The transformation of the old republic
I am sure President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is very sincere about his policy to build the “New Turkey” as a “better alternative to the old republic,” as he is an idealist, after all. It is true that politics have always had idealism, without which nothing would change for the better or worse. Another truth is that modern democratic politics are rather dull in terms of their lack of excitement and sense of affinity. They lack the capacity of sublimation of personal sentiments and aspirations for a greater cause. Nevertheless, it is also true that all sorts of idealistically charged politics are euphemisms for a variety of social and political engineering projects that come at a dear cost. First of all, idealistic politics are not tolerant and respectful of pluralism, since ideals are thought to be perfect models that cannot be debated or challenged, by definition. Second, proponents of idealistic politics are determined to suppress individual views, choices and lives in the name of a collective ideal.
Erdoğan and his project of the “New Turkey” are all about an expression of Islamist/nationalist idealism. It feels exciting for conservative and Islamist opponents of the secular republic to reshape the republic along the lines of their values and symbols. It satisfies the sense of entitlement of the conservative majority which has long felt excluded from power. Besides, it promises career opportunities for all those who will be eager to participate in the building of a new society. In that sense, the idea of building a new society is never all about ideas and values and symbols, but it is also about chances to fulfill expectations and aspirations of all sorts. It has always been so throughout history.
Those who eagerly support radical political transformations are not only those who felt excluded by the old systems, but also all those who are ambitious but not qualified for better jobs, positions and careers in general. For instance, an ambitious but not bright academic may find a better chance in a new system by filling the place of those who lose their places because of their political opposition or simply by supporting the new system. In building a new political system and society, it is never the outcome of the ambition of one man, but of many who eagerly cooperate.
The referendum on the new system, which has been dubbed the “The President of the Republic System” was a turning point, and Erdoğan is not waiting until 2019 to force the new constitutional amendments into full effect, convening instead a snap party congress to officially take over the leadership of his party. He considers this step as the beginning of a new system to build a new society. Now, Turkey is not going to simply be an authoritarian state under one-man rule; on the contrary, its leader promises a new ideological state with a new vision of the past and future, a new definition of the citizenry, new measures of loyalty, new codes of national affiliation and new definitions of internal and external friends and enemies. It is not only to endorse more religio-conservative values as most secularists are concerned; in contrast, it projects a huge transformation in every aspect of social, political, cultural and intellectual life.
The recent controversies over the founder of the republic, Atatürk, reflected an aspect of the forthcoming total transformation of the state’s ideals. However, as Erdoğan said most recently at the opening of the new Ibn Haldun University, he underlined that it is the end of a Turkey which has long been submissive to not only Western powers but also “Western knowledge” and the pillars of Western values. From now on, we are supposed to derive our knowledge from our own culture/religion and history. It sounds like a victory for the adherents of multiculturalists who ended up fostering culturalist politics at the expense of universalism. No, I am not an uncritical supporter of Enlightenment centricism, and I do not take all Western ways and values as universal, but we need to note that culturalism has always been the source of legitimacy for authoritarian politics, be they Islamist or secularist.