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[Classic] #31. Conditions and Prospects of Korean Democracy – Choi Jang-jip

Choi Jang-jip’s “Conditions and Prospects of Korean Democracy” analyzes the integrated development of nation-building, capitalist industrialization, and democracy in Korea. Korean democracy emerged prematurely and faced various upheavals but revived with industrialization success. However, the legacy of authoritarian industrialization continues to hinder substantive democratic progress. This book diagnoses the historical process of Korean democracy and suggests future directions.

I. Author Introduction

1.1 Professor Choi Jang-jip

Professor Choi Jang-jip, born in 1943, is a prominent South Korean political scientist and a professor at Korea University’s Department of Political Science and International Relations. He is also the director of the Asiatic Research Institute at Korea University. Choi defines political science as a discipline that seeks practical and attainable ideal goals. He believes politics involves the authoritative allocation of values in society and cannot avoid ethical issues surrounding the realization of the common good. His research focuses on the development of democracy and political change, providing in-depth analyses of Korean democracy through numerous books and articles.

II. Background of the Work

2.1 Purpose of the Work

Choi Jang-jip’s “Conditions and Prospects of Korean Democracy” integrates his previous studies on the formation of the Korean nation-state, capitalist industrialization, and the development of democracy. This book offers a macroscopic analysis of the historical process of Korean democracy and expands discussions on the character of the Kim Young-sam administration, regionalism, media issues, labor movements, and unification issues. The book, a collection of essays published between 1993 and 1995, critiques the reform policies of the Kim Young-sam administration and proposes suggestions for achieving a complete democratic government.

III. Summary of the Work

3.1 Part 1: Historical Conditions of Modernization and Democracy
3.1.1 Development of Korean Capitalism and Democracy 1945~1995

Korean democracy emerged alongside nation-building, industrialization, and democratization. After liberation, Korea introduced universal suffrage but faced challenges due to its premature state of democracy amidst the Cold War and internal ideological conflicts. Despite political upheavals such as the April 19 Revolution and military coups, industrialization success led to the growth of civil society, enabling the resurgence of democracy.

3.1.2 Formation of a Strong State and Industrialization

Korea’s strong centralized state formation was influenced by the Cold War, which strengthened anti-communism and ideological legitimacy. Park Chung-hee’s regime achieved explosive industrial growth through a combination of militarism and popular enthusiasm. However, the legacy of authoritarian industrialization continued to hinder the development of substantive democracy.

3.1.3 Characteristics of Korean Nationalism

Korean nationalism, akin to third-world anti-imperialist liberation movements, was divided post-liberation into left and right factions, justifying national division. Choi argues that nationalism must now evolve to include democratic processes and peaceful principles to achieve unification.

3.1.4 Transformism in Korean Politics

Transformism involves political maneuvers by ruling elites to secure stable majorities by co-opting opposition members, as seen in the 1990 three-party merger. This strategic act maintained conservative democracy by weakening democratic reform demands from below.

3.2 Part 2: Characteristics of Democracy: Transition and Consolidation
3.2.1 Initial Reforms of the Kim Young-sam Administration and the Nature of Korean Democracy

While the Kim Young-sam administration advanced procedural democracy, substantive democracy remains underdeveloped. Labor issues, regionalism, and unification are not adequately addressed in the public sphere. The continuation of authoritarian practices in state-labor relations and reliance on regionalism and ideological divisions for power maintenance hinder democratic consolidation.

IV. Memorable Passages

Choi emphasizes the importance of connecting political and sociological phenomena to historical contexts, analyzing modernization, state formation, democratization, and industrialization in Korea through this approach.

V. Reflection

This book provides an in-depth analysis of the development and current state of Korean democracy, offering valuable insights into addressing Korea’s political and economic challenges. Choi’s research helps understand the evolution of Korean democracy and guides future progress.

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