For the first time, directly presidential elections were held in Turkey on 10th August, 2014. As expected, Prime Minister Erdogan won the elections and crossed the fifty percent threshold, making second round of presidential election unnecessary. The idea of Erdogan ruling for five more years is disconcerting for many inside and outside Turkey. Erdogan, after an initial liberal start, has now become a symbol of elected illiberalism or illiberal democracy. Erdogan is not alone. Since the start of 2013, illiberal democrats have won elections in Algeria, Pakistan, India, Hungary, Egypt and Venezuela.
The idea of illiberal democracy was first popularized by Fareed Zakaria (See http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/53577/fareed-zakaria/the-rise-of-illiberal-democracy). He argued that democracy requires only regular competitive elections and can be liberal or illiberal. Liberal democracy, in addition to regular elections, entails individual liberty and constitutionalism. Without protection of individual rights and limits on the power of democratic governments (usually through constitutions), there is no liberal democracy. Zakaria contended that sequencing of liberalism and democracy was different in the early Western European democracies (and East Asian democracies) and most third wave democracies. In the former, liberalism became entrenched before democracy became a reality but in the later, democracy came earlier. This led to illiberal democracy or infringement of individual and minority rights in many countries. According to Zakaria,
The tension between constitutional liberalism and democracy centers on the scope of governmental authority. Constitutional liberalism is about the limitation of power, democracy about its accumulation and use. For this reason, many eighteenth- and nineteenth-century liberals saw in democracy a force that could undermine liberty. James Madison explained in The Federalist that "the danger of oppression" in a democracy came from "the majority of the community." Tocqueville warned of the "tyranny of the majority," writing, "The very essence of democratic government consists in the absolute sovereignty of the majority."
To stop what he calls ‘the growth industry of illiberal democracy’, Zakaria cautions against giving too much importance to elections as elections even when free and fair can lead to more wars, suppression of minorities, infringement of fundamental civil and political rights and centralization of power in a small group of people. He advises the West to consider absence of elections as one flaw, focus more on constitutional liberalism and realize the dangers of democracy, without liberalism:
Illiberal democracies gain legitimacy, and thus strength, from the fact that they are reasonably democratic. Conversely, the greatest danger that illiberal democracy poses -- other than to its own people -- is that it will discredit liberal democracy itself, casting a shadow on democratic governance. This would not be unprecedented. Every wave of democracy has been followed by setbacks in which the system was seen as inadequate and new alternatives were sought by ambitious leaders and restless masses. The last such period of disenchantment, in Europe during the interwar years, was seized upon by demagogues, many of whom were initially popular and even elected. Today, in the face of a spreading virus of illiberalism, the most useful role that the international community, and most importantly the United States, can play is -- instead of searching for new lands to democratize and new places to hold elections -- to consolidate democracy where it has taken root and to encourage the gradual development of constitutional liberalism across the globe. Democracy without constitutional liberalism is not simply inadequate, but dangerous, bringing with it the erosion of liberty, the abuse of power, ethnic divisions, and even war. Eighty years ago, Woodrow Wilson took America into the twentieth century with a challenge, to make the world safe for democracy. As we approach the next century, our task is to make democracy safe for the world.
Shadi Hamid agrees with Zakaria’s diagnosis but explains the difficulty of implementing the solution prescribed due to the popularity of democracy (see http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/05/democracys-future-in-the-middle-east-islamist-and-illiberal/361791/?single_page=true#comments)
Illiberal democracy has risen to prominence in part because Western Europe’s careful sequencing of liberalism first and democracy later is no longer tenable—and hasn’t been for some time. Knowing that democracy, or something resembling it, is within reach, citizens have no interest in waiting indefinitely for something their leaders say they aren’t ready for. Democracy has become such an uncontested, normative good that the arguments of Zakaria seem decidedly out of step with the times. Zakaria argues, for instance, that “the absence of free and fair elections should be viewed as one flaw, not the definition of tyranny…. It is important that governments be judged by yardsticks related to constitutional liberalism.”
Hamid adds another dimension to the problem by differentiating Islamist and other illiberal democracies:
The phenomenon of Islamists seeking, or being in, power forces us to rethink the relationship between liberalism and democracy. Illiberal democracy under Islamist rule is different from the Venezuelan or Russian varieties for a number of reasons. In the latter cases, illiberal democracy is not intrinsically linked to the respective ideologies of Hugo Chávez or Vladimir Putin. Their illiberalism is largely a byproduct of a more basic, naked desire to consolidate power. In the case of Islamists, however, their illiberalism is a product of their Islamism, particularly in the social arena. For Islamists, illiberal democracy is not an unfortunate fact of life but something to believe in and aspire to. Although they may struggle to define what exactly it entails, Islamist parties have a distinctive intellectual and ideological “project.” This is why they are Islamist.
So, while Zakaria blames sequencing of democracy and liberalism and West’s all-consuming love with elections, Hamid adds Islamist ideology to the reasons of the rise of illiberal democracies.
In short, democratization does not necessarily have a moderating effect on Islamist parties, nor does it blunt the importance of ideology. There are no easy answers and, at some point, it may very well come down to a matter of faith. What if Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans, Yemenis, or Syrians decide, through democratic means, that they want to be illiberal? Is that a protected right? For its part, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is clear on the matter. A United Nations background note discusses the “red line”: “The right to culture is limited at the point at which it infringes on another human right. No right can be used at the expense or destruction of another, in accordance with international law.” For Western policymakers and Arab liberals alike, the notion that there should be supra-constitutional principles binding on all citizens seems self-evident. Liberal democracy depends upon the recognition of inalienable rights. But if Islamists do not consider themselves party to this consensus—and many do not—then the matter becomes a more basic one of colliding worldviews.
Throughout the 20th century, alternative ideologies, such as socialism, communism, and Christian Democracy, all attempted to secure power through the ballot box. But these were movements with built-in limitations. Islamist groups, particularly insular and secretive ones like the Brotherhood, are divisive for other reasons, but they do not struggle with the same limitations.
Hamid does not give any solution to problem of illiberal Islamist democracy. He acknowledges that ‘democratization will reorient political life in Arab societies’ but does not know whether the new direction will be toward liberalism or away from it:
What is common to both Zakaria and Hamid is the focus on non-Western world and the implicit assertion that these ‘others’ are different/backward because of historical and cultural reasons. Therefore, Zakaria and Hamid’s advice to them is to unlearn their own ways and imitate or follow the West. But they fail to analyze the basic issue: why one Western product (i.e. democracy) became accepted all over the world but another Western product (i.e. liberalism) is rejected or still contested. Historically and culturally, if liberalism was not part of the non-Western world, democracy was also a novel idea. Why most of the non-Western world were ready to imitate West in one way and not in another way?
Looking a few decades back, we can have a clue about why democracy became popular and liberalism didn’t. Democracy was initially as much a contested concept as liberalism. It was considered a Western conspiracy or imposition to control the non-Western world. Not only kings and military juntas but politicians also used to reject democracy proudly and publicly. Now, most Islamists, communists, radical socialists and ethnic movements vouch their loyalty to democracy. What happened? The main change in the non-Western world was that the Western democracy dropped the epithet (Western) and became simple democracy. What was appreciated was that democracy had nothing to do with East or West. It is a procedure to decide who will rule a country. But is democracy a procedure? There are two opinions about it. According to the minimalist and popular definition, democracy is about free and fair elections, a procedure. However, more expansive definitions also include minority rights, due process and some inalienable civil and political rights in the definition of democracy (what Zakaria calls constitutional liberalism). The non-Western world had no problem accepting the minimalist definition of democracy but they still contested the more broad definitions of democracy that include constitutional liberalism in it.
One reason why constitutional liberalism was rejected by many was its link with Westernization and Western liberal hypocrisy. Western liberals have been claiming individual liberty as their main goal for centuries but this has not stopped them from participating in genocides, slavery and colonialism. Most of the Western liberals supported colonialism and the murder of millions of people in 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. Sometimes the civilizing mission of Western liberals also included imposing Christianity and forcibly eliminating local cultures, traditions and religions. During the 20th century, as colonialism ended, many Western liberals supported brutal dictatorships in newly independent countries to defeat Communism and to support their national financial investments. Moreover, West’s cultural hegemony and control of international media has been instrumental in preventing the growth any alternate voice to the Western thinking/interests. Any support for alternative views by non-Western governments/societies is considered/dubbed illiberal, making liberalism a tool for the continued Western hegemony. For example, labor rights and rights of veiled women are regularly rejected. Similarly, countries that do not accept West’s dominance are constantly demonized in the international press, controlled by the Western liberal governments. For example, currently Palestinians are receiving bad press even when they are being killed in thousands.
National interest still reigns supreme and even in 21st century, many Western governments and liberals choose when to apply liberalism and when to ignore it. As Hakan Altinay, the director of the European School of Politics in Istanbul and a former Yale Fellow, explains (See http://www.thejakartaglobe.com/opinion/will-erdogans-victory-turkey-mark-rise-illiberal-democracy/):
The recent bad patch for the liberal project is compounded by the West’s lackluster performance to live by its own creed. When EU is so muted regarding the Egyptian coup and even fails to call the coup a coup, it loses credibility in criticizing Erdogan’s authoritarianism. In a similar fashion, Washington’s calls for restraint and magnanimity ring hollow, when the US itself abuses its privileged position, as seen in the way the National Security Agency demands access to global information companies that happen to be located in the US but serve global customers, and when BNP Baribas, a French bank, is fined equal to its yearly profits for the privilege of conducting business in the world’s reserve currency. In other words, Turkey has an Erdogan problem and also a larger liberalism problem.
Mocking Erdogan is easy. He provides more than plenty reasons to dislike him. Those who wish for a less authoritarian Turkey ought, instead, to redeem liberalism globally….In other words, Turkey has an Erdogan problem, and all of us have a larger liberalism problem.
So, notwithstanding other reasons (such as defensive nationalism), one of the main cause of liberalism’s retreat and the rise of illiberal democracies is the link of the West with liberalism. Many non-Western populations are just sick of Western government’s posing as defender of human rights and liberalism. Unsurprisingly, almost all illiberal democrats defend their illiberal ways by pointing out to Western hypocrisies and insults to their nations by Western liberal democracies. As Andras Simonyi recently explained in the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andras-simonyi/putin-erdogan-and-orban-b_b_5672236.html), illiberal leaders (like Russian president Putin, Erdogan and Hungarian Prime Minister Orban) use their nation’s misgivings against the West to denigrate liberalism:
No doubt, Putin, Erdogan and Orban all have an amazing sense of understanding of the soul (read: the fears) of their population. They are addressing the dreams of their people of past glories and grandeur...They also build on nationalism and xenophobia….They build on the sentiments of abandonment by the West in the broader population.
A few decades ago, non-Westerners broke the link between democracy and West. Now, they have to break the link between liberalism and the West. Only then, liberalism can be acceptable and not suffer because of the West’s actions. As many non-Westerners have found democratic traditions in their past, they have to find liberal traditions too. Non-Western cultures are certainly not devoid of traditions embracing due process and inalienable civil and political rights. Sufism in Islam and Bhakti movement in Hinduism are example of liberal traditions. Similarly, in Chinese tradition, Taoism’s founder Loa-tzu was a philosopher for whom individual and his happiness was the most important goal and his thinking was very close to liberalism (See https://mises.org/daily/1967).
Liberalism has to be delinked from the West. This will remove one of the most important hurdle in making liberalism an uncontested, normative good like democracy and establish permanent liberal democracies in the non-Western world.