Date of Award

January 2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Political Science

Advisor(s)

S.N. Sangmpam

Keywords

Korean politics, Korean presidency, Presidentialism, State-society relations

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences

Abstract

This study attempts to explain why ALL of South Korean presidents, without exception and notwithstanding their individual major contributions to the process of Korea’s development, have fallen victim to disgraceful downfalls.

For the analysis, I employ S.N. Sangmpam’s middle-range theory that establishes a causal link between society-rooted politics and political outcomes. Building on his analytical frameworks that non-Western countries are characterized by over-politicization in politics as a function of social context, I argue that patterned downfalls of all Korean presidents are an institutional outcome of over-politicization in Korean politics, which is itself a function of not fully entrenched capitalist society. In support of my thesis, I test three hypotheses. Hypotheses one and two posit Korea’s tenacious traditional and cultural traits as an internal modifier of capitalism and the nation’s dependent nature of its relationships with the United States and Japan as an external factor that prevented capitalist entrenchment in Korean society. The combined effect of these two variables is the alteration of capitalism in South Korea that defies the three cardinal rules of democracy, leading to over-politicized behaviors in presidential politics.

As for the patterned downfalls of the presidents, I test the hypothesis empirically that as the nation’s most supreme political institution, the Korean presidency displayed the effects of over-politicization most saliently. The evidence reveals that both authoritarian (1948-1987) and democratic (1988-2009) presidents display diverse manifestations of over-politicized behaviors. However, there is also a striking difference between the two eras: Authoritarian presidents seem more influenced by the external causal variable mainly because of Korea’s heavy dependence on the United States and Japan in the formative years of the nation building. Democratic presidents are more challenged by internal causal variable, especially the characteristics of what I call familist collectivism, the dominant operating principle and code of conduct for most Koreans in the period of 1948-2009. Thus, unless the social causal variable is properly addressed, the problem may remain regardless of regime types.

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Open Access

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