[Outlook]Reviving Korean progressivism

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[Outlook]Reviving Korean progressivism

Politicians are now busy with gathering and parting in pursuit of their political interest as the election season is nearing. The exodus of ruling Uri party members may be interpreted as a repetition of the old habits. But the division of the Uri Party is different from seemingly similar incidents of the past. This party took power by claiming to be progressive. Many voters desperately wanted changes at that time, so the party chose progressivism over conservatism. But for the past four years, the so-called progressive administration has disappointed the people. It made people skeptical about progressivism.
If the current situation persists, the three presidential hopefuls from the Grand National Party are likely to rank first, second and third in a row in the coming election. Progressive forces are expected to collapse. In this respect, the massive departure of Uri lawmakers is more tragic than similar cases in the past. Due to the failure of the incumbent administration, Koreans might turn away from progressivism completely.
The values that progressives pursue, such as rationality, reason, egalitarianism and fairness, are ideal concepts. In the real world, people have selfish thoughts and desires of their own. The conflict between the ideal and the real world is inevitable. So, progressives should be aware that the real world places limits on ideal values. Otherwise, progressivism remains only an ideology or turns into a tool for populist politics. That was a very important point that the incumbent administration should keep in mind.
Egalitarianism is one of the core values of progressives. And what happened? Has our society become more egalitarian since the progressive administration entered office? Even the president says that social polarization has worsened and many young people have not found jobs. This administration has always detested the haves while it has failed to improve the livelihoods of the have-nots. The administration has failed to turn its ideology into government policies.
Of course, it is natural that progressives want to build more public housing and to broaden the social safety net. But that will require taxpayers’ money, and if taxes become heavier, the economy loses steam. Building a country where the gap between the haves and have-nots narrows is easier said than done.
Another important value for progressives is to defend human rights. Progressives are supposed to care about not only human rights in their own country but those of all humankind.
The incumbent administration has been working to clarify unjust or suspicious incidents of the past, particularly under military rule, but has not said a word about human rights violations in North Korea.
Progressives supposedly do not stand for social abuses and ills. But this administration ignored arcade gambling games, allowing them to thrive. Many people, especially with low incomes, have become addicted to the games and lost money.
In the meantime, education is an important tool for progressives because everybody should be given an equal chance. If talented and smart students cannot reach their full potential because they cannot afford expensive private lessons, teachers should help them to study even after classes are over.
However, the administration just sat back when teachers of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union, which also calls itself progressive, mobilized their students for an event to commemorate partisans and educate them as if North Korea was an ideal society. The administration also has done nothing when poor university students groan over the high interest rates of student loans.
Why are there only pro-North progressives in this country while there are few progressives who love their own country? Why do these “progressives” only try to take advantage of the poor, instead of trying to help them? Why are there many progressive hypocrites whose real concern is how to live an affluent life? Why does progressivism now automatically mean anti-American and pro-China in Korea?
Korea’s progressives must answer these questions. Even if they won the upcoming presidential election by stirring up the country with a constitutional amendment and a summit meeting between the two Koreas, they are only phony progressives. They cannot revive progressivism by creating a new party or begging candidates from other sectors to run for president on their party’s ticket. That would be a deceitful act. They need to examine why progressivism has failed and on that basis they should form a new progressive philosophy.
Progressivism is a quintessential value. In a healthy society, progressives and conservatives maintain a balance. Korea’s progressivism must become authentic.

*The writer is the chief editor of the editorial page of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Moon Chang-keuk
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