Nationalist Upsurge in Turkey

The Reformist Moment
There was a period in which Turkey seemed to be moving, even if slowly, on a road of reform with European Union membership at its end. A mixture of IMF influenced economic adjustment and adaptation of EU standards led to improving the conditions for foreign investors, privatisation, control of the inflation ‘monster’, legalisation of Kurdish (Kurdish in this context is mostly to be taken as short hand for Kurmanji Kurdish, the predominant language of Turkish Kurds) tuition at private schools, television broadcasting in Kurdish, penalties for ‘insulting’ the state were reduced. At the time these were impressive reforms which defied many predictions that Turkey was too stuck in defensive reactive nationalism and state domination to allow such reforms. The present AKP government was greeted by some liberals and reformers of various kinds, though never by me, as a party outside the system rooted in conservative Islamic circles, and therefore likely to reform it.

When did it all go wrong?
The AKP (Justice and Development Party, known as AK Party to fans, AK is pure or clear in Turkish) never struck me as likely reformers given its roots in conservative Islamic circles which favoured a political system based on religious law and a organic community of Muslim Turkishness purified of Western and modernist influences, with the sole exception of technology. Clearly people in AKP have changed, but within limits. They have not seriously challenged the secular system, though some things arouse cause for concern like the apparent downgrading of Darwinian evolution in high school. It is an essentially conservative party, in a quite strong sense of conservative (which in Turkish has a sense akin to ultra-conservative in English anyway). It is conservative in holding to traditional social values, to statism and to nationalism. Its social conservatism can be seen in the high percentage of head scarf wearers amongst female supporters and the wives of mostly male party leaders. They don’t drink alcohol publicly if at all.
They are certainly not imitating the conversion of the British conservatives to gay rights.

The statism and nationalism are linked issues. The AKP exists as a patronage machine,a s do all the political parties in Turkey. Public sector employment has gone up under this government, as under previous governments, to provide jobs for party supporters. this reinforces the view of the state3 as sacred and reinforces nationalism.

All the major parties look very nationalist in Turkey, and are looking more nationalist not less. The historic ultra-nationalist party, MHP (Nationalist Action Party) moderated after the death of its founder leader in 1997, with the effect that centre-right and centre left parties have converged with it. The Social Democratic CHP (Republican People’s Party) is using the accusation of Cyprus sell out to attack the AKP government. The previously centre-right DYP’s (True Path Party) current leader has been close in ideology to the MHP, though he has made gestures away from that. The fact that CHP is attacking AKP over the Cyprus ‘sell out’ does not make AKP less nationalist. The ‘sell out’ has not happened because like the other parties the AKP does not want to go to the electorate with the concessions which are inevitable if there is a settlement, particularly with the return of some land to the Greek Cypriots which is to be expected at some point since Turkish Cypriots have 38% of the land but only 18% of the population. Reluctance to pursue this policy is about reactions from the electorate but also the binding ideology of all the major parties. The binding ideology is that international relations is a zero sum game and that foreign powers are necessarily trying to at least weaken Turkey if not bring about the return of Ottoman capitulations, in which foreign powers had sovereignty over parts of the Ottoman lands and rights of ‘protection’ of Christians, or give Turkish lands away to neighbouring countries as was attempted after the First World War.

It has to be said in the AKP’s favour that they attempted to weaken restrictions on the property rights of minority foundations, but the legislation was vetoed by the President who is close to the CHP in thinking. However, AKP must have expected the veto and may have been motivated by the hope of more freedom for conservative Muslim groups. Turkish Armenian and Greek foundations still cannot invest in property, even in their existing properties. This is accompanied by the ritual statement that ‘the Treaty of Lausanne solved the minority problem’. The Treaty of 1924 established Greeks, Jews and Armenians as recognised minorities with the right to education in their own languages. This solution essentially creates a separate category of citizenship for the defined groups even while the Turkish state has always claimed to favour complete equality and integration within a secular republic. This leaves the situation where Turkish Greeks, Armenians and Jews appear to be in a separate category, even if they have a completely common life with Turkish Muslims.

The consequences of this equivocation can be seen in the antics of ultra-nationalist lawyer, Kemal Kerinçsiz, who has been featured in FactsAndIdeas. In a trial of the editor of a Turkish Armenian newspaper, Kerinçsiz in his normal bullying style demonstrated with his followers outside the court room insulting Hrantnk as a ‘Daşnak‘, that is as a member of an Ottoman era Armenian nationalist and socialist movement which used armed violence against Ottoman Muslims. A party of that name exists in Armenia now and pursues a mixture off social democratic and irredentist nationalist ideology. Of course Kerinçsiz is largely a Turkish equivalent of ‘Daşnak‘. he is a member of the MHP which was closely linked with political terror in the 1970s, and with less dramatic but real violence until the death of the party founder Alpaslan Türkeş in 1997. The MHP mixes various kinds of nationalism, including a strong current of Pan-Turkism which favours the unification of Turkish peoples from China to the Balkans. The antics of Kerninçsiz and his supporters in the Nationalist Jurists’ Association are sadly significant. They are behind many recent and current prosecutions of writers for ‘insulting Turkishness‘ and use the court cases as a stage for bullying provocation of hatred against those prosecuted. Fortunately most prosecutions have ended in acquittals, but another purpose has been served. Other antics include emailing instructors at Boğaziçi (Bosphorus) University, which is an English medium university of American origin, with insulting messages. This is clearly not behaviour appropriate to an association of legal professionals, but sadly in a harsh and exaggerated way they represent the ideology of many people in the state legal system and in the political parties, left and right. Needless to say Kerançsız can only interpret awarding the Nobel Prize for Literature to Orhan Pamuk as an insult to Turkey because Pamuk had made remarks appearing to support genocide claims made by Armenians. This attitude appears to be shared by the government and the presidency , in a quieter way. This itself reflects a broad attitude in which debates about Turkish history and current place in the world can only be understood in terms of honour and face; international relations can only be understood as a zero sum game where if someone wins someone else loses; and a similar Mercantilist logic is applied to economics. Fortunately reality in Turkey does not completely follow that model. In the end the main political parties and actors have made pragmatic accommodations with negotiation, compromise and the search for ‘win win’ situations. It’s rather like the attitude of the last Conservative government in Britain to the EU but is much more pervasive.

Is there Hope?
Turkey is developing economically, so that there is a growing middle class urban population which is educated and is part of a complex civil society. More and more Turks go abroad to study. More and more Turks are receiving higher education. More and more Turkish academics publish in internationally recognised places at such a rate that Turkey has been climbing up the rankings of index scholarly articles for decades. More and more foreigners work in Turkey, including British academics, like myself, Balkan labourers and many others. The door is still open to the EU, so there is still an incentive for change. The point may have been reached where foreign inspired change cannot take root, and there is a clearly a nationalist reaction against changes which have been made. Future changes must come from reformers winning arguments within Turkey. The immediate signs are poor but the long term trends suggest an increasingly complex, open, educated, cosmopolitan society. The current increase in foreign workers suggest that Turkey may avoid Japanese style modernisation of an inward looking kind based on very limited immigration and ethnic diversity. However, Turkey could still be a new Italy where power is swapped between political groups dominated by clientalism and corruption, where politics is compromise between interest based factions, and where underlying problems are dealt with very late. In any case, the immediate situation is tough for the liberal minded in politics, but is maybe improving in terms of society, the economy, culture and daily life.

Liberal Thinking: Popular Errors

Recently I’ve noticed some well established errors or one sided views of major liberal thinkers repeated around the Blogosphere and online news sources.

1. John Stuart Mill is the prophet of current Capitalist Libertarianism
Mill is condemned by at least two of the heroes of current Capitalist Libertarianism: Ludwig von Mises condemned him for allowing Utilitarian considerations to override Libertarian rights; Friedrich Hayek condemned him for referring to ‘social justice’.
A popular minor error is to refer to Hayek as Von Hayek. Hayek himself dropped the aristocratic ‘Von‘. The Austiran government withdrew recognition for all aristocratic governments after WWII.

This reflects a widespread failure to realise that Libertarianism, certainly that of Hayek and Mises, rests on Natural Right theory which is totally rejected by Utilitarianism since Bentham and by Bentham’s antecedent David Hume. Natural Right/Natural Law theory assumes that we have rights before, and independently, of the rights established by any system of laws. Natural Right theory presumes that the natural rights of individuals cannot be denied or weakened for any reason. Utilitarianism rejects Natural Rights and therefore much Libertarian thought, because it is based on the principle of maximising the happiness of the greatest number, not on ant conception of inalienable natural individual rights.

2. Alexis de Tocqueville was the Cheer Leader of American Democracy.
In his classic commentary on Mid-Nineteenth Century Democracy in America, Tocqueville saw much to welcome in democracy. His view of American democracy in particular, and of democracy in general, also contained many anxieties and criticisms. One thing that needs to be understood is that for Tocqueville, democracy does not primarily refer to representative institutions, it refers to equality. Tocqueville put liberty at the foundation of his own thought, he regarded the old European aristocracies and monarchies as having at least an equal claim with the American democracy to be base don liberty. The threats to liberty that Tocqueville saw in democracy include mediocrity of culture, in which everyone has some culture but exceptional cultural achievements disappear; the tyranny of the majority (a phrase Mill borrowed from Tocqueville) in which the power of public opinion, particularly in small towns, has an oppressive moral force greater than the physical repressions employed by an absolute monarchy. This shows that the view of Tocqueville as celebrator of small town America to be mistaken. It also shows that he cannot be associated with Libertarian views of liberty as purely negative. Negative liberty is freedom from physical constraint as opposed to positive liberty, which the right to something: social welfare, culture, citizenship are examples. Tocqueville certainly took the last two very seriously. This clearly shows that the ‘Classical Liberal’ tradition cannot be equated with a purely negative view of liberty.

Liberalism and Libertarianism: The New Wave in Britain and the US?

There are some indications that Capitalist Libertarian (Libertarian in this essay should be thought as short hand for Capitalist Libertarian, and as not referring to Libertarian Socialism of any kind) political thought, and related ideas from Classical Liberalism, are combining with Progressive Liberalism in the US and Britain though in rather different ways. The common factor is that in each country a party associated with Progressive Liberalism is converging with Libertarian currents: the Democrat Party in the US and the Liberal Democrats in Britain (not the whole of the UK, since in Northern Ireland the party structure is unique, the Liberal Democrats do have a partner party there, the Alliance Party).

The Liberal Democrats in Britain as their name suggests are rooted in a Liberal tradition. Though legally the Liberal Democrats originated in a late ’80s merger between the Liberal Party and the Social Democrat Party, it is essentially a continuation of the Liberal Party which went back to the 1850s, with roots in earlier Radical and and much earlier Whig traditions. The SDP was a short lived break away from the Labour Party at the time when Labour was going down a very left socialist road. The Liberal Party itself had gone down a distinctly left Liberal road since the 1950s, so much so that the merger with the SDP was seen as a right-wing move, and certainly in the earlier years of the Lib Dems enthusiasm for free market liberalism tended to come from ex-SDP members.

The history from the ’50s to the ’80s began with commitment to local community politics and European integration. The local community politics tended to emphasise calls for spending on local problems, and often appealed to activists whose orientation was Green or Marxist libertarian, and who were very anti-free market and Classical Liberalism. The issue of European integration drove away a large part of the pure free traders in the Liberal Party, who looked back to 19th Century liberal free trade arguments. The Liberal Party continued to support free trade but accepted that in European integration free trade within Europe would come first. Absolutist free traders regarded this as a betrayal of free trade, since it did not seek equal free trade with the whole world as an immediate objective. Some of these went to the Institute of Economic Affairs which had a significant influence on Thatcherism. When the Conservatives lost middle class and business support in the ’90s mainly due to a period of very high interest rates badly affecting many with loans and home mortgages, many previous Conservative voters became Liberal Democrat activists. Some pro_European senior Conservatives were driven towards the Liberal Democrats by the very anti-EU drift of the Conservative Party in the ’90s. These people formed a new base for free market pro-business thinking. The roots of the left in community politics left them ill equipped to produce convincing leaders, or senior figures of any kind, since those whose main interest is local campaigning as end in itself, and have an ideology which regards any central decision making as oppressive, and can claim to be Libertarian in a left-wing way, are not the best equipped to perform well in national politics and the national media or to formulate policies which apply to all parts of the country.

The Democrat Party has a very different history mingling southern Conservatism, American Progressivism, 19th Century Liberalism, the labour movement, social democracy and probably a few other things I have overlooked. It was the party of racial segregation with a strong southern white vote and then became the party of racial integration with limited support among southern whites. In the 19th Century it was less federalist than the Republicans, now the Republicans appeal more than the Democrats to ‘state rights’. The US parties do not have the kind of integrated forms that European parties where ideology is relatively distinct and policies are adopted in national conferences in the expectation that these will be the basis for any government program. The tendency from the New Deal onward was to emphasise big government as an instrument of social progress. The movement of the Republican Party from Goldwater afterwards to limited state conservatism, with Libertarian influences, redefined the centre ground in the US, particularly given the success of Reaganomics in reviving the economy. The stage was set for the 19th Century Liberal component of the Democrats to make a come back.

The Now in the US
Clinton’s presidency marked a turn towards social progressivism within the context of free markets and a limited state, the position the Liberal Democrats in Britain are increasingly adopting. The policies of the Clinton presidency owed more to adaptation and pragmatic centrism than ideas. The principled advocate of such polices in the Democrat Party had been Paul Tsongas, who lost out to Clinton in the selection of the Democrat presidential candidate.

As links posted on show, the current state of the Democrats is not a coherent move towards Libertarianism. There are strong counter currents as populist protectionist economics has become more popular in the Democrats, as opposed to Clinton’s free trading less statist model. There might be a big Democrat shift towards protectionism and statism. The reasons for this tendency are just as much economic facts as ideology. Even Bush has acknowledged that low earners have not done well out of continuous American high growth. At the lower end wages and income seem to have stuck. Since low wage jobs are most vulnerable to competition from unskilled low paid foreign production, low earners have some reasons for opposing free trade. The benefits of economic growth have been so skewed to high earners under Bush that the general constituency for free market capitalism is in danger. There are ways of approaching this that are more ‘Libertarian’: tax cuts targeted on lower earners, increased educational standards increasing the value of labour through greater competition between state schools including contracting out of state schools to voluntary groups and private investors, for example.

If there are Libertarian, and Classical Liberal, solutions in favour of low income groups then there is a possibility of the social concerns of the Democrat base being met through free market and limited state policies. Despite the populist tendency, Democrats are now much more popular with Libertarian voters than the Republicans as shown in a report posted on the libertarian Cato Institute website, The Libertarian Vote. The report suggests that even on quite tight definitions 13% of US voters are Libertarian and that while they used to be strong pro-Republican they are now strongly pro-Democrat.

So how can this happen at a time when the Democrats are being tempted by populism? Bush has succeeded in pushing Libertarians away over a variety of issues.
Public spending has increased more than any administration Republican or Democrat since Roosevelt’s New Deal, and that holds both for defence and non-defence spending.
Furthermore Buısh has exercised virtually no restraint on ‘attachments’, that is amendments to spending bills for local vote winning pork barrel purposes.
Anti-terrorism legislation has increased government surveillance of citizens. Anti-terrorist legislation has eroded habeas corpus for US citizens as well as foreigners transported to Guantanamo; and has allowed forms of torture such as water boarding, extreme sleep deprivation and extreme manipulation of heat and light in cells.
The strong emphasis on banning gay marriage and equivalent civil partnerships has been part of a general social intolerance from Christian Right circles.
All this on top of the disaster in Iraq.

The opportunity is there for the Democrats, as indicated in a story on ‘Liberaltarians‘ linked with It remains to be seen who wins the soul of the Democrat Party, but there could be a new progressive alliance of Libertarians and Liberals looking to restore and advance civil liberties, and looking for social progress through the market and free trade.

The Now in Britain
The Liberal Democrats have been progressing towards a more free market way of thinking since the merger, though the process was hardly discernible until the present decade. The merger itself was a defeat for the left, though it was more of a halt on the leftward path than a swing right. The parliamentary party had always been more sympathetic to the free market, than party activists and the Classical Liberal inheritance never disappeared. The Liberal Democrats could be more better understand with reference to Classical Liberalism rather than Libertarianism. Libertarianism suggests a very negative view of the state as a necessary evil at best, which has a strong purchase in American history lacking much equivalent in Britain where the state has generally been understood as unquestionably necessary to the existence of the nation and valuable in promoting national goals.

The first leader of the Lib Dems, Paddy Ashdown supported a Classical Liberal drift but could not get the more radical proposals past party conferences, which dominate policy making. His successor Charles Kennedy had similar intentions, though with less of tendency to political vision, and did even worse at promoting such ideas in the party. His downfall as leader was attributed to out of control alcoholism, the reality is that would have mattered much less if he had not disappointed colleagues by backing off from support for thee landmark Orange Book, a landmark because prominent Liberal Democrats contributed essays supporting a shift towards free market limited state policies. Another major disappointment was speaking at a Stop the War March. All currents in the Lib Dems opposed Bush’s Iraq misadventure, but those inclined to Classical Liberalism did not want to be associated with the far left and Islamist groups predominant at the march.

The current leader, Mengis Campbell identifies himself as centre-left, but has pushed through policies partly privatising the Post Office and and ending Lin Dem plans for higher tax on upper income earners. In both these cases a social justification was offered: limiting closures of local post offices through improved finances, increasing environmental taxes. In any case the result is a shift towards the market in terms which pacify the party left. Campbell is fairly old and it always understood that he would be a transitional leader. His two most likely successors are from the Classical Liberal wing of the part. The current favourite is Nick Clegg. A speech he made demanding greater liberty was linked with At the last party conference he called for a Great Repeal Act to get rid of unnecessary and burdensome legislation. His main rival Christopher Huhne (an ex-SDP member) will probably get the left-wing vote in the party as he emphasises Green measures and immediate withdrawal from Iraq. Nevertheless he is much more of a free marketeer than the previous left figures in the party.

The Lib Dems are very much the third party in a country where the electoral system tends to give an overall majority to the largest party, though in a very erratic way, and they are often patronised by the other two parties. However, there is a general feeling that the next parliament will not have an overall majority as the Conservatives have caught up with labour but failed to establish a decisive lead. This opens up the possibility of a coalition with the Lib Dems in which a really coherent party could become the driving force even though the smaller partner. Though there are still many free marketeers in the Conservative Party, the new leader David Cameron emphasises centrism as an end in itself and has tried to reduce the Conservative Party’s association with free market pro-business policies. At the current rate of change, the Lib Dems will become the most free market Classical Liberal or Libertarian party in Britain in economic policies, they are probably level pegging with the Conservatives now after many years of being clearly less free market. The Lib Dems and Liberals before them have always been the most libertarian party on human rights, civil liberties and social values. The new Libertarianism, Classical Liberalism, or Economic and Social Liberalism, can be found well represented in Lib Dem bloggers like Cicero and Jock Coat.

The Future
No prophecies or predictions are offered here, but there might just be an Anglo-American current of ‘Liberaltarianism‘, Classical Liberalism or socially orientated Libertarianism on the way. That possibility is already one of the main issues in British and American politics.

Secularism in Turkey and Britain

Issues of secularism are a constant in Turkey. The constitution states that Turkey is a secular republic. The founder of the Republic, Kemal Atatürk, was a very determined and radical secularist. His position was one of laicism, in which the state does not simply adopt a neutral attitude towards religion, but actively promotes the non-religious attitude as a basic principle which requires the exclusion of religious symbols from the state along with a social struggle against groups who wish to give religion a political role and use it to dominate the public sphere.

While Britain is a very secular society, that has not arisen from secularism or laicism as a principle. Some people of great influence in British politics and political thought have advocated principled secularism. The most notable example is the Nineteenth Century philosopher and Liberal Member of Parliament, John Stuart Mill. That sort of principled radical secularism had a role in the general evolution in a secular direction, but generally speaking that evolution expressed itself in the gradual weakening of state discrimination in favour of the state church and of discrimination against those outside the Church of England. Britain had a multiplicity of Christian churches from the Sixteenth Century and secularism developed as they learned to live with each other and refrain from attempts at dominating rival churches. Consequently for most in Britain secularism means leaving people alone rather than having an active policy.

However, things are changing in Britain. The main motivation is the threat posed by Al-Quaida style Islamic terrorism. That reality has resulted in a greater drive to integrate immigrants, through a language test and through a citizenship test required for immigrants to become naturalised as British citizens. The role of some Imams in promoting ideology close to terrorism, or even recruiting Muslims for terrorist training, has undermined the old laisser-faire attitude. That in turn is creating a reaction, and not just from Muslims.

The head of the Church of England has become concerned that the state is ‘licensing’ religions rather than leaving them alone. Archbishop Rowan Williams sits in Parliament as a member of the House of Lords,along with other senior members of the Church of England. The monarch of the day is required by long standing law to be a member of the Church of England, and is the ‘governor’ of the Church. There is law that requires Christian based assemblies in schools and Christian based religious education. Rowan Williams has never complained about state intervention on behalf of his church so his complaints about ‘licensing’ are not based on intellectually coherent arguments.

If he does not like the new secularism, he will probably just have to get used to it. Though most British citizens identify themselves as Christian, this is usually Christianity of a very symbolic sort, so that it is often hard to distinguish from agnosticism. The activities of some anti-evolution Christians in promoting creationism in state schools, has created concern for those of mainstream views. The fear of Islamist terror has focused minds on the dangers that the growing sector of Muslim state schools could promote segregation and radicalisation of young Muslims. Mosques are being watched by the security services, radical Imams have been arrested. This new secularism embarrasses Christian conservatives and is opposed by some on the left who think that if Islam is a minority religion in Britain and a Third World religion in general, then no criticism can be made of any expression of Islam which is not racist and colonialist.

Turkey is very very gradually moving from some aspects of state led secularism. This is not a straight forward liberalisation at all. Illiberal measures include: the present moderate Islamist government finding jobs in the public sector for its religious friends, at least one Istanbul district imposing fines for public drinking, the government trying to reduce the autonomy of the highly secularist Higher Education Council. On the more ‘liberal’ side, more private Koran classes have opened. Taking the pressure off radical groups, or merely allowing more use of Muslim symbols in the political and public sphere, could lead to exactly the same problems as Britain is trying to resolve. The lesson is surely that measure which genuinely increase the rights of peaceful people should be encouraged, but not measures that encourage segregation or radicalisation. The private sphere could be more broadly defined in Turkey to include what head dress female students wear at university, but in Britain student unions which play an important role in supporting student groups are becoming more concerned about Christian groups which may discriminate against gays. Such groups have had bank accounts frozen and been banned from student union based activities. The other side of Turkey’s laicist tradition is that politics has been strong influenced by Sunni Muslim brotherhoods, governments have sometimes encouraged religious state schools, and there is an implicit bias to Sunni Muslims so long as they are pro-state.

Some people in Turkey, like many foreign observers, work on the assumption that the radical secularist and laicist tradition of the state, is old fashioned and authoritarian, is tied up with restrictions on political freedom and statist economic structures. A close look at what is going on in Britain should lead them to think again.