[Viewpoint]Roh undermining his own democracyWhen Korea was under the authoritarian regime, the statement, “Bad law is also the law,” appeared in primary school textbooks. The quote was alleged to have come from the will of the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates, who was put behind bars after being sentenced to death. The conviction was wrong, but Socrates drank the poison, refusing the advice of his friends and disciples to escape. He died, according to the textbook.
However, there is no documentary record that says Socrates made such a remark. The statement goes back to the Roman quote, “Dura lex, sed lex,” or “The law is harsh, but it is the law.” In the early 20th century, a Japanese professor of law at Tokyo Imperial University translated the Roman statement into Japanese, making it sound like, “Bad law is also the law.” In practice, Socrates must not have agreed with that idea, because the compulsory norms that were against justice were not regarded as the law from the beginning. The reason Korea’s military dictators emphasized the Roman quote, even borrowing the name of Socrates, was obvious. They wanted the people to follow, with their blindfolds on, all kinds of bad legal provisions to protect the legitimacy of their iron-fisted rule. The fact that there was a time when the quote was accepted as truth in Korean society is proof that there is a dark side to our history.
This episode emphatically demonstrates how important the law is to human beings. The law discerns the difference between humans and animals, civilization and barbarism. The human community cannot stay together for a long time without certain rules and social norms. Together with ethics and customs, the existence of the law guarantees a political community’s durability.
The introduction of modern civil law, in particular, has provided the foundation that governs relations between the law and private individuals. All are treated as equals under the law, which is enacted by the people. Civil law proclaims that the law must govern procedures and that the law itself should ultimately benefit the people’s rights and freedoms.
After all, true freedom is freedom within the bounds of the norms and laws that we agree to observe. That’s why legalism and democracy cannot be separated. From this perspective, it is indeed a serious matter that President Roh Moo-hyun has repeatedly violated the election law. The outspoken mockery of and disobedience of the decisions of the National Election Commission, a constitutional organ, by the president, another constitutional organ, threatens Korea’s democratic accomplishments. We cannot overlook it as the accidental behavior of a politician who has a peculiar personality. Since coming into power, President Roh has habitually shaken the legal foundations of the system that was established as a result of the democratization movement in June 1987.
The political system and the Constitution established in 1987 are the very foundation of the Sixth Republic, to which the president himself belongs. Therefore, the unexpected verbal attacks that the president has launched against it are tantamount to him denying his own existence. People here tend not to recognize the importance of a procedural democracy. However, democracy is not possible without following democratic procedures.
Of course, the Constitution, which was revised in 1987, cannot be perfect, but it was the product of the struggle of the people, who fought against military dictatorship for a long time.
Therefore, even if there are objections to it, it should be observed until it is revised by the consensus of the people. The crisis of democracy in Korea after democratization derives in large part from the absence of legalism.
In reality, in which police stations have become a place for drunkards to dispel their stress, rallies are often staged that violate the law. At the same time, the incumbent president repeatedly violates the election law. These common characteristics all threaten democracy in Korea. The examples go against the lesson that legalism is a vital ingredient of democracy.
*The writer is a professor of philosophy at Hanshin University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Yoon Pyung-joong