[OUTLOOK]‘New Right’ a hasty revisionNew groups that claim to represent the New Right are fast sprouting these days. How are we to understand this phenomenon? Is this a “historical regression caused by a lag in consciousness” as Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan said, or is it, as Chairwoman Park Geun-hye of the opposition Grand National Party said, “a reflection of the spirit of the times and the public’s will?” As we can see from the fact that the opposition Grand National Party has embraced it with open arms, while the governing Uri Party and the government have expressed wariness, there is immense political significance in the emergence of the New Right. It means that the race for the 2007 presidential election looms closer on the horizon.
It is ironic but true that much of the credit for highlighting the rally of the New Right goes to the participatory government and the governing Uri Party. It is because the ineptness of the participatory government, as the Roh Moo-hyun administration is known, and the governing party have prompted a broad defection of popular support, and its progressivism that lacks in substance has reignited the public’s interest in conservatism.
It is also in the same vein that the popularity of the Grand National Party that did not contribute much to the national interest or people’s welfare is riding a high tide. The failure of the progressives who are responsible for steering state affairs is catalyzing the resurrection of the conservatives.
Some blame hyper-coverage by the conservative media for the resurgence of the New Right, but they are either overestimating the agenda-setting ability of the media, or overlooking the fact that the New Right movement rests on a certain amount of public support. A movement without public support cannot spread in a society like South Korea, where freedom of the press and expression are in full bloom.
The New Right actually encompasses many different groups with different orientations. There are those that aim to converge with institutionalized political power, as well as those that distance themselves from the powerful. In spite of these different orientations, the common trait among New Right groups is that they propose reformist conservatism and their political end-goal is liberalism. The New Right envisions correcting any distortions wrought by the Old Right, or the old guard conservatives of Korea’s free democracy. Furthermore, the New Right claims it will correct the “leftist-leanings of the Roh Moo-hyun administration” and preserve Korea’s political identity in pursuit of a better democratic society.
The New Right has its weaknesses. Its entry onto the political scene has been too easy, as it merely hopped on the bandwagon of the general public’s discontent toward the participatory government. Look-ed at more closely, the New Right’s zealous desire to breathe new life into political conservatism co-exists with its paucity in theory and action in support of liberalism. We also need to note that the New Right’s social awareness seem to lag behind those of the Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice founded in 1989 and the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy founded in 1994. The New Right’s view on liberalism crudely mixes outdated economic liberalism that touts the market with a neo-liberalism context. It also seems to overlook the importance of distribution, which any balanced discussion on liberalism in this day and age must address.
The New Right has yet to put forth a vigorous vision on how to expand our democratic civic rights, which is not surprising given its sensibilities about economic justice. So it is no wonder that its emphasis on the urgency of democratization of the North is suspected to be made for domestic political purposes. Rather than making steady efforts to reconstruct liberalism, the New Right suffers from hasty determination that aims to strengthen its socio-political standing by putting new clothes on outdated Korean liberalism.
This is not good news for economic liberalism in Korea, which looks about to make a healthy comeback. To date, Korean liberalism has been degraded to either an anti-Cold War and anti-Communism ideology or to pariah market capitalism by the old guard. On the other hand, it was mercilessly looked down upon by progressives. In both cases, it shows that the two camps have not fully understood the rational essence of liberalism.
The rightist liberalism worship and the leftist liberalism bashing are none other than ideological twins born of the distortions modern Korean society underwent. As for the New Right, it is a hastily done revision of the rightist liberalism worship. In the same vein, the emergence of the New Right is both a “historical regression” and a “ reflection of public will.” It is a historical irony that misgovernance by the Roh Moo-hyun administration ― by talking the talk but not walking the walk on progressivism ― should cause such a dramatic reversal. The biggest mistakes committed by the administration that stood for progressivism are that it reversed the advance of history by turning progressivism and reform into objects of mockery and thus shook to the core the democratic foundations of Korean society.
* The writer is a professor of social philosophy at Hanshin University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Yoon Pyung-joong