Arguing that there cannot be, in any real sense, a government by the people,1 many elite theorists have attempted over the years to explain the domination of one person or group over the others, using differing nomenclature to define these dominant entities such as “ruling class,” “ruling elite,” “power elite” and so on. Such conviction on the part of these elite theorists emanates from the existence in every society of a minority that enjoys more power, influence and status than the rest of its members, and, in Harold Laswell’s phrase, “gets the most of what there is to get.”2 Moreover, according to prominent thinkers such as Mosca, Pirenne and Schumpeter, “new social groups” emerge in a society as a result of economic or cultural changes, which may lead to changes in the political system and in the social structure as a whole.3 In what follows, I will attempt to examine the changes that have taken place in Turkey since the 1980s that have paved the way for the emergence and rise of a “new social group,” that is, a religiously more conservative elite which can also be defined by an amalgam of “Islamic and modern.”4
The Emergence and Rise of Conservative Elite in Turkey
The purpose of this essay is to examine the emergence and rise of a new “social group,” or what I call a “conservative elite” in Turkey. By using in a historical perspective the theory of the circulation of elites as a theoretical construct, envisaged separately by both Mosca and Pareto and further developed by Kolabinska, I focus particularly on the underpinning factors that have brought about the changes which have paved the way for the new elite, namely: i) the negative effects of ‘assertive secularism’; and ii) the positive effects of Turkey’s democratization process, especially after the 1980s. This essay argues that Turkey’s new conservative elite has demonstrated the feasibility of a successful synthesis of religious and social conservatism with modernity. Its overarching message is that increased social inclusion helps reduce violent radicalization of religious sentiments. The integration of the new conservative elite into society heralds positive signs not only for Turkey but also for its immediate neighborhood and beyond.
Turkey’s successful synthesis of religious and social conservatism with modernity under the leadership of its new conservative elite stands as a good example for other countries in the region.
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