QotD: July 10th, 2007

From Bruce Chatwin’s Songlines:

“In the Muqaddimah or ‘Universal History’, of Ibn Khaldun, a philosopher who surveyed the human condition from a nomadic viewpoint, we read: The Desert People are closer to being good than settled peoples because they are closer to the First State and are more removed from all the evil habits that have infected the hearts of settlers. By ‘desert people’, Ibn Khaldun means the Bedouin such as those he once recruited, as mercenaries from the heart of the Sahara, in the days of his warlike youth. Years later, when he had gazed into the slanting eyes of Tamerlane and witnessed the piles of skulls and smouldering cities, he, too, like the Old Testament prophets, felt the fearful anxiety of civilization, and looked back with longing to life in the tents. Ibn Khaldun based his system on the intuition that men decline, morally and physically, as they drift towards cities. The rigours of the desert, he suggested, had preceded the softness of cities. The desert was thus a reservoir of civilization, and desert peoples had the advantage over settlers because they were more abstemious, freer, braver, healthier, less bloated, less craven, less liable to submit to rotten laws, and altogether easier to cure.”