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Political philosophy and political discourse of intra-state conflicts: the case of human rights in Turkey’s Kurdish question



Discourse and politics on intra-state conflicts that involve one or many non-state armed actors usually take their form along two philosophical polarities. The hegemonic or state-centric position focuses exclusively on national security, terrorism and territorial integrity concerns, shunning other solutions to the problem as “treason” or “naiveté”. The second philosophical position, the counter-hegemonic or “non-state” looks at conflicts from a rights and freedoms point of view, constructing disagreements as politically negotiable. This paper situates hegemonic and counter-hegemonic political philosophical strands within conflict discourse, as it relates to Turkey’s Kurdish question. By doing so, it contextualizes Turkey’s human rights debates and political discourse within the traditional mainstream in political philosophy: Hobbes–Machiavelli–Weber on the one hand and Locke–Kant–Rousseau on the other. Through this model, this paper attempts to offer a conceptual foundation for future studies of discourse on intra-state conflicts and human rights in other case studies.
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Research and Policy on Turkey
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Political philosophy and political discourse of
intra-state conflicts: the case of human rights in
Turkey’s Kurdish question
Hamid Akɪn Ünver
To cite this article: Hamid Akɪn Ünver (2017) Political philosophy and political discourse of intra-
state conflicts: the case of human rights in Turkey’s Kurdish question, Research and Policy on
Turkey, 2:2, 179-191, DOI: 10.1080/23760818.2017.1350343
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Published online: 22 Aug 2017.
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Political philosophy and political discourse of intra-state conicts: the
case of human rights in Turkeys Kurdish question
Hamid Akɪn Ünver*
Department of International Relations, Kadir Has University, Istanbul, Turkey
(Received 21 January 2017; accepted 31 May 2017)
Discourse and politics on intra-state conicts that involve one or many non-state
armed actors usually take their form along two philosophical polarities. The hege-
monic or state-centric position focuses exclusively on national security, terrorism and
territorial integrity concerns, shunning other solutions to the problem as treasonor
naiveté. The second philosophical position, the counter-hegemonic or non-state
looks at conicts from a rights and freedoms point of view, constructing disagree-
ments as politically negotiable. This paper situates hegemonic and counter-hegemonic
political philosophical strands within conict discourse, as it relates to Turkeys Kur-
dish question. By doing so, it contextualizes Turkeys human rights debates and
political discourse within the traditional mainstream in political philosophy: Hobbes
MachiavelliWeber on the one hand and LockeKantRousseau on the other.
Through this model, this paper attempts to offer a conceptual foundation for future
studies of discourse on intra-state conicts and human rights in other case studies.
Keywords: human rights; Turkey; Kurdish question; political philosophy; discourse
1. Introduction: theory of the consciousness of the state and the non-state
The Kurdish question in Turkey has many competing denitions, most of which are often
mutually exclusive. Among these competing denitions and prescriptions, several of
them can be characterized within the context of the language of authority(state-
government discourse or hegemonic discourse), whereas some others can be dubbed as
the language of opposition(counter-hegemonic discourse). As I previously noted in a
different study, a particular legislators discourse on and denition of the Kurdish
question shifts not according to his/her party ideology, but whether that party is a part of
the government or opposition (Ünver 2017,4982). In many ways, with regard to the
Kurdish conict in particular and many other intra-state conicts in general, it is possible
to observe distinct languages of authorityand oppositionin strict separation from
each other. Here, with regard to the Kurdish problem in Turkey, I argue that while foreign
observersdiscourse on such conicts take shape along an ideologypolitical agenda axis,
the discourse within the particular country that suffers from the conict takes its form
along the lines of hegemony and opposition. Other discourse studies on the Kurdish
question have presented similar ndings (Saracoglu 2009, 640658; Sheyholislami 2011;
Yeğen 1996, 216229; Yeğen 1999, 555568; Watts 2006, 125144).
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Research and Policy on Turkey, 2017
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This separation between two main ideological camps in fact goes back a long way and
it is perhaps one of the most foundational debates in political philosophy (Carroll 2007,
136; Carroll and Ratner 1994,326; Carroll and Ratner 1996, 407436; Cox 1983, 162
175). As conceptualized in this paper, consciousness of the state”–or the worldview,
priorities and perception of power approaches the Kurdish question from a position of
control, order and homogeneity. The consciousness of the non-stateon the other hand,
is the worldview of those that do not self-associate with the state or power and approach
the Kurdish question from a position of emancipation, liberties and expression. I argue that
the discourse on Turkeys Kurdish question (in Turkey and also in the US and Europe)
takes shape along these two types of consciousness, that of the state and that of emancipa-
tion; by looking at the classical literature on these two types of political consciousness, it
will be much easier to make sense of why politicians talk about this question the way they
do often unwittingly. As my previous work stipulates that a political agent (in our case,
a legislator) adopts a more emancipatory discourse as s/he functions within the realm
of the politicaland adopts a more restricting stance as s/he moves towards the realm of
orderor state(Ünver 2017), this paper will rst look at the theoretical development of
these two types of political consciousness: restriction and emancipation in politics.
Human rights in Turkey, as a concept, is almost structurally tied to the Kurdish
question (Bozarslan 2001,4554). The three recent violent phases of the conict (rst,
19841991; second, 19911999; and third, 2015ongoing) are marked by loss of life
and mass migration on a sociological scale, creating a vicious cycle of increased control
and resistance. The most recent phase of the conict, which began in the summer of
2015 after the collapse of peace negotiations between the Turkish government and the
Kurdistan WorkersParty (PKK), has generated between 350,000 and 500,000 displaced
people, (Ofce of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights 2017) add-
ing to Turkeys existing refugee management problems originating from Syria. The
sharp change in political discourse in Turkey also followed this deterioration in the Kur-
dish question in tandem. Four quotes by Turkeys President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
illustrate this shift best. In a 2010 parliamentary speech, for example, Erdoğan stated
As a Prime Minister, Im supporting the Kurdish question and will continue to support
it(Milliyet, October 27, 2017). This discursive framework then switched in 2011 to:
There is no Kurdish question in this country anymore; I do not accept it. There are
problems of my Kurdish brothers, but no Kurdish question(Habertürk, April 30,
2011); he then modied this stance to: There is no Kurdish question in this country,
but a PKK problem(Habertürk, July 15, 2011). Ultimately, mid-2015 was a breaking
point in Turkeys hegemonic discourse, as President Erdoğan stated: [People keep talk-
ing about] a Kurdish question. What Kurdish question? There is no such thing any-
more(Hürriyet, March 15, 2015).
This discursive shift is indeed representative of the hegemonic position in Turkey on
the Kurdish question and reects growing impatience with an unforthcoming resolution.
From the point of view of this article, however, this shift is best explained through
political philosophy and through the oscillation of the political centre between the con-
sciousness of the state and the non-state.
2. The state and power in politics: Machiavelli-Hobbes-Weber
An inquiry on the nature of hegemony in politics becomes rather void when an opera-
tional denition of the stateis not made, since hegemony operates from the altarof
power, which brings questions of obligation and raison dêtre. In many ways, the state
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speaks the language of having power and authority, irrespective of the institutions and
agents functioning under it. Indeed, trying to dene the state through its components
requires a certain degree of selectivism; as Bartelson (2001, 2) warns:
the concept of the state cannot be fully determined by the character of its semantic compo-
nents or by its inferential connections to other concepts, since it is the concept of the state
that draws these components together into a unity and gives theoretical signicance to other
concepts on the basis of their inferential and metaphorical connections to the concept of the
state, rather than conversely.
When one thinks about states, one tends to take them at face value. They are simply
thought of as entities signied by names such as the Turkish stateor American
decision-makers, as if such entities are monolithic, closed systems that have perfect
communication within them, always acting like a single unit. This monolithic approach
considers the statelike a massive ship, operated by many people with different ranks
and duties, yet with a single direction and a single purpose. This taken-for-granted
analogy of the state as a monolithic entity is a result of the historical construction of the
state as a transcendental, unreachable and unquestionable entity, able to intervene in the
everyday lives of its citizens, but far from those citizensreach, operated by special
people with a certain degree of opaqueness that feeds the illusion of the sacredness and
enigma of power. On this Jessop (2008, 3) posits:
Everyday language sometimes depicts the state as a subject the state does, or must do,
this or that. Sometimes it treats the state as a thing this economic class, social stratum,
political party or ofcial case uses the state to pursue its projects of interests. But the state
is neither a subject nor a thing. So how could the state act as if it were a unied subject
and what could constitute its unity as a thing?
The existence and functions of a state are almost always justied by depicting it as an
order imposed upon a perceived disorder that society is inherently anarchic, and states
are needed to impose a certain kind of order upon them. Indeed, what makes a state
sovereignhas been traditionally depicted as the human necessity to be guidedby a
superior power that can maintain order and avoid violence.
The modern understanding of the state and authority retains many elements of Tho-
mas HobbessLeviathan. Also, it is not hard to argue that the Turkish state unwit-
tingly had acquired a Hobbesian character in the last century towards the Kurdish
question. Hobbess(
1976, 116) understanding of the state was that it was the ultimate
authority and node of coercion
, which exerted sovereignty based on contract (91)
(although Hobbes cannot be regarded as a contractualistin the sense it is most com-
monly understood and his understanding of contract was not similar to the social con-
tractof Rousseau or Locke) where the state is given legitimacy and authority by
society so that it can exert central authority and prevent anarchy and civil war (241).
must also be highlighted that Hobbes had authored the Leviathan during the English
Civil War between 1642 and 1651, a setting of anarchy similar to that experienced in
Turkeys southeast in the 1990s, which might give a better understanding of the reasons
behind the unwittingly Hobbesian discourse of the Turkish state. From that perspective,
the Hobbesian denition of the Leviathan did materialize as the Turkish state during the
1990s, when many legislators unwittingly adopted a Hobbesian denition of how the
state should beas a response to the Kurdish question. Of course, Hobbesian assump-
tions on human nature play a major role in his denition of the role and legitimacy of
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the state; to him, human nature was essentially poor, nasty, brutish and short(86) and
without a Leviathan, human nature would bring a state of chaos bellum ominum con-
tra omnes (86)
and it was only through the Leviathan that brutishhuman nature
could be suppressed: hence the legitimacy of the state. Consequently, Hobbes argued
that lesser individualsshould cede their rights to the state willingly in order to get
protection, where this willingness is signied by a hypothetical contract, which in
return, is the materialization of the legitimacy of the state (119).
Within this denition,
Hobbes argued that any abuses committed by the state were not injusticesper se, but
iniquitythat will have to be overlooked since the state in question is there through
the will of the person who claims injury (122).
Thomas Hobbes had also constructed a
sovereignty denition along the lines of absolute monarchy, which is the centre of every
type of enforcement (legal, religious, military, etc.) and where the sovereign must be the
highest authority not bound by any laws (143).
Together with Hobbes, Machiavelli also established the fundamentals of state power
in classical literature; it was these two scholars that made the ontological shift from
what ought to beto what isin political analysis. The continuity of the state(de-
vletin bekâsı), which is historically set as the raison dêtre of the Turkish state (raison
détat), was rst introduced as sacrosanct in Machiavellis writings. He asserted that the
Princecould act against the pre-set norms of conduct (religion, tradition, ethics) if the
continuity of the state was in danger (Machiavelli 1513 [1964], 69),
a suggestion that
the Turkish state had unwittingly followed (and executive branches in the United States
and Europe understood) through much of the 1990s. Machiavellian interestin this
sense did not imply a licence for the sovereign to exercise malintent or maladministra-
tion rather he had suggested that proper conductor ethnics could be disregarded if
the continuity of the state was in danger.
The source of Machiavellian governance and state shares Hobbesian elements of an
evil human nature (Machiavelli 1532 [2004], 15)
according to which the state would
have to formulate policies and put its continuity before anything else (Machiavelli 2004,
4049). Machiavellian politics on the other hand was about choosing the lesser of evils
as good (Machiavelli 1513 [1964], 91),
since he argued that institutional politics were
by default evil (Machiavelli 1531 [1883], 244),
which required caution as the most
important characteristic of a ruler. Scholars such as Koivukoski and Tabachnick (2005,
155), Hacking (1975, 165) and Clegg (1979) have argued that the egoas dened by
Descartes was the central driving force behind the power notions of Hobbes and
Machiavelli. Clegg (1979, 26) describes Cartesian ego as anarchic and to some
extent schizophrenic as it doesnt admit any other ruler than itselfthat renders poli-
tics as an essentially ego-centric system, which regards society in a similarly suspicious
way: self-centred and anarchic. Clegg has also argued that the reason why both the
Hobbesian and Machiavellian perceptions of human nature were pessimistic was
because of the relationship between their notion of ultimate, absolute and unchecked
power and the perpetual desire of the Cartesian ego to bethe sole sovereign (2728).
Macpherson (1762 [1962],1819) suggests that Hobbesian power does not rest upon a
naturalcondition as he describes it at all; on the contrary, Hobbess notion of the
state of natureis itself hypothetical and that in such a state men [] with natures
formed by living in civilized society, would necessarily nd themselves if there were no
common power able to overawe them all. Indeed, both Hobbess prescription of the
Leviathan and Machiavellian argument that the state interests were above all else can be
interpreted as the introduction of a counterforce to individual egos; an ego imposed
upon other egos in the name of preventing anarchy and maintaining order.
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The next step from the Hobbes-Machiavelli node of state-centric theory was the
Weberian theory as stipulated in the Politik als Beruf (Politics as a Vocation) lecture he
gave in 1919. Here, Weber (1919 [2004], 33) made his most inuential denition of the
state as a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force (Gewaltmonopol des
Staates) and politics as any activity in which the state might engage itself in order to
inuence the relative distribution of force(33), establishing power and force as the rai-
son dêtre of a state. Human nature was also a central assumption in Weberian politics.
Similar to the Hobbesian and Machiavellian assumptions on the nature of man, Weber
argued that a politician should not be a man of true Christian ethic(45).
True Chris-
tian ethic, in his understanding, implied turning the other cheek, which certainly was
not and should not be a virtue of the statesman (45).
The Weberian state was also powerful like Hobbessand should have controlled
three types of power as determined by the relationship between the governor and the
governed: namely charismatic power (dynastic, religious); traditional (feudal-monarchic)
power; and legal (bureaucratic-constitutional) power, all of which explained a different
aspect of state sovereignty (Weber 1919 [2004], 34). Weber also made one of the most
widely cited denitions of domination and authority (Herrschaft), which was closely
linked to power (macht); two central terms in Weberian politics. Webers understanding
of power was the ability to accomplish a goal, despite resistance, and get others to do
what one wants them to do, whereas authority of domination dened a situation in
which individuals are perceived by the general population to be the rightful and legiti-
mate bearers of power (34). In other words, while Weberian macht was the ability to
coerce actors to do something, Herrschaft contained the additional quality of consent
the bedrockof politics in democratic and non-democratic regimes alike (35). Weber
also introduced the notion of four sources and organization of powerthat were,
namely, ideological, economic, military and political, which should be in the hands of
the sovereign state. From there Weber prescribed the pillars of the ideal German state
for which he was later criticized as being the father of German militarism: strong
army, scal system, judiciary and police (52). In Weberian politics, bureaucratic organi-
zation was the contemporary version of the medieval feudal organization and had a cer-
tain prestige and pre-eminence in modern society (57). Weberian political power was
also closely tied to party afliation as political parties are thought of as aiming to secure
power within an organization for its leaders and members. From this perspective, a
person was powerfulas much as he could inuence the law- and decision-making
processes even indirectly and within this context, political parties constituted a
legitimate way for society to counteract the power of the state (58).
The Hobbes-Machiavelli-Weber axis denes the consciousness of power, as exer-
cised by states that adopt a military-rstapproach to intra-state conicts. This con-
sciousness explains Turkish state behaviour towards the Kurdish question in Turkey, as
visible throughout the 1990s and, more recently, through the security operations that
began in mid-2015. Such a power/state consciousness has several characteristics. First,
it perceives itself as the legitimate wielder of power and the hub of everything that
relates to control and coercion. This is one of the political trends that explain the grow-
ing power centralization in Turkey since 2011 and its inevitable spill over into the col-
lapse of the Kurdish peace process. Second, such a perception is structured upon an
imaginary understanding of a mutual contract (again, not to be confused with the Lock-
ean or Rousseauian social contract), from which the state exerts coercion for the peo-
ple. Third, the primary external aim of this consciousness is to avoid civil war and
disorder and to suppress it as soon as possible no matter the costs and consequences; if
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misconduct and excesses are exercised during this process, they are justied for the sake
of the security of the citizens. The contested narrative of the post-2015 security opera-
tions and their civilian toll and the Turkish states view that the losses are acceptable
for the sake of security, derives largely from this view.
Fourth, while the state structures itself on the will and consent of the people, it is
also highly suspicious and pessimistic about the character and nature of these citizens.
The same citizens are considered valiant and good when providing the state with a legit-
imacy to enforce power, but the rest of the time, they are solitary, nasty and brutish;
hence the state necessity to herdthe ock so that they dont become homo homini
lupus. One example of this is the snap elections in November 2015, which were a con-
sequence of a premature abandonment of the results of the June 2015 elections, with
instability and an inability to form a single-party government being cited as reasons for
calling the elections. Fifth, the states primary reason of existence is survival and conti-
nuity (devletin bekâsı), which is above any other function and role that the state might
exercise. This is the rock around which the codex of the statesinterestsis structured
and the state can disregard ethical, religious or traditional values and virtues if these
interests are in danger. The heavy civilian toll of the security operations of late-2015
can also be presented as an example of this thinking. Seventh, states rarely focus on the
best-case scenario and, instead, work on preventing the worst-case scenario. This worst-
case scenario is always civil strife, spreading far and wide, eventually leading to the
collapse of the state. In preventing this scenario, the Turkish state has frequently
adopted a policy of excessive force in order to deter similar processes.
Turkeys human rights discourse can be better understood from this line of reason-
ing. Machiavelli lived through the brutal state-building methods of Cesare Borgia and
his bid to bring Italy under his dominion in what became a civil war. Thomas Hobbes,
on the other hand, wrote the Leviathan during the English Civil War in the
mid-seventeenth century, forcing him to advocate drastic state-centric thought for the
sake of stability. Weber didnt experience the kind of civil war that produced
Machiavellian and Hobbesian thought, but nineteenth-century German industrialization
and the social dislocation it caused did inuence his thinking on the state as a source of
stability and order as the dominant form of statecraft. Two wars next door the Gulf
War of 199091 and the Syrian Civil War since 2011 have forced Turkeys predomi-
nant thinking to shift in favour of repressive stability and control-oriented administration
during these periods, which is reected in its political discourse.
3. Language of the non-stateand civil society: Locke-Rousseau-Kant
The language of the politicalis the articulation of the governed (as opposed to the
governing); the society and/or the consciousness that does not accept and identify with
and/or resists the hegemonic discourse and the language of the state/sovereign. The idea
of counter-hegemony starts with the inventionof citizenship and the subsequent intro-
duction of the concept of private sphereand private ownership, which is independent
of and autonomous from the affairs of the sovereign, where individuals can enjoy a cer-
tain level of freedom. The collectivized version of the private sphere then evolved into
civil societyin the writings of Rousseau, Locke and Kant, laying the foundations of
the liberalor emancipatory rhetoric in politics. In many ways, the language of coun-
ter-hegemony resists the pastor-shepherdanalogy made by Foucault, in a critique of
the state-centric approaches to politics (Carrette 1999, 122123).
An overarching
stance of this philosophy is that the state is not an end in itself, but is purely functional;
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it has to serve the common good of society and should be carefully checked so that it
does not come into a power-abusing status quo.
John Locke (1639 [1980], 101) structured his notion of the state on the social con-
tract framework and conceded that the primary duty of the state was to protect the citi-
However, Locke made a clear distinction between the protection by the king in
exchange for relinquishing self-rule rights and protection by the king as the duty of the
sovereign, even though the citizens had exercised self-rule (102). Also, Lockes social
contract was based on a different understanding of human nature than Hobbess, which
is a natural communityin which everyone recognizes their natural rights and duties
from which an agreement can be made with regard to governance, as opposed to a
highly anarchic setting with a potential to lead to civil war (67). In this natural commu-
nitythe people, Locke argued, should not be passive in terms of waiting for the state
to respond to civil conicts, but had the duty to form a civil societythat would hold
the state in check and utilize its legislative organs in the solution of such civil conicts
(47). Locke also argued that political obligation was individualist and consent-based. In
that sense people had the obligation to bear allegiance to a government, not by birth,
but once they actually gave their consent. Express and tacit consent are actual, not
hypothetical; moreover, they are individual commitments, not social agreements requir-
ing participation by all the members of society.
This is one of the main critiques on
human rights against the Turkish government that its control-oriented approach to sta-
bility isnt in itself legitimate if it doesnt address the foundations of universal human
rights. In other words, an act of Weberian macht isnt legitimate, if it incurs signicant
human cost a point which remains a major source of contestation between the Turkish
state and its critics.
Unlike Hobbesian power, Locke felt a need to restrain governmental authority. In his
terms, the state should have to be restrained by a fundamental law the Legislature
which, in turn, would have to be restrained by the very laws it makes: [the authority] is
not, nor can possibly be, absolutely arbitrary over the lives and fortunes of the people
(Locke 1980, 70). Power in the Lockean sense is a litmus test for the intentions of the
ruler. In his logic, if a Princebelieves that he doesnt have enough authority or power,
then what he is doing is not for the good of all people, since it doesnt require a lot of
coercion to engage in policies that are benecial to all: Whatsoever cannot but be
acknowledged to be of advantage to the society and people in general, upon just and last-
ing measures, will always, when done, justify itself(Locke 1980, 83). This view would
be directly critical of the excessive force measures of the Turkish security tradition on the
Kurdish question, insisting that any measure that requires the application of punitive
violence is either not well thought out, or not in the best interests of society.
Jean Jacques Rousseau, on the other hand, came up with a denition of sovereignty
based on popular sovereignty. Rousseausgeneral willin that sense is central to the
discussions of sovereignty, since it established the origin of sovereignty as people who,
through the social contract, would employ a state to serve the interests of the people
the most efcient way (Rousseau 1968, 61). In a Rousseauian sense, the legislator, or
the state, has no authority (contrary to the Hobbesian tradition) or power to enforce;
rather it is a guide and expert on legal matters (36). In Rousseaus idea, certain essential
human capacities and interests can only be realized in society and only then where soci-
ety has been structured democratically; in other words, that social cooperation is for the
benet of everyone involved in it. This is best observed in ErdoğansKurdish report
submitted in 1991 to his then party chair Necmettin Erbakan. In Erdoğans report, state
practices of excessive use of force are criticized, underlining that the populace is
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squeezed between state terror and PKK terror(Vatan, December 27, 2007) a contro-
versial statement, which uses the term terrorfor both the state and the non-state actor.
This would be a controversial statement under Erdoğans presidency, too; yet it also
reects how political leaders, political parties and ideologies behave differently in hege-
mony and counter-hegemony.
In this natural statehowever, Rousseau (like Locke) doesnt follow the Hobbesian
pessimistic view of the people; rather he asserts that common good will be achieved in
a society through the use of reason (Rousseau 1968, 29).
Additionally, he argues that
property and power inequalities lead to the distortion of sensibilities and deeper human
affections, arousing the desire to dominate and conquer, which can be overcome through
the social contract, where moral and civic freedom can be attained if the institutions
of the contract can satisfy the principles of freedom and equality.
In Rousseauian
logic, the state serves a particular purpose; it is not an end in and of itself. The Rous-
seauian state exists because of the people, and their contract; if the people cease to
exist, so will the state. According to Rousseau, it is the people that make the state, since
if the people cease to exist, the state dissolves too, therefore the continuity of the state
in a Machiavellian sense seemed awed from a Rousseauian perspective (Rousseau
1968, 17).
In that, a Rousseauian critique of Turkish security operations would assert
that security without the safety and peace of the local citizens is no security, as the
measures that are adopted to attain that goal either uproot or disturb the existing social
order as well.
The Kantian understanding of contractin his Zum Ewigen Frieden (Perpetual
Peace) was not hypothetical as in Hobbes, or naturalas in Rousseau, but a rational
phenomenon; an idea of reason, but very practical and applicable in reality, too (Kant
1795 [1903], 40).
Although Kant did not champion the Rousseauian notion of the
sovereignty of the people, he conceded thus The republican constitution is the only
one which arises out of the idea of the original compact upon which all the rightful
legislation of a people is founded(38). Therefore Kant reformulated the seventeenth-
century idea of social contract and dened it along the lines of constitutions and
constitutionalism. In this denition of constitution, the people of the sovereign states,
through their representatives, would come together and consent to articles of agreement
embodied in a constitution. In return, the agreed principles would be presented, either
as explicit (as in early American state constitutions) or implicit as in constitutional
documents, into frames of government which specied how those principles would be
included in institutions and activated through them (120128).
Friederich Wilhelm von Schelling the inuential scholar of Kantian tradition also
modied the seventeenth-century denitions of willin metaphysical terms and
asserted that the political system was constructed not around the will of the individual,
but of the universal will(von Schelling 1810 [1973], 381). In that sense, Schelling
argued that the state was not imposed upon the society or the other way around, but that
hegemony was an inevitable and functional result of social interactions and can serve
as the basis of the ultimate freedom and liberty of the society (400). This idea reached
its maturation with Hegels(
1831 [2004], 10) Philosophy of Law, where he argued that
the state was not a rational necessity (Vernunftnothwendigkeit) but a natural necessity
(Naturnothwendigkeit); that it was not a result of the dictations of the individual, but of
the world-nature (or World Spirit Weltgeist).
This was partly convergent with the
religious scholarship on the state, which regarded the state as out of reachto the ordi-
nary individual, since it was the expression of the Divine power and not any kind of
social contract (Sicker 2003, 10).
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Kant himself structured his thesis of state around human nature, which is not inher-
ently bad, as Hobbes had made it out to be, but rather consists of conicting wills
and which had to be constrained by a right (Recht) or law, which he dened as the
sum of the conditions under which the will of the individual may be united with the
will of all, according to a general law of freedom(Kant 1795 [1903], 303). Kants idea
of power, however, had many similarities with Hobbes and Machiavelli. He stated:
The ruler in the State has against the subjects clear rights and no enforceable
duties(165), a statement that brings him closer to the statist tradition than the emanci-
patory one. Kant laid out that if there was a law that would bind the ruler or the state,
it would also have to have the power to coerce the ruler. This, however, implied that
the institution that would be able to coerce the ruler would be the real sovereign. From
this perspective, for Kant, power was the source of sovereignty: it wasnt a hypothetical
social contract, or some willwith fuzzy borders. According to this reasoning, the
checks and balances game could not end, and was impractical since the real sovereign
would ultimately be the person or institution applying the nal touch of coercion upon
the rest of the institutions, which would, in practice, be the state and sovereign (165).
Therefore, the civic-contractualist consciousness has the following elements. First, it
regards the state or hegemon in strictly functional terms; that is, the state should fulla
function be it protection, supervision of laws or acting as a community of experts
without any restriction of social liberties and with the ultimate aim of providing a
greater extent of freedom than the society may have without a state. The most obvious
critique of this scholarship would be the excessive force applications of the Turkish
security operations. The state serves the common goodof society and not the other
way around. Second, this consciousness idealizes that relationship between the state and
society as one of cooperation unlike statist consciousness that accepts the society as a
ockthat needs to be herded. In other words, the state and society must cooperate
in egalitarian terms in order to establish a functional relationship with the aim of
addressing the conicts within society. This would imply in the Kurdish case, for
example that instead of imposing a solution through military-only means, a common
cooperative process must be initiated between the locals and the state, resolving rifts
through an inclusionary process.
Third, the state exists only because society gives legitimacy to it through mutual
consent; without it, the state is meaningless and dysfunctional, and if the state pursues
policies that favour its own existence, then the system turns into tyranny and state
excesses. Four, power is only meaningful as long as it serves the interests of the liberty
and freedom of society and is a litmus test for the intentions of the ruler. Such exercise
of state power will be minimal, if used correctly. If the state nds itself aiming to
acquire more and more power to the extent that it limits freedoms and liberties, then the
aim for which such power is needed is not in the interests of the common good. Fifth,
the will of the state should not be enforced or coerced upon society, but should play a
guidance role, a policy option which society may or may not approve; such guidance is
only legitimate if the general will of society expresses its consent to it, since common
goodcan only be achieved in an inclusive democratic society. Sixth, the civic con-
sciousness does not share the statist view that human nature is inherently bad. There
are varying alternative interpretations to this in the literature, but this consciousness
does not adopt the pessimistic notion of humanity; rather, it either sees it as good(as
in Locke) or chaotic, but manageable(as in Kant).
Research and Policy on Turkey 187
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4. Conclusion
The study of political philosophy and discourse on Turkeys Kurdish question gives us
a good insight into similar debates in countries that suffer from internal strife or an
intra-state conict. Turkeys ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its long-
serving leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have both swung from one end of this discursive
continuum to another within the last half decade, reecting the shifting priorities and
perspective of the political mainstream. Why such a big swing took place is, of course,
the topic of another study, but it is indeed striking in terms of how a single party and
single leader can provide this much variance in conict discourse. This article has tried
to explain this variance from a political philosophy point of view, underlining that vari-
ance in a discourse on human rights, and intra-state conicts, depends not on political
ideology, but on government-opposition dynamics. In other words, an ideology takes
different shapes under hegemony and counter-hegemony. While the AKP was still hav-
ing its position and legitimacy challenged and as it was trying to win more Kurdish
votes in response, it was largely talking from a consciousness of counter-hegemony.
However, as the militarys resistance to Erdoğan waned and once he assumed the con-
trol and loyalty of an important portion of the military leadership, that discourse soon
shifted into the consciousness of the state.
The concept of human rights has always been a context-bound phenomenon. In talk-
ing about human rights and studying political discourse, temporal and cultural variance
is hugely important. A pro-human rights discourse usually portrays counter-hegemony,
whereas securitization of the same question away from its denition as a human rights
issue is mostly the view of hegemons. The literature on human rights discourse stipu-
lates that we have to acknowledge the shifts, depth and cultural differences in human
rights interpretation. This article suggests that there are also political and philosophical
differences that need to be examined more closely, especially in studying how the same
politicians and ideologies speak differently on the same issues and problems related to
human rights. This enables us to locate and rectify over-simplications with regard to
the hypotheses on how states and non-state actors should be studied as regards the issue
of human rights. The philosophical overview presented in this paper has attempted to
provide an overview of these differences within the classical literature and give future
analyses a solid foundation in providing more contemporary analysis on the discourse
of the Kurdish question or other identity-based conicts in different case studies.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the author.
1. For the laws of nature, as justice, equity, modesty, mercy and, in sum, doing to others as
we would be done to, of themselves, without the terror of some power to cause them to be
observed, are contrary to our natural passions.
2. The mutual transferring of right is that which men call contract.
3. That the condition of mere nature, that is to say, of absolute liberty, such as is theirs that
neither are sovereigns nor subjects, is anarchy and the condition of war: that the precepts, by
which men are guided to avoid that condition, are the laws of nature: that a Commonwealth
without sovereign power is but a word without substance and cannot stand: that subjects
owe to sovereigns simple obedience in all things wherein their obedience is not repugnant to
the laws of God.
188 H.A. Ünver
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4. Hereby it is manifest that during the time men live without a common power to keep them
all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man
against every man.
5. The other, is when men agree amongst themselves to submit to some man, or assembly of
men, voluntarily, on condence to be protected by him against all others.
6. [B]ecause every subject is by this institution author of all the actions and judgments of the
sovereign instituted, it follows that whatsoever he doth, can be no injury to any of his sub-
jects; nor ought he to be by any of them accused of injustice. For he that doth anything by
authority from another doth therein no injury by him by whose authority he acteth: but by
this institution of a Commonwealth every particular man is author of all the sovereign doth;
and consequently he that complaineth of injury from his sovereign complaineth of that
whereof he himself is author, and therefore ought not to accuse any man but himself; no,
nor himself of injury, because to do injury to oneself is impossible. It is true that they that
have sovereign power may commit iniquity, but not injustice or injury in the proper signi-
7. For the sovereign is absolute over both alike; or else there is no sovereignty at all, and so
every man may lawfully protect himself, if he can, with his own sword, which is the condi-
tion of war.
8. It must be understood that a prince, and especially a new prince, cannot observe all those
things which are considered good in men, being often obliged, in order to maintain the state,
to act against faith, against charity, against humanity and against religion.
9. [I]t is necessary to whoever disposes a republic and order laws in it to presuppose that all
men are bad, and they always have to use the malignity of their spirit whenever they have a
free opportunity for it.
10. [O]ne never seeks to avoid one inconvenience without running into another; hence pru-
dence consists in picking the less bad as good.
11. [I]n everything [i.e. institution] some evil is concealed that makes new accidents emerge.
12. The command of the gospel is unconditional and unambiguous: give what you have
everything, quite simply. The politician will say: a socially senseless demand so long as it
does not apply to everyone. Hence: taxation, punitive taxation, conscation in short, coer-
cion and order for all.
13. For while it is a consequence of the ethic of unworldly love to say: Do not resist evil with
violence, the politician is governed by the principle: You shall resist evil by force, other-
wise you will be responsible for its spread.
14. Foucaults notion of pastor-shepherdanalogy has been best interpreted in the introduction
of Carrette (1999, 122123).
15. The king binds himself by a double oath, to the observation of the fundamental laws of his
kingdom tacitly, as by being a king, and so bound to protect as well the people as the laws
of his kingdom.
16. This is elaborated on in depth in Locke (1980,I,ʃ: 3).
17. It is not a convention between a superior and inferior, but a convention between the body
and each of its members. It is legitimate, because common to all; useful, because it can have
no other object than the general good, and stable because guaranteed by the public force
and the supreme power.
18. This is dealt with extensively in Rousseau (1968, Chapter IX: Real Property).
19. [E]ach individual, in making a contract [] is bound in a double capacity; as a member of the
Sovereign he is bound to the individuals, and as a member of the State to the Sovereign.
20. The original contract is merely an idea of reason; but it has undoubtedly a practical reality.
For it ought to bind every legislator by the condition that he shall enact such laws as might
have arisen from the united will of the people and it will likewise be binding upon every
subject, in so far as he will be a citizen, so that he shall regard the law as if he had con-
sented to it of his own will.
21. [The state] history in question has constituted the rational necessary course of the World
Spirit that Spirit whose nature is always one and the same.
22. In essence, the theory of the divine genesis of the state justies political authority in gen-
eral as deriving from God, and lends legitimacy to the exercise of political power by particu-
lar individuals who are presented as agents of the divine will, by either direct or indirect
delegation of divinely sanctioned authority.
Research and Policy on Turkey 189
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Notes on contributors
Hamid Akin Ünver is an assistant professor of international relations at Kadir Has University,
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Full-text available
Combining discourse analysis with quantitative methods, this article compares how the legislatures of Turkey, the US, and the EU discursively constructed Turkey's Kurdish question. An examination of the legislative-political discourse through 1990 to 1999 suggests that a country suffering from a domestic secessionist conflict perceives and verbalizes the problem differently than outside observers and external stakeholders do. Host countries of conflicts perceive their problems through a more security-oriented lens, and those who observe these conflicts at a distance focus more on the humanitarian aspects. As regards Turkey, this study tests politicians' perceptions of conflicts and the influence of these perceptions on their preexisting political agendas for the Kurdish question, and offers a new model for studying political discourse on intra-state conflicts. The article suggests that a political agenda emerges as the prevalent dynamic in conservative politicians' approaches to the Kurdish question, whereas ideology plays a greater role for liberal/pro-emancipation politicians. Data shows that politically conservative politicians have greater variance in their definitions, based on material factors such as financial, electoral, or alliance-building constraints, whereas liberal and/or left-wing politicians choose ideologically confined discursive frameworks such as human rights and democracy.
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