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Ordinary Conservatism

Tanıl Bora*

Ordinary nationalism or banal nationalism is a well-established concept that has made its way from theory to the language of the media. I use this concept as a parallel to ordinary conservatism. By ordinary conservatism, I mean the everyday, entrenched views and behavioral patterns that exist independently of doctrinal foundations, political programs, or ideological baggage. You could also call it a disposition, essentially, conservatism as a disposition.

Is Turkey becoming more conservative? Is Turkish society conservative? While pondering these popular questions, we need to include the lens of ordinary conservatism or the appearance of the conservative ethos in our discussions.

What are the manifestations of ordinary conservatism? Not necessarily in political or ‘big’ issues, but primarily in ordinary everyday matters…

First and foremost, we should mention conformism. In Turkish, it is translated as “uyumculuk” or “uymacılık,” and while it may sound cumbersome, it accurately conveys the meaning. Conformity goes beyond observing the conditions and adapting oneself to the situation; it involves an excessive conformity almost to the point of erasing one’s own identity, an unconditional compliance with what is established and dominant. It’s more than compliance; it’s the inability to look away from it, the inability to imagine anything different.

I’m talking about the inability to imagine something different and the readiness to meet alternative visions with almost hostility even before that. An unwavering certainty that “this is how it is” with closed shutters on curiosity. In its simplest form: a lack of curiosity. It results in not asking questions, genuinely not asking with the hope of learning something from the answer. It leads to not listening, genuinely not listening with the intention of paying attention to what is being said.[1]

They want things to be said as they are accustomed to hearing them. They prefer familiar sentences and familiar words. They are wary of the same thing being described with different words. They are even wary of what they praise being praised differently and what they criticize being criticized differently.

They are open to the “new” only if it has been validated by the current and popular. If the “new” has been accepted, recognized, become valid, then it’s fine. Otherwise, the “new” that doesn’t fit into the familiar jar is considered suspicious. Of course, the “foreign” is also like that. It has to be familiar, it has to be “ours”…

The passion for drawing red lines is another aspect of ordinary conservatism or the conservative ethos… I am talking about an attitude that goes beyond being principled and adheres to fundamental values that are not up for negotiation, leaving very few things open for debate. An attitude that draws boundaries as a fundamental “idea,” turning thought into a kind of puzzle of “connecting the red lines.”

This is the fanaticism of ordinary conservatism… Ordinary conservatism places a forty-lock barrier on what is considered “radical,” “marginal,” “extreme,” “eccentric,” or “abnormal.” It easily stamps these labels. It replaces the confidence of representing the reasonable, the middle, and the average with the regular diagnosis of “extremes” around. It wants nothing to do with the “marginal,” preferring the majority, the mainstream, the widely accepted, the influential, the famous, the “big,” and the high numbers. Common sense vigilance has turned into fanaticism.

We must also mention moralism. I’m not talking about being moral or ethical; I mean wanting to judge everything politically, socially, culturally, and aesthetically with morality and wanting to “solve” everything by moralizing it. A dogmatism that, like setting an ethical trap for social life’s different dimensions, the complexity of human relationships, the multitude of issues and personal existences, waits like a moral exam ambush, disregarding context, time-space connections, and historicity. This is another aspect of the conservative ethos. Moralism, regardless of its ideological content, which can be applied even to the most contradictory ideological ‘stances,’ seems to me to be the most contrary, the most “deviant” characteristic of ordinary conservatism.

We can describe other characteristics as well. I’m not creating a checklist here. I’m describing an ethos, not an ideological attitude. What I mean by ordinary conservatism, I tried to outline with bold strokes of some of its appearances or aspects. Some people may see not all but some of these lines in someone; likewise, some people may not carry them constantly but may occasionally have traces of one line or the other.

I believe that ordinary conservatism, even if it feeds on ideological conservatism to some extent, has its own autonomy. In fact, this dynamic may facilitate ideological conservatism in return.

The robot sketch I drew about the conservative ethos can indeed be easily matched with the representatives of ideological conservatism, but it is also possible to make matches in other socio-political contexts. (I’m not going into its prevalence in everyday life outside political contexts.) For example, the rapid adoption of the tradition of describing themselves as rooted in political movements among socialists, doesn’t it tell us something?

In short, if we have concerns about emerging from a conservative ethos as important as anxious conservatives, then there are plenty of things we should be concerned about!

This article is being published during the days when the 100th anniversary of the Republic and the CHP congress are “coinciding.” I believe that we can define the fundamental problem of republicanism in Turkey and the CHP as conservative republicanism. I’m referring to an attitude that sees the Republic not as an ideal of building, sustaining, and enhancing a citizen society, liberating it, but as a historical achievement to be preserved in a vault, roughly speaking.[4] Conservative republicanism is the main generator of ordinary conservatism.

[1] https://birikimdergisi.com/haftalik/11029/dinlemek

[2] https://birikimdergisi.com/haftalik/10553/kirmizi-cizgi

[3] Three States of the Turkish Right, Currents…

[4] https://birikimdergisi.com/haftalik/11387/dorduncu-cumhuriyet-ve-cumhur; Tanıl Bora: “Republic, democracy, and conservative Turkish republicanism,” Loss of Civilization, İletişim Publications, Istanbul 2021, pp. 17-36.

**Tanıl Bora was born in 1963 in Ankara. He graduated from Istanbul Boys’ High School, then Ankara University Political Science Faculty. He was a journalist at Yeni Gündem, a weekly news journal, in between 1984-88. He has been the research / reading editor in İletişim Publishing since 1988. In between 1993 and 2014, he was the editorial director in Toplum & Bilim Journal, a social science journal published every three months. In 2012, he became the editorial coordinator of Birikim, a monthly socialist culture journal for which he was writing articles since 1989.

This article was first published in Birikim Magazine and translated into English bu Politurco.

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