Sacred Texts  Islam  Index  Previous  Next 

p. 50



Man needs the help of his fellowmen to attain the perfection proper to his nature. Unlike the brute, man is not equipped by nature with all that is necessary for the preservation and development of his being. It is only through society that he finds a complete satisfaction of his physical, intellectual and moral needs. Hence, it follows, that society is natural to man.

These are Alfarabi's words. And according to him society is either perfect or imperfect. Perfect society is of three kinds: the highest, the intermediate and the lowest. The highest is the whole inhabited earth coming under one political organization. The intermediate is a nation occupying a specific place of the inhabited earth. The lowest is a city which represents a fraction of the territory of a nation.

Imperfect society is of three kinds: the village, the suburb of a city and the home. These are merely steps leading to the organization of the state. 111


Alfarabi describes the organization of a model state in these words:

Just as the world is one harmonious whole ruled by the highest authority of God; just as the stars and the sub-lunar world are linked up and follow one another; just as the human soul is one in different powers; just as the human body is an organized whole moved by the heart; in like manner the state is to be regulated and patterned after these noble models.

In the model state there must be a hierarchy of rulers coming under the control of a supreme head or prince. This prince, head of the model state or of the whole

p. 51

earth, must possess certain traits: great intelligence, excellent memory, eloquence, firmness without weakness, firmness in the achievement of good, love for justice, love for study, love for truth, aversion to falsehood, temperance in food, drink and enjoyments, and contempt for wealth.

All these traits must be found in one man alone placed in charge of directing the complicated machinery of the state. In case all these traits cannot be found in one man alone, then inquiry should be made to determine whether there are two or more who possess the required traits jointly. If there are two, they should both rule the model state. If there are three, then these three should rule. If more are needed, more should rule. 112

Thus the government by one man alone winds up in an aristocratic republic.

He continues:

Opposed to the model state are: the ignorant state, the perverted state and the mistaken state. The ignorant state is the state that has no knowledge of true happiness, and very often exchanges it for health, wealth and pleasure. Thus, it is the ignorant state which has for its end the acquisition of things, such as food, clothing and shelter; it is the ignorant state which has for its end the enjoyment of eating and drinking, sensual pleasures, amusements and games; it is the ignorant state which has for its end the seeking of praise and the making of a name; it is the ignorant state which believes in false liberty, by which everyone can do as he pleases; it is the ignorant state which pursues imperial-ism as a national policy, namely, the will of conquering people and nations by fire and sword.

The perverted state is the state that maintains a conduct similar to that of the ignorant state, even though it knows what is true happiness and perfection.

The mistaken state is the state that has wrong ideas about God and happiness. 113

Alfarabi, in his conception of the state, shows a mystico-philosophical belief in the absorption of the human spirit into the world spirit, and finally into God. In fact, he says:

The goal of the model state is not only to procure the

p. 52

material prosperity of its citizens, but also their future destiny. The souls of the citizens of the ignorant state are devoid of reason, and will return to the material elements as sensible forms in order to be united again to other beings, animals or plants.

In both the perverted and mistaken states, the ruler alone is to be held responsible, and he will be punished accordingly in the world hereafter; and the souls which have been led into error share the fate of the citizens of the ignorant state. On the other hand, the good souls will enter the world of pure spirits, and the higher their knowledge in this life, the higher their position after death. 114

I cannot help quoting the following passage where Alfarabi shows these good souls in possession of their supreme good:

When a great number of men have passed away, and their bodies are annihilated, and their souls made happy, other men will follow them. When these have also passed away and attained the happiness they longed for, each of them joins the one he is similar to in kind and degree. These souls join one another as an intelligible joins an intelligible. In proportion as the souls in-crease in number and are united to one another, in the same proportion their happiness increases, for, each one, thinking of his substance, thinks of a great many similar substances, and the object of such thinking goes on increasing indefinitely with the arrival of new souls. 115

The political theory of Alfarabi is a mixture of Platonic and Aristotelian elements. The main Platonic element is to put all humanity in one universal state. For him, the state as it exists now, is not the model state. The model state, not yet realized, is organized humanity which is not circumscribed by national boundaries. It is likened to a family which has in heaven the same Creator and Father, and on earth the same forebears. In such a family there can be no wars, simply because the vision now of each and everyone is not a particular nation, but humanity; not a particular king, but God.

Such a political conception on the part of Alfarabi might surprise the reader, for, we are wont to think that no one could

p. 53

ever dream of putting the whole world under one political organization, unless that came as a result of the progress of civilization. But it is not so. Just as the idea of political universality was contained in the imperialism of Alexander the Great, and later in the Roman imperialism, in like manner it was contained in the theocratic Moslem conception. And history bears this out.

Furthermore, Alfarabi tempers the ideal state of Plato with some Aristotelian elements, such as private property and the monarchic form of government. This, however, could be easily changed to an aristocratic republic if the required intellectual and moral traits of the chief executive cannot be found but in a few persons.

In one word, our philosopher envisaged the many nations of the world as welded together into one political organization under a wise ruler.


50:111 Alfarabi, Political Regime, op. cit. pp. 77-80.

51:112 Alfarabi, Political Regime, op. cit. pp. 80-89.

51:113 Alfarabi, Political Regime, op. cit., pp. 90-95.

52:114 Alfarabi, Political Regime, op. cit. pp. 93-101.

52:115 Alfarabi, Political Regime, op. cit., pp. 95-96.

Next: Conclusion