[VIEWPOINT]Intellectuals and their easy virtueA monk training himself in the mountains knows autumn is coming by looking at the falling leaf, not by looking at a calendar. A falling leaf signals the imminent autumn. We know that a presidential election is near not because December is approaching. Presidential election fever is rising, with high-profile figures flocking to presidential hopefuls and aligning around strong contenders.
The election is only two months off, but even now no one can predict how it will turn out -- will it be a three-way race or a two-way race or wind up as something totally unexpected? Amid the confusion, the presidential hopefuls have embarked on the long road toward election victory.
As a candidate cannot run a campaign all on his own, election camps are the center of the campaigns. Each camp consists not only of politicians but also of former government officials, reserve military officers, businessmen, legal professionals, civic activists and entertainers. Some of the supporters will provide money or let the candidate make use of their personal organizations or use their fame or notoriety to attract voters.
A group of intellectuals has always been the nucleus of a presidential election camp. In all election camps there are dozens to hundreds of advisers, special assistants and brain trusts who are university professors, researchers and journalists. It is generally assumed that the intellectuals assist the candidate through their visions and discernment, and because they mostly draw out election promises and develop new government policies.
There is no reason to censure intellectuals for participating in social activities. It is normal for them to be interested in politics and join political parties. They justify their actions by saying that they want to contribute to the nation's development. And their activities cannot overcome the limits of Korean politics. But despite the large influx of intellectuals into political circles in every presidential election, Korean politics, extraordinarily, have grown worse over the years.
People's mistrust of Korean politics has grown worse ?many people are revolted by contemporary politicians. But the politicians who have degraded Korean politics, having no sense of shame, go right on congratulating and praising themselves. They ought to know what people think of them, but apparently they don't care.
Under the constitution, the people rule the nation and are the origin of the nation's power. But they exercise their rights only once in several years and remain powerless most of the time. Such are the limits of representative government. That is why the press and the other institutions that criticize politicians between elections play such an important role. In between-elections times, the intellectuals have the job of measuring political groups against their own insights.
But Korean politicians, far from fearing the criticism of intellectuals, take little account of them. Naturally so, for some pundits will trade in their ethics to join the political game, making them vulnerable to the politicians. This trend among intellectuals has not improved. Many of them jump at an offer from a political party or curry favor with the politicians. The high principles of Joseon Dynasty scholars seem to have passed into history. It is loathsome to see the lack of political chastity among intellectuals as they frequently change parties, selling themselves to any power holder.
Intellectuals serve as meritorious retainers for the party that gets elected to the Blue House, and then are never sorry or ashamed of the subsequent government's administrative failures. More intellectuals end up deprived and exploited by professional politicians than the number who make a safe landing in the political arena. It shows that their intellectual expertise is not that stunning.
I hope intellectuals joining the current presidential candidate camps will be different from their predecessors. But if they forget their authentic social responsibility and national obligation, they cannot escape harsh criticism that they are degrading Korean politics.
This time, I earnestly advise intellectuals to have firm convictions, make righteous moves and make clear advances and retreats.
The writer is a professor of sociology at Hallym University.
by Jun Sang-in