President Park Geun-hye and the Deconsolidation of Liberal Democracy in South Korea: Exploring its Cultural Roots President Park Geun-hye and the Deconsolidation of Liberal Democracy in South Korea: Exploring its Cultural Roots
For years, many political scientists and research institutes endorsed South Korea (Korea hereafter) as a fully consolidated liberal democracy. This non-Western icon of liberal democracy recently underwent a series of setbacks due to the restoration of autocratic governance by the President Park Geun-hye government. Why did liberal democracy backslide in the highly globalized and modernized country, contrary to what is expected from modernization and other prominent theories of democratization? To explore this question, we propose a cultural theory of democratic deconsolidation, and test it with the latest wave of the Asian Barometer Survey conducted in Korea in 2015. The analysis indicates that socioeconomic development under the sponsorship of the state and big businesses has failed to “emancipate” both the ruling class and the masses from the Confucian legacies of political paternalism and social harmony. Moreover, it has failed to instill them with “the bourgeois impulse” to become a free and equal being. As the habits of their hearts and minds, these legacies powerfully motivate both groups to reembrace or condone the resurgence of autocratic political practices. Theoretically, therefore, the deconsolidation of liberal democracy in Korea and the prevalence of affinity for paternalistic autocracy among its people can be considered two solid pieces of evidence confirming the thesis of “No bourgeois, no democracy”. They can further be considered to support the orthodox Asian Values Thesis that Confucianism is inherently incompatible with liberal democracy.