[OUTLOOK]The role of nation, people and class

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[OUTLOOK]The role of nation, people and class

The nation, the people and class: What is the most precious of these three? It is of course, the nation. But is it really so? Let’s think about it. First of all, our hearts beat fast when we hear the word the people. We willingly concede to and make compromises with others when we are told that it is for the good of the people, and those who criticize this are likely to be alienated. What about the interests of class? Not much explanation is needed. Between 97 percent have-nots and 3 percent wealthy people, the government plays a leading role in making the wealthy feel ashamed of themselves. Then who takes care of the interest of the nation? This question instantly makes people click their tongues. It is rustic to put it in good terms, but from a suspicious point of view the answer could make you an ideologically biased person.
It is understandable. It hasn’t been long since we got out of the dark tunnel of “authoritarian government.” A lot of people still associate South Korea with torture and terror. People are bound to think that they would rather live without such a nation until the memories of torture vanish completely. Can we blame the despotic politics of the past only for the fact that our nation does not have a place in our heart and rather floats around? It is my opinion that a more serious problem lies in the background.
The “nation” that Korean people talk about is different from the “nation” talked about on a global standard. A “global” nation is a “modern nation,” and is an idea that has been established through the historical experience of Western people. The main idea is as follows: First, national boundaries are important in modern nations. That is the reason why we cannot travel outside of our country freely without a visa. The next important notion in a modern state is the people. All those who live within the national boundaries are included in it. You have to be the people even if you don’t want “to be the people” for whatever reason (such as differences in ethnic origin or language). Otherwise you have to leave the earth.
There is no way such a nation is maintained easily. And that is why there are facilities for control in a nation. To put it euphemistically: “The nation monopolizes the facilities of force in an authoritarian way.” The facilities of force include the army, prosecution, police and intelligence agencies. There is no way a modern nation can maintain law and order without these forces. By the way, there is a need to pay attention to the proviso “authoritarian.” If the facilities of force are used at random, the lives of people will be under serious threat. Therefore, the law stipulates that force should be exercised only with the consent of the people. This is how ideas such as basic rights, freedom and democracy were born. In that sense, the background of liberalism and democracy is more sanguine than people think. As we can see in the case of the United States, a model free democracy, it is quite shocking how the police treat citizens who break the law. It is hard for Koreans to understand, because Korea is a country where people can hit the police but the police cannot hit the people unless they are ready to face enormous consequences. So, how can Korean people understand it? There are two sides of a modern state. Although a modern nation is such a cold-blooded society, our people want to live in a compassionate nation. They do not hate the nation because it is an authoritarian regime, but because they do not understand a cold-blooded nation or think they can do without one.
Looking back on our 20 or so years of democratization struggle, I wonder whether the gap in our people’s understanding and the reality of a modern nation has grown bigger, and the trend of putting more importance on the people than the nation, and on the class structure than the nation has been strengthened. Another piece of evidence that our people didn’t study a modern state is that they consider the value of the people and their class the same as the value of democracy.
This problem has not surfaced even amid the confrontation surrounding the statue of General MacArthur and the chaotic situation caused by Professor Kang Jeong-koo’s controversial words. Para-doxically, the truth is that the nation is more important than the people even in the era of globalization.
It may sound regrettable to some people but national unification has to start from this point also. We need to know that the dream of a compassionate nation can be realized only if we first establish a cold-blooded nation.

* The writer is a professor of political science at Kookmin University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily Staff.


by Cho Choong-bin
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