Turkey's new elites

Turkey's democratic experience holds an important place in the East, especially among Muslim countries.

Turkey's new elites
Turkey's democratic experience holds an important place in the East, especially among Muslim countries. Turkey was the first country in the region to initiate the construction of a West-like democracy, and has reached a point that is further and more mature then other societies. There is a criterion for this maturity, and that is changing the political system without a deeply rooted transformation before the "old-guard elites" intervene to apply force. To interpret the results of the July 22 general parliamentary elections as the entry of wholly "new elite" groups into the system would be an effective attempt at broadly understanding Turkey.

A new elitist group is on the rise in the economic field and the media and intellectual world, which is connected to Turkey's current economic strength. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's success in the election was the work of these new elite. They supported the Justice and Development Party (AK party) for the sake of protecting their personal interests and the AK Party successfully managed to represent these groups. We need to identify the new elite to be able to understand the dynamic at play and the results of this change.

Five centuries ago, one of the greatest realists, Niccolo Machiavelli, made a remarkable comparison. He said it was easy to invade European countries but difficult to sustain power and, on the other hand, difficult to overpower the Ottoman Empire but easy to sustain power once you do so. This political genius was referring to the centralist state in Ottoman Anatolia. The only way a centralist state can sustain its existence is if all resources and economic power are gathered within the state. Ottoman Turks made a remarkably intelligent move by constructing a centralist state for the empire, which had expanded across a vast geography during a time when transportation and communication were extremely difficult. The state's highest expense was its military, as the fundamental responsibility of a centralist state is controlling the military. But the Ottoman Turks found a solution for that as well. They would control the military and pay for its expenses with taxes. This ensured the military would quickly obey orders from the state during times of war.

After a centralist structure was instituted, all powers were collected within the state. Economic power was obtained through political power and to have political power you had to be a part of the state. This system did not allow anyone outside of the government to be rich or powerful.

This situation left the private sector to the Christians and Jews. Extreme effort was exerted to make Muslims merchants and entrepreneurs in the beginning of the 19th century. These efforts were accelerated with the foundation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923. But in the end, the field was left for an elite group supported by the state.

This elite group was supported with mixed economic policies and state-ensured benefits. The powerful hand of the state sustained its existence by being shared between this benefit-based class and the military-civil bureaucracy.

The 2000 and 2001 economic crises were actually sparked by the expired elite's military intervention attempt to take control over the country -- the "postmodern coup" of 1997. These prehistoric elites failed to sustain a modern economic balance, paving the way for new elites to take center stage. In the 2002 election the power was handed over to the AK Party.

Who are the new elites?

Today we live in a world where the economy is shaped and directed by financial markets, instead of the state. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which depended on the personal resources of their owners instead of the banks, were the ones least hurt by the 2000 and 2001 crises. After 2002 Turkey began following the path of these entrepreneurs, who later initiated economic growth and prevented economic decline when inflation began to drop. These entrepreneurs, who continued in the export market despite the expensive Turkish lira, created the dynamics for a powerful and competitive economy.

Despite Marx's criticism of liberal capitalism, entrepreneurship is the fundamental drive that keeps the economy up and going. While Turkey eventually established its first profitable and independent private sector in the 21st century, the July 22 election was the victory of a new elite group which had blossomed from the power of independent initiatives.

The ultimatum the military issued on April 27 with its "e-memorandum" failed to fulfill its purpose, because it was the first time the military could not find any capitalist allies. The government was able to find a solution within itself and managed to isolate the military. Those who had survived, up until now, on centralized state-ensured benefits were forced to succumb to the power of the new elite group, because a centralist state economy no longer had the strength to survive. Old elites came to realize the only way they would be able to protect their current wealth was if they opened the way for the new elites.

If we define the world elite as viewed by the 19th century Italian sociologist Vilfredo Pareto, then it denotes "a class of people who have the highest indices in their branch of activity." With this in mind, we will be able to better understand the rising new elites. They are a new class of educated people who understand the world, have internalized the mentality of the market and have an entrepreneurial spirit. This class defends both conservative and indispensable democratic freedoms. They are far from any radical tendency and strive for a peaceful world. They comprise the main bones of the AK Party.

The new elites are directly the result of a market society. I intentionally write "market society" instead of "market economy." These new market elites are no different from the bourgeois class of the West. The "social responsibility of capital," as defined in the West, is a natural part of their life because they accumulate and sustain capital according to the conservative values belonging to work ethics and enterprises. With powerful social support, these elites are taking their place at the very front line.

They are independent because they exist outside of the state and without state support. Like the other elites, they are giving the best education to their children. With the support network found in work relations, they are able to closely follow the world and international relations. The power of independence allows them to think more freely. Intellectually, they are more flexible and creative then state elite. The next time you see an elite who makes analyses on the world and Turkey as if he or she were an expert, and who offers predictions and estimations on the future, you will know it is one of these new elites.

Turkey is turning away from its centuries-long state-centered political and economic system to a society-based center, where the civil public is gaining more power. This new elite group is representative of political and economic stability.

The elite theory, which important political theorists from Mosca to Schumpeter have discussed, relays to us a reality that does not change in democracies. In democracies the public does not govern, instead it elects elites who will. Democratic competition is a competition between elites. The elite competition in Turkey, where the civil and military bureaucracy is also involved, has advanced to a higher level. Capital in Turkey is finally being managed by elites from the public.

It isn't about laicism. It's about the formation of a completely new class.

Source: Today's Zaman
Last Mod: 04 Ağustos 2007, 11:15
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