Populism, Majoritarianism, Democracy and Orwellian Newspeak

On Friday 10 November at 9.05 am the people of Turkey will stop what they are doing, driving to work, labouring on the factory floor, imparting knowledge to reluctant adolescents . . . whatever, and stand for a minute’s silence to mourn the death, in 1938, of their nation’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

Anitkabir-Slayt3

Atatürk’s mausoleum, Ankara

I was pleased to read in this morning’s newspaper that the country’s AK Party government, often accused of systematically unraveling the secular principles of the great man’s republic, is organising buses to transport people to Anıt Kabir, Atatürk’s monumental mausoleum in Ankara, for a special commemorative ceremony.

At the same time, I was a little disappointed to read that Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, outspoken critic of the government, and leader of the minority Republican People’s Party, self-appointed defenders of Atatürk’s republic, is currently in Strasbourg running down his own country and people to eager listeners at a meeting of the Council of Europe.

Of course we admire Mr Kılıçdaroğlu’s commitment to defending human rights, if not his attempts to enlist foreign support for overthrowing his own lawfully elected government. We do, however, sincerely hope he’ll be able to get back to Turkey to join his fellow citizens as they give thanks for Atatürk’s historic achievements.

h-is-for-hypocrisy-460x245It’s not easy to get a handle on global or even national politics these days. We  know politicians lie, or at least conceal the truth, even if sometimes they may do it with the best intentions. Unfortunately, there are many who don’t have that excuse.

Nearly 70 years ago English author George Orwell, in his novel “1984”, warned of the dangers of Newspeak and Doublethink – where a nation’s leaders manipulated the meaning of words to limit people’s ability to utter, or even to think rebellious thoughts.

We know what happened to the word “democracy”: the German Democratic Republic (former East Germany), and the Democratic Republic of Congo are two of the more blatantly perverse interpretations of the concept.

But what about “majoritarianism”? That’s a word that entered my vocabulary quite recently, for which I had not previously felt a need. I’m still not sure exactly what benefits it brings to discussions in the world of political science.

orwell newspeak

Democracy is slavery – vote neo-liberal!

As I understand it, “majoritarianism” is a pejorative term applied to a political party that has won the right to govern in a democratically fair general election, and is getting on with the job of doing what it was elected to do. The gripe, as far as I can see, is that the “minority” who failed to get their choice of government installed, are unhappy and resentful, and feel they have been hard done by.

Well, the first point that needs to be made, it seems to me, is that the fundamental principle of democracy is: all eligible voters cast their vote and a decision is made on the basis of the majority. What’s the alternative? Minoritarianism?

Now I will admit that, in the United States, the United Kingdom and other primitive “democracies” still operating a “first-past-the-post” electoral system, you may end up with a majority government elected by a minority of voters. We New Zealanders suffered under such a system for years until it was thrown out by a referendum in 1993. More progressive countries, however, like Germany and Turkey, make use of proportional systems that allocate seats in the legislature according to votes actually cast in elections.

I have to tell you I’m a big fan of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. He may not have immediately set up a democratic electoral system, but he did inspire his people to throw off the yoke of imperialist domination and set his country on the road to self-determination.

As well as being a successful military leader, Mustafa Kemal was also very knowledgeable in political theory. He built his new republic on the foundation of six basic principles. I am using the Turkish with English equivalents and brief explanations:

  • Cumhuriyetçilik – Republicanism: replacing the hereditary monarchy with an elected head of state and legislature.
  • Milliyetçilik – Nationalism: incorporating the concepts of national sovereignty, self-determination and national pride.
  • Laiklik – Secularism: the separation of religion from the functions of government.
  • İnkilapçılık – Reformism: aiming to modernise a country that had lagged behind Western progress.
  • Devletçilik – Untranslatable. Sometimes the French word Etatism is used. Essentially an economic system aimed at combining the best features of central planning and free enterprise.
  • Halkçılık – Populism: the concept of egalitarianism, replacing the former system where social class and hereditary factors determined a person’s rights and privileges.

Not bad for starters, you may think. But there’s another word that seems to be getting a good deal of bad press these days: “Populism”. And I have to tell you, it’s another one that’s giving me problems. In current use it seems to be applied, at least in the West, to a trend where many voters are supporting right wing, conservative, anti-liberal, anti-immigrant candidates. The prime culprit, of course, is America’s President Trump, but similar trends have been observed in France (Marie le Pen), Austria (the FPO) and Germany (the AfD).

Well I wouldn’t presume to tell Europeans and Americans how to solve their social, economic and political problems. I was, however, seriously disturbed to read that Turkey’s champion of justice and self-styled reincarnation of Mahatma Gandhi, has jumped on the Newspeak bandwagon and is decrying the concept of populism.

hypocrisy

Just about off the scale!

Admittedly he is using an imported transliteration “Populizm” instead of the Turkish word “Halkçılık” – but I suspect his hero Mustafa Kemal would not have approved. First because the great man was very insistent on using Turkish words rather than foreign imports; and second, because an egalitarian society lay at the centre of his hopes for the future of his new republic.

Mr Kılıçdaroğlu was quoted in news sources today as saying, “Populism is dangerous and needs to be avoided at all times”. “Populism is very dangerous but we will certainly overcome this.”

The basis of this, I’m afraid, is that Kılıçdaroğlu’s CHP (Republican People’s Party) has lost five consecutive general elections, two presidential elections and a referendum since 2002 – and doesn’t look like improving on that dismal record in the foreseeable future. Sour grapes?

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Just as a point of information, Turkey is currently doing its best to cope with more than three million refugees who have entered the country since civil war broke out in neighbouring Syria six years ago, so at least on the immigration score, it’s hard to fault its government.

 

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2 thoughts on “Populism, Majoritarianism, Democracy and Orwellian Newspeak

  1. I’m not a big fan of representative democracy – that was fine when people had to travel 3 days on horseback to participate in decision making. With the advent of rapid transit and electronic communication, I see no reason why people shouldn’t govern themselves via direct democracy.

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