[Viewpoint] A toast to champagne socialists

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[Viewpoint] A toast to champagne socialists

There is a university renowned as a safe haven for left-wing professors. A scholar with moderate views would be stigmatized as an extreme conservative there. The stalwarts of the faculty largely earned degrees from local schools in programs devoted to anti-globalism, anti-Americanism and nationalism. Ironically, they compete ferociously to get to American cities and other English-speaking countries for sabbaticals. They take their families there so their children can learn English and be familiarized with the outside world. At one time, I was shocked to realize their hypocrisy, but it no longer comes as a surprise considering their track records.

Perhaps there’s a select few who chose to spend time in the U.S. to immerse themselves in the realities of American society to nourish their anti-American mind-set. America, of course, has imperialist characteristics atop a host of other problems. But there are few minds capable of comprehending the ramifications of a potential disruption of the global order if U.S. hegemony came to an abrupt end. Criticism that encourages America to improve its leadership may be good, but knee-jerk antipathy to Americanism is no more than childishness. In Korea, anti-Americanism and anti-globalism had long been in vogue with the intelligentsia. The term “left-wing commercialism” was created because of the obvious benefits that some people reap from selling such ideas.

Scholars are not the only hypocrites in our country. Politicians known for their anti-American positions often make news for sending their kids to study in the U.S. and their efforts to make their family members U.S. citizens or permanent residents. The story of an opposition politician railing against America while standing in line to get visas for his children remains notorious. You also find people who send their children to expensive private schools and overseas colleges nobody’s every heard of. Even in the teachers’ union you find figures vehemently opposed to elite education who meanwhile surreptitiously enroll their children in overseas schools because they don’t believe their own country can provide the best possible education for their offspring.

Western societies refer to such phonies as “caviar leftists,” “champagne socialists” or “limousine liberals.” The Korean equivalents are “orange leftists,” “superficial liberals” or “southern socialists.” The progressive liberals don’t have the least problem with such labels, leading a public life as populist provocateurs while enjoying the types of private lives of wealth and privilege they claim to despise. They seem completely comfortable leading lives of duality and paradox.

Liberals in Korea, unlike their fellow travelers around the world, are introverted and nationalistic. Our society today is stuck between an ideological tug of war between unfettered globalism and homogenous nationalism. The players tugging the left end of the rope may seem outnumbered, but they are unified and backed by a multitude of faceless Internet netizens.

North Korea, a country in self-imposed exile, insular and closed, is gradually declining. South Korea, having prospered from its choice of a capitalist and democratic ideology, should recognize the wisdom of its choices and continue to advance while weathering the difficulties of globalism. Of course, it may not be the only way forward. A fully open system has its flaws, and Korea, if it is ready to accept the consequences, can choose any system in between.

When Korea jacked up duties on Chinese garlic to 315 percent from 30 percent to block a flooding of the local market, China slapped a retaliatory ban on Korean mobile phones. The duties on Chinese garlic would have reaped $15 million, while the loss of phone sales to China cost $500 million. Korea was outmatched by crude world realities.

There will never be a perfect system in this world. Every choice has its dark and bright side. We must choose what brings us the greatest benefit. If we opt for a closed system, we must have the courage to say goodbye to our current lifestyles. No society can stand the Janus-faced stance of shouting anti-globalism slogans while enjoying the luxuries that come from being in the global society. It is time we take a logical and honest stand. Our future is bleak if politicians and the intelligentsia succeed in luring the public into their hypocritical charade.

*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is a professor of archival sciences at Myongji University.

By Kang Kyu-hyung
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