Authoritarianism as weakness and a pitiable show of power

Authoritarianism as weakness and a pitiable show of power

Authoritarianism has always been both a “show of power” and an “expression of weakness.” The rise of authoritarianism has always been the result of the failure of smooth and peaceful governance; in other words, it has always been an outcome of the “failure to reach consensus” among different interests and views, and of the inability to manage politics without using force and suppression.

It is true that there is also the aspect of accumulating power to enforce authoritarian rule. In some cases, it is a minority of society that captures power by military means; in others, it is the outcome of popular social support which paves the way for the accumulation of power. The neo-authoritarian regimes of recent decades are examples of the latter, and Turkey is a typical case.

The Justice and Development Party (AKP) obtained its power from popular support in three consecutive elections, but failed to use this power to strengthen democratic politics. I do not think that it was a totally deliberate choice and ideological matter, but was rather also the result of failures and weaknesses that led the governing party toward authoritarianism. First of all, the governing party failed to comprehend the complexity and plurality of society in Turkey and underestimated the challenges. The combination of political power, which is firmly based on majority vote, along with not only “reluctance” but also the “inability” to acknowledge challenges, enforced the idea of majority rule, or majoritarianism. Majority rule may seem to be the easiest option of governance for a political party which has no worries about losing social support, but in fact it has its own shortcomings, especially in societies with deep tensions, like Turkey.

That is why democratic governance is the best option for complex modern societies, since it is only democratic politics which can avoid great social tensions and extreme polarization by acknowledging differences. Besides, democratic governance guarantees sustainability by accountability and power sharing. The failure to comprehend not only the ideal, but also the practical strength of democratic governance has misled popular governments into an “authoritarian vicious circle,” in societies like ours – something that has happened in Turkey under AKP rule.

The more that popular governments look to rule by majority support, the more they need to suppress all others who are not parts of the majority. The result is an increase of social dissent and tension; increasing tension subsequently becomes an excuse for more suppression and exclusion and so on. Finally, it turns into a weakness for powerful popular governments to lose all legitimacy in the eyes of others who are not “the supporters;” tension turns into all manner of resentment and even enmity.

The more that the government perceives dissent and enmity as a threat, the more it resorts to force and suppression. That is why I suggest looking at the problem of rising authoritarianism from the angle of weakness and failure as well. After all, suppression is the result of a need for more control and the need for more control stems from incompetence. Otherwise, we cannot understand why such a powerful party like the AKP and its politicians seek more control, even if they are not in danger of losing majority support.

It thus becomes incomprehensible why they are becoming angrier and more aggressive despite all the economic and political gains. If we also consider the fact that the opposition is still no challenge for the governing party, the AKP’s aggressive politics become even more curious, unless we realize that it is not only the accumulation of power but weaknesses and failures as well that are the roots of authoritarianism in general, and in Turkey in particular. Besides, it is also the impact of the total failure of the AKP’s foreign policy which enforced the politics of “aggressive introvertism,” assertive Islamism and Ottoman nostalgia to compensate for the weakness.

That also explains why the president needed to display a show of strength by arranging his meeting with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas against the backdrop of soldiers supposedly sporting the historical costumes of 16 Turkish states. The show of power is not an expression of strength but an underlining of weakness, as in the pitiable case of the latest ceremony.