Three known mss.:
Ayn-ı Ali Efendi, Kavânîn-i Âl-i Osman der hülâsa-i mezâmin-i defter-i divan (repr. Ιstanbul 1978), 119-139
Turkish translation in Gökyay, Orhan Şaik, Kâtib Çelebi’den seçmeler, Istanbul 1968, 154-161
German translation: W. F. A. Behrnauer, “Hâğî Chalfa’s Dustûru’l-‘amal. Ein Beitrag zur osmanischen Finanzgeschichte”, Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft 11 (1857), 111-132
Kâtib Çelebi’s most famous political work is his Düstürü’l-amel li ıslahi’l-halel (“Course of measures to redress the situation”), composed, as the author himself narrates (not only in this text but also in his historiographical Fezleke, II 384-85), in 1652/53 after a meeting of the financial scribes under the Defterdar on the balancing of the state budget, in which he took part himself. Indeed, this short essay stresses financial reform; however, its main value lies in the exposition of Kâtib Çelebi’s sociological ideas, which include a novel medical simile of human society, a pioneering definition of state, and the first systematic introduction of the Ibn Khaldunian notion of the “state stages” into Ottoman philosophy of history.
In the beginning, the usual eulogy of God and the Prophet refers, somewhat misleadingly, to the “political therapies brought about by the Holy Law, which are sufficient for redressing the disposition of the kingdom and of the state, as well as for bringing the powers of the rules of the religious community to an equilibrium” (edviye-i siyaset-i şer’iyesi ıslâh-ı mizâc-ı mülk ü devlete kâfî ve ta’dîl-i kuvâ-yı kavâ’id-i din ü millete vâfîdir). After narrating the story of the meeting that led him to compose his treatise, Kâtib Çelebi proceeds to the introduction (AA 122-3; G155-156), in which he sets to present his views on “the dispositions of the state” (etvâr-ı devlet). First he defines this word, stating that “[the word] devlet, which [originally] meant saltanat and mülk, according to another view consists of the human society (ictima-ı beşeriyeden ibaretdir)”; then he argues that the social condition of man (insanın ictima’î hali) resembles the individual. An individual’s life is naturally divided into three stages, namely growth, standstill and physical decline (nümüv, vukuf, inhitat); the coming of each age, in its turn, depends on the disposition of the individual, so that a strong man comes to his old age later than a weak one. Similarly, now, runs the social state of man, i.e. society or devlet (insanın devletden ibaret olan ictima’î hali), which is also divided into three ages depending on its strength: this is why some societies (cemi’yet) reached decline soon, while others, “like this exalted state”, being strong in their construction and well-grounded, were late in joining the age of standstill. Moreover, in both the individual and the social state of humanity, there are specific signs showing the coming of each age, and those who want to take measures for redressing the conditions of the commonwealth (umûr-ı cumhûr) have to act according to these signs, just as the practice in medicine orders that a cure for children cannot be given to a mature person.
Kâtib Çelebi further elaborates this simile in the first chapter of his treatise, on the peasants or reaya (AA 124-129; G156-158). The subjects are “given by God to the Sultans and chiefs for safekeeping” (re’aya ve beraya selâtîn ve umerâya vedi’at-ı ilahiye oldığından), he states, and then exposes the well-known “circle of justice”. Now, man’s disposition consists of four elements or more accurately the four humours (blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile), and through the senses and faculties it obeys to the human reason (nefs-i natıka). In the same way, the “social and human constitution” (heyet-i ictimaiyye-i beşeriyye) is composed by four pillars, namely the ulema, the military, the merchants and the peasants or reaya; through the statesmen (a’yan-ı devlet) who act as its senses and faculties, society obeys to the Sultan, who is like the human reason. From among the four pillars, the ulema correspond to the blood. Heart is the seat of the animal soul (ruh-ı hayvani), carried with the blood throughout the limbs of the human body; similarly, the Holy Law and the religious truth correspond to the animal soul and give life to society, dispersed through the means of the ulema. The military correspond to the phlegm, merchants to the yellow bile, and peasants to the black bile. Just as the four humours must be kept in equilibrium, with none exceeding its defined limits in the expense of the others, so must these four social classes profit from each other and coexist in moderation and temperance. Kâtib Çelebi extends his simile even further: after the digestion of each meal, the spleen sends black bile to the stomach so as it will not stay empty, and in the same way the peasants have to give their money to the imperial treasury whenever it runs out of money. To accomplish this task, however, they have to prosper in their businesses; this is why the Sultans of old were always protecting with justice the peasants from all oppression.
Here Kâtib Çelebi profits from the occasion to divert on a eulogy of the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent. Suleyman did not think proper that the peasants leave their villages, and so when he wished to increase the population of Istanbul he transferred the inhabitants of the conquered city of Belgrade rather than rural populations. But after him, the standstill age of the state began, and with the coming of the Celalis peasants started to leave their farms and emigrate to the cities, as the author has seen from his personal experience. The reason for this is the excessive taxes imposed, and the fact that, while post and offices should be given to trustworthy people and oppressors should be punished, the state followed the axiom “sell to the highest bidder” and thus farmed out all revenues from one oppressor to the other. While in the past many high officials of the state were executed for taking bribes, this practice (which Kâtib Çelebi seems to consider a form of bribery) is now fully tolerated and performed openly, allegedly for the benefit of the treasury, although it is explicitly prohibited by the Holy Law. For the same reason, the army is no longer invincible and loses one battle after the other, he complains. There is no cure unless justice prevails, with the cutting-off of taxes and the abandonment of selling the posts to the highest bidder.
Much smaller, the second chapter concerns the army (AA 129-133; G158-159). Carrying on the simile of the humours of the human body, Kâtib Çelebi reminds that the army is to be compared to the phlegm. Just as the phlegm is necessary, but its excess harmful to the body, so is the army to society (cem’iyet). Here comes again the theory of stages to combine with that of the humours: when man passes over the age of standstill into that of decline and old age, the phlegm dominates his disposition and keeps being produced, while the other humours tend to turn into phlegm as well. Once one has grown old enough, it is of no use trying to fight back and to extract the phlegm. What can be done is to try to bring the predominance of the phlegm to a harmless degree. This metaphor may be applied to the social organism (hey’et-i ictima’iyye): Kâtib Çelebi narrates in detail how Kara Mustafa Pasha had been trying to reduce the number of the janissaries to the levels existing back in the Suleymanic age, but whenever he applied such measures, soon after the janissaries were again increasing in number. Thus, just as the phlegm in an old man’s disposition, it is now impossible to keep salaried janissaries in very low levels; what can be done, however, is to try to increase the power of the other three social classes. After all, there is no such harm in a numerous army. If the soldiers’ number cannot be reduced, their salaries may well be, according to the old rules; but this must be done slowly and gradually, with thoughtfulness and careful timing: this is Kâtib Çelebi’s advice.
The third chapter (A 133-135; 159-160) concerns the treasury, and in fact further elaborates the medical simile. After noting that “the Sultan is the human reason (nefs-i natıka), the Vizier the power of intellect (kuvvet-i akıle), the şeyhülislam the power of perception ([kuvvet-i] müdrike) and the other classes the four humours”, Kâtib Çelebi compares the treasury with the stomach and then the money-changers and coin-weighers (saraf ve vezzan) with the faculty of taste (kuvvet-i zaika), tax collectors (muhassıl) with attracting power ([kuvvet-i] cazibe), treasurers (hazinedar) with holding power ([kuvvet-i] masike), finally ministers of finances and scribes (defterdarân ve küttab) with digesting power (kuvvet-i hazıme). In the human body, food gets digested with the help of all these powers only to be then distributed to the various limbs; in society, all classes benefit from the monies, once collected into the treasury. Now, if black bile is overwhelmed by other humours in the body, the stomach stays empty; and if these powers do not stay in equilibrium to one another, the health of the stomach is endangered. Again in the same way, if the peasants are oppressed the treasury will be emptied; and if the four classes envy and fight each other, it is harmful for the health of the state. The human powers described above are active and strong till the end of the age of standstill, and then they gradually grow feeble, with the result that problems in digestion start to appear; and this coincides with the other signs of old age. Now, the signs of the old age in societies, i.e. of decline, consist mainly of the pomp and pageantry (ziynet) displayed by all classes: the notables (a’yan ve erkân) start to extend their titles and parade; gradually, the middle class (evasıt-ı nas) imitate rulers in their clothes and luxuries. As a result, the expenses of both the individuals and the society (infirâd ve ictimâ’ın masrafı) grow and grow: this is why, explains Kâtib Çelebi in detail, the expenses of the treasury grow continually and disproportionally as regards the state income. Now, it is not easy to increase the income and diminish the expenses in order to bring the budget to equilibrium; it is even considered impossible by men of experience, unless it is imposed with compelling force (bir kâsirin kasrı). Till then, notes the author (and it sounds like wishful thinking, one must say), measures for a provisional moderation of the financial crisis would be useful.
These last observations lead Kâtib Çelebi to his conclusion (A 136-137; G160-61), where he lays his proposal for the way a successful reform could proceed. There are many ways of correcting things, he says, but some of them are impossible under the given circumstances. First of all, what is needed is a “man of the sword” (sâhib-i seyf) who will “make people submit to the right way” (halkı hakka münkâd etdirir). Secondly, the notables (ayan-ı devlet) must understand that the true Sultan is God; the subjects, the treasury, the army are His, and if they submit to Him they will act with truth and justice and will manage to administer the state affairs effectively. Thirdly, the army has to obey experienced officers and under their guidance protect the state against traitors and evil-doers, like they used to do in the past. Fourthly, the viziers (vükela-yı devlet) must act in accord and harmony to reduce the expenses and to use the compelling power of the army as an instrument for conducting common affairs. Kâtib Çelebi hastens to note that these prerequisites seem easy but are in fact quite difficult to obtain (sehl-i mümteni), since few people care for the state and for justice, while most run after their pleasure: that is why a strong man should be found. Meanwhile, he argues in a second “conclusion of conclusions” (A 137-38; G 161), for the time being it has to be accepted that peasants cannot afford any more contributions to the treasury. The Sultan should grant the income of one year to some trustworthy servant of his, who will promise to pay it back gradually from the income of the years to come; this grant will give him great power. Then he will undertake the task of reducing the number of soldiers gradually and with soft measures, as described above, cutting off the correspondent taxes and reducing military salaries; as for the excessive expenses, those who are in the hands of government offices (emanetlerde olan) shall be reduced and then their administration shall be given to trustworthy, honest clerks: thus the problem of excessive expenses will be solved within one or two years. Finally, the oppression of the peasants must be dealt with by reducing significantly their taxes and by giving the relevant offices to experienced people who will not accept bribes; moreover, these appointments must be guaranteed for a long time.
Kâtib Çelebi’s essay ends with a message of hope (A139; G 161), namely that no matter how grim the situation may seem, historical experience shows that the Ottoman state has the power to redress itself after disasters that look hopeless, as it happened after the defeat by Timur or the Celali rebellions. If the appropriate measures are taken, this crisis will also be surpassed.