You can call President Park Chung-hee a dictator who ruled South Korea for 17 years, but he was an once-in-a-millennium prodigy: his leadership has transformed the erstwhile ashes of the Korean War to an economic giant. He also awoke the consciousness of the Koreans soaked in defeatism, colonialism, and seclusionism. I wish to convince the journalists and scholars on Korea that labeling President Park Chung-hee as a dictator in one sentence and moving on to the the next is an excessively superficial approach – he deserves more. Given the generally generous appraisals of Deng Xiaoping of China and Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore among Korean intellectuals, the politically driven effort to discredit Park Chung-hee by categorizing him merely as a dictator is one of their deep-rooted absurdities, Without Park Chung-hee, the prosperity that they enjoy is a mirage that emerged out of nowhere.
One very undesirable legacy of Park Chung-hee is, however, the tenacious faith in statism that the Koreans still cherish. At each election, they await the advent of a powerful government led by a charismatic leader to guide them to prosperity. Year by year the expectation goes higher, and the Koreans still look forward to a “saint monarch” to fill their need. President Lee Myung-bak was expected to lead the nation like a chief executive officer that he had been in his career with Hyundai. President Park Geun-hye was expected to reproduce the glory of her father. Such authoritarian tendency is even stronger in the left-wing: Kim Dae-jung is dubbed as Korea’s Nelson Mandela, and Roh Moo-hyun is linked to King Jeongjo of the Joseon dynasty. Moon Jae-in’s populist pledges suggest how desperately the Korean politicians try to ingratiate themselves with the voters.
In short, to my chagrin, the Koreans are not ready to simultaneously attain democracy and liberalism, and their political awareness is not very far from that of a feudalistic monarchy; smaller government to promote individual liberty seems a foreign concept to them. In a sheer contradiction, the voters dream of an omnipotent leader who is democratic enough to succumb to whatever they demand on the street. Such odd political norm has crippled Korean politics. The most horrendous example is when the families of the victims of the 2014 Sinking of MV Sewol demanded President Park Geun-hye to bring the victims back to life, as you can see it in this weird photograph.
The questionable nature of South Korean democracy shows that economic prosperity does not necessarily enhance libertarian democracy. Statism that looks like a quick solution for conflicts eventually necessitates bigger, more authoritarian, and more ineffective government led by a manipulative radical – that is Moon Jae-in. The Koreans under the politically intolerant Moon Jae-in administration should remember that the very first step to stop the Korean Cultural Revolution is to realize there will never be the second advent of Park Chung-hee, and understand individualism is more important than charismatic leadership. Statism is like riding a derailed train, either you should stop it or get out of it – you’re warned.