The most significant aspect of the Atatürk Revolution is that it started out as a National Liberation Struggle, and after the political and military success of this battle, it developed in the direction of total commitment to modernity which aimed at the radical transformation of Turkish state and society. The Atatürk Revolution was not class-oriented. It was nation-oriented. In short, the Revolution was not realized by the revolt of a suppressed class leading to the establishment of a regime based on the supremacy of that class. The imperialist powers threatened the viability of the Turkish nation and the Atatürk Revolution saved the Turkish nation from extinction . Moreover, the Atatürk Revolution was against the Ottoman regime which was responsible for the backward state of affairs in the country. In short, Atatürkism originated in the struggle to liberate the land of the Turkish people. It developed by effecting reforms undertaken to solve such domestic problems as an archaic social structure, value system and lifestyle, as well as issues having to do with foreign relations. The fundamental concepts of the Atatürk system of thought were rationalism, nationalism and laicism.
The Atatürk Revolution eliminated religious rules from governing public life and from giving direction to state affairs. Religious rules and dictums were replaced by positivist law, positivist thought based on science and reason. Religion was no longer the force that united the country. A sense of nationhood provided the bond of unity in the country. Hence, from all aspects, the Atatürk Revolution is a “national” Revolution. Western positivism and solidarism had an impact on Atatürkism. But at the same time Atatürk believed that the independence and freedom of nations, societies and people to be indispensable for the viability of modern man, society and state. The goal of the Atatürk Revolution was for the Turkish nation to reach a modern, civilized existence without creating a closed society. To reach this goal, it was necessary to create a society and government which were laic, progressive, liberal, nationalist and republican.
Atatürkism provides the ideational foundation of the liberation of Anatolia. And the principle of complete independence constitutes the focal point of the Atatürk system of thought as it it pertains to national liberation and nation-building. Atatürkism encompasses both the Turkish War of Independence and the rapid and radical transformation of Turkish society. The essence and goal of the Atatürk Revolution were different from the Ottoman attempts at reform. The reforms undertaken by the Atatürk Revolution were designed not to sustain a traditional Empire but rather to establish a Turkish nation-state and to modernize it.
The essence of Atatürkism is republicanism because a republic dedicates itself to the whole, to public good, equality and to the preservation and enhancement of citizenship. A republic does not give legitimacy to a regime if it is not laic. If you get rid of the republic, if you move away from values such as the inalienable sovereignty of the people, commitment to public good, you will also destroy democracy. But if the republic and republican values are still alive, it is then possible to reinvigorate democracy.
Democracy was born from the understanding of the republic. A republic establishes the framework of freedom of expression and at the same time emphasizes that laws should have an ethical and moral core. A republic favors a legal system that works for public welfare and implements it towards achieving the following goals: 1- The sovereignty of the people, 2. the prevalance of the rule of law, 3. a parliament or political authority which can be controlled and supervised. Such a system can provide for and protect freedom. Republican freedom means also a governing system that works for public welfare. In such a system, no citizen can come under the irresponsible pressure of someone else.
The core of Atatürkism is republicanism because the goal of the Atatürk revolution was to make it possible for the Turkish nation to reach the level of contemporary civilization . In order to reach this goal, it was important that rationality and science were paramount in the conduct of social and state affairs.
The basic doctrine of republicanism emphasizes that the state should always serve the common good of a nation’s citizens. And similarly the Atatürk system of thought is committed to the doctrine that laws should always serve the common good of the people. Republican doctrine does not render legitimacy to a regime that is not laic. Likewise, Atatürk system of thought does not render legitimacy to political authority which is not laic.
A republic is a people’s state. A republic rests on the sovereignty of the people. Legislation for the realization of public welfare is a republican commitment. Democracy can pursue the highest ideals of humanity. But democracy can be used; it has been used, and it is continuing to be used for the pursuit of selfish interests, for personal gain and for the pursuit of policies that undermine democracy. Democracy may be tolerant of the particular, of the private, of the selfish, but a republic is always committed to the good of the whole. Hence, republicanism is prior to democracy . In fact, republicanism is a pre-condition of democracy. Especially since the 1980’s scholars, in particular in the US and France, publish articles and books supportive of the above-mentioned relations between democracy and republicanism.
In pursuit of the above-mentioned argument , we can state that if democracy is lost, but if the republic and republicanism remain viable, then democracy can be reborn. But if the republic is destroyed,as was the case in Nazi Germany, then democracy will suffer a death below. Only if the republic and republican commitments survive will it be possible to reincarnate democracy. But, of-course, the real goal is the further democratization of the republic. But while doing so, let us not “kill” the republic and republican values.