[NOTEBOOK]Time to value the individualOpponents of the 386 ― the generation manning the checkpoints along the alleyways of power in Korea these days ― are looking for new ideas.
For example, Grand National Party Representative Park Jin was recently encouraging party members to read a book about the success of modern conservatism in the United States.
The book, “The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America” by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, will no doubt add substance to the already growing discussion among young people on the right of the political spectrum as to how American conservatives, faced some decades back with a heavy liberal occupation of media and campuses, moved into the think tank, grass-roots, radio talk show and, more recently, blogging spaces.
But, as they strategize, opponents of the current 386 generation would be well advised to peel off the labels “conservative” and “liberal” from themselves and their rivals and ask what they really stand for.
Or, put another way, they should ask, “Do liberalism and conservatism in America mean the same as liberalism and conservatism in the Korean context?”
The easiest way to distinguish between the two ― and it’s difficult with U.S. politics because you get liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats ― is to list policy preferences and attitudes, such as: American conservatives think it’s permissible to let people do what they want while liberals think the same, unless you’re a white male. Another way to look at them is to see the conservatives as the party of business and of people who hunt grizzly bears, and liberals as the party of people who have never run a business nor run from a grizzly, like professors and reporters and other social engineers.
These differences do not arise from thought-out positions, nor do they simply arise from loyalties. They arise naturally from a deeper divergence in American thinking.
The important thing to note is that these two currents flow from the common American experience of liberty and democracy. Americans are more patriotic than Europeans whose history is less inspirational. If American liberty were challenged, any opposing views would quickly dissipate and common ground would hold sway.
So what does this mean for Korea? Do Korean conservatives hunt bears? Well, no. Kim Il Sung used to hunt bears, and he was as red as my neck.
South Korea’s modern history is not built on liberty, nor on the constitution. It is built on the notion of the nation state, whose mission is to become rich and powerful. Its citizens may achieve, but that’s their good luck. Their country is dedicated to their collective, not to their individual, achievement.
This state, we have to note, has been so successful that no one is proposing to drastically change its philosophy or vision. It would not be inaccurate to use the word “fascist” in describing Korea of the 1960s-80s, but the word is so emotive that it is hard to continue a discussion once it’s been raised. It would be equally appropriate to describe Korea as a socialist state, at least inasmuch as its economy was centrally planned.
So does this mean that Korean conservatives are actually socialists who don’t want things to change too much? In a way it is true. The only thing they have in common with American conservatives is anti-communism and warm and fuzzy feelings about the United States.
But then the 386 generation of “liberals” in Korea who are pro-labor, soft on North Korea and tired of the perceived U.S. domination are also socialists. In fact, address the U.S. “problem” and address the North Korea “problem,” and there may not be that much separating the two chief Korean views of how things should be.
What you need in this country is a party that truly believes in the individual. If the opponents of President Roh Moo-hyun see themselves as conservatives, the democrats among them should also see themselves as opponents of the past, which many among their midst would seek to conserve. I think I feel a neo-con wave coming on.
* Michael Breen is an author and director of Insight Communications Consultants, a public relations firm in Seoul.
by Michael Breen