Muslim Reformers in Iran and Turkey: The Paradox of Moderation

By Güneş Murat Tezcür | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
From Islamists
to Muslim Reformers:
A Theory of
Political Change

Moderation Theory

An influential body of scholarship argues that radical parties become increasingly moderate if they are integrated into the legal and electoral system.1 The origins of this idea, which can be called moderation theory, are found in the work of Robert Michels, who is most well known for his “iron law of oligarchy.” He argues that Socialist parties, committed to bringing about workingclass democracy, are characterized by highly authoritarian practices.2 In fact, the very essence of the party organization does not allow for democratic decision making. Parties are controlled by a small group of leaders who develop their party’s strategies with minimum input from the members and followers.3 Another significant but more obscure aspect of his work discusses the external behavior of revolutionary Socialist parties. He identifies two causal mechanisms through which these parties lose their radical orientations: (a) pursuit of votes, and (b) organizational survival.

Michels defines the modern political party as the “organization of the electoral masses.”4 Radical parties aspire to the greatest number of votes to gain strong parliamentary representation and replace the ruling elites. However, espousal of ideological and revolutionary policies alienates large segments of the electorate. Consequently, radical party leaders are faced with an inescapable dilemma: they have to eschew the pursuit of radical ideological principles to attract more votes. Radical parties gradually transform into pragmatic, vote-maximizing electoral parties to remain politically viable. Michels argues that the evolution of the German Social Democratic Party (SDP; Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands) at the dawn of the twentieth century exemplifies this process.

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