Autocracy is defined as “one-man rule,” but autocracy is never a product of the politics of “one man,” namely, the autocrat himself. What makes up an autocracy is the authoritarian understanding of politics by many.
Modern history has shown that people are often inclined to support strong leadership, choose stability over uncertainty and opt for security over freedom. Besides, leader- centered politics promise more opportunities for those who crave instant political and economic gratification and for careerists of all sorts. For many, it has always been more difficult and uncertain to be promoted under the conditions of meritocratic competition. It has always been easier to achieve a career by cherishing and flattering one man who is capable of everything. It may not always be personal gains but also political ideals that can be achieved by a strong leader. This is the foundation of the authoritarian understanding of politics and this is the current case in Turkish politics.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has never needed to hide his authoritarian political understanding, or – to put it mildly – his “peculiar understanding of democracy.” Nevertheless, on one hand, the so-called democrats of Turkey refuse to recognize this fact, and on the other, his supporters do not press for more freedoms. First of all, it was democrats who supported strong leadership and strong political power, paradoxically, to achieve “democratization.” As for conservative supporters, the basic problem has only meant the elimination of secularist hegemony.
Last week, Erdoğan once again bluntly expressed his political understanding by stating that “the system is wrong from the beginning and the separation of powers simply means a hindrance,” in a public speech. Yet this time, it was so blunt that even he himself needed to modify his words in a TV interview. Nonetheless, he may not need to step back from his words since there would not be a very strong reaction even if he did not do so. There is nobody among even the top politicians of the governing party who feel brave enough to disagree with him. There is almost nobody in the media, in universities and in civil society who dare to be seriously critical of the prime minister.
No, I do not want to be unfair to Erdoğan by criticizing his authoritarian politics. It is those who choose their well-being and careers over matters of principle who create an autocrat, not vice versa. The personal political power of one man is a myth and in fact, it is conformism and opportunism that creates this myth.
(Nuray Mert is a columnist at Hurriyet Daily News, where this article was published on Dec. 24, 2012)