Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (59), is without any doubt one of the most interesting and powerful leaders of 21st century. Erdoğan has been ruling a “torn country” like Turkey since 2003 and has been constantly increasing his powers over the system by eliminating all mechanisms of checks and balances. Of course, the success of Erdoğan is caused by many different reasons including the weakness of opposition parties in Turkey, his chance to take over after a huge economic crisis in 2001 with a successful economic program prepared by Kemal Derviş, his Islamist identity allowing him to create a special tie between ordinary Anatolian people and his close relationships with international Islamist “green” capital that allows Turkey to live even at a time when European economy is heading towards disaster. However, Erdoğan’s well-known authoritarian tendencies as well as his uncontrolled and imperious behaviors and speeches, make many people both in his own country and outside to get affraid from the future of Turkey. In this article, I’ll try to make a liberal criticism of Erdoğan’s Turkey by focusing first on the some principles of liberalism and then Erdoğan’s controversial policies and speeches.
Liberalism is an ideology historically born out of the conflict between newly arising bourgeois class and landed aristocratic classes in Europe as the ideology defended by the flourishing traders class, who want to increase their power and protect their wealth from the “political absolutism” represented by the king and the state. Liberalism thus focuses mostly on basic liberties such as right to live, right to have property etc. and seeks to promote individual liberty by trying to guarantee equality of opportunity within a tolerant society. The hallmark of liberalism is promotion of individual liberty but liberals in fact disagree over what exactly liberty is and how to best promote it. Liberalism considers human beings as rational, self-interested and competitive by nature. Their primary rejection is about the “ascribed status” designed by the landed classes during the Medieval Ages. Liberals think that a free-market system would allow everyone the best chance to develop themselves and reach their real potential. Their second important rejection is about the “religious conformity” proposed by the Catholic Church and allows religious people to have authority over other people thus spoiling liberal market order. Thomas Hobbes’ famous work “Leviathan” could be considered as the earliest theoretical work about liberalism since Hobbes considered human beings as rational and self-interested although his look towards humans is very pessimistic in its essence. John Locke is naturally considered as the leading theoretician of classical liberalism because Locke tried to formulate a theory based on social contract about the necessity of a liberal state that will allow everyone to enjoy their natural rights given by the nature or God. Locke thought that individuals are naturally equal and free with natural rights to life, liberty, and property. Thus, the state’s only mission is to protect this environment where free life and economics could take place in security. Later American revolutionaries and some of French revolutionaries used Locke’s theories to constitute the basis of their new society models. John Stuart Mill in his work “On Liberty” by using utilitarian principles contributed a lot to the development of liberalism especially in terms of freedom of thought and freedom of conscience. Scottish economist Adam Smith is also one of the leading theoreticians of economic liberalism since in his work “The Wealth of Nations” he advocated free-market economics and thought that an “invisible hand” in the market system direct the private interests of individuals toward the common interest of society and people’s and products’ best value is determined by the market itself. Mill also created a “harm principle”, a simple theory about where freedom starts and where it ends when it violates other people’s freedoms. Liberals also believe in the separation of powers since they believe that as it was stated by Lord Acton; “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Liberals see the state as the “necessary evil” that is why they want to make the state as small as possible especially in the field of economics. These are the most important names of classical liberalism and some of their ideas which I want to use in order to criticize Erdoğan’s Turkey.
Erdoğan and his political party Justice and Development Party (JDP) was established in 2001 in Bilkent Hotel, with the ideology of struggling against 3 “y”s in Turkey; yolsuzluk (corruption), yasaklar (restrictions) and yoksulluk (poverty). The party used a libertarian civilian language and thus took the support of liberal and social democratic segments of the country as well as business circles. JDP showed a good performance against the elimination of “deep state” in Turkey and the establishment of a new order based not on military guardianship but rather civilian supremacy. However, starting from 2007 and now it is much more apparent, Erdoğan has been systematically showing symptoms of authoritarianism and in a sense establishing a new statist system where elites are centered not in the military this time but in other state institutions, namely the MIT (National Intelligence Agency). Everyone will remember that Erdoğan ordered a special law for MIT President Hakan Fidan in order to prevent his arrestation, a clear violation of generality principle of law. While defeating the aristocratic landed class in the country (the military in Turkish case), Erdoğan created a new kingdom instead of a real liberal state. Moreover, Erdoğan brought a new “ascribed status” model (a new vassalage system) to Turkey, where people from different sects of Islam (Alevis), non-believers and people from other political parties have no chance to rise in the bureaucracy. Erdoğan instead of following Locke, started to follow Hobbes’ principles and turned out to be a modern “Leviathan” who has the supreme and uncontrolled power over the system. Erdoğan seemed very uninterested in property rights when he ordered an astronomic fine against media tycoon Aydın Doğan, because of his moderately critical broadcasting policy against the government. During Erdoğan’s time, privatizations are made not in accordance with free-market principles but rather with political motivations. Erdoğan, again against liberal principles, established a social system where “religious conformity” is even stronger than theocratic countries like Iran and people are subjected to state’s oppression because of their lack of praying, drinking or smoking habits and active sexual lives. Erdoğan in his speeches always advised people to get marry at early ages and have at least three children, get rid of drinking and smoking habits and follow moral and religious rules. By doing this, Erdoğan somehow created an atmosphere of fear, where non-conformist social or political behaviors as well as different political views are difficult to be expressed in the country. In Erdoğan’s Turkey, women murders are increased by 1400 % and Erdoğan even tried to ban abortion, but later stepped back after huge reactions shown by the women rights activists. Nowadays, Erdoğan’s government, without taking any consent from people or from the parliament, makes so-called “peace talks” with Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of PKK, a Marxist-Leninist Kurdish secessionist terrorist organization that led to the death of 35.000 people in Turkey, which is a clear violation of rule of law. Erdoğan’s government which started as a utopia, in fact has been turning into a dystopia, a modern version of Orwell’s “1984” novel where all oppositional movements are watched closely by the security forces as if they are terrorist movements. It is very hard to explain with liberal principles, why the government who holds peace talks with an internationally recognized real terrorist organization like PKK, is so obsessed with the terrorist nature of all oppositional political and social movements in the country?! Erdoğan’s Turkey is also convicted about freedom of thought, because the country is now one of the leading countries in terms of number of jailed journalists. Turkey was already corrupt before, but now since the ruling power is uncontested, the country is heading towards worse as Lord Acton foresaw long years ago.
Finally, as far as I am concerned, the whole world should pray and hope for the survival of democratic regime in Turkey since starting from Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938) the founding leader of Turkey, the country is like a role-model for the Islamic world about secularism, women rights and democracy. But the decision will be a decision of Erdoğan, since Turkey’s strong allies (U.S.A.) and important economic partners (Russian Federation) seems supportive at least not critical of Erdoğan’s one-man rule.
The cover photo is taken from the journal The Economist.
Dr. Ozan ÖRMECİ