Recently I wrote an article “Liberal Criticism of Erdoğan’s Turkey”, which took both positive and some negative reactions from our readers. General critics towards my article focused on the political liberalism of Erdoğan compared to his harsh and ultra-conservative positioning in terms of cultural and some social issues (alcohol, smoking, abortion etc.). That is why, in this article I want to explain first what is conservatism as an ideology and then try to assess Erdoğan’s political stance according to conservative approach.
Conservatives, in general, seek to preserve the traditional way of life in their societies. Conservatives think that human beings are naturally flawed and imperfect (which goes back to original sin) and that they should be under the control of some social institutions and mechanisms (norms, ethics, traditions, religion etc.) in order not to make big mistakes. Conservatism basically claims that radical attempts to change human nature or transform society are foolish and dangerous. Thus, conservatives are strongly against radical changes such as revolution. We should also mention that conservatism historically developed as a response to liberal radicalism. We could easily see the negative consequences of liberal radicalism from the French Revolution (1789) and the reign of terror. For conservatives, the role of government is to restrain the passions that lead to conflict among individuals and societies. Edmund Burke, the founder of conservatism, developed his views in reaction to the French Revolution (1788-1789) and argued that French revolutionaries had overly optimistic view of human nature and a dangerous propensity for unrestrained liberty. For conservatives unlike liberals, the society is not consisted of free and atomistic individuals but rather the society is like an organic living creature. Conservatives believe that the society is an intergenerational partnership that is rooted in customs and traditions, which should be kept carefully since traditions represent the historical accumulated wisdom of the society. The role of government for conservatives is to prevent people from acting on whims and impulses. For a conservative, government restraints are necessary to ensure the social peace. Conservatives advocate a gradual change instead of a sudden one, in other words reform and innovation instead of revolution. Conservatives welcome private property because in their view property and richness make people more attached to the system. Conservatives' main reaction to socialist/communist movements is derived from their disagreements over progress, perfectibility and planning. Although nowadays there are different versions of conservatism such as traditional conservatives, individualist conservatives, neo-conservatives and religious right, conservatism is still an important and influential political ideology in the political spectrum.
If we try to analyze Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan from a conservative point of view, we can easily notice that Erdoğan represents the harshest version of conservatism (religious right) in terms of social and cultural values. Erdoğan’s reactions to alcohol, smoking, sexual desires and abortion are clear examples of his social and cultural conservatism. However, Erdoğan’s political positioning strangely represents the exact opposite of what conservatives claim. It is a fact that Erdoğan has been changing and redesigning Turkish political system in the last decade with an enormous speed as if he is trying to catch a train. This is the exact opposite of conservative stance against rapid and revolutionary change. Erdoğan is now trying to establish a new Presidential system instead of Turkey’s classical Parliamentary system inherited from the old Ottoman times starting from 1876, the first Constitutional period. Erdoğan and his party (Justice and Development Party – JDP) has been making very defiant openings in terms of Turkey’s Kurdish question and PKK problem. In fact, the government has been conducting so-called “peace talks” with PKK, a clear revolutionary step in Turkish political history, not a conservative one. Erdoğan and his party’s courageous challenge to Turkish Armed Forces starting from the troublesome President of the Republic elections of 2007 also represents the political revolutionary aspect of JDP.
In that sense, we can conclude that Erdoğan is a cultural conservative, not a political one. Politically Erdoğan and his party is somehow revolutionary and ultra-liberal and this rapid transformation of the Turkish society, which reminds me the famous saying “All that is solid melts into the air”, makes Turkish people and especially people from oppositional parties very uncomfortable and unsafe. Maybe what Turkey needs a reformist liberal government that would not act like superstar sprinter Usain Bolt, but rather like a marathon racer such as Haile Gebrselassie. Otherwise, the country always faces with the risks of political instabilities and polarization which could lead to many new social problems.
Dr. Ozan ÖRMECİ
- Ball, Terence & Dagger, Richard. 2011. Political Ideologies and the Democratic Ideal (8/E), Pearson