[OUTLOOK]Customs and revolutionOn the day the Constitutional Court ruled the special law on the capital move unconstitutional, I was thankful. I saw hope for our country in the decision. I was encouraged that the laws and systems of this country were alive. I looked back on our history.
After suffering foreign occupation, we recovered our country. After suffering hunger and poverty, we escaped from poverty. After feeling the pain of democracy and human rights being sacrificed, we gained democracy. In a critical situation where this democracy was falling into populism, we realized the importance of the rule of law. For all turns and twists, we have continuously been moving in the right direction.
Among over 180 countries in the world, 120 countries hold elections, but not all of them are called democratic countries because elections do not necessarily guarantee democracy. From elections, totalitarianism may come, and so may populist dictatorships. When swayed by populists or agitators, the masses can become foolish. They cannot make good decisions and then they suffer the consequences. This is the paradox of elections. A device that checks elected representatives from wielding power at random is the law. The election does not grant unlimited power to the elected but entrusts them with authority within the legal limits and during one term of office only. Mature democracy requires elections and the rule of law at the same time.
What the Constitutional Court emphasized was the existence of a customary constitution. In other words, the tradition and custom of equating Seoul to the capital of the country, which the people have taken for granted for a long time, has the full force and effect of constitutional provisions. How could the court dare to advocate “custom” in this world where people are not treated as humans if they do not shout for change and reform? For this reason, the court’s decision is all the more prominent.
The decision awakened us to the fact that this word “custom,” which had been despised like powerless old people, has great power. We have been brainwashed that change and reform were good and tradition and custom, evil. It is like seeing the liberal as good and the conservative as evil. Think of why tradition and custom have remained to this day. It is because they are worth keeping.
Custom survives through endless modifications and improvements. If turning upside down is revolution, succeeding something through improvements is custom. The court’s ruling based on “custom” blocked the “revolution” of President Roh Moo-hyun, who contended that the new capital would be “a ground for the new forces to rule the country away from the root of the old forces.”
Do we have only to clap our hands for the judges’ protection of custom, then? Will everything go well only if we cheer, “Long live the Republic of Seoul”? At this juncture, we have to look back on why the issue of the capital transfer was raised. If the problem of concentration of power in Seoul is not resolved, the idea of revolution is sure to gain momentum at some point and by then the situation will be irreversible.
How would local residents have felt to see apartment prices rise three to four times higher than those in surrounding areas just because those apartments were in Seoul? Is the country a good one only if Seoul is crowded, even when shops in the local area keep closing down? Seoul citizens should face up to this fact. For tradition or custom to be carried on, those who benefit from the tradition should restrain themselves for the sake of tradition. If there is a heart of moderation, custom will be made to better befit reality. This is called improvement. For the custom of seeing Seoul as the capital to be maintained, Seoulites should exercise moderation. Considering those who are in the opposite situation, they should cooperate to yield improvements. For this reason, people living in Seoul should be sensitive to the balanced development of our country.
The same holds true for the traditions called liberal democracy and market economy. When those who benefit most from these systems have a sense of responsibility and a heart of moderation, traditions will continue. If they assert that it is none of your business whether they earn money freely and spend as they please, and if the haves hurt and ignore the have-nots, then, freedom and the market economy will fall into the trap of revolution. History tells us so. When rich people use their wealth in accordance with their social responsibility and know how to behave themselves, pariah capitalism will be improved. When they do so, the capitalist tradition will be preserved.
In the same context are the revisions proposed to the National Security Law, press reform law, private school law, and a law on clearing up the past that the governing party proposes. In many respects, these laws ignore our constitution and custom. Therefore, they should not be passed as they are. But if those who become the objects of these laws refuse to reform voluntarily, custom cannot last.
The next thing that follows inevitably will be revolution. Therefore, the people subject to these laws should humbly reflect on themselves rather than point out the unconstitutionality of the laws. Only then can we keep our traditions and customs.
* The writer is the chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk