Whereas in their open writings the CUP leaders extolled and promoted Islam, their private letters reveal the disregard in which they held Islam, especially in its institutionalized form. Here is a letter from Ahmed Riza to his sister:
The reasoning behind this double standard toward Islam was twofold. First, the Young Turks as modernists thought that the only way of infusing modernization and westernization into their Empire was to present them to Muslim masses as Islamic concepts. For instance, parliament was often alluded to as the final stage of the Islamic concept of mushawara, and to send girls to school was presented as observing a hadith of the Prophet. From this viewpoint Islam was nothing other than a device.
Second, the Young Turks perceived their society as being an ummah of Muslims and so they sincerely undertook to develop the means of converting the "psychology of Muslims." In their application of Gustave Le Bon's theories they assumed just such a reference, and Abdullah Cevdet referred to it as "Muslim spirit." Islam was the tool for molding this Muslim soul. A popular saying among the Young Turks was: "Science is the religion of the elite, whereas religion is the science of the masses. Again, Abdullah Cevdet wrote:
Striking similarities can be found between some texts written by the Young Turks and those written by the Salafis and the followers of Abduh and al-Afghani. Especially interesting is the idea of relying on the original sources of Islam. The Young Turks, however, did not attempt to reconcile Islam with modern sciences and ideas, and they developed a positivist-materialist ideology by deliberately misinterpreting Islamic sources. Theirs was an original contribution to Ottoman political thought, and it distinguishes them from members of other liberal movements among Muslims who were also trying to use Islam as a device for modernization by claiming the Islamic roots of modern European laws. For this reason the Young Turks gave a delayed answer to the question raised years ago by the ulema against the leader of the Young Ottoman movement. When he claimed that religion and faith were secondary determinants of a society and that their primary importance was to thc individual, the ulema had simply asked: "so what are the important determinants [of the society] if not religion [Islam]?" He and the other members of the movement were unable to respond to the ulema. Later the Young Turks answered, saying to their adherents that it is "science" and to the masses "Islam, but not the one that you know-the real Islam."
Nevertheless, positivism emerged as the underpinning of Young Turk thought. Ahmed Riza, who led the movement intermittently from 1895 to 1908, became a student of Pierre Laffitte and later a leader in the international positivist movement. Numerous Young Turks admitted that their knowledge was founded on positivism. For their part positivists supported the Young Turks during their opposition in exile and after the Revolution of 1908, which they regarded as a triumph of positivism.
Direct references to positivism are scant in Young Turk journals. Once Ahmed Riza wrote that space limitations prevented him from commenting on positivism in his journal. but the real reason was a precaution against alienating the religious allies of the Young Turks.
There are many reasons behind the popularity of positivism among the Young Turks. The most important is that positivism, which claimed to be a new religion, was an ideology for which the Young Turks, who were trying to replace religion with science, were ripe. Besides, as Ahmed Riza demonstrated, it was easy to claim common elements between Islam and positivism on the subjects of property, family, and government.
The Young Turks considered their ideal society an ummah, and positivism's refutation of the individual as the simplest unit of society and the importance that it attributed to the division of labor were corroborated by Islam Ahmed Riza wrote: "The Government of Islam is a collective authority in which every free citizen . . . is bound by a common destiny, and shares in its responsibilities."
Until now researchers have emphasized the significance of the term progress in the title of the main Young Turk organization. Actually, it is more important to examine the reason why the term union replaced order in the famous apothegm of Comte. Unity among the Ottomans was always agreed upon and was promoted as the primary aim of the CUP. Its leaders assumed that in a society of united people there would be duties and responsibilities for each member. Murad Bey wrote that "duties are sacred. The heavy duties are undertaken by important people and lighter ones by lesser people." Ahmed Rlza asserted that the shining difference between a civilized society and a gang of savages in a jungle is that "the sultans, princes, women, religious and military leaders-in short, important, unimportant-are equally charged with a duty to society." He published a series of pamphlets on the "duties and responsibilities" of members of various social groups and intended to write more such pamphlets about sultans, princes, women, ulema, military, non-Muslim subjects, civil officials, authors, the elite and the masses. By the time of the Young Turk revolution, in addition to an essay about sultans and princes, he had authored two more pamphlets-one on the military and the other on women.
Abdullah Cevdet and Ishak Sukuti took another initiative before fleeing to Europe. At a private elementary school, which they had established in Mamuret el-Aziz, they attempted to instill a collective sense of responsibility by punishing every student in class whenever someone failed an exam. The Young Turks' approach was similar to the thesis of Mexican positivists, led by Miguel S. Macedo, on relations between "superiors and inferiors." Like the Young Turks, this wing of the Mexican positivists- so-called Cientificos-tried to establish a society grounded on the laws of science. The idea of union among members of a society each of whom had duties and responsibilities, also has roots in traditional Ottoman thought. Ahmed Riza and his friends were able to draw on the established goal of a strong government for maintaining "order" and regulating every aspect of private life in such a society. This was undoubtedly the lesson that they learned from their teacher Pierre Laffitte, which accorded well with traditional Ottoman thought. Therefore they preferred the name "Committee of Union and Progress" and not to reconcile positivism with liberal ideas by adopting names like "Liberty and Progress" by Victorino Lastarria or "Love, Order, and Progress for Liberty" by Gabino Barreda.
A second advantage of basing the Young Turk ideology on positivism was that they could embrace it as "scientific." Recall that when Young Turks became the adherents of positivism, positivistic organicism was the prevailing ideology in Europe and that the separation between organicism and positivism was manifested long after the Young Turk Revolution. It was also fashionable in the 1890s to undertake a positivistic course using as banners Le Bon's, Moleschott's, Vogt's, Buchner's, and Haechel's theories. This was expressed in the Latin American positivist movement and was also true for the positivists in Italy. Like the Young Turks, many "freethinkers" of Europe found it natural and interesting to convert from "unbelief" to "Comte's religion."
A third reason for adopting positivism was that its adherents were critical of contemporary European values and imperial politics, and they drastically departed from general European public opinion on the Eastern Question. The nationalist faction of the CUP and Ahmed Riza based their anti-imperialistic jargon on this non-Eurocentric positivist rhetoric. He thought that "le positivisme seul est capable de sauver, aux yeux des peuple orientaux, le prestige de la civilisation occidentale et l'honneur de la grande Revolution francaise." He created an antithesis to the approach of western scholars and diplomats on the Eastern Question through an application of positivist ideas to the issues. Later Ahmed Riza authored an outstanding work refuting European imperial politics based on his positivist ideas, which was reprinted by the Tunisians without a new preface, even as late as 1979, in an attempt to benefit from it. Besides the anti-imperialist rhetoric, Ahmed Riza employed positivism to legitimize his Turkish nationalist ideas. He carried out a dispute on the Macedonian Question with a French positivist and expressed the official Turkish perspective on the matter. In that sense Ahmed Riza and his friends' efforts were similar to Charles Maurras's synthesis of positivism and French nationalism.
Despite their many complaints about absolutism, the Young Turks rarely discussed the types of regimes they admired. Sabahaddin Bey characterized the entire body of Young Turk publications as "the wail of a bitten man." The only exceptions are Tunali Hilmi's three works in which he drew a detailed state model based on the principle of the people's sovereignty and their socialization as Ottomans through the use of a Turkish symbology; there were also scattered references to the theory of social contract with quotes from Rousseau and Locke. The official CUP organs paid no attention to such issues; however, and they never became significant elements in Young Turk thought.
Also, CUP leaders never provided a clear definition of absolutism, against which they railed and plotted; they usually referred to absolutism simply as an impediment to progress and neglected to examine it in any political context. Although the most serious effort to define absolutism was the translation of Della Tirannide, the Young Turks were more interested in Alfieri's anticlericalism and his accusation that tyrants become enemies of science in order to keep their subjects ignorant. Besides these, the accomplished assassination of the tyrant in Alfieri's poem "L'Etruria vendicata" certainly impressed the activist faction of the Young Turks.
A single persistent strain running throughout Young Turk publications was their elitist perception of the masses as despicable. Even in their earliest writings, published during expatriation, the Young Turks drew upon Le Bon's theories when proposing solutions to various dilemmas facing Ottoman society. From Ahmed Riza to Hoca Muhiddin, and from the nationalist faction of the Young Turks to the official organs of the CUP, Le Bon's ideas were regularly cited. Even "Osmanli" once claimed that the shortcomings of the movement were "due to an ignorance of "psychologie" [desfoules] and the inability of members to define their own enemies accordingly." Le Bon was considered the greatest living sociologist. His book "Les lois psychologiques de l'evolution des peuples" was translated by Abdullah Cevdet in 1907. Le Bon's simple language and plausible generalizations, in addition to the perceived scientific nature of his work, satisfied the Young Turks. The Young Turks never mentioned Tarde and Durkheim, whose seminal theories were popularized by Le Bon.
Le Bon's antipathy toward revolutions, especially the French Revolution, became intrinsic to the Young Turk Weltanschauung, which viewed "the people" as a "foule." Early criticisms decried the people, whom they blamed for "not appreciating the efforts of these distinguished individuals [the Young Turks]." In their private papers "people" were labeled "senseless." The inability of a crowd to reach correct decisions was contrasted with the value of superior individuals, culminating in a condemnation of the people. Eventually people were judged guilty: "To whom does the guilt belong? To the people! Because every nation is worthy of the government that administrates it."
Young Turks' adherence to Le Bon's theories also posed problems. First, their espoused aim was to reopen the Ottoman parliament. Second, a strong faction in the movement was praising revolutions, and from the onset of the movement the French Revolution was given exemplary status. The first dilemma was relatively easy to solve. They asserted that if a parliament could be a "national assembly to which people sent the most intelligent individuals," it might be valuable. Therefore, the task to which the Young Turks dedicated themselves was the creation of an elite. This elite could guide the masses by imposing their ideas on them through constant repetition. The problem before them was described as the creation of the elite, because the masses, if guided wrongly, could bring unwished-for results. The Young Turks underscored the importance of an "intellectual elite" by implementing various hadiths and succeeded in creating a "scientific," elitist theory, which they then stitched into an Islamic jacket. The best explanation of their accomplishment based on Le Bon's theories was later summarized in Sura-yi Ummet:
The problem of how to change the regime without a revolution was deemed paramount. Until 1902 the only solution the Young Turks envisioned was to educate the masses about their goal of replacing the regime of Abdulhamid II with a dictatorship of intellectuals. Many Young Turks worked in education' despite their varied backgrounds. Ahmed Riza preferred to be the director of education of Bursa after receiving a degree in agricultural engineering from Grignon University. Murad Bey taught political history at the Royal School of Administration even though he was only an amateur historian and had held positions in the public debt administration. Abdullah Cevdet and Ishak Sukuti established a private elementary school and tested original methods in education. Furthermore Abdullah Cevdet penned an interesting pamphlet on education, which he presented as a memoire at the International Congress of Social Education in Paris. Mehmed Resid prompted the CUP exiles in Tripoli to open a library in which lectures were given to the local inhabitants on basic subjects. Ibrahim Temo spearheaded the establishment of a cultural society to educate Muslims in the Balkans. Also, CUP journals proposed to members in small towns that they embark upon educational projects, as if these organs represented a society for education; the importance of education was frequently underscored. Another reason they emphasized education was their belief that "through education [the application of scientific method to the solution of social problems and secularly grounded principles of social morality] could be fixed in a race and transmitted there after by heredity." The Young Turks took this idea from a treatise by Jean-Marie Guyau entitled "Education et heredite: Etude sociologique" In this way it became possible to merge Le Bon's theories with those of Guyau and to find a "scientific rationale" for promoting education.
This attitude left the CUP with no revolutionary praxis except that of the activists. Therefore, the convergence of Ahmed Riza's followers with the activists held great significance. The emerging new group hesitated to adopt a revolutionary course, however, until 1906, when Bahaeddin Qakir perceived this flaw in the CUP, and under his direction the society was transformed into a nationalist-revolutionary organization in which tasks like the education of the masses were entirely absent.
The most arresting feature is the extremely bioorganistic slant of the Young Turks' version of materialism, certainly influenced by Rene Worms's works. When later Abdullah Cevdet translated an essay by Jacques Novicow, another foremost name in the field of bioorganistic theory, entitled "La guerre et ses pretendus bienfaits", he commented that Novicow's treatise "La critique du Darwinisme Social" was the more scholarly and enlightening work. However, no comment by any Young Turk about a solidarist ideology from a bioorganistic viewpoint has yet been unearthed. Most probably, just as they lost interest in Narodnik ideas, their immersion in and allegiance to Le Bon's theories impeded their thorough examination of solidarism. However, using bioorganistic theories, the Young Turks propounded a full array of elitist claims and endeavored to build a revolutionary praxis:
In this treatise one recognizes the belief that society is governed by an organic balance controlled by a natural flow. It is possible-but only if aided by luck-for oppressors to reverse the flow, although this would be an irrational and unnatural development, and under such circumstances the enlightened elite would be obliged to resist the oppressors. This was an interesting theory, although, contrary to the belief of the Young Turks, not a revolutionary one. Had they created a solidarist theory dependent on bioorganicism, as Leon Bourgeois had, this would have furnished them with a political device to attract people. Since they declined to do so, their ideas on bioorganicism were not useful to them in their political struggle.
Another salient aspect of the Young Turk Weltanschauung was its comments on race. The Young Turks were adherents of popular biological materialist theories of the mid-nineteenth century, which were especially concerned with race. Le Bon's war against democracy was an attempt to protect the superior race-white, European-from the danger of mob rule. Letourneau, who deeply influenced the Young Turks, examined the evolution of various subjects within different races. Also, Edmond Demolins's book "A quoi tient la superiorite des Anglo-Saxons?", because of its title, drew the interest of the Young Turks, even though its examination of superiority was not drawn from a biological perspective; later Sabahaddin Bey became a disciple of Demolins.
Besides these influences, the two Young Turks-Abdullah Cevdet and Sabahaddin Bey-who credited thinkers who had influenced them, gave the same name: Ernst Haeckel. The Young Turks were impressed not only by his and his monist followers' bioorganistic ideas but even more so by his theories proposing to liberate the Germans from western civilization through a new educational curriculum and "to teach Germans that the universalist assumptions of western culture had been founded upon religious and metaphysical illusions." Haeckel also detailed the importance of the inequality of men and opposed socialist movements from the same vantage point as Le Bon. Therefore, Haeckel's ideas, resumed in a superior race (German), could provide a solid basis for the Young Turks.
However, despite their adherence to Le Bon's, Letourneau's, and Haeckel's theories, the Young Turks refrained from formulating a nationalist theory involving race during the formative years of their movement. Although in their scientific writings they frequently discussed the importance of race, they proposed no theory evaluating "the Turkish race." There is little doubt that this was because, in the Darwinist racial hierarchy, Turks were always assigned to the lowest ranks. Darwin himself had a low opinion of "the Turkish race." This, coupled with the participation of many non-Turk members in the nascent movement, prevented the Young Turks from focusing on the race issue.
However, a strong focus on race did emerge immediately after Japan's first victories over Russia in 1904. Yusuf Akcura pointed out that one of the choices before the Ottoman Empire was to pursue a course of Turkish nationalism based on race, and the organ published by the nationalist faction required Ottomans to follow the advice given to the Japanese by Herbert Spencer: To eschew marriage with Europeans in order to preserve racial purity. When Abdullah Cevdet met Gustave Le Bon in 1905, he questioned him about where the European thinkers had erred when they placed the Japanese at the bottom of the racial schema. The Japanese victory had cast serious doubt on the way the races had been hierarchically categorized.
The Young Turks embraced the race theories except for the placement of Turkish and Asian peoples in the lowest rungs. With Japanese successes, they achieved a new freedom to use race theories, because now they could rearrange the hierarchical assignments:
However, those at the CUP center could not comprehend the fact that Islam played a protonationalist role in lands such as the Balkans and Russia. Articles in Balkan Turkish journals claimed that Islam and nationalism had merged into a single construct, and even lauding the Turks did not convince the CUP center of this phenomenon. The organizations formed against Armenian committees and Greek organizations were anticipating stronger nationalistic propaganda from the CUP center. However, since CUP leaders were unable to recognize the protonationalist role of Islam, they continued to cloak their programs in a strongly religious rhetoric, which was unpalatable and never believed in. A shift to nationalism was gradually accomplished between 1902 and 1906, and in 1906 CUP propaganda realized a nationalist focus.
An examination of the Young Turk Weltanschauung-although expressed not in political ideas but rather in great sociological theories that had political ramifications-provides a picture diametrically opposite to the declared aims of the CUP, namely the reopening of the parliament and reproclamation of the constitution. However, these were only devices to obscure their true agenda: A strong government, the dominant role played by an intellectual elite, anti-imperialism, a society in which Islam would play no governing role, and a Turkish nationalism that would bloom later. The last item on the agenda was controversial, since some CUP members were not Turkish. While Turkish members gravitated toward Turkish nationalism, which became the guiding ideology of the CUP, especially after 1906, the non-Turkish members leaned toward their own respective nationalist movements. Ibrahim Temo and Ismail Kemal later participated in the Albanian nationalist movement, and Abdullah Cevdet became a leader in the Kurdish one.
The true agenda of the Young Turks was equally inviting to the military, who generally had a less serious interest in philosophy than did intellectuals. Many officers were influenced by their instructor Colmar von der Goltz's book "Das Volk in Waffen", which was translated and recommended to all Royal Military Academy cadets by the War Office. The book promoted a strong government and asked the military to play a more significant role in reshaping society. The only theories known to the military were those of Le Bon, but this should not surprise us, since his theories had made a similar impact on the French military. It appears contradictory that Enver Bey, who had taken his division into the mountains in June 1908 to force the sultan to reproclaim the constitution and reopen the parliament, wrote four years later: