[Outlook]Statesmen or politicians?Confucius singled out the wise from the rest, and Plato separated sages and philosophers from those who brown-nose or use sophistry. In modern societies where democracy has taken root, it would be too much to expect a wise man or a sage to become a leader.
If one is to earn a political party’s nomination and win an election, the virtues of a sage would be rather burdensome.
However, it is wrong to believe that people who are good at brownnosing or sophistry assume power in democracies. In advanced countries that began having elections before Korea, politicians are differentiated from statesmen. Among politicians, some take their jobs seriously, but others are busy pursuing their own interest instead of serving the public. Some are more interested in their own future than in the future of their country. The term “statesman” is reserved for those who are devoted to the public interest and do their best to prepare for the future of their country. Unfortunately, to identify the statesmen from among the countless politicians is as difficult as looking for pearls in the sand. Even those who have the characteristics and virtues of a leader must adopt the skills needed by politicians to some extent to become successful in the political field.
Political scientist Henry Kissinger, who served as the U.S. secretary of state in the 1970s, said that the duty of a statesman is to fill the gap between experience and vision. Experience means a reality created in the past, while a vision refers to a blueprint for the future. A vision without considering reality is a daydream, and realism without thinking of the future goes against the flow of our time.
How can we tell statesmen from politicians? A person who presents a vision for the next 10 or 20 years, rather than a person who has a blueprint for the five years that he wishes to be in office, has more potential to become a competent leader.
Today’s Korea has several tasks that will take a long time to finish. The most urgent is to sustain our population. Unless our birthrate surges or we admit a massive influx of immigrants, the long-term prospects for our economy are gloomy. Japan, for instance, is having difficulty recovering from a sluggish economy, and some say that India will be more competitive than China in the long run. These forecasts are closely related to the number of young people in those countries.
Another urgent task is to find a balance between economic growth and environmental preservation. The oil spill on the coast near Taean demonstrates the dark side of economic growth. Some incidents take place by chance. But threats and potential for incidents always exist. For this reason, something always happens sooner or later. Economic growth without consideration of the environment will come back to us in the form of disasters. Our neighboring country, China, is growing so rapidly it is a pollution time bomb.
The presidential election campaign this year showed that our democratic political system, which started in 1987, needs to be reformed. Our society has since gone through many changes. In the 21st century, our democracy should go beyond direct presidential elections toward political parties and policies that become important factors. The role of the legislature also needs to be enhanced. To do so, we need to have serious debates on introducing proportional representation and on redefining the relationship between the administration and the legislature. The ruling party often has fewer seats in the National Assembly than the main opposition party, and the relations between the president and the ruling party become shaky under the current political system.
The presidential candidates claim that economic growth rates will increase, jobs will be created and national income will go up only if they are elected. But before examining the feasibility of such pledges, voters want to hear what the candidates will leave behind after they leave office. This might be too much to ask in the last phase of the election campaign because only skilled politicians are still in the race.
*The writer is a professor of political science at Soongsil University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Cho Hong-sik