Manners make the president

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Manners make the president

Bae Myung-bok
The author is a senior writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.


Edmund Burke, a British statesman and philosopher from the 18th century, was a parliamentarian and liberalist. In his later years, the French Revolution took place. The people believed that Burke would support the revolution. The British people were supportive of the revolution in its neighboring country.

Burke, however, fiercely criticized the French Revolution. In a work published in 1790, “Reflections on the Revolution in France,” Burke said the French Revolution was like a reckless attempt to tear down all existing buildings to create an empty lot and to build an idealistic political system from scratch. He said a building constructed hastily is not strong, so the new system in France would collapse and the country would lose its strengths. Burke’s view was later realized with the Reign of Terror by the Jacobin Club and the dictatorship of Napoleon Bonaparte.

New York Times columnist Bret Stephens published last week, “Why Edmund Burke still matters,” In the piece, the author rang an alarm bell over rightist populism and leftist extremism through the perspective of Burke.

He wrote “the tear-it-all-down populism that has swept so much of the right in the past five years and the tear-it-all-down progressivism that threatens to sweep the left” are destined to fail.

“States, societies and personal consciences are not Lego block constructions to be disassembled and reassembled with ease. They are more like tapestries, passed from one generation to the next, to be carefully mended at one edge, gracefully enlarged on the other and otherwise handled with caution lest a single pulled thread unravel the entire pattern,” he wrote.

Quoting Burke, he wrote that it is arrogant to ignore the complexity of the nature of man and society and to try to change everything at once.

Burke had explained the difference between France, which chose a radical revolution, and Britain, which chose gradual reform, by saying the French were people prone to theory, while the British were people who valued experience. While men of experience rarely gamble with what they had worked hard to win, men of theory easily start a dangerous gamble, he said.

I believe this is one of the crucial differences between the conservatives and the liberals here in Korea.

Using Burke’s quote, “Manners are of more importance than laws,” Stephens criticized U.S. President Donald Trump. He wrote that Trump has run the country recklessly based on his own ideas and using his own methods without the least consideration — or manners — for others. Trump, therefore, destroyed the people’s respect and trust in the American political culture and system, Stephens said.

For the people to love their country, leaders should have built a country that deserves love, but Trump went in the opposite direction, he said.

In his “dialogue with the people” in November last year, President Moon Jae-in said, “I can say with confidence that my government is confident in handling the real estate market issues.” It was arrogant for Moon to treat so blithely a complex matter, which is a mixture of human desires and social conflicts.

Since Moon took office, the government presented 23 sets of measures to cool off the real estate market, but all have failed. The market is still unstable and apartment prices are rising. Although the government is using all possible means to fight market forces, it is destined to lose because it doesn’t understand them. It lacks the knowledge of experience. It has been using means to intervene in the market to cover up blunder after blunder, and nothing is resolved. And yet, no one has apologized or taken responsibility.

The government continues to repeat its obstinate dedication to “income-led growth” despite serious problems with policies based on the idea.

Although the ruling party wielded its majority to pass rent control laws with the justification of protecting tenants, the result was skyrocketing rents. The people are suffering from ideology-ridden policy. Land Minister Kim Hyun-mi, although she should be more careful, continues to push forward the policy recklessly.

Even Moon supporters are critical of the real estate market issue. Many say they feel deprived as they watch the skyrocketing apartment prices in Seoul.

Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae’s reform of the prosecution is also oppressive. She ignores traditions and convention, shakes the organization based on her own belief and makes appointments to promote her loyalists. She clearly does not have respect for the system and the people, not to mention laws and regulations.

Chairman Lee Hae-chan and floor leader Kim Tae-nyeon of the ruling party, which uses its 175 seats to control all standing committees and pass bills without listening to opposition parties, and National Assembly Speaker Park Byeong-seug, who is doing nothing to stop them, all are lacking in manners. They are no different from the conservative politicians whom they have long attacked.

Anthony Giddens, a sociologist from England, said fundamentalists are intolerant and refuse to engage in dialogue with others, and they justify their views by reference to dogma and sacred texts rather than rational argument.

The Moon administration’s high-handed fundamentalism is destroying the country. The ruling party’s approval rating is already plummeting. If the current situation continues, it will likely lose by-elections in April and the next presidential election.

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