The redemptive mission of the modern intellectual
The history of the intellectuals of modern Turkey is closely attached to the 'father-state' reality. For Turkish scholars, the state is identified with society and the individual. These intellectuals are the prominent actors of modernity who broke with tradition.
There is no rough hierarchical relationship between the socio-economic and intellectual-cultural developments (such as substructure or superstructure) that led to this rupture. When we examine the subject with a radical dialectical understanding, we see no strict chronological and hierarchical relationship between the gigantic transformations, such as the formation of the Western-centered world trade network and the industrial revolution, which resulted from the market and production relations.
In non-Western geographies (the periphery), including countries on the immediate edge of the West, such as the Ottoman Empire and Turkey, there is inevitably a kind of 'catching up from behind.' In this context, there is a partial or total attempt to imitate the West (without being clear about what this means).
After the French Revolution, modernization in many European countries, especially in Germany (as seen in the Ottoman Empire and Turkey later on), was accompanied by a reaction and thus an inferiority-superiority complex. In other words, the Europeanization of Europe took place within a center-periphery relationship. In the context of the 'natural development of capitalism' or the spread of its dominance in the world (globalization), this process also shows us how problematic theories of imperialism are. However, since our subject is the Ottoman Empire and Turkey, I will continue with this 'mention' for now and reach my main point.
As you have been reading in this column for some time, in Ottoman and Turkish history, the constitution, constitutionalism, republicanism, nation-state, democracy, and more generally, the issue of populism within the modernization - as we encounter in almost every non-Western geography in the context of global history - is a matter of 'learning,' 'emulation' and even adaptation or (literally and figuratively) direct transmission through 'translation.'
The works and views of Rigas of Velestin, whom I have discussed in the last two articles as a pioneer and even 'first example' in this context, are the best examples. His radical enlightenment and libertarian Declaration of Human Rights and Constitutional texts are almost like 'adaptation translations' from French models. This is true for nearly every thought, ideology, and movement from the far right to the far left. For this reason, it would be helpful to think about the originality of the texts produced in the periphery in the modern period and the place they correspond to in the context of 'translation'ç
One of the reasons why I discuss Rigas's revolutionary discourse, which was founded on a decisive break with the traditional epistemology of the period, in terms of saving the Ottoman Empire, is to show the absurdity of the idea that non-Muslims are almost inherently 'separatists', hence the 'traitor' image that has persisted in these lands for two centuries, albeit diminishing from time to time.
The linear relationship I established in the previous article between the Rigas of the 1790s, the socialist Armenian opposition of the 1890s, and the Kurdish movement of the 1990s shows the continuity in the problematic understanding of the dominant regime. This morbid attitude, rooted in egalophobia (phobia of equivalence), was initially limited to non-Muslim Ottomans. Still, it was also exhibited against non-Turkish intellectuals from the end of the nineteenth century. This reality means the expansion of the scope of the phobia. It is necessary to discuss each period and even intellectual separately - without neglecting the differences between them - to show that the genuine concern of these intellectuals, who were declared 'separatists' and 'traitors' in all three periods, was (in the Ottoman or Turkish context) liberation.
However, before going chronologically through the historical process, periods, or case studies, I think addressing a vital question and a caveat in this context is necessary: What is to be understood from the intellectual's redemptive mission?
This is one of the reasons for discussing Rigas as a case study in the context of saving the Ottoman Empire: In conventional historiography, which is increasingly dominated by a nationalist and nation-statist understanding, the rhetoric of separatism, secessionism or treason is frequently encountered as part of this understanding/discourse and is nowadays used as a popular lynching tool.
Let's leave aside whether the intellectual has or should have a mission. Indeed, the modern scholar generally ascribes a task/mission of salvation to himself.
Here, one of the main issues becomes clear: In his endeavor to fulfill this duty, his most significant support is the support of the people he claims to represent. The claim of being a representative and the claim of public support based on this modern invention called public opinion is essentially wishful thinking. More precisely, it is an example of a 'self-fulfilling prophecy'. However, the intellectual does not wait for their prophecy to confirm itself; they devote most of their energy to its realization. Sometimes the energy spent and the price paid by modern intellectuals during their struggle as a 'representative of the people' with '(potential) public support' may even exceed the energy spent and the price paid by modern intellectuals in this effort to 'confirm the prophecy,' that is, to gain, or rather to create, public support. In short, the modern intellectual acts like a sculptor or, in more common parlance, a 'social engineer' who 'creates' the (imaginary) people he represents and derives his power from its support. The 'raw material' of the modern intellectual in this process, that is, the natural stone or rock that he will shape by shaving it with a delicate and challenging approach to form the sculpture he will create, does not fall from the sky; it consists of existing peoples with their (pre-modern) structure.
When evaluating the intellectuals and intellectual movements in modern Ottoman and Turkish history, we need to pay attention to the issue of the task/mission of salvation. Even if we look at it with a 'modernist' understanding that every intellectual has or should have such a mission, we must look objectively and with common sense at what must be saved.
Let me cut to the chase: It is not natural or standard for the intellectuals, as is generally the case in third-world countries today, to include saving the state as part of their 'savior' duty!
This may not be easy to understand in a country where most academics behave like diplomats or state representatives at international conferences or in academic settings in general. Still, it is worth underlining: This attitude proves that you are failing regarding individual development and independence!
Moreover, just as some people voluntarily take on the role of policemen and soldiers (as if insulting these institutions), the fact that academics and intellectuals voluntarily take on this kind of 'state representation' duty shows that they believe in the inadequacy of these people and institutions.
This is also sometimes the case when intellectuals think and act 'on behalf' of the party, organization, or other institution to which they 'belong' in settings where they are not called upon as representatives. Still, this issue should be dealt with separately in the context of communalism.
What is essential in the context of our subject is that intellectuals who act with a primitive understanding of belonging to the state and intellectual-academic dependence expect the same from the scholars and movements they encounter in history.
This expectation, which should be dealt with in a separate article, ultimately eliminates the difference between objectivity and impartiality. Since it chooses the side of the state to which it dedicates its profession and even its entire academic-intellectual activities, for the 'intellectual' who acts with this 'expectation,' it seems as if the primary duty of the intellectual cannot be anything other than 'saving the state.'
The main reason for this is that, in the minds of these intellectuals, the state, which has assumed the role of savior, is identified with society and the individual.
In the eyes of these intellectuals, saving the state means saving the society/people or parts of it.
One step beyond this is that a social or individual liberation independent of the dismantling of the state is unthinkable.
When these intellectuals look at the history of the modern Ottoman Empire and Turkey, they are looking for scholars who, like themselves, equate the state's salvation with the salvation of society and even put it ahead of it.
As the debate goes, today's intellectuals, from the 'Turkish-Islamist' Kemalists to the modernist-nationalist leftists, from the racist Turkists to the 'Islamo-Turkist' AKP supporters, are doing nothing but perpetuating this understanding of the majority intellectuals, which has gradually become the dominant force in modern Ottoman and Turkish history.
In other words, they read history through the eyes of their intellectual ancestors and ultimately write the history of their intellectual ancestors with their understanding of the state-father.
The history of the modern Turkish intellectual is also the history of not breaking away from the (state) father...
In this context, some may rightly say, "Look at the bourgeoisie, take your intellectual!" but the intellectuals who ascribe 'savior' to themselves can only deserve to be intellectuals if they realize that saving the state is not the same as saving society and the individual.
If, as every intellectual will claim, the people's well-being, happiness, and future are their concern, the mission of saving or sustaining a state becomes less accurate in proportion to its authoritarianism and the narrowness of the class it represents. It is replaced by the task of overthrow (revolution) or radical transformation (reform).
What matters, however, is the direction of the transformation or whether the state that replaces it provides 'freedom, equality, and fraternity' to society and the individual.
None of the modern states that claim to be based on and for the people, especially the nation-states after the wars of liberation and the republics established through revolutions, can claim to have achieved this.
This is where we are two centuries after the French Revolution.
However, it cannot be denied that today's (bourgeois) democracies come closest to this in the depth and breadth of their democracies...
Maybe the intellectual motto cannot be 'not enough, but yes,' but in the context of our subject and especially in the current conjuncture, what about the alternative suggestion of 'yes, but not enough!