Academic journal article International Journal of Turkish Studies

Ismayil Hakki Baltacioglu and Alternative Interpretations of the Early Turkish Republican Modernization Project

Academic journal article International Journal of Turkish Studies

Ismayil Hakki Baltacioglu and Alternative Interpretations of the Early Turkish Republican Modernization Project

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article aims to provide a map of Ismayil Hakki Baltacioglu's thought beyond education-related matters and to complement works related to his views on education. Baltacioglu also offered writings that are guides to his mind-set regarding his understanding of social change and the modernization project underway during the early years of the Turkish Republic. Baltacioglu argued for a wider definition of nationality and a more moderate stance towards religion, displayed an evident degree of detachment from intellectualism and rationalism, insisted on historical continuity and adhered to a self-defined form of traditionalism. Despite his conservative stance, the regime tolerated him within its elite and assigned him to positions of significance but neutralized him as soon as he was perceived as defiant and challenging to the core of the system. Thus, his ideas eventually situated him on the periphery of the establishment, but only until the end of the "High Kemalist years." In this sense, Baltacioglu's career bears witness to both the degree of flexibility within the early Turkish Republican regime and Kemalism and to its limit.

In the historiography on the late Ottoman Empire and the early Turkish Republic, the years following the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923, particularly "Kemalism par excellence" or the "High Kemalist years" of the 1930s,1 appear to be the zenith of a westernization/modernization process that began in the nineteenthcentury Ottoman context and marked the shiftto a different spirit and scope compared to the few borrowings from the West in the previous century. Although attaining modernity had already become the supreme ideology of the nineteenthcentury Ottoman elite,2 the early Republican military-bureaucratic-intellectual elite adopted westernization-even if with varying definitions to a degree-as the means for modernization and carried out an ideally all-encompassing modernization project of transformation within the republican political framework of a nation-state whose official ideology was the Kemalist brand of Turkish nationalism. Accordingly, the contemporary and sanctioned view of this venture did not rest on a concept of continuity, or even on an acme paradigm but on a rupture model,3 labeling the Kemalist era as novel and sui generis almost in the sense of a tabula rasa. After the late 1950s, however, historiography influenced by the modernization theory established a direct link with the nineteenth-century Ottoman reform movement and labeled the Kemalist era as the climax of the modernization process.4 This approach, turning the claims of rupture and idiosyncrasy into an understanding of continuity, dominated the field until some of its implications and assumptions were revised in recent decades.5

The byproduct of such accounts, even in their nuanced or semi-revisionist forms, has been twofold. First, nineteenth-century Ottoman history was treated as the pre-history of the Turkish Republic, a teleological view resting on an inevitability discourse.6 Second, the Kemalist establishment and the Kemalist elite were presumed to be rather homogenous and the politics of the era to be a zero-sum game between the secular-modernist Kemalists in action and the religiously oriented anti-modernists in reaction.7 In this framework, any conservative inclination tended to be categorized as mutually exclusive with a uniformly envisioned Kemalism or even the concept of modernity and lumped together with the anti-modernist stances. Only in recent years have histories of the early Republic distanced themselves from the conceptual framework of homogeneity, as well as from the inevitability discourse, to read conservatism through the prism of Kemalism.8

The bi-polarity of the conventional picture fell far short of portraying the actual state of affairs, which featured an array of groups and approaches, each with a different interpretation of the modernization project and of the Republican regime's concepts of political legitimacy, social organization and collective identity. …

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