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Photo: “Fountain in National Assembly Building of South Korea“, by AnbyG, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0. Hue modified from the original

Shin, Gi-Wook. “South Korea’s Democratic Decay.” Journal of Democracy 31, no. 3 (2020): 100-114.


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.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.