Facing eurocentrism, facing modernity: a critical assessment of Turkish intellectual history with special reference to universalism and particularism
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This dissertation explores Turkish intellectuals’ criticism of the West and Eurocentrism along with their imagining of modernity in the twentieth century. To this end, the analysis includes four groups of intellectuals: the Unionists from the very late period of the Ottoman Empire, the Kemalists from the early republican period, the conservatives from the single and the multi-party eras, and the leftwing intellectuals from the 1960s and the 1970s. Historically, Turkish intellectuals have been experiencing being on the border of the West; since the West and Europe have been a source of inspiration for progress and a general reference point in establishing modernity, yet at the same time, a threat for their country in the realm of the realpolitik. This constitutes the main dilemma investigated in this dissertation. This study argues that, for a comprehensive history of the global hierarchies in the nineteenth century, the buffer zones between the European metropolis and the formally colonized peripheries need to be focused on. As such, as a background for the intellectuals’ criticism in the twentieth century, the subjugation of the Ottoman Empire by the European Great Powers throughout the nineteenth century is analyzed by referring to a complex network of informal colonialism, arguing that Ottoman modernization was a search for increasing the state capacity to counter this subjugation. This study highlights that the idea of “saving the state,” which dominated the modernization efforts both in the Unionist and the early republican eras, should be conceptualized as system integration in the terminology of historical sociology. Referring to this historical background of “space of subjugation,” it is argued that for those Turkish intellectuals, facing Eurocentrism included colonial criticism and critical awareness about global hierarchies. Imagining modernity in their locality necessitated challenging the superiority claims of Europe and searching for parity and recognition. The interplay between facing Eurocentrism and facing modernity has always raised the issue of nativism, as it is commonly observed that criticizing Eurocentrism was coupled with essentialist superiority claims of identity. Thus, the issue of nativism is discussed separately for each group of intellectuals scrutinized in this study. The analyses reveal that most of the intellectuals in question had to assume multiple intellectual roles simultaneously, being rational planner, legislator, and interpreter at the same time, due to the necessity of reconciling different universalist positions with the peculiarities of their societies and the necessity of countering prejudices against their culture.
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