov; and somewhat later, of course, we also have Conrad’s stark portrayal of the early anarchists in The Secret Agent. The impulse to nihilism reawakened at the heart of western societies in the nineteenth century in the form of violent anarchism, is the precursor and template for the terrorist outrages and the extreme tyranny of the ‘anti-terrorist’ reactions of today’s democratic governments, that have defined the opening to the twenty-first century. I say reawakened because we are witnessing the same internecine interplay between revolutionary and counter-revolutionary impulses that animated the otherwise incomprehensible Terror of the French Revolution. 

We will examine how the unfolding of the politics of power within the rationale of democratic systems has now led us to the point where the terrorist fanatics and the modern police state have become interdependent; they mirror one another in method and modus operandi, while the liberty of the individual citizen is everywhere circumscribed and subject to progressive erosion. A recent example of this convergence of modalities occurred in May of this year as Obama’s administration, with the approaching presidential election campaign in mind, proclaimed another valuable victory over the Islamist terror threat posed by a deadly ‘underwear’ bomber, who turned out to be a CIA operative. The description carried in the Los Angeles Times (8 May 2012) leaves us with the impression of looking at mirrors within mirrors:

“Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agency, working closely with the CIA, used an informant to pose as a would-be suicide bomber. His job was to convince the Al Qaeda franchise in Yemen to give him a new kind of non-metallic bomb that the militants were designing to easily pass through airport security… But the double agent instead arranged to deliver the explosive device to U.S. and other intelligence authorities waiting in another country, officials said Tuesday. The agent is now safely outside Yemen and is being debriefed.” 

It is undeniable that humanity in general is struggling under a widespread regime of social and economic injustice. The Muslims have a pressing motivation to induce political change derived from the necessity that the Shari'ah should be uppermost in the affairs of the world in order that mankind as a whole should have the proper means to carry out its duty as guardians of the weak and the poor and custodians of the earth’s natural resources. However, because our ‘ulama and people of intellectual endeavour (with very few honourable exceptions) have so far failed, at least in recent times, to give the sciences relating to the politics of power the attention due to them as a fard kifaya (a collective obligation), the Muslims are in no position to interpret the lessons of modern world history or to properly observe the modalities of social, political and economic change as an important source of obligatory knowledge. 

As long as this is the case, attempts to impinge upon the dominant system in any significant way will continue to meet with frustration and failure; indeed, they are likely to strengthen the system. Hence, the sad irony, or indeed, the great tragedy, is that it is into the very nihilism generated by the historical failings of modernity that Islamic movements, political leaders and all manner of activists have blundered half-blindly and ill equipped, unaware that by allowing themselves to be cast as the opponents of democracy, far from being the catalysts for positive change they imagine themselves to be, their political role in fact, according to the thesis of Carl Schmitt, is that of the necessary other, the enemy required by the state to sustain its own unity. In this light, the Islamic nation state is no more a reflection of authentic political understanding than is Islamic vodka or for that matter, Islamic banking. 

Let us now turn directly to the pages of The Time of the Bedouin (henceforth ToB) as we trace the power matrix that has produced the modern state. It is relevant to mention at this point that in his approach to unlocking the events of the French Revolution, in order to avoid the hitherto dominant Marxist paradigm, Dr Dallas relies principally on the classical multidisciplinary approach recovered by François Furet founder of the Centre de Recherche Politiques Raymond Aron (CRPRA) whose luminaries include Patrice Gueniffey and Mona Ozouf. Also highly significant with respect to the tenor of Dr Dallas’ meditations on the question of power and the modern state has been the writing of the peculiarly French intellectual figure, Bertrand de Jouvenel, particularly as contained in his singularly insightful historical examination of the workings of political power, On Power: The Natural History of its Growth (1945).

Central to the thesis put forward in ToB is the concept of the Great Interregnum. This represents the long interim period between the destruction of the Ancien Régime and the time which is now near at hand, given the appearance of its recognised precursors, for the emergence of a new nomos (a new ordering of society) predicated upon the cyclical movement of history elaborated by Ibn Khaldun:

“The revolution in 1789 had overthrown the sovereignty invested in the absolute monarchy, and then without changing its content set up that same absolutism in the hands of elected representation, but they did not merely remove the King of the Ancien Régime, with him went the ancient society of orders and bodies that had surrounded the King and were, in fact, the institutions which set limits and constraints on royal absolutism… In their place the Revolution had set up a society of individuals, juridically equal but at the same time nakedly exposed to the direct action of the State.” [ToB pp. 18-19]

“The other key date opening the Great Interregnum was 1909, when the forces of the uprising of the city of Istanbul, led by the Rebel, Mustafa Riza, later named Ataturk, in defiance of his own oath of allegiance, stormed the Palace and dethroned Sultan Abdalhamid Khan II, to the cries of ‘Liberté, Fraternité, Égalité.’ The Sultanate was not formally abolished until 1922.” [ibid. p. 266]

The common assumption derived from the collusive accounts of apologist historians, is that the Revolution was a movement for political liberation and that the Terror, the genocidal frenzy of revolutionary State bloodletting, was a necessary and justifiable price to be paid for the progress of modernity and its promise of democratic freedom. However, the contradiction which cannot be easily ignored manifests in the form of the draconian measures passed by the Legislative Assembly in the name of public safety and the defence of the Revolution, which of course, must be one and the same:

“Thus it is clear that the path to the Terror was not an anarchic road of increasing panic, disorder and fury but rather a carefully planned and legislated path, which once the political paradox had been accepted as reasonable, took the populace and the government into the zone of Terror as practice.” [ibid. p. 57]

Bearing in mind my earlier description of the ground proper to the study of the politics of power, we cannot fall into the error of assuming that these outcomes are simply the deterministic workings of the machinery of a structuralist leviathan. We must also take account of what we might call the essential bio-political catalysts - the human beings without whom there is no decision or active will to power:

“The structuralist State which was the machine of Jacobinism, was in its turn the product of Saint-Just and Robespierre. The masses neither wanted nor recognised Jacobinism for what it was, but these two men placed all France under its orders, so that with both of them beheaded and the Terror over, the monstrous and inhuman machine lay waiting for a new driver, Napoleon, this time a genius who made of it the foundations of that archetypal State on which all subsequent States were to be based.” [ibid. pp. 83-4]


Continuing with this overview then, our studies will also pay attention to the critical process of the final transfer of political power from the aristocracy via the bourgeoisie, and into the arena of banking and usury finance through the ownership, control and creation of wealth within the evolution of the modern state. For this we must also examine the question of public ignorance as to the past and the collusion of state schooling, academia, the media and technology in preparing the general population mentally and emotionally for the passive reception of convenient, reassuring or outright misleading narratives and the predictably mistaken assumptions that flow from them, and which for the vast majority remain unchallenged and unquestioned. Direct light is cast on these matters in observations regarding the interplay of post-modernism, political correctness and what has been called presentism made in a 2004 article by Dr Dallas cites the penetrating thesis of the respected revisionist historian JCD Clark. This is certainly worth quoting at length:

“What then is the doctrine that has to be used to persuade people that the move from monarchy to republic was evolutionary and inevitable, and did not really represent a move from personal rule to inhuman systems government? What is necessary to make people conform to democratic government when it has already proved the instrument of genocidal and total war across the whole world? How do we keep people from noticing that money devalues in their pockets and that a decreasing number, now already reduced to hundreds, hold the greater part of all the world’s wealth? The philosophy goes under different names, and a host of books have been written propagating it, many by influential in-back members of the U.S. Administration, and many by financiers themselves. This iceberg of thought heading for the Titanic of liberal society, in that small portion forced to appear above the surface, goes by the name of post-modernism and presentism, and has an operative policing of the masses called Political Correctness. As Professor Jonathan Clark says, ‘A de-historicized mental universe must also be an atheistic one [. . .] The self is not born free in the sense of timeless. Personal identity is established largely by history, by the persistence within an individual of a set of experiences and learned ways of reacting. To lose one’s memory is not emancipation but a serious mental disorder, for without memory we cannot function as ourselves. If a society loses its history it has the same effect on a larger scale: [. . .] that society could not have only a disembodied existence. It would have lost all those many things which made it itself.’”


“Professor Clark gives this bleak vision of the social effect of post-modernism: ‘By claiming to emancipate the present from the past, presentism promises to abolish the future also, for the future cannot look essentially different from that which we now have. The world ceases to be a narrative of suffering and achievement, and becomes a timeless cultural shopping mall. Generations cease to relate to each other, since the termination of development makes currently dominant values seem normative. Past generations cease to relate to future generations, since past generations did not shop in the same mall. Future generations will raise no problems of difference or continuity, since, it is presumed, they will continue to shop there.’” [Hukum on England’s Future]

It has taken the on-going eruptions of a world banking crisis of historical proportions and the almost total collapse of the international banking system to bring the iniquities and the inequities of the usurious financial system to the immediate attention of the 99.9% of the population who had hitherto been content to remain dormant, indifferent or blissfully ignorant of the true nature of the system and the financial machinations of the economists (referred to as the ‘Sect’ by Proudhon).

It was suddenly clear for all to see, though understandably still hard for most to believe, that almost all of the money in circulation is provided not by the State but by the banks which through a combination of fractional reserve banking and credit manipulation are allowed to create money out of nothing. As the financial crisis has continued and the fates of Ireland, Greece, Spain, Portugal and the Euro hang in the balance, it has also become clear that the sovereignty of nation states and the autonomy of elected governments are little more than elaborate fictions designed to conceal the hitherto hidden power of the bankers whose continued operations demand countless billions in bailouts and ‘quantitative easing’; who threaten governments with credit rating reductions; who replace elected leaders with technocratic place men whose brief it is to ensure that the interests of the banks are prioritised ahead of the national population and the terms of austerity measures strictly adhered to so that the servicing of debts owed to unelected and nameless banking oligarchs takes precedence over the provision of health, education and welfare services to the electorate.

The following two passages from the ToB provide a sufficient overview of the evolutionary process by which the money power positioned itself to acquire ultimate dominion over the assembly politics bequeathed to modernity by the Jacobin event:

Passage 1

“The dynamic of wealth systems, active and evolutionary, must be seen in relation to social systems, passive and devolutionary. The first stage of the affair is the direct result of the French Revolution. The immediate effect of this bloody upheaval was the rupture of the old society (Ancien Régime) and the re-stratification caused by parliamentism (lawyer class). The shattering of the Aristocratic system did not, however, leave a void. The Terror and the new financial order both removed a system of inherited wealth and emptied the chateaux. The motor of the Revolution was still running. Napoleon’s Empire created, as it were, a new aristocracy… The rule had gone from the monarch to the Assembly (the politico-legalists) and the money had gone from the Clergy to the Sect.” [ToB p. 200]

Passage 2

If, as now seems convincing, Ernst Nolte’s view of one European Civil War stretching from 1914 to 1945, in effect a Second Thirty Years War, is accepted, then it provides a perfect time-frame within which the Sect could effectively take control of the political system that had not only failed but somnambulistically allowed that war to take place. By the end of that century the social landscape was able to reveal that power had passed to a new class openly in command. The Sect had started in its archetypal Rothschild pattern from 1815 to 1915. From the Korean War to the Iraqi and Afghan invasions can be observed and recorded the new burgeoning-in-wealth and decreasing-in-membership of a ruthless and globe destroying élite before whom the world may well tremble, although it scarcely knows their names.” [ibid. p. 205]

A phenomenological survey of the ascendancy of the financial oligarchy from the end of the French Revolution to the end of the Second World War is a work of the highest historical value which still remains to be done and would be a subject well worth considering for anyone contemplating the Final Diploma in Advanced Studies (Dip FNL). 

This module will also take us into the realm of looking at the recovery or re-establishment of a just civil society:

“… it must be confirmed that while dynasties collapse and die, by that same active principle they come into being.” [ibid. p. 256]

We refer to this as the establishment of a new nomos. Nomos is a word of Greek origin and carries the basic meaning of law. However, its use in the sphere of political philosophy, especially as used by the influential legal theorist Carl Schmitt, comprises the idea of a recognisable order or way which governs the dispensation of justice manifest in society. A new nomos therefore, is the physical manifestation of a new societal order. The Dallas thesis maintains that the end of the Great Interregnum has now arrived but warns that the opportunity it presents can only be grasped by a capacity for comprehension that is independent of the processes that produced it and the analytical parameters imposed by it. (In other words, the kind of intellectual formation, education and culture which on which the previous society was built will by its nature obstruct the capacity for vision and understanding that will be necessary for the task renewal). In order to achieve this independence of approach and manner of thinking free of the dialectical method imposed upon philosophy in the 20th century, he identifies four modern intellectuals whose outstanding genius in their respective fields held them above the imposition: The theoretical physicist Werner Heisenberg (1901-1976); the philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976); Carl Schmitt (1888-1985); and perhaps most significantly with respect to the way forward Ernst Jünger (1895-1998) whose visionary identification of the essential existence form, the Gestalt, of the modern individual living under technique, made his genius the thread that unified them all.

Dr Dallas therefore proposes that the approach to the advent of the new nomos should be led by the combined indications of the ancient mastery of Ibn Khaldun and the modern mastery of Jünger and synthesises the untrammelled life force of the Bedouin of Asabiyya with Jünger’s response to the nihilism of modernity; the sovereign individual marked out by a particular quality of resistance whom he names the Waldgänger. Once more, it is beyond the scope of this introduction to offer a detailed account of the stages on the natural cycle of societies from peak to decay as described by Ibn Khaldun, nor is it possible to do complete justice to the vision of Jünger with respect to the particular features of the Waldgänger but I trust that it will suffice as a foretaste of what is to come as this course proceeds. Finally the following passage from ToB draws attention to the reality of Asabiyya as it is to be understood for the purposes of this course as a legitimate dynamic principle:

Asabiyya, normally ‘kinship’ is here used to mark as distinctive the bond, the life and death unifying bond of a brotherhood without blood ties [the translator] calls it esprit de corps, but it is much more than that, for it has in it also a moral evaluation as in the term Futuwwa, chivalry or nobility of character. Asabiyya unites men to find the power to act and transform and command. If its motor power is high, its brotherhood is raised higher. If the binding factor (religio - to bind together) is there, that is Divine religion, it is, that being its highest possibility, assured a triumph. [ibid. p. 276]

That brings us to the end of today’s lecture. For further reading I would recommend the introduction to JCD Clark’s Our Shadowed Present and ToB pp. 13-92. The subject of our next lecture is The European Context. For preparatory reading I would recommend the introduction to Europe - A History by Norman Davies. Thank you for your attention. Assalamu alaykum.

Further Reading

Clark, J.C.D. Our Shadowed Present: Modernism, Postmodernism and History

London: Atlantic Books, 2003

Dallas, Ian (Shaykh Abdalqadir as-Sufi) 

The Time of the Bedouin Cape Town: Budgate Press, 2006

Hukum on England's Future

Davies, Norman. Europe - A History. London: Pimlico, 1996

De Jouvenel, Bertrand On Power: The Natural History of its Growth

Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, Inc., 1993

(pp. 3-28)