[Outlook]The enemy of democracy

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[Outlook]The enemy of democracy

On Jan. 4, 2009, Korea’s National Assembly was declared to be officially out of control. But in fact, the legislature had been off the rails since Dec. 18 last year, and remained that way until Jan. 6 this year.

What was happening in the National Assembly was much more dramatic than reality programs on television. The worst of all was what happened at Rotender Hall. Some 100 security guards forcefully dragged out around 300 protestors from that Assembly chamber.

Politics have become like entertainment. In professional wrestling, for instance, determined facial expressions, revenge, exaggerated moves, fights outside the ring, cheering, bantering and foul play are accepted because the game’s primary purpose is to entertain the audience.

In other combat sports, however, players take the game very seriously. They even risk their lives during matches, and no foul play is allowed. Their sport’s primary purpose is not the entertainment of a group of spectators.

Politics must not be reduced to entertainment either, and therefore no foul play can be allowed.

Theodor W. Adorno of the Frankfurt School stated in despair that it was impossible to write poetry after Auschwitz. Well, I would like to ask if democracy is possible after it kneels down to violence.

Democracy is neither the ultimate good nor a perfect system. To be honest, democracy is simply no worse than other political systems, rather than being better than them.

Some bluntly say democracy is good, including Jawaharlal Nehru, who said so because other systems are worse.

Meanwhile, others don’t agree. Winston Churchill, for instance, said that democracy was the worst system except all other political systems that have been tried out so far.

Democracy is just slightly better than other political systems. The difference comes from the fact that violence is not used, or at least not allowed.

In his book “Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge,” the philosopher Karl Popper wrote that although we support democracy, it is not because a majority is always right. Instead, it is because democratic traditions contain the least amount of evil among the traditions we know of.

In another of his renowned books, “The Open Society and Its Enemies,” Popper criticized great philosophers in history - such as Plato, Hegel and Marx - for getting caught up in a dichotomist perspective of history, thus leading humankind toward closed societies and creating the basis for totalitarianism.

Such black-and-white viewpoints inevitably spur populism and violence, according to Popper. He believed that in an open society, members can reach agreement on many important issues through discussion, rather than via revolution or violence.

Recently in Korea, we have witnessed three types of violence that destroy democracy.

The first was physical. A hammer, an electric saw and a fire extinguisher were used. Protestors struck out at nearly everything and everyone in sight. They illegally occupied the National Assembly and staged illegal protests as if they had a right to do so.

Physical violence is barbaric. If violence is justified, we can no longer fight against barbarism.

The second is institutional violence. On Dec. 18, last year, when the door to the committee for foreign affairs and trade was shut and locked, so was the door to democracy. It was like blocking a lawyer from entering the court.

Democracy requires patience. In order for the opinions of the majority to acquire legitimacy, discussions are needed. The Constitutional Court or the Supreme Court also makes final decisions with a majority vote, but people still respect their rulings because they believe the judges undertook sufficient dialogue before putting an issue to a vote and revealing their ruling.

The third is verbal violence. People can degrade a language by using foul phrases, but language also can degrade the speaker. The power of democracy comes from words. Just as a person’s words reveal his or her personality, a politician’s words reveal the level of democracy in his or her country. Words of hatred, rage and contempt are enemies of democracy.

The history of democracy is one of resistance to violence. Members of a democracy don’t resort to violence. I don’t believe that democracy can be protected with violence, and I don’t believe those who argue that it can.

Those who use violence and are not ashamed of their behavior are not supporters of democracy. Violence is the enemy of democracy.

But democracy is not afraid of violence, because it has much more competent companions - its institutions.


*The writer is a political consultant and the chief executive officer of Minn Consulting. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Park Sung-min
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