(Re)inventing the nation on the centenary of the Turkish Republic: A Rhetorical Political Analysis of Erdogan’s ‘Vision for a Century of Türkiye’
by Arife Köse
History is the subject of a structure whose site is not homogeneous, empty time, but time filled by the presence of the now [Jetztzeit].
- Walter Benjamin -
On 28 October 1923, dining with his friends, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, is said to have declared ‘Gentlemen! We are going to announce the Republic tomorrow.’ The next day, he proclaimed the following law: ‘The form of government of the Turkish state is the republic.’ Once the law passed by the Turkish Parliament later the same day, the State of Türkiye as republic, which is now a century old, came into being. From one perspective, that date—29 October 1923—is just a place on the calendar, ‘chronos’, or quantitative time. However, as Benjamin argued, calendars are also ‘monuments of historical consciousness,’ marking out moments of what rhetoricians call ‘kairos’—measuring not quantity of time but a quality of timely action.
Kairos points to the ‘interpretation of historical events’ because it is about the significance and meaning assigned to them. It is also about the opportunity to be grasped now for action that cannot be grasped under different conditions or situations. Thus, kairos always has an argumentative character since the significance given to historical events are always contested and temporarily decontested in specific ways. In this respect, due to the significance and meaning assigned to it, the foundation of the Turkish Republic can be understood as a moment when ‘chronos is turned into kairos’. Now, 100 years since its foundation, the country’s incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is seeking to create a moment of kairos again, using it to reinvent the idea of ‘Turkishness’ itself and to turn it into a time of action in the service of continuity of his rule. This is a rhetorical act that requires ideological analysis.
In this article, I examine how Erdoğan fulfils such a rhetorical act through Rhetorical Political Analysis (RPA) of the speech he delivered on 28 October 2022. This speech was intended to set forth his vision for the future of the country on the day that the Turkish Republic entered its centenary and was entitled a ‘Vision for a Century of Türkiye’. I will begin by providing some historical and theoretical background, followed by a rhetorical analysis of his political thinking around the centenary. My argument is not only that his ideological thinking shapes his actions but also his understanding of Turkishness in the context of the centenary is shaped by his strategic action, aiming at winning the elections in Türkiye in 2023 and consolidating his and his party’s leadership position in the future.
As 29 October 2023 marks the centenary of the foundation of the Turkish Republic, Erdoğan, as both President of Türkiye and leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), delivered a speech on 28 October 2022 to set out the ‘Vision for a Century of Türkiye’. The gathering was held in the capital Ankara, in Ankara Sports Hall which accommodates 4,500 people. 11 political parties were invited to the event. The only party that was not invited was the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), the Kurdish-led, left-wing party which has been denounced by Erdoğan as a ‘terrorist’ entity due to its alleged connection with PKK, the Kurdish paramilitary organisation. Alongside the political parties, AKP Members of Parliament, mayors, party members, and supporters were invited to the event—as well as some artists, NGOs, academics, and journalists (unusually including notable dissident journalists). The event, at which Erdoğan spoke for 1 hour 40 minutes, lasted 2 hours overall.
Like the morphological approach to ideological analysis pioneered by Michael Freeden, rhetorical approaches to ideologies start from the position that political ideologies are ubiquitous, and a necessary part of political life. However, unlike morphological analysis, they focus on ideological arguments rather than ideological concepts, on the grounds that ideologies are ‘shaped by and respond to external events and externally generated contestation from alternative ideologies’. Accordingly, Alan Finlayson suggests using RPA to analyse ideologies, in order to pay attention not only to the semantic and structural configuration of ideologies but also to political action, such as the strategies that political actors develop to intervene in specific situations. Further, RPA focuses on the performative aspect of political ideologies by drawing attention to how performativity becomes part of the morphology of the ideology in-question through foregrounding specific political concepts. Alongside the concepts provided by the rhetorical tradition, RPA also draws on kinds of proof classically categorised as ethos, pathos and logos. Whereas ethos indicates appeal to the character of the speaker with whom the audience is invited to identify, pathos is about appeal to the emotions. Lastly, logos indicates appeal to reason by political actors in their attempt to have the audience reach particular conclusions by following certain implicit or explicit premises in their discourse. Overall, RPA commits to the analysis of politics ‘as it appears in the wild’.
The rhetorical situation
Analysis of political speeches begins with the analysis of the rhetorical situation, since every political speech is created and situated in a particular context. In this respect, every political speech, alongside its verbal manifestation, performs an act by intervening in a particular situation. Those situations are characterised by both possibilities and restrictions for the orator, and it is one of the primary characteristics of skilled orators to know how to employ the opportunities and overcome the restrictions embedded in the situation. In such situations, political ideologies are not only deployed by political actors to intervene in and shape the situation, but they are also shaped through the act of intervention when addressing the challenges or trying to persuade others of a particular action.
In the case of Erdoğan’s ‘Vision for a Century of Türkiye’ there are two exigencies: first, for him, it is a moment of kairos to be grasped and put in the service of his strategic aim of winning the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections in 2023. For this, evidently, he needs to prove to the people beyond his supporters that he is the leader of the whole country who can carry it into the future. Thus, it is an opportunity for him to amplify his rule as President of Türkiye, which is a position that he gained as a result of regime change in Türkiye 2017. On 16th April 2017, Turkish voters approved by a narrow margin constitutional amendments which would transform the country into a presidential system. This was followed by the re-election of Erdoğan as the President of the country on 24 June 2018 with the support of MHP (Nationalist Movement Party). Since then, AKP and MHP work together under the alliance called People’s Alliance. The new system has been widely criticised on the grounds that it weakens the parliament and other institutions and undermines the separation of powers through politicisation of the judiciary and concentration of executive power in a single person. Overall, this has led to an increasingly authoritarian governance.
The second exigency for Erdoğan is the enduring economic crisis from which the country has been suffering since June 2018. In that year, as a result of Erdoğan’s insistence on lowering interest rates, Türkiye experienced an economic shock, resulting in a dramatic loss in the value of Turkish Lira against Dollar. Since then, three Turkish Central Bank governors have been successively dismissed by Erdoğan. For example, in March 2021, Erdoğan fired then governor Naci Ağbal after he hiked the interest rates against Erdoğan’s persistence on not increasing them no matter what. Erdoğan replaced him with Şahap Kavcıoğlu, known for his loyalty to Erdoğan. Such a move made the economic situation in Türkiye even worse. One of the economic commentators in the Financial Times wrote, ‘Erdoğan’s move leaves little doubt that all the power in Türkiye rests with him, and this will result in rate cuts. This will simply make Türkiye’s inflation problem even worse.’ The overall consequence of this turmoil has been rising prices as the Lira collapsed and wages remained stagnant, causing a dramatic drop in people’s purchasing power. By August 2022, according to research, 69.3 percent of the Turkish population were struggling to pay for food. In November 2022, after Erdoğan delivered the ‘Vision for a Century of Türkiye’, the inflation rate reached 85.5%.
Erdoğan had to address these two exigencies while he was under heavy criticism not only from international actors and his national opponents but also from the rank and file of his own party about Türkiye’s economy and democracy. His leadership has also been weakening for some time. Erdoğan’s loss in the two big municipalities—Ankara and Istanbul—in the local elections in 2019 exposed the myth that he is a leader who never loses an election. This was the context in which the ‘Vision for a Century of Türkiye’ event was held. It was a kairological moment for Erdoğan, where he attempted to reinvent Turkishness and decontest its meaning through an ideological speech-act manifested through various rhetorical moves to position him and his party as the only option in the upcoming elections.
The arrangement of the speech
Political speeches are significant for the analysis of ideologies not only because of what political leaders say but also because they provide us with the opportunity to observe how the political leader in-question, the nation, and the audience are positioned both in the speech and on the stage. Therefore, paying attention to the arrangement of the speech is as important as the text of the speech. ‘Vision for a Century of Türkiye’ begins with a performance including video clips with narrations, dance performances, songs, and poems. The decoration of the hall can also be thought of as part of this performance. This part of the event can be considered as what is called the ‘prologue’ of the speech in the rhetorical tradition and is also part of ideological analysis.
The second part of the event consists of Erdoğan’s speech, where he begins by saluting people in the hall and then praising the Republic and those who fought in the War of Salvation for five minutes. He talks for 35 minutes about the significance of the AKP in the context of the centenary by explaining what it has achieved so far. Following this, he drones on about his party’s achievements by marshalling the services provided by the AKP under his leadership, which lasts for about 20 minutes. After that, he talks about his promises for the ‘Century for Türkiye’ for 20 minutes. In the closing section of the speech, he asks everyone in the hall to stand up and take a nationalist oath with him by repeating his words: ‘One nation, one flag, one homeland, one state! We shall be one! We shall be great! We shall be alive! We shall be siblings! Altogether we shall be Türkiye!’ In sum, the whole speech consists of two main parts of which the first is about glorifying the Turkish nation and the second part is primarily concerned with the AKP and Erdoğan himself. The speech is therefore arranged in a way which conflates the nation with AKP and Erdoğan and argues for an indispensable bond between them.
History without contingency
The event begins with a narration by a male presenter accompanied by sentimental music, speaking about the ‘limitless’ and ‘mystical’ universe that operates with self-evident ‘balance’ and ‘order’. We are told that all we do is ‘to find our place within this universe’, and ‘whatever we do, do it right’. Then, around 25 people representing different age groups, genders, and occupations stage a dance performance, embodying the Turkish nation: comprised of a variety of people yet performing the same movements harmoniously under the same flag.
In this part, first and foremost, the Turkish nation is situated in its place in time and history. We only hear a narration without seeing the actual person speaking and this narration is accompanied by a video show. The voice asks us to commence history with ‘the moment that the horizon was first looked at’; with the moment that ‘the humanity became humanity’. Within this transcendental history whose origin is undeterminable, the beginning of the Turkish nation is also rendered ambiguous. We are told:
If you are asked when this journey began, your response should be ready: When the love of the homeland began!
Thus, the origin of Turkish nation is situated into a self-evident kairos without chronos as if its existence is free from the contingent flow of events throughout history. This arrest of contingency is further amplified through the topos of a ‘nation who always does the right thing’:
You had forty paths, and maybe forty horses too. If you had not chosen the right thing, you would not have been able to arrive at your homeland, today, now. You chose the right thing even if it was the hard one.
Moreover, according to the narration, Turkish nation is a nation which acts now through considering the future; thus, its now is always oriented to the future:
You have always envisaged tomorrow. Your history has been written with your choices. Hence, the future also means you.
Here we see a nation that always knows what it is doing, always does the right thing and has the power to shape history through the choices it makes. Its actions are always determined by its vision for the future and its future is not contingent but is destiny; a ‘journey’ with its own telos.
Then, the narrator asks, ‘when does the future begin?’ and adds, ‘this is the biggest question. The most important question is where the future begins.’ But, this time, we are not left in ambiguity. We are told that it begins ‘here,’ ‘today,’ ‘now’. Strikingly, today is only meaningful as a point of beginning of the future. Hence, our present is also arrested by both our past and our future. We do not have the right to choose our own kairos—our right time for action for a future that is designated by us—but are destined to conform to the already designated kairos for us within, again, already designated chronos: our possibility to have alternative ‘now’ and alternative ‘future’ is taken from us.
The ethos of Turkishness
Such an articulation of transcendental Turkishness with time and history is amplified with the further delineation of the ethos of the nation. Accordingly, for Erdoğan, the Turkish nation consists of ‘siblings’ who are united under and through the same ‘crescent’—the crescent on the Turkish flag. This is a nation who has the courage and strength to challenge the entire world. Connoting the lyrics of Turkish National Anthem, the lyrics of one of the songs that performed in the event reads:
Who shall put me in chains
Who shall put me in my place.
Then the song continues by saying:
There is no difference between us under the crescent
We are not scared of coal-black night
We are not scared of villains
Nevertheless, nowhere in the speech are we told who those ‘villains’, or people who want to ‘put us in chains’ are. Although they cannot stop us from our way, we are expected to consider their existence when we act. Here, we see the manifestation of the ethos of Turkishness through its association with the concepts of freedom, understood as sovereignty, and the Turkish flag. Türkiye is presented as a nation where differences between its members perish under the uniting power of the Turkish flag, and when acting, it always prioritises the protection of its sovereignty.
Furthermore, it is argued, the most definitive characteristic of the Turkish nation is that it never stops; it is always in motion, walking towards the future. Thus, the current Turkish Republic constitutes just a small part of its ‘thousand years of life’ so far. However, the Republic is important because it proves what the Turkish nation is capable of: it can achieve the unachievable, and it can overcome the toughest obstacles. But Turkish nation’s ambitions cannot be limited to the current Republic, and no matter how much it suffers now it must keep moving towards the future. In his speech, Erdoğan also uses the metaphor of a bridge, which can be thought together with this topos of ‘nation in motion’. He says, ‘We will raise the Turkish Century by strengthening the bridge we have built from the past to the future with humanistic and moral pillars’. Here, the ‘bridge’ signifies the uninterrupted continuity between past and future built by Erdoğan and his party, where the present is only characterised as a transition point in the ‘journey’ of the Turkish nation towards the future.
The performative construction of Turkishness is also accompanied by its articulation with its state, flag and homeland which are the core concepts of Erdoğan’s nationalism that he summaries with the motto ‘one nation, one flag, one state, one homeland.’ For example, in the middle of the hall, there is a huge sundial hanging from the roof, and there is a huge star and crescent on the floor under it that represent the Turkish flag and the homeland. Furthermore, there are 16 balls hanging around the sundial, representing the 16 states founded by Turks throughout history. In Erdoğan’s political thinking, ‘one nation’ signifies indivisible community where the nation is characterised by its ethnic and religious origins- namely being a Turkish and Sunni Muslim. ‘One flag’, on the other hand, signifies the Turkish flag, consisting of red representing the blood of martyrs killed in the Turkish War of Independence, and the white crescent and the star representing the independence and the sovereignty of the country. While ‘one homeland’ represents the land of Türkiye, ‘one state’ signifies the powerful and united Turkish state.
The role of the Justice and Development Party (AKP)
So far, we have been told who we are, where we are coming from and where we are going, and now, the stage is Erdoğan’s. Erdoğan’s speech consists of three points: situating his party and himself within the history of the Republic by explaining what they have done so far, emphasising his role in this process, then, explaining his promises for the next ‘Century for Türkiye’.
For Erdoğan, the AKP is the guarantee of continuity between the past and the future. Accordingly, after beginning his speech by praising Atatürk and the people who fought in the War of Independence, he continues by saying:
Of course, there were good things initiated in the first 80 years of our Republic, some of which have been brought to a conclusion. However, the gap between the level of democracy and development that our country should have attained and where we were was so great.
Then AKP came into power, his story goes on, and ‘made Türkiye bigger, stronger and richer’ despite all the ‘coup attempts’ and ‘traps’. It was the AKP who actualised ‘the most critical democratic and developmental leap with common sense, common will and common consciousness going beyond all types of political or social classifications’ by including everyone who has been oppressed and discriminated in Türkiye, from Kurds to Jews. Hence, we are told, it is the AKP who will build the Century for Türkiye through the ‘bridge that it establishes from the past to the future’.
The ethos of Erdoğan
Erdoğan also positions himself as the leader who has brought Türkiye up to date and, thus, the person who can take it into the future. Erdoğan claims that today he is there as a ‘brother’, ‘politician’, and ‘administrator’, as someone who has devoted all his life to the service of his country and the nation. He emphasises that he is there with the confidence that stems from his ‘experience’ in running the country. He then situates himself within other significant or founding leaders in Turkish history by saying,
I am here, in front of you with the claim of representing a trust stretching out from Sultan Alparslan to Osman Bey, from Mehmet the Conqueror to Sultan Selim the Stern, from Abdulhamid Han to Gazi Mustafa Kemal.
Thus, he is not only one of the leaders in the 100 years of the Turkish Republic but is part of a line of leaders beginning with Sultan Alparslan who led the entrance of Turks to Anatolia with the Battle of Malazgirt in 1071. Moreover, for him,
We are at such a critical conjuncture that, with the steps that we take, we are either going to take our place in the forefront of this league or we are going to be faced with the risk of falling back again.
This is the task awaiting the leader, one that is so crucial and important that it cannot be undertaken by just any leader. It requires, first and foremost, experience. As proof of his and his party’s level of experience and ability to undertake big and important tasks, he reels off a lengthy list of services provided by the AKP under his leadership in the last 20 years. He gives detailed figures from education, health, transportation, sport etc., such as how AKP has increased the number of classrooms from 343,000 to 612,000, or the number of airports in the country from 26 to 57, or the gross domestic product from 40 billion Lira to 407 billion Lira. Thus, he seeks to close the debate around his way of governance and leadership by depoliticising the discussion through relying on inarguable statistics. Then, he again draws attention to the experience when at the same time emphasising the inexperience of the opposition in running the country and warns, ‘if we do not continue our way by putting one work on top of another one, it is inevitable that we are going to vanish’. Consequently, as happened during the process that led to the independence of Türkiye and the foundation of the Turkish Republic 100 years ago, we are put in a position of choosing between two options, this time presented by Erdoğan: either we are going to do the right thing, or we are going to disappear.
Concepts of the ‘Vision for a Century of Türkiye’
Then, Erdoğan moves onto explaining the ‘spirit’, ‘philosophy’, and ‘essence’ of the ‘Vision for a Century of Türkiye’ that he suggests as a vision for future not only to Türkiye but to the entire world and humanity. He summaries the Vision with 16 core concepts—namely, sustainability, tranquility, development, values, power, success, peace, science, the ones who are right, efficiency, stability, compassion, communication, digital, production, and future. At the core of those 16 concepts lies the claim and promise to make Türkiye a great regional and global power. Such an assertion consists of two dimensions: first, liberal economic developmentalism, which has a prominent place in the Turkish neoliberal conservative political tradition and is structured around the adjacent concepts such as growth, progress, investment, and enhancing competitive power. For example, Erdoğan says,
We will make Türkiye one of the largest global industrial and trade centres by supporting the right production areas based on advanced technology, with high added value, wide markets, and increasing employment.
According to Erdoğan, the second dimension of making Türkiye great consists of security and stability. For him, Türkiye has become a global and regional power under his rule thanks to the stability and security guaranteed by the presidential system that came into force in 2017. The continuation of this power, he argues, depends on the maintenance of this security and stability, which is also the guarantee for a continuously prosperous economy and the provision of more work and service to the country. When doing this, for him, we are also responsible for the protection of the values belonging to the whole of humanity—not only the Turkish nation—thus we will also ensure ‘cultural and social harmony’.
When considered together with the whole speech, this section conforms with Erdoğan’s understanding of Turkishness articulated with himself and his party. According to the reasoning that we are asked to follow throughout the event, instead of being occupied with the present infrastructural problems of the country that have led to the deterioration of the economy and democracy, our thinking and actions must always be future-oriented. In this respect, for example, what matters is not the present economic situation but the economy in the future as presented in the Vision. We might be starving and struggling to continue our daily lives yet still we should continue growing, competing with our rivals, and building bridges and airports. And such a shining future cannot be arrived through change and but only through security and stability ensured by the leadership of the ‘right man’.
Then, he makes a call to ‘everybody’ to contribute to the ‘Century for Türkiye’, to ‘discuss’ it, to ‘put forward proposals’, and to ‘create’ and ‘build’ the vision for a Century of Türkiye together. However, it is not clear how people are to contribute to the ‘Vision for a Century of Türkiye’ when our past, present, and path to the future are turned into a destiny where we are not agents but prisoners. In fact, such a tension between the closure and opening of the political space can be witnessed throughout the whole speech. For example, Erdoğan says,
Today we have come together for the promise of strengthening the first-class citizenship of the 85 million, except the ones committing hate crimes, crimes of terror and crimes of violence.
Here, he draws his antagonistic boundaries around who is included and excluded from the nation. When doing this, he uses tellingly vague terms such as ‘crimes of terror’, which can potentially include anyone depending on how far the definition of ‘terror’ becomes stretched. However, despite this, he promises ‘to put aside all the discussions and divisions that have polarised our country for years and damaged the climate of conversation that is the product of our people's unity, solidarity and brotherhood’. This should be understood as part of his effort to secure his existence in the future of the country as the leader of the whole nation, yet still seeking to do this by persuading people of his way of doing politics. Here, the art does not lie in the total closure and opening of the political space but in the ability to convince people that he is the leader who can do both any time he sees convenient—this is a crucial dimension of Erdoğan’s leadership style.
Finally, he ends the speech with an oath as he usually does. He asks around 5,000 people in the hall stand up and repeat his words after him: ‘One nation, one flag, one homeland, one state! We shall be one! We shall be big! We shall be alive! We shall be siblings! Altogether we shall be Türkiye!’ This is his signature; thus, the speech has been signed.
Erdoğan’s nationalist political thinking in the context of the centenary of the Turkish Republic is shaped by his particular way of intervening in the political situation and has become part of his strategic action. Erdoğan employs the centenary to assert the continuity of his and his party’s leadership by establishing an analogical continuity between the foundation of the Turkish Republic 100 years ago and his leadership today. He turns the kairological moment in the past into his kairological moment for himself. He does this by articulating Turkishness, time and history in a way that enables him to situate himself and his party as the only figure that can guarantee such continuity on which the existence of Turkish nation depends—otherwise, we are going to ‘vanish’. Returning to Benjaminian analysis, Erdoğan takes a ‘tiger’s leap into the past’ to establish such continuity, however, as history has also shown us, there is a limit for every jump.
 I quoted this phrase from the amended version of the Turkish Constitution in 1923 known as Teskilat-i Esasiye Kanunu. The Constitution can be reached from: TESKILATI_ESASIYE.pdf (tbmm.gov.tr), p. 373.
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 Adar, S. and Seufert, G. (2021). Turkey’s Presidential System after Two and a Half Years. Stiftung Wissenchaft und Politik (SWP) Research Paper 2.
 Erdogan ousts Turkey central bank governor days after rate hike | Financial Times
 70 percent of Turkey struggling to pay for food, survey finds | Ahval (ahvalnews.com)
 Turkey's inflation hits 24-year high of 85.5% after rate cuts | Reuters
 Benjamin, W. (1970). ‘Thesis on the Philosophy of History’, in Arendt, H. (ed.) Illuminations, p.263. Jonathan Cape.
by Emily Katzenstein
Recent years have seen successive waves of “statue wars”—intense controversies over the visible traces of European colonialism in built commemorative landscapes. The most recent wave of controversies about so-called “tainted” monuments—monuments that honour historical figures who have played an ignominious role in histories of slavery, colonialism, and racism—occurred during the global wave of Black Lives Matter protests that started in reaction to the murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020. During a summer of global discontent, demonstrators famously toppled statues of Jefferson Davis (Richmond, Virginia), and Edward Colston (Bristol), beheaded a Columbus statue (Boston), and vandalised statues of King Leopold II (Antwerp, Brussels, Ghent), Otto von Bismarck (Hamburg), Winston Churchill (London), and James Cook (Melbourne), to name just a few examples.
These spectacular events sparked heated public debates about the appropriateness and permissibility of defacing, altering, or permanently removing “contested heritage”. These public debates have also led to a renewed interest in questions of contested monuments and commemoration in political theory and political philosophy. So far, however, this emergent debate has focused primarily on normative questions about the wrong of tainted commemorations and the permissibility of defacing, altering, or removing monuments. Engagement with the political-sociological and aesthetic dimensions of monuments, monumentality, and commemoration, including their relationship to political ideologies and subjectivities, by contrast, has remained relatively thin in recent debates about commemoration and contested monuments in political theory. This means that crucial questions about the role of commemorative landscapes in political life and in the constitution of political subjectivities have remained underexplored. For example, there has been only a relatively superficial reconstruction of the ideological stakes of the debate over the fate of contested colonial monuments. Similarly, while there have been several powerful defences of vandalising and defacing “tainted commemorations,” the literature in political theory and political philosophy has not yet engaged fully with innovative aesthetic strategies for contesting colonial monuments through decolonising artistic practices.
This series, Contested Memory, Contesting Monuments, seeks to curate a space in which emergent debates about monuments and commemoration in political theory can be in conversation with debates about the politics of the built commemorative landscape in political science, anthropology, sociology, and area studies that explore political-sociological and aesthetic dimensions of monuments and commemoration. Importantly, it also seeks to facilitate a direct exchange of perspectives between scholars of monuments and commemoration in the academy, on the one hand, and memory activists and artists who are actively involved in today’s politics of memory and monuments, on the other.
This is intended to be an open-ended series but we start with a wide-ranging series of inaugural contributions. In the first contribution to the series, Moira O’Shea traces the history of contesting Confederate monuments in the US and reflects on our relationship to the past. Upcoming contributions include an interview with Yolanda Gutierrez, a Mexican-German performance artist, and the founder of Bismarck Dekolonial, in which we discuss the realities of attempting to decolonise the built environment through artistic interventions; Chong-Ming Lim’s exploration of vandalising tainted commemorations; Sasha Lleshaj’s Sound Monuments, which reflects on very idea of monumentality, and connects struggles over ‘contested heritage’ to political contestations of ‘soundscapes’; and Tania Islas Weinstein and Agnes Mondragón analyses of the political uses and abuses of public art in contemporary Mexican politics.
 Mary Beard, "Statue Wars," Times Literary Supplement, 13.06.2020 2015.
 Chong‐Ming Lim, "Vandalizing Tainted Commemorations," Philosophy & Public Affairs 48, no. 2 (2020).
 Joanna Burch-Brown, "Should Slavery's Statues Be Preserved? On Transitional Justice and Contested Heritage," Journal of Applied Philosophy 39 no. 5 (2022).
 Helen Frowe, "The Duty to Remove Statues of Wrongdoers," Journal of Practical Ethics 7, no. 3 (2019); Johannes Schulz, "Must Rhodes Fall? The Significance of Commemoration in the Struggle for Relations of Respect," Journal of Political Philosophy 27, no. 2 (2019); Burch-Brown, "Should Slavery's Statues Be Preserved? On Transitional Justice and Contested Heritage."; Lim, "Vandalizing Tainted Commemorations."; Macalester Bell, "Against Simple Removal: A Defence of Defacement as a Response to Racist Monuments," Journal of Applied Philosophy 39 no. 5 (2021).
 Daniel Abrahams, "Statues, History, and Identity: How Bad Public History Statues Wrong," Journal of the American Philosophical Association, First View , pp. 1 - 15 (2022).
 Bell, "Against Simple Removal: A Defence of Defacement as a Response to Racist Monuments."; Ten-Herng Lai, "Political Vandalism as Counter-Speech: A Defense of Defacing and Destroying Tainted Monuments," European Journal of Philosophy 28, no. 3 (2020); Lim, "Vandalizing Tainted Commemorations."
by Marius S. Ostrowski
It has become customary to refer, in something like an air of hushed excitement, to a ‘renaissance in ideology studies’ that has taken place over the last quarter-century. Since the 1990s, so this narrative goes, ideology has emerged from under the long shadows of Marxism, the turn to scientism, the ‘end of ideology’, the ever-narrower self-reinforcing methodological spirals of comparative politics and cultural theory, to once again become a legitimate object of analysis in social research. Not only that, but in a way that it has never previously enjoyed, ideology has begun to move from a topic--one among many—in political philosophy, the history of ideas, social psychology, or sociological theory, to an independent area of study in its own right. The ‘renaissance’ in the study of ideology and ideologies has, in reality, been the ‘naissance’ of ideology studies as a discrete subfield.
Insofar as this ‘re/naissance’ has taken place, it has been in significant part due to the efforts of a handful of key theorists, who have battled to carve out a space for ideology and ideologies in university departments, research centres, and academic journals. One such theorist is Michael Freeden, who in the early 1990s developed the key underlying framework for the morphological school of ideology analysis. Based at the University of Oxford, then the University of Nottingham and the School of Oriental and African Studies, Freeden has played a vital role in the establishment and subsequent expansion of ideology studies through his long tenure as Editor of the Journal of Political Ideologies.
In this capacity, he stewarded the journal from its inaugural issue in January 1996, coinciding roughly with France’s final nuclear test in the Pacific, Germany’s first Holocaust Remembrance Day, the release of the programming language Java and the first Motorola ‘flip phone’, as well as the immediate aftermath of the Bosnian War, until September 2020, deep in the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw the eruption of record-breaking wildfires across the U.S. Pacific coast, the burning of Europe’s largest refugee camp on Lesbos, the declaration by the government of Barbados to remove the monarchy and become a republic, and the outbreak of renewed border conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.
The collection of essays in Ideology Studies gathers together the majority of the editorials that Freeden wrote during the 25 years he spent at the helm of the Journal of Political Ideologies, lightly reframed into 17 substantive chapters. The chapters are grouped together into four themes that cross-cut the exact chronology of the original editorials: ‘Staking out the macro-agenda’ on what it means to study ideology and ideologies; ‘Unfolding vistas and paradigms’, covering some of the main evolving trends in ideology studies and political theory; ‘Boundaries and intersections’ on the thematic overlaps and exchanges between ideology studies and neighbouring subfields; and ‘Lived ideology’, working through some case-studies of how ideology works in society.
As Freeden acknowledges at the start of the book, these thematic division perform a dual function. They are an attempt to corral otherwise disparate “contextualised, space and time bound, reactions to events, problems, and epistemological transformations” into an overarching meta-analytic framework of ‘what has been going on’ in ideology studies since the mid-to-late 1990s. But they are also “clues to some of the concerns closest to [Freeden’s] heart” as a seminal ideology theorist, as not just observer but participant in ideology studies’ emergence.
To put it morphologically, this collection advances—by a mixture of implicit gestures and explicit statements—our understanding of the core concepts that comprise ‘Freedenism’ as a methodological outlook, as a metatheoretical map with which to navigate ideology and ideologies as objects of research. Yet even here, we already have to draw a careful distinction between several Freedenisms, of which this is only one. The chapters in this volume, even those that deal with substantive questions such as Brexit, the Afghanistan war, ‘cancel culture’, or ‘fake news’, only ever show Freeden in interpretive, ideology-theoretic mode. This is the Freeden of Ideologies and Political Theory (1996), The Political Theory of Political Thinking (2013), and to a lesser extent of Concealed Silences and Inaudible Voices in Political Thinking (2022): the conceptual morphologist, the syncretic, the diagnostician.
Yet there is another side of Freeden’s work, another branch of Freedenism, that lies far more subdued in this volume. This is the Freeden who embraces more overtly his particular commitment to liberalism, not just in intellectual-historical interpretive mode, but also in ideological, critical or prescriptive mode: the Freeden of The New Liberalism (1978), Liberalism Divided (1986), Rights (1991), and Liberal Languages (2005). Even in his chapter on ‘Liberalism in the limelight’ as part of this collection, which takes as its starting-point the difficulties liberals face in adequately theorising the context and effects of resurgent fascism, exemplified by then-British National Party leader Nick Griffin’s infamous appearance on BBC’s Question Time in October 2009, Freeden’s own liberal commitments remain firmly in the background.
This divide between ‘Freeden the morphologist’ and ‘Freeden the liberal’ reflects one of Freeden’s firmly-held commitments about what ideology studies is, illuminated by a clear description of what it is not. “Ideology studies—unlike their subject-matter—do not prescribe solutions.” Methodological theory is not substantive philosophy, ‘talking about’ is not the same thing as ‘saying that’. In order to preserve its uniqueness and independence as a subfield, ideology studies has to exercise stringent rigour to avoid betraying researchers’ ideological commitments. It has to stay always at one stage of remove: what I have elsewhere called ‘ideologology’, rather than ideology simpliciter.
This is not least a profoundly strategic necessity, to preserve the legitimacy of the fragile niche that ideology researchers have carved out for themselves among their peers in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Part of the uphill struggle that ideology studies has faced is not just against the often instinctive view that ideology is (to put it kindly) not a very good thing, but also against far-reaching scepticism that it is possible to make sufficient space for a diagnostic or historical treatment of ideology that does not just immediately bleed into critique or prescription.
Freeden is convinced it is both possible and necessary to do exactly that. “[S]tudents of ideology should be exempted from an expectation to superimpose their personal recommendations on their findings. … They do not have an advocacy role. … [T]heirs is a different project, located in another part of a verdant wood … [that] demands of ideology students an entirely different set of skills.” What is this project? To this, Freeden’s answer is expressed in language that remains unwaveringly similar to that of his earliest interventions in ideology theory: “to explore, map, analyse, and enlarge” the conceptual frameworks we all use to make sense of what is going on in society. Not just the complex, nuanced philosophies of the elite specialist “professional formulators of ideas” but also the mass vernacular thinking of “laypeople, whether well thought-out or casual and under-formulated”. The thinking that is—not the thinking that was (history of ideas) or should be (ethics).
Ideology studies in this independent form is needed precisely because it fills a niche of vital, salutary realism that has been bizarrely bypassed in the construction of the accepted boundaries of social theory and social science. Ideology studies does what other areas of social research do all too rarely: take ideas and the connections between them seriously as objects of study on their own terms.
But it is not enough to simply affirm and celebrate the fact that ideology studies has been broadly successful in gaining a “permanent, respected, and integrated” place in academic social research. What ideology studies has begun to do, and what Freeden emphasises in some of the key chapters of Ideology Studies, is that ideology studies should now have the confidence to ask: where next? One of the most profound achievements of ideology studies, for Freeden, is to shift understandings of ideology away from “ideational products and arguments” towards the “complex cluster of practices that can be gathered under the container term ‘political thinking’.” Ideas, as combined and arranged into ideologies, do not just exist at the level of abstract universals, but also at the level of particular manifestations. Pace the traditional biases of political philosophy, all of these levels are, and of right ought to be, fair game for ideology analysis proper.
Freeden presents this broad orientation towards ideas as well as the “shared identity and action patterns of human communities” that these ideas fashion as an anti-Kantian move, a calling into question of rigid distinctions between theory and practice. The future-facing challenge that Freeden poses to the subdiscipline is how to “unpack and decide what we see and hear when human beings express and conduct themselves in political terms”. Or, to put it differently, to dig more assiduously into what happens when ideology filters through from thinking into behaviour.
Freeden frames the immediate next task for ideology studies as that of “relaxing ideology’s link with logocentrism”. For him, this includes “public rites”, “the body-language and conduct of people in positions of authority”, metaphors and tropes, the role of transmission media, “visual imagery” such as architecture and “political telecasts”, and the emotional content of language and memes—every possible form of ideological conformity and non-conformity that belongs to what he describes, evidently led by his recent focus on silence, as “non-verbal performativity”.
With that, Freeden has set ideology studies in general, and morphological analysis in particular, on the path of gradually moving beyond exclusively seeing ideology in conceptual terms. Certainly, he remains committed to “[a]dopting the ‘political concept’ as the basic unit of the language of ideology”. Yet he recognises that bridging the false Kantian divide between theory and practice entails broadening this language to include terms that articulate not just the abstract mental content of ideological concepts but also their concrete physical, physiological manifestations. What remains less clear, however, is whether this broadened language also needs to be accompanied by changing or expanding what ideology sees as the ‘basic units’ of ideology analysis: concepts, yes, but alongside them also… what? Elements? Phenomena? Realisations?
At the same time, while this certainly widens the terms of reference of ideology studies beyond the purely conceptual, it still implicitly treats the ideational aspect of ideology as primary. There is more to the social implementation, embedding, or entrenchment of ideas and ideology than communication, however generously defined. What is slightly missing is a recognition of just how deeply ideology percolates into the social reality we perceive around us, well beyond anything that could be classed as communication or discourse: our mental and physical outlooks, our routines and procedures, the groups and institutions we belong to, even the circumstances and events we find ourselves caught up in. While these are certainly implicated in morphological analysis à la Freeden, they appear only insofar as they can be deemed to be (quasi-actively) communicating ideas in a specific, narrower sense, rather than (more passively) representing or manifesting them in a broader way. For Freeden, the logocentrism of ideology studies should be relaxed, but not abolished entirely.
Nevertheless, there is a hidden radicalism contained in Freeden’s aspiration that could be pushed far further than happens in this volume. In addition to the turn against logocentrism, one of the most important contributions that ideology studies can make to the wider study of how ideas work in society is to inveigh against canonicity—especially but not exclusively in the history of ideas. Freeden’s insistence that “[t]he study of ideology will still involve individual thinkers—but as representatives of an ideological genre” is replete with possibilities for novel analysis. Rather than the model of (pale, stale, male) prominent individuals who pushed and remoulded the boundaries of ‘their’ ideologies through their promethean thoughts and herculean actions, ideology studies has the tools to foreground the collective, interactive formation of ideological maps through groups and networks—from diffuse crowds to disciplined cadres. This includes analysis of the cross-cutting publics and counter-publics that lead to dynamics of ideological hegemony and counter-hegemony (bourgeois versus proletarian, patriarchal versus feminist, and so on), and the subaltern narratives (e.g., ‘people’s histories’) that can be told about how societies change over time. But it also means sharpening the focus on ‘vernacular’ thinking and ‘ordinary’ behaviour to look at how ideologies are not just invented but also replicated and perpetuated through our thinking and behaviour in everyday life.
This ‘decanonisation’ mission of ideology studies lends an additional urgency to Freeden’s plea that “the scholarly profile of ideology studies needs to be raised substantially”. For Freeden, this is not just a matter of ensuring ideology theorists do not become complacent about how much they have achieved over the last couple of decades, but also a recognition of how much further there is still to go. To put it brusquely, a lot more ideology theorising is still needed if ideology studies (as part of ‘political studies’) is to catch up “with the parallel bodies of theory available to economics, sociology, psychology, and to the institutional side of political science”. In other words, it is all very well for social researchers who work on ideology to complain (quietly or loudly) that ideology is always the bridesmaid and never the bride—an afterthought in the later weeks of someone else’s syllabus, or in the second- and third-year options in someone else’s degree.
If they want to put ideology front and centre, they (we) will have to put in the hard scholarly graft to grow ideology theory to an appropriate scale and complexity. In part, this means keeping up the gradual process of détente towards “political and ethical philosophy on the one hand, and the history of political thought on the other”. In part, it means deepening the areas of cross-fertilisation between ideology theory and other subfields: Freeden explicitly picks out conceptual history in its Koselleckian vein and the Essex school of discourse theory, as well as theories of emotions and rhetoric. But in part, it also means relying on the exponents of “Marxist theories, critical theory, discourse analysis, attitude studies, and everyday preconceptions” to cease their frowning, obstructive reticence whenever the topic of ideology is mentioned.
The happier news, for Freeden, is that ideology studies conceived as a subfield offers a ready-made “integrated resting point” where all these fractious perspectives can be housed under one roof. Under Freeden’s scrupulously watchful eye, the Journal of Political Ideologies has acted precisely as a pluralistic forum where scholars who study ideology and ideologies can ply their trade, no matter their methodological creed—as long as their centre of gravity is overwhelmingly diagnostic or historical, rather than critical or prescriptive. But that is only half the story. Really constituting ideology studies as a subfield relies on more than “chance encounters”, and needs the emergence of cross-fertilising exchanges and hybrid approaches that start to thread together different ways of theorising ideology into various models of ideology theory. Without that, ideology studies will only remain a hollow umbrella term that describes bits-and-pieces forms of ideology analysis hived off into mutually incommunicative subfields.
Part of this consolidating process will be to thicken the terms of analysis that ideology studies (as opposed to any other subdiscipline) uses to evaluate ideologies. These terms should be autonomous and distinctive, not borrowed from other subfields, which prima facie includes “alter[ing] the assessment criteria of ideological success … from the substantive value-oriented standards political theorists have habitually applied to gauge their ideational produce”. They ought to cover characteristics that are more-or-less unique to ideologies, such as “historical contingency”, “discursive indeterminacy”, “overwhelming detail”, or “interpretative fluidity”—although even within these fairly parsimonious parameters, there is still plenty of room available for evaluative thickening.
Freeden first issued this cri de cœur in 2001, but it remains just as apposite in this reissued form over two decades later. Political theory has tried what essentially amount to theoretical half-measures to achieve something like the criteria shift that Freeden has in mind, in the form of the ‘realist’ turn and the ‘political’ turn—both of which Freeden scrutinises in this volume. But neither effort was truly geared towards modifying how ideology studies relates to its own object of analysis. Rather, they were attempts on the parts of disaffected political theorists who did not typically think of themselves as doing ideology research to come up with ways to combat the perceived ‘overreach’ of ethics into how political theory is done today.
As far as ideology studies itself is concerned, its innovations have (unsurprisingly) tended to track trends in ideologies themselves, from emerging ecological concerns and successive new waves of ideologies of identity, to “fashions and impulses” such as populism and globalism. Of course, new ideological trends will keep coming, and ideology studies will study them, und das ist auch gut so! But the insufficient depth of introspection on the topic of how we evaluate ideologies is one reason why the “journey” of ideology studies is so “slow—and still unfinished”. A key question for ideology studies as it turns to this task is how it maintains its humble, self-aware commitment to pluralism even while many of the objects it studies are relentlessly monistic and self-asserting. How, in other words, we can come up with distinctive criteria of success and failure while holding onto “a tentativeness about [our] own preferred solution and a toleration of many others”.
Besides this, Freeden names a few key areas where ideology studies can afford to delve deeper into the fertile ground it has uncovered over the last few decades. One is a better assessment of the rates at which “the different internal components of an ideology can change … a core usually altering more slowly than the adjacent and perimeter concepts and ideas that encircle it”. Paired with the destabilising and rejuvenating effects of unpredictable social crises on the content of established ideologies, this points towards a greater, more granular micro-level engagement with the moments and processes of rupture, and the essential contestations and decontestations, cooptions and divestments they carry in their wake.
Another area of deeper investigation, modelled on Freeden’s assessment of the “birth pains” of the Journal of Political Ideologies, is the “institutional story” that can be told for the key hubs of ideology research—as well, of course, as the apparatuses or dispositifs that act as sites of ideological production in wider society. In this respect, a ‘sociology of the ideology studies subdiscipline’, including a view on why it was only in the 1990s that it finally began to emerge, fits within the more general sociology of knowledge that has existed in broad alignment with ideology research since the time of Karl Mannheim.
In one respect, however, the question of ‘where next’ remains unanswered by Freeden’s volume—or rather, perhaps, one avenue of ‘where next’ is kept more-or-less resolutely closed. The relationship, or even the virtual equivalence, between ideology and politics remains a core feature of methodological Freedenism, if anything even more firmly delineated than at the start of his tenure at the Journal of Political Ideologies. “[M]y focus advanced from identifying the features of thinking ideologically to those of thinking politically.” It is not that Freeden’s definition of ideology as “a set of ideas, beliefs, opinion, and values that serves to justify, contest, or change the social and political arrangements and processes of a community” has become more overtly politicised. Rather, he has chosen to subordinate it to a more “expansive view of the ubiquitous nature of politics”. “Thinking ideologically” is the same as “thinking about politics”, and so is necessarily “intertwined” with “thinking politically”. On that basis, ideology theory is a form of political theory, ideology studies is a subfield within political studies, and the study of ideologies is the same as the study of (historical or contemporary) political thought.
This dimension of Freeden’s theoretical evolution is arguably the hardest pill to swallow against a societal and intellectual background where unmistakeably ideological dynamics have risen to the fore that sit partly or even wholly in social domains beyond the political. The explosion of (specialist and vernacular) interest in an ideology of ‘neoliberalism’ has uncovered the contestations among proponents of (e.g.) neoclassical, neo-Keynesian, Austrian, Georgist, Marxian, and Sraffian theoretical positions in economic thought that only rarely filter through to the worlds of public policy, electoral democracy, or state administration. The same is true of the running battles between defenders of formalism, originalism, realism, strict constructionism, structuralism, and textualism in legal theory—which, again, have political echoes but are not in themselves primarily political.
While it is doubtless fair and theoretically profitable to highlight the political aspects or effects of these avowedly non-political disagreements, it is unnecessarily flattening to restrict the purview of ideological analysis to only these parts of their societal impact. What is at risk of being lost here is the “social and political arrangements and processes” part of Freeden’s original definition of ideology. Even if we want to retain and pay due respect to the familiar alignment between ideology and politics, the rest of society should at least receive an equal amount of airtime too.
The broader message we should take from Ideology Studies on this point, however, is that politics is back. If the 1990s were the era of the ‘third way’, ‘post-politics’, triangulation ‘beyond left and right’, and other claims to ‘non-ideological’ pragmatism, the 2020s are a time not only of self-evident division and polarisation, but also of an increased appreciation of the role that politics in all its forms (from mass activism to state action and beyond) can play in changing the face of society. In this way, the ‘renaissance of ideology studies’ has accompanied, almost seamlessly in tandem, the steadily rising disenchantment with the ‘end of history’. As history has returned, in the form of perpetual wars, financial stagnation and collapse, ecological disasters, pandemics, and other aspects of a growing ‘polycrisis’, ideology has come back with it, firmly but quietly clasping history by the hand.
In this light, Freeden’s collection of editorials is akin to a chronicle of the journey that ideology and its study has undergone during a key period of ideology studies’ foundation. If ideology studies is, as he argues, still very much a subdiscipline in transition, then this volume represents a considerable milestone on the way to its gradual consolidation. It is a salutary reminder to students and theorists of ideology alike of where we have come from, and where we should go next.