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Friday, 15 February 2019

How to Lose a Country: The 7 Steps from Democracy to Dictatorship

On 14 February at SEESOX Ece Temelkuran launched her latest book “How to Lose a Country: The 7 Steps from Democracy to Dictatorship”. There was a large and enthusiastic audience.

Ece said that there were many books on populism. This was an attempt to get beyond the echo chambers, and also to speak to people without access to academic information.

There were three discussants. Ceren Lord commented that Turkey was not unique but was a text-book case of right wing populism, with a leader appealing to the “real people”, manufacturing victimhood, and presenting the “lesser evil”. Murat Belge liked the book. It was easily read and had a nimble pace: but was full of substance and informative. He agreed that Turkey was far from an isolated case. He had only one criticism: the reference to “democracy” as the starting point of the current Turkish dive into authoritarianism. Laurent Mignon pointed to the role of opposition politicians, and the role of religion, in the rise of populism.

In answer to these points, and other questions, Ece rhetorically asked how idiotic projects prevailed. Farage and Brexit were an example. How had mankind become so evil and stupid. There was undoubtedly a fear factor. Also, populism appealed to the “we” not the “I”. Populists used/abused concepts like security, home, dignity, protection. In their minds human dignity morphed into pride. They also misused the natural search for a meaning to life, and persuaded people to join their “cause” without explaining what it was.

Asked to suggest the remedies for the situations she described, Ece called for a return to reason. An excess of emotion had invaded the public sphere. “Get Real” she pleaded.

As Chair, Kalypso Nicolaidis listed the 7 steps and illustrated with chosen quotes: Create a Movement; Disrupt Rationale/Terrorise Language; Remove the Shame – Immorality is “Hot” in the Post-Truth World; Dismantle Judicial and Political Mechanisms; Design Your Own Citizen (starting with the women); Let them Laugh at the Horror; Build Your Own Country.

David Madden (Senior Memnber, St Antony's College)

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