Turkey is becoming an ochlocracy

In the last five years Turkey has become a place where degeneracy and coarseness are praised, a country that can now be called an ochlocracy, to use the term coined by Greek historian and statesman Polybius.

Ochlocracy means the rule of government by a mob or a mass of people, or, the intimidation of legitimate authority. It is a pathological version of popular rule.

A country is called an ochlocracy when liars, the corrupt, imposters and tricksters come to the fore of society through a mechanism of negative selection. Smart, skilled and well-educated people are replaced by the less educated, incompetent and immoral.

You would have to be blind not to see this is what is happening in Turkey. It is not just because it is the Islamists in power, there are secularists also integrating to this new ochlocracy.

The degradation cannot be explained just by Turkey’s rising authoritarianism – that is neither new, nor surprising. The country has never been a fully fledged democracy.

But this is a break from the country’s traditional path. Since 1923, when the Republic of Turkey was founded, the country has always had problems of moral degradation and lack of education, but it had always seen them as problems that needed to be tackled.

For example, Kemalism, the principles and ideas of the republic’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, established a highly authoritarian administrative system. Kemalism has always been rightfully criticised for being elitist and pursuing an enlightened despotism, but it never gave up trying to solve the problems of moral degradation, ignorance and lack of education. The Kemalist narrative never legitimised decay or ignorance, even indirectly.

This was also true for the right wing, despite their inherent pathology. The right in Turkey, made up of a spectrum of Islamists and nationalists, always had an intellectual wing. For example, the Islamist "National Vision" movement of former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan had “morality first” and “moral development” as its mottos.

Today Turkey’s Islamist movement is in a degraded state. Though there are many decent people involved in the movement, the current ruling coalition of Islamism and far-right nationalism forces people into silence and submission.

Today’s government follows the path of traditional authoritarianism, but also needs to strengthen it with an alla Turca populism that requires more degradation. A despotic coarseness has replaced Kemalism’s despotic enlightenment.

Even the most despotic regimes need an ideology to rally support. That is why Kemalism created a framework of history, language and society that had a certain level of sophistication.

While Islamism in Turkey 40 forty years ago presented itself as the champion of the marginalised, today it is more like a mob attacking anybody who gets in its way.