The Synergy between Neoliberalism and Communitarianism: “Erdogan’s Third Way”

Is it possible to respond to the challenges of globalization by integrating neoliberal economic policies with a concern for social justice? According to Marcie J. Patton’s recent article in Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has done just that. According to Patton, Erdogan’s AKP government has “assigned priority to projects that focus on enhancing economic efficiency and international competitiveness” in concert with ‘communitarian’ social policies that emphasize an individual’s responsibility to “contribute to the common good and to act in socially responsible ways.” Patton terms this synthesis of neoliberalism and social justice ‘Erdogan’s Third Way’, which emphasizes the goal of rapid and steady economic growth while simultaneously implementing policies intended to mitigate unemployment and poverty, primarily by enabling citizens. The philosophy of this approach is that social justice can be achieved through “the redistribution of opportunity rather than income.”

Interestingly, Patton argues that the AKP’s emphasis on social justice can be traced to the rise of Islamist politics in Turkey, which strongly focuses on income redistribution and social welfare, as well as inward-looking economic policies. Prime Minister Erdogan, according to Patton, had been a part of Turkey’s Islamist revival in the 1970s, and while his current party does not favor the inward-oriented statist-developmentalist agenda, Erdogan has remained committed to social justice; the AKP states that “it is concerned that people be ‘healthy, happy, educated’ and ‘attain a living standard with human dignity,’” concerns also expressed by Islamist parties in the 1970s. The difference between Islamist parties and the AKP is that the latter believes that the state should enable citizens to take a full role in the economy, rather than directly provide for them. The AKP emphasizes opportunity for all, equal worth, and responsibility, and frames ‘injustice’ in terms of ‘exclusion’ from the market and the economy. As such, Erdogan’s government has designed policies intended to maximize each individual’s opportunities to provide for himself, while at the same time pursuing neoliberal economic growth models.

While Erdogan’s Third Way is innovative, Patton is concerned that these policies depoliticize social inequality. It is also unclear how the government will address those who do remain ‘excluded’. Thus, while it is too soon to judge the outcome of the AKP’s Third Way, the results will be relevant to countries throughout the region and the developing world that are engaged in similar debates over the challenges of globalization, growth, and social justice.

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