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The United Kingdom is the longest running democracy and could decide basically anything with a simple majority (including court-packing, etc). McGann is pretty convincing regarding the risk of a tyranny of minorities when supermajorities are required (The tyranny of the supermajority: how majority rule protects minorities). The evidence for the benefits of supermajorities seems thin. I would be wary of drawing too many lessons from specific cases.

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“simultaneously try to backstabbed” is, I think, a typoe. But great book review!

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> the thing where Democrats talk about how Trump supporters entering the Capitol was an “attempted coup”

It was an attempted coup, a weak one. I feel as if you are falling into a hapless pit where you cannot see the straightforward reading of the situation because of your own trapped priors around the left.

Try this: forget about what they say, and watch what they do. Watch the would-be dictator speak words to a crowd. Don't litigate what the words mean that's stupid. Watch the crowd march. Watch the crowd break into a building and kill people. Think about the symbolic importance of that building.

People get confused by textual readings of speeches because they don't understand that people lie by omission, very pointedly. You struggle with this specifically, and now you are starting to encounter a wider world of betrayal and deception in government.

It's honestly heartening to see you take this project on with your usual sincerity.

> Erdogan gets described as a "right-wing populist", a term I've always had trouble understanding.

Notice that you were confused. The academic establishment has had access to these stories of dictators and would-be dictators and they were unified in declaring Trump a danger.

Trump is also a right-wing populist, and a fascist: he constructs the false narrative that it is just and necessary for him to take power.

These are terms which have a long history of use. I accept that you are attempting to educate yourself in these political fields and admire your willingness to struggle openly.

Pick another dictator and read about them. Keep on doing it until the pieces fall into place: Trumpism is a fascist movement and always has been and if you think otherwise you are not just wrong but dangerously misinformed.

When the fascists came to America Scott Alexander wrote "You Are Still Calling Wolf." You lost a lot of people with that essay and for some reason I still hope you might see that you made a mistake.

Work like this makes me hopeful for your future as a political bogger. Because I want you to understand: you don't have a future as a political blogger outside of the circle of people that care about substack, you won't make it as a commentator unless you can understand that YASCW was a failure.

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If you're interested in how countries lapse into dictatorship let me highly recommend "How Democracies Die" as a systematic overview on that theme. And also "Wars, Guns, and Votes" though that's a lot less relevant to the US.

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Surely the main lesson is the danger of religion in politics?

More broadly, I suppose, it's due to religion being an old institution that winds up being central to 'low cultural class' aka cultural conservatism. But even so, this seems to be a story where Ataturk and the Turkish Army were terrified of Islamism destroying somewhat-liberal Turkey, to the point of staging multiple coups to avoid it, and when they let down their guard once they got an Islamist dictatorship.

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"And as the work of titans like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and so on" Thomas Jefferson was in France when the Constitution was written, he basically missed the late 80s.

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You mention that there's no equivalent to "we need to join the EU" as a reason to restructure all of our institutions, but...well...if there really is some goal everyone in the country has in common, isn't it pretty easy to use it to justify this sort of thing? Eisenhower's goodbye speech is all about the way US institutions changed in order to better fight the Cold War, and it occurs to me that if we get serious about a great power confrontation with China we would essentially have some kind of similar thing.

("We need to fight climate change" feels like an abortive attempt to create this sort of story. Not that climate change isn't a real problem, but in the late '80s/early '90s it felt like it was picking up enough power to be a reason to restructure institutions; for whatever reason it ran out of unifying ability by the mid-'90s, though. The rise of Green parties in 2010s Europe shows how *little* power the green movement has -- Turkey never needed a Join-EU Party, or 1950s America an Anti-Communist Party, after all).

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Nisantasi is the part of Istanbul where you would head if you wanted to buy a designer handbag.

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I enjoy your exploration of politics. I have to strongly disagree with your object policy recommendations though.

America has a real lack of government capacity. Just about nothing it does is done well or effectively. Your recommendations (less direct control by the president over the bureaucracy and more supermajoritarian checks) is going to exacerbate this primary issue.

Also, I am left wondering if perhaps democracy is less valuable than we are led to believe from this book review. The object level "is turkey better off today as a dictatorship" is left unargued. The bits we get hint perhaps it is better off.

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I'm not sure how to get from the description of Erdogan's path to Scott's three suggestions- they don't seem particularly well-aimed at the problems. For example:

1. Constitutional amendment against court packing - While this isn't necessarily a BAD idea, it doesn't seem central- Erdogan got a lot of power through non-court means, and it seems likely he could have used alternate routes, as you bring up in #2. This seems shoe-horned in as it relates to current domestic US political disputes. In addition, "court-packing" in the US sense is highly legislative-branch, not just executive, so this seems more about preventing majoritarian rule than it does preventing *executive* rule.

2. Stronger protections separating investigation of tax fraud (IRS?) and corruption (FBI?) from the executive. - Almost certainly a good thing, the Imperial Presidency is a real problem, and straightforwardly if we're worrying about executive power, than making the executive less powerful is an obvious good.

3. More things that might be used to hack the checks-and-balances system requiring 2/3 majorities instead of simple majorities - again, this gap between majority power and executive power. What we want to prevent is the majority from instituting sweeping changes that centralize power to one or a few people, and insulate their changes from future political will changing. Raw anti-majoritarian rules seems like a very blunt instrument to achieve this, especially considering the examples from other countries that already have a great deal less minority-veto-style rules than the US, without increased dictatorship outcomes.

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Just a note: Strasbourg itself is not subject to laïcité, despite being in France. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concordat_in_Alsace-Moselle

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There is indeed an alarm for dictatorship. The problem is, an alarm that is always ringing is no more useful than having no alarm.

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This type of thing is what convinced me that immunity for government officials while they are doing their jobs is a good thing, even though Trump tried to use it for bad things. It's overall good for it to be very hard to arrest people who are currently serving in the government and it's worth having some bad people in the government for that.

I'm agnostic about whether you should be allowed to arrest them for things that are very unrelated to doing their job, like if you're the president and also you break into someone's house and take their TV.

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Really interesting book review; I am curious if you have any thoughts on the role of the Gulen movement within the modern opposition to Erdogan, and its (presumably uneasy) relationship with the liberal wing of the opposition. Presumably, Erdogan turning on Gulen would have created interesting new dynamics.

On a less interesting tangent, the notion of elite-controlled institutions has always seemed a tad tautological to me, and maybe someone could clarify.

Institutions empower individuals; power being central to the concept of elite status, how could their leaders not be in turn considered part of the elite?

A populist uprising would presumably elevate new individuals into leadership positions, but are there useful reasons to refrain from referring to this new ruling class as the Elite?

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The relevant distinction is that taking control of industry frequently triggers civil war. This in turn frequently leads to dictatorship either as the left-wing government starts abandoning scruples to put down a rebellion or the right-wing faction wins and decides democracy threatens property. So real danger, different dynamic. Przeworski wrote a good book on this that I hope is more blackpilled than fully accurate, but that’s hope in the theological virtue sense.

(Arguably a different set of dynamics open up when left-wing parties realize this, stop making impossible bids for power, and then no longer exercise a disciplining effect on property elites.)

People are probably more familiar with the Hayek argument that a democratic government adopting central planning would slide into dictatorship. This doesn’t really seem to have as much basis and I can’t really think of any examples maybe outside the very heavily confounded examples of some Central European countries ~’45-50.

That said, I’m not sure the dynamic you mention for right-populism is quite right either, because I’m skeptical of the whole cultural theory of class on which it’s based. The only sense in which snobs (independent of actual, economic class) dominate slobs is by sneering at them, but slobs also sneer at snobs, so this feels more like a case of subcultural emnity than real power. (Credentialism certainly is real and non-reciprocal, but that’s why you want to incorporate it into your theory of economic class.)

An alternative explanation is simply that if by “cultural upper class” what you actually mean is “people with culturally liberal values” and by “culturally lower class” you mean “people with culturally conservative values,” then the latter are almost definitionally more sympathetic towards Decisions Made By A Cool Tough Leader Guy rather than Decisions Made By Endless Meetings, and visa-versa.

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I remember in June 2016, being so happy about the state of my life, and the state of the world. I flew to the UK for a conference, and when I landed, I checked my phone and saw breaking news about a shooting in progress at a gay bar in Orlando. A few days later, during the conference, it looked like Turkey was undergoing one of its coups to remove the Islamist presence and restore its version of secularist democracy. But by the time I was leaving, it became clear that the coup was just enabling Erdogan to purge his opponents. But at least Brexit was about to go down in flames - or so I thought, as I boarded my plane back home.

Was there ever a consensus that there had been a real coup attempt? By the end of things, it was starting to seem like it might have been a honeypot by Erdogan to purge his enemies.

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The most telling data point that shows the difference between the US and Turkey (or any other country that would be privy to democratic dictatorship) is that Trump's Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, was sued many times and then simply stopped tampering with mail delivery. How did he just ... stop?? I'm still baffled. I guess the Rule of Law is a more powerful force than we thought.

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Anyone know more about the military's structure during this time period? ~100 years is a reasonably long time to maintain what looks like a consistent set of values. How were they not taken over by would-be dictators who used the coups-are-okay constitutional clause to go about it? Did they just get lucky for a while or is there a structural difference that made them more successful than Myanmar?

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> This has made me a lot less optimistic about the kind of dictator-prevention strategy where everyone has lots of guns and then if a dictator comes to power you rush out into the streets shouting FREEEEEDOM!, William-Wallace-style, shooting everything in sight. If there's a military coup or something, this might work. But if every day your institutions are just a tiny bit less legitimate than the day before, when do you rush out into the street? One of the most important steps on the way to Erdogan's total control was his court-packing, accomplished under the guise of EU-bid modernization. But if the Democrats manage to pack the Supreme Court at some point, are the people with guns going to rush out into the street shouting FREEEEEDOM? No - realistically even the people who really hate the Democrats and think they're bad and wrong are going to stop short of armed revolution, because that alone isn't quite Stalin-level obvious evil. Erdogan demonstrates that you can become a dictator through a few dozen things like that chained together, without any obvious single point where everyone wakes up and notices. There is no fire alarm for dictatorship.

I agree with the object level message here but I have to wonder: if you lived through the same year that I did last year, how did you not already conclude this? Millions of people have had their jobs and lives taken from them through an active act of the government. Americans already have millions of guns. This is the single most oppressive thing that most Americans have and will ever live through. How many guerrilla actions were there to stop the lockdowns? Zero. There were zero.

The obvious conclusion from this is that Americans do not have the balls to take decisive action and use those guns to stop tyranny, even when it announces itself ahead of time. So yeah, the American guns aren't really doing shit to keep us safe from dictators

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Did the book provide any insights regarding effectively integrating/deescalating political blocks with goals/policy preferences outside the bounds of other political blocks?

From your description, the Islamic faction in Turkey posed this problem for some time: a significant block attempting to participate in the democratic system to pursue fundamentally ends other power blocks considered intolerable, or incompatible with democracy.

Germany is currently dealing with the AfD, which is large enough to be a significant political faction, but is essentially under investigation as an extremist group. From a democratic perspective, that's a tricky position. It feels like some factions within US politics are headed the same way, and we're in the position of labeling explicitly political groups as terrorists.

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Background: I am an American who lived in a medium sized town in the Turkish "heartland" for a year. Confidence in the stylized portrayal of Turkish politics below: ~65%.

I think one thing this review under-emphasizes is the extent to which an islamic-friendly government is extremely popular among a majority of Turks, though extremely unpopular with the majority of turks you are likely to meet or hear from.

Turkish sentiment is strongly divided between cities on the Western, Mediterranean-facing Coast (Istanbul, Izmir, Antalya, etc.) that are much more "liberal" "secular" "Western," and in Turkish terms, "republican" etc. vs. those cities in the Turkish interior and along the Black Sea which tend to be more "traditional" and thus "islamic" (of course cities in the heartland have pockets of liberal voters and cities along the coast have “islamic" suburbs or neighborhoods but this works as a generalization).

Westerners typically interact with and valorize the Turkey of the Mediterranean (and who can blame them! It’s great!), with maybe the occasional stop in Cappadochia or Pamukkele (both beautiful and amazing). The preferred politics of the interior, though, has essentially always included some form of Islamicly-informed government in much the same way that the American "heartland" was thought to consistently prefer some form of Christian or evangelical inflected government from the 80s-mid-2000s . As I understand it, a majority of the population lives in the "heartland" and so it requires no anti-democratic impulse to think that their preferences should have some representation in public policy.

The preferred politics of the Turkish interior, however, have also been basically outlawed for most of post-Ottoman Turkish history, with the military, as the review points out, frequently interposing itself against democracy in the name of preventing even mildly islamic changes or parties. For context, the government currently claims that an implausible 99%+ of turks are muslims. But even independent polls show ~80% (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Turkey#Religious_statistics). For all that, Erbakan, for example, seems unlikely to have advocated for or succeeded in turning Turkey into a caliphate or ruling by sharia. And if he had banned alcohol or other similarly “red meat” items for muslim conservatives....well so did America in the 20s (due largely, I might add, to a religiously-inflected moral crusade). To say that the military did the right thing by preventing every and all expression of islamic morality in politics is to believe that General Pershing should have ordered Harding or Coolidge out of the White House in order to enact the moral priorities of flapper-era New York. Certainly many of the priorities of muslim Turkish politicians of the mid-2000s (pre Ergenkon/2016) seem no less totalitarian than French treatment of similar issues in public schools. If liberalism is a big tent, surely it can include a country which is a democracy with some laws reflecting the islamic faith of the vast majority of its populace. The Turkish military, however, was willing to try and depose or undermine even peak center-right technocrat Erdogan, reducing his incentive to stay within the bounds of typical politics, hence Ergenkon (I also think the review underrates Turkey’s “arab spring” moment with the gezi park/taksim square protests of 2013 but I won’t address that here, unsure what the book’s view on that is).

Erdogan has ended up a tyrant, no doubt, but I think the review is perhaps too open to the idea that Turkey was much of a democracy before Erdogan despite the fact that the moral preferences of a majority of the electorate were all-but-excluded from the political sphere by force. To be sure, many of the institutions we associate with democracy were more vibrant pre-Erdogan (particularly the press and the judiciary [the military was also more "vibrant" but not in a democratic way]). But the reason those institutions were targeted for hollowing-out by Erdogan was in part due to the reality of constant coup-threat which those same “democratic” institutions supported. This is a tragedy because I can easily imagine a world in which Turkey looks like a successful, if morally conservative, democracy (in much the same way America scans as conservative to Euros), rather than the dictatorship it has become.

Anyways, enjoyed the review and think it captured many of these points, but wanted to emphasize just how unrepresentative the previous governance of Turkey seemed to have been to the Turkish interior.

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Cram schools? It’s like the whole plot hinged on a chain of frozen banana stands.

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There is a thread of logic, often only implicit, that runs through all these discussions about populace vs elites: whether is life winner-take-all or percentage-of-the-pot. In the first worldview the elites are the best of us, so they should win. Much as in baseball where the margin of greatness is small (think .300 hitter vs .250 hitter), being just a little bit better means you win all the competitions and get to decide everything in your sphere of influence and everyone else gets the scraps.

In the second worldview, everybody sucks, and the elites are just a *little* less clueless than the rest and "sucking slightly less" is a less hubris-inducing framing for their "superiority". An elite might make slightly better decisions on average than a pleb, and while that matters it isn't consistent or comprehensive enough to be a knock-down argument to always listen to the elite and never the plebs.

And one is not necessarily correct and the other wrong: there are certain situations where the first clearly applies. I already gave the example of baseball but your point from the comment highlights a couple of weeks ago comes to mind, the one about the taking the kid who's almost smart enough to cure cancer to the point where he's exactly smart enough to cure cancer, and how a fair bit of progress is driven this way.

But politics seems to be more the second kind of thing. I find Liberal arguments to be, on average, more correct than Conservative ones. The Liberals are really better, and this matters. But it's not consistent or comprehensive enough to be a knock-down argument for always listening to the Liberals and never the Conservatives.

And my beef is not that people disagree with that assessment, it's that the dichotomy *never comes up*. We talk about class, status, economic inequality, etc, using arguments that are clearly from one of those two frames, without ever talking about whether or not such framing applies in a given instance. And it seems to me like this is an important question, and maybe the *most* important question, for talking about how to talk about this stuff: do the winners deserve everything, or just slightly more than the not-quite winners?

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> If there's a general moral here, it's that having the "good guys" oppress and censor the "bad guys" is fun while it lasts, but it's hard to know whether you're building up a karmic debt, or when you're going to have to pay the piper.

Wondering whether most people who saw Erdogan as the "good guy" fighting for them against the "bad guys" regret the current state, or are just happy that their good guy implements their idea of how things should be to an ever higher degree. Do people get "tired of winning"?

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Where are all the pro-Erdogan bits? Did you excise those to avoid making him look good?

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A number of recent posts have touched on the sort of right-wing, social-class-centered populism mentioned near the end of this one. I want to propose an alternative mental framework for thinking about this.

There is a named concept called the Just World Hypothesis - which is the hypothesis that the world is, more often than not, "just" - meaning, people in general tend to be rewarded for good behavior and punished for bad behavior. If one strongly believes in the Just World Hypothesis, then one can make inferences in the other direction - that if a person has been rewarded, they must have been behaving well. Conversely, if someone strongly believes the JWH is false, then they will infer the opposite; that the person's rewards were acquired through theft, deception, etc. In other words, intuitive, unexamined beliefs people have regarding the JWH are the drivers of their responses to political questions.

One can easily map this onto leftist politics by applying it to wealth; the idea is that any given individual has an intuition about whether they believe in the . A proponent of, let's call it the Just Wealth Hypothesis, is likely to believe that progressive taxation and welfare programs are unjust; they ask, why should we tax the more productive people at a higher rate? Why should we reward poor people for not going out and getting a job? Meanwhile, someone with the opposite feeling would believe that richer individuals got their wealth via unethical behavior - exploitation, I believe the Marxists call it - and deserve to have it redistributed to at least some degree. What we call left wing "populism", in other words, is a believe that holders of extreme wealth - you might call their position "elite" - are illegitimate and corrupt and should be stripped of their wealth.

I think the way to map this onto "right wing populism" is to apply the JWH to *credentials* and *status* instead of wealth. A Just Credentials Hypothesis proponent would tend to believe that the cultural and intellectual "elites" got that way by working hard in school and acquiring more knowledge than others in their field; an opponent would believe that they got that way via connections and deception. As a result, when an Expert In The Field makes a policy recommendation based on their expertise - e.g. that restaurants should be closed to prevent covid transmission, or coal power plants should be closed down to prevent catastrophic climate change - people react to that recommendation based on their intuitive beliefs about the legitimacy of that person's credentials. What we call right wing "populism", in other words, is a belief that holders of extreme credentials - again, "elites" - are illegitimate and corrupt and should be stripped of their credentials.

Imagine an individual who is an extreme Just World supporter when it comes to wealth, and a extreme Just World opponent when it comes to credentials - has that person ever had a better presidential candidate than Donald Trump?

Either of these forms of populism has a danger, and a tendency towards dictatorship. For left wing populism, once you tear down capitalist economic structures and eliminate the economic elite, the only available alternative is a command economy managed by the state. This has been well covered. What is the equivalent for right wing populism? What do you end up with, if you eliminate credentials; who do people listen to, if not the experts? I think we're learning the answer to this, in the era of social media, alternative medicine and qanon: when expertise and credentials are discredited, what fills the void is *charisma*. The ideas that sound right, or feel good to hear, or have the most Likes, or come from people who you have come to trust for other reasons, become the Truth. And this is a powerful force for the sort of hollowing out of institutions, and slide into dictatorship, that Scott describes happening in Turkey.

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I wanted to chime in on populism; there's a definition of what it is that I found useful.

In this view, populism isn't promising people what they want, or telling them you're the best party for them. Democrats will tell you that Republicans would introduce bans on gay marriage, so if you want gay marriage you should vote Democrat. Republicans will tell you Democrats will raise taxes, so if you want less taxes you should vote Republican. Each of them wants to convince you they're the best party for you.

Populists are different in that they claim they are the only ones representing the people. On this definition, promising everyone free beer isn't populist, but telling them you're the only one who cares for them and all other politicians or parties just are in it for the money (or for the power, or for some sinister goal) definitely is.

Thus, in a way, "We are the 99%" is the ultimate embodiment of populism; regardless of what the movement was and what it wanted, the slogan implies that they and only they represent the people, or at least the real people.

On this count, Erdogan is a populist if he claims that his opponents are all corrupt and he's the only one who really cares for the people; I don't know that much about him, but that's certainly the claim that is used in countries like Russia (and by populist opposition e.g. in Europe). Where a non-populist might consider (or at least call) her opponents less clever than herself, or less able, or misguided, or just representing a different constituency, the populist doesn't have this option. Since the populist is the true representative of the people, she has to assume there actually is "the people"; that it is relatively uniform so that it can be represented by a single party or individual; and that anyone else shows, at best, a total lack of knowledge; more often, great disloyalty. And disloyal people must be the enemy.

This, as far as I understand, worries many people who use the term "populist" in this way. A populist can't just peacefully coexist with others, not in the long term. This doesn't mean populists will go and kill all who dissent; but they will certainly do everything they can to marginalize them. Sounds pretty much like Erdogan, I guess.

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As for court packing I’m not sure why you’re concerned about that. If you have 2/3 majority in the legislature just impeach the SCOTUS judges you don’t like on trumped up bribery charges. Or have them die in a convenient accident.

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If you're depending on the Army to arrange a coup every so often in order to maintain the vision of the Great Leader from beyond the grave, exactly how democratic a country are you to start off with?

I'm one of those opposed to the EU letting Turkey become a member, because I have grave doubts about what really is under the surface of the "we're a Western liberal democracy, honest!" and this account of the book describes exactly why I'm dubious about that.

However Ataturk dealt with The Problem Of Islamism (or Islamic Extremism) seems to be exactly the wrong way to go about it; he wanted to weaken Islam as a force and drag Turkey into the modern, Western world. To break the power of religion, he tried to crush it. But that's not how it works - persecution strengthens the committed believers. If they know that sending their kid to a religious school is torpedoing their chances in life, but they still do it, then their faith and the values they take out of that is more important to them than worldly success. Ensuring that kids who do attend the religious schools come out the end with their only realistic career option being "the clergy" is creating a stick to beat your own back with - is anyone surprised people on such a track were deeply committed, conservative, and anti-the State?

How you weaken religious influence in society is by honey, not vinegar. Let the parents have their religious schools, we just want to ensure that the same curriculum is taught in all schools. Don't give believers the everyday example of 'the State is crushing us', allow moderate to liberal seminaries (apologies for not using the correct terms) to be established. Don't ban headscarves or hijabs, but if a girl wants to stop wearing a headscarf, we will of course defend her right to make that choice. And so on. Allow the forces of secular society to dissolve the zealousness like pearls in vinegar. The example in the West is the smart kid who goes off to college and falls away from his family background of simple piety. If the smart kids from the boondocks are funnelled into religious schools and not allowed anything else, they will use that ability to defend Islam. If the smart kid from the farm or the small village or the hinterland can go off to college in the Big City to study engineering, there is a much greater chance they will end up secular or at the very least with the liberal version of Islam like liberal Christianity in the West.

I always suspected Erdogan was a strongman, not a centrist/liberal politician, especially in light of the 'conspiracy' that had him cracking down on all his enemies. This review explains why and how he came to that position, but it doesn't convince me that yes indeed the EU should admit Turkey. The underlying system, where the army as guardian of the secular democratic Westernised version of Turkey creates and maintains the very conservative Islamism they are fighting, is not robust enough to pass as a democracy and until Turkey fixes that, I don't want them here.

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I know I must be the millionth person to ever point this out, but why do you always put commas and periods outside quotes? It's not correct--they go "inside," like "this." (Even when it doesn't "make sense.") I know I can't be the only person to mention this, and I'm new to reading this, but it's bothered me since I started reading a month or two ago. What's the deal?

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"If Stalin wanted your head, he would have his goons cut your head off. If Erdogan wants you dead, he will have a corruption investigator arrest you, bring you to court, charge you with plausible-sounding corruption allegations, give you a trial by jury that seems to observe the proper formalities, and sentence you to death by decapitation. To an outside observer, it will look a lot like how genuine corruption trials work in genuinely democratic nations. You'd have to be really well-informed to spot the irregularities - and the media sources that should be informing you all seem very helpful and educational but are all secretly zombies controlled by Erdogan supporters."

This sounds exactly like Putin, too. (Though I guess Putin will also have his goons poison you, sometimes, but in a plausibly deniable way.)

""Anti corruption campaign" seems to be a code word for "arresting the enemies of people in power", whether in Erdogan's Turkey or Xi's China. I'm not sure what to do about it without leaving corruption in place, but, uh, maybe we should leave corruption in place."

On the other hand, Navalny's whole thing is the Anti-Corruption Foundation; he has gained influence against the Russian government by making YouTube documentaries with detailed allegations of corruption by people in power. Possibly "corruption" is just a thing people care about in a nonpartisan way in countries that have a lot of it, and as such it can be used symmetrically by those in power and those outside of it (except to the extent that power makes it easier to do *any* kind of thing)?

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>Although these looked good on paper, the end result was to destroy previous Turkish institutions with strong traditions and independent power bases, and replace them with new ones that Erdogan could pack with his supporters.

I'm assuming based on the wording that this is an instance of the recurring 'cultural evolution' framework. If so, it's a good demonstration that the framework *desperately* needs an injection of rigor regarding the time scales - if things that are a century old can either be "strong tradition" or "top-down planning" depending on how you feel like framing things, it's lost all explanatory power along with the predictive.

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Also I just want to focus for a second on this:

"The FP was shut down, and Erdogan was personally banned from politics for the crime of "reading an incendiary poem". The Islamists appealed to the European Court of Human Rights - located in Strasbourg, France, home of laicite and enforced secularism, which ruled that none of this seemed like a human rights violation to them."


"Partly this was due to a European Court of Human Rights case where the EU upheld Turkey's headscarf ban, causing him to lose faith in the European conception of liberalism as relevant to his pro-Islam project."

I wish the European conception of liberalism had made a better showing here. It's probably naïve to think that would've prevented this but.

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"Every artist in the country will make groundbreaking exciting new art criticizing the government's poor judgment"

If they really were making good new art, I'd be happy about that. But it tends to end up with things like the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourth_plinth,_Trafalgar_Square

"28 March 2018 – 2020 Michael Rakowitz The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist A recreation of a sculpture of a lamassu (a winged bull and protective deity) that stood at the entrance to Nergal Gate of Nineveh from 700 B.C. It was destroyed in 2015 by Isis, along with other artefacts in the Mosul Museum. Rakowitz's recreation is made of empty Iraqi date syrup cans, representing the destruction of the country's date industry"

I am really excited to read this, because lamassu? Oh yeah! And by the photos, it turned out pretty decent looking! https://londonvisitors.wordpress.com/2018/04/08/the-invisible-enemy-should-not-exist-by-michael-rakowitz-on-the-fourth-plinth-in-trafalgar-square/

However, what is there now?

"Heather Phillipson The End A dollop of whipped cream with an assortment of toppings: a cherry, a fly, and a drone. The drone will film passers-by and display them on an attached screen". Uh-huh, yeah that is sure better than stuffy old Neo-Classical art! https://www.galleriesnow.net/shows/heather-phillipson-the-end/

I would rather have the lamassu, but the fact that the artist had to slap on a political message about the destruction of the date industry, instead of simply making a work of art with classical and historical references, because that would be 'popular' instead of 'elite' is, I think, exactly the wrong message to take away from this.

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On reflection, I find your discussion of right-wing populism jarring, mostly because of your apparent defeatism toward/respect for the elites. On the contrary, it seems to me that if a specific elite will entrench itself so solidly in all the levers of power that it can defy democracy and fuck over the will of the majority (leaving entirely aside the ability to propagandize their values etc.), the only moral and democratic thing to do is to become or support a right-wing populist every now and then so that you can drag every last one of these elite members out in the street and shoot them. Nothing seems more important than to defeat and uproot this anti-democratic elite, especially since you've already outlined mechanisms whereby they convince themselves that their insular values represent real moral superiority which should be allowed to reign above democracy.

It seems baffling to me that you and everyone wouldn't agree that the obvious solution to this is to convince the dean of Harvard et al. to abdicate peacefully and become bean farmers while they're replaced by yokels from Nebraska every 20 years or so, on the understanding that the alternative and its consequences will be much, much worse. (Once the wheel has turned enough and the formed deans have been thoroughly yokelized, their distant descendants can once again have a turn at the steering-oar.)

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I agree with your conclusion that an Erdogan-style situation in the US is very unlikely, but I'd go even farther and disagree with your points 1 and 3 about how to defend against Erdogan-style maneuvers in the US.

About 1: Turkish courts don't use jury trials, even in criminal cases. A jury of Americans is going to be much harder to convince to unanimously convict someone who has a defense attorney presenting their side of the story in an adversarial setting than a panel of judges responding to a public prosecutor in an inquisitorial trial. Which is not to say that the US never puts innocent people in jail, but it's just not a viable route for a potential dictator to go after wealthy, powerful, or prominent opponents, who can afford adequate representation.

Without the threat of being able to arbitrarily jail opponents, court-packing becomes much less threatening. But also, courts are already the least-democratic branch of the US government, and the danger of making it harder for the more-democratic branches to reform the courts is that it creates pressure which only a populist, strongman dictator type can release. Which leads to my next point...

About 3: Creating a higher burden for changes to the system seems like a good idea, but an overly-rigid system that was too hard to reform was exactly the situation that Erdogan was able to exploit and turn into an excuse for just breaking the system.

Erdogan was part of a "correction" (in the sense of a stock market correction, not of being correct) in Turkish politics, a rebalancing of Kemalism and Islamism that had been building since Ataturk first put his reforms into place. There was a potential energy there - a repressed population - that I don't think exists in the US.

The obvious way to prevent something like that from leading to a dictatorship is simply to work on ways to democratize society in ways that enfranchise currently-disenfranchised populations without the intervention of a populist potential dictator. The nature of this dynamic is that any attempt to suppress the disenfranchised population further only adds to the pressure and makes it more likely that when the "correction" occurs it leads to an Erdogan (or Robespierre, or worse). In other words, if the military had backed off and allowed Islamists to hold office as such, Erdogan not only wouldn't have needed to do his purges - he wouldn't have been able to: there would have been no justification for it, and all the liberals who "sat out" his conflict with the military would have been up in arms against him.

I think the only analogue in the US is the current set of attempts at voter suppression - but as bad as I think that is, it's not clear to me that it would be bad enough to provide cover for a dictator to rise. Certainly the current Democratic attempt to fight back - H.R. 1 - doesn't seem particularly ambitious or threatening. I'm not convinced there's any analogous dynamic or set of forces in the US that a populist dictator could exploit; there's no population in the US that is systematically banned from participation in public life by the structure of the government itself the way that religious Muslims in Turkey were banned from participation in politics (and higher education) in Turkey before Erdogan. But just to be safe, I'd support measures that guarantee access to voting for historically disenfranchised groups in the US.

On a separate topic - Bernie Sanders is a clear example of a left-wing populist. Sanders and Trump were even compared in the 2016 election on the grounds of both being anti-establishment populist leaders in their respective wings. I'm not sure why people might find the idea of a left-wing populist inherently less threatening... maybe it's the mittens.

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Dictatorships can come about in any number of ways and the steps will all look different. The common element, as far as I can tell, is an escalation of the culture war to the point where

1. We need to band together and be loyal to each other to the point of excluding anyone who defects from loyalty even if they are making valid critiques. In other words, people and "sides" are seen as either "for us or against us".

2. The other side is seen as so bad that cheating, violating norms, and demonizing rhetoric on your side is seen as justified against their threat.

3. The other side is demonized to the point where they can no longer be worked with, but must be kept from power/restricted from the table entirely and attempt to skirt the system/apply standards of evidence, rules, or interpretation self-servingly in ways that consolidate power to your side or bar it or it's use from the other side are seen as justified.

4. A leader rises who both feeds off of and fans the flames those things; entering into a collusive relationship with his followers of blame, self-righteousness, indignation, and self-victimization.

The tactical maneuvers a dictator makes or the specific obstacles in his way are important in one sense(the more obstacles the better, the more tactful the dictator the more likely they are to succeed), but approaching the problem from that standpoint misses the big picture which is that the rise of a dictatorship is primarily not a political but a MORAL cultural event. The dictator themselves, in some sense, fills a need, a spot, or a hole that a "side" of a culture war creates for themselves of a "champion". Their power comes from their willingness to be a dark mirror of the hate, anger, and repressed conscience towards the other side. The mob fashions the dictator as much as the dictator fashions the mob and they do it by the shared moral collusion of the demonization of the "bad guys".

This book explains what I'm talking about in the context of the Israel-Palestinean conflict, as well as a personal/familial manifestation of the same problem. I'd be super interested to see your thoughts on it at some point.


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About Attaturk, a "small" detail is left out: to make the "modern Turkey" a nation-state, he went through a process of power consolidation followed with ethnic cleansing of Armernians, Greeks, Assyrians, and Kurds (perhaps others), some of the first and biggest genocides of the 20th century:




He wasn't just some benovolent "modernizer".

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It occurred to me, and I don't know if it's a damage caused by the time you had with NYT, or you're building a base so you must not be populist, so you're going too far. Populist is a person who stands for nothing, promises abstract concepts, or things we all ought to take for granted, usually ending up destroying them, since those things ought to be taken for granted in an evolved civil society. Freedom of speech, of prosecution, Rule of Law, basically the US constitution, or the one of every EU member state. After four years, you can't ask populist about his achievements, or has he achieved anything of promised, since there's nothing to hold him accountable for. That's a populist, on the left, on the right, in the center. Whether a populist wants it or not, the successful one will end up as a dictator, even if he started in a democracy.

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It's helpful to look at this story in the context of other countries where there was forced and rapid modernisation. (I'm not sure it has very much relevance to the US, but then I'm not a USian). There were countries where the process was managed well (Japan and Korea for example, where, critically, old traditions and practices largely survived) and other countries (Iran is a good example) where the process was badly handled and eventually rebounded against the originators. Iran is an example of where top-down high-speed development was largely in the hands of urban elites and worked very much against the interests of ordinary people. Egypt and Algeria have followed variants of the same path, and much of the Arab Spring was about the final rejection of the corrupt elites who had forced modernisation and westernisation on Arab countries. (Tunisia, where the movement started, now has a government largely controlled by the Islamists). Turkey is an example, as Iran was, of a society which has an indigenous moral and legal tradition to fall back on when top-down westernisation and modernisation has clearly failed. Political Islam (of which Erdogan is a practitioner, and which also explains why the Muslim Brotherhood won Egypt's first free elections) provides an alternative, indigenous and most of all untried model when everything else has failed. It also provides a political framework and ideology around which you can base political parties with mass appeal. So in a way this isn't very surprising.

Two other points about Turkey: history is a factor, and the fall of the Ottoman Empire and its dismemberment by the western powers is still a bitter memory. I suppose you'd call it making Turkey great again ....The other is national pride: Turkey was a major NATO ally during the Cold War, but its status has slipped a lot since. Not being member of the EU (which doesn't want a border with Syria, thank you) hurts a lot. It's not surprising that Turkey is financing Islamist schools in Europe as part of its soft power strategy.

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Another great post. Scott, you wrote, "I want to go into some of this in more depth, because I think this is the main reason why Erdogan's example doesn't generalize to other countries. What went wrong in Turkey was mostly Turkey-specific, a reckoning for Turkey’s unique flaws."

I am reminded of the anecdote of the German professor who explained to American college students after WW2 that of course German fascism sounded silly to them, because German fascism played on idiosyncratic elements of 1930s German society, culture, and national character - with the professor concluding with the admonition that if fascism came to America, it would be in an idiosyncratically American way.

Similarly, we should probably expect that almost all examples of a decline and fall of a liberal democracy will have many idiosyncratic elements unlikely to apply elsewhere, and we should probably focus on extracting very general, high-level conclusions/principles.

In this case, I suggest that among those principles is this: that when a state uses unvirtuous means to accomplish virtuous ends, the impact of the means on future society is usually much larger than the original ends. We see this in Republican Rome, where the road to Not-Republican Rome is littered with the bodies of populist politicians murdered in public by conservative Senators who thought their ideas were freaky, and which by no coincidence introduced a new form of political argument, Having The Most Thugs With You At The Time Of The Vote. We also see this recently in Egypt, where the democratically-elected Muslim Brotherhood freaked enough people out that they happily supported a military coup to get rid of the Muslim Brotherhood, which then of course did not lead to a new election.

What strikes me about the general character of this story of Turkish politics is that it was never all that democratic. The military, much like it does in Thailand, plays a "reserve" role in policing the bounds of acceptable political discourse all throughout this story. The people it's keeping out of the public sphere are people we probably don't approve of, i.e. Islamists, but that's an appeal to virtuous ends. The means by which they were kept from power had the actual effect of, among other things, teaching a young Erdogan (along with presumably millions of other Turks) that obedience to democratic principles was less important than virtuous outcomes.

Lo and behold, it turns out that that's a really uncomfortable principle once the person in the control room has a different definition of what a virtuous outcome looks like.

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1. Scott's discussion of (natural?) elites being able to govern with a naturally soft touch is very Curtis Yarvin-inflected. Is this a response to being featured on Yarvin's Substack?

2. The 2012 "well-rounded" changes to Turkish university admissions--have they been studied as a natural experiment in economics? Did the shift to "well-roundedness" even give less weight to cognitive ability? (Imagine if Turkey had switched from whatever exams the Gulenist cram schools prepped applicants for to the eight-legged essay competition of Imperial China, or a "why BLM is the greatest" essay contest, or an English-language spelling bee, or a simple recitation contest for Koranic verses or digits of pi, the change would be slight: these are all cognitively loaded competitions.)

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> Having ideas about the Deep State and attempted coups floating around, sounding vaguely credible, was a major factor in Erdogan's success. The more skeptical we can be of that sort of thing, the better.

What?! Scott, this strikes me as exactly the wrong lesson to learn. Turkey has an actual, honest to goodness Deep State! They literally invented the term! This isn't a wild conspiracy—everybody *knows* there was one. The reason ideas about the Deep State were floating around, just like ideas about attempted coups were, and the reason they seemed vaguely credible, is because *they were real* and *they are credible*! You are inadvertently suggesting that we should just, like, learn to stop worrying and love the shadowy cabal. No thanks.

About your final point: I think it would benefit from some discussion of heterodox elites and institutions. For example, the Federalist Society was founded by and for elites, and is chock full of them, but it couldn't be more out of step with the Times-Harvard-Beltway consensus. It represents a different strain of legal thinking which the society was founded to foster. It seems to me that one of the ways to protect democracy is to encourage the formation and sustenance of such institutions. Besides forming the individuals who belong to them, these institutions coordinate them, in other words, help them to act. This enables a bulwark against the complete domination of society by a single party or entity. Erdogan's purges look to me like a particularly poignant subversion of this: hollowing out every other institution, until the only thing left is him and his party. It should really, really concern us if seemingly every semi-official institution in our country, from the top schools to the top newspapers to the top thinktanks, march in nearly complete uniformity: it raises the question whether they, and the people in them, can act of their own will at all. It should also concern us when institutions like churches and private schools decline, or are targeted either to be co-opted or marginalized; what, if anything, is replacing them?

One last thing: I haven't read the book, but it looks to me like, before Erdogan took over, political parties were absorbing all the functions which might otherwise have been done by nonpolitical institutions. For example, where are the imams? Why is it that the *only way* for Muslims to resist militant secularism was to win elections? Even attending a religious school was career suicide. It looks to me like this was partly a mess of the military's own making: it made sure these people had no way to live their lives like they wanted without first taking over the country. It rather parallels your explanation of why Erdogan kept seizing more power, and it seems to me like the only stable alternative is a devolution of power.

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I will repeat my usual comment that you are making a fundamental mistake by treating the left/right political spectrum as a useful way of orienting oneself in politics-space. Especially your apparently idiosyncratic version of it which considers "right-wing populism" to be a confusing concept rather than a commonplace thing to watch out for! (See also Sa Matra's comment, which is a little harsh, but I think points in roughly the right direction.)

Also, I think you may have drawn the wrong conclusion from the corruption / tax evasion thing? The corruption thing worked in Turkey because corruption was endemic there. That wouldn't work here via the means of corruption trials because the US is a much less corrupt country. The dangerous thing to my mind isn't corruption prosecution; it's selective enforcement, and, in particular, having laws that are so out of sync with reality that selective enforcement is possible -- laws that aren't consistently enforced, so violation can become endemic, but can be used to persecute someone in a pinch. And of course the US does have a big problem with that! So if you were to see the same sort of purge in the US, it wouldn't be effected using corruption laws, but perhaps using some other other laws that have fallen into a similar status.

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I feel like this post is too accepting of Erdoganist framing of Gulen's network of schools as a vast shadowy conspiracy, rather than as what it appears to be - an influential network of private educational institutions. Given that people have already had their lives ruined or ended by Erdogan's persecution, you should be more careful before supporting that persecution.

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Even back in the 90's, Erdogan would occasionally slip off the democratic facade.

Here is a video of him from 1997, saying "According to us Democracy can never be a goal, it can only be a tool" - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qY52kEMQyBA

There is also a newspaper interview from 1996 (which I can't find at the moment) where he is quoted as saying "Democracy is like a train ride: when you reach your stop, you get off". I believe the phrase is also quoted here: https://www.economist.com/special-report/2016/02/04/getting-off-the-train

For those who listened, the warning bells were deafening.

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"Having ideas about the Deep State and attempted coups floating around, sounding vaguely credible, was a major factor in Erdogan's success. The more skeptical we can be of that sort of thing, the better."

Weren't the ideas about Deep States and attempted coups basically true, at least in the case of Turkey?

"When elites use the government to promote elite culture, this usually looks like giving grants to the most promising up-and-coming artists recommended by the art schools themselves, and having the local art critics praise their taste and acumen. When the populace uses the government to promote popular culture against elite culture, this usually looks like some hamfisted attempt to designate some kind of "official" style based on what popular stereotypes think is "real art from back in the day when art was good""

An obvious solution presents itself in separating art and state.

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This reminds me a fair bit of Dan Carlin's take on the Brexit vote, a show called "Revenge of the Gangrenous Finger". The thesis of that show boils down to "if you live in a society in which people have the right to vote, and you ignore too many of their needs for too long, they will kill you."

That feels like the sort of dynamic in play here - years of using military coups, exiling their leaders from politics, and stigmatization made the Islamists into a serious "gangrenous finger" that eventually erupted into something worse than it otherwise might have, if not left to fester.

To some degree it seems like it doesn't matter what the specific details of the rift are over, the fact that it was Islamists in this case feels immaterial, and of course the outcome was very different in an absolute sense - Brexit is not exactly the complete breakdown of democracy and the rise of a dictatorship - but it feels like two separate manifestations of a similar underlying mechanism.

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But haven't they had fair elections in Turkey throughout the Erdogen era? And if Turkey happens to be a democracy with a super-powerful executive, why should that be considered inherently wrong?

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This post demonstrates my exact concerns with your "A Modest Proposal for Republicans"[0] - it's a roadmap for building basically Erdogan's party. Obviously there's a bunch of other things mixed in there, since Erdogan hasn't set up prediction markets, but the thrust is basically the same. (I haven't read the book, and I'm not that caught up on Turkish politics, so this is basically based on this review.) His hollowing-out of the existing political system is *exactly* what you'd get from the "War On Experts" point, since whoever takes over with the power to replace the institutions is going to want to replace them in their image, not with prediction markets. The "War On College" is basically what Erdogan did with the Gulen schools and some of his other reforms, particularly around scientists and professors. The "War On The Upper-Class Media" would result in the lowering of the freedom of the press, and if you think that it would only allow the lower-class media to exist while continuing to allow the upper-class media to exist, you're kidding yourself. And as for the "War On Wokeness," that's Erdogan's repudiation of EU liberalness and his assaults on groups like the Kurds, the Yazidis, and other minorities.

Sorry if this post was getting too close to modern politics, but I feel like ignoring this is dangerous.

Side note, my autocorrect wants to replace Erdogan with Underdog. This is not a coincidence because nothing is ever a coincidence.

[0]: https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/a-modest-proposal-for-republicans

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One thing you didn't mention was that in 2017, Erdogan changed the constitution, abolishing the post of prime minister (the leader of the majority party in the legislature and answerable to the legislature) and adopted an American-style elected presidency instead, the better to consolidate and exercise his power.

If you're drawing lessons to learn for America, this might be one.

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What a phenomenal section on right wing populism. This is exactly how the right wing government in India is targeting the elites, for instance.

I do believe that the left-wing elite rising naturally to the top is a very Western hemisphere phenomenon, however. The intellectual and cultural elite in India seems to be uniformly distributed amongst the Right and Left, for instance.

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Art is a great example where left-wing populism is following the same pattern you describe for right-wing populists. Look up Soviet Realism and compare it to art in Germany 1933-45. Both have the principle that the art is "to be comprehensible to the average man".

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As someone fairly familiar with Turkey: You'll get roughly the right cultural context of sipping drinks Nişantaşı hotels if you think of Georgetown Cocktail Parties. It's a trendy wealthy neighborhood with all kinds of elite clubs/restaurants/etc.

It has the added bonus that sipping cocktails in a bar is European and foreign. A salt of the Earth Turk would drink in a cafe or lounge, probably beer or watered down raki or some other spirit. Probably while drinking tea and smoking and feeling vaguely guilty about it. Turkey's drinking culture (which is a real thing that exists) most closely resembles that of Eastern Europe.

Think of it a bit like the good old boy at the bar sipping a Budweiser vs the smartly dressed man at the hotel bar sipping an expensive cocktail. Even for people who don't mind drink, there's a strong culture and class divide. (By the way, raki turns milky white when you mix it with water. There's an old joke that you can still go to heaven if you only drink raki: God will think it's milk.)

More broadly, I see warnings against "right wing populism" coming from two sources. Firstly, the media and academic elites are increasingly leftist and so feel more threatened by the right. Secondly, left wing populism is simply not succeeding right now. Is Sanders more influential than Trump? Personally I think this is due to political demographics. Populism appeals mostly to the lower classes. These people are traditionally in the left wing voter base. So left wing populism simply pulls the existing left wing coalition further left while right wing population causes defections of formerly left voters to the right and creates a huge coalition.

Also I know a fair bit about Turkey. And the right wing populist governments in eastern Europe that I see as part of a broader movement in the region. (Sorry EU, Turkey counts as part of "the region.") AMA.

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I've generally approached "populism" with the feeling of the average person voting to get what they want directly rather then to establish good systems in which they might thrive.

A right-wing populist would run on eg. mandatory religious education in schools whereas a left-wing populist would run on more direct cash payments to people.

In contrast, a non-populist right-wing leader might work towards simplifying zoning requirements for churches or a more equal tax policy, and a non-populist left-wing leader might work towards providing better schools.

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By 'Medieval Turkey' you mean Early Modern Turkey. Medieval Turkey was ruled by some combination of the Byzantine Empire, Seljuks, and the Sultanate of Rum (as well as other smaller polities).

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"This was a remarkable set of people and things to find in the same car! I can’t quite follow all of the threads of what later became known as the Susurluk scandal, but they apparently involved drug smuggling, terrorism, human rights abuses, several assassinations, Iranian spies, a coup against the government of Azerbaijan, and "a number of Susurluk investigators [dying] in suspicious car accidents curiously similar to the Susurluk car crash itself"."

As Steve Sailer has quipped: "Turkish politics are Byzantine."

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Is there a good summary out there of how actively bad Erdogan is now that he's consolidated power? Like I get that he's jailed a few hundred journalists but there are a lot of dictators and semi-dictators out there and I'd like to know where is on the scale from Franco to Kim Jong Un.

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Well written and fascinating.

Saddam makes a great compare and contrast with Erdogan. Saddam was more the traditional template of how one might dismantle democracy. He also came from a tough lower class background, but was much more direct in seizing power.

I may be misremembering a few details, but as I recall, he had the military lead a tortured prisoner to the front of parliament. The prisoner began "confessing" by naming co-conspirators in the chamber, who were summarily dragged out and shot. During this process Saddam cooly smokes a cigar, while realization hits the faces of the remaining parliamentarians, who begin desperately chanting "long live Saddam!" to beg for their lives. Conveniently enough, this was all filmed, so you can watch it on YouTube if you really want to be traumatized or something.

I know that the traditional picture of tyranny doesn't update as many priors, but it's just an interesting reminder that while some evil is banal, some of it the more flashy kind, so don't over-correct. Guarding against the more instant tyrannies would probably require different structures, though I'm not sure which ones, and I'm similarly unsure guns in the street would be enough. Throughout his life, Saddam was pretty good at violence.

If you want other humbling accounts on drifts between liberal and illiberalism, I'd recommend the long history of Persia, which would oscillate between (relative) progressivism and authoritarianism for stretches of hundreds of years at a time. Reading Persian history is like reading the Foundation, with Hari Seldon reminding you that history and social reordering occurs over scores of generations, and not necessarily in our lifetime.

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Convenient, how every cause is dissected except the key turning point of letting the Islamists enter the arena because 'otherwise the children-eating-communists will legitimately win the elections'. Much as, oh help me out, yes it's called Weimar in the 30s. Or, ahem, operation Condor and the majority of Latin American dictators.

Have you considered that maybe, just maybe, right wing dictators rise to crush majority far left movements? Who would have thought!

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"The third big difference is that it's really hard to change the US Constitution."

I disagree with the emphasis on the written constitution, for reasons that I'll elucidate in a separate comment, but isn't it worth considering in this regard that Turkey, as a Near/Middle Eastern Muslim-majority nation, differs substantially from the US in its ethnic and religious composition? That seems like a quite important difference to consider, whatever its application (or perhaps lack thereof) to the particulars of governance in this case. The most comparable nations to the US would be firstly its fellow Anglosphere countries, followed by WEIRD countries generally. The most comparable nations to Turkey would seem to me to be its neighboring countries in the Middle East, the Caucasus, and Eastern Europe, as well as perhaps similarly middle income countries in Latin America. (E.g. Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil.) So, a comparison between, say, Turkey and Egypt, Russia, or Mexico would strike me as more informative than one between Turkey and the US. (Or, conversely, a comparison between the US and Canada, the UK, or New Zealand---the latter of which was done in David Hackett Fischer's book Fairness and Freedom, which I have not yet read.)

As an instructive example of how constitutions don't determine governance, consider that the 1847 Liberian constitution was closely modeled on the US constitution: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberian_Constitution_of_1847

But, even though Liberia had three branches of government, a bicameral legislature, and formal legal protection of civil liberties, its subsequent political history has differed substantially from that of the US.

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Well, you are wrong about the use of populism. Thomas Frank wrote a whole book on it. https://harpers.org/archive/2020/05/how-the-anti-populists-stopped-bernie-sanders/

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>"required prostitutes to wear hijabs... the sort of measures he took to drag Turkey, kicking and screaming, into secular modernity..."

This is an odd thing to hear from a libertarian; requiring or banning forms of clothing / religious expression might be secular, and superficially *look* modern, but it's hardly free, liberal democracy

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'What does it mean to condemn a party in a democracy for being "populist"? Isn't that the whole point of democracy? Isn't any party that wins necessarily going to be populist? Isn't a non-populist party winning a sign something went wrong?'

That's not what it means. "Populism" means attempting to make yourself a spokesman for the "good" "people" against the "corrupt" "elite". It therefore tends to want to bypass or tear down regular institutions (as these are controlled by "the elite"). Populism leans directly on the masses without the moderating institutions that have been put there for a reason. Whether Erdogan, Chavez or Trump, it's the same method.

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Can it happen here?

Romantic fantasies, Braveheart and Les Miz aside, revolutions don't happen when the 99% get fed up and overthow the 1%, as long as the 1% are united, because the 1% will do whatever it takes to hang onto power.

Rather, changes happen when the 1% are divided amongst themselves, usually because they cannot decide on how to respond to a foreign threat or how to divvy up the spoils.

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I'm an engineer, not a PolSci major but I'm Turkish who's quite into politics and had to immigrate after the Gezi protests so I regard myself kind of an expert on this subject. I'll add here my comments as I read the post:

1- Erdoğan has never ever rose to power on credible promises. This is a very characteristic flaw of people who one time believed in him or thought he was pliable enough for their vision. Very early in his political career he authored a play named "MasKomYah" which stands for Masonic Communist Jews whom he blames for everything wrong with everything, that's the kind of person he always was. He's always been in the fundamentalist islamic party. Just before that party (headlining the governing coalition at the time) was closed by court because they wanted to replace the secular republic with sharia, he infamously said: "Democracy is a tram, we'll get off it when it takes us where we want to be". After that, he splintered off that fundamentalist party and started his own party, after realizing being a fundamentalist on the outside will prevent him from riding the tram. There was a strange coalition in that party.

At the core of the party were discontents from the previous fundamentalist party (the majority of them were expelled before the next elections because they voted "no" when the Americans wanted to attack Iraq via Turkey). One thing they shared was that their image was pious but not fundamentalist.

The second clique were the liberals (liberal not in the American sense meaning progressive, but liberal as in believing in the neoliberal economic model). The constituency was small enough to be ignored, but their main function was to create consent both among Turkish intelligentsia and Western.

The third was the Fethullah Gulen movement. More on that later. There were other smaller cliques that formed the early AKP. Now, the error Mr. Çağaptay has here is the error everybody who at one point falled for AKP. For the liberals, AKP was great until 2008 and evil afterwards. For the intersectionalists it was 2013. For Gulenists it was 2015. As Erdoğan concentrated more power in his hands, he stopped needing those cliques so dropped them one by one like the stages of a rocket ship to Moon. Each of those think that Erdoğan was good until the drop-off date of their stage and evil afterwards. At least a third of the voters and more than half of the intelligentsia knew what he was all along. This is kind of a sensitive nerve ending to those who never fell for him when somebody says he was good in the beginning thus my rant.

2- Imam Hatip graduates being stigmatized: This was actually quite close to how other European systems work. Imam Hatips were formally trade schools like the ones you learn carpentry or auto repairs. Those have some extra points when they want to enter universities related to their field (so Imam Hatip graduate would have extra points towards Theology major, Electric Repair graduate towards Electrical Engineering and so on, and subtracted points from everything else).

3- 650000 arrestees in 1980, the overwhelming majority were left wing of differing colors from more nationalist center left to outright communists. Along with Erbakan, all other party leaders regardless of affiliation at the time were banned from politics and all current parties were also banned so when it was time for elections all parties were brand new.

The pre-coup vs secret versions of parties is also a bit different story. When the junta decided to hold elections they created some template parties (one center left, one liberal etc) and put some retired military men at their helms. But also secret resistance parties that are affiliated to precoup versions of them sprung up. So it was junta parties vs precoup secret parties. Since all the precoup parties were banned they had different names and logos.

Also, between this (I think 1983) and Erdoğan becoming mayor of İstanbul (1994 I guess) there's quite some time so not immediately after the post coup power vacuum. The event that led to Erdoğan's mayoral success was that every party in 1994 had at least 1 splinter party except the Islamists. So the center right vote got divided in 2, the center left got divided in 2, extremes had very little vote and Erdoğan won İstanbul with like 23% of the votes or something. The "elite westernized pawn sipping drink" is a PR move actually, to rally ignorant masses against a perceived "high class" who actually make less money than them.

4- Communist mayor of İstanbul: He was literally from the Social Democratic Party. The only communist mayor anywhere in Turkey who wasn't promptly killed by the anti communist army in the entire history is one of the smallest towns in Eastern Turkey who won it 6 years ago. That's not my party so I don't want to defend them but the story here is very one sided. The bribe, still being a horrible thing, was less than a thousandth of the corruption by the ones before or after him. The workers were only able to strike because when workers in cities run by non-social democrat mayors tried to strike they were beaten by cops and got their contracts terminated. The explosion was not on the streets but at a landfill.

5- The "recalibration" at Sincan: Just before this, at a community center in Sincan Islamist militias were doing something you can call a show-training with pump action shotguns at a night they called "the Jerusalem night". They said their aim was to liberate Jerusalem. The local mayor from RP was sympathetic so this became the straw that broke the camel's back and the "recalibration" happened. I'm not disputing anything here, just adding some color.

6- The 8-year school: Before, it was 5 years primary education, 3 years secondary (middle school) and 3 years tertiary (high school) with only 5 years of primary education being compulsory and the rest optional. The trade schools (including İmam Hatips) started at 6th grade. The military thought, by lengthening mandatory primary school to 8 years and making trade schools (including İmam Hatips) just 3 years, they'll make the islamists miss 3 crucial years when the students are more pliable to be radicalized at a younger age. From an educational viewpoint this is a bad move. For example I graduated from primary education when it was 5 years and by a centralized examination got a place in a good high school with a mandatory English prep class before the 6th grade began and that's how I learnt English. People a few years younger than me had to wait until 9th grade for the full year with language education and a foreign language is MUCH easier to learn when you're younger so that hurt the top end of the human capital considerably. Just a side note.

7- The poem. He was not sentenced for reading that poem. Later in that speech he was inciting the pious to battle the infidels. It was hate speech that caused the sentence. I can see it's still not good to sentence people because of their speech, but if he died in that prison many would be alive today. Is it morally justifiable to put a young Hitler to prison for life after a speech? Maybe so, maybe not, but that's a tough decision and those are not as clear cut as you westerners tend to see.

8- The economic boom: God, that guy was lucky. After the 1998 economic crisis, a technocrat economist (Derviş from World Bank) was brought in 2001, he put in place a disciplined austerity program that really turned things around, then the USA started printing money and decreasing interest rates to stimulate economy and all those cheap dollars started flowing in to a recently reorganized economy. Just then, the 67% of seats wıth 33% of the votes thing happened. I think we really are cursed.

9- Susurluk scandal: It's normal you can't follow all the threads, because even after years thinking about it I still can't and whoever says they do are just believing in a crazy theory. There are so many loose threads it's virtually unfollowable. But even though the details are unfollowable the main things are pretty straightforward. The gray wolves and the mafia are one and the same, they have a lot of connections inside police, western countries have a neverending need for heroine while Afghanistan has a neverending source of heroine ingredients and Turkey is conveniently on the way, this also ties to the PKK insurgency in the East and clandestine NATO plans in case a NATO country goes communist. It just hurts my head to think of all the crooked shit that went on and still going on.

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Mr. Cagaptay is known to have ties with the older authoritarian regime that the Turkey had. It is no surprise that he supports some wrong doings of Erdogan. To be honest, looking at those researchers will not completely tell you what is going on in Turkey because they are extremely biased. It is only a representation of how a small group of people see rte and his regime.

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Scott, it reads like a really deep and fascinating analysis, except for the Stalin part. If you spend 15 min reading about Stalin's methods online, it would be nearly exactly the prescription Erdogan followed:

- take control of the existing institutions by staffing them with his loyalists (conveniently, staffing was his official job to begin with)

- slowly push away your opponents' supporters, including by trumped up charges

- use existing legal systems to begin with for show trials

- eventually streamline the legal system to speed up the process (hello, Troika!)

There was no need for extrajudicial action on the home turf, after all, he controlled everything there. Only those outside his reach ended up with an ax in the head.

Putin simply adapted Stalin's recipe to the modern times, replacing the charge "enemy of the people" with "corruption". A big added bonus was that the charge was always correct: it is impossible to do business in Russia without bribery and tax evasion. Only lately the tried and true "agent of a foreign power" hammer was brought back.

Erdogan followed the playbook of their northern neighbor, adapting it to the local situation. The most impressive feat, of course, was to take control of the military. Most dictators either come from the military background and enjoy its support, or operate in an environment where the military is not strong enough to take control. Erdogan used "democratization" as a leverage, and the Turkish military didn't realize what hit it until it was too late.

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The EU is a project led by Germany and France, which is possible because they are the largest two countries by population, having 80 and 60 million people, respectively. The EU is nominally democratic, so the leadership of these two countries has to be legitimized by them having the largest populations.

In reality, the expansion of the EU is/was about conditioning the new nations to adopt EU rules and mores. For this reality to work with the pretension of EU democracy, it is crucial that new EU states are smaller than Germany and France, so they can be kept out of the driver's seat.

Yet Turkey has 80 million people. So if they were let into the EU, they could immediately appeal to the democratic pretensions to be given equal power to Germany and more power than France, which would be a huge threat to the EU.

However, I disagree that the EU intended to keep Turkey out. The Europhiles truly believe in that the expansion of the EU is a way to bring peace and prosperity to other nations. The dynamic in the EU is that the deep state in the EU is full of Europhiles and that they cooperate with friendly politicians to bribe/coerce/threaten those who are more skeptical. The result is that they get their way much more than what the EU populace would support if the EU would be truly democratic.

The EU has a huge set of rules for prospective EU states, requiring them to adapt their laws to meet EU regulations, and to improve their institutions, at least on paper. The EU has often accepted imperfect compliance, because of their belief in the benefits of expansion, but the consequences of this seemed limited for smaller nations (although, Greece managed to cause a significant crisis).

However, Turkey was never going to get this amount of leeway. However, I've seen no evidence that extra rules were created for Turkey. It is clear that many EU citizens and politicians thought that Turkey was a danger to the EU and spoke out against it, which probably resulted in a feeling in Turkey that they wouldn't be accepted.

However, ultimately, the only way for Turkey to put the EU on the spot was to adhere to the EU rules and (proper) institutional reforms. By not doing so, it was Turkey that effectively stalled the accession process.

Note that Erdogan didn't merely benefit from the EU accession process by using it as a casus belli for transforming his institutions, but also profited from pre-accession support in the form of hundreds of millions a year, money they are still getting. So Erdogan's economic wonder can be partially attributed to an influx of this money.

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Towards the end of part IV I was thinking "this sounds like a good argument in favor of incremental change over sudden shocks". Don't burn down a system, improve it a piece at a time.

For some reason this put me in mind of the American Revolution vs the French Revolution - one of the reasons we had a better time of it overall is that we already had local governance that could be severed from the overseas monarchy and continue operating while we stitched together a new national government. instead of having to burn the whole system down and start fresh. Which, is still a pretty large system shock, but we lucked into having leadership (Washington in particular) that genuinely didn't seek power for its own sake.

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>There were four such coups between 1960 and 2000 - including "coups by memo", where the military would say "let's pretend we just held a coup" and the civilian government, unwilling to risk a real coup, would resign en masse.

That's a coup every 15 years. That's less than two presidents! It's hard to imagine the government being able to change quickly enough that it goes from "basically alright" to "tanks in the streets" in the amount of time it took the US to go through Bush and Obama. Which makes me feel that at least part of the problem is that the military in Turkey is *really eager* to throw coups.

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I live in a country under a government that the NYT-style newspapers of the world routinely designate as “left-populist” (Mexico). The current government got a crushing victory in 2018 with a coalition that included large segments (probably majorities) of the ‘creative class’ but also pretty much everyone else (this party got 50%+ in a multi party electoral system.) It’s... weird. Culturally, the government is not exactly the greatest supporter of the elites. In order to fund various infrastructure and welfare state programs, as well as rescuing the ailing oil and energy state-run monopolies, it has cut funding for a lot of things and the cultural bureaucracy has been one of the biggest losers. Needless to say, cultural apparachtiks, the ultimate gatekeepers of much of high-culture, are not thrilled. On economic matters, the government is not exactly market-friendly. It has cancelled a couple prominent infrastructure projects (started by past administrations) and scared away investors. It’s also making more than a few fat cats pay huge previously ‘forgiven’ tax bills. The latest major thing they approved was a reform that gives preference to the aforementioned state-run energy company’s own generating plants (instead of using the usually cheaper private energy plants). Before that they approved a reform plan for the pension system, increased benefits, mostly. On more tangible culture war stuff, the government is possibly to the right of the previous, very neoliberal administration, but its hard to tell. The federal government definitely isnt very keen on abortion or the feminist movement, and doesnt emphasize gay rights at all.

So uh, yeah. The government is probably left wing economically on balance, while culturally (at least at the federal level) it might be a very small c conservative. It’s still “left-populist”, although some very clever university students (I go to school with them) enjoy informing you that, actually, this government can’t possibly be left wing if it won’t support the feminist movement or whatever.

Funnily enough, “right wing economics left wing culture war stuff” is the default among chattering class types here, which makes governing “with a light touch” pretty hard indeed. Cue some very exaggerated reactions every time the government whines about NGO and academia types complaining about every thing.

Ultimately, I think one thing that really helps to get called a populist by The Economist and other swanky pages is simply being right-wing culturally and using it to your electoral favor. No doubt the current Mexican government is genuinely pursuing some feel-good stuff economically, but Putin’s Russia, which recently hiked its retirement age and has one of the most respected, capable central banks and ministries of finance anywhere, also gets called populist because the gay propaganda thing and such.

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So, this is actually off-topic, but I've noticed it a couple of times that Scott's called himself a "libertarian" but last I recall he was "definitely not a libertarian, even if they're object level right about certain things"... what happened, when did this change?

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I think there has been discussion previously about how your style often makes it hard to distinguish summary from commentary in your book reviews. A succinct example: when you write something like

<blockquote> Erdogan got - realistically probably forged - documents proving…</blockquote>

it reads like “probably forged” is your own inference, but I suspect it is in fact part of your summary of what the author said himself.

In practice my guess is that you actually do a very clean separation where everything before a certain point is summary and everything after is commentary, but you don’t make that clear and therefore I read more of the summary as being your personal opinion than you may have intended unless I am very careful to prime myself against it.

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I lived in Turkey through many of the worst years of its recent history - the war in Syria, the renewal of conflict in the Kurdish region, Islamic State terror attacks in İstanbul, the failed 2016 coup, the crash of the lira.

There is a deep culture of conspiratorial and paranoid thinking, that's not unnatural given everything that's happened to Turkey (there's a saying that Turkey has more newsworthy things happen in a week than most countries have in a year - it's true) and in the neighboring Middle East in the past decades.

There's also this thing that's pervasive but easy to miss if you're a foreigner, especially one who's passing through: the subtle ways in which one's ethnic, religious, and political identities take on a burdensome importance in everyday interactions. In other words, in every small affair of life, there's an assessment and awareness of the political orientations and backgrounds of one's interlocutors, though it's rarely broached head on unless it's a drunken altercation or late night taxi ride. It's just this thing, almost imperceptible from the outside but crushingly heavy to actually be immersed in. But it is taking place in the context of bitter zero sum struggles for power in which people at being killed, unjustly imprisoned, tortured, and any other affront to dignity you can name.

I've been back in the US since 2017, and I often say that I feel the US is moving in exactly the direction Turkey was moving in then: the increasing burden of ethnic and racial identity in every facet of life, the fear and paranoia, the circumscription of acceptable topics of conversation (I was baffled when I returned why everyone only ever talks about fucking Netflix shows and Marvel movies), and the mental health toll all of this takes on average people (coupled with overdosing on social media technologies which make everything seem more immediate and threatening than it is).

Anyway, I think your analysis based on this book is good, and I think as you said it's not easy to draw parallels too directly between the US and Turkey. The contexts are so different, the milieu and relative power of each country economically, militarily, etc. But almost in a sense of social aesthetics and base political emotions, I feel there is indeed a parallel to be drawn and it's a dark one.

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"There is no fire alarm for dictatorship." From my perspective, Gezi Park was a very loud fire alarm. Erdoğan violently put down peaceful protests and then put down the protests against that violence. It just failed.

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"A country without the same history of military coups, where every group feels like it's gotten a fair shake from the democratic process"

I hope this isn't implying that "every group" in the US "feels like it's gotten a fair shake from the democratic process," haha.

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Hi Scott, I've posted a comment that may be taken as a bit harsh, so I came back to try posting a nicer comment.

Regarding populism seeming like it should be default in a democracy: populism is defined by a discourse that proposes that there is an opposition between the elite and the people, the populist branding himself as a defendant of the latter. One would expect this person to lose the votes of said elite. Therefore the default in a democracy should be the conciliator, the one whose main discourse is that he will work for the betterment of everybody. Biden is a great example. Even Reagan would not be taken as a populist, silent majority aside, trickle down economics is a hallmark of class conciliation.

The Erdogan case of blaming some urban centered foreign-aligned well educated elite that dominates the media and academia, condemns corruption in the state, emphasizes a return to roots (Islam in his view) is absolutely general to right-wing populism. Comparing to cases of populism in Latin America and Central Europe (e.g. Hungary and Poland) right-wing populism that is culture war based is the norm. From what I gather the only thing very distinct in Turkey is the role of the armed forces.

Regarding the elites naturally rising to the top: your right there with Marx on it. As long as the elites maintain control of the means of production they will maintaining power and a network of connections that guarantee their influence. Which, of course, is why they seem to have a light handle on power, the game is already rigged for them, no need to make an effort.

Hope it helps

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"Erdogan was able to change the Turkish Constitution with a simple majority. Nobody took it too seriously, because the Constitution was just whatever the last group of military-coup-pulling generals said it was. The US Constitution requires a lot more work. And as the work of titans like George Washington and James Madison and so on, it has an aura of sacredness that makes it hard to add "PS: I can do whatever I want" to the end without a lot of people feeling violated. I know this has caused a lot of problems, but after seeing the ease with which Erdogan swept aside any part of the Turkish Constitution he didn't like, I have a new respect for it."

I'm personally quite skeptical of this thesis, for a couple of reasons (though to be clear it's been propounded by many other people than Scott).

Firstly, I don't think that the US' history of continuous democratic governance is all *that* unique and thus requiring of a novel explanation. It's pretty similar to other Anglosphere countries (Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand) in particular and other European ones in general. Insofar as there's a difference in the duration of democratic governance between e.g. the US and Sweden, it seems like it's simply because the start date of democracy was earlier in the US, rather than being the result of some significant difference in the operation/design of the governments.

And, as a corollary of this, many of these nations differ from the US in that e.g. they espouse parliamentary sovereignty or lack written constitutions (as in the case of the UK), especially ones with the same symbolic importance/difficulty to change as that of the US.

Secondly, many key civil liberties (e.g. freedom of speech and habeas corpus) nominally guaranteed by the US constitution have in fact been shamelessly violated in practice, especially during wartime, as in the Lincoln, Wilson, and FDR administrations. Not only in wartime, however, as the 14th and 15th amendment's guarantees of equal protection under the laws and the right to vote were ignored for nearly a century following the Civil War/Reconstruction w.r.t. blacks in the southern states. While there are several notable such cases of political power overriding nominal law to trample civil liberties/rights, I'm not sure if there are many or any identifiable converse cases in which the holders of such power refrained from abuses they wanted to commit because of their theoretical illegality.

Thus, I don't see a particularly strong connection between written, hard-to-change constitutions and robust civil liberties. Such constitutions can fail to protect civil liberties, and these liberties can be protected without such constitutions.

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Proposition 1: "Elites have enough advantages ... that in the natural course of events, they always come out on top."

Proposition 2: "Trying to come up with a system where elites don't come out on top is an almost futile task, one where you will constantly be pumping against entropy."

Proposition 2 is a corollary of Robert Michels's Iron Law of Oligarchy. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_law_of_oligarchy The law was articulated in Michels's 1911 book: "Political Parties". "Who says organization, says oligarchy". He also stated Scott's corollary: "Historical evolution mocks all the prophylactic measures that have been adopted for the prevention of oligarchy."

Proposition 1 is also a corollary of the Iron Law. It is also almost a tautology. But, there is a caveat. When we are discussing the subject of political regimes that govern a state and not subsidiary organizations like unions, schools, businesses, etc. we can observe that every regime creates the elites who run it. We can also observe that as long as the regime can pay the soldiers it will stay in power and continue the power of its elite.

A quick look at American history shows three regimes. The first was the Planter's Republic from 1787 to 1861. During the first 48 years of the Republic, the President was, except for the single terms of the 2 Adams, a slave owning planter. The cataclysm that destroyed that regime is called the Civil War. The second regime was the Republican regime run by northern white protestant industrialists. That regime went bankrupt in the Great Depression. The successor regime, still in place is rooted in the global financial system centered on Wall Street, the Federal Bureaucracy, and the Communications Media .

The current regime will sooner or later collapse too. It is a human institution run by humans. I think the 1.9 T$ is a warning. The need to print ever larger quantities of money to buy off the proles is a fatal disease.

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A couple book recommendations on subjects touched on in this post:

On populism, I highly recommend John Judis' concise and insightful book The Populist Explosion (https://www.amazon.com/Populist-Explosion-Recession-Transformed-American/dp/0997126442). (Plus its follow-up The Nationalist Revival.)

On the relationship between states, the rule of law, and accountable governance, I highly recommend Francis Fukuyama's duology The Origins of Political Order (vol. 1) and Political Order and Political Decay (vol 2.). (https://www.amazon.com/Origins-Political-Order-Prehuman-Revolution/dp/0374533229 and https://www.amazon.com/Political-Order-Decay-Industrial-Globalization-ebook/dp/B00IQOFS7M)

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"He proposed a series of amendments which would bring the Turkish government more in line with international best practices. Although these looked good on paper, the end result was to destroy previous Turkish institutions with strong traditions and independent power bases, and replace them with new ones that Erdogan could pack with his supporters."

Made me think of HR1. Did it you?

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"This makes me a little more concerned about things like QAnon than I had been previously - if Trump had arrested various prominent Democrats for their role in a Deep State pedophile ring, that would be pretty similar to the tactic Erdogan used to seize ultimate power. On the other hand, the thing where Democrats talk about how Trump supporters entering the Capitol was an “attempted coup” and we need lots of “domestic terror laws” and a grand attempt to uncover the complicity of the mainstream Republican establishment and bring them to justice - that also feels a little too Erdoganesqe for comfort."

Nice attempt at balance. Still, I can't help noticing that, er, Trump *didn't* arrest various prominent Democrats for, you know, anything. Perhaps he would have, if he had appointed a more compliant AG than Barr. But then, he did appoint Barr.

Perhaps the noise about “domestic terror laws” will turn out to be as much nothing. If so, feel free to press me for an apology, but I am not optimistic.

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> But sometimes political parties can run on an explicitly anti-elite platform. In theory this sounds good - nobody wants to be elitist. In practice, this gets really nasty quickly.

I think there's a missing step here, it's the one where all the People With Power (I don't like the term "elites" as I think it sounds too cool and gives these people more respect than they deserve) are _all_ strongly out of alignment with the majority of the population on an important issue. This is a situation that shouldn't really arise in a correctly-functioning democracy, but sometimes it does, because principal-agent problems are a thing.

In Turkey, the issue was the role of Islam in the state. In the US, it was illegal immigration. When both Hilary Clinton and Jeb Bush are opposed to taking action against illegal immigration, and the population is for it, then it creates an unstable situation likely to lead to a "populist" uprising.

The situation in the US, or Turkey for that matter, is far from resolved. Four years of Trump produced no meaningful action on illegal immigration, because it turns out that the President has less power than people thought, but the unstable balance remains.

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Haven't got time for a long comment but agree with Tiago- c.f. UK. It seems to me that barriers to dictatorship are rarely formal. They're to do with the percentage of the population who wants one, or who can be hammered into a coalition that wants one. I'm sure the constitutional structure has an effect at the margin, but I think overemphasizing constitutional structure as a bulwark against dictatorship is one of the reasons why the US has a particularly screwy constitution.

Consider that unwieldy structures might prevent evil for a time, but also might be more likely to make people go "screw it, let's just throw the whole thing out so we can get stuff done".

I see little reason the liberals should gracefully give up the courts to the right, given the right's very recent less than graceful history on that front. The real solution to the supreme court is probably to reduce its power, not pack it or stop it from being packed.

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I seem to recall Scott wrote an anti-libertarian faq, so it's a bit surprising to see he now identifies as libertarian.

Any speculation on why the EU didn't vwant Turkey?

Also, what's this thing about "the EU upheld Turkey's headscarf ban"? Presumably this is Erdogan's headscarf ban, so this would mean the EU agreed with Erdogan and this caused him to lose faith in them? Something here doesn't make sense.

I'm startled to hear about these "Gulenists" which held high posts in "a surprising number of countries". Are they still around? Is this sort of thing common?

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> it's really hard to change the US Constitution.

On the other hand, the US Constitution is interpreted loosely enough that it can effectively be changed by a Supreme Court ruling. The 14th Amendment's requirement of equal protection was weakened enough to allow racial segregation by Plessy v. Ferguson, then strengthened again by Brown v. Board of Education and related cases, followed by the ruling in Regents v. Bakke that racial discrimination was constitutional for some purposes; it was later extended by decisions such as Reed v. Reed (prohibiting legal gender discrimination) and Obergefell v. Hodges to forms of discrimination that the amendment's authors never considered (although IMO these decisions were correct and consistent with the amendment). Griswold v. Connecticut (overturning a ban on contraception) established a constitutional right to privacy which was not specified in the constitution but instead was based on the idea that "specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that help give them life and substance"; this was extended by Roe v. Wade and Lawrence v. Texas. The Bill of Rights originally bound only the federal government, but the court gradually decided that the 14th Amendment's provision that "nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law" had extended it to the state governments in various rulings from around the beginning of the 20th century onward (starting with Gitlow v. New York, regarding freedom of the press). In Wickard v. Filburn, the Court (under pressure from FDR's threat to pack it!) overturned the previously fundamental principle of federalism and strict limitations on the federal government's authority by interpreting the Interstate Commerce Clause (I.8: "The Congress shall have Power ... [t]o regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes") to mean that the federal government could regulate more or less any economic activity with any effect on interstate commerce.

If the Constitution's text is difficult to change but the Supreme Court can interpret it in widely varying ways, that doesn't mean the Constitution's legal effects can't be changed, it means that the easiest way to change it is by appointing Supreme Court justices willing to reinterpret it.

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They should have used approval voting

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Regarding the question of whether the type of "populism" coming from people like Erdogan is an inherently "right-wing" phenomenon, you'd be straightened out by reading a good book about Hugo Chavez' Venezuela. As far as I'm aware, that book hasn't been written yet, but when it does I think you'll find it to be an eerily similar story with many of the same tricks for subverting institutions.

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Some of your conclusions really remind me of Chris Arnade's from his book "Dignity". Have you read this?

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It sounds like Erdogan, although gifted, was similar to most Turks: a working class Muslim, with roots in the hinterland of the country. And it sounds like he was a politician who rose through the ranks in the expected way until becoming prime minister/president. Whereas the natural American comparison, Trump, was a billionaire and a household name before he announced he was running for president.

I think this implies the pool of potential Erdogans in Turkey is much larger than is the pool of potential right wing populist U.S. presidents. The American Erdogan couldn't conceivably be a Republican politician who steadily rose from local to state/nationwide office, since that was exactly the type Trump, the only person resembling a right wing populist leader we have had to date, contrasted himself with in order to become the Republican nominee. And Trump being able to in large part self fund his 2016 campaign was important too, because he didn't have to rely on the Party as much and could therefore deviate from its orthodoxy. So basically just keep your eye on very prominent American billionaires.

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"Medieval Turkey was dominated by the Ottoman Empire, ..."

This sentence mangles a lot of history. The Medieval period ends in the late 15th century. The Ottoman dynasty begins in 1299. Their home base was in western Anatolia between Ankara and Constantinople. They were quite expansionist from the 14th Century onward. They captured Bursa on the Sea of Marmara southwest of Constantinople and made it their capital in 1325. From there they expanded into the Balkans. The conquest of Constantinople in 1453 ends the Byzantine Empire. Some see this moment as the end of the Middle Ages.

The Ottomans expanded east and west from Constantinople after that. By the middle of the 16th Century, they rule not just Anatolia and the Balkans but, Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Levant, and the Hijaz. They claim the Caliphate in 1517 after the conquest of Egypt. The Ottomans are an empire and a caliphate, but none of this is Medieval.

The Ottomans ruled a multinational empire. Its peoples were organized into millets, under which different national/confessional groups lived under their own personal laws. Greeks were under the Orthodox Church, Armenians under the Armenian Church, Muslims under Shariah, Jews under Halakah, etc. Like any pre-modern imperial state, the relationship between the central government and the peoples in the territories was pretty loose.

The language of administration was Ottoman Turkish which was more Persian and Arabic than Turkish and was written in the Perso Arabic script. It was rarely spoken. It was not a literary language either. People spoke their national languages at home.

The modern nation of Turkey is a creation of the post-Ottoman Turkish governments. They rearranged the ethnic map of Anatolia by population exchanges with Greece and the Armenian Genocide. They created the Turkish language, so much so, that they have had to translate speeches Ataturk made in the 1920s so that they are intelligible to modern Turks.

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Erdogan’s story reminds me of the rise of Chavez and then Maduro in Venezuela. They also systematically stacked institutions with their loyalists, notably their supreme court, military, and intelligence services. And they also made claims of coup attempts against them to their benefit, although I don’t know whether those were supported by evidence (setting aside the National Assembly’s formation of a rival presidency after the dictatorship was already established). I am not sure that your closing comments about left- and right-wing populism fit well against the Venezuelan example, as it seems the populism-to-dictatorship process was similar in many respects, but from the opposite political direction.

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Matt A has probably the best comment but it's buried at a sub level comment so I wanted to signal boost him:

"From above, Scott quoted:

> even though Erdogan got only 33% of the vote, he ended up with 67% of the seats in Parliament

Based on this, a good take-away might be that we shouldn't have systems that grant a minority of voters supermajority powers. The policy solution would be strive to have policies that more closely align vote totals with power/representation in government bodies."

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It seems like the obvious places to look next for readings on the topic would be Orban's Hungary (which is often claimed, I don't know how reliably, to have started the same process) and Putin's Russia (which, again as I understand, briefly flirted with being a democracy before just being a Putinocracy). I'm not sure what other countries you'd want to look at; most countries that were democratic before becoming dictatorships were democratic for only a very brief period, and I can't think of any better cases to look at if you're worried about the U.S.

Does anyone else have any suggestions?

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Is this the first time Scott's called himself a Libertarian?

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Two comments:

1. Not sure how appropriate the "fighting against entropy" example is to Turkey, considering ita regular coups to keep it a secular democracy. Seems like the secularists are the ones fighting against entropy.

2. Seeing parallels with Hong Kong here, though the specifics are obviously different (and HK isn't exactly a democracy). Court-packing is the one that stands out the most, cf. the sentences for a taxi driver driving into a crowd of protesters and a girl throwing an egg. Another is mass arrests of the opposition, though under "national security" rather than corruption (which Mainland China uses as well). Of course, the most important difference is that it's under PRC rule, which means democracy is an uphill battle, since the HK constitution favors Beijing.

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I wrote a lot about the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey (I was a journalist at the time) and I eventually came to the likely conclusion that it was a false flag.

The official story is that a mysterious cabal known as the Peace at Home Council (whose members are still unknown, five years after the fact) used a small cadre of generals (who were all Erdogan opponents) who launched an incredibly disorganized and ineffective coup attempt that was easily squashed (despite previous military coups being tremendous successes), all while acting as the agents of the sinister and all-powerful Gulen (who had a high-profile falling out with Erdogan several years prior.)

In response, Erdogan accused all levels of Turkish society, from the police to the journalists to the teachers to the hospital administrators, of being secret infested with Gulenist agents who were somehow involved in the coup and therefore needed to be thrown in jail. Of course, this list of targets for arrest included almost every anti-Erdogan voice in a position of power that could conceivably be reached.

None of this scans to me as the presence of a massive, well-organized conspiracy... if they were so pervasive why was their coup attempt such a pathetic failure? Far more likely is that Erdogan got some patsy generals to take the fall so he could round up all his enemies and throw them in prison.

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> So, again, can it happen here?

The answer is obviously yes. If instead of a sleepy Biden we get somebody energetic and eloquent, of FDR mold, it wouldn't even be hard. They'd own the academia, the media, the entertainment industry, the big business (most of it), the internet infrastructure... I struggle to identify one important institution they wouldn't own at least a majority. Most (like academia, education and press) they'd own overwhelmingly. Courts may be a bit of an impediment, but well-placed SCOTUS packing combined with a series of federal judge appointments would solve this issue very quickly.

Everything else is basically ready - we have information delivery field itching for "fighting misinformation" (i.e. censorship, which will be directed by "experts" - guess who gets to appoint those), we have an established tradition of kicking people out of offices for wrongthink, we have semi-legitimized political violence - from the right people doing it, of course!, we have military in the thousands in the capital without anybody giving a whistle, we have at least half of the country believing that unless drastic measures are taken armed insurrection is imminent, we have the same half of the country believing foreign nefatious forces are controlling their opponents, we have FBI and intelligence services actively participating in politics and more than ready and willing to deliver "process crimes" against literally anybody, and now we have the top miliraty brass slowly but surely joining them too. And having active infrastructure to spy on literally anybody, maybe they don't even need to fabricate much to deal with their opposition... And if a random judge would object, there's always administrative state which can ruin anybody's life without the need for criminal law per se. And yes, of course, we have a religion to go with it, from soft-woke moderates who just want to tell people what to wear, what to eat, which books to read and so on, to hardcore CRT imams who are itching for full-blown racial discrimination laws and trillions-wide reparations budget that they would control.

If somebody who is really energetic, charismatic - and, say, has a good luck to preside over an economic boom, which frequently follows economic contraction (say, caused by a pandemic and lockdowns?) - which exactly institution is going to stop them?

> Having ideas about the Deep State and attempted coups floating around, sounding vaguely credible, was a major factor in Erdogan's success. The more skeptical we can be of that sort of thing, the better.

Right until the moment the coup actually happens, and then oopsie... I guess we'd be more vigilant in our next democracy, whenever that happens?

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"Populism" is an irregular noun/adjective. It goes like this:

1. I enjoy broad democratic support.

2. You're a populist

3. He's an evil demagogue.

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This sounds snooty lit-crit of me to write, but I do need to call out Scott's diction:

"If he'd died of a heart attack in 2008, we might remember him as a successful crusader against injustice [...] Young Erdogan decided that supporting Erbakan's crusade..."

"Crusade"? Seriously? Given who and what we're talking about, there's a much more apposite word that begins with J.

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> Businessmen and tycoons who Erdogan needed swept aside got accused of tax fraud, or sometimes just audited with such a fine-toothed comb

How about that time when IRS turned out to be engaged in political persecution, and then their hard drives had mysteriously suffered an epidemic of crashes? Can anybody remind me whose tax returns were just recognized by SCOTUS as fair game for fishing expeditions?

> I wonder if we should trade off our ability to catch corrupt officials and tax evaders, in favor of very high burdens of proof for those specific misdeeds.

Ah, but the funny thing you don't even need to find the tax fraud. Any false statement, even the most trivial, would do. Any violation of a myriad of process rules (like speaking with a wrong person at a wrong time - hello "witness intimidation"!, or losing any paper - hello "destruction of evidence"!) would do. In a pinch, there's always RICO where no proof of the specific crime is needed. In the worst case, the process itself is a punishment - how much does it cost to keep a lawyer involved for years? How much would it cost to your family to do the same? To your business partners? To everybody you hold dear? What if we also apply 4am searches, civil forfeiture, account lockdowns, travel restrictions, redflagging and other niceties?

Just raising burden of proof wouldn't be nearly enough - about 95% of cases in the US don't need any burden of proof at all because they never even see the court. The state has a lot of ways to play dirty.

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Fascinating stuff! Aspects I'd like to understand better:

- The Gulenists. The post makes them sound like a cross between Scientology and the Mafia but I'm hesitant to accept that framing since it tracks so closely with the story Erdogan is pushing. One could, if motivated, tell a similar story about Catholics in the US-- minority religious sect (though 20% to the Gulenists' <2%), heavily involved in certain kinds of educational institutions, clear majority on the Supreme Court-- but (almost) no one's suggesting a conspiracy there. Is there a version of this where they're just a socially conservative faction that's unusually effective at education and networking? (And if so, what accounts for their falling-out with Erdogan?)

- The Europhiles. Normally I think Europhile = neoliberal = arch-nemesis of right-wing populism. How did they end up in Erdogan's coalition? For that matter, who was *out* of Erdogan's coalition? Scott's post mentions Europhiles, Islamists, the center-right-- who's left? The military? Socialists maybe? (Are they big in Turkey?) How did Erdogan hold such an overwhelming and broad coalition together?

- Scott's theory of light-touch populism being impossible. It's interesting and helpful for understanding current politics, but I worry that there's a hidden assumption driving the broader conclusions Scott draws. His model unduly privileges the idea of high-state-capacity, centralized, bureaucratic government as being "normal" when historically it's not. It's particularly jarring when he describes the managerial practices of the elites as "all the organic processes of civil society". From where I stand they're more like vampires puppeteering the corpses of those organic processes (local government and press, neighbor / kin relationships, churches, etc.). I'd like to see how Scott's typology might change if we stop holding the modern administrative state constant.

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And one more thing - changing US constitution also requires a simple majority. You just need to know where to place that majority - specifically, in the SCOTUS. SCOTUS has been able to turn Interstate Commerce Clause into "Congress can regulate whatever they like, as long as it can be sold", find various "rights" that never existed before in "penumbras" of constitutional texts, enable Congress to force people to perform any action by levying punitive taxes on not doing the thing, legitimize forcible transfer of property from one person to another as long as the state thinks the new owner would be more economically productive, and do many other things like that. And once you have the "living Constitution" proponents in the majority, there's literally nothing that one can't find in its penumbras. The text on paper remains the same, but who cares? It's just words, and US legal system has no real connection to these words beyond what SCOTUS allows to exist by their actions. And by now, this connection is so tenuous that "unconstitutional" has long become just a meaningless pejorative and SCOTUS is just one of many partisan institutions, routinely used in partisan political struggle. Just like the Koran stays the same, but it's the ruler that defines whether for specific country it means hijabs or no hijabs, the SCOTUS can decide for the US - and in appropriate circumstances, with the right majority, can decide hijabs - or masks - are now mandated and it's fully constitutional.

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The Indian right's weaponization of 'anti-corruption' movements to both defeat their political opponents and convince MPs to switch parties under threat of endless raids and prosecution is another piece of evidence that this sort of rhetoric is not to be trusted. I'm very convinced that it's worth increasing the likelihood that individual acts of corruption go unpunished in order to make the facade of eradicating it less easy to use as a coercive weapon, not least because these so-called reformers almost always end up being just as corrupt as their predecessors. Corruption is a symptom of weak institutions, and it cannot actually be rooted out through campaigns that target particular individuals instead of the structures and incentives that surround them. In fact, I would even make a stronger claim: 'high corruption' is the natural state of human society, and the few countries that have low corruption all became rich before they got rid of it. Nobody gets rich by eradicating corruption *first* -- rather, you want to ensure that your corrupt plutocrats are interested in growing the pie so that the value of their cut increases rather than just commandeering more and more of a fixed or shrinking pie.

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Re: three recomendation for shoring up American democracy:

Agree that court packing is obviously a maneuver that could BREAK EVERYTHING,

but that was never something I seriously doubted, and I suppose only a partisan

could ever consider that move anything but balance destroying. Separation of tax

fraud and FBI investigation from the executive is interesting and something I've

put no thought to, but the question becomes, what means separate, and doesn't

that fuel further conspiracy concerning the deep state? Last, I feel three is

missing the greater half of what 2/3 majorities are actually supposed to

accomplish, which is delegation of power farther from the capital.

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This is not a right-wing/left-wing thing. It is simply an elites/masses thing. The dynamic you (I think correctly) describe is one in which a right-wing person who comes to power cannot rely on the unthinking loyalty of other elites in society in the same way as the left-winger does. But this is only because you have posited a left-wing cultural/academic elite. If you have a right-wing elite (I'm British - there are people old enough to recall a right-wing cultural/academic elite in this country) then the same dynamic would appear with an outside left-winger coming to power. That is precisely the dynamic one sees in Communist revolutions: the revolutionaries seize political power, but they cannot rely on the loyalty of the leadership of the armed forces, the police, the courts, the media, big business, the professions, universities, etc, and so these organisations need to be purged.

To put it another way, consider the difference between a Jedi and a non-Jedi coming to power in a modern Western country. The norm is non-Jedis, and they can rely on the unthinking support of non-Jedis running the other institutions. But when a Jedi comes to power (on the wave of popular protest against traditional left- and right-wing parties) and tries to set up a main Jedi Temple in the capital, and compulsory Jedi training for children, and Jedi warriors in the armed forces - well, you can imagine the kinds of pushback and foot-dragging and legal challenges that would ensue. So the Jedi finds it a good idea to find ways to install Jedis at the top of these institutions. Nothing right-wing or left-wing about it.

The upshot is that any society is most at risk of revolution from groups which are a combination of (a) popular and (b) not permitted elite representation. A big prudential reason for universities, arts organisations, media etc allowing right-wing views to be represented at high levels is to reduce the possibility of them being forcibly re-made should a right-winger come to power. (And vice versa in societies with right-wing institutions.)

Finally, just an observation, but while "“Take government control of industries” was a left-wing idea a few years, it sounds more and more right-wing as time goes on.

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'The important point is that elite government can govern with a light touch, because everything naturally tends towards what they want and they just need to shepherd it along. But popular/anti-elite government has a strong tendency toward dictatorship, because it won't get what it wants without crushing every normal organic process'

I'm not sure that's the lesson here. The Republic of Turkey's secular institutions -- good or bad -- were installed inorganically by a dictatorship (Ataturk's). They then produced a (frequently authoritarian) elite often ruthlessly loyal to those institutions, and counter-elites hostile to them.

Erdogan has basically just gone about the same thing in reverse. The old secular elites still exist in the background -- either submitting to Erdogan or marginalised -- but he has gone about bringing down their institutions and recreating them to form a new elite loyal to his vision of society. How this will play out over the long term is yet to be decided.

So perhaps the real lesson is that regimes tend to be authoritarian until they have brought the elite and society to heel, then they may ease off after reaching a certain point of stability and security?

Also, at the end of the day the institutions in nearly all countries which select the elite are universities, and arguably these are quite 'inorganic': in the digital world there is no practical need for their credentials to have the power they have, but it serves the status quo for there to be defined routes to intellectual, elite and ultimately political legitimacy. And when it comes to choosing who should have credentials conferred upon them, the top schools often place a heavy emphasis on factors aside from raw merit.

Interestingly this mirrors something you touch on briefly in your article: in Turkey the university system was effectively rigged (inorganically) to keep out religious conservatives -- excluding them from an elite they otherwise had the ability to be a part of, and making them hostile to it. Could there be parallels with the US and the west at the moment?

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Damn, I thought all the accusation against Kaczyński and PiS in Poland were absurd - not only because the opposition screamed "end of democracy is nigh" as soon as PiS got into power postion, and because the accusation under the previous rule were so obviously fake - but after this review I am not so sure.

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"As a libertarian" Is this just meant to be provocative? I've yet to come across any coherent account of libertarianism that wasn't at bottom contrary in practice to the ends desired by the promoter. Don't you mean something along the lines of, "As someone who only favors government laws, policies, and regulations that I suspect, given whatever limited domain-specific understanding I have, are one the whole beneficial?" What do you mean by "libertarian" and should other people understand the term to mean what you mean?

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Just a small note: "recalbrating" is spelt wrong.

As far as I understand it, populism used to be associated with left-wing economic policies that would have some immediate effect on poorer workers (e.g. protectionism, enforced wage increases) while cutting against mainstream economic theory about what's best for the whole economy.

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Just checking, is this a book-review-contest book review?

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I'm reminded of this article, about how India's limited state capacity means that it probably should let some things go that developed countries regulate: https://www.independent.org/pdf/tir/tir_24_2_01_rajagopalan.pdf

I don't know if the argument extends from food safety to corruption, but it is plausible that prosecuting low-level corruption is more expensive than ignoring it when a country is still low-income or middle-income. The argument about limited police resources is definitely relevant.

Alternatively, perhaps we should adopt the heuristic that corruption in such countries is too rampant to actually stamp out, and therefore most corruption investigations are themselves corrupt. Maybe that just squeezes the excuse to some other crime instead, though.

Re: populism. Populist leftism definitely exists. The first image on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Populism is an OWS sign. Bernie and AOC are probably the most notable American leftist populists. Yes, they aren their supporters tend to be educated and work in influential knowledge professions, but I think what matters more is the group's own perception, and in particular their rhetoric. They try to position themselves as defenders of the poor against the exploitative rich, and use similar language as right-wing populists, just with different groups as the "people" and the "elite."

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There was a clear pattern to the repression of the Islamist movement in Turkey. The army and the judiciary felt that they did not have the backing to totally eradicate them (like they did to the communists), but kept picking the most egregious examples and pruning them with political bans and jail time. This has created an environment of artificial selection in the Islamist movement where the most cunning, skilful and politically savvy individuals easily rose up to the top, as the less savvy people around them were taken out by the military. Such people had no qualms with breaking the rules, since the rules were obviously rigged against them and wielded non-charitably. This is the environment that formed Erdogan's political personality and made him thrive.

This situation has a clear parallel to the contemporary Western countries where it is becoming increasingly acceptable to censor and ostracise (but never entirely eradicate) political actors who do have popular backing. Trump and the new wave of "counter-domestic terrorism" rhetoric is the prime example but this is far from unique. Such weak but unfair and unpopular repression risks breeding leaders who have the moral conviction and the political savvy to really burn it all.

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Both this deep review by Astral Codex Ten and selden's a-must comment somewhere in the threads are well worth reading: multiple analogies (in the USA and in Europe) come to mind despite the disclaimer.

An advantageous and unique geopolitical location of Turkey, poised on the map to rule as a trading and military power, is curbed by the inner squabbles and frequent rotations of elites... Hard to say, for the best or the worst, as the male-populist democracy is defended by feared Islamic fundamentalists by non-democratic means, and the Western and EU- style democracy is defended by all-male multiple military coups, supported by women's liberation movements...

What a puzzle, what an invitation to think outside boxes... Erdogan's predicament on a personal level is well-analyzed in this balanced article and well-complemented in the selden's comment.

Off-topic, I only run into this blog due to the NYT scandal, the moral of which is "never talk to reporters" :( of NYT: it is an outrageous bridge of professional ethics, what they have done tp Astral, and in combination with their recent gang-style jumping of a distinguished reporter, ousted after being provoked by his bored entitled charges on a Peruvian trip, and other mini-elite rotations of their own, NYT as a venerable newspaper is losing readers' respect, actually re-directing to a freer to self-express bloggers.

In a broader sense, NYT is getting rid of "competition" both in their inner bickerings and online, because nobody in their opinion can have a voice but the outlets aligned with their own wildly swinging "party line" at each given instant. This sucks!

So thank you for maintaining this blog.

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Henrichs The Weirdest People in the World kind of kills modernization theory and Inglehart, and thus partly the thrive/survive model. The new interesting question becomes how to make a culture weird and abolish kinintensive institutions. Japan did it throught the Meijirestauration, and China came a long way though obviously not all the way to democratic ideals. MENA-countries may be the furthest from Weird, and the question becomes why - is it Islam and the Ok for cousin marriages? Anyhow, Turkey seems like the perfect case study, telling us something about what will happen if we try to force Weird:ness on an islamic/kinintensive/nepotistic population. The constant corruotion errode the Proto-weird elites, which by the way is less weird than embedded in informal contacts and nepotism, ie kinintensive structures. And the authoritarian ubdercurrent is there to be channeled through Erdogan when time comes to scale back the Weirdness.

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I have to admit that when Scott declares himself a Libertarian, I don’t know what he is talking about anymore than what today is a conservative.

In anycase, in the political sphere, In the 2020 presidential election, the Libertarian Party candidate, Jo Jorgensen, gained 1.2 percent of the vote, less than half the party’s 2016 election result.

{ https://tinyurl.com/What-Happened-Election }

The Libertarian Delusion

{https://prospect.org/power/libertarian-delusion/ }

Libertarian and "externality"

The Libertarian Civil Rights Paradox

{ https://tinyurl.com/Libertarian-Paradox )

Illiberal Libertarians: Why Libertarianism Is Not a Liberal View

{ https://www.jstor.org/stable/3557960?seq=1 }

The dangers of illiberal liberalism

{ https://www.economist.com/open-future/2018/08/17/the-dangers-of-illiberal-liberalism }

The Anatomy of Illiberal States - Brookings Institution

{ https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/illiberal-states-web.pdf }

1997 Fareed Zakaria The Rise of Illiberal Democracy


Confronting Illiberalism


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Great post, thanks. My only solution (to no dictator here in US) is to make the congress take back the power they have given up to the president. I don't know how to do that.

What does suggestion number 3 mean? Hacking the 2/3 majority sounds like getting around it. Are you in favor of further gutting of the filibuster?

Dystopian vision of US. Gulen schools = Elite colleges and uni's. Control of media and message is already going on. All we need is populist president from the left to pick up the reins and run with it. (I couldn't read all the replies and still get out into the sun today.)

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A quibble on where the lines get drawn between you, the elite, and me, the hoi polloi. I strongly suspect terms such as elites and the populace are bankrupt shells, standing in for little else than attempts at in-group/out-group distinctions. Witness the example of "Passion of the Christ" as an anti-elite production, but one clearly produced by people who are elites. And me? I used the term hoi polloi and I work in the media, so I'm a cultural elite. But I went to a public college, so I'm a man of the people? In a coastal state? Elite! But one in the mid-Atlantic that's won numerous national championships in revenue-producing sports, so back into the unwashed masses? I dunno, but in the US at least (your mileage may vary in other countries), when you scratch the anti-elites, it's easy to see a whole lot of eliteness right underneath the signifiers of populism. What does it all mean? I've been coming to the hypothesis that any anti-elite movement in the US that claims to be punching up can easily be seen as punching down without having to contort one's self into too painful of a position. Secondary hypothesis: We have it pretty good in my country. So good that you can't create any movement with enough power to demand attention that is not arguably elite along some metric.

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"Populist" just tends to mean "widely popular democratically elected official the media/academic and/or business corporate elite don't like." They've only succeeded in making it pejorative the last few years.

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It seems to me the most natural way to prevent us democracy from devolving into dictatorships is to

1. Stop having presidents, seems much less likely for a senate majority leader to turn dictatorial than a president.

2. Have multiparty systems such that single party governments are very uncommon, coalition governments seem much less prone to dictatorships.

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"I think this is the main reason why Erdogan's example doesn't generalize to other countries. What went wrong in Turkey was mostly Turkey-specific, a reckoning for Turkey’s unique flaws. Erdogan rose to power on credible promises to help people disenfranchised by the old system; by the time he turned the tables and started disenfranchising others in turn, it was too late to root him out. "

I don't think this is really Turkey-specific; in fact, I think this is the most common path to dictatorship in the modern era. Certainly if you dive down into the details you'll find "Turkey's unique flaws", which aren't exactly the same as Venezuela's unique flaws, Cuba's unique flaws, Egypt's unique flaws, Rhodesia's unique flaws, etc, etc. But there's generally a large number of (usually poor) effectively disenfranchised people who feel they are getting a raw deal from the present regime, and there's a Chavez or a Castro or a Nasser or a Mugabe (etc, etc) who aside from personal ambition also sincerely wants to help those people.

And I suspect *doesn't* specifically want to be a dictator, but the reason the people he's trying to help are poor and disenfranchised isn't just because the top people in the old regime were Evil Oppressors. So when he sweeps away the old regime and things don't automatically get better, when he tries to implement reforms and finds that the remaining power centers in the nation are opposing him, well, the poor oppressed people need to be helped and if anyone is getting in the way of that, well, *those* people need to be disenfranchised. And it's easy to make yourself believe it is *good* to disenfranchise those people, because they are the Obstructionist Deep State (or whatever).

So the lesson shouldn't be "It won't happen that way here because that was a Turkey-specific thing". The only Turkey-specific thing about it was that the specific set of poor disenfranchised people the proto-dictator was trying to help (or cynically use to climb his way to power) were Islamists. In the United States, it won't be Islamists. But the rest of it, will probably look a lot like Erdogan in Turkey.


"In this model, left-wing populism would be someone trying the same thing, except using economic rather than cultural class war. I don’t know enough about this to have a good feeling for whether it has exactly the same pathologies or subtly different ones."

I think in this model, left-wing populism is going to manifest as communism, or if that's a dirty word as some communism-adjacent form of socialism. The elites, as you note, find themselves at the top of everything, which means they're at the top of the economy. And first in line to claim the economic benefits, e.g. yachts and private jets and mansions. This may still be the best possible outcome for everyone, because "Elites manage the economy as efficiently as possible and then selflessly give it all away" isn't a thing humans are going to do. But when there's a big enough economic downturn and the Elite are conspicuously not going hungry, it's going to be real popular to say that the Elites owning all the factories and deciding how much to pay the workers, the Elites owning all the apartment buildings and deciding what rent to charge, is part of the problem and so the popular will is to take (operational control of) those things away from the Elites and give it to, well, there will have to be some centralized committee representing the people en masse.

So if you're looking for what form the pathologies will take, I think the pathologies of communism, "Bolivaran socialism", etc, are farily well documented. They aren't identical to the pathologies of right-wing populism, but some of them look pretty close.

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>Since all natural organic processes favor elites, if the government wants to win, it will have to destroy everything natural and organic

Far-left populism runs into the pareto principle, trying to maintain an equal distribution in universe that wants the top 20% to get 80% of the stuff.

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> "Anti corruption campaign" seems to be a code word for "arresting the enemies of people in power", whether in Erdogan's Turkey or Xi's China. I'm not sure what to do about it without leaving corruption in place, but, uh, maybe we should leave corruption in place. Hard to say.

This is wrong, but only because of a lack in perspective. People who live in non corrupt countries are really bad at simulating how everyday corruption is in some parts of the world and just how damaging that is to society. There are countries where it is common and expected to bribe teachers for your kids grades, bribe government officials to not interfere in your business... the list goes on and on. It also infects everyone. Not bribing people puts you at a significant disadvantage, but bribing people then makes you forever guilty of bribery if you ever upset the wrong person. This actively suppresses any kind of dissent. It also results in a less equal, less fair more paralyzed society and sinks trust in any kind of public institution.

So - if you have a society past the "total societal corruption threshold" (Turkey, China, India... etc) then anti-corruption campaigns are bad because everyone is corrupt and the campaign will only go after whomever the people in power want to go after.

But, in countries that aren't past that point, anti-corruption campaigns are good because we need to get rid of corrupt people. Both because corruption is bad, and because we really, really want to avoid having our society slip past the total societal corruption threshold.

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I'm surprised by the lack of commentary here about the role of the military in the Turkey example vs. the U.S. and West generally.

Clearly in the U.S. the military has an enviable nonpartisan reputation - and consistent track record of not interfering with the election process. That contrasts with a significant number of countries that have experienced a Turkey-style drift toward authoritarianism.

It was notable that Trump rather desperately switched out a significant number of Pentagon and Intelligence nominees in the weeks immediately preceding the election and inauguration. FWIW I'd argue several of those 'acting' (not approved by Senate) changes bolster the case that he DID think a post-election coup was possible.

And yet it failed. Despite some questionable delays in approving National Guard support for the Capitol, there were several important signals sent by the Joint Chiefs indicating that they would not play ball. It sure would be interesting to have access to the Pentagon email servers for the month of Jan - to confirm or deny what those political appointees were really doing.

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I think the left-wing populism equivalent of having to crush the natural processes of the elite culture and politics is the basic premise of the "I, Pencil" documentary. The emergent order of the modern economy is far too complex to centrally plan and every heavy handed state intervention is crushing that emergent order and coded price information. I think the parallels are in fact quite extensive -- think of it from the perspective of your own writing on the cost dilemma regarding health care or higher education.

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