Academic journal article International Journal of Turkish Studies

Turkey's Difficult Journey to Democracy: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Academic journal article International Journal of Turkish Studies

Turkey's Difficult Journey to Democracy: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Article excerpt

ÍLTER TURAN, Turkey's Difficult Journey to Democracy: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015). Pp. 240. $ 95.00 cloth.

In the aftermath of the failed July 15th coup the future of Turkey's democracy once again hangs in the balance. The timely release of liter Turan's new volume, therefore, provides a welcome addition to a growing literature on democratization in the country. Dr. Turan, an astute observer of Turkish politics, economics and international relations since the mid-1960s, is well positioned to write a comprehensive history of Turkey's trials and tribulations on the road to democratic development. His research on a variety of topics including labor unions, NATO, civil society, party systems and parliamentary politics is likely to be familiar to Turkish academic audiences already. With this new volume, non-Turkish readers will have the opportunity to gain exposure to Turan's vast knowledge and insightful analysis of the Turkish political scene over the course of the last century.

Turkey's Difficult Journey to Democracy provides a sweeping and multifaceted historical analysis of Turkey's political development in eight chapters and an important postscript. Two questions anchor the book's analysis: 1) Can a country that lacks the socioeconomic conditions that usually accompany democracy achieve them under democratic rule? and 2) Does the socioeconomic development achieved under democratic rule also move a country towards a deepening and maturing of its democracy? Turan concludes that the answer to the first question is a resounding yes. Socioeconomic development indicators suggest that Turkey has "reached and passed levels beyond which a democratic form of rule becomes reversible" (206). Turan finds a definitive answer to the book's second question, however, more elusive. Indeed, he spends much of the book laying the theoretical and historical groundwork needed to contextualize and understand the complexities associated with such a line of inquiry. Turan finds that although Turkey's democracy has deepened in many respects, this deepening has been periodically diminished by democracy's failure to "mature" into a patterned and predictable set of behaviors by key institutional actors. Since its inception, Turkish democracy has been subjected to cycles of expansion/contraction and marked by numerous authoritarian interludes. The book's investigation of these cycles, interludes and long-term trajectories makes for a comprehensive analysis that will be useful to scholars interested in comparative democratization, especially those unfamiliar with the Turkish case.

Chapter 1 situates the book and the Turkish case within a now mature literature on democratization and democratic systems. This chapter will offer few surprises or new insights to seasoned researchers working on democratic development, but it does provide the necessary theoretical architecture for some of the book's most important and reoccurring themes. Namely, it introduces readers to the trade-offs that Turan believes societies face in their quest for the two sometimes conflicting goals of security and prosperity. "Turkey's democracy has advanced toward maturation," Turan argues, "only after prosperity orientation came to permeate much of society, especially its politically salient segments" (31).

The remainder of the book builds this case through a series of overlapping historically, economically and thematically oriented chapters. Chapter 2 examines the antecedents of democratization and the foundations of the Turkish Republic. Turan makes the case that Turkey, unlike many other late-democratizers, met two important baseline conditions for democratization early on. First, it inherited a relatively well-functioning state apparatus from the Ottoman establishment. Second nation-building policies consolidated the "Turkish" political community, albeit imperfectly and violently. Chapter 3 on the critical period of transition to competitive politics shows how a confluence of individual agency and structural factors stewarded the transition process. …

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