[FORUM]Troubling ideologiesIn a recent survey, a newspaper asked readers whether they would vote for a liberal candidate or a conservative. The results: 71.7 percent of those polled said they would vote for a liberal candidate.
A more important question is whether one should take the results of this survey at face value and assume that in this year's election most of the voters are liberal and that they favor a liberal leaning candidate. If so, then why did Roh Moo-hyun, a strong ruling party primary candidate, decline to participate in the survey? Surely Mr. Roh would have come out atop of the liberal camp. Mr. Roh said that he didn't participate because the survey results might be used against him as a "red scare" tactic.
I think it is important to check the pulse of liberals and conservatives to see what it truly means to belong to one of those camps. For instance, if a man is riding in a taxi and finds himself in a traffic jam because the labor unions are on strike on the street, but does not lose his temper, the man must be a liberal. On the other hand, if a man bursts out in anger at the first indication that he might be late for work, that man must be a conservative. A person who thinks it is all right to go against the established social order to bring change is a liberal, while someone who only accepts change through the existing order is a conservative.
The definitions of liberal and conservative have changed over time. In 18th century Europe, Adam Smith's ideology of freedom was the trend of the times, strictly condemning interference by the government. That freedom was a symbol of liberalism. Nevertheless, the situation changed and at the end of the 19th century, as negative results of this ideology began to occur, people looked for a more government-controlled economy and roots for socialism were born. In the following century, communism became conservative while those who pursued free market principles became known as having the most liberal of radical ideologies. As one can see, there is a thin line between liberal and conservative. In Korea's case, the line is even thinner as this country's history reveals different angles on the whole situation. Through the history of Japanese rule, the Korean War, military dictatorship and pro-democracy struggle, confrontations among pro-Japanese groups, communist sympathizers and countless other ingredients are there to add more variations to the liberal and conservative debate.
We cannot rely on simple dictionary definitions to define liberal and conservative. Instead of grumbling about the differences between a liberal and a conservative, which could entangle us in endless debates, I think the time has come for the press and the intellectual community to come up with a more practical approach concerning the matter.
If a clear-cut line cannot be drawn we should at least try to divide issues into details. For instance, issues should be divided, such as market-driven versus government-controlled economy to derive more constructive results. It might be the best way to get rid of the confusing images of liberal and conservative.
The writer is a senior economic writer of the Joongang Ilbo.
by Kim Su-gil