[VIEWPOINT]With the Right Seeds, Democracy Blooms

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[VIEWPOINT]With the Right Seeds, Democracy Blooms

What is democracy? Since our liberation from Japanese colonial rule, all of us have sincerely desired to build a true democracy here in Korea. With cheers from people, students and intellectuals, the press and opposition parties have led a blood-and-tears struggle for democracy. We have resisted military authoritarian regimes. But we haven't had enough discussions on what type of democracy we want to set up and so there has been no national consensus on the issue.

Democracy does not necessarily bloom when authoritarianism disappears. To make democracy grow naturally, we need to devote new endeavors and sweat to construct democratic order and principles, not simply fight against a dictatorship. The most important thing we have to do is to hammer out a national consensus on what type of democracy we need to build.

The state should exist for implementing common goods and the state policies should aim to realize common benefits. There are two types of democracies, according to how a common good and a common benefit is decided. One is pluralistic democracy. This type of democracy regards compromise and negotiation among interest groups as a common good and a public interest.

So, this democracy looks upon any effort to compromise and negotiate among interest groups as a democratic process. For example, in the midst of conflict between doctors and pharmacists in the last medical reform, the effort to harmonize and compromise both sides can be called a democracy and a common good.

Under this type of democracy, interest groups try to mobilize all kinds of methods to reflect their needs upon the decision-making process of national policies, or common benefits.

In the long run, only big interest groups like professionals, employers and employees of large companies can influence national policy decisions. Minor interest groups, such as consumers, farmers and employees of small and medium-sized companies cannot achieve a voice in the policy decision process. In the end, it is not whose assertion is right, but whose voice is louder in making decisions.

The other democracy is the so-called republican democracy. In this democracy, common good is understood as a higher value than private interest. A public interest is not a compromise or a negotiation among interest groups. Common good or public interest can be found through serious contemplation and discussion about what is good and what is beneficial to the entire community. Common good is regarded as something surpassing private interests of members of a society. Therefore, in the republican democracy private interests should not be claimed, but be restrained. To settle democracy successfully, interest groups should lower their claims and think over what each individual can contribute to the community development. The members of a society should put community interest ahead of private interest and conceive enlightened citizenship.

But there is little republicanism in our country. Instead only pluralism prevails. In our country where the rule of law traditionally is weak, more republicanism factors are necessary to successfully develop democracy. But reality is quite the opposite. Simply, our education about democracy has walked in the wrong way. To claim only one's own interest is not a way of democracy. Value and principle should be respected ahead of profit, and public interest should take precedence over private interest. But in reality, the government as well as the people consider profit over principle and value, and private interest has taken precedence of public interest.

Here and there in our society interest groups are pursuing their own interests at the expense of public interest. Thus, it becomes difficult for the right democracy to bloom in this country.

Though already late, it is time for us to have a national discussion and be educated on what type of democracy we should build and what principle and value we should cherish. It is time for us to reflect upon ourselves as we are building this democracy.

Each interest group should consider what they have pursued in the name of public interest.


The writer is a professor of law at Seoul National University.

by Park Se-il

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