Towards healthy conservatism
We are on board a ship drifting around an unfamiliar port. There is no way out in any direction, only a hopeless aporia. On April 16, 2014, canola flowers were in full bloom in Jeju, but 304 precious lives were lost in the sea as the overloaded Sewol sailed down the west coast and capsized in the Maengol channel. Nothing has been resolved in the past year. What should we do now?
The root of the tragedy lies in the sacrifice of lives for something as lifeless as money. Can we still say we belong to a civilized society? Seasons have come and gone, but the fundamental truths behind the accident have not been revealed. The most tragic wish to find a loved one’s remains and begin grieving properly - for a living, not a missing person - was not fulfilled for all. The public is pushing the government to salvage the ship, and the people won’t easily forget its cold-hearted desire that they get over the accident.
While the Sewol ferry tragedy insulted the value of life, the list of bigwigs and bribes found on the dangling corpse of Sung Wan-jong exposed the hypocrisy of politics. If the list is true and Prime Minister Lee Wan-gu and many other politicians take cash willingly and use it to maintain power, politics need to declare itself bankrupt.
The Grand National Party, the predecessor of the Saenuri Party, received money from slush funds of conglomerates like Hyundai Motors, SK, LG and Samsung for the presidential campaign in 2002. When that corruption was revealed, it set up a tent as headquarters. It pledged to pursue clean politics to appeal to voters and won two presidential elections. But if its members received money from Sung Wan-jong before the last presidential primary and election, they are back to their old bribe-taking selves. If they deceived the public, they should be pulled from power.
Korea used to be proud of being the most democratic country in Asia. We thought that China and even Japan were not on par with Korea’s system of having an election every five years to choose the government. We have a media free to criticize the government. However, I’ve never heard of a country where so many powerful politicians take money from a businessman like Sung. In his final days, Sung desperately sought help from the politicians, proving that the money was not given free of charge. He reportedly boasted of his political connections when dealing with bankers. It is meaningless that Samsung Electronics and Hyundai Motors are leading companies in the modern world. A country where money is more important than life, where money can sway politics and bribery helps business, is third-class.
As the shockwaves from the Sewol ferry tragedy and the Sung Wan-jong and Lee Wan-gu scandal shake the community, the confession of Saenuri Party floor leader Yu Seung-min reverberates. In a National Assembly speech, he asked, “Why does the nation exist when it comes to the victims and the families of the missing? Shouldn’t we wipe away their tears?” Finally, a conservative with a sense of shame appeared. Yu said that the idea of conservatism is “to be righteous, fair, truthful and responsible and make efforts to build a warm community.”
Tolerance means saving anyone who is drowning whether he is a competitor or not. The opposition spokesman said that the speech “showed the direction that the conservatives should pursue.” We are beginning to see a a politics of agreement.
Yu admires Edmund Burke, the 18th century Irish statesman and the philosophical founder of conservatism. Yu was a campaign advisor for Lee Hoi-chang in 2002, and after losing the presidential election, he served as a visiting professor at Hallym University. During that time, he contemplated the true path of conservatism after reading Burke’s “Reflections on the Revolution in France.” As Burke witnessed the turmoil of the French Revolution in 1789, he affirmed that only the preemptive and drastic innovation of the conservatives could prevent chaos. The Conservative Party of the United Kingdom has lasted for over 300 years, thanks to courageous reform-minded conservatives like Burke and Benjamin Disraeli.
In the course of representing the interests of the bourgeois and workers who emerged from the Industrial Revolution, they departed from the perspective of aristocrats and landlords, their traditional support base. While the process was painful, they opted for change to maintain the community. Some find Yu’s new conservative direction rebellious. However, an angry public cannot be appeased without revolutionary reform.
Burke said, “You can never plan the future by the past.” In order for the ruling party to escape the aporia of the Sewol ferry and Sung Wan-jong list, they should part with its dark past and follow the healthy conservatism promoted by Yu.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 15, Page 31
*The author is the chief editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Ha-kyung