Fixing Korean conservatism
The author is an editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.
Out of nowhere, meokbang, shows which heavily feature people eating, have become controversial. I figured all the hubbub might be about the sumptuous temptation of seeing someone consume a large amount of food on camera, but instead, it’s devolved into a grand debate about statism and government overreach.
It was clever of the Liberty Korea Party’s interim leader, Kim Byung-joon, to use statism as the opposition party’s main line of criticism. Since those in power always have strong convictions and tend to believe only they are right, the Moon Jae-in administration is probably no different. It is a matter of judgment, so there is no need to determine right from wrong. The problem is that a strong sense of calling means lack of ability to compromise. Stubbornness often leads to conflict, and the people are getting tired.
Therefore, Kim’s statism critique could be seen as refreshing. The essence of the statism debate is the ideological contest between conservative and liberal. It is noteworthy that the nearly wrecked conservatives have managed to bring out an issue at all. The source of their ongoing crisis is not the collapse of conservative spirit. It was their backward conservatism that made them unattractive.
The floor leader of the Liberty Korea Party took issue with the sexual orientation of a human rights advocate. Is it the conservative spirit to publicly target the sexual orientations of other people? It is simply insulting. The former head of the party is so well known for his insults and rough talk that the conservatives are now characterized as “far-right idiots.” They have sunk so low that we can hardly expect any dignity from them.
Conservatism is not a stuffy ideology. The core of conservatism is respecting tradition and pursuing gradual change. Korean conservatives have become far-right idiots because they have been exclusively inbred.
At this juncture, Kim, who worked under President Roh Moo-hyun in the mid-2000s, came to the rescue of the conservative party. He was once devoted to the success of a liberal administration. It might have been his destiny to save a conservative ship from veering off course. His anti-statism frame has brought rare vitality to the conservative camp, but his rhetoric is still lacking. It is quite cheap to use meokbang and regulations to curb coffee sales in schools, as Moon’s government has proposed to fight obesity, to support his argument.
But at the dawn of the industrial revolution, it was necessary to lower the price of grain to keep workers’ wages low. The newly emerging bourgeoisie asserted that the Corn Laws should be abolished. So Peel drastically changed tack. He supported scrapping the Corn Laws and converted the party line to free trade. The Tories expanded their support from the old ruling class of landlords to the new class of bourgeoisie. Peel’s drastic reform became the root of British conservatism.
In a column in June, Kim wrote, “The government and ruling party talk about values like human rights, peace, mutual prosperity and environment. But the conservative opposition, including the Liberty Korea Party, laughs at this pursuit without offering any conservative alternatives.” He correctly pointed out the backwardness of Korean conservatives. These values are universal human interests. Why have the conservatives neglected these values and given them to liberals? “Like it or not, history is flowing toward diversity and respect for autonomy,” Kim wrote.
The American thinker Russell Kirk wrote in “The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot,” “Both the impulse to improve and the impulse to conserve are necessary to the healthy functioning of any society.” A bird can fly when it moves both its left and right wings.