South Korea’s Democratic Decay

Issue Date July 2020
Volume 31
Issue 3
Page Numbers 100-14
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South Korea (hereafter Korea) is following global trends as it slides toward a “democratic depression.” Both the spirit of democracy and actual liberal-democratic standards are under attack. The symptoms of democratic decline are increasingly hard to miss, and they are appearing in many corners of Korean society, the hallmarks of zero-sum politics in which opponents are demonized, democratic norms are eroded, and political life grows ever more polarized. Unlike in countries where far-right elements play on populist sentiments, in Korea these aggressive and illiberal measures are the work of a leftist government. Disturbingly, the key figures in Korea’s democratic backsliding are former prodemocracy activists who have now risen to become a new power elite.

About the Author

Gi-Wook Shin is professor of sociology and director of the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University.

View all work by Gi-Wook Shin