&#91VIEWPOINT&#93When democracy is just mob rule

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[VIEWPOINT]When democracy is just mob rule

Please, don’t be mistaken. I am a person who is looking forward to seeing our country democratized. I just feel upset that it looks as if democracy is suddenly being stolen, and stolen by a civilian government in broad daylight.
Why? Democracy is not that propitious a thing. It is something full of contradictions. Aside from complicated theory, what does democracy first remind us of? Isn’t it “one person, one vote”? That sounds right, but agreeing means that we are under a collective hypnosis. For example, how can the vote of a 20-year old youth who is indifferent to and ignorant of politics be identical with the vote of a middle-aged man who is fully aware of his social responsibility?
Nevertheless, democracy doesn’t care much. As long as people are not fools, however, there should be a safety device. Democracy is, at best, a device to open the front door and then lock the back door. That is what representative democracy is all about. As a device to tame the wild principle of “one person, one vote,” it is indispensable for democracy to have a process of deliberation after electing representatives. The democratization I looked forward to was for this process of deliberation to be set in concrete through political parties or the National Assembly.
But we have had this process stolen. Instead, the phantom of “participation” is haunting us. I can endorse the public view that participation is necessary because representatives are dull and unreliable. I can also understand that we cannot leave the fish to the care of a cat.
But putting participation before deliberation will greatly damage democracy. If it goes to extremes, participation will change the color of democracy altogether. It’s called populism, or something else in moderate terms, but it can fall into popular democracy. Isn’t a “people’s court” a good example? How chilling is it to give a death sentence to a man, and then the next day say, “Maybe we were wrong”?
The father of populism in the civilian government was, supposedly, former President Kim Dae-jung. But at that time, populism tended to be a strategic choice rather than an internalized value. Mr. Kim restricted the use of populism to technical dimensions only and did not deny the necessity of deliberation. But populism today seems to be a manifestation of an internalized value rather than a strategic choice.
This has to do with the way in which the Roh administration seized power and the characteristics of our country’s coming of age as a democracy. As everybody knows, our democracy has made progress because of the labor movement, or the working class movement. Few disagreed with the proposition that we had to get rid of the authoritarian regimes, and citizens won the victory.
Then came the division between those who wanted to take a pause, saying, “Now we can have a true democracy,” and those who believed that driving the establishment out was the only way to democracy. To this latter “pro-movement” group, what mattered was not democratic procedures and institutions but liberation, distribution and equality. This group grasped power and “participation” became their pattern.
All that is fine, but if people can participate in politics as they please and yet politics goes crazy, how is this different from the situation where the surgery was successful but the patient died? When 100,000 people gathered with candles, they had to stage a candlelight demonstration. When 200,000 “Red Devils” came together, they could do nothing but cheer for our soccer team. When netizens meet on the Internet and find themselves able to speak anonymously, they may become the children of darkness.
If a purpose of democracy is to leave those who don’t join demonstrations or strikes with inferiority complexes, we should put a brake on democracy. Even if it is difficult and takes time, we should achieve democracy through institutions. I repeat that deliberation is indispensable to democracy. When this process is left out, democracy is doomed. I hope that people will stop making the situation chaotic, howling in the darkness outside, and come inside the existing institutions to deliberate and choose.

* The writer is the dean of the Graduate School of Political Science at Kookmin University.


by Cho Choong-bin
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