Front Page Titles (by Subject) 22.: The Despotism of Islam - Judgments on History and Historians
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22.: The Despotism of Islam - Jacob Burckhardt, Judgments on History and Historians 
Judgments on History and Historians, ed. Alberto R. Coll (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999).
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The Despotism of Islam
All religions are exclusive, but Islam is quite notably so, and immediately it developed into a state which seemed to be all of a piece with the religion. The Koran is its spiritual and secular book of law.
(1) Its statutes embrace all areas of life, as Döllinger states, and remain set and rigid; the very narrow Arab mind imposes this nature on many nationalities and thus remolds them for all time (a profound, extensive spiritual bondage!). This is the power of Islam in itself.
(2) At the same time, the form of the world empire as well as of the states gradually detaching themselves from it cannot be anything but a despotic monarchy. The very reason and excuse for existence, the holy war, and the possible world conquest do not brook any other form. But the tradition encountered is nothing but absolutism anyway (Byzantines, Sassanids, etc.). Then there quickly appears vulgar sultanism.
Only when genuine religious strife flares up does Islam again become honorable for a time. There once more appear rulers who live only for the cause, and the Moslem community again becomes the true master of the state (although it is never allowed to vote). Then the ruler is only the treasurer of the believers, as with Nureddin; and in the battles he seeks martyrdom.
But as soon as this stimulus is gone, ordinary despotism makes its appearance again. It tolerates and, under certain circumstances, desires material prosperity, but never and nowhere does it provide secure conditions for earning a living. Upon occasion it loves high intellectual culture, but on the other hand keeps it within definite bounds through religion. This despotism completely excludes modern Western “progress,” in both senses of this concept: first, as a constitutional state; second, as unlimited growth of profitable enterprise and commerce, and through this it keeps its strength today, in contrast to the West. This way it escapes: (1) the transformation of the Western constitutional state into a mass democracy, (2) the transformation of the people into careerists and workers bent on pleasure. To be sure, it has learned to raise a loan, but any time it casts off the credit system again and goes into bankruptcy, this happens without most of the population even noticing it.