November 29, 2023

The Trouble with Democracy

Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War gives us one of the earliest accounts of the follies of democracy.  In the wake of a series of defeats on the Peloponnese, the charismatic and popular Athenian general, Alcibiades, called for a campaign against Sicily.  For several reasons the campaign was a bad idea, but the Athenians were yearning for a quick victory and a chance to feel good about being Athenian. Within the course of a single speech, Alcibiades gave the people what they wanted, and the assembly enthusiastically embraced his proposal for war and a chance to redeem Athens’ image. The Assembly then voted in favor of a strategically imprudent campaign, which ultimately led to the downfall of Athens.

As was the case then, the pressures of the domestic voice are heavily influencing South Korea's decision makers’ policy, while leading its politicians into the murky waters of duplicity. Following the North’s claim that members of the South Korean Government secretly met for talks with their representatives in China, South Korea’s media has erupted in a rash of accusations between members of President Lee Myung-bak’s Grand National Party and members of the Democratic Party.  The conclusions that each of the parties came to about the other are what you might expect.  Kim Jin Pyo, the minority whip for the Democratic Party in the National Assembly lashed out at the President, referring to his administration as two-faced and inconsistent.  That is, given that Lee Myung-bak's policy has been to refuse talks and deny state-sponsored food aid until the North apologizes for its role in the sinking of the Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, it seems painfully inconsistent that his government had been holding secret talks with the North in Beijing.