Her Majesty is the head of a monarchy which has been much more free and democratic than almost all republics in the world(Nothing Follows)
The first time I went abroad, I was 16, and my destination was Britain. My parents had sent me to spend a summer in London, so that I could improve my English and “see the world.” Staying at a warm family house in Richmond, and touring the whole city almost everyday, I had cultivated a beginner's admiration for Her Majesty's country. Actually, at first sight, there were few oddities. I could never understand, for example, why their washbasins had two separate taps, through which you either freeze or burn. But the plus side was dominant.
One thing that was particularly curious was the political system of the United Kingdom. It was, as its name made obvious, a monarchy. And it was, undeniably, a very free and enlightened society. Yet my textbooks have always told me that Turkey became “free and enlightened” when we dethroned our own monarch. So, what was the secret of the British?
Freedom and tradition:
As I grew older, and studied more, I realized that what made Britain so different from Turkey was a set of values and ideas that the British believed, but the founders of Turkey ignored. The latter, of course, had their own set of values and ideas, and, interestingly, they were derived mostly from another European power: France. Both the Young Turks and the Kemalists, who have dominated the Turkish political system since the early 20th century to date, were deeply influenced by the French Enlightenment and its deification of human reason. While despising tradition and religion, they have thought that society needs to be reconstructed by “rational” elites. While the British believed in “change within tradition,” the French opted for “change in spite of tradition.” That's why the British kept their monarchy. The French used the guillotine to get rid of it.
In one of his important works, “The Constitution of Liberty,” one of the great social philosophers of the 20th century, Friedrich A. Hayek, underlined this crucial difference between the “British tradition” and the French Enlightenment. “The political conclusions of the two schools derive from different conceptions of how society works,” Hayek noted. And he added: “British philosophers laid the foundations of a profound and essentially valid theory, while the rationalist school was simply and completely wrong.”
Actually by their fruits we might know them. From the French tradition there arose the authoritarian and assimilationist nation-state, which often found itself at war with its own people. It was no accident that the “Liberté” of the French Revolution was only valid for those who believed in the principles of the new regime. For the British, though, freedom was the gift of God that no man could alienate. The founding fathers of the United States borrowed this idea and formulated one of the most eloquent defenses of freedom: “All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The United States was founded as a republic, but it was much more on the British tradition than the French Enlightenment that would form the bases of most other modern republics. Indeed, the French model swept through the world and influenced many nations, including the Turks.
“The sweeping success of the political doctrines that stem from the French tradition,” argues Hayek, “is probably due to their great appeal to human pride and ambition.” Here was a story telling that once you get rid of all traditional beliefs, you will be thrilled, because you, as a human, have an omnipotent reason which is enough to master all fields and solve all problems. You believe you can plan the economy; hence comes the drive for socialism. You believe you can plan the culture; hence comes the passion for cultural revolution.
Yet all such efforts to reshape the society by a group of authoritarian elites not just failed, but also led to horrible disasters. Stalin's or Mao's bloody experiments are the most obvious ones, but other nations, including France itself, also suffered from the war between the revolutionary elites and the traditional masses. The former always believed in the need for using sticks to “modernize” the latter. The latter always disliked these self-appointed guardians and resisted the changes they imposed.
Britain and Islam:
Thank God, the “British tradition” stood firm in the face of this authoritarian tide. Today the United Kingdom, and all the Anglo-Saxon countries that have been blessed by its tradition of liberalism, pluralism, and tolerance, presents the best form of modernity to the nations of the world. Especially at a time when the confrontation between radical modernism and radical Islam shakes the globe, the British tradition offers pious Muslims the hope that they will be welcomed, not deplored, by the West for how they worship and live.
There are indeed so many examples of British acceptance of traditional Islam. Women in headscarves, who are second-class citizens in Turkey, are all free and equal in the U.K. Besides attending any school they want, they can even be teachers or members of the police force. The British government is also very respectful to Islamic observance. Last year, Queen Elizabeth II had ordered the opening of a small prayer room in her palace for the few Muslim employees. (The radical Islamists in Britain, who denounce the very country that gives them all such freedoms, must be out of their minds.)
All this background makes me very willing to welcome Her Majesty, who is on an official trip to Turkey these days. I will be carefully listening to her remarks, but even her very presence on the face of the Earth tells a lot. She is the head of a monarchy which has been much more free and democratic than almost all republics in the world. Her Kingdom, in other words, is a testimony to the fact that what really matters for a nation is the moral values it holds, not the “revolutionary principles” it buys.
Thursday, 15 May 2008
How can a Turk have a better clue about freedom than many in the West?
One of my favourite columnists, Mustafa Akyol from the Turkish Daily News, has a piece about freedom that can only be written by a non-Westerner.