Nesrin Nas
Oct 25 2018

Crises in the Era of One-Man Rule

When one man personifies the state and all power is centralised in his hands, the economic and social consequences become his responsibility. However, the apparatus of this one-man rule shifts the blame onto others even as they guarantee the continuation of the regime. In the process, they destroy the institutions that hold society and the economy together. In the end, one-man rule is self-defeating. 

Every economic crisis is actually the result of the ineffectiveness and ambition of a country’s leadership. But the results of this ineffectiveness and ambition are different in democratic countries than in countries under the rule of one man. Nineteenth-century U.S. President Abraham Lincoln said, “you can fool everyone some of the time, you can fool some people all the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time”.

In democratic countries, if those elected to power do not deliver permanent improvements in the lives of their voters or if they try to destroy the institutional infrastructure to strengthen their own political power, they will be punished in elections. However, this requires strong democratic norms and a free press.

In countries where the media is under the control of those in power, in contrast to Lincoln’s words, it is possible to fool all the people for a long time. In these countries those in power first undermine the country’s ability to reason, then bewilder the population by rushing from crisis to crisis in order to prevent them from seeing what is really going on.

Sometimes they whip up our fear, sometimes they divide us and make us afraid of one another, and most of the time they isolate us from the outside world to prevent us from hearing anyone but them.

Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari said that “an oligarchy with a monopoly on the media can blame their own failures on others and distract us or focus us on foreign powers … When the nation is under attack from outside forces or victim to the impact of evil, who can get hung up on overcrowded hospitals or dirty rivers?”

Religious and exclusionist nationalism is the most useful means to bring this about. If populist tyrants can get, not a majority, but a sizeable slice - maybe 30-40% of the population - to go along with them; then they can increase the dosage of inequality and injustice with more and more frequent elections in order to strengthen their lawless and unbounded regime’s grip on power.

On the other hand, if those in power under one-man rule have eliminated the legal framework, laws, and moral rules that limited them, then the authoritarian is the sole trigger of an economic crisis. For this reason, leaders dare not even come close to acknowledging that there is a crisis.

This is like the fourth stage of the cancer, and results in the spread of the crisis to the entire surrounding institutions. In a one-man regime, supporting the glorious leader’s infallibility is the only permanent political goal. Apart from that, the rest is just details.

The constituent parts of the economy, that expect a solution to the problems, must be constantly reminded of the leader’s infallibility and that loyalty to the leader is the only chance for survival.

Especially in countries like ours that have chosen economic growth models that rely on stock, incurring debt, and the investment and consumption appetites of a small number of very rich people; challenging the leader’s infallibility carries a heavy price. This eliminates all trust in the economy or its social capital and makes managing the crisis impossible.

Appeals to a mix of religion and nationalism along with appeals to return to a glorious past dazzle the public and manufacture consent even while the legal and moral principles that allow society to hold together are disintegrating. Then they do not want to see that the economic chaos they are going through is a consequence of a confidence crisis in the leader’s one-man rule.

For this reason, they applaud the widespread deprivation of labour and property rights; indebtedness; and the destruction of the environment and the fabric of society.

This is more or less what we are going through in Turkey. Thus, it was not meaningless when the president asked, “what is the fourth estate, anyway?”

By choosing to grow through capital gains, the leadership has continued on the road to a strictly obedience-based authoritarian personality-based management model rather than creating a wealthy and free society. Subordination is valued over merit, pandering over productivity, opaqueness to transparency, and the whims of the leaders over accountability. The heavy cost of this to society at large is hidden from view.

Especially in the last seven or eight years, all of the country’s democratic institutions have ceased to function. The rule of law and inclusive democratic institutions have taken a heavy blow.

Today, there is none of the freedom of thought necessary for a creative economy or scientific advance to speak of, nor the basic rule of law or basic rights required for security.

This includes property rights. What we are going through is no longer merely an economic crisis, it is a one-man regime crisis in which one person’s relentless and unbounded will dominates everything. For that reason, both crises will feed off of one another and grow deeper.

The fact that this regime where power is lawlessly concentrated in one person’s hands is also in debt is a terrible weight on its economic value.

For this reason, this type of economic collapse accompanied by serious political and social issues usually results in defeat. By the time most people realise this, the damage is already done.

There will be a great disappointment and rage in the place where the leader’s infallibility once stood. It is not easy for the depoliticised society that has lived under a one-man regime to get over this kind of collapse. Moreover, in light of the fact that the technological revolution of the 21st century has made mass unemployment a proximate threat which cannot be circumvented by the valor, nationalism, religious ideology, or mental efforts of any one individual.

If we want to have a say in our future, we need to root ourselves firmly in the truth. We must grasp the coming technological revolution and assume a mindset that will help us prepare for a fundamental paradigm shift.

When Turkish President Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan asked, “How is it that none of Turkey’s universities rank among the 500 top universities in the world?” The answer is that without creating a climate in which knowledge can flourish, we cannot produce any results. 

Freedom of thought, a free press, an uninhibited political environment, and inclusive democratic institutions are the key to our future. Otherwise, we will never get out of the rut we have fallen into.