Like in many other states worldwide, democracy is in trouble in South Korea, entering a state of regressionin the past decade, barely thirty years after its emergence in 1987. The society that had ordinary citizensleading “candlelight protests” demanding the impeachment of Park Geun-Hye in 2016–17 has becomepolarized amid an upsurge of populism, driven by persistent structural inequalities, globalization, and therise of the information society.
The symptoms of democratic decline have been increasingly hard to miss: the demonization of politicalopponents, erosion of democratic norms, and the whittling away of the courts’ independence. Perhapsmost disturbing is that this all took place under a government dominated by former pro-democracyactivists. Will the election victory of opposition leader Yoon Suk-Yeol end this democratic erosion, or willthe rift between South Korea’s progressives and conservatives only deepen with the next administration?
The contributors to this volume trace the sources of illiberalism in today’s Korea; examine how politicalpolarization is plaguing its party system; discuss how civil society and the courts have become politicized;look at the roles of inequality, education, and social media in the country’s democratic decline; andconsider how illiberalism has affected Korea’s foreign policy.
Gi-Wook Shin is the William J. Perry Professor of Contemporary Korea in sociology and a senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute (FSI) for International Studies at Stanford University. At FSI he directs the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center and the Center’s Korea Program.
Ho-Ki Kim is a professor of sociology at Yonsei University. He was the Korea Program’s 2021 Koret Fellow at Stanford University’s Shorenstein Asia- Pacific Research Center.