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Nation-Building, Party-Strength, and Regime Consolidation: Kemalism in Comparative Perspective

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Despite its waning influence, Kemalism remains a compelling topic within scholarship on Turkey. In recent years, for instance, a growing literature has critically examined the policies, arrangements, and institutions that underpinned the Kemalist single-party rule (1923–46). Although they have expanded our stock of knowledge on this period and pushed scholarly exchanges beyond polemical debates, most of these studies neglect to account systematically for the origins of the regime and assess it in light of other similar cases from the global south. To address such questions, this paper classifies Kemalism within a category of national-developmentalist regimes. The Turkish case differed from these cases, however, with its low level of institutionalization, particularly its ruling party's limited organizational and mobilizational capacity. While scholars tend to focus on the coercive aspects of Kemalist rule, in reality the regime was built upon a weak party apparatus, a factor that precluded the consolidation of the regime. This paper attributes such an outcome to two factors that gave Mustafa Kemal few incentives to build strong state and party institutions at the onset of his rule, namely (1) a low level of intra-elite conflict and (2) limited popular mobilization. Due to their limited base of support, the Kemalist leadership remained vulnerable to the defection of elites, who could mobilize the popular classes against the ruling party. This paper situates Kemalism as part of a broader category of reformist regimes in the developing world. In so doing, the paper carves out an analytical space wherein scholars can analyze Kemalism in comparative light and highlight the ways with which the Turkish experience differed from other similar cases in the global south.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Government, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA

Publication date: October 2, 2014

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