[OUTLOOK]The death of Korean democracy

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[OUTLOOK]The death of Korean democracy

In "The Republic," Plato analyzed the fall of Athens' democracy with keen insight, comparing the depravity of a person's soul to the chaotic situation of the city-state's society.

To sum up the point of the Platonic dialogue, democracy perished because of an overabundance of freedom that ignored law and order as evil and illegitimacy took root.

When a society reaches the stage of full democracy, people demand freedom as if every act must be permissive.

The standard of judgement about who is right and who is wrong as well as what actually is right and wrong becomes obscure, shoved aside by the demand to recognize diversity and freedom.

Such confusion of morality and mentality will eventually lead all men and all things to the lowest common denominator; all illegitimate acts must be tolerated. The omnipresence of evil and leniency toward evil will become our daily life. According to Plato, such aspects appear the night before democracy destroys itself.

Lies and illicit acts committed by politicians have come to light after Representative Kim Keun-tae of the Millennium Democratic Party confessed that he had accepted illegal campaign donations. The government seems helpless to act on these problems and there is public confusion about social values. All this makes Plato's description of the fall of Athens' democracy look familiar.

Whatever the purpose of Mr. Kim's confession, his disclosure once again highlighted the fundamental problem in Korean democratic politics.

First, the confession confirmed that political circles are filled with lies, hypocrisy and pervasive illegal acts.

Second, the government either has no intention of punishing the lies and illegal acts committed by politicians or it has given up on making any moves against politicians.

Third, the country is confronted with a dilemma: Legal punishment of those who violated the political fund law does not necessarily serve political justice. If the authorities prosecute Mr. Kim for the crime he admitted to, they would be prosecuting a person who had spoken the truth instead of punishing persons who have covered up such illegitimate acts with lies.

Though some may argue that such prosecution is the way legal justice must be dispensed, if the public believes that legal justice has no connection with true justice, the law becomes unworthy. Bad values, such as believing the best plan is to lie about the truth, will dominate society.

Fourth, politicians are committing illegal acts because they believe no one can stay within the terms of the political fund law.

In other words the law was enacted with illegal acts as its premise, so the law is not worth the paper it is written on.

Finally, unlawful actions are widespread. The politicians themselves and even ordinary people are becoming calloused about illegal acts; there is confusion about good politics. The evaluation of Mr. Kim's confession is mixed; some argue what he did was right while others say the opposite.

Mr. Kim said the right thing, and now he is suffering the political consequences. Values are being distorted; all politicians are descending to the lowest common, criminal, denominator and right and wrong are indistinguishable.

Democracy - real democracy - must be restored, and quickly.

Korean democratic politics starts off with illegality as its premise. Such acts have become a way of life.

Malfeasers are not being judged by the crimes they commit because there are no standards, no firm values. It would not be an overstatement to say that Korea's democracy, which is worse than Plato's descriptions of Athens' situation, has given up on respect for the constitution and the law. Democracy is dead.

If a politician, ruling or opposition, wants to champion political improvement and development, that person should consider running on a platform of reviving democracy. Enact the legal tools necessary to supplement the present political fund law and be an example of good politics that turns away from past political lies and hypocrisy.

But the reality is that even the ruling Millennium Democratic Party's presidential primary election, in which the people are participating, has failed. It had a noble goal, to stimulate democratic politics, but it did not work. Candidates are buying votes and mobilizing their own people to register as voters. A promising system is dying fast.

The government and the ruling and opposition parties should hurry to revive democratic political practices so the upcoming local and presidential elections will not damage our democracy as the primaries have done.


The writer is a professor of political science at Kookmin University.

by Kim Young-jak

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