Esad Ef. 2399
Kâtib Çelebi, Takvim al-Tavarih, Müteferrika Press, Istanbul 1733
Turkish translation in Gökyay, Orhan Şaik, Kâtib Çelebi’den seçmeler (Istanbul: Milli Eğitim Basımevi, 1968), 154-161
A kind of synopsis of Kâtib Çelebi’s philosophy of history can be found in his concluding remarks to Takvîm al-tavârîh (“Almanac of Annals”), a world history chronicle compiled in 1648, some four years before the Düstürü’l-amel. There (TT233-237; G 114-117) he adopts a more philosophical style, starting with the assurance that God ordains caliphs and sultans to administer the affairs of people. Among the tribes and races that have appeared on earth since the beginning of history, it has been God’s will that the changes and phases seen in human civilizations and societies (nev’-i beşerden her sınıfın temeddün ve ictima’î halinde) correspond to those seen in individuals according to their age. As the “natural” life of man extends to 120 years, so does the usual time span of a society (her ta’ifenin müddet-i ictima’î), although it can vary according to its strength or weakness. There are three stages in every state and society (devlet ve cemi’yet), corresponding to the three ages of man (growth, standstill, and decline). Just like one needs one’s parents’ care while still a child, a state or a dynasty (devlet) is characterized in its early stages by its members’ “zeal and mutual assistance” (ta’assub ve ta’avün-ı ricâl). And just like self-governance comes to a growing person, so does a king lay just laws and use his treasury to govern his state. The finances, the army, the might and the population of a state grows continually in its early period, the way a man’s limbs grow till one’s maturity. In the same vein, a mature society meets its most just rulers and more generally its heyday in every respect.
Now in the age of decline, just as an old body loses gradually its temperature and humidity (hararet ve rütubet), and consequently its powers and senses, so do statesmen (vükelâ-yı devlet, a state’s temperature and humidity) lose their ability to think rightly and to take the proper measures; consequently, the people and the army (the powers and senses) start to go astray. All the more so, those officials that try to mend such problems of the decline in the same way they would do it in the standstill or middle period are bound to fail, since each period requires its own measures. More specifically, now, the signs of decline are: a tendency of the magnates to imitate their rulers in wealth and pageantry, and more generally a tendency to continually expand luxury and pomp. The middle class wants to live like the king, and the military prefer ease and peace rather than fighting.
After presenting this grim image, Kâtib Çelebi feels compelled to note that no matter how binding is this historical scheme, God is all-powerful and may allow its surpassing. For one thing, a dynasty that forgets its just laws and turns to tyranny will fall to decline earlier than the usual time-span (just like a sick man that takes poison instead of medicine); and a dynasty that takes wise measures and uses insightful statesmen as doctors can extend its days, the same as an old man can live till the end of his days in good health.
The rest is a reiteration of earlier topoi on good government: Good politics (siyaset) is the prerequisite for the longevity and well-being of a state, and it can emanate either from reason (‘aklî), in which case it is a branch of philosophy, or from the Holy Law. The latter case does not have any need of the former; a Muslim king will either follow God’s guidelines and gain this and the next world, or succumb to his whims, become a tyrant and inevitably find his punishment. But whenever infidel rulers govern their states successfully, this is due to their following the government rules based on reason; which is the essence, observes Kâtib Çelebi, of the Turkish proverb “the world is destroyed not through infidelity, but through oppression”. A government based neither on reason nor on the Holy Law is doomed to collapse. Here, Kâtib Çelebi hastens to add some more concrete examples and cases of bad government, namely: the interference of women to state affairs; a ruler who does not spare his subjects’ blood; a ruler who tends to cut off his subjects’ daily bread; a prince who kills his father to get the throne. All this is given in the form of, so to speak, “laws of history”: for instance, that the patricide has never survived more than a year in power; that viziers or chieftains that opened a king’s way to the throne have very often found their death in the latter one’s hands; or, that the sixth king in every dynasty has lost his throne (which in the Ottoman case would give Murad II’s abdication in favour of his son, Mehmed II).