[OUTLOOK]Coexisting with the enemy

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[OUTLOOK]Coexisting with the enemy

Korea is suffering from a fever: It is going through ideological friction that is out of sync with international trends.
The Harvard University professor Daniel Bell and other Western intellectuals had already declared “the end of ideology” in the early 1960s. When the Cold War ended in the late 1980s, the celebrated American historian Francis Fukuyama drew the attention of international scholars by proclaiming “the end of history.” But strangely, the era of ideology seems to have just begun in Korea.
Ideological disputes divide the citizens into left and right. And the left and the right criticize each other and claim that they exclusively represent truth and justice. Because those on the other side of the line deny “truth and justice,” they cannot be tolerated. They are only objects to be overthrown and purged.
Currently, Korean politics is almost paralyzed after a series of illegal campaign fund scandals. But once the typhoon of dirty money is over, we will be left with the confrontational structure of conservatives and liberals.
Then why is Korean ideology going against the historical flow, regardless of the trends of world history?
In other words, why is the flower of ideology blooming in Korea in the 21st century?
The fundamental cause of the belated ideological friction can be found in the modern history of Korea. Korean society has long rejected leftist ideology because of the trauma from the division of the country and the Korean War. For the last half-century, the country became used to the structure where conservatives dominated and monopolized power. But in the last five decades, Korea also pulled off an impressive economic development, which consequently brought rapid social changes. As the times change, the underlying leftist power has found a way to emerge above the surface along with democratization.
In a way, the rise of the left could be interpreted as Korean society becoming normal and mature from the lopsided social structure in the past.
Yet this is where the problem begins.
Most of all, Korean conservatives are not trained to coexist with the left. They are wrongfully accustomed to the idea that it is normal for the right to monopolize authority. As a result, the rightists of Korea have neither experience nor competency in competing with leftists. They might be nostalgic for the days when they had power all to themselves and feel fearful and deprived as they approach the future.
The left is not much different when it comes to experience in coexisting with the right. Neither do they have experience in challenging the established right-wing faction. Instead, they have bided their time with struggle and condemnation.
To the left, the conservatives are not partners in dialogue and competition, but an enemy they must overthrow and win over.
In the past when the conservatives were monopolizing power, it was understandable that the left focused on revolutionary challenges. But times have changed now.
For the future of Korea, what we need is neither a return to the times when the right prevailed and monopolized power nor a victory and a revolution that the left are dreaming of.
First of all, the left and the right need to acknowledge that the two sides are destined to coexist. In terms of the substance of ideology, the right and the left need to learn from each other.
True conservative thought emphasizes the continuity of history along with social changes and does not necessarily deny that changes have to come.
And the liberals need to keep in mind that their efforts in pursuing ideology and values that do not exist today might bring less satisfactory results than the present situation offers. Worse, their vision might even call a catastrophic tragedy down on the country.
The leftists should learn instinctive prudence from the conservatives.
People naturally grow attached to the world they are accustomed to. At the same time, they dream of changes and think of the values they need to protect. This is the true meaning of conservatism. Liberalism was originally an expression of the naive desires of those who yearned for a better world.
But 18th-century Europeans began to believe in the myth of progress. Liberalism became a blind religion that allowed the destruction of all existing values to bring about change. Of course, neither conservatism nor liberalism is an unchallenged ideology representing the absolute truth. Instead, they are different expressions of people’s personal tendencies.
Whether they identify themselves as right or left, all Koreans need to free themselves from the yoke of ideology. When the majority of citizens establish themselves midway between the conservative and the progressive, Korean society will at last find peace.

* The writer, a former ambassador to the United States, is professor emeritus at Korea University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Kyung-won
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