[VIEWPOINT]Say ‘no’ to romanticismThe lyrics to the song “On Romance,” composed by Choi Baek-ho, read “On a rainy day...sitting in an old-fashioned tearoom, I drank a glass of Doraji whisky listening to the poignant tune of a saxophone...” The song is about romantic things in our daily life. The passion of people who pursue revolution and dream of a new world is political romanticism.
So, there is a common ground between revolution and romanticism. It is the reason why the era of romanticism, heralded by Beethoven’s Symphony No.3 “Eroica,” coincided with the era of revolution that fell in the period that started from the end of the 18th century and ended in the 19th century. Now, we are in an era where elections have taken the place of revolution, and presidential elections have become the largest national entertainment event. It is because the audience, which is divided in two, can fully enjoy the thrills of proxy revolution the moment when the election results are announced, regardless of whether they gain hope or disappointment from them.
Once the contest is over, the romance should stop there too. One of the leading figures of the French Revolution, Maximillien Robespierre, proclaimed the arrival of a new world by changing the names of calendar months to the wind, grape, fog, dew, etc. But French society did not tolerate such extreme emotionalism and romanticism.
Nowadays, Koreans are accustomed to attributing the controversial words and deeds of the president and his offhand political style to his insistence on his ideological code and stubbornness.
But behind the code and stubbornness of the president, there perches a historical view of 19th century romanticism that interprets history in terms of the confrontation between oppression and resistance, and the struggle between justice and injustice.
I can understand the passion of the president, who might have held his fist firmly renewing the determination not to repeat the history of losing the country and being swayed by stronger powers, while taking a walk in the front yard of the Blue House in the late evening hours. His passion must have been as pure as that of Robespierre who was a “lawyer for the poor” and known as “the incorruptible” to his contemporaries. However, the problem is in the politics of romanticism with which the president tries to decide complicated modern politics, where countless interests compete and collide against each other, with the dichotomy of the romanticism era; either progressivism or conservatism. In doing so, he even considers the criticism against his dogmatism as an attempt to persecute “solitary justice.” Otherwise, there is no way to explain his typical reluctance to admit his misrule by saying, “Except for the real estate policy, there is nothing at which my administration has failed,” or his boldness to proclaim that, “I have given up the idea of getting a good evaluation from the people” at a time when there is more than a year left in his presidential term.
Due to an anachronistic romanticism, Korean politics has become an arena of struggle between justice and injustice. The fall of the Joseon dynasty was not caused by the power politics of neighboring countries, but resulted from the internal struggle between the faction that supported a closed-door policy and the other that supported an open-door policy. Now, it is the Blue House that has laid the traps of victory or defeat and justification starting from the transfer of the capital to the issue of transferring the operational command of Korean troops from Washington. The strange situation where the progressives and the conservatives fight against each other fiercely as if their fates depended on diplomatic issues, not politics, is caused by the odd romanticism that does not consider the United States and North Korea as diplomatic counterparts but tries to see them through “the eyes of history” only. Actually, the resistance nationalism of weak countries against strong powers in the 19th century was the most tenacious legacy of the 19th century.
Because politics is trapped in the logic of winning a game at any cost, government policies are also aimed at the wrong targets. The defense capability of the 21st century is not the troops, but the health, environment and disaster prevention system. But the government took real estate speculators as its main enemy and put all its energy into staging a mobile war for justice. I recall Joseon dynasty scholar Yulgok’s recommendation to build up 100,000 troops in preparation for a Japanese invasion. I believe that we have to train 100,000 fund dealers and 100,000 Internet hackers, in order to reverse the financial war in which we are already experiencing continuous defeats and to be prepared for the looming war in cyberspace. However, there is no such forward-looking vision in the government plan for “Vision 2030,” except that it appeals to the people’s patriotism, showing a rosy picture of flying a national flag as in an advertisement for a mobile communication company.
Now, a proposal for constitutional revision, which is right in theory but is made at an odd time, is on stage and the president wants to play it like an impromptu fantasy. The majority of the people prefer to go ahead with the scheduled presidential race, not a constitutional revision. The presidential hopefuls who aim to be the next president should bear the responsibility of rejuvenating both Korea’s conservatives and progressives who become prematurely gray due to unnecessary emotional confrontations. Now, the expiry of the politics of romanticism, that offered either anachronistic reform, out-dated democracy or empty peace in people’s hearts, is over. If we are not to repeat the politics of despair in which the governing Uri Party, which was established with the slogan that it would unfold a politics of hope, is reeling along, even failing to last the three years that is equivalent to “One Thousand and One Nights,” the candidates who dream of becoming president should be the first to say goodbye to the politics of romanticism and offhand-manners.
*The writer is a professor of international relations at Kyungsung University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Gweon Yong-lib