[Previous] [Main Index] [Next]

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Ottoman and Arab Developmental Failures and Ongoing Problems: Some Comparisons: 3rd of a 3-Article Series

Contrary to what the previous article initially claimed, this mini-series on the Turkish model of development --- its secular constitution, tolerance, and democratic institutions making the Turks resistant to bin Ladenism and other violent Islamist appeals that are widespread in the Arab world and in Pakistan --- hasn't drawn to an end with just two articles, a brief interlude in the wider series on the democratic prospects of the 22 Arab countries. Still fairly brief, that interlude continues with this, a third article dealing with the Turkish model. The chief reason? Simply this: the more the buggy professor went through some buzzing cogitations about that model --- particularly whether it could be emulated by Turkey's Arab neighbors in the Middle East or in North Africa --- the more his adrenaline-pumping brain led him to delve more thoroughly into the historical causes of Ottoman backwardness, economic, technological, and military: above all, compared to its European great power rivals from the late 18th century on.

Our Present Aims

What follows in this third article is an effort to systematically capture and throw light on those causes of Ottoman backwardness, particularly where they have parallels with those that also explain Arab economic and technological backwardness . . . at any rate down toward roughly the middle of the 20th century.

Since then, of course, Turkish democratic development --- with lots of ups and downs --- has become institutionally stable and more liberal, with more manufacturing industry implanted in the country than is the case in any of the Arab countries. Of the non-oil rich Arab countries, remember, only Tunisia with its tiny population of 10 million matches Turkey's living standard, the two countries each having a per capita income in purchasing power parity terms of around $7000. Turkey's achievement, by contrast, stands out if you also remember that it has 70 million people: this, plus far more democratic development and far greater resistance to bin Laden-like fundamentalist intolerance and conspiratorial paranoia . . . part and parcel of the Arab street almost everywhere, though with a clear diminution the better the democratic prospects of the 22 Arab countries when you rank them on certain measures of such prospects.


INTRODUCTORY COMMENTS

Dense and crammed with lurid ambition, the current argument unfolds in four parts.

1) We begin by looking back historically at how the developmental paths of Islam and the West diverged markedly after 1100, something that would have surprised a Martian visitor to earth in, say, the 9th or 10th centuries . . . at which point the Arab world was much more technologically and philosophically advanced than Europe itself. Illuminating this is the task of Part One.

2) Then in Part Two we move on to examine in greater depth the specific causes behind the pace-setting developments --- economic, technological, political, and intellectual --- that allowed certain parts of Europe, specifically Northern Italy's city states and some of the countries in Northern Europe, to leap ahead of the rest of the world in wealth, power, and scientific knowledge. The results can be summarized as modernizing and globalizing forces, originating in those European areas, then spreading with jarring impact --- usually violent --- to the rest of Europe, North America, and the non-European areas of the globe.

Part Two, as you'll see, also throws light on why Islam's lead --- innovative and impressive from the 7th through the 11th centuries --- eroded, ending up with the clash of civilizations between modernizers and regressive fundamentalist Islamisms being played out with violent force almost everywhere in the Islamic world these days . . . save in Turkey and Malaysia.

3) In Part Three, we return to where we left off in the second article in this mini-interlude: the Ottoman Empire's failures to modernize effectively. The argument that unfolds in this part seeks to pin down and explain the specific causes of those failures and their legacies, including --- for all the impressive changes in Turkish life since the start of the modernizing revolution from above carried out by Ataturk and military and administrative elites in the 1920s --- their continued influence in retarding Turkish economic development and technological advance a good eight centuries afterwards.

4) The argument here about Turkey's success and ongoing developmental problems continues in Part Four with some further theoretical and comparative analysis, especially with the Arab countries. As it happens, their problems with reforming and modernizing their economies, or upgrading their literacy levels and scientific knowledge and technical know-how --- or reforming their political and administrative institutions to deal effectively with corruption, nepotism, despotism, and the absence of a rule of law --- are still actively at work everywhere in the 22 Arab countries, despite some variation across them on these scores. As long as they are at work, the democratic prospects of the Arab countries --- even those that are the most promising like Morocco, Algeria, Jordan, or the small Gulf states --- will likely glow much dimmer than in Turkey itself.

 



PART ONE:
HOW THE DEVELOPMENTAL PATHS OF ISLAM AND THE WEST
DIVERGED AFTER 1100


Our Initial Task

For all its impressive political and cultural changes --- including a secular constitution and institutionalized democracy that has witnessed a transfer of power in election to a moderate fundamentalist Islamic government in 2003 --- Turkey, some 70 million people in number, continues to suffer from economic and technological backwardness, despite some checkered progress, almost a century after the collapse of the Ottoman empire by the end of WWI and the subsequent westernizing revolution from above. That revolution, which abolished the Ottoman Sultanate and Caliphate and established the Turkish Republic after centuries of uninterrupted decline, was initiated by Ataturk and other nationalist leaders of the military and administrative elites.

What explains that backwardness? Answering that question is this article's first analytical task, followed by a second, closely related one.

 

The Need To Illuminate Arab Backwardness As Well

In numerous ways, right down to the death-throes of the Ottoman empire by 1929, the same historical obstacles that impeded Ottoman industrialization for centuries --- and its institutional and cultural modernization --- were also at work in the Arab world, only for an even longer time . . . roughly 900 years in the making, from 1100 on. Even now, almost a century after Turkey's modernizing revolution that has blunted or reversed many of those negative historical forces in that country --- above all, its political system but to an extent its economy and cultural life too --- these same force continue to retard the economic development and institutional reforms of the 22 Arab countries with stubborn, high-pulsating intensity. Arab failures here, note quickly, weren't predestined. On the contrary, from roughly the 7th through the 11th centuries, the Arab empire in Persia, the Middle East, North Africa, and Iberia was generally more advanced than Christian Europe 1100.

From then on, what happened?

Tersely put, their developmental paths began to markedly diverge: Islam, first the Arab world, then everywhere else in the Ottoman, Persian, and Mogul empires, began to ossify and fall behind. Irreversibly so; without let-up.

By contrast, from the 12th century on, European societies --- especially in northern Italy and parts of France, Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, and Scandinavia --- began to pound ahead in one weighty area after another, technologically, financially, and militarily. Nor was that all. From the 17th century on, building on these earlier developments, France, Britain, the Netherlands, and some other West European countries pioneered those revolutions in science and other modern knowledge, in industrialization and radical technological progress, and in nationalism and democracy that --- together with the potent, kinetically charged ideological backlashes to them, in both Europe and outside it --- would shape the modern world with jarring force . . . first in West Europe and North America, then later everywhere else.

 

Modernizing and Other Globalizing Forces: Their Inevitable Dislocating Spread Beyond West Europe and North America

Again and again, their jarring forces of these related revolutions --- political, economic, technological, and knowledge-based --- turned violent as they spread out and shaped the modern world even in the core West European countries . . . a strung-out succession of nationalist or colonial rebellions against Imperial rule, nationalist wars among states, democratic struggles against monarchical despotism or other forms of dictatorship, a swarm of revolutions and counter-revolutions in Europe and elsewhere, and class and ethnic conflicts galore. Most of these, note, would be reflected on the intellectual and emotional levels in a violent clash between competing ideologies, themselves outcomes of the modern world . . . a product of the 17th and 18th century recognition that humans could not only understand the natural world thanks to progress in knowledge, but could use such knowledge to shape and control, so it was said, the course of social, political, and economic life no less. Needless to add, for good or bad.

Even the abolition of slavery --- unique to the liberal industrialized countries of the West in the 19th century, especially the pace-setters here: the British and the Americans --- occurred only with violence, including the bloodiest war in American history. The extremist ideological backlashes included, of course, revolutionary Socialism, Communism in a host of forms, militarized reactionary conservatism, and Fascisms of various kinds, including racist Nazism with its exterminationist ideology. Communism alone proved to be mass-murdering on an unparalleled scale, responsible for the deaths of over 100 million people in the last century . . . not to mention the hundreds of millions of other people under Communist rule whose lives were devastated in other ways.

As with the destruction of slavery, the destruction of Fascism, Nazism, and Communism occurred only through war, vast and violent without parallel in WWII or prolonged and less violent in 45 years or more of the Cold War.

 

PART TWO:
THE VASTLY DIFFERENT RESPONSES TO MODERNIZING AND GLOBALIZING FORCES
OF ISLAM AND THE WEST CLARIFIED


Modernization and Globalizing Forces: Islam's Responses

These days, we call these world-historical revolutions the main forces behind globalization . . . their origins in the European past a millenium ago. Most areas of the world are eager to embrace them. Islamic societies, as it happens, are generally far more ambivalent here.

Not surprisingly, then, the clash of civilizations between modernizers and regressive fundamentalist forces is playing out with high-potent impact, often violent, in almost all Islamic societies . . . Turkey and Malaysia (with its large Chinese and Indian minorities) the major exceptions, with industrialization and western-secular political life having taken root in both over the last few decades. Not surprisingly either, they and Tunisia are also the most prosperous of the non-oil rich Muslim countries . . . their per capita income in purchasing power parity roughly $7000 - 8000 each.

Sidebar Clarification: Saudi Arabia, which like Iraq has about 25 million people, has a per capita income of around $11,400 this year . . . a huge boost compared to two years ago thanks to the big surge in oil prices, practically its only source of economic growth. Iraq's per capita income is around $2300. Egypt, by far the largest Arab country with 74 million people --- and no oil reserves --- has a per capita income of around $4000. Most Arab countries save Saudi Arabia and the tiny Persian Gulf states with their huge oil exports have a per capita income of around $2500. Illiteracy in the Arab countries, come to that, is the worst in the world . . . worse even than in much poorer Tropical Africa. Unemployment among men alone averages around 20-25%. As for Turkey, its population is about 70 million; Tunisia's is 10 million; Malaysia, where the 30% Chinese minority controls most of the modern economy and finance, has 24 million people.

 

But Wait, We're Running Ahead of Ourselves: West Europe's Different Responses

Yes, wait . . . rewind your attention in fast-mode back to the year 1100, the turning point of the West and Islam in all its different forms, whether Arab, Ottoman, Tatar in Russia, Persian, or Mogul in India (1526 on). More specifically, after centuries of strife and economic decline following the break-up of the Roman empire in the West, medieval Europe in Italy and its western country had successfully managed in the 12th and 13th centuries

  • to establish new forms of law and security in the seigniorial-manorial system;


  • to guarantee the protection of private property and curbed the ability of centralizing monarchs to tax it arbitrarily;


  • to create a swarm of small, largely self-governing cities full of merchants and guilds --- something unique to European civilization, not found either in Islam or China or anywhere else;


  • and to experience the start of centralizing monarchies in the north and of energetic, briskly thriving city-states in Northern Italy, one of which, Venice, would become a great trading empire in the Mediterranean world for centuries.


Nor was that all. Simultaneously, by the 12th century, European populations were now growing again, and economic and technological development was vigorously under way. Everywhere in parts of Italy and Northern Europe during those last centuries of medieval Europe, important innovations in agriculture, manufacturing, finance, architecture, and long-distance trade began to flourish. New forms of energy systems such as the extensive use of the water-wheel, continually improved on over the centuries until the steam engine, allowed the trading cities to grow and manufacturing to thrive. The upshot? Not surprisingly, more and more economic historians see the industrial revolution of the late 18th century as only one of several such revolutionary changes vigorously occurring throughout Mediterranean and Northern Europe in one wave after another from 1100 on.

 

Europeans Good Learners, Islam After 1100 The Opposite

Note something important here . . . strikingly at odds with intellectual trends in Islamic societies after the 11th century: until then, Europeans were good learners from others . . . especially the Arabs, themselves transmitters in no small part of Persian, Indian, and Chinese inventions . . . for instance, the Arab numerical system, actually invented in India and then adopted by the Arabs after their conquests of the Persian Empire in the 7th century. Come to that, Europeans continued to import and improve upon Chinese innovative technologies like gunpowder and the printing press for another three or four centuries right into the era of the Renaissance and overseas European expansion. Not so after the Arab societies, at any rate after the start of the 12th century.

"From about 750 to 1100," as a gifted economic historian has written recently,

"Islamic science and technology far surpassed those of Europe, which needed to recover its [Roman-Greco] heritage and did so to some extent through contacts with Muslims in such frontier areas as Spain. Islam was Europe's teacher. . . . Then something went wrong. Islamic science, denounced as heresy by religious zealots, bent under theological pressures for spiritual conformity. For thinkers and searchers, this could be a matter of life and death. For militant Islam, the truth had already been revealed. What led back to the truth was useful and permissible; all the rest was error and deceit. . . .[Fairly soon], native springs of invention seem to have dried up." [David Landes, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations (Norton, 1998), pp. 52-53

These historically retarding forces, to repeat, continue to fetter and hold back Arab industrialization, technologies, and institutional reforms --- political and cultural. Nothing insurmountable here, mind you; nothing at any rate that can't be changed if certain Arab leaders and elites are willing to make the difficult changes . . . which, however, would require undermining the base of their existing power and prestige, including massive corruption and rentier-infested clientele networks. Will they succeed? That, it needs to be added, is a question we'll take up in the next article.



 



Ottoman and Arab Expansion Like Those of Other Empires, European or Otherwise

Historically, a point to grasp at the outset is that centuries of growing Ottoman power and expansion weren't a result of the Sultanate and Caliphate, just the opposite: the Sultan-Ruler and Islamic Caliphate were part-and-parcel of aggressive, Ottoman imperial expansion that included the conquest of a huge Christian and Arab empire by a highly militarized Asiatic people after they overran the remnants of the Byzantine Empire in the mid-15th century. (For a good brief historical survey, see this link. The Ottoman Sultans claimed to be the successors of both Caesar and the Prophet, a universal king for Muslims and all other subjects under Ottoman rule.) As with all long-lived empires, the Turkish conquerors were able to find collaborating local elites to serve as their privileged auxiliaries. They included elite military-administrative forces like Janissaries, Christian in origin, then reared as Muslims, or Mamelukes in Egypt and elsewhere in North Africa.



More fundamentally, as with Arab and Tatar and Mogul imperial expansion --- all Islamic in nature --- Ottoman conquests paralleled that of the Christian empire-makers:

  • Colonies were conquered by soldiers and sailors thanks to superior technology or fighting prowess.


  • They were then administered by either collaborating elites or by military and administrative elites from the home country: usually a combination of each.


  • Most of the conquered native peoples were converted to the religion of the conquerors by priests and the sword. (The big exception was British rule in Hindu and Muslim India from the 18th century on.)


  • And, as with the Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and French empires, Ottoman expansion was linked to the home country by tiny groups of business and financial interests from both the home country and among the local elites.


A Brief Digression, Important In Its Own Right: British Imperial Exceptionalism

Economically speaking, the British empire in North America and Australia evolved far differently from either the Ottoman or the other European empires. Four big differences stand out that throw further light on the differences between Islam and the West, but also between North America and Latin America in their politics, culture, and economic systems.

(i.) Large numbers of British and Irish moved as settlers out of the British Isles and came quickly to dominate the local economies in North America and Australia.

Several momentous consequences followed for North American economic and political development, especially compared to Latin America or European and Islamic empires in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. One such consequence: these British settlers brought British law and parliamentary traditions to bear on themselves as the initial colonizers. A second one: the arrival of large numbers of family farmers also led to a far more egalitarian distribution of land in North America than anywhere under Spanish or Portuguese rule. There's a third consequence that also needs to be stressed: family farming carried out by millions of colonials and later immigrants after 1789 created far greater incentives to innovate technologically and develop agriculture for the markets. In turn, such traditions of innovation and openness to change later transferred quickly in the 19th century to manufacturing industries. (Not surprisingly, plantation agriculture in the Antebellum South using slaves languished by contrast; and the southern plantation owners were essentially a militarized gentry. The South never fully industrialized until after 1945.)

Note the term a moment ago in italics: on themselves.

The British settlers treated the indigenous peoples with the same contempt and use of force that the Spanish and Portuguese applied in Latin America, even though in the latter continent far larger, more urbanized Indian populations were either exterminated or enslaved than was the case in North America. Nobody knows the exact size of the indigenous Indian peoples in North America in the early 16th century: the estimated figures run from 3 million up to 16 million, the latter probably way over-stated. In Latin America, there were 30-40 million Indians, some living in small clan or tribal areas, most, however, urbanized or ruled over by urban imperial peoples like the Aztecs or Incas.

Initially, too, in North America, the armed conflict between Indian warriors and isolated farming families and small settler villages --- who had to form militias to defend themselves --- was far fairer. Both sides engaged in attacking one another's settlements. In the French and Indian wars of the mid-18th century, the heavily armed Indian allies of France attacked colonial farms and villages with potent ferocity. When, over time, a professional military and far greater organization and firepower were developed after 1789 by the US government at all levels, local and national, these tactics would prove devastating to the Indians: either they were decimated or moved off their homelands to reservations.]

 

(ii.) The British empire --- and generally the French and Dutch empires --- differed from the Spanish and Portuguese in another significant way: it was a trading empire, with mutually beneficial trade and flows of capital investment with their North American and other colonies (India, for instance, as Marx himself appreciated and argued), whereas the Spanish and Portuguese were --- like the Inca and Aztec empires they shattered --- tribute empires.

To say that the British empire --- to stay with the North American colonies --- entailed mutually beneficial trade and investments doesn't mean that the gains were equally distributed: it does mean that the trade and investments weren't in the main exploitative, largely benefitting only the imperial core country. The benefits for the colonials were all the greater because the British settlers and rulers also implanted British institutions in North America: laws, the protection of property, parliamentary institutions, and a powerful work ethos . . . plus an interest common to Protestant (and especially Calvinist) societies from the 17th century on in investment and economic growth and profits as a way of demonstrating you were a morally superior person, destined for salvation. Family farms --- later reinforced after the Lousiana Purchase by the federal government distributing 640 acres of land to any family willing to farm it --- also led to a wider distribution of property ownership and greater equality of income than was the case in Europe, something Alexis de Tocqueville discovered when he traveled widely in the US during the mid-1830s.

Tribute empires, by contrast, are essentially run for the benefit of the home country, the imperial center, and work by way of plunder. There is little incentive to develop the local economies . . . all the less so in the Spanish and Portuguese cases because so few Spaniards and Portuguese immigrated to Latin America. The Conquistadors and their descendants for generations were after quick results, the discovery and export of gold and silver; little else. Later, it's true, plantations developed, either with slavery as in the US South or with the use of native American Indians as quasi-slaves, peons with no land or essentially few rights of their own. By definition, plantation agriculture is heavily concentrated in the hands of a few large landowners. The same, by the way, was true from the beginning of ranching in Argentina. Ethnic separation and an ethnic-racial hierarchy --- which also existed in parts of North America (especially in the slave-holding South and then after slavery there) ---- were aggravated by huge inequalities across social classes in property, wealth, income, and life-styles.

 

(iii.) There was another drawback that impeded economic developmental in Latin America: the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions --- Counter-Reformation in nature, suspicious of new knowledge and run by zealots keen to maintain the purity of Iberian Catholicism in the New World --- followed the Conquistadors from the outset. They ensured that Latin America was trammeled by ignorance, poor levels of literacy, and technological backwardness, all added obstacles, despite improving educational standards the last few decades, that still reverberate centuries later in Latin American colonies. On these retarding influences analyzed in comparative manner, see the buggy prof article of May 2003: Latin America

As that long buggy article noted, the intellectual heritage of a narrow, backward-looking Hispanic Catholicism --- countered by a militant anti-clericalism by the late 19th century, which was a common Latin European movement transplanted in blunted form to Latin America itself --- contributed, each in its own way, to the institutional and cultural problems of developing an effective form of capitalist development in Latin America until after WWII. On side, a narrow, rigid clergy that began to change only after WWII in the lower ranks, where a kind of grass-rooted populist-Marxist sentiment would grow that was opposed by the hierarchy everywhere; and on the other an anti-clerical tradition that drew on the European heritage of Marxism, syndicalist anarchism (a Spanish specialty), and populist fascism.

Both have proved inimical to what North America came to accept as a given: liberal capitalism as a way to prosperity, moderate democratic politics, the belief in compromise as a virtue, and a rich civil society.

A Sidebar Clarification of the contrasting intellectual heritages in North and South America seems worth while here. As the same buggy article noted at a later point in its argument,

"The impact of a Hispanic heritage has been no less injurious in intellectual development compared to North America. Specifically, the combination of the Inquisition for centuries, oligarchy, the Counter-reformation, the exclusion of Protestant immigration (save in parts of Brazil in the south, and to an extent in Uruguay and Argentina in the latter part of the 19th century), and a dysfunctional educational system have severely retarded Latin scientific, mathematical, and technological progress compared to Canada and the US.

"Few countries can even boast today of a majority population with high school level education (the Mexican government commitment here, adopted in the early 1990s, has never been fulfilled, for instance), and despite some pockets of excellence, Latin American universities don't compare with those in Europe, Australia, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea, or North America. Essentially, the intellectuals around the Continent in the 19th and early 20th century aped French philosophy and sociology (Comte above all), and did little else for development --- economic or political --- of their countries. And though, starting with the Mexican revolution before WWI, there has been an impressive burst of artistic, architectural, and literary life all over Latin America --- far more impressive than in Spain or Portugal themselves --- none of that has helped political life or economic development either.

"By contrast, the self-sufficiency, spirit of individualism, and self-confidence of American farmers and workers from the outset easily nurtured --- along with a sense of common national identity forged by British law and parliamentarianism and then almost a decade of revolutionary struggle, to say nothing of a Protestant stress on literacy --- a remarkable ability all the same at creating a rich civic society based on voluntary associations and widespread cooperation across class, regional, and ethnic lines (even, interestingly, among blacks in the North and then in the difficult decades after the civil war in the South too, where vibrant black churches and businesses and volunteer groups of all sorts existed). A widespread sense of national identity and shared citizenship --- in which most first or second generation immigrants could share --- reinforced these tendencies. All of which were noted by Alexis de Tocqueville when he visited the US in the 1830s. Everywhere, he marveled at the wide radius of trust and spontaneous cooperation in American life at the grass roots and in cities, seeing it as the major counterweight to what he feared would be the excesses of both equality and individualism here. "


 

(iv.) Needless to add, the mutual benefits of trade and investment in the British colonies did not apply to the African slaves forced into bondage in the South, or to the native Indian peoples. It is worth remembering here, since we're talking about the Ottoman and Arab empires and their spread and decline, that their African slave trade antedates that of the West Europeans by 8 centuries, and for that matter continues these days in certain Arab countries like the Sudan or Mauritania. It's also worth remembering that the two liberal great-powers of the 19th and 20th centuries, the British and the US, together abolished the slave trade and destroyed slavery in the US civil war.

Until then, slavery had flourished in all civilizations throughout history. Only liberal capitalist countries with the power to act destroyed that nefarious institution, though it returned in vast genocidal ways in Nazi-occupied Europe during WWII. You can only wonder what Europe and the rest of the world would look like had the racist Germans and their allies --- including the Japanese racist empire in Asia --- had triumphed in that war..





 

Back to the Ottoman Empire, "The Sick Man of Europe"

Ottoman expansion reached its peak in the late 17th century. As late as the 1680s, the Ottomans were besieging Vienna in the very heart of Central Europe, only to be repelled in the end by an alliance of European peoples and thrust back into the Balkans. The Ottoman defeat was symbolic. By then, even parts of the Austrian empire were modernizing --- never mind the European countries further to the west. Not the Ottoman core. It never modernized with any success before the 1920s.

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, when it was widely known as the Sick Man of Europe, the Ottoman Turks were handicapped by built-in rigidities, culturally and politically, their social structures antiquated and impervious to change. In particular, the Turks

  • Never effectively industrialized;


  • Never managed to upgrade their educational levels and literacy, trailing further and further behind the Europeans in science and technology;


  • Never developed a modern merit-oriented civil service either, despite some reforms by administrative elites at the Ottoman core in the early and mid-19th centuries;


  • Never managed to find talented, risk-taking leaders who appreciated the need for sweeping political, administrative, and economic changes --- cultural too, at any rate until Ataturk and his nationalist followers in the WWI era and aftermath. A forerunner here were the Young Turks who came to power in 1908, but never had the nerve or power to directly assault the Sultan-Caliph system of rule.


  • Never, come to that, fostered an effective secular national identity for the various ethnic groups on Turkish or wider Ottoman territories. Instead, Ottoman rule deliberately aimed at compartmentalizing the various ethnic, religious, and national groups in their empire, purposefully limiting their trade and communication with one another and making them all the more dependent on Ottoman administration;


  • And never, to top it off --- despite repeated efforts --- succeeded even in modernizing its military to good effect.


The Ottoman Military, To Clarify Briefly, Was No Exception to Failure

The failure to modernize and upgrade the Ottoman military symbolized all the other bungling deficiencies and setbacks in haphazard Turkish efforts to modernize . . . part-and-parcel of a ramshackle imperial system shot through with backwardness and political and cultural obstacles to change. In the words of an Ottoman observer in the 1880s,

"The fallacy that everything seen in Europe can be imitated here has become a political tradition. For example --- by simultaneously introducing Russian uniforms, Belgian rifles, Turkish headgear, Hungarian saddles, English swords, and French drill --- we have created an army that is a grotesque parody of Europe." [Quoted in C.A. Bayly, The Birth of the Modern World: 1870-1914 (Blackwell, 2004), p. 17 . . . an impressive British study, rigorously thematic and analytical and full of insight. Powerfully written too, a pleasure to read; and for that matter, genuinely global in its sweep rather than focusing mainly on Europe.]

 

PART FOUR :
THE FAILURES OF THE OTTOMAN AND ARAB EMPIRES TO MODERNIZE: THE CAUSES CLARIFIED


Not Accidents or Mysterious Forces or God's Will At Work Here.

The botches and failure to modernize were built deep into the fabric of Ottoman imperial rule, as they were was earlier in Arab rule over the Egyptians, Persians, and other peoples of the Middle East and North Africa in the 7th and 8th centuries, not to forget those in Spain and Portugal . . . at any rate, from the 11th and 12th centuries on when a definite cultural sclerosis set in and ended the otherwise impressive philosophical, medical, and artistic achievements of the Arab peoples.

For one thing, rule was absolute and despotic even when, as in the Ottoman empire, subject peoples were carefully sub-divided into local communities (millets), with limited trade, credit flows, migration, or even communication across these ethnic and religious communal areas. The aim was to offset any effectively organized threat on a wide geographical basis to the Ottoman power-holders at the center. In such circumstances, the economic basis of the Ottoman empire in Europe or the Middle East was badly fragmented, and for centuries at a time.

For another thing, the major source of revenue in the Middle East --- whether Persian, Arab, or later Ottoman ---was heavy, arbitrary taxes on land, with the capital raised mainly going for military and imperial expansion. There was nothing comparable to the rule of law that existed in most of West Europe, even in feudal times, that protected private property and offset monarchical despotism by requiring parliamentary approval of tax measures. Britain with its common law was especially successful in curbing arbitrary taxation or the confiscation of private property. The result? As noted in a very good book on comparative economic development by John P. Powelson, Centuries of Economic Endeavor (University of Michigan Press, 1997: pp. 382-83), In the Middle East under Arab or Ottoman rule, "taxes were so heavy that few people outside the elite could accumulate capital; and the elite squandered their capital on luxuries and war rather than devoting it to economic development."

For a third thing, the class gulfs between the masses of people, whether peasants or small merchants, and the landowners and administrative rulers in the Arab and Ottoman empires were far greater than anywhere in West Europe. Upward mobility hardly existed unless certain slave groups like janissaries, Christians trained for military elite positions, seized power in coups, deposed the Sultan, and put one of their own on the throne, at which point the positions at the very top of the hierarchy changed, but nothing else. Power-wielding remained heavily hierarchical and unresponsive to the masses of subject populations. The outcome was predictable: further reductions in stimulating new industries and business, let alone technological advance.

 

The Wider Outcome, Developmentally Speaking?

Thoroughgoing backwardness, compared with West Europe . . . that's what, especially by the 18th century.

Little surprise.

With private property not clearly protected by law, with taxation arbitrary and burdensome, and with Arab and Ottoman subject peoples rigorously separated by ethnic, religious, and communal lines --- these divisions further underscored by a rigid social hierarchy in class terms --- neither the Ottoman nor for that matter the earlier Arab empires ever modernized effectively in line with the technologies that were either being imported from China and Asia into Europe from the 11th century on or pioneered by them . . . starting with agricultural improvements of a marked sort, then in various kinds of finance and industry in the late Middle Ages and into the early modern era.

Nor was that the end of the weighty developmental differences. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the modern industrial revolution pounded into existence in Britain and in parts of West Europe on the Continent, as it quickly did in the northern states of the new USA. The culmination of centuries of modernizing forces, this new industrial revolution was spurred on by major breakthroughs in science, technology, and new energy systems like the steam engine in the 17th and 18th centuries --- plus unusual entrepreneurial talent of new, upwardly mobile men in Britain and along the Belgian border on the Continent. New forms of finance --- stock markets, investment banks (often state-created on the Continent), and the modern corporation --- then sustained these initial industrial breakthroughs, with long-term economic growth then guaranteed by constant technological innovation and diffusion as well as competitive forces that drove private firms and governments to implement them as quickly as possible.

That, at any rate, was the case in West Europe and North America by the mid- and late-19th centuries. Not so in the Ottoman Empire. Dominated by luxury-loving elites and administrators and inept, confused Sultans at the top, it remained backward, rigid, and largely illiterate in all its areas of rule, whether European or Arab, and was unable to stave off first the losses of its periphery, then its major European and Arab colonies in armed struggles even with the use of increasingly brutal and lethal force against the rebellious peoples under Ottoman rule.



 

The argument here, as it turns out, will require yet a 4th article . . . this time drawing directly on theoretical work in developmental economics, especially with its growing recognition of the crucial roles of institutional and cultural influences, and using the new insights to further illuminate Turkish achievements and problems and the even greater problems and fewer achievements that mark the politics and economic life of the Arab countries.