The future of conservatismThe Sorbonne in France came out of a 13th-century theological school that was both prestigious and notorious. The academy led the Inquisition and became so religiously driven that King Francis I established the College de France, a more liberal and open institution, as an alternative.
In the 18th century, the Sorbonne became known as an extreme conservative group and self-proclaimed protector of Catholics. It oppressed Enlightenment thinkers and burned Enlightenment books. It was going against the changes of the time and was closed after the French Revolution.
The name “Sorbonne” was revived 100 years later during the Third Republic. While the school contributed to the development of academia, it failed to overcome the innate limits of conservatism and did not live up to its name. In contrast, the College de France continues to play a role today as a place where non-mainstream philosophies are openly expressed.
The conservative parties in Korea remind me of the fall of the Sorbonne. They are clinging to their old glory and trying to protect what little legacy they have remaining. What are they trying to protect? True conservative values like a democratic republic, free markets and constitutionalism have been long lost. All they are left with is their vested interests.
They failed to see what became obvious in elections around the world. They couldn’t see how a 39-year-old head of an online political party with no seat in the assembly could win the French presidential election. They couldn’t understand why Hillary Clinton was unable to defeat Donald Trump. The message from American and French voters were simple and clear. They rejected the existing political parties and politicians, who had neglected them and held on to vested interests.
To American voters, Clinton was a part of the establishment. In the Democratic primary, self-proclaimed democratic socialist Bernie Sanders created a meaningful stir. The Republican Party did not produce a candidate with clear party color. The U.S. presidential election could have been a contest between two outsiders, and if it had been, I think Sanders would have won. American voters chose Trump because a business tycoon was a more feasible option for breaching the establishment.
France was bolder. Voters there wanted to end vested interests and deserted both the left and right, which were either incompetent, corrupt or both. They wanted a new face in politics, and indeed, half the candidates who won party nominations were new faces with no political experience.
In Korea, the message was also clear though the playing field was uneven. Still, the candidates didn’t learn their lesson. One candidate who attacked the “aristocratic labor unions” throughout his campaign permitted 13 lawmakers of his party, who had left it for other opportunities, to return. First-time lawmakers are helplessly watching the old-guard supporters of ousted President Park Geun-hye be pardoned in return and biding their time.
Vested interests and reform do not go together. The reform statements of the conservative Liberty Korea Party’s first-time lawmakers and pledges of the rival Bareun Party sound hollow. They need to give up what they have in their hands to see what they need to grasp. They cannot hold something they cannot see.
An old Hebrew saying goes, a wise one proves words with action, a fool one justifies action with words. The future of conservatism depends on how conservatives shake off foolishness and seek wisdom.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 17, Page 30
*The author is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.