[Viewpoint] No room for middle ground

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[Viewpoint] No room for middle ground

President Lee Myung-bak is emphasizing the need to take a more central path in a bid to resolve ideological conflict.

In daily life, a central way means a moderate attitude, and those who think of themselves as middle-of-the-road usually receive good reactions from others. Combined with the president s promise to implement a policy to help the working class, his new stance to strengthen the middle ground is gaining momentum.

However, this policy has flaws. It has not been subject to a drawn-out round of deliberations. Instead, it has been devised in haste in a bid to improve the president s low approval ratings.

A fundamental problem is that in our society we assume that leftist ideology and rightist ideology are symmetrically opposed. We arrange different ideologies on a spectrum, and view left and right as opposing forces.

But in society, this kind of symmetry collapses because any given society usually has a certain ideology as a principle. The ideology that serves as a principle to underpin society is taken as an established theory and the rest of the ideologies become a kind of heresy. All social institutions make it official that the definitive ideological view and the heretical forms are asymmetrical.

The Republic of Korea s Constitution pursues liberal democracy. Naturally, liberal democracy, which is also called rightist, is the underlying political and social framework in society. Other ideologies are, to put it mildly, nothing but potential alternatives.

As a result, the terms moderates or central forces lose their significance since society doesn t allow any space between an established theory and heresy. Either you accept the established theory or you refuse it and opt for heresy.

Accepting part of the established theory is not an option, either. The citizens of the Republic of Korea cannot accept and abide by only part of the Constitution.

In addition, the president cannot encompass moderates within his ideological coordinates. A president who vows to abide by the Constitution has a duty to pursue liberal democracy.

From a practical perspective, it is not wise to derail a train from a liberal democracy track and transfer to a central path. We have been hearing a lot about political leaders who have become successful after abandoning their original ideologies and pursuing a central line. Looking closely, what s important is not the line that they took but the direction they went in. They were traditional, conventional socialists in the beginning and, after taking power, they implemented policies in favor of capitalism and market economy and became successful.

Deng Xiaoping of China, Tony Blair of Britain, the Indian National Congress, and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil are well-known examples. Both Deng and Blair moved beyond the position of the moderates to a full acceptance of economic liberal democracy.

As capitalism and market economics have proved superior to other systems, it is only natural that these leaders became successful.

President Lee, on the other hand, is going the other way. He s trying to embrace moderates in a society that has developed so far because it chose liberal democracy. This is a wrong move in the wrong direction; it s unlikely to work out well.

A central line is not a distinctive ideology but a lack of ideology. There is no so-called third way. Ideological differences stem from differences in opinions about values and systems. Rightists think the individual has the right to property and the market. Leftists believe society as a whole is the most important and they run society through the state. As these views are diametrically opposed, there is no space for another ideology to occupy the middle ground.

Those who pursue a central way do not share the same ideology and do not form a cohesive group. In fact, most of them have little interest in and knowledge about other ideologies. They are free riders who do not care much about sustaining the regime.

It is impossible to regard them as a group with a distinct identity and a political agenda, or use them as ground support in politics. It isn t prudent to ignore enthusiastic liberalists who have protected Korea from threats from inside and outside the country, and instead pursue a mirage of central forces.

President Lee may have focused his attention on central forces just to gather support. It might just be political rhetoric, but it has proven a shrewd move. But a leader who does not receive much love and respect from the people runs the risk of overdoing it with political rhetoric.

What is even more risky is that the president might use his new stance as an excuse not to carry out reform. He needs to employ talent from different sectors and unify the split ruling party to make it function as it should.

If his new stance to embrace moderates is used to delay or avoid such reform, it will bring disaster on him and society.


*The writer is a novelist. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Bok Koh-ill
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