The current presidential election in Turkey gives an example of a phenomenon that is characteristic of politics and which is not absent from the American scene: unrestrained political competition is the ne plus ultra of the proverbial race to the bottom. As the main opposition candidate tries to defeat Turkey’s populist strongman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Financial Times reports (“Turkey’s ‘Desperate’ Opposition Plays Nationalist Card,” May 20, 2023):
It marked the start of a jarring makeover for Turkey’s lead opposition candidate, whose campaign has swung from talk of spring, pictures of cherry trees and heart-shaped emojis to bellicose speeches promising to throw out millions of immigrants. …
A Turkish journalist declares:
When politicians in Turkey fall short or need quick results, they play the nationalism card.
Compare politics and the market. Unrestrained market competition leads to the production of everything that somebody, however small his minority, is willing to pay for. Unrestrained political competition produces everything that powerful enough groups want and that can be forced onto somebody else. In politics, you win by fighting down to the bottom of the barrel.
Nothing is perfect, of course, but imperfect liberty is better than imperfect tyranny.
Whether political competition can realistically be “constitutionally” constrained is the crucial issue. One can interpret the work of James Buchanan or Friedrich Hayek as major attempts to provide a positive answer. The crucial and underestimated work of Anthony de Jasay suggests a negative answer (see also his Against Politics: On Government, Anarchy, and Order (Routledge, 1997).