Ibn Khaldun is underrated in the west, compared to the other great philosophers and historians of the ages, but he enjoys a cult following because his central theory of human society seems ever more relevant today – that is, asabiyyah, or ‘group feeling’. Group feeling explains why the individual-centred western worldview has proved so inadequate in explaining things since the fall of Communism, especially in the Middle East.
As a result much of the country[Iraq] lies in the hands of religious extremists who have much stronger asabiyyah and were able to take Mosul despite being outnumbered 40 to 1 by Iraq’s well-equipped army. For as the great Arab historian observed: ‘Religious colouring does away with mutual jealousy and envy among people who share in a group feeling, and causes concentration upon the truth… They are willing to die for their objectives.’ (Much of this has been backed up by modern evolutionary psychology.)
Asabiyyah is the key to understanding why some states fail and others succeed, why democracy works sometimes but often not, and why the nation-state will remain the foundation of successful human societies. Whatever happens from now on, the outcome of the 21st century will be dependent on asabiyyah, which remains the fundamental reality of human existence.