The Democratization Process in Turkey: Theory, Legacy, and Prospects

Insight Turkey Volume 19 No 3, 2017


Turkey’s Democratization Process
Edited By Carmen Rodríguez, Antonio Ávalos,Hakan Yılmaz and Ana I. Planet
London and New York: Routledge, 2014, 444 pages, £110.00, ISBN: 9780415836968

Debating Turkish Modernity: Civilization, Nationalism, and the EEC
By Mehmet Döşemeci
New York: Cambridge, 2013, 240 pages, £57.00, ISBN: 9781107044913

Democratic Reform and Consolidation:The Cases of Mexico and Turkey
By Evren Çelik Wiltse
Colchester: ECPR Press, 2015, 288 pages, £24.00, ISBN: 9781907301674




In one of his articles on the requirements of large-scale democracy and political institutions, Robert A. Dahl warns students of political science by stating, “in ordinary language, we use the word democracy to refer both to a goal or ideal and to an actuality that is only a partial attainment of the goal.” A practical use of this notice in scholarly analyses is to start with the postulate that, “every actual democracy has fallen short of democratic criteria.” Amongst others, Turkish democracy, in this sense, is not exceptional in failing to meet the entangled criteria of actual, and ideal democracy. Turkish political history is replete with examples of discrepancies between actualities and aspired democratic goals. Özbudun and Gençkaya identify this lack of congruence in Turkish democratic life as a series of missed opportunities. Alongside these discrepancies, the three books under review here exhibit the characteristics and deficiencies of Turkey’s democratization process from a wide range of perspectives. While Turkey’s Democratization Process places Turkish democracy into the theoretical context of comparative politics by characterizing it as a ‘defective democracy,’ Debating Turkish Modernity: Civilization, Nationalism, and the EEC adopts a politico-historical approach and shows how Turkey’s understanding of democracy has mostly been influenced by its perception of joining the European Economic Community (EEC), in the 1959-1980 time period, as the equivalent of attaining ‘the level of contemporary civilizations.’ Democratic Reform and Consolidation: The Cases of Mexico and Turkey provides a useful comparison of Turkish and Mexican democracies in terms of the efficacy of different forms of international engagement in democratization processes.

The well-detailed book by Rodríguez, Ávalos, Yılmaz, and Planet gathers scholars from different countries that redound to the diversity in perspectives in analyzing the Turkish case. The editors attempt to frame Turkish democracy within the vast literature of democratization. This is not an easy task because, as they point out, the case of Turkey neither corresponds to the concept of transition nor to consolidation. They categorize Turkey as a through Linz and Stepan’s theoretical framework of democratic consolidation provided in their book entitled Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation. This theory proposes five interacting areas of the democratization process: (i) conditions for free and lively civil society, (ii) relatively autonomous and valued political society, (iii) the rule of law to ensure legal guarantees for citizens’ freedoms and independent associational life, (iv) state bureaucracy usable by the new democratic government, and (v) an institutionalized economic society. Likewise, the organization of the book follows a similar path and elaborates on five areas of the democratization process in terms of the evolution of Turkish democracy. Although the book puts Turkish democracy into a theoretical context of consolidation, it does not provide comprehensive criticisms in terms of the already given criteria of consolidation.

In Debating Turkish Modernity. Civilization, Nationalism, and the EEC, Mehmet Döşemeci delves into the historical roots of modernization (and therefore of democratization) in the context of EEC membership as perceived by Turkish political actors. He proposes two historical-conceptual categories in explaining this perception: the civilizational approach, which supports joining the EEC on the grounds of a consummation of Atatürk’s vision to raise Turkey to ‘the level of contemporary civilization,’ and the nationalist approach, which basically reflects the view of ‘national interest’ and opposes Turkey’s integration with the EEC. Döşemeci’s choice to confine his study’s historical breath to the 1980s is a sound one, since after the 1980s the boundaries of ‘nationalist’ and ‘civilizational’ would have been intermingled, blurry, and hence difficult. In his comprehensive analysis, he proposes ‘stipulatory logic’ as an alternative to the civilizational, and nationalist approaches. He defines stipulatory logic as the process of identification and erasure of the ‘otherness’ of the other (p. 218). Stipulatory logic as a theoretical tool helps Döşemeci criticize the social scientific literature that takes the EU norms as ‘universally correct and objective codes’ –a critique that can also be applicable to the norms of democratic consolidation. In this context, Döşemeci’s book provides a fresh approach in critically assessing the idées fixes of democratic consolidation as presumed and claimed by most social scientists.

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