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Astral Codex Ten Podcast

Mar 20, 2021



If you only learn one thing from this post: it's pronounced "air-do-wan".

If you learn two things from this post, learn that, plus how a country which starts out as a flawed but somewhat-liberal democracy can lapse into near-dictatorship over the course of a few years.

I got The New Sultan: Erdogan And The Crisis Of Modern Turkey because, as a libertarian, I spend a lot of time worrying about the risk that my country might backslide into illiberal repression. To develop a better threat model, I wanted to see how this process has gone in other countries, what the key mistakes were, and whether their stories give any hints about how to prevent it from happening here. Recep Tayyip Erdogan transformed Turkey from a flawed democracy to a partial dictatorship over the past few decades, and I wanted to know more about how.

As an analysis of the rise of a dictator, this book fails a pretty basic desideratum: it seems less than fully convinced the dictator's rise was bad. Again and again I found myself checking to make sure I hadn't accidentally picked up a pro-Erdogan book. I didn't; author Soner Cagaptay is a well-respected Turkey scholar in a US think tank who's written other much more critical things. The fact is, Erdogan's rise is inherently a pretty sympathetic story. If he'd died of a heart attack in 2008, we might remember him as a successful crusader against injustice, a scrappy kid who overcame poverty and discrimination to become a great and unifying leader.