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Turkish conservatism at a crossroads.

ySTANBUL (CyHAN)- It would appear that during its 11th year in government the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has begun the cumbersome process of deciding which style of conservatism it really wants to promote.

Will it be moral and social, liberal or progressive? The debate about student dormitories and whether or not young men and women should share the same buildings is only one such issue taken from a much longer list of subjects. I shall re-visit that topic further below.

Let me first try to tackle a tricky question most probably encountered by every conservative politician. Although there are more alternatives with regard to which model of conservatism to subscribe to, I wish to focus on only a few to make my point.

Would that politician be simply advocating economic conservatism where market forces reign supreme and a survival-of-the-fittest attitude prevails? In this case, moral or social values, respectively, would not necessarily feature prominently in any election manifesto as this type of society almost entirely depends on allowing for individual choice and individual responsibility and a minimalist approach to state or government interference.

Or would that decision-maker try to combine economic conservatism with moral and social matters while allowing for unhindered individual economic activity and amassing of personal wealth, at the same time dictating in particular to those citizens who have less financial means how to lead their lives according to strict moral norms? One could argue that this is a form of conservatism where the rich are able to "work hard, play hard," whereas the majority basically has no choice but to work hard. "Social" in this context does not refer to social welfare but rather to telling people what is accepted social behavior and what is not.

Then there is another option that might best be described as progressive conservatism. It enables the state to retain a certain number of welfare-related functions such as providing for basic public healthcare, free schooling, social housing and adequate unemployment benefits. It is a concept that is not against amassing individual wealth but understands that a quite significant amount of redistribution is mandatory, too. Progressive conservatism would actively support the existence of the middle classes as the backbone of society.

Let us not forget that in a democracy and if things would lean too much towards economic conservatism and the rich get richer while the poor get poorer, it is likely that opposition parties are going to win the next general elections, most probably from a socialist or social-democrat background.

The AK Party, which according to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoy-an describes itself as "democratic conservative," will soon have to decide whether that version of Turkish conservatism tends to be more of the economic, social/moral or progressive variety.

Initially it had to re-establish the voters' belief that individual entrepreneurial activity is actively encouraged by the government, that state monopolies are step-by-step privatized and that a functioning middle class including a reliance on small and medium-sized enterprises is something positive!

What's more, the AK Party at least in its first two rounds in office more or less constantly embraced the concept of change.

And "change" should be something in particular progressive conservatism actively promotes. Innovation, better products, improved health and safety regulations at the workplace. Then there is change in society as such. There are alternative lifestyles. Young people will have perhaps conflicting ideas when compared with the mainstream.

And this last comment brings me back to the current debate about mixed-gender accommodations. First observation: Is it truly the most pressing item on the nation's political agenda?

Second observation: From a principled moral standpoint based on collective responsibility probably defendable, yet if evaluated from a "true" change-embracing economic-progressive conservative perspective based on individual choice, rather difficult to support; it is interesting to see which way the AK Party will go from here conceptually.

KLAUS JURGENS (Cihan/Today's Zaman) CyHAN

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Publication:Cihan News Agency (CNA)
Date:Nov 9, 2013
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