Author: Hasan Yücel Başdemir*
Why do some societies constantly live in conflict, violence, anxiety and misery while some are living in stability, prosperity and peace? Why do some societies not have means of reconciliation to solve the problems which they experienced while other societies have?
These are some of the oldest questions in the history of thought. So many thinkers are searching the answer to these questions. Abu Nasr al-Farabi, a thousand and a hundred years ago, in his books “al-Madinat al-Fadila” and “al-Siyasat al-Madaniyya” has impressively written differences between societies who have mechanisms that can and cannot solve its problems.
Farabi called the societies who succeed living in peace and happiness ‘virtuous society’, and societies who cannot succeed it ‘ignorant society’. According to Farabi, there are mechanisms that produce happiness and peace in a country or a city.
While he defined the cities as virtuous and happy which establish the structure of society on justice, science, religion and morality; he defined the societies as unvirtuous and ignorant in which the power is gathered on certain hands, people are in struggle for their basic needs and in conflict, not able to solve their problems with ijma (consensus).
Another thinker who searched the answer to this question was Scottish Adam Smith in eighteenth century. He also put forward in his book The Wealth of Nations that welfare could not be created with war and conflict, and that communities can only prosper if the affairs of people are bound by certain rules.
Smith put forward that struggles in Europe to achieve capital and wealth consumed the energies of the societies, producing misery instead of wealth and that spontaneous regular affairs are the best mechanism for solving social problems rather than violence.
Indeed the great development of Europe started with the development of regular and peaceful trade after eighteenth century. The good values of Europe owe in great measure to the thoughts of Adam Smith and the bad values are based on Jacobinism and dialectical thought.
Hernando de Soto in his book The Mystery of Capital claims that societies who can integrate their capital in full into commercial processes can reach to prosperity, else the wealth and capital accumulated in certain hands bring about misery.
Although Soto’s theory seems only economical, it is not so. When this theory is expanded, it results in that prosperity can be built by open and transparent institutions.
Recently, the book of Daron Acemoğlu and James Robinson called Why Nations Fail appeared as an updated form of the welfare theories. The theme of this book is that if there are “inclusive institutions” in a society where individuals can best reflect the skills they possess, these societies become more advantageous than others; they become able to build both enriching and mediating mechanisms more firmly.
The works and writers I have put in order to solve the current problems of the Muslim world, give us important opportunities. Many writers often say that our most important problem is that we cannot analyze the events we are experiencing.
No one has the staff of Moses in his hands and we cannot solve our problems in a trice. But there are important common points in these four writer’s thoughts. These could be the starting point for solving our problems. It seems that, we are once again experiencing the problems that were solved in the past.
Translated by: Burcu Kırbaş
(*) Prof. Hasan Yücel Başdemir is a faculty member at the department of Islamic Sciences in Yıldırım Beyazıt University. His Master’s thesis is about Understanding of John Stuart Mill on Liberty, and his PhD is on the Moral Foundations of Liberalism. He has published collections of essays on The Problem of Knowledge in Contemporary Epistemology, Religious Freedom and Secularism in Turkey (all in Turkish). He is the Board Member of Quarterly Journal of Liberal Thought and the editor of Liberte Publications.