[OUTLOOK]Constructive ideologiesThe season of politics has come. The local election is less than 90 days away. However, the national concern is not just focused on the local election. Naturally, the voters’ attention moves on to the upcoming presidential election next winter and the general legislative election in the spring of 2008. The elections in the next three years are likely to be a chapter that concludes the three decades of industrialization and two decades of democratization.
What becomes active in the season of politics is ideological disputes. Politicians have already started to persistently and harshly attack the ideologies of their opponents. They also appeal to their allies to unite under the grand cause. Some might wonder why ideological confrontation is heating up in the post-Cold War era. Considering the almost demagogic speeches, we cannot help worrying about the vice of excessive ideological debate.
It is a natural phenomenon that ideological debates become active as party politics develop. Ideology is a basic framework for thinking that determines political goals. Even if globalization reinforces post-ideological trends, ideologies and anti-ideologies will continue to coexist for a while. The point is whether the ideological confrontation is based on reality or falsehoods. If ideology contains value judgments, it has to begin from judgments of reality more than anything else.
The claim that this “participatory government” is a leftist administration is one example. A leftist government is supposed to emphasize state over market and distribution over production. A government that seeks to cut corporate taxes, push innovation in small businesses and promote a free trade agreement with the United States cannot be defined as leftist. The effort to avoid looking at the facts can only be interpreted as an intention to create false ideological confrontations to take political advantage of them.
Another problem attitude is to claim that “my group” is the only one changing but the other side remains at the extreme left or extreme right. Along with democratization, politicians in Korea have published their ideologies in their party platforms. The Grand National Party represents the conservatives under what it calls “communitarian liberalism.” The moderate Uri Party advocates a “socially integrated market economy.” The Democratic Labor Party’s platform is a “democratic social economy.”
If they argue that a platform is in name only and reality is different, I have nothing to say further. But the distance between the platform and the political reality is narrowing more and more. For example, the revision of the private school act led by the Uri Party, the electronic bracelet system proposed by the Grand National Party and the Democratic Labor Party’s rejection of the law on non-regular workers faithfully followed the platforms of each party. Conservative, moderate and progressive alike, the ideologies in Korea are going through an evolution.
The appearance of new political research institutes is another telling example. Following the founding of the New Right group last year, Good Policy Forum, Hope Makers, the Segyo Institute and the Research Institute for a New Society have been organized this year to seek new alternatives and policies for progressive and conservative groups. Moreover, the Korea Confederation of Trade Unions and the Federation of Korean Trade Unions have joined the National Conference for Grand Integration along with the Korean Employers Federation and the Federation of Korean Industries.
Self-innovation in ideology is not an easy task, but we must not underestimate the persistent efforts for change. It is not right to be generous about one’s own changes and be intolerant to the changes of others. Moreover, we should not exaggerate specific facts into general trends. We cannot say that someone is an extreme right-winger just because he emphasizes the Korea-U.S. alliance or an extreme left-winger just because he supports a “prudent” approach to human rights in the North.
Today, the ideological confrontation in Korea is found in a complicated composition. The Grand National Party and the Uri Party cooperate in market-friendly policies, and the Uri Party works with the Democratic Labor Party on welfare policies. Ideology is no longer a means of agitation but a perspective explaining differences in policy.
In conclusion, we must not create false ideological confrontation and exploit it politically. Even if politics is a dichotomy of the ally and the enemy, the ideological debates need to be based on facts. Next year marks the 20th anniversary of the democratization of Korea. I hope that the ideological debate will have the dignity and substance befitting the two-decade-long legacy.
* The writer is a professor of sociology at Yonsei University. Translated by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Ho-ki