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Ottoman Liberalism

Ottoman Liberalism



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Published by: AmirRJamaludin on Mar 05, 2010
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5- LIBERALS5.1. Formation of the Ottoman Liberalism
5.1.1 Historical Conditions of Ottoman Liberalism
The ambiguity and broad nature of the term Liberalism makes it difficult to define.Liberalism, in the broadest sense is a system of ideas related to the emergence of capitalism. While nineteenth and twentieth century liberalism undervalued political,social and ethical dimensions, eighteenth century liberalism concentrated more onthe construction of a new social and political system. Opposition to absolutegovernments in the political arena and the dominance of religion in the social realmare the two most striking characteristics of liberalism. Because of its optimisticoutlook regarding human nature, liberalism is naturally positive about the future.Liberalism, in general, is in favor of the idea of national self-determination as apolitical philosophy. As a rule, though by no means universally, liberalism has beensensitive to the claims of minority and ethnic groups to self-determination, and theright of free association. Furthermore, liberalism largely sees the attempts to controlthought as an act impeding the free activity of individuals. In order to prevent this,liberalism offers a particular state theory, which may be referred to as the contractualstate. To make that state feasible, it sought to limit political intervention to thenarrowest area compatible with the maintenance of public order. Central to this is thenotion that if all pressures and constraints were removed, individuals would choosethe best for themselves and society. This optimism implies the necessity of 
. Therefore, liberalism has supposed social, economical and politicaldevelopment and change.
This chapter aims to provide a framework for themeaning of liberalism in the context of Ottoman intellectual spheres.
Harold J. Laski, The Rise of European Liberalism, Roudledge, 1997, pp. 13-25
 149 Marx stressed in the second preface of Das Kapital that political economy hadremained a “foreign” science in Germany until 1873. According to him, politicaleconomy was for a long time a finished product from England and France forGermans. German economy professors were students of their French and Englishequivalents and only after the development of modern capitalism in Germany wereGermans able to participate in political economy discourse.
The history of economic thought and liberalism in the Ottoman Empire is far more complicatedthan in the German case. The absence of a developed capitalist economy andindustry made the administration of the economy and industrialization in the countrytwo prominent problems for politicians and intellectuals in the last century in theOttoman Empire. Although the influence of Western philosophy on the economicdiscussions of Ottoman bureaucrats and intellectuals in the nineteenth century isclearly evident, internal political, social and economic conditions of individuals andsociety also determined intellectuals’ positions and discussions on these issues.It is important to evaluate the institutional and the structural modernizationexperienced during the Tanzimat period to understand the emerging ideologicalmovements at the time of the second constitution. There is some research thatinvestigates the depth of penetration of liberal economic ideas into the OttomanEmpire and studying comparatively the relations between economic, social andcultural conditions and thoughts. The relationship between Ottoman intellectuals andEuropean/Western thought is not one-dimensional, but multi-dimensional andcomplicated.
The same can be said for the liberal intellectuals in the OttomanEmpire at the dawn of the twentieth century.Because of the ambiguity of the term of Liberalism, it is difficult to analyze theemergence of liberal philosophy in the Ottoman Empire. Clarification of themeaning and the implications of Ottoman liberalism and liberal reform is one of themain tasks of this project. Nonetheless, through a reading of the historical, economic
Karl Marx, Das Kapital, Voltmedia, undated, Paderborn, p. 20
For a detailed reading on this
erif Mardin, Jön Türklerin Siyasi Fikirleri, Istanbul, 1983
 150 and cultural circumstances throughout the relevant period it is possible to provide ageneral framework for the features of Ottoman Liberalism.When investigating the origins of an inclination towards liberalism, which appearedin the time of Selim III, the signs of a Western influence or guiding hand cannot beseen. During that time, liberal tendencies can be seen as preventive measuresstemming from a necessity that aimed to cope with the political and economic crisis,and the ensuing instabilities. Moreover, it must be emphasized that there was a strongdesire for private ownership -and its associated rights and privileges- amongOttoman subjects. Besides, no one was defining liberal reforms as non-Islamic oranti-traditional.
On the contrary, commerce was encouraged by the State inreference to Islamic morality. Consequently, it can be noted that although Selim’sreforms were inclined towards liberalism, they did not present a coherent, systematicapproach. Reformist public officials were not fully aware of the historical roots andsources of these developments and their genealogy. Because of this deficiency,Selim’s reforms did not bring about the economical and social change desired.
 Throughout Ottoman history, resource production and distribution was shaped bydomestic as well as international factors. During the Tanzimat era, in domesticaffairs, the state started massive centralization programs, which were actuallydesigned to strengthen and consolidate the control of the government over everyelement of the Empire. This meant more invasive state intervention in everydayaffairs as, paradoxically, laissez-faire emerged to challenge interfering politics.Therefore, financial resources could be appropriated from the mixture of increasedrevenues from both the economy and debts. The centralization policies challengedthe autonomy of influential economic groups, including guilds, notables and tribes,who had gained considerable freedom of action during the preceding century. Theproduction-distribution question had been given a particular twist by the intrusion of the European economy into the Ottoman world. The capitalist and industrial
S. F. Ülgener,
slam Hukuk ve Ahlak Kaynaklar
ktisat Siyaseti, Ebul’ula Mardin’e Arma
an,Istanbul, 1944, pp. 1151-89
S. J. Shaw, History of Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, Cambridge, 1976, pp. 265-66

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