Tag Archives: Democracy

A 21st Century Worldview: Interviewing Ahmet Davutoğlu

28 Mar

A 21st Century Worldview: Interviewing Ahmet Davutoğlu

[Prefatory Note: Below is an interview that I conducted with the former Turkish Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, published in Middle East Monitor on March 23-24, 2020. His responses to questions 18-20 concern the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on the world. The interview is long, yet a worthwhile overview how the most important intellectual political figure in Turkey views global and national reality given the shape of recent developments. It was framed to touch upon the main themes of his pathbreaking contribution to the scholarly literature, Systemic Earthquake and the Struggle for World Order, published in 2020 by Cambridge University Press, available via Amazon. (disclosure: I wrote the foreword)  

Davutoğlu has recently formed the Future Party to work in opposition to the AKP led government headed by President Erdoğan, with an intention to mount an electoral challenge in coming years. The main programmatic feature of the Future Party is its advocacy of pluralist & inclusive democracy as distinct from the contentions of majoritarian democracy.]

  1. You were a prominent figure in academic circles before you entered political life. What prompted you to become a politician?

Whatever field we work in, the unavoidable fact is that we live in a certain space and flow of history. Our existence is defined and limited by the dimensions of time and space. If you are an academic in the social sciences, especially international relations, the influence of these space and time dimensions are felt even more deeply. In a sense, they form an existential framework for your own test tube.[i] Theoretical academic studies beyond the test tube draw one into the reality that exists within it; the conclusions one reaches within this reality start influencing one’s academic work’s theoretical perspective.

This intellectual dialectic between academic theory and socio-political reality also applies to me. My journey between these two fields has been a dynamic process rather than a single, sudden decision. I presented my doctoral dissertation in comparative political theory, later published as Alternative Paradigms[ii] in June 1990, two months before Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in the year the Cold War ended. History’s rate of flow has accelerated here in the Middle East. In a sense, the time/space dimension of our ontological existence has been reshaped.

 

It was in this context that I wrote articles criticising the End of History hypothesis that claimed that far from gaining pace, the flow of history, when it came to ideas, had actually slowed to a virtual halt; a theory that gained popularity at that time and found adherents in Turkey as well. In these articles I stressed that we should not be fooled by overly optimistic visions as the Cold War came to an end; on the contrary, we were in a far more intense philosophical-political crisis in which decision-makers in Turkey, a country that lay at the centre of all these shifts, needed to be prepared for all kinds of surprises and alternative scenarios. People took a closer look at my views in the wake of developments in Bosnia, which gave Turkey and the world a psycho-political shock. I rejected offers to enter Turkish politics in the 1995, 1999 and 2002 general elections – offers that came during the establishment of new political parties as well. I said I would remain in academic life with a view to pursuing academic studies, seeking to make sense of all these processes and would only be able to offer theoretical advice.

 

However, it sometimes happens that a person’s own work has a transformative impact on that person’s own life as well. Within a short time of its publication in June 2001, my book Strategic Depth, which analysed regional and global post-Cold War developments and specified Turkey’s strategic position in this new historical context, made a widespread impact in universities and military academies. This led me to accept an invitation to act as chief advisor to the then-prime minister, Abdullah Gül, and later Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. This invitation reflected the change of government in 2002. At the time, Turkey faced three huge issues that would determine its strategic future: the Iraq War, the EU accession process and the Cyprus negotiations.

 

For seven and a half years I served as chief advisor. This period involved me in a large number of policy processes responsive to these three overall challenges, a few noteworthy examples of which are mentioned in the book Systemic Earthquake. For Turkey and for me, it represented a transition from theory to practice, as well as from scholarship and teaching to politics. Because of my determination to get back to academic life, I respectfully turned down Prime Minister Erdoğan’s suggestion that I be included as a parliamentary candidate with a possible ministerial post after the 2007 elections. The reason I gave for declining was that I intended to return to academic life soon after the elections.

The main factor behind my decision to finally enter into politics was the closure case brought against the AK Party (the Justice and Development Party). The case was initiated about eight months after the party’s overwhelming victory with 46.6 per cent of the votes in the July 2007 general elections – a result that was impressive in the Turkish multiparty context. I regarded this case as a declaration of war against democracy in my country, which amounted to a virtual coup attempt. At that point, I went to see Prime Minister Erdoğan and told him that I would not hesitate to take part in politics at a time when our democracy was under threat, and that I was ready to assume any duty to protect democracy. In response, I was appointed as foreign minister in May 2009 and prime minister in August 2014.

In a nutshell, two principal motives prompted my longer-term involvement in political life: the moral untenability of staying aloof from the practical side of the history, of which I was trying to make theoretical sense, and a sense of democratic responsibility to my country and people as they found themselves at the centre of a turbulent historical process that was gaining ever-increasing momentum, and was challenging the leadership of the country to minimise risks and take advantage of opportunities.

  1. This makes me wonder: even with such strong motivational factors, was it difficult for you to make the transition from the academy to the government, having resisted the call for so long? Abandoning teaching and scholarship? Making political compromises in the course of shaping policies and reaching decisions?

Being an academic is not just a profession, but a way of life. You can adapt to changes in your life, but you cannot totally abandon an intellectual calling. Taking on political decision-making roles may limit academia’s field of operation, but cannot erase its nature as something integrated into one’s personality. This limitation is related to the fact that these two areas call for different psychologies and methods, with respect to ethical and professional qualities. The academic life requires pure freedom. The moment one starts self-censoring, one’s freedom of thought evaporates. Yet the diplomatic/political field consists mostly of process management, a process that requires tact, discretion and a certain amount of secrecy. If one discloses one’s views and assessments to the public with an academic’s degree of freedom, one will eventually lose the ability to manage these processes, as well as the confidence of colleagues in government.

This difference in method led me to stop publishing and media activities, including works that were ready for publication, when I assumed duties as chief advisor and ambassador, and started getting involved in diplomatic processes. After continuing my university lectures for about two years, I stopped my teaching activities as well. It seemed to me that my frequent absences abroad in connection with Turkey’s European Union (EU) accession negotiations were imposing unfair burdens on my students.

None of these adjustments meant that I entirely abandoned my identity as an academic, which was very much part and parcel of my personality. There were times when I turned diplomatic/political meetings and even mass campaign rallies into lectures, without being aware of doing so. There were also times when I took refuge from the pressures of diplomatic/political activities by writing and reading. In this context I also took great pleasure in intellectual discourse with counterparts who shared an intellectual/academic background that went beyond the normal diplomatic process. I would also make a point of visiting bookstores in the cities where I found myself, taking full advantage of gaps that allowed me some free time during even the most critical diplomatic talks. Knowing of my proclivities, ambassadorial colleagues involved in our overseas trips would locate the best bookstores in the cities we were visiting, and then make arrangements sensitive to the fact that I might pop out from meetings at any moment to satisfy this book-craving impulse of mine.

All this gave me a deeper understanding of the reason why Ottoman rulers became proficient in some area of handicrafts or fine arts: Süleyman the Magnificent, like his father, in the art of jewellery making, Abdul Hamid in carpentry, Selim III in music, and almost all of them in writing poetry. After intense all-day diplomatic/political activities, it is almost impossible to fall asleep as the issues being discussed agitated my mind to such a degree that sleep became impossible, or it even happened that my dreams would often continue the discussions of the previous day. In such circumstances, the best way to relax is to take refuge in a favourite habit or hobby that will divert you from an intense daily rhythm. So, I would often make a late-night visit to my library before going to bed, or spread books out over my desk after getting the required briefings on long-haul flights and after everyone had gone to sleep, resting my mind and soul by reading and writing. I wrote Civilizations and Cities, published a month after I left the prime ministry, in these intervals during my many long flights.

But no matter how much effort I devoted to making up for what was lacking, I still missed teaching and scholarship. In time, I saw more closely that there are no more loyal friends than books and no more valuable investment in the future than students. When I became foreign minister, diplomats who had worked with me in my capacity as an academic and chief advisor carried on calling me “Professor-Hodja” instead of “Minister” out of habit, which acted as pleasant reminders of the life I had partially left behind. When they apologised for their apparent faux pas, I told them that all posts and positions are transient, but teaching and academic work endures. And today, after I have left my government experiences behind, I would like to reiterate the fact that for those who love it and do it justice, academic work, which is a quest for truth, endures and is invaluable.

 

Politics is ultimately a process of rational negotiation that, by its nature, requires certain compromises. Nevertheless, it remains vital that these political imperatives should not contradict your fundamental beliefs and/or encroach upon your personal integrity. In a sense, politics is the art of being able to adapt ideals to reality, values to interests and principles to solutions. As a scholar who attaches importance to personal integrity, I have faced some severe tests in this regard during my public life. When I found that this process of adaptation was in general no longer possible, I chose to leave the prime ministry, rather than compromise my personal integrity. In light of this personal experience, I advocate more strongly than ever an understanding and a practice of politics that accords priority to personal integrity. I have never swayed from this approach to politics or the lure of political life, and never shall.

  1. I understand that returning to a scholarly life may not have been such a wrench. Nonetheless, do you miss the experience of exercising political influence? You have recently established a new party, Future Party. How do you now envision your future in Turkish politics?

The first thing to say is that my decision to leave the prime ministry did not follow an election defeat or the end of a term limit. On the contrary, it was taken about six months after winning the most overwhelming election victory (49.5 per cent) in the history of Turkish democracy. My decision reflected my principal focus – to prevent differences of view over principles within the party, and the administration of the state to rupture political stability in the country. I also wanted to avoid conflicts of authority between offices of the state over the proper shape of the constitutional order, from turning into a crisis of state. You can imagine how tormented I was in the process of making this decision.

There are two main reasons, to do with my perspective on political and academic life, why the onset of such a sudden and disheartening process did not have a traumatic impact on me. The first, is that I have never seen politics as a career field; on the contrary, I see it as a field of accumulated experience and mission unfolding on the basis of the authority granted by the people. In other words, I have always seen government service and leadership not as permanent property, but as something temporarily entrusted to politicians in the name of public order, to be terminated in the event that the public interest so requires.

The observations I have made during my political life have truly shown me that for those who aim to gain status, money and prestige after becoming a politician, politics begins to take on the characteristics of an ontological field that must on no account be abandoned. Autocratic tendencies develop on just such a psycho-cultural connection between ontology and politics. Seeing the beginning and end of politics as the ultimate career brings about the permanence and sovereignty not of values, but of a status. In a sense, this is to see the concept of glory, which was an inherent value in Roman political culture, as a human condition that has been cleansed of this value.

 

Secondly, I already had a field of mental and intellectual activity that I loved and that made politics meaningful to me. This is why I have had no adjustment problems, in spite of having made an unplanned and unforeseen return to academic life in the wake of a distressing process. The day I announced my resignation I went back to my natural habitat – my library. I focused on half-completed projects and published a book within a month. I published six more books within two and a half years of my resignation, and participated in several national and international conferences.

There was no contradiction in carrying on my publication and conference activities while my political activities continued, even after my resignation. I took care to do my best in both areas, which required two different psychologies. As I stated at a press conference, announcing my decision not to participate in the 24 June parliamentary elections had two distinct and complementary meanings for me – although I was now focusing on my academic work, I had not left politics.

I continued to follow developments in the political domain closely with regular daily briefings. Just as in academic life, certain habits gained in political life persist. You feel responsibility whenever you see negative developments in your country. I, as a former prime minister and former chairman of the party, expressed my concerns and opinions to relevant authorities on different occasions behind closed doors – whenever I had deep concerns regarding the rising populism and polarisation in our society, limitations imposed on democratic rights, stagflation in the economy, spread of corruption and extensive mistrust to judicial system. When these sincere observations and suggestions were not taken into consideration, I prepared and issued a manifesto after the local elections on 31 March 2019, on the need for extensive reforms in the party and state administration. The party administration decided to expel me and my five other colleagues from the party, rather than to understand our concerns and suggestions. There was no other choice for us, but to establish a new party. The main philosophy and objective of the Future Party is to implement inclusive democracy as set forth as my core political vision in the Systemic Earthquake and the Struggle for the World Order: Exclusive Populism versus Inclusive Democracy. The founders’ board of the party composed of 152 leading personalities, represents all ethnic, sectarian and religious segments of the society. For instance, for the first time ever in Turkish politics, representatives of religious minorities (Armenian, Greek and Assyrian citizens) became members of the founders’ board of a party.

 

My most important realisation in all these endeavours, is that I have felt no change in my sense of duty to my country and people. I feel this not only as an academician and politician, but as a citizen. I have consistently regarded this obligatory feeling not as a question of office or position, but as one of principle and morality. What is important for me is to try my hardest to fulfil the needs of each moment.

Moreover, one cannot split a person’s identity according to the activity in which they are currently most involved. The principles, feelings and objectives that have guided me as an academician or a politician are the same. In personal transitions of this kind, those who look at life on the basis of a “divided self” psychology may encounter adjustment problems. In contrast, there is no question of such psychological tension for those who see their areas of work as reflections of the same “self” situated in a different time-space dimension.

  1. In writing Systemic Earthquake, did you benefit from your own earlier scholarship, particularly Strategic Depth, as well as from your recent political experience?

 

Absolutely. Systemic Earthquake is posited on a unique synthesis of these two experiential legacies – one mainly theoretical, the other practical. With respect to historical background and global culture, the perspective of comparative civilisational analysis that I used in Alternative Paradigms, is reflected in this work as well. However, the initial theoretical work on which Systemic Earthquake is directly based, is a paper entitled Civilisational Transformation and Political Consequences that I presented at an International Studies Association congress in March 1991, in the immediate aftermath of the Gulf War, and published in 1994 as a book. In this paper, I argued that contrary to the claims of the End of History hypothesis, the ongoing process going forward was not the end of history, but a comprehensive civilisational transformation in which fresh elements introduced by globalisation were shaking the basis of conventional modern philosophy, and the revival of traditional civilisational basins that would change the Eurocentric concept of world order. Working from these premises, I foresaw that first of all tensions would arise from the reawakening of historical factors as a natural consequence of this transformational process. From this perspective, I anticipated there would be a transition from a unipolar world, to a balance of powers system that itself preceded humankind, finally entering a new phase through the birth pangs of change in the axis of civilisation. Refreshed with new elements, the theoretical framework I depicted at that time also played a role in my subsequent works.

 

In Strategic Depth, published ten years after this paper in 2001, I attempted to examine the geopolitical elements of the comprehensive transformation, then under way in relation to the previous ten years of political developments, and thus define Turkey’s strategic position within these new global and regional configurations. Looked at from the perspective of the framework in Systemic EarthquakeStrategic Depth was written with a view to analysing the 1991 geopolitical earthquake. Systemic Earthquake maintains this theoretical line of interpretation through its analysis of the security (2001), economic (2008) and structural (2011) earthquakes. In this sense, the book was reflective of my academic identity and accumulation of knowledge and experience.

Strategic Depth came from the pen of an academician without any diplomatic experience, Systemic Earthquake reflects the intensive diplomatic and political experiences of someone who had served for seven and a half years as chief advisor to the prime minister, five years as foreign minister and two years as prime minister. In this context, Systemic Earthquake reflects a method and style that includes both these sources of accumulated experience. From this perspective, the inclusion of intensive historical and theoretical analyses in the same framing as political/diplomatic experiences, may challenge the reader with respect to the proper alignment of theory and practice.

  1. Which political leaders have influenced you the most? Are these the ones you most admire?

 

In fact, the life of every leader who has combined historical processes with their own personal quests offers a very serious transfer of experience for anyone keen to draw its lessons. Looking at the lives of great leaders from this perspective, I have found unique instructive qualities in each of them, in terms of human nature, philosophical/intellectual background, historical process and social networks. During my academic life, I designed two courses for particular student groups with this background in mind: first, the intellectual/historical relationship between great intellectual movements that had an impact on humankind and comprehensive political transformations establishing a new order, and secondly, the relationship between intellectual and political leaders who had played a role in the development of national strategies.

It is not right to reduce leaders to a single category in terms of the factors that gave them an enduring place in history, or to evaluate them as individual personalities separate from one another. Leaders in different categories attracted my attention for various reasons, and I tried to learn from their varied experiences and particular talents. The most fundamental lesson to be drawn from the lives of leaders who have pioneered a new order by forging a link between the general flow of human history and the social/historical context in which they live, is the transformative and order-forming power of visionary leadership that recognises and accepts no limits or obstacles. Such leaders include Alexander the Great, who unified almost all of the ancient civilisational basins around a single order; Caesar, who made Rome the centre of a world order by leading to assume a role and reality beyond being a Mediterranean state; Caliph ‘Umar, who, together with a pioneering society without any great experience of governance, led a new order by rapidly spreading a new faith to all the ancient civilisational basins from Iran to Egypt; Mehmed the Conqueror, who established a new order by uniting state traditions drawn from the depths of Asia with the Roman tradition of political governance; and Napoleon, who, through his victories and defeats, had such a profound impact on a Europe being reshaped in every aspect around the system of values, given historical force by the French Revolution.

On the other hand, the most important lesson taught to us by leaders who had an order-restoring impact in periods of major transformation, is the need to establish harmony between the vision being pursued and the actual historical reality in critical transformative processes. In this leadership group I would include Marcus Aurelius, who restored the Roman order in a cosmopolitan context around Stoic thought against Germanic attacks; King Alfred the Great, who led the unification of Anglo-Saxons fragmented by Viking attacks, thereby achieving an English identity; Saladin, who achieved a crucial act of consolidation by uniting many elements of the East, whose order had been deeply challenged by the Crusades; Cardinal Richelieu, who laid the grounds for the era of Louis XIV by uniting France, at that time undergoing a process of ethnic and sectarian disintegration, around a common language and idea of national identity, in spite of the fact that both he and the country were Roman Catholic and therefore owed a form of allegiance to an authority other than the French King (i.e. to the Pope); Bismarck, who pioneered the unification of Germany on the basis of the identity of a modern nation-state, managing in the process to transcend the fragmenting impact of the Thirty Years War that had endured for some two centuries; Lincoln, who ensured the emergence of a United States of America united around shared values from the wreckage of the American Civil War; and Atatürk, who founded the Republic of Turkey by leading anticolonial independence movements after the First World War that destroyed traditional empires.

European Union flags [File photo]

Leaders such as Konrad Adenauer, Winston Churchill, Robert Schuman, Jean Monnet, Paul Henri Spaak, Alcide De Gasperi and Johan Beyen – all of whom pioneered the post-war “new Europe” idea that would later evolve into the EU, a series of developments arising from the ashes of the bitter experiences of the Second World War, the bloodiest conflict in history – are fine examples of the collective rational leadership, the need for which is so keenly felt during and after major crises.

The lives of three twentieth-century leaders with different civilisational and religious identities (Gandhi, Mandela and Alija Izetbegović) provide us with serious lessons and experiences in terms of their forbearance through all the challenging tests they underwent, especially the tensions between ideals and reality, values and power. They never shirked such tests, although often paying the price of confinement or even death.

In summary, whether you support them or not, and whether partisan or foe, the life journey of every figure who has left a mark on history is replete with valuable lessons. It is crucial that we learn from these lessons in light of our shared humanity, and to transfer this learning as sources of guidance in life and reality.

  1. What writers and scholars exerted the greatest influence on your intellectual development, and which were most relevant and important to you in the preparation of this manuscript?

Intellectual development is not a process that emerges in a linear fashion and through specific influences; rather, it is a cumulative work in progress that develops through interaction and internalises itself by reproducing itself at every stage. Therefore, specific, selective and micro-influences may be incomplete.

That said, I would like to list particular names in various fields that I have read with admiration and from whom I have benefited from since the earliest stage of my academic life, to the present day. Among many others, these include paradigm-founders such as Plato, Aristotle, Abu Hamid Al-Ghazālī, Kant and Hegel, who had an influence on intellectual currents carrying their names such as Platonic, Aristotelian, post-Ghazālī, Kantian, Hegelian, etc. Thinkers who played a significant role in the civilisational interaction such as Al-Fārābī, Ibn Rushd and Ibn Sīnā. Thinker-statesmen such as Cicero, Seneca, Nizām Al-Mulk, Thomas Moore, Ahmed Cevdet Pasha, Khayr Al-Dīn Tūnusī Pasha and Sa‘īd Halim Pasha, who endeavoured to establish a sound relationship between intellectual theory and political practice, experienced the tension inherent in this struggle, and in most cases paid a heavy price for it. Leaders like Marcus Aurelius, Winston Churchill and Alija Izetbegović, who produced substantial intellectual works in addition to leading their countries. Historians like Ibn Khaldūn, Arnold Toynbee, Fernand Braudel, Marshall Hodgson, Fuad Köprülü, Halil İnalcık and Kemal Karpat, who used inclusive methodologies while adopting a holistic approach to human history. Political philosophers such as Machiavelli, Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whose writings so brilliantly reflected the characteristics of the political culture in which they lived and who had a profound impact on later periods. Modern philosophers/ theoreticians such as Edmund Husserl, Max Weber, Hannah Arendt and Eric Voegelin, who exhibited horizon-expanding approaches in modern thought in their development of conceptual frameworks; and intellectuals/academicians who adopted multidimensional approaches so as to contribute to civilisational interaction, by transcending settled exclusionary molds such as Muhammad Iqbal, Lewis Mumford, Malik bin Nebi, Edward Said, Ernest Gellner, Ali Mazrui, Immanuel Wallerstein, Şerif Mardin, Fred Dallmayr, Richard Falk and Johan Galtung.

Systemic Earthquake is the product of blending the theoretical knowledge I have accumulated through a process of filtering the intellectual works I have studied in the fields of comparative civilisation studies, political history, political sociology, international relations and international political economy.

  1. In general, do you learn more from scholars with whom you agree or from those with whom you disagree? Can you give any examples?

 

In fact, the objective and simultaneous recognition of opposites facilitates learning and correct reasoning. Understanding is a prerequisite for developing an interpretative framework. Even if you end up disagreeing with a person or an idea, you must first understand it correctly. In a sense, understanding something requires an accurate grasp of its opposite. In the words of an old Turkish proverb, “things exist through their opposites.” This is the dialectic of existence. One cannot meaningfully adopt or defend any idea or viewpoint without a proper understanding its opposite. Thinkers with whom I disagree have thus contributed to my accumulation of knowledge as much as those with whom I agree.

I can give an example from the time I was writing my doctoral dissertation in the field of comparative political thought. I was undertaking a comparative study between Niccolò Machiavelli and two thinkers, one who lived in the same historical/cultural basin as Machiavelli (1469–1527) but at a different time, the other who lived around the same time but in a different historical/cultural basin. The first was Rome’s Stoic emperor Marcus Aurelius (121–180) to whom Machiavelli makes reference, the other was Kinalizāde ‘Alī (1510–1572), whose lifespan overlapped with Machiavelli’s and who wrote a book dedicated to an Ottoman Pasha (Semiz ‘Alī Pasha, during the rule of the Süleyman the Magnificent) on the relationship between politics and morality.

Reading Machiavelli’s The Prince, which places power at the center of things and links moral principles to power, Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations, which deals with state governance in relation to the moral teachings of Stoic philosophy, and Kinalizāde ‘Alī’s Akhlāḳ-ı ‘Alāī, which puts the principles of affection, morality, and justice at the center of politics, together, made it possible for me to better understand all three of them.

 

When it came to the relationship between morals and politics, I always felt closer to Marcus Aurelius, whose use of power was seen by Machiavelli as an exception in the relationship between the use of power and morality,[iii] and Kinalizāde ‘Alī than to Machiavelli. However, this did not lead me to conclude that Machiavelli was entirely wrong. My opposition to Machiavelli was over the issue of what kind of a future a person might expect in a world where every leader’s approach made morality subservient to power. However, in terms of the aspect of power that is related to human nature, my better understanding of Machiavelli also provided me with a more realistic context for power-oriented political relationships. In addition, a deep reading of Machiavelli gave me a clearer vision of how psychological factors related to human nature could produce moral deviations, which helped me to develop a kind of warning reflex when engaged in the practice of politics.

 

I still feel an affinity with Marcus Aurelius and Kinalizāde ‘Alī, who were trying intellectually to create the moral basis for expansive imperial orders in political terms, and I have learned a great deal from them. However, I have learned as much from Machiavelli’s work, which consists of advice given to the eponymous Prince with a view to consolidating his power in a fragmented Italy, even though I cannot on principle espouse his views, because learning is not about agreeing but understanding. Everything that allows one to understand is of value as an object of learning.

  1. In a world of sovereign states, is it possible to have a moral foreign policy? What role should respect for international law and the authority of the UN play in developing national policy, especially with respect to security concerns?

 

We may talk of three different types and areas of relationship in assessing the reciprocal actions of nation-states: shared destiny, common interests, and conflicting interests. The area of shared destiny, especially with respect to ecological issues, transcends territorial boundaries. Countries that share the same ecological destiny in the same geography are expected to cooperate on ecological issues even if they are in dispute over most other issues. In this sense, national security becomes a subcomponent of ecological security because, as the book emphasizes, one cannot possibly achieve national security in the absence of existential security. Nation-states that come into conflict over short-term interests or matters of prestige in these kinds of long-term matters over our shared destiny lay the ground for a shared catastrophe that will negatively impact everyone.

The area of common interests between nation-states relates to the existence of a sustainable peace and order that will enable them to coexist. In this sense, there is a direct relationship between national, regional, and global order on the one hand, and peace and order on the other. Respect for borders envisioned under international law and the development of common policies against terrorism and nuclear proliferation may be appraised in this context.

However, conflicts of interest between nation-states are an intrinsic aspect of international relations in spite of areas of shared destiny and common interests. And when a serious conflict of interest arises, the fundamental issue is the existence or lack of rational crisis management, as well as sophisticated diplomatic knowhow.

If the concerned parties behave with reference to the entirety of common normative principles in these kinds of relationships and areas, it means the suitable basis for the implementation of a moral foreign policy exists. In this context, the principal duty of international law and the UN is to consolidate this normative basis and keep nation-states adhering to this common ground as much as possible. In the event that the UN does not perform this function and international law is con- ducted on the basis of interpreting distinct national interests rather than by reference to common normative principles, the basis of shared destiny is weakened, areas of common interests are narrowed, areas of conflicting interests become more apparent, and crisis management becomes harder. In such situations, the basis of foreign policy shifts from ethics to raw power.

The logic of raw power is more and more becoming the organizing principle of major international powers in the conduct of international affairs. This is rather new, because both during the imperial era and ideological competition between socialism and capitalism (liberal democracy), power was accompanied by moral claims. Irrespective of whether these claims were genuine or not, the imperial powers predicated their scramble for power and authority on moral justifications. Likewise, both socialism and capitalism laid claim to legitimacy based on their contention that their ideological programs better fit the humanity’s needs and progress than did that of their ideological rival.

In recent years, there is a decoupling between power and moral claim. Trump represents the crystallization of this trend – power for the sake of power. Unless it is reversed, this trend will leave many fundamental questions of humanity unanswered. A question that this trend will face is whether it is tenable to have universal organizations without universally agreed-upon principles and values underpinning it? Unfortunately, decoupling of power and values and power and principles bodes ill for the course of human progress.

In the event that the UN performs its mission for international order within the framework of international legal norms and the practitioners of international law inspire confidence on the question of treating nation- states equally in terms of their shared destiny and common interests, it becomes less likely that nation- states will come into severe conflict while pursuing their individual interests. The current tendency of tensions between nation-states rapidly to morph into crises and wars stems from the international order’s failure to inspire successful forms of peaceful settlement of disputes.

  1. Do you think that the world map will look very different in a hundred years?

History reflects the dialectic of change and the sustainable order reflects the harmony of the continuity. The future is shaped through the inter- action of elements of change and continuity. Those who defend the order by reference to the permanence of the status quo based on conjunctural maps cannot predict or anticipate the dialectic of historical change; those who get lost in the volatility of geopolitical maps shaken

by ongoing earthquakes fall into the trap of chaos while imagining they are directing, or at least, controlling change.

While the change in the geopolitical map created by a geopolitical earthquake that struck approximately thirty years ago has still not achieved legally grounded stability, claiming that the same map will still be relevant a hundred years from now detaches history from the dynamic of change. The question is not whether there will be change or not, but how it will be directed. An unprincipled and opportunist approach that provokes change in line with its own interests will pave the way for new destructive processes. These will also likely engulf the advocates of such an approach, while a principle-based, visionary approach in managing the birth pangs of change will lead to a new order with far better prospects of viability.

In addition, the head-spinning pace of human mobility and technological innovation is likely to lead to the replacement of a territorial and space-dependent perception of the current world map with the shaping of a space-transcendent perception of the world map, especially when we appreciate the fact that this momentum is set to accelerate even further in the coming century. In such a process of paradigmatic change, non-conventional maps such as demographic maps, ecological maps, and cyber-communication maps will be as influential as territorial political maps of the world; it is a virtual certainty that world order will be dynamically reshaped on this multidimensional basis, but in what patterns cannot be yet discerned.

  1. In addition to law and international public opinion, should ethical principles shape policies? How to balance military necessity against civilian innocence in combat situations?

It is essential that ethical principles shape policies. An understanding of politics that is free of ethical principles ultimately gives rise to an environment in which the rule of the jungle prevails in national and international relations, leaving humankind to face an undesirable future. The alignment of ethical principles and policies is critically important, especially in relation to international humanitarian law.

The exponential increase in the destructive capacity of weapons technology has enormously amplified the imbalance between military capacities, military objectives, and civilian losses unrelated to the object- ives of combat. When it comes to destructive capacity, human history has gone through three stages with respect to types of weapons as underlying technology-based conflict and now stands on the threshold of the fourth.

The first stage was pitched battles in which the destructiveness of war was limited to the soldiers located in the battlefield itself; enemy sides stood face to face and tried to liquidate one another. The second stage saw the introduction of air forces and long-range artillery and, with that, the exposure of troops and civilian targets far beyond the battle lines to the destructiveness of war. Destructiveness thus gained a supraspatial quality and ethical control became considerably more challenging to maintain. With the use of the atom bomb against Nagasaki and Hiroshima, the third stage saw destructiveness becoming supratemporal and impacting future generations. In this case the moral responsibility for the political decision to drop the atom bomb took on a transgenerational dimension.

The fourth stage, at the threshold of which we now stand, involves a destructive capacity that is both supraspatial and supratemporal in such a way as to risk the eradication of the future of all humankind. Albert Einstein’s well-known statement that “I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones,” a prediction that is used to demonstrate the level that this destructive capacity has reached, indicates the total destruction inherent in a mechanism of war detached from ethical control. As I stressed in the book I wrote immediately after the Cold War,4 the ethico-material imbalance that most strikingly manifests itself in the destructiveness of war technology constitutes one of the most critical dimensions of the comprehensive civilizational crisis that we are going through. Since then, the concept of the ethico-material imbalance that I employed to show the gaps between political mechanisms and moral values has grown wider in almost every field.

In addition, the advent of remote-controlled drones in conflicts and robots developed without moral responsibility and accountability has produced serious issues of ethical control even in conventional wars and limited military operations. In this context, there is now a pressing need for a reconsideration of international conventions on these issues.

 

 

  1. You propose “inclusive democracy” as a desirable political goal. How does this differ from “electoral democracy”? Should the values and procedures of inclusive democracy also inform the structures and practices of global governance?

One of the most fundamental areas of tension in thinking about democracy today lies in this very critical difference between inclusive and electoral democracy. And the source of the threat to Europe, which is seen as the cradle of democracy, by extreme-right and racist currents that use electoral democracy as a base from which to impose an exclusionist political agenda after winning an election through all kinds of populist rhetoric, also reflects this dilemma. The fact that Marine Le Pen got through to the second round in the French elections and that racist parties are on the rise in Holland and Germany makes it clear that if these political currents win an election, even by a small margin, the entire concept of citizenship in constitutional societies will be eroded and fall victim to a polarization based on a binary division. Drawing a distinction between “real” French, German, British, Dutch, Italian, etc. people and “newcomers” or “strangers” means the destruction of inclusive democracy by electoral democracy. An electoral democracy that eradicates inclusive democracy will lead to the revival of the historical experiences of extremism undergone in Europe between the two World Wars.

The only way to overcome this tension is to view electoral democracy and inclusive democracy not as alternatives but as complementary to one another. The process of electoral democracy takes precedence over the principles of inclusive democracy. As a process, electoral democracy is a sine qua non for a real democracy, a real imperative. A lack of respect for the national will expressed in an election means the eradication of the principal gains of democratic history. But inclusive democracy is an absolute prerequisite in terms of enabling the grounding of a real, self-regenerating democracy. Otherwise, as happened in the period between the two World Wars, when a government formed on the basis of the unqualified nature of the one-time results of electoral democracy breaks away from inclusive democracy, electoral democracy is likely to be rendered meaningless, and totally undermined.

In this context, electoral democracy constitutes the infrastructure of a real democracy; inclusive democracy its load-bearing pillars. Without electoral democracy inclusive democracy cannot be realized; without inclusive democracy, electoral democracy degenerates, and cannot flourish through self-regeneration. Electoral democracy makes up the mechanics of democracy, inclusive democracy its organic structure. In other words, electoral democracy is hardware, inclusive democracy is software.

A constitution based on the human rights and human dignity serves to guarantee the complementary relationship between electoral democracy and inclusive democracy. In societies where constitutional consensus and conventions are in crisis, the risk is that inclusive democracy gets hollowed out by coups or populist ideologies, and that electoral democracy becomes a mechanical legitimating instrument of government. The coupism in Turkey and Egypt, which disregards the results of electoral democracy, and the rising extremist trends in Europe to use electoral democracy to destroy the most fundamental elements of inclusive democracy, threaten the future in equal measure.

These principles also apply to global democracy and governance. A UNSC system that fixes five permanent members in place without any electoral process while revolving non-permanent members are selected by means of elections involving the other 188 member states has minimal inclusivity while its electoral attributes reflect an ineffective oligarchic concept of governance. There is also a manifest need for new conventions to protect the rights of countries and indeed all humankind.

To sum up, and as emphasized in various sections of the book, the most pressing condition for a new world order today is the emergence of a new philosophical and implementable set of principles for inclusive national, regional, and global governance.

A protest calling for climate change on 1 June 2017 in Paris, France [kellybdc/Flickr]

  1. World order continues to be state-centric in its fundamental character – that is, with respect to the formation and implementation of policies on matters of global concern – yet the problems (climate change, nuclear weaponry) seem global in scope. How can the pursuit of national interests be reconciled with the realisation of global interests?

It is normal that the international system is state-centric. I think the problem here isn’t that the international order is state-centric. The real problem lies in the definition of sovereignty. Because the division of labour at multiple levels – local, domestic, regional, and global – requires a new understanding of sovereignty backed up by the political will of leaders. Given the hyper-interdependency of the international system and human destiny, the state can’t operate on the basis of the traditional Westphalian conception of the nineteenth- and even early twentieth-century understanding of the sovereignty. The concept and institution of sovereignty is in dire need of redefinition. In a revisionist understanding of sovereignty, the national level shouldn’t be set against the global level. They should be framed in ways that complement each other. In this respect, we should contemplate a new form of sovereignty, which is multi-layered, inclusive, and driven by commitments to the collective good.

From such a perspective, the nation-state is not a competitor of the international order but its building block. What is important is that these building blocks have a strong basis of legitimacy within themselves and that they have the flexibility and dynamism to accommodate the diverse concerns of the international system’s nation-states. When I spoke at international platforms about matters of universal concern like climate change and nuclear weapons, I always mentioned the need to develop first a global awareness and only then to posit this awareness in an international normative framework and convention. On the question of awareness, it is an absolute condition that issues related to the ontological existence of humankind supercede all kinds of concepts of individual state interests, because (and I emphasize this in the book) the political existence of nation-states is impossible without ontological existence. Ignoring the threat to humankind’s common security posed by the excessive pursuit of individual national security presupposes an Armageddon psychology and apocalyptic scenarios.

The most effective method to eliminate such scenarios is the application of legal norms developed in this context, without exception. For example, the inconsistency of certain countries who regard nuclear weapons as a threat but ignore the nuclear armament of other countries in the same region shakes trust and confidence in the international system as a whole and paves the way for every country to take its own measures to arm itself regardless of the threat to collective wellbeing, even survival. It is impossible to overcome individual conflicts of interest in an environment where the interests and concerns of certain nation-states are regarded as more important than those of others.

In this context, it is essential to establish a strong and consistent connection between consciousness of humanity and of citizenship. This can only be achieved through the spread of communications between global civil society and national civil societies and can be realized by the emergence of psychological spheres of influence that transcend the outlook of nation-states. It should not be forgotten that threats such as climate change and nuclear arms whose destructive impact cannot be restricted to the legal and spatial boundaries of nation-states cannot be resolved only by negotiations limited to nation-states.

  1. In this conversation you have talked about how your career has made the shift from academic to political, then back to academic life and now back again to the political domain after establishing a new party. Do you consider this to be your final professional destination? Or would you welcome a future rhythm that involved alternating periods of government service and scholarly life? In this sense, would you describe your present state of mind to be best described as “post-political” or “pre-political,” or some combination?

A person making his or her own decision about personal final destination is like the “end of history” claim for humankind, a claim that I have opposed in this book and on every possible occasion. As Demetrius strikingly said, “An easy existence untroubled by the attacks of Fortune is a Dead Sea.”

If one’s final destination were known, the excitement and energy of life would be lost. Perhaps the most important thing that makes a person happy, even when they cannot know it, is their own final destination. The only thing I know at this point is that neither my personal future nor that of humankind is going to be “an easy existence.” This doesn’t mean I have a pessimistic view about the future. Quite the reverse, the new challenges brought by those “attacks of Fortune” also require fresh paradigmatic initiatives. With the dynamism engendered by these challenges, it is certain that neither my personal future nor the general future of humankind is going to be that “Dead Sea;” the challenge is to find key wavelengths and frequencies able to surf successfully through the continuously rising flow of history, and thereby reach their target. The “future rhythm” you refer to in your question will also to some extent be the work and challenge of this surfing exercise.

I have always approached post- and pre-conceptualization with caution. Every post-situation harbours its own pre-situation. In other words, in the process of history every post-situation is shaped in the womb of a pre-situation. As Wordsworth said, “The child is father of the man.” Could the conditions of the post-Cold War period have been formed without the process of change that occurred in the final years of the Cold War?

This also applies to personal journeys and quests. The academic work Strategic Depth that I wrote in the pre-political period of my life defined my behaviour in the political phase of my life, while my post-political academic works have been shaped by the experiences derived from that same political phase.

When I left the prime ministry, I never said I had left politics behind. In any case, after such a high-profile past in politics, one can’t really remain outside of political debate even if one says “I’m out.” Although I have tried to avoid political polemics in this period, I have remained on the political agenda with both positive and negative comments. So, there is a clear difference between becoming post-governmental and post-political. Regardless of official titles I was and will always be political.

At the early stage of writing Systemic Earthquake in 2017, I was a parliamentarian of my previous party, when the book was published in January 2020 I became Chairman of a new party, Future Party. As I have underlined in my books, history continues to flow personally, nationally, and globally. I do not think there will be a pre- or post-era in my life. But, there will be a difference compared to my previous experiences. Unlike my decision not to write when having an official position which I followed faithfully during my public services as Chief Advisor, Foreign Minister and PM from 2002 until 2016, I am planning to continue my academic publications in the future despite resuming the work of being an active politician.

All these challenges are inherent to politics. But just as one’s personality cannot be divided, nor can one’s life. The key thing is to live an unfragmented life with an undivided integrative personality. One can do this by taking the right steps that bring together the needs of the moment with one’s own conscience. The difference I made in politics came to a large extent from my scholarly past. On the other hand, what is distinctive about my post-political academic works will undoubtedly be fed and influenced by my political experiences. Therefore, I can say that my present state of mind is a combination of both.

As an academician I never underestimated the significance of being a politician, and when I became a politician I tried never to forget my identity as an academician. The first stopped me from getting detached from the reality of the flow of history, while the second kept me from getting imprisoned in constructed conjunctural reality.

  1. In contemplating Turkey’s future in a time of systemic earthquake, what sorts of response would you hope to be forthcoming from political leadership and from civil society?

No scholar can ignore the time–space dimension they encounter within themselves and the experiences they have gained as they generate and develop ideas. In that spirit I naturally drew upon the case of Turkey throughout the book and especially in the chapter entitled “Inclusive National Governance.” I believe that the five main principles I considered with reference to the recommended approach to deal with the systemic earthquake are primarily applicable to my own country. In fact, Turkey constitutes perhaps one of the most striking examples with respect to these principles.

A Daesh sign at the entrance of the city of Al-Qaim, in Iraq’s western Anbar province near the Syrian border, seen on November 3, 2017 [AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images]

If we take a summary view of Turkey in terms of these principles, an inclusive sense of belonging and citizenship is a priority prerequisite for the country’s internal order, because Turkey, with its Ottoman legacy, includes within its borders almost every ethnic and sectarian element of the Balkans, Middle East, Caucasus, and Central Asia. The country’s political leaders and civil society must act in cognizance of this reality and exhibit a stance that does not exclude any ethnic or sectarian identity. People want to see those who govern and represent them by their side at critical periods. During our struggle with terror organisations such as Daesh, the PKK, and (DHKP-C), whose terror activities escalated in 2015 on account of developments in Iraq and Syria, I would spend every weekend with people in the most affected districts, addressing some mass meetings in Kurdish as best I could. I was the first Prime Minister in the history of the Republic to take part in an Alevi gathering at a djemevi (cemevi) and as a minister I paid visits to all the non-Muslim religious centers including the Greek and Armenian Patriarchates and the Chief Rabbinate. These experiences convinced me that the strongest link between political leaders and the people is a shared sense of belonging. Over time, political leaders and civil society groups who neglect this lose not only their administrative but also their representative effectiveness, and of course, diminish their legitimacy.

Secondly, Turkey is a remarkable case when it comes to a nation-state’s geopolitical basis, because apart from the one with Iran, none of the country’s borders rest on sound geopolitical ground. The border with Syria cuts through residential districts, the border with Iraq through mountains, and its Aegean border skirts islets and rocks. The risk of suddenly erupting tensions is always present. The main reason for my advocacy of the “zero problems with neighbouring countries” principle from 2002 onwards was the potential that existed to derive an order from these geopolitical abnormalities. Successfully pursued up until the structural earthquakes that occurred in surrounding countries in 2011, this policy saw the establishment of high-level cooperation mechanisms with Russia, Greece, Iraq, Syria, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Ukraine, and Romania, and the development of relations between peoples through mechanisms such as visa waiver and free-trade agreements that were developed with neighbouring countries. Our 2004 negotiations with Greek Cyprus, and the protocols signed with Armenia in 2009[i] showed our determination to achieve normalization (we did not have diplomatic relations with either state before). Today, one of Turkey’s top priorities is the achievement of stability and peace all along its geopolitically sensitive borders.

Thirdly, the freedom–security balance that forms the basis of political legitimacy needs to be painstakingly maintained. It is crucial that a country like Turkey, which has passed the test of being a democratic country in a high-risk geopolitical environment, does not lurch between freedom and security preferences. The fact that in the face of the global security earthquake in the post-9/11 period that shook the world and tended to detach countries from human rights, Turkey made significant strides with respect to the implementation of human rights and freedoms, which are the fundamental elements of inclusivity, and backed this up with a multidimensional foreign policy, enabled the country to make a regional and global difference in those years.

Fourthly, its young and dynamic demography is both a major advantage and a serious challenge for Turkey. Educating and preparing this young and dynamic population for the future requires a policy of sustainable economic development and fair income distribution. It is crucially important that political leaders, the business world, and civil society generally agree on this issue on the basis of shared, rational objectives.

The fifth point is that Turkey is going through an absolutely critical process with regard to the institutional structure of national order. With institutions developed within a deeply rooted state tradition, Turkey faces the need to rebuild its state architecture as a result of the recent constitutional referendum. In this context, the balance between institutional continuity and institutional restructuring needs to be carefully developed to safeguard democratic expectations.

In summary, Turkey’s geography requires multidimensionality, its history inclusivity. If Turkey takes both these elements into account, the ongoing systemic earthquake will present not only risks but opportunities. Turkey needs to find its own distinctive path at a time when the systemic earthquake has encouraged a global trend towards exclusionary autocracy. The course of historical change is determined not by those who act in line with the general trend on the basis of herd mentality but by those who make a distinctive difference. Even if this difference is not sufficiently appreciated in the heated midst of the process, its influence will make itself felt over time. This is how to ensure national legitimacy and international prestige.

  1. Since completing Systemic Earthquake there has been a continuing trend toward demagogic political leadership, coupled with polarized patterns of governance, in many of the most important countries in the world. Does this trend disturb you? Do you expect it to continue?

The most frequently overlooked element in efforts to establish national, regional and global order is the psychological factor. In a psychological atmosphere in which feeling, emotion, and sentiment overwhelms rational thought, rhetorical radicalism subsumes any shared or common view, tactical steps subsume strategy, and impulses subsume principles. While building sustainable order is all about a set of principles generated by a common mindset and the strategic issues based on them, acquiring and keeping hold of conjunctural power is a tactical question based on impulsive and rhetorical radicalism. The growing trend to demagogic political leadership is the psycho-political reflection of rhetorical radicalism; a polarizing and exclusionary understanding of politics, a reflection of its impulsive radicalism. Like everyone with a worldview that envisions a future for humankind based on equality and human dignity, I am seriously concerned about this development. A number of large-scale wars in the past were triggered by reciprocally impulsive reactions that had emerged from such a psycho-political atmosphere.

However, it is impossible to overcome this disturbing development by getting caught up in a psychology of helplessness in the face of such a wave, or turning a blind eye to the conditions that have led to the wave in the first place. What is needed is an accurate analysis of the psychological grounds that have been thrown up by it and the promotion of a vision of order based on humankind’s shared legacy of experiences with the capacity to generate the global momentum required to create a counter-wave.

US President Donald Trump delivers remarks at ‘Keep America Great Rally’ on January 30, 2020 in Des Moines, IA, United States [Kyle Mazza / Anadolu Agency]

  1. The Trump presidency has epitomised this trend, which has also led to an ultra-nationalist foreign policy, which exhibits hostility to international law, the UN, human rights, and cooperative approaches to global problems. Does the world suffer from the loss of a more internationalist style of global leadership associated with pre-Trump American foreign policy?

To use the conceptualisation I have proposed in the book, we might say that Trump represents the most extreme slide into strategic discontinuity in US foreign policy that has been experienced with any post-Cold War change of presidency. In every period changes in the international system have necessitated a paradigmatic renewal in US strategy. As the eighteenth century gave way to the nineteenth, and however much the young United States of America appeared to have been excluded from the international Eurocentric colonialist power struggle, the Monroe Doctrine published in 1823 in line with the new state of affairs in the wake of the Congress of Vienna helped to lay the ground for an internal consolidation around republican principles as well as an American continent-oriented consolidation of power far from the influence of monarchical restoration in Europe. Through the nineteenth century, this founding paradigmatic principle, which was enunciated by the fifth US President James Monroe, recognized as the last of the United States’ founding fathers, constituted a strategic basis unaffected by whichever political party the president happened to be affiliated.

As the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth, the United States, whose economic prowess had turned the country into a leading actor in international economic-political balances, became an international naval power in the context of the Roosevelt Corollary’s more assertive interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine, after which the beginning of the country’s assertion of influence within the international system through the principles laid out in President Wilson’s Fourteen Points indicated a continuum of change in the US strategic paradigm. The fact that Theodore Roosevelt was a Republican, and Wilson a Democrat, never caused any strategic discontinuity in terms of the United States’ status as a leading actor. The proactive strategy of Franklin Roosevelt (a Democrat, unlike his Republican cousin Theodore) in the Second World War put the United States center stage in the post war international system. Even in this paradigmatic transformation, the “American Century” was one of consensus and continuity in terms of twentieth-century economic-political, geopolitical, and geo-cultural balances in the strategy’s principal elements.

However, as the world moved into the twenty-first century, and in spite of having emerged as the victor of the Cold War, the United States’ strategic paradigm proved unable to forge a coherent and consistent whole. George H. W. Bush’s “new world order,” Bill Clinton’s “humanitarian interventionism,” George W. Bush’s “pre-emptive strike,” Barack Obama’s “multilateralism,” and Trump’s “America First”-oriented conceptualisations contained elements of incoherence and discontinuity as well as being in part reactions to their predecessors’ policies.

In a nutshell, while the nineteenth century was the European, and the twentieth century the American century, the twenty-first, a “Global Century” shaped by the dynamic elements associated with globalization, has a complexity that is hard to comprehend, disentangle, and resolve by reference to just one geographical location. While a multi-dimensional, multi-actor period such as this (in the book we call it the “multiple balance of powers system”) requires a far more sophisticated approach, the US slide towards a one-dimensional, self-centric approach characterized by Trump’s “America First” slogan, with its disregard for international law and norms, is not sustainable either in terms of the functioning and operation of the international system or of US interests.

  1. The rise of China represents the most dramatic geopolitical development in the twenty-first century. Do you think that the rise of China is on balance beneficial or detrimental to the future of world order? Do you believe China can fill the global leadership vacuum created by the Trump withdrawal of the leadership role that the United States played since 1945? Could you envision a more multi-polar global leadership emerging in the future? Or possibly a post-Trump US/China joint leadership? Or is a new Cold War more likely with the United States on one side and either China or Russia, or some combination, on the other?

In the post-Cold War era, especially after the 2008 global crisis, China’s attainment of a leading position in the world economy was a new state of affairs that represented a test for China itself as much as for the world and the other major powers. During its classical periods, China saw itself as the “civilized center of the world,” even “the world itself”; it possessed a strategic paradigm based on protecting itself from potential threats from the world outside, rather than taking any interest in the external world. The Great Wall of China constitutes the most striking manifestation of this strategic mindset paradigm, which was the product of China’s effort to protect its own world from the that which lay beyond. In this context, except for the Hui-origin Muslim Chinese Admiral Zheng He’s overseas expeditions at the beginning of the fifteenth century, China had no concept of a common order, or working to establish contacts with the non-Chinese world. The Opium Wars, which forced China’s strategic culture to change in the mid-nineteenth century, were essentially waged with a view to discontinuing this strategic resistance. Once again China’s confrontation with modernity took place through the inward-looking Maoist methods identified with the Cultural Revolution.

In the post-Cold War period, China’s ever more rapid integration into the international economy along reformist lines pushed China to change its aloof approach towards the outside world that it had adopted in the traditional and modern periods. Indeed, it would be impossible for a global power with an economic structure integrated into the world economy either to remain outside the world political system or to remain indifferent to developments within it. In this sense, Chinese President Xi’s The Belt and Road Initiative project is not just a sign of economic interdependence. It will also reflect China’s inevitable and growing interest in the field of international politics, including the security of the transport corridors that it naturally requires.

In this framework, the main question is what tools and methods are going to be applied by China to further its interests. From the perspective of China’s traditional stance as well as today’s economic-political balances, a scenario in which China gains the status of guarantor of the global order by itself, by filling the vacuum left by the United States in the wake of Trump’s policies, appears unlikely. The scenario in which China assumes a leadership role in conjunction with the United States risks creating a polarization that could bring actors such as the EU, Russia, Japan, and India together in such a way that this kind of quest for balance would frustrate any such joint-leadership project. The move towards the conditions for a new Cold War with the United States at one pole and China at the other is not a burden that an increasingly complex network of economic relations can carry. It should not be forgotten that the previous Cold War did not take place within the same economic model but only ever between blocs of countries with different economic models. It would be very hard to forge an enduring Cold War in a world where the same or similar economic models are interacting in a global economy. In this context, the most likely scenario is a “multiple balance of powers” system with growing Chinese economic-political influence but in which the thematic, sectoral, and geopolitical basis of international relations may be dynamically determined at any moment.

Yet it would be wrong to restrict China’s distinctive and distinguishing features to the realm of economic-political balances in this new period. Every change that occurs in China, home to one-quarter of the world’s population, will also be decisive in the cultural order that includes the scientific and technological elements of the international system. China’s growing influence in the restructuring of the global cultural order will be accompanied by the transformation of the modern, mainly Eurocentric, cultural order. Therefore, this “multiple balance of powers” system’s soft (cultural) aspects need to be taken very seriously and all multinational platforms, especially the UN system, need to have a genuinely peace-promoting and inclusive character. As is emphasized in the text of the book, Pax Universale does not need global Caesars followed by self-centric Neros, but rather Marcus Aureliuses from different cultural basins.

Young boys wear medical masks as a precaution to protect themselves from coronavirus in Kirkuk, Iraq on February 25, 2020 [Ali Makram Ghareeb/Anadolu Agency]

  1. Your book Systemic Earthquakewrites about ruptures that change the international atmosphere in dramatic and unexpected ways. Do you consider the global spread of COVID-19 virus is or could become such a rupture?

Since we are still living through this pandemic, it is hard to make a definitive judgment that it will lead to a global rupture. However, it is at least clear that COVID-19 is set to be a precursor and test bed for probable global-scale ruptures.

Precursor, because COVID-19 has strikingly shown once again that human destiny flows along a single common river that does not allow for the separation of one continent from another or one religious or ethnic community from another. It is both natural and inevitable that with the acceleration of growing global interaction we shall soon see stronger waves and ruptures that will impact our common future.

Test bed, because the stance taken on COVID-19 will determine the course of subsequent ruptures. Broadly speaking, when it comes to this stance there are two options. The first is that just like quarantining people during the pandemic, societies and countries will tend to quarantine themselves on a long-term basis through inward looking policies designed to avoid being affected by global ruptures. It is extremely hard for this introspective attitude, which I define in the book as a cynical reaction against globalization, to deliver a lasting solution with respect to the impact of global rupture. It should not be forgotten that quarantine is a temporary measure; making it permanent means the end of societal life. Likewise, the long-term nature of the restrictive measures taken by countries to mitigate the impact of the epidemic serves to minimize the positive interaction gains of globalization.

The second possible stance is to move forward once again with a shared global-scale ontological consciousness based on a common concern for the existential future of humanity in the face of this global rupture. This shared ontological consciousness will not have the capacity to develop enduring responses to global ruptures unless it transcends the political and economic interests developed individually by political actors and countries. As we underline in the book, where there is no ontological existence, political existence loses its presence and meaning.

  1. This health challenge arises in a historical circumstance in which the world is experiencing trends toward the embrace of ultra-nationalist ideologies and the rise of democratically elected autocrats. Against this background, does the COVID-19 challenge underscore the importance of global cooperation under the auspices of the United Nations?

Absolutely. In order to be able to transform this shared ontological consciousness into a set of global policies, the only tool available to us is the UN, whatever its troubles. Yet if the UN is to be able to carry out this duty, the privileged status it affords to certain countries in terms of their capacity to determine the destiny of humankind needs to be reformed. Having said that humankind needs to move forward with a single and shared ontological consciousness, the current UN structure, based on granting five countries ultimate decision-making status with respect to the political manifestations of this destiny, of its essence runs contrary to this consciousness.

In particular, in the event of ultra-nationalist and autocratic leaders who prioritize their own short-term personal and national interests coming to the fore in these five countries, the UN ceases to be a solution-producing body and turns into a source of problems. In the context of a state of affairs in which these five countries pursue their disparate interests and display mutually polarizing attitudes, it becomes difficult for the UN to mobilize a shared ontological consciousness. The tendency of the US and China to exchange accusations during the COVID-19 crisis has been a cautionary tale. Approaches such as this serve to block the existing UN system and undermine the idea that the UN is the shared mechanism of humanity. Right now, the urgent need is to achieve an inclusive, democratic and participatory United Nations, and to enhance its effectiveness.

  1. In a deeper sense, the COVID-19 eruption suggests the limits of our understanding of what the future will bring to humanity. Does this uncertainty about the future make it more essential than ever to govern societies in accord with ‘the precautionary principle’? Does the ecological fragility of world order, combined with its vulnerability to previously unknown viruses, suggest the need for more flexible democracies or does it portend a post-political future for all levels of social and political order?

Yes, ‘the precautionary principle’ can be an important reference point in overcoming the global vulnerabilities and uncertainties associated with rapid technological development and globalization. However, the success of this principle in practice depends on its unconditional and blanket acceptance and implementation by all parties. Otherwise, non-compliant parties may gain a scientific / technological / economic advantage over their compliant counterparts. In the framework of this principle, the manner in which the United States’ failure to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and Canada’s withdrawal from it prevented the World Charter for Nature adopted by the UN in 1982 and enshrined in the preamble of the 1987 Montreal Protocol from achieving its desired effect, is clear. When ‘the precautionary principle’ framework is correctly defined and implemented without exception, it can prevent or at least limit this kind of vulnerability. And for this to happen, an institutional body and mechanism that is not wrapped up in political concerns but motivated by universal principles needs to be established.

The most effective solution to the ecological vulnerability further exposed by the emergence of viruses previously unknown to the world order is the concept of an inclusive and participatory flexible democracy. This concept of democracy must bring with it a fresh political mindset. Perhaps these developments can be seen as a precursory phase towards a new political understanding, rather than a post-political phase. At the beginning of human history too, human beings basically transitioned to the phase of forming a political society by removing the security risks associated with natural life in the most primitive fashion. This time, humanity will have to develop a new global-scale concept of political societal order in order to bring the ecological risks created by humankind’s own hand under control. Although this concept of order appears post-political from the modern political perspective, from the perspective of a political order based on global governance, it could well take the form of a harbinger.

In any case, all these developments show that we are pushing against the limits of current understandings of political order. Humankind will either turn to a new humanity-oriented concept of global governance, or rupture from human values on the wheels of autocratic structures seeking to exploit all these vulnerabilities. Our primary duty today is to strive to forge the intellectual infrastructure of a new humanity-oriented order of global governance.

Indeed, this is the fundamental purpose of this book, Systemic Earthquake.

[i] For an assessment of these negotiations from a third perspective see Hillary Rodham Clinton, Hard Choices, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014, s. 218-220.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The future of statehood: Israel & Palestine

3 Feb

[Prefatory Note: Interview Questions of a Brazilian journalist Rodrigo Craveiro on behalf of Correio Braziliense: (Jan. 30, 2019) on current prospects of Palestinian national movement.]

 

Fatah, Hamas, the Future of Statehood and Peace Prospects

 

1. With the dissolution of government do you see any risk for unity among all Palestinian factions? Why? 

 

It is difficult at this stage to interpret the significance of the recent dissolution of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), which serves as the Parliament of the Palestinian Authority that governs the West Bank and enjoys formal recognition as the representive of the Palestinian people internationally. The PLO continues to exist as an umbrella framework to facilitate coordination among Palestinian political factions aside from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which have never been associated with the PLO. It seems that dissolution of the PLC is related to the prospect of new leadership of the Palestinian Authority, especially the speculation that the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas will soon retire, and be replaced. It is also possible that this move is an attempt by the PA to create a stronger basis for creating an actual Palestinian state in an atmosphere in which the Oslo diplomatic framework has been superseded.

 

Without the prospect of a diplomatic resolution of the conflict by negotiation between the parties, the Abbas leadership is trying to establish for Palestine the status of an international state by way of its own unilateral moves. Israel on its side it trying by its unilateral initiatives to create its own expanded state that extends Israeli sovereignty over all or most of the West Bank, which remains legally ‘occupied’ despite a variety of fundamental encroachments on Palestinian autonomy. In other words we are witnessing contradictory moves by both Israel and Palestine to achieve their goals by unilateral political moves rather than through international diplomacy under U.S. auspices based on a negotiated agreement reflecting compromise. In the process both the PA and Israel are in the process abandoning earlier pretensions of democratic governance. This move by Abbas to dissolve the PLC is most accurately interpreted as the further de-democratization of Palestine, and the establishment of a more robust autocratic governing structure that does not inspire trust among many Palestinians and their supporters throughout the world. The failure, for instance, of the PA to back BDS is indicative of the gap between global solidarity initiatives and the timid leaders provided the Palestinian national movements by Abbas leadership in Ramallah.

 

2. How do you analyze the role of Hamas inside the political life of Palestinian people? 

 

It is again difficult to be too definite about the role of Hamas at this time. This is partly because Hamas is likely affected by the changes in the tactics and leadership of the Palestinian Authority, which continues to be internationally regarded as the sole representative of Palestinian interests while being subject to criticism and rejection by large segments of the Palestinian people, especially those spread about the world by being refugees, exiles, and displaced persons., For some time, Hamas has indicated its willingness to agree to a long-term truce (or hudna)with Israel lasting up to 50 years, but only on condition that Israel withdraws from the West Bank and East Jerusalem as well as Gaza, and ends the blockade that has been used to deny the entry and exit of goods and people to Gaza ever since 2007. It is possible that a different leadership in Israel as a result of the April elections will produce a new Israeli approach to Gaza, which could include some kind of grant of autonomy or even independence as one type of alternative policy or intensified coercion that sought to destroy Hamas and its military capabilities as another.

 

What remains clear is that Hamas, as opposed to the PA, has been a consistent source of resistance to Israeli occupation and expansionism, although evidently willing to pursue its goals by political tactics rather than armed struggle. It is Israel that has insisted that Hamas is a terrorist organization, refusing even to consider establishing a ceasefire regime of indefinite length. It is also the case that Hamas is rooted in Islamic beliefs and practices, which are resented by secularized Muslims and non-Muslim Palestinians. This tension has erupted at various times in the course of the decade of Hamas governance in Gaza. Nevertheless, Hamas has popular support throughout occupied Palestine, and one explanation for the failure of the PA to hold elections is the anticipation that Hamas would likely be the winner, or at least make a strong showing.

 

3. Do you consider Hamas a danger for peace efforts building by Palestinian factions with Israel in future? Why?

There is no doubt that if the Palestinian Authority persists in excluding Hamas from participation in shaping the future of the national movement that the friction of recent years will continue, if not intensify. It is also possible that any new, post-Abbas PA leadership will try with increased motivation to find an embracing political framework that brings together the secular factions with those of religious persuasion, and especially Hamas. If the Trump ‘deal of the century’ is made public in coming months, and is treated as a serious proposal that is accepted as a basis of negotiation by the Palestinian Authority, then it would test whether the Palestinian people will be represented in a manner that joins in a single political actor secular and religious forces. The people of Gaza have suffered for many years, the conditions of poverty and environmental hazards are becoming more severe, with shortages of medical supplies, health hazards from polluted drinking water, astronomical levels of unemployment, and the absence of nutritious food creating emergency conditions for the entire civilian population of Gaza of about two million. Given these realities it is almost certain that Hamas will seek to pursue a more viable future for Gaza, but as the Great March of Return has demonstrated in recent months, the population, despite years of demoralization, retains a strong will to resist oppressive conditions of Israel domination.

 

      4-Until now all efforts to overcome the division between Hamas and Fatah didn’t work. Why? Why is it difficult to achieve a common sense?

I believe the principal reasons that all attempts to achieve a sustainable accommodation tween Hamas and Fatah have failed relate to both ideology and questions of trust. This failure has also been a consequence of Israel’s overt and covert feverish efforts to promote Palestinian disunity and fragmentation. Israel’s emphasis on a politics of fragmentation in addressing the Palestinian challenge is expressed in many ways, including establishing separate governance regimes for the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem, as well as for the Palestinian minority living in Israel and the refugees in neighboring countries.

 

On ideology there are two main sources of division between Fatah and Hamas—the secular/religious divide, and the greater readiness of Fatah to accept and legitimate the permanence of the Israeli state than is Hamas. For Hamas Israel remains a usurper of Palestine, and such a illegitimate state that can never be formally accommodated, although as suggested, Hamas is prepared to accept a truce of long duration without altering its underlying claims to exercise sovereignty over the whole of historic Palestine. If such a truce was to be agreed upon by Israel it would amount to a de facto acceptance of Israel, and vice versa. If the truce held, it could lead to some kind of indefinite extension that would allow both governing leaderships to feel that they achieved their primary goals, in other words, a win/win outcome.

 

Fatah, at least since 1988, as well as the PLO, has been willing to normalize relations with Israel and to agree to a territorial division of Palestine along the 1967 boundaries, provided that the arrangement provided for the retention of East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state. As matters now stand, it is almost unimaginable that Israel would accept the Hamas approach to a future relationship, and given the continuing expansion of the settlements it seems unlikely that Israel would agree to the emergence of a sovereign Palestinian state under any conditions, that is, even if Hamas did not exist.

 

It is quite likely that Israel would seek to impose a one-state solution by annexing the West Bank in a manner similar to their annexation of the city of Jerusalem. The unresolved tensions between Fatah and Hamas are in my judgment less fundamental than is Israel’s increasing clarity about rejecting any negotiated compromise on such core issues as territory, refugees, and Jerusalem. Israel seems to regard the present situation as one in which it feels almost no pressure to compromise, and instead that it is possible for Tel Aviv to push forward toward an end of the conflict by claiming victory, a view endorsed by Zionist extremists and seemingly supported by the Trump diplomacy to date. I find these perspectives to be shortsighted and unsustainable. Even should the Palestinian leadership is forced given present realities to accept a political surrender, such an induced outcome will produce a ceasefire not a lasting peace. In this post-colonial age denying the Palestinian people their fundamental right of self-determination is almost certain to be unable to withstand the tests of time.

 

 

 

        5- In your opinion what is the recipe or formula to make all Palestinians join together in pursuing common goal, which is the establishment of Palestine State?

 

I have partially given my answer to this question in earlier responses to your questions. In essence, I am arguing that given the present outlook in Israel, as well as regional and global considerations,

It is not possible to envision the establishment of a Palestinian state even if Palestinians were able to achieve unity and went on to accept the 1967 boundaries excluding the Israeli settlement blocs along the border. Israel no longer hides its intention to expand its state boundaries to encompass the whole of ‘the promised land,’ considered a biblical entitlement within the dominant view of the Zionist project.

 

As earlier suggested, Israel will do its best to disrupt Palestinian efforts to overcome the cleavages in their movement so as to keep the Palestinian movement as fragmented as possible. As long as the United States continues its unconditional support Israel seems able to ignore the adverse character of international public opinion, as exhibited at the UN and elsewhere. Israel makes little secret of the absence of any  pressure to seek a political compromise. Ever since the 1990s a political compromised has been assumed to mean an independent  Palestinian state. Only recently, as Israel’s expansionism has made a Palestinian state a diplomatic non-starter and even a political impossibility has the idea of a single state embracing both peoples gained traction.

 

This shift to a one-state approach has taken to two forms: a single democratic secular state in which the expansionist goals of Zionism are renounced, and no longer would a Jewish state as such exist. Jews would have to accept equality of treatment within such a non-ethnic state, although the establishment of a Jewish homeland might be possible. The alternative single statehood model would be to absorb all Palestinians into a single Jewish state of Israel, perhaps conferring full or more likely partial citizenship rights to Palestinians. Both of these statehood models are post-diplomatic, as is the PA effort to establish a state of its own while enduring a prolonged occupation.

 

The Israeli version of a single state outcome of the struggle is more in keeping with present realities than is the Palestinian version. Such as assessment also gains strength by noting that the main Arab neighbors of Israel, in particular Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have withdrawn support for Palestinian national aspirations, and are actively cooperating with Israel, giving an Arab priority to the containment of extremist threats to their governments and to their sectarian rivalry with Iran. All in all, the regional and global geopolitical trends of late remove almost all incentives on the Israeli side to do anything other than to manage the favorable status quo until the moment arrives when it seems right to declare and claim that the boundaries of New Israel encompass of the entire territory managed between the two world wars as the British Mandate of Palestine.

 

As matters now stand it is utopian to anticipate a Palestinian state or a single secular democratic state, but these conditions that seem currently so favorable to Israel are unstable and deceptive, and unlikely to last. There are signs that a position of balanced support as between  Israel and Palestine is gaining strength in the West, especially among the American public. Account should also be taken of a growing global solidarity movement that has become more militant, and exerts greater pressure on Israel, especially by way of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Campaign (BDS). In this respect, conditions could change rapidly as happened in South Africa in the early 1990s against all expectations and expert opinion at the time. Israel is increasing regarded as an apartheid state, which the Knesset itself virtually acknowledged by enacting in 2018 the Basic Law of the Nation-State of the Jewish People. Finally, it should be appreciated that by virtue of Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, apartheid is classified as a crime against humanity. The experience of South Africa, although very different in its particular, is instructive with respect to the untenability over time of apartheid structures of control over a resisting ethnicity. Whatever the governance arrangement, Palestinian resistance will produce a cycle of insurgent and repressive violence, and this can provide stability for Israel only so long as its apartheid regime remains in place. If the apartheid regime is dismantled it would be accompanied by the end of any claim to impose a Jewish state on the Palestinian people.

Will Democracy Survive?

7 Apr

Will ‘Democracy’ Survive? How? Whether? Hard Questions in Dark Times

 

As demagogic leaders with popular approval or at least acquiescence dominate the political process of several important ‘democratic’ states questions need to be asked about the core or indispensable content of democracy. Other states seek the imprimatur of ‘democracy’ but limit drastically the choices open to the citizenry or proclaim themselves ‘a Jewish state’ or ‘an Islamic Republic,’ and are more accurately regarded as an ‘ethnocracy'(Israel) or ‘theocracy'(Iran).  The legitimating impact of being a democracy should be based on something more objective than the language of self-identification, that is, claiming that we are a democracy because we describe our governing arrangements as a democracy, nothing more, nothing less.

 

Procedural and Republican Democracy

The idea of ‘free elections’ is certainly a prerequisite. It is not possible to think of a political system as democratic if it does not allow its citizens to choose without fear or interference among a wide range of candidates of their choice whether the process is filtered through political parties or primaries or otherwise. What qualifies as a free election can be debated endlessly, but it seems enough to suggest that candidates representing significant divergent societal viewpoints compete for support, and that votes are counted honestly. A state should not necessarily lose its democratic credentials if it disqualifies candidates and parties that deny basic human rights to segments of the citizenry or espouse fascist agendas, or if rights are somewhat abridged during periods of national emergency as during wartime. This dimension of democratic governance can be discussed in relation to specific instances by reference to the acceptable limits on the practice of procedural democracy. Such a form of government is sensitive to the dangers of abuses and corruptions of power, invoking ‘checks and balances’ and ‘separation of powers’ as institutional bulwarks of restraint on ‘the tyranny of the mob’ or the predatory behavior of the tyrant, and can be better identified as republican democracy.

 In the contemporary world, due to technology and government ‘secrets’ the constitutional constraints on war making by leaders even if present, tend to be increasingly inoperative. Without democratic accountability in the war/peace agenda democracies lose legitimacy, especially considering the risks and dangers of the nuclear age. It may be that only the elimination of nuclear weapons from the arsenals of all countries can restore a semblance of substantive reality to a procedural or republican understanding of democracy.

 In its liberal versions, democracy in its republican form almost always includes a guaranty and judicial protection of civil and political rights, especially freedom of expression and the right of assembly, but not necessarily, and likely not at all, social and economic rights. In this sense, the tensions between neoliberal versions of capitalism and political democracy are of paramount importance in many societies widely regarded as ‘democratic.’

 

Normative Democacy

 To achieve an inclusive political order a substantive commitment to deal with social and economic basic rights is essential, although infrequently acknowledged, which raises questions about the compatibility of real democracy with contemporary forms of capitalism. The protection of social and economic rights are necessary so as to satisfy the material needs of all people under sovereign control, especially with respect to food, health, shelter, education, environmental protection, responsibility to future generations. Yet a market-driven ethos is not challenged in principle by large-scale homelessness or extreme poverty so long as the gates of opportunity are available to all. This dimension of democratic governance is rarely realized, and is best considered by reference to values-driven, inclusive, and normative democracy. A society also should be protected against war-prone leadership that defies transparency by relying on claims of secrecy and national security.

 

Somewhere in between selecting leaders, upholding rights, and ensuring a minimal standard of living that entrenches human dignity and enables a humane society are considerations of internal and external security. Meeting the threats from within and without while avoiding hysteria, paranoia, and different forms of suppression is a fundamental responsibility of every legitimate state, including those that claim a democratic pedigree. There is no satisfactory label, but since a state unable to protect sovereign rights and political order loses the respect and lacks the discipline of its citizenry, the security dimension can be associated with effective democracy, as without political order and a capability to address external threats and internal order, no form of governance can avoid chaos and foreign penetration, although assessments of this kind involve subjective appreciations of capabilities and political will.

 

There are increasing critiques of democratic states as having weakened the bonds between what citizens seek and what the government does. In the United States, for instance, special interests inflate pharmaceutical products to astronomical heights, insulate gun control from public opinion to absurd degrees, and allow corporations and banks to contribute unlimited amounts to (mis)shape political campaigns. Markets are further distorted by corruption of various kinds that undermine the capabilities of government to serve the people. This dimension of democratic governance can be considered under the rubric of responsive democracy. Without a high degree of responsiveness on central policy issues, a governing process will steadily lose legitimacy, especially if seen as deferring to special interests.

 

Majoritarian Democracy 

There is, increasingly evident, political systems where free elections occur, demagogues participate, often prevailing in recent elections, and a majority of the citizenry is either submissive or supportive. In this kind of atmosphere toxic, win/lose polarizations develop, with extremist and paranoid rhetoric justifying suppression and demonization of undocumented immigrants, refugees, and even asylum seekers, walls are proposed and built, borders are militarized, and exclusionary ideas of political community gain traction in the marketplace of ideas. One result is that the values, views, and security of those vulnerable or opposed are ignored, condemned. Genuine news is dismissed as fake news, and vice versa, creating fact-free political leadership. This kind of political order can be termed majoritarian democracy.

It tends to rest its claims on passion and a perversion of Rousseau’s ‘general will’ rather than reason and evidence, and is contemptuous of limits on the exercise of state power on behalf of the nation, especially if directed against foreign or domestic ‘enemies.’ As a result of the rise of such forms of governance, the rule of law has weakened, and especially, respect for international law and the authority of the United Nations while deference to the ruler increases, coupled by claims of indefinite tenure atop the political pyramid, ratified by periodic votes of approval. Such leaders as Putin, Xi, Trump, Erdoğan, Modi, Abe manifest the trend, treat ‘citizens’ as if ‘subjects’ thereby blurring the distinction between democracy and monarchy when it comes to state/society relations.

 

Aspirational Democracy

 In opposition, are more humanistic concerns that focus attention on the protection of human rights, especially of those who are vulnerable and poor. The idea of ‘democracy to come’ as depicted by the deceased French philosopher, Jacques Derrida, and recently developed further by Fred Dallmayr is being taken more seriously. This idea centers on the belief that democracy in all its manifestations, even at its best, remains an unfinished project with unfulfilled normative potential. It represents a call to work toward an inclusive democracy based on the serious implementation of ‘the spirit of equality’ (Dallmayr) the goal of humane governance as associated with Montesquieu. Such a political order goes beyond upholding the rule of law by seeking to promote justice within and without of sovereign borders. Such a democratic political order would now subordinate, as necessary, national interests to human and global interests in relation to climate change, nuclear weaponry, migration, disease control, peace and security, and the regulation of the world economy. No such democracy has so far existed, but as a goal and ideal this political possibility can be identified as aspirational democracy.

 

Concluding Comments

 These different forms of democracy overlap, and are matters of degree, but do call attention to various and variable features of political life that rest on the shared proposition that ‘the people’ should be regarded as the source of political authority and legitimacy. Yet such a mandate for democracy as flowing upwards from the people, superseding God-given authority figures anointed by ritual and reinforced by claims of a monarchical or divine aura of absolutism, is in many societies again being scrutinized. Many informed and concerned persons are asking whether democracy is any longer the least bad system of governance, yet seem at a loss to propose an alternative. In this setting, the question posed for many of us is whether democracy, as now practiced and constituted, can be revitalized by legitimating reforms. As engaged citizens we must accept this challenge in forms sensitive to the particularities of time, place, challenge, and opportunities.

 Because of globalization in its manifest forms, it is no longer tenable to confine the ambitions of democracy to national spaces. Global democracy has become, is becoming, a matter of ultimate concern. Issues raised concern transparency, accountability, participation, and responsiveness of global policy processes, and of course, how the global is to be linked with the regional and national so as to pursue the goal of global humane governance: equitable, stable, sustainable, peaceful, compassionate, and above all, mindfulness. These concerns will be left for contemplation, and discussion on another day.

Democracy, Development, and Reputation: Vietnam and Turkey

17 Dec

 

 

More than 25 years ago I took part in a major conference in Kuala Lumpur affirming the importance of human rights. At the end of the second day, the convener of the conference, Chandra Muzaffar, a leading advocate of human rights and democracy in Malaysia, arranged for a few of the speakers to meet with the controversial leader of the country, Prime Minister, Mahathir. I was the only Westerner among the 4 or 5 of us given this opportunity. As soon as we entered the room Mahathir looked straight at me while posing a rhetorical question: “Why do Western human rights NGOs and experts look only at our performance with respect to civil and political rights when our natural preoccupation is the promotion of economic and social rights?” Of course, his assertion was meant to challenge the complacent Orientalizing conventional wisdom, reducing the practice of human rights to whether or not a government is doing well or poorly on such issues as free elections and freedom of expression. No one denies the relevance and core vitality of rights, but not more so than whether the bottom strata of the citizenry, as measured by standard of living, can meet their basic material needs. This outlook remains dominant in the West, coloring condescending comments on non-Western human rights failures,, and persisting despite the West’s own downward spiral into the dark domains of illiberalism.

 

I was reminded of this meeting while in Vietnam for two weeks recently. Several Vietnamese intellectuals as well as the rather large Western expat community contended that the government of Vietnam had become repressive in the period since its extraordinarily victory in the Vietnam War. It was accused of harshly punishing critics and dissenters as if more scared of domestic protest than they had been of American B-52 carpet bombing. Such critics were right, of course, to lament this fall from grace on the part of Vietnam’s leaders, who also lacked the charisma and inspirational leadership of their wartime predecessors. At the same time it was unfortunate to fall into the Western trap of focusing on the failures of glasnost, while overlooking the achievements of perestroika, that is, judging political performance as the ACLU might rather than by reference to the overall wellbeing of the Vietnamese people.

 

What I am trying to draw attention to is the remarkable story of Vietnamese economic and social achievements, which center on drastically reducing extreme poverty and stimulating agricultural growth to such a level that Vietnam, previously frequently at the edge of massive famine, had become the third leading rice exporter in the world (after the U.S. and Thailand). In effect, the government of Vietnam, while failing to live up to expectations when it comes to such liberal ideals as transparency, participation, and accountability of their citizenry, was nevertheless successfully building a needs based economy in which there were relatively few below the poverty line and where almost everyone had their health, education, and housing needs met by the state. Not only was this an impressive profile of current Vietnamese society, but it represented a trajectory of steadily improving achievement. Since the 1990s, Vietnamese poverty rate had fallen from about 50% to 7% in 2015 in a period during which roughly 1/3 of the population overcame conditions of food insecurity, according to the UN Special Rapporteur for the Right to Food.

 

These Vietnamese national accomplishments are the normative realities obscured or ignored by the regressive kinds of thinking that validates and invalidates performance in leading capitalist societies of the West—selective quantitative indicators of economic growth and stock market performance. Let us remember that rich countries in the West are at ease living with large pockets of extreme poverty in their own affluent societies as measured by homelessness and extreme poverty, including the absence of health care, educational opportunity, and even food and housing necessities. Shocking figures of inequality are hardly ever taken into serious account. For example, the fact that the three richest Americans—Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Warren Buffet—possess wealth that exceeds the earnings of the entire American working class should occasion revolutionary incitement, but actually it is put to one side as a neutral outcome of moving beyond industrial capitalism.

 

The same one-sidedness is present in the discussion of another of my favorite countries in the world: Turkey—where I have spent several months each year for the last twenty. Of course, the dynamics are very adifferent within each national setting. The discourse in Turkey resembles that of Vietnam far more than that of the United States. The critical focus of anti-government forces has been the democratic failings of AKP since it assumed power in 2002; this criticism has sharpened since a drift toward more authoritarian rule in 2011, the 2013 Gezi Park demonstrations, and spiked sharply, especially in international circles, after the failed FETO coup of 2016 and the often crude and often cruelly implemented overreactions of the Erdogan government to threats that it was entitled to perceive as dangerous. The purge in universities and media of those whose views and activities were deemed unacceptable by the Turkish government, as well as the moves against specific journalists and politicians, especially those associated with supporting the struggle of the Kurdish people, are deeply troubling developments, should worry the society as a whole, and do warrant international criticism.

 

But these negative developments should not be presented as the whole story about Turkey and the AKP/Erdogan leadership. Part of the Turkish problem of perception and accuracy is a tendency of debate toward polarizations of good and evil, secular and religious, and even truth and falsity. This has led negative criticism of Turkish governmental behavior to be misleadingly expressed in the form of unbalanced criticism. In the early phase of AKP governance of the country the standard complaints of an unrelenting opposition were directed at Erdogan as dictatorial and leading the country away from Ataturk secular legacy and toward a religious polity similar to that in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Of course, this line of attack was totally wrong. The early policy priority of the AKP consisted of satisfying European Union criteria for membership, which was actually a major step in the Ataturk direction of Europeanizing the country as the best path to economic modernization. During these early AKP years, the government in Ankara made a parallel effort to get the military out of politics and back in their barracks. Fairly considered, the first decade of AKP leadership dating from say 2002 was notable for achieving fundamental democratizing reforms that many knowledgeable observers of the country could never happen in Turkey. For example, Eric Rouleau, the eminent French journalist of Middle Eastern politics and later French ambassador to Turkey believed that the Turkish military would never give up its tutelage role that was not only well entrenched in the government bureaucracy, but also considered part of the hallowed legacy of Ataturk, as to be unchallengeable. Erdogan’s leadership achieved the impossible. Additionally in this period Turkey managed to break free of its Cold War straight jacket as a NATO pawn pursuing an independent and sensibly assertive foreign policy throughout the Middle East and beyond. The country also achieved a series of successes in trade and investment that led Turkey to be considered one of the most promising of emerging economies.

 

As things got worse from the perspective of political and civil rights, it was difficult for critics to express accurately these disappointments and criticism because the earlier negative comments of the opposition had earlier been so exaggerated. Some of the harshest critics, claiming with varying degrees of accuracy that they had applauded ed what the Erdogan leadership achieved in its early years, but in recent years the management of the Turkish state had fallen from grace. Recent exaggerations claim ‘there are no longer any newspapers in Turkey worth reading’ and the like. I would argue that there has been some decline in the range of media coverage and some lessening of criticism, yet several English language newspapers, including Sabah and Daily Hurryiet remain well worth reading, have useful critical commentaries on government policies and are informative about the major issues of domestic and international policy facing the country.

 

If international assessments were more balanced and less polarized, the AKP leadership would receive considerable credit in domestic and foreign policy from better educated and informed observers of the political scene in Turkey. Criticisms of Turkey’s failed Syrian policies would be set off against the success of Ankara’s African diplomacy, the vitality of its economy despite the obstacles created by the anti-Turkish international campaign, the robustness of its foreign assistance program (second only to that of the U.S., and highest in per capita terms), the care it has accorded over 3 million Syrian (and some Iraqi) refugees, the global attention it has brought to the plight of the Rohingya, and its various regional efforts at conflict resolution (including Cyprus; Israel/Syria; Iran’s nuclear program; Balkan and Caucuses internal relations within their respective regions). Turkey, unlike either Saudi Arabia or Iran, has mostly promoted a politics of reconciliation in the region, and unlike Egypt has done a great deal to help raise the standard of living of its most disadvantaged citizenry. The Turkish government has made Istanbul a global city in many respects, a center for inter-civilizational dialogue and alliance, and a sponsor of conferences dedicated to a more peaceful, prosperous, and humane global future. The TRT World Forum a couple of months ago in Istanbul featured presentations at the opening by the Turkish Prime Minister and at the closing by Erdogan, and in between panels on a variety of world order issues with a fairly wide range of speakers (including myself).

 

My most basic criticism of the anti-government discourse in and about Turkey is along the lines of my sense of what is right in Vietnam. For the bottom 50% or so of Turks the policies of the government have enhanced greatly their material life circumstances when it comes to health, security, housing, public transportation, as well as improved participatory rights of those outside the Western urban sectors. Talking with ‘ordinary’ Turkish workers during this period, such as private car drivers, apartment managers, barbers, fruit sellers, suggest that since the AKP has governed, their lives and that of their families has steadily improved, especially with respect to basic material needs, daily life, and enjoyment of what a modern society has to offer. Often ‘secularists’ deride these AKP supporters, and Erdogan enthusiasts, as uneducated and stupid. Their response when asked why they vote Erdogan adopts the opposite line: ‘Are we stupid?’ Many of these persons actually dislike the Islamic edge of the government identity or think the Syrian policies were a huge mistake, but for what is important for them, the AKP is far superior to alternatives. In effect, there’s nothing the matter with Anatolia, unlike Kansas!

 

It is not at all like the Trump base in America where the policies adopt by the elected leaders are in general materially harmful to much of this angry and alienated American underclass, and what they get from Trump are signals encouraging racism, xenophobia, and nativist patriotism, which seem to generate strong feelings of cultural satisfaction, especially when he punctures political balloons, many of which in any event were filled                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        with liberal hot air as suggested by the many glaring human rights failures during the long period of secular hegemony.

 

In the end we would all like to live in humane societies but in the interim it would diminish polarization and enhance understanding to balance strengths and weaknesses in a more balanced manner, especially with respect to class interests. The weakening of free expression, especially by punishing dissent and

treating criticism as subversion, has horrible effects for the intellectual and creative life that affects especially the sense of wellbeing of the upper echelons of society, but also weakens the innovativeness of those working in the private sector. The material neglect of the underclass causes fundamental deprivations in the daily life of the most economically marginalized portions of societies, hitting minorities especially hard. What I am objecting to is the invisibility of the suffering of the very poor (as in America) and the refusals to acknowledge the public achievement of their improved circumstances (as in Turkey or Vietnam).

 

My argument is not meant to be a reworking of the Huntington argument in the 1970s that developmental priorities tend to make authoritarian rule a palatable prelude to democratically oriented modes of governance. I am not suggesting that it makes sense to defer concerns with democratic practices and human rights, but that normative backsliding should not be the occasion for overlooking how well or badly a government behaves in other spheres of activity. In a sense, this is a search for balance and moderation, and a plea against using ideological brickbats to tear down legitimate governing processes, which undoubtedly need reforms, but do not deserve to be blacklisted except in the most extreme cases, and this is not happening. For instance, the human rights record of Turkey and Vietnam is the target of far more insistent criticism and attack than is the far worse records of Saudi Arabia or Sisi’s Egypt. Again, it is not that being worse elsewhere does not excuse being bad, but it does raise questions about motivation and geopolitical motivation. Vietnam is in a more fortunate position that Turkey because it is valued as part of the U.S. effort to contain Chinese influence, while Turkey is increasingly seen as a thorn in the side of such American allies in the region as Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. In effect, bashing countries for their poor human rights records needs to be geopolitically decoded if it is to be taken seriously.    

 

Are We Heading Toward Global Autocracy, Ecological Collapse, Political Malaise?

29 Jun

 

 

What follows are preliminary reactions to both the BREXIT vote and the world according to Trump, but also a commentary on the related alienation of large segments of the public that are being badly served by both the established elites and their demagogic adversaries. The failures of neoliberalism, the successes of digitization, the scourge of random violence, and more broadly, the dilemmas posed by late modernity are among the root causes of this global crisis of legitimate governance, which is deepened while being mishandled by unprecedented ecological challenges, extremely irresponsible geopolitical leadership, and a variety of ultra-nationalist backlashes against the encroachments of economic globalization.

 

 

Imagining the World After the Cold War

 

After the end of the Cold War there were various projections that tried to anticipate the likely future of the world in broad interpretative strokes. Three of the most influential conjectures by three prominent American authors received attention in the public sphere: those of Francis Fukuyama, Samuel Huntington, and Robert Kaplan.

 

Fukuyama challenged conventional political imagination with his provocative claim that with the collapse of the Soviet version of state socialism and the triumph of capitalist liberalism the world had reached ‘the end of history.’ It was also somewhat dubious that Fukuyama validated his views by reference to the Hegelian contention that history is made by the march and interplay of ideas rather than through the agency of material forces. In this respect history came to a supposedly glorious end because there was no grander possible political vision than that of market-based constitutionalism, epitomized by the American political system. Even the most casual observer of the global scene must have noticed the befogged Western optic through which Fukuyama saw

the world.

 

Huntington, no less provocative or biased, although less comforting for the West, anticipated a ‘the clash of civilizations’ as the sequel to the Cold War, especially stressing the confrontation between the liberal West and the non-West or simply ‘the rest.’ His suggestive emphasis was on blood-soaked fault lines between states, civilizations, and peoples associated with Islam and the Western polities descending from the Enlightenment tradition as it unfolded in Europe, taking root in North America and elsewhere.

 

Kaplan, also punctured the Fukuyama triumphalist tone of geopolitical serenity, by writing of ‘the coming anarchy,’ the breakdown of order at the level of the state. His views were shaped by perceptions of decolonization leading to ungovernable and essentially non-viable political spaces, particularly in Africa where he regarded many of the post-colonial states as incapable of achieving minimum order within territorial space.

 

25 years later it appears that each of these authors saw part of the elephant, but none of the three managed to capture this imposing animal in its majestic totality. Fukuyama was importantly correct in positing market-driven liberalism as the hegemonic ideology of the global future for decades to come, and especially so with respect to the ascendancy of the transnational private sector as shaped by financial flows in a borderless world. The universalization of the liberal international order was devised by and for the West after World War II with the overriding goal of avoiding a return of the Great Depression and retaining as many of the benefits of colonialism as possible in the aftermath of its collapse. This globalizing arrangement of economic and political forces proved robust enough to generate sustained economic growth, as well as to crowd out rivals, thereby making itself into ‘the only game in town.’ That this phase of globalization was grossly uneven in the distribution of benefits and burdens was generally overlooked, as was its predatory character as viewed from the perspective of the economic losers.

 

At the same time, the idea of reaching an endpoint in history even if conceived in Hegelian terms of ideas seemed rather absurd, if not grotesque, to many from its moment of utterance. Given the ideological assault on modernity that has been mounted from the perspective of religion, drawing into question secularism and rationalism, the liberal vision was indeed being challenged from a number of angles. In this regard, transnational terrorism viewed in isolation is a less radical repudiation of Fukuyama’s blueprint for the future than are the various associated challenges to Westphalian territorial sovereignty that have been mounted by Islamic leaders, articulated clearly by both Ayatollah Khomeini and Osama Bin Laden. Both insisted that the territorial sovereignty was not the primary legitimate basis for political community, and indeed put forward less convincing claims to political community than were the organic identities that had been shaped by centries of religious and civilizational traditions and devotional practices.

 

ISIS added its own version of this world order stance in a less reflective modality. Its leaders gave voice to the view that in the Middle East, in particular, armed struggle was undoing the harm done a hundred years earlier. ISIS bluntly repudiated the territorial legacies and authority of the Sykes-Picot Agreement that in 1916 had carved up the Ottoman Empire to satisfy British and French colonial ambitions. Such European hubris had cast the region adrift by creating governance zones that were, at best, artificial political communities that could only be held together by the iron fist of state power, which if removed would lead to chaos. The effect of giving over the fate of the peoples to the mercies of European colonial powers fractured the natural community of Islam and did away with the more ethnically constituted units (or millets) established by the Ottoman Empire. It is hard to be confident about whether the peoples of the region as of 2016, if left free to choose, would prefer the distortions of imposed Westphalian states or opt for boundaries that better reflected the existential sentiments and values of the current national majorities among those living in the region.

 

 

The Unexpected Appeal and Rise of the Reactionary Right

 

Perhaps, more fundamental in its implications for the future, is the shifting ground shaking the foundations of the edifice of ideas and interest upholding neoliberal globalization. That the ground is shaking has been revealed for most crisis deniers by the surge of populist support that allowed Trump to crush a wide field of Republican presidential aspirants with mainstream party credentials. This astonishing outcome has been strongly reinforced by the electrifying vote by Britain in June 2016 to exit the European Union, so-called BREXIT, and what that portends for Britain, the EU, and even the world.

 

We can also throw into the new mix the Sanders Phenomenon, essentially a youth revolt against what the man from Vermont kept calling ‘a rigged system’ good for the 1%, horrible for the other 99%, and especially for the bottom 40-60%. We will not grasp the full meaning of what has occurred for years to come, and surely the November 2016 American presidential election will either be a restorative moment for the established socio-economic order or a death warrant portending that radical, most likely disruptive, change is on its way. Should Hilary Clinton win, especially if she wins decisively as even most of the Republican leadership fear and some even wish for, it will quiet some of the voices on right and left calling for change, but only temporarily, and this is the point as the roots of the crisis are far deeper than this or that election or referendum result.

 

 

An Establishment Out of Touch

 

What strikes me most forcefully, aside from these unexpected outcomes, is how out of touch liberal, urban elites seem to be with the sharply alienated mood of the populace as a whole. This first struck me while visiting Cairo in the months after the overthrow of Mubarak in early 2011 when Egyptians across a wide spectrum welcomed change, and were naively expecting the political transition to be managed according to the will of the people by the Supreme Council of the Egyptian Armed Forces. The political analogue to this trust displayed by the leaders of the uprising in the military wing of the former oppressive regime was the widespread expectation that Amr Moussa, Secretary General of the Arab League and once the Foreign Minister under Mubarak e would overwhelm opponents in the promised presidential elections.

 

Many in Cairo voiced their personal doubts about Moussa’s suitability, complaining of his complicity with the prior regime and wondering whether he had a genuine willingness and capability to push through a liberal agenda of national reform and manage an economic program that offered some hope to the poor and marginalized Egyptian masses. What representatives of the Cairo establishment and even its critics didn’t disagree about was the near certainty of a Moussa victory in the scheduled 2012 presidential elections because no other candidate had comparable name recognition or possessed elite credibility. As it turned out Moussa, despite his acceptability to urban elites, ended up with less than 12% of the vote in the first round, disqualifying him from competing in the second and final round of the electoral process that surprisingly pitted an undisguised Murarak loyalist, Ahmed Shafek, against the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Morsi. There has been much commentary on this sequence of developments, but what I want to stress is how out of touch the Cairo policymakers and media were with ‘the people’ of Egypt, especially the poor and those living around the country outside the two urban centers of Cairo and Alexandria.

 

 

Losing it in America

 

The utterly unanticipated success of Trump, Sanders, and BREXIT left those who earn their livings by telling us what to think and what will happen in an apparently shell shocked. Because policy wonks can lose their relevance quickly, and maybe their jobs, if they are honest enough to dwell upon their mistaken judgments, they tend to shift the conversation to what these unexpected developments tell us about the vagaries of mass public opinion. They continue to write with the same old assurance and command over details, articulating anew as (un)knowingly as ever their views about what is to come, earning them invitations to influential talk shows and the like. They have no shame. At this moment the prevailing wonk consensus is that Trump cannot possibly win in the national elections next November, and will probably lead the Republicans to a devastating national defeat leaving the party discredited even among its most faithful followers. This scenario has become the latest American version of the liberal wet dream.

 

What is so far missing, or almost so, from the public discourse is a soul searching assessment of why the underclass anger, why the magnetic appeal of political personalities who are ‘outsiders,’ and why the loopy defensiveness and seeming irrelevance of those who speak softly, wrongly supposing that the voice of reason and moderation will win out. Even now there is little discussion of how best to account for this ‘revolt of the masses,’ why it is happening now and not earlier, as well as what can and should be thought and done.

Sanders alone pointed to the relevance of acute inequality as discrediting the prevailing political order and what the two political parties were offering the American people. He was sensitive to social dislocations caused by this inequality being closely linked to the declining real incomes of the middle classes and the poor. He also recognized that such a downward spiral is further aggravated by a dysfunctionally expensive health system, intolerable burdens of student debt, and a bipartisan willingness to sacrifice the fundamental wellbeing of workers in a deindustrializing America on the altar of free trade. In effect, Sanders was putting before the American people a sharply critical diagnosis of the ills besetting the country together with a laundry list of social democratic correctives.

 

Trump, despite being himself a major economic predator, has enjoyed this surge of fanatical backing due to his diabolical talent for blaming ‘the other’ for the failures being experienced by large disaffected sectors of the American people. From this paranoid standpoint it becomes almost logical to threaten China with a trade war, to bar all Muslims from entering the country, and to build a high wall that keeps illegal Latinos from coming across the Mexican border as well as getting rid as rapidly as possible all those who managed to enter illegally in the past, and to accomplish this massive dispossession through the medium of cruel and indiscriminate deportation. All of this negativity is given a smiling face by the catchy, yet vauous, Trump slogan “to make America great again.” Such a heartwarming slogan makes Trump into a kind of political alchemist transforming the base metals of xenophobic negativity into the glow that will follow from recovering a lost never existing American positive exceptionalism, which if decoded simply promises to restore a social order presided over by white men.

 

 

The Global Landscape

Looking around the world is a disquieting complement to myopic readings of these potentially earth shattering recent developments as happening only in Anglo-American political space. What seems evident is that there are throughout the planet converging trends reflecting some widely shared societal grievances coupled with a mood of disillusionment about the purported achievements and promises of democratic forms of governance. It is difficult to recall that after the Cold War a major aspect of American triumphalism was the confidence that the political embrace of American style democracy (what was then being called ‘market-oriented constitutionalism’) would spread to more and more countries in the world, and that this trend should be welcomed everywhere as an irreversible sign that a higher stage of political evolution had been reached. Bill Clinton liberals were forever talking up ‘enlargement’ (the expanding community of democratic states) while subscribing to the tenuous and vague claims of ‘democratic peace’ (the Kantian idea that democracies do not make war against one another).

 

Later George W. Bush neocons more belligerently pushed ‘democracy promotion,’ being impatient or distrustful of leaving the future to the workings of internal political dynamics and the flow of history. They held the geopolitically convenient, yet totally ahistorical, belief that military intervention would be popularly received as a liberating gift even by peoples newly freed from the shackles of European colonialism. In 2003, this commitment to coercing a democratic future was put into practice in Iraq, failing miserably and in an incredibly costly manner. Again what should be a cause for reflection is the misperception of the historical circumstances by the American establishment. This belief is abetted by the accompanying false assumption that if democracy is formally established, ex-colonial societies will docilely accept a prolonged foreign occupation of their country while continuing to endure high levels of chronic unemployment and mass poverty, a situation inflamed by national elites wallowing in luxury, having often gained their wealth by rapacious levels of corruption, rewards for serving the foreign occupiers and associated representatives of global capital.

 

 

‘It’s the System, Stupid’

 

If democratization seemed the wave of the global future as seen from the perspective of the 1990s there are now different horizons of expectation that darkly dominate the political imagination with a blending of fear, rage, and despair. What has so far emerged is a series of drastic political moves in a diverse group of countries that is cumulatively leading national governing processes in inward-looking authoritarian directions. Each national narrative can offer its own plausible explanation of such developments by focusing on the particularities of the national situation without paying much attention to external factors.

 

Yet the fact that such diverse countries share this experience of diminishing democracy and increasing authoritarianism suggests that wider systemic factors are at play. To some extent, this disturbing set of developments is disguised in the constitutional societies of the West where these trends are being validated by popular forces, that is, in full accord with the discipline and legitimacy of what might be understood as procedural democracy, that is, free and fair elections as supplemented by rivalry between political parties, a seemingly free press, referenda, legislation, judicial action, and executive initiatives that appears respectful of the constraints of the rule of law. These authoritarian outcomes should be interpreted mainly as failures of substantive democracy as obscured by the persistence of procedural democracy. This reality is beginning to be perceived by large portions of the population, especially those struggling with poverty, joblessness, and declining standards of living, although it is not articulated by reference to the substantive shortcomings of contemporary democracy. What makes this context so confusing is this tension within democracy between its procedural and substantive dimensions.

 

These substantive democratic failures of equity and performance are not generally experienced by those leading comfortable lives even if unlike earlier generations, expectations about the future at all levels of society are far less hopeful than during the last decades of the 20th century. Gone are the days when it was widely believed that children would almost certainly fare better than their parents. Those who are experiencing this sharp downturn in expectations are just now awakening to insist upon answers, and the easiest place to find them is through scapegoating. In this regard, the influx of foreign cheap labor is believed, and not always inaccurately, to exert downward pressures on wages and cause disquieting increases in the local crime rate. It also tempts many to regard the present challenges to homeland security as the work of ‘Islamic radicalism,’ while the widening gap between rich and poor is depicted as a mixture of corruption and free trade that pushes jobs out of the country to foreign labor markets with low wages, weak or no unions,lax safety and environmental regulations, and bribery as a way of life.

 

Although this shift from democratization to autocratization is being mainly experienced as a national phenomenon or as a series of distinct national dramas, the systemic aspects are crucial. An essential part of the socio-economic mixture of causes is the replacement of human labor by machine labor, a process that is accelerating via automation, and likely to increase at a geometrical pace for many years to come. As a result, a new source of chronic unemployment affecting all classes is occurring. Another aggravating feature results from migration flows escaping from war torn regions or from ecological collapse brought about by climate change. Further, the rise and manipulation of transnational terrorism and counterterrorism gives priority to the security agenda, lending support to a vast expansion of state police powers at the expense of societal autonomy and personal freedom.

 

What such developments portend is the presence of large numbers of desperate people within most national spaces who are blocked in their search for a decent life, are made to feel unnecessary and unwanted or treated, and are regarded as a burdensome democratic surplus by the established order. All that most of these persons want is social change and a recovery of their sense of societal worth, creating a frightening vulnerability to the siren calls of demagogues. Such a pattern is already visible on the global stage, although it tends to be blurred by relying on this still dominant optic of state-by-state developments that suppresses the reality of systemic pressures, and diverts attention from the kind of radical political therapy that is needed.

 

Current global trends exhibit two equally devastating approaches, which are in some settings combined. The most prevalent tendency is to mandate the state to impose order at any cost involving increasing levels of coercion, reinforced by intrusive surveillance, seeking its own legitimacy by claiming fear-mongering alarmism and through scapegoating of immigrants, Muslims, and all outsiders, those ethnically and religiously ‘other.’ A complementary tendency is associated with the demagogic arousal of populist masses that also mandate the state to carry out similar kinds of order-maintaining policies. In effect, the somewhat more cosmopolitan middle is being squeezed between the elites seeking to withstand anti-establishment politics and the aroused masses eager to smash the established order. Both sources of anti-democratic pressure favor closing borders, building walls, and deporting those whose very existence assaults nativist conceptions of the nation.

 

As previously assessed, procedural democracy is not currently much of an obstacle in the face of various populist embraces of proto-fascist political appeals that is offering aspiring demagogues a field day. The advocacy of extremist, simplistic, and violent solutions to complex problems is on the rise, and yet we should know that the present agenda of concerns cannot be effectively addressed until a structural analysis is acted upon and the neoliberal underpinning of the status quo is significantly adjusted. A correct political diagnosis would emphasize the alienating shortcomings of substantive democracy given the degree to which neoliberal capitalism is seen as responsible for accentuating inequality, corruption, and downward standards of living for the majority leaving many without adequate material security as it relates to employment, shelter, health, and education.

 

Overall as the world confronts such challenges as climate change, diminishing biodiversity, and nuclear weaponry that are cumulatively threatening humanity with catastrophe, this emergent reality of global autocracy may be the worst news of all.

Israel’s Shimon Peres Reacts to the Turkish Elections

10 Jun

 

Newspapers reported on June 9th that former Israeli president Shimon Peres (2007-2014) was pleased by the outcome in Turkey. He is quoted as saying “I am happy about what happened in Turkey – Erdoğan wanted to turn Turkey into Iran, and there is no room for two Iran’s in the Middle East.”

 

It is worth recalling that the downward spiral in relations between Turkey and Israel started in a real way when Erdoğan attacked Israel and Peres personally for defending Israel’s massive attack on Gaza at the 2009 World Economic Forum in the course of a panel in which both he and Peres were members. Erdoğan responded to Peres’ contention that Hamas was responsible for violence against Israeli civilians. His words were undiplomatically blunt: “Mr. Peres, you are a senior citizen and you speak in a loud tone. I feel that your raised voice is due to the guilt you feel. But be sure that my voice will not be raised as yours is. When it comes to killing, you know very well how to kill. I know very well how you struck and killed innocent children on the beaches.” So piercing the haze that separates these polite evasions of such international events from the cruel realities under discussion was a welcome rarity: on this occasion Erdoğan was confronting the naked face of power with a truth that needed to be heard. After

interference from the chair, Erdoğan strode off the stage announcing that he was through forever with the World Economic Forum, not for allowing Peres to speak, but for the attempting to stifle a response.

 

The deterioration in Turkish/Israeli relations climaxed the following year when Israeli commandos boarded the Turkish passenger ship, Mavi Marmara, the lead vessel among six in a freedom flotilla containing peace activists bringing humanitarian supplies to Gaza and seeking to break the Israeli blockade. The incident on May 31, 2010 resulted in the death of nine Turkish nationals, and created an enduring rupture in the political relations between the two countries that continues despite efforts by the American president, Barack Obama, to encourage normalization. Turkey is prepared to compromise on the issues raised by the Mavi Marmara attack, but to its credit will not accept normalization until Israel lifts its blockade of Gaza and ceases its use of massive force against the totally vulnerable Gazan civilian population.

 

Erdoğan’s departure from diplomatic protocol at the World Economic Forum illustrated his impulsive tendency to vent his feeling in public places without the usual filters of self-censorship that is second nature for most politicians. Of course, assessing such outbursts generally depends on the context and on whether what is being said so forthrightly has merit or not. Erdoğan’s public venting in relation to policies that were sensitive for secular Turks became particularly frequent, intensifying polarization, especially after the AKP’s one-sided victory in the 2011 general election after which the Turkish leader did seem to embrace a more majoritarian view of democracy (acting on the mandate of the majority of voters), and abandoning the pragmatism of his earlier posture based on an acceptance of republican democracy (that is, respect for minority values and views, checks and balances on the exercise of state power).

 

Reverting to the recent Peres assertion, it is certainly inflammatory and deeply misleading to link Turkey under the AKP with Iran, and to contend that Erdoğan’s hidden project is to convert Turkey into a second Iran. This is both false and insulting, as if Turkey is incapable of self-determination according to the declared will of its own public and elected leaders. There exists no credible evidence that Turkey has in any way endorsed the defining feature of the Islamic Republic of Iran, namely, a theocratic mode of governance.

 

Peres also essentializes Iran, refusing to acknowledge its recent evolution as a result of Hassan Rouhani’s election as president in 2013 and Iran’s forthcoming nuclear diplomacy that went the extra mile in search of a formula that would normalize its regional and global relations, which if accepted by the West and put into practiced, will almost certainly be viewed as a major contribution to regional and world peace. Peres speaks as if Iran is the hermetically sealed embodiment of political evil rather than a country that has struggled to overcome its autocratic past under the Shah, and managed to be stable during this period of exceptional regional turmoil with its theocracy displaying a willingness to indulge a limited democracy despite threats and provocations from the United States and Israel. There is much to criticize in Iran, but for such criticism to be responsible, it should be responsive to actualities, especially in the Middle East where there are such scant grounds for stability, let alone justice.

 

In important respects, the outcome of the Turkish elections is far better interpreted as a Kurdish HDP victory rather than an Erdoğan AKP defeat. Time will tell whether the Kurds will be constructive and creative in this phase of their political engagement within Turkey and in relation to Kurdish political developments in neighboring countries. It will also determine whether Erdoğan is statesmanlike and creative in shaping the political future of the country, taking to heart the electoral message that any shift to a presidential system is not now in the interests of the country.

Turkish Elections: It’s Not Just Erdoğan!

9 Jun

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The Turkish general election on June 7th ended more or less as the polls predicted. The only small surprise was that the Kurdish Party (HDP) ended with 13% of the vote rather than either falling just below or above the 10% threshold needed for parliamentary participation. By clearing the 10% hurdle, the HDP denies the winner, Erdoğan Justice and Development Party (AKP), the majority required to form a new government. This means either a coalition, currently deemed unlikely and even undesirable, or a minority government with a new set of general elections scheduled in coming months.

 

The spinning of the Turkish election results in the West is rather malicious. It seems designed to generate two kinds of reactions: first, that the outcome was a personal defeat for Erdoğan and the AKP; and secondly, that now Turkey faces a period of instability and uncertainty, an atmosphere supposedly confirmed by a drop in the Turkish stock market and currency value. Such assessments, although not totally wrong, are misleading in dangerous and possibly self-fulfilling ways if taken by the Turkish opposition and the world as the real meaning of what took place. It is disturbingly reminiscent of the effort of the opposition in Egypt to discredit the Morsi presidency as soon as he was elected in mid-2012, generating a crisis of legitimacy despite his electoral victory, setting the stage for a populist revolt and the Sisi-led coup a year later. This undermining of electoral results is one of the most dangerous games being played by certain elements in the United States and the Middle East, and could lead the way to yet another regional disaster.

 

I believe what is most important about the Turkish elections is their affirmation of the growing strength and poise of Turkish democracy. If ever there existed a temptation to manipulate the vote so as to keep the HDP below the 10% margin, it was in this election as it would have enabled the AKP to have the majority in the Turkish Grand National Assembly so as to form a new government on its own and later have the parliament mandate a referendum on the shift to a presidential system in which the governing party would be quite sure to prevail. The fact that enough voters, especially among young and progressive Turkish citizens voted for the HDP, exhibited a healthy resistance to the perceived efforts to consolidate power further in Ankara, especially in the person of Erdoğan.

 

When the Conservatives in Britain won 36% of the vote to 30% for Labour the media called it a landslide, and a decisive vindication of Tory policies. In Turkey, although slipping 6% points (and losing 2.5 million votes compared to 2011), the AKP still prevailed in the election by more than 15%, winning 41.8% of the popular vote, with its closest competitor being the old Ataturk party, the CHP, winning only 25%. It might be well to recall that in 2002 the AKP formed the government although winning only 34% of the overall vote, gathering its majority because 45% of the total ballots were cast for parties that fell below 10% , resulting in their transfer mainly to the AKP.

 

The fact that HDP will now have 79 members in Parliament despite being an overtly Kurdish party is a further healthy development that might make a long overdue reconciliation more attainable. Also notable was the election of 97 women to parliarment along with four Christians, the first Roma ever, and a member of the Yazidi community. Such increased diversification refutes in a very vivid manner the contention that the AKP leadership was gradually turning Turkey into an Islamic republic, a so-called ‘second Iran.’

 

What is so striking about the world media reactions is their failure to note these encouraging developments, or to take balanced account of the dignified acceptance of the public will exhibited by the existing Turkish leadership. The AKP Chairman and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, said simply “This nation’s decision is the best decision,” indicating respect for the outcome. So far, as well, Erdoğan has in no way challenged the vote that was certainly, in part, a defeat for his insistence that the ‘New Turkey’ would be more successful if it shifted to a presidential system. He has not lived up to the Putinesque persona that his detractors have long insisted upon.

 

The other failure of world perception has to do with some attention to some other contextual explanations for some decline in AKP popularity. In the background, is the fact of holding the reins of government in Turkey ever since their surprise victory in 2002, reaffirmed with increasing margins in 2007 and 2011 general elections. It is always a sign of a healthy democracy when a portion of the voters indicate their belief that ‘it time for a change.’ There is truth in the adage that ‘power corrupts,’ and a shift of leadership to a responsible opposition can be a revitalizing development for a country. Unfortunately, a persisting weakness in the Turkish political firmament is the absence of a credible alternative to the AKP. The opposition parties lack leaders of suitable stature or any kind of alternative program that commands widespread support. In this sense, I would suppose that there would have been a larger defection from the AKP in this election if a viable alternative did exist. Why there is no such alternative is something that constructive critics of the AKP should be devoting their attention to rather than giving their energies over to incessant and mean-spirited attacks.

 

There are additional explanations of some loss of voter support by the AKP. Above all, the weakening of the economy, with growth falling to 3% of GNP, or possibly a bit lower, and unemployment rising to 11%. Such a decline in economic performance is a product of many factors, but it certainly disappointed the expectations of many Turks struggling to get along on a day-to-day basis. Also, important is the deep cleavage that developed with the Hizmet Movement led by Fetullah Gulen, whose followers supposedly shifted votes in this election to the CHP and MHP. And finally, the lingering bad taste associated with the government’s excessive use of force in response to the Gezi Park demonstrations of 2013 apparently led many on the left and among the young to vote for the HDP, and may have given this Kurdish party the support it needed to qualify for parliamentary representation and thereby change the political climate in the country.

 

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There are also understandable dissatisfactions in Turkey about Ankara’s Syria policy, which has resulted in both a huge influx of refugees, numbering about 1.5 million, and controversial tactics in lending some support to extremist anti-Assad forces. It is always easy to second-guess what to do in situations of a severe humanitarian/political crisis, and no governmental actor has emerged with a positive reputation in this post-Arab Spring period. Although the Turkish government seems to have made miscalculations, especially underestimating the strength and resilience of the Assad regime, it has more than most regional or global actors pursued a principled position throughout. It has supported democratizing movements, and opposed efforts to restore authoritarianism or to use governmental violence against peaceful demonstrators as in Syria and Egypt.

 

The election results are very new. What will ensue is not yet at all clear. It is a moment for all sides to show leadership and composure, and most of all, Erdoğan and Davutoğlu. Erdoğan, in particular, has been given a rare opportunity to turn electoral defeat into political victory. All he has to do is make a statesmanlike speech, acknowledging the setback for his vision of Turkey’s future but displaying his respect and admiration for the democratic process, and his commitment to maintaining Turkish political stability and working toward economic revival. It would be an opportunity for Erdoğan to put to rest among all except his most ardent enemies, the contention that he is an aspiring autocrat in the Putin mold. In the immediate aftermath of the elections, Erdoğan has so far taken the high road, but without making his response fully evident. At least, he does not lament defeat, but rather acknowledges the will of the electorate expressed by a vote in which 84% of eligible voters took part, and calls on all parties to evaluate the results “healthily and realistically,” adding that “the esteem of our nation is above all else.” Instead of berating the opposition, Erdoğan praised the turnout as exhibiting “the precious nation’s determination for democracy and for reflecting its will at the ballot box.” There was no bombast or recriminations that has sometimes in the past marred Erdoğan’s performance as a leader. It is too early to be sure that this benign mood will persist, but these early signs are hopeful.

 

 

For Davutoğlu the opportunity presented to him is more complex, but still very present. It is his moment to show firm leadership and demonstrate his dedication to a smoothe transition in the interest of the whole country. Without distancing himself from Erdoğan, Davutoğlu can demonstrate that he is quite capable of leading the country, and sensitive to the benefits of parliamentary democracy. Davutoğlu could emerge as a co-leader with Erdoğan that would not only restore confidence in AKP’s competence and underlying commitment to secular democracy, but would show to the Middle East that non-autocratic rule true to a nation’s history and character is possible. Of course, it is also a moment to move forward with the Kurdish peace and reconciliation process and to improve the human rights record of the government, especially showing a greater capacity to respect criticism from the media and political dissenters.

 

Despite the turbulence of the region, the economic troubles of neighbors in the Middle East and Europe, Turkey has enjoyed a period of extraordinary success during these years of AKP governance. The economy tripled in size, the militarized deep state has been dismantled, and overall democracy has been strengthened and diversified in relation to gender and ethnicity. Beyond these national gains, the regional and global standing of Turkey increased dramatically. Perhaps, more than any country, Turkey in this AKP period showed the world that it is possible to pursue an independent line in foreign policy and yet maintain continuity with its most enduring alignments. It is easy to overlook such notable achievements, especially given the polarizing passions of the anti-Erdoğan opposition.

It may also be a time for bringing back the steady hand of Abdullah Gul to the governing process. It would be a further sign of the ability of the AKP to learn from its mistakes, and to provide Turkey with the best possible leadership.

 

In my view, persons of good will throughout the world and in Turkey, should now breathe a sigh of relief, being glad that the AKP plan to establish a presidential Turkey has been put back on the shelf and yet relieved that the AKP was again supported by a significant plurality of Turkish citizens in an impressively free and fair electoral process.