[OUTLOOK]Safe way to debate ideology

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[OUTLOOK]Safe way to debate ideology

As the aggravating economic slump and the fiercely confrontational politics have disillusioned the public, it might be an unnecessary luxury to discuss political ideologies. However, we must not ignore the signs that people’s attention to liberalism and other political ideologies have revived, even if it’s fragmented.
Politics that is alive and breathing requires soul and intellect. We have eagerly longed for the return of ideology in Korean politics, with which we can systematically explore what kind of values the society should pursue and how to protect them.
Even though we have accomplished industrialization and democratization, Koreans feel despair as much as complacency. It is time for us as citizens to have a serious discussion, on a political and ideological level, about which direction we should lead our community. That discussion might be the shortcut to purifying Korean politics. However, we must not forget that the discussion of political ideologies, including liberalism and socialism, could be either a method for political development or a poison that could kill politics depending on the attitudes of the participants of the discussion.
The poised yet passionate ideology dispute that is grounded in intellectualism could benefit the development of a democratic society. On the other hand, we have seen too many cases in history where ideological conflict that was packaged in emotion, hatred and provocative language became detrimental to society by courting a bloody revolution or political rupture.
We are not the foolish citizens who wage the anachronistic fight of ideology on our front yards. Koreans are accustomed to the sufferings of anger and struggles after having suffered from colonization, national division and a series of dictatorial regimes. As people who have experienced a tragic history, Koreans should restrain themselves from ideological excitement and passion more than other people.
It is natural that the discussion of political ideologies in our society should be based on the circumstances and traditions unique to Korea. However, political debate in any country cannot be seen as completely separate from the flow of the world history, especially the modern Western philosophies.
Koreans have long overcome intellectual intolerance. Therefore, in order to prevent unnecessary confusion or misjudgment in the process of discussing liberalism and other political ideologies, it would be wise to keep in mind some basic principles that have been proved to hold true in the course of the history of Western philosophy.
Above all, we must not forget the simple fact that modern political ideologies were founded upon the philosophy of enlightenment, which liberated the citizens from the traditional system dominated by the monarchy, church and aristocracy.
The breakaway from the old order was based on the belief in reason that no one had a monopoly on the truth, therefore diversity of reason on the basis of universality was recognized while intellectual self-righteousness and extreme doctrinism were rejected. However, in the unfolding of the political ideologies afterward, the most harmful ills in the age of ideology were intolerant, self-justified fanatic exclusionism and doctrinism. We must not commit such mistakes now.
Meanwhile, liberalism and other modern political ideologies often harbor unavoidable dilemmas and contradictions. We should all realize that the best means to overcome them is through the wisdom of tolerance and harmony that respects the theory of the circumstances, not the dogmatization and radicalization of the ideology.
The dilemma of liberalism is that the expansion of liberty could aggravate inequality, while enforcing equality could destroy liberty. In the end, the problems of liberalism can be resolved only by finding a balance through democratic dialogue and compromise based on reason.
Guaranteeing basic rights to all citizens would not resolve the financial inequality. History has also proved that limiting the basic rights in pursuit of equality would bring dehumanization and inefficiency. The totalitarian experiments of the Soviet Union and the Nazis are dramatic examples of how any radical attempt to solve the dilemma at once can bring horrible sacrifices and ultimately fail.
The development of Korean political ideology to effectively manage the liberal and democratic community can only begin from the citizens’ endeavor to establish a new political culture that values intellect and wisdom.

* The writer, a former prime minister, is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Hong-koo
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