Crisis, power and violence: Hannah Arendt and the constitutional crises of Turkey from the late Ottoman Empire era to the present day
By Dr. Kahraman Solmaz
I pursue in my recently completed dissertation about Hannah Arendt and constitutional crises in Turkey – which consists of a theoretically-applied Hannah Arendt part and empirically-oriented Turkey part – two main targets.
The Arendt part of my work sets out to interpret Arendt’s political theory as a theory aimed at the understanding and countering of totalitarianism that she understood as not the sole or the inevitable but the ‘worst result of the crisis of the West’. This crisis began, according to Arendt, in the Reformation and became more serious with the decline of tradition and religion in 17th and 18th century, which led also to the loss of the ‘last and most noble values and standards’ of human coexistence.
My main aim in the second part of the work is to show that the history of modern Turkey can be interpreted neither as a straightforward process of westernization nor as a gradual democratization, but rather as ‘a story of a permanent crisis’ that could not be resolved to date because the political actors have responded in the past, and still respond in the present, with violence to the political crises, with the result that they have reduced politics to violence and have glorified violence.
The bridge that connects the two parts and shapes the corresponding working hypotheses of both parts is, as revealed in the introduction of my work, the common denominators that exist, despite considerable differences, between ‘total domination’ – seen by Arendt as the worst possible outcome of the crisis of the West – and ‘new wars’ – which I interpreted in my work as a catastrophic result of the same crisis in non-Western countries. The first mutuality between them is: Both political phenomena became possible as a consequence of the disempowerment of society that follows as the result of violence that occurred in response to political crises. Secondly, they are to be regarded as political formations in which the powerlessness of society, induced by violence, is strengthened and upheld by means of a permanent process of destruction, because in both political formations the violence that became independent of all political purposes ensures that people cannot turn towards one other, come together, and in this way put an end to the autonomized violence and make a new beginning. The third common feature is that revolution, understood as establishing an order in which the rule of man over man is abolished, is the answer that was, and is, given by revolutionaries in all corners of the globe to the crises that in the past have led to such disasters and can continue to do so in the future.
Based on these similarities, I have developed two interlinked groups of hypotheses. One of them concerns Hannah Arendt’s political theory. It is developed and supported in the first main part of the work. The other group of hypotheses relates to Turkey and forms the basis for the second main part of the work.
The hypotheses of the first main part are: First, Arendt sees in the total domination the worst possible outcome of the crisis that had already emerged in the West with the Reformation. Secondly, this crisis was able to deepen to such an extent and ultimately led to total domination under Hitler and Stalin because the opportunity offered within the crisis to found an order of freedom not only could not be taken advantage of because of the reduction of politics to violence and the glorification of violence, but because the violence introduced by the crisis led to a deepening of it and prepared the conditions under which such a disaster became possible.
The hypotheses of the second main part that relate to Turkey consist of the following: Turkey is suffering since the late Ottoman era to the present day from the same crisis that had its most catastrophic outcome in Europe in the form of total domination by Hitler and Stalin. Secondly, this crisis therefore could and cannot be resolved and has not been resolved to date because the political actors have reduced politics to violence and glorified it in the past and continue to do so in the present. Exactly that was the reason why the opportunities offered by the crisis to establish a new order could not be taken advantage of. In addition, the violence used in the crisis in the past ensured that the crisis resulted in political disasters and furthermore in the present it prepares conditions under which a new catastrophe, which is referred to these days as the ‘new war’, is becoming increasingly possible.
I base my hypotheses on Arendt’s political theory as follows: In the first step, I set out the key features of the crisis, which according to her, resulted in the total domination. In the second step, I demonstrate why, according to Arendt, only power can provide ‘remedies’ against the crisis and the dangers existing in it. In the third step, I show what Arendt meant by the equation of politics with violence as well as with the glorification of violence and why political actors tend to use violence in politically critical situations because of these prejudices about politics. In the fourth and final chapter I identify the specific characteristics of violence that ensure that the violence used in political crises inevitably led to a deepening and catastrophic worsening of these same crises.
The justification of the hypotheses about Turkey is set out in four chapters that cover four different time periods: The first chapter includes a discussion of the crisis of the Ottoman Empire and consists of two sections. In the first section, I demonstrate that the Ottoman Empire was terminally wounded by the same crisis that led also to the fall of the Western monarchies. In the second section, I show that also in the territory of the Ottoman Empire there existed the capability, in such critical situations, to counter the crisis by the formation of power and thus the creation of a new order that puts an end to the domination of man over man. Here I also show that this power was destroyed by violence that occurred during this time in various forms, again and again – which finally had to lead to the outcome that political crisis in the era of the late Ottoman Empire took a catastrophic turn.
The second chapter, which includes a discussion of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of the Turkish Republic, consists of three sections: In the first section, I begin by explaining that the Ottoman Empire almost completely disintegrated after the First World War. Based on this, I then demonstrate that people in Anatolia have responded to this disintegration with the formation and establishment of power in Arendt’s sense. In the second section, I develop the thesis that the elite under Mustafa Kemal’s (Ataturk) leadership has destroyed, with the aid of violence and cunning, this order established by the people because this elite under his leadership reduced politics to violence and glorification of violence. Finally, in the third part I describe how the transfer of the ‘categories of production’ to politics led to the outcome that the Turkish Revolution became a ‘national revolution’ in which Mustafa Kemal and his entourage were seeking to fabricate a ‘civilized’ nation that consists of people who are the same in every sense.
The third chapter, which provides an analysis covering the time starting with the introduction of a multi-party system in 1950 and goes up to the outbreak of the crisis in 2007, consists of two sections: In the first section, I demonstrate that the glorification of violence and the reduction of politics to violence by the political elite led, after the introduction of multi-party system in 1950, to the outbreak of a power struggle that culminated in the military coup of 1960. HereI show also that the Constitution of 1961 that followed from the military coup must be understood as a violent response to the crisis of the 1950s.
The second section, which concentrates on the military coup of 1980 and the Constitution of 1982 as the outcome of this coup, not only demonstrates that this coup was made possible by a power struggle, but also explains why the Constitution of 1982 must be understood as a purely violent reaction to the political crisis of the 70s.
The fourth chapter, which includes a critical analysis of the current political crisis consists of three sections: In the first section, I show that the EU reform process served only to put the question of the localization of the constituent power on the political agenda in highly polarized Turkey. This reduced the constituent power to the status of a political struggle. In the second section I state that the AKP, seen by many scientists as the absolute medicine for all chronic illnesses of Turkey, has changed nothing in Turkey – except for the fact, of course, that it rigorously took over the institutions of the 1982 Constitution and the constituent power. In the third step, I finally depict that this attempt of the AKP to trigger a ‘constitutional war’ when their opponents – who also glorified violence and reduced politics to violence – used the the government forces that were still under their control to oppose the AKP. In addition, I attempt to explain in this section that battles that are fought within this ‘constitutional war’ give rise to the decline of the state and social cohesion, so that the country is increasingly becoming more like its neighbors in the Middle East, and is being pushed to the brink of a ‘new war’.
Kahraman recently published an article on the influence of the EU-accession process on the Turkish constitution. See, Kahraman Solmaz (2015). Die türkische Verfassung unter dem Einfluss des EU-Reformprozesses. Der Staat: Vol. 54, No. 2, pp. 159-199. [doi: 10.3790/staa.54.2.159]