The Journal of Democracy, Vol. 31, Issue 3
July 14, 2020
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.