“Civil Society” and Nationalism in North Korea: Foundations for Political Change?

IR Working Paper 1991/7

Author/s (editor/s):

James Cotton

Publication year:


Publication type:

Working paper

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IR Working Paper 1991/7

James Cotton, ‘“Civil Society” and Nationalism in North Korea: Foundations for Political Change?’, IR Working Paper 1991/7, Canberra: Department of International Relations, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University, 3 October 1991.

Working with that definition of ‘civil society’ applied to the democratic upsurge in Eastern Europe, this paper shows that there is little in the East Asian tradition to support the idea of a sphere of independent and potentially harmonious human relations separate from the state. Although earlier in this century East Asia (including Korea) saw some developments which might have led to the emergence of a civil sphere, the particular characteristics of East Asian Marxism and Marxist regimes, and especially their stress upon consciousness as opposed to social and political structures, have reinforced the hostility of the traditional political culture to civic autonomy. The prognosis for North Korea, post-Kim Il-sung, is for the regime (probably led by military figures and technocrats) to adopt reform and opening policies which will lead ultimately to its own decline, rather than to be overwhelmed rapidly in a popular upheaval.

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