Hahm and Rhyu’s ‘Democratic Reform and Consolidation in South Korea’

Incidentally, this post was begun on April 9th, election day here in South Korea, against the backdrop of frantic campaigning and a party (the Grand National Party) fractured by the bruised ego of an outsized personality, Park Geun-hye.

I have been reading up on my Korean politics and history for my East Asian Political Economy course, and I spent this afternoon reading the most interesting article yet, ‘Democratic Reform and Consolidation in South Korea’ by Hahm Chaibong and Rhyu Sang-young.  I should point out that Rhyu Sang-young is my professor, but that in no way influenced my choice of this article for bloggification.  It is a pure coincidence that he happens to have written about familism, a recent interest of mine.  Today I was happy to discover that I will be able to write a term paper about familism for his class.  Anyway, here are the highlights of the paper.

Korea is perhaps the only case in which a ‘pure’ form of regionalism, without any reinforcements from religious and racial cleavages, functions to hinder democratic consolidation.

Fukuyama classifies Korea as a ‘low trust’ society.  Fukuyama views Korea and China as having strong familism and underdeveloped social capital.

The difference is that while the degree of trust is very strong in Korea , the scope is limited.  That is, the boundary of one’s trust is not encompassing, remaining confined to an inter group [sic] while demanding sacrifice from outer groups.  Such clientelism hinders the implementation of fair personal policies and encourages rent-seeking behavior, which leads to corruption.

Incidentally, this word, clientelism, perfectly describes a concept I was attempting to describe on this blog last month, in my post on amoral familism.  Amoral clientelism is much more accurate.

The June Declaration had the effect of quenching the people’s thirst for democracy.  As a result, the opposition organizations which led the struggle for democracy disintegrated soon after and the ensuing struggles by the working class was ignored by the ruling elite and the middle class.

President Kim enjoyed unprecedented legitimacy.  However, he was not content to rule just through ‘legal legitimacy.’ but tried to base his legitimacy on ‘morality.’  His style of political leadership was not so much to follow a ‘rule of law’ as to follow the ‘rule of man.’  The ‘rule of law vs. rule of man’ is the dichotomy which has informed Confucian political discourse from its inception some 2,500 years ago. . . The point was to instill in individuals those qualities which would give them the possession of moral authority and integrity, enabling them to rule without actually ruling. . . Confucius said ‘Lead the people with governmental measures and regulate them by law and punishment, and they will avoid wrong-doing but will have no sense of honor and shame.  Lead them with virtue and regulate them by the rules of propriety (li) and they will have a sense of shame and, moreover, set themselves right.’ . . . [Kim Young-sam] opened the Blue House to the public for the first time in decades, tore down presidential villas, began to eat only simple meals consisting of a bowl of noodles for lunch at the Blue House for both official as well as private functions, and prohibited all bureaucrats from playing golf which was regarded as the sport of the rich and the well to do. . . [there follows a lengthy list of ethical scandals that brought the Kim Young-sam government down] . . . Had he the presence of mind to institutionalize the reforms that he had pushed throughout he appeal to the rule of man would have been a wise policy choice.  But because President Kim failed to institutionalize his reforms while his moral integrity came into question through scandals in which his closest associates and a son were implicated, democratic consolidation in Korea was to be delayed once more.

All in all a fascinating article, and the good stuff just keeps coming as I’m trying to get my hands on a copy of Rhyu and Chung-in Moon’s paper ‘Politics, Institutions, and Trust: Credit Allocation System in South Korea’, which goes deeper into the clientelism concept.  I expect a lot more interesting material like this as I continue my studies, which will undoubtedly make its way into the blog.  See that, I’m saving you 12 million won a year over here.

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~ by Joshing on April 11, 2008.

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