Thursday, May 3, 2012

Classifying North Korea

North Korea recently went through another father-to-son change in leadership. It remains to be seen if the latest Kim will be as sadistically whacky as his father and grandfather but it has also brought up some questions about the North Korean government. Whenever North Korea comes up in the news I am invariably asked by someone if North Korea is actually a monarchy. “Father succeeds son, holding total power; that’s an absolute monarchy, right?” WRONG! North Korea is, all in all, one big lie. It is a charade on a national scale. It is half the population of the Korean peninsula being forced to play a game of “let’s pretend” at gun point. They call themselves the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”. That’s a lie to start with. As everyone knows, there is nothing at all “democratic” about North Korea and it can only even claim the most loose definition of being a republic in that it is not a monarchy. And even if it were a monarchy, it would still not be an absolute monarchy. At least not in my book, I realize most people in the world do not share my definition of absolute monarchy. As I have explained before, like French Bishop Jacques Bossuet, I admire absolute monarchy but am not a fan of arbitrary monarchy. I am not a fan of arbitrary power no matter who is wielding it.

The fruits of Communism
According to Bishop Bossuet, there are four basic attributes of arbitrary government. There were (I) that subjects are born slaves and none are free, (II) no one possesses private property, the prince controls all sources of wealth and there is no inheritance, (III) the prince can dispose of the property and lives of all in his realm at his whim and, finally, (IV) there is no law but the will of the ruler. Obviously, North Korea possesses each and every one of those four attributes. It is the perfect example of an arbitrary government in operation. The North Korean people are, as a whole, down to the last man, woman and starving child, no more than the slaves of their government. There is no private property, in fact there is no commerce at all in North Korea. The State controls everything and issues the people what the State deems them to need. There is nothing any person in North Korea can possess, including his life and the lives of his children, which the State cannot take away from him or her at any time for any reason or no reason at all. The people live in constant fear, not only of the State, but of each other. And, of course, there is no law but that of the “Supreme Leader”. Communism provides the justification for the government but the rulers can deviate from Marxist dogma as they choose.

Could North Korea then be described as an arbitrary monarchy? Again, no. North Korea is not a monarchy of any kind. The fact that the country has been ruled by father, son and grandson in turn no more makes them a monarchy than the fact that the Pope is elected makes the Vatican a republic. There is actually no hereditary succession in North Korea. Most people do not realize this. Kim Il-Sung was the first President of North Korea. His son, Kim Jong-Il, never succeeded to that office, nor has his son. Confused yet? Well, you should be because this is how far into never-never land North Korea has fallen. Kim Jong-Un and Kim Jong-Il were never President of North Korea because Kim Il-Sung (who died in 1994) is STILL the President! There is no “The King is dead, long live the King” in North Korea. Nope, living or not, Kim Il-Sung is the “Eternal President” of North Korea and always will be. Kim Jong-Il was “Supreme Leader”, he gave the orders and he was in total control, but he was not the President. The President of North Korea, for the last 18 years, has been a dead man. Christopher Hitchens once described North Korea as a “necrocracy” for this reason.

Where the money goes
A monarchy is something that grows up naturally, over time, in a certain place in accordance with the culture of that place. The communist regime in North Korea was something totally alien that was imposed on the country, suddenly and had to be hammered into place by brute force. Korea, of course, had been a monarchy. Immediately prior to the division of course it had been a colonial appendage of the Empire of Japan and prior had been a vassal kingdom of Imperial China. However, it had also, briefly, been an independent empire of its own but that had grown out of the much older and well established Kingdom of Korea that existed previously. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has nothing, whatever at all in common with that Korean Empire which had reigned during the last period of united independence on the peninsula. It was the most radical break imaginable to that old and glorious tradition. The prior Korean kingdom and empire had been a place of highly advanced Confucian learning, progress and prosperity to a degree that caused even their powerful Chinese and Japanese neighbors to look on them with a degree of envy. Today, Japan looks on North Korea with great concern or worry and China regards them as a rather ill-behaved and embarrassing child they are obliged to support. To put it succinctly, we know what a Korean monarchy looks like and the DPRK is certainly NOT that.

To a large extent, North Korea is, thankfully, an almost unique aberration in the world in the extent of its horror. It is less like any sort of a country at all and more akin to a vast slave labor camp. The level of self-deception on the part of the leadership and brainwashing on the part of the public has reached a level that I doubt any other country has ever reached. Even those regimes with which North Korea is friendliest; the PRC, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, the Kingdom of Cambodia and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic have all in at least some small measure (with the possible exception of Laos which is a puppet of Vietnam in any event) realized that the path they started out on was a failure and have been making at least some changes in an effort to improve things. North Korea has not. It is the picture of a totally arrested society where anything that sustains them is credited to their “Great Leader” and all of their colossal ills are blamed on South Korea and the United States, making any effort at improvement useless to even consider. Given this, North Korea almost defies categorization or any effort to understand the place or apply any sort of reason to it at all. Everyone who has ever visited North Korea has been shocked that such a place could possibly be real. Every journalist I have ever seen interviewed after visiting North Korea has said the same exact thing, that it was an Orwellian nightmare brought to life.

Monarchies all around the world have much in common (as all people do as well) and yet are very unique. In certain regions; Europe, the Middle East, the Far East, south Asia etc they may have much in common from one to another but they are still quite unique. Given that, monarchists are often annoyed by republicans who try to paint with a broad brush and, for example, argue against the monarchy in Belgium by pointing to ancient Babylon or condemn the monarchy of the United Kingdom by citing the example of Saudi Arabia. Republicans will of course hypocritically complain when a monarchist cites to someone from the French Republic such cases as the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany or Pol Pot’s Cambodia. Keeping that in mind, far from being understandable as a monarchy, North Korea does, in a way, represent the ultimate in “republicanism”. It is the example of what happens when a political-economic doctrine is taken to the ultimate extreme, of throwing out history, tradition, morals and values and making the political machine, the “State” the ultimate authority, the ultimate guardian and the ultimate religion. North Korea, in that way, is a shining example of what results from all those who would trust political ideologies to solve their problems and ever bigger governments and government programs to take care of everything for them.


  1. I think people completely overlook auto-definition as well. North Korea self-describes as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. So, it is certainly a republic, though no doubt lying about the Democratic part (they do hold elections, but everyone is on the same party list).

  2. North Korea is just a sad country. A perfect example of what can happen when all tradition is replaced with atheism and cult of the dictator. Household pets in most countries have a better quality of life than North Koreans.

  3. North Korea does have a political ancestor, in South America. The Ancient Inca were in many ways very similar. No one had property rights and therefore inheritance, the Sapa-Inca was the final say, with he himself being above the law, and they not only mummified their dead, but burdened the people with the upkeep of the palaces of dead leaders, which they kept on display, ostensibly still in power.

  4. The only possible hope for the people of North Korea is reunification with the South, and on the South`s terms. However, i fear this may only ever come about after the defeat of the North in a war on the Korean penninsula, a war which will have devastating consequences far and wide...

    1. Unfortunately, at this point, reunification would be a tremendous drag on the South Korean economy. Consider how far East Germany still lags behind West Germany -and East Germany was probably the most efficient and successful of all the failed communist states, a veritable paradise on earth compared to North Korea. I'm sure many in South Korea would fear that reunification would mean the poverty of the north dragging them down an economic abyss.

      However, I still advocate the restoration of the monarchy as the best solution. The northern people have been so brainwashed to hate the south that they would, I fear, never go along with any settlement in which South Korea was seen as triumphing over them. By restoring the monarchy reunification could be achieved under a system that predates the Cold War division and grants neither side the status of winners or losers.

    2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    3. Sorry, I don't allow links to articles attacking existing monarchies. You should know that. I know you don't regard any existing European monarchies as "real" monarchies, you should at least know I consider them to have something within them worth defending and which is preferable to outright republicanism. I've made that as clear as I can, many, many times. To your point on North Korea, I hardly think it is comparable that if we call one country what they themselves claim to be then we must call another country something it not only denies to be but vociferously condemns.

    4. Although both countries maintain "reunification ministries" in their governments and politicians and media on both sides occasionally make public statements touting the abstract notion of unity, it is unlikely to happen under any terms. The North is so absolutely different from the South culturally and socially due to their 6 decades of brainwashing and isolation, that their people could never function in a westernized representative democracy like the south. Allowing 24 million North Koreans to suddenly start voting and sending representatives to the National Assembly in Seoul would totally and fundamentally transform the South Korean government in a terrible way.

      Aside from the cultural and political issues, there is no way on earth the South could ever afford the staggering cost of redeveloping the North's economy and infrastructure, and you'd also have to face the inevitable humanitarian crisis that would result from millions of North Koreans suddenly deciding to flee south as refugees instead of staying put and waiting around for things to improve.

      One possible way for it to work might be to re-instate the monarchy and keep the governments separate, under a personal union. The Emperor would reign over North & South, but you'd still have two separate legislatures, two separate court systems, etc. Then, after some decades or so of development, you could start working on political integration.

      Also - an important thing to point out in the whole "North Korea is really a monarchy" fallacy is that, in every monarchy on earth, the monarch is the Head of State. North Korea has never had a father-to-son transfer of that office, ever. Kim Il-Sung remains the de jure head of state as Eternal President, and is the only one of his family to ever hold the powers of head of state.

      Since his death in 1994, the actual functions of head of state have been delegated to the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly - Kim Yong-nam (no relation), which is the office that served as head of state prior to the creation of the presidency in 1972.

    5. I read your first, then second paragraph and by the third you had anticipated my response. Reunification in name with the Emperor as the symbol of unity but keeping both halves of the country apart so the north can begin recovery without dragging down the south. The south can help of course, nothing wrong with that at all.

  5. Barring that, one can always create a North Korean Monarchy that topples the current regime. One that is absolute but not arbitrary, an that graduallyguides the peopel ro Freedm and Prosperity. But just a call.

    I also know wjhat you eman. I casll Stalin a Repblican and a neo-COn and Liberal will both agree that he wasnt...

  6. I would suggest that the Emperor should first rule as Emperor of South Korea and North Korea, as separate entities, much like the Early Pharoahs did with Upper and Lower Egypt. My reason for this is to allow North Korea to recover under the Imperial economy, while forcing the two nations to heal slowly as to not shock both places with the sudden reunification.

  7. There is a great book by Barbra Bemick about North Korea entitled Nothing to Envy. You should read it. Communism is the greatest enemy that monarchists face.


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