North Korea

Beyond Charismatic Politics

By (author) Heonik Kwon, Byung-Ho Chung

Hardback - £43.00

Publication date:

09 March 2012

Length of book:

232 pages


Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

ISBN-13: 9780742556799

This timely, pathbreaking study of North Korea’s political history and culture sheds invaluable light on the country’s unique leadership continuity and succession. Leading scholars Heonik Kwon and Byung-Ho Chung begin by tracing Kim Il Sung’s rise to power during the Cold War. They show how his successor, his eldest son, Kim Jong Il, sponsored the production of revolutionary art to unleash a public political culture that would consolidate Kim’s charismatic power and his own hereditary authority. The result was the birth of a powerful modern theater state that sustains North Korean leaders’ sovereignty now to a third generation. In defiance of the instability to which so many revolutionary states eventually succumb, the durability of charismatic politics in North Korea defines its exceptional place in modern history.

Kwon and Chung make an innovative contribution to comparative socialism and postsocialism as well as to the anthropology of the state. Their pioneering work is essential for all readers interested in understanding North Korea’s past and future, the destiny of charismatic power in modern politics, the role of art in enabling this power.
Kwon and Chung provide invaluable insight into the role and means of charismatic politics in North Korea. They effectively argue that the regime has used elements of a theater state and family state to build and sustain its legitimacy through arduous political and economic times. The use of the arts to convey and celebrate civic virtues and to associate these virtues with Kim Il Sung, then Kim Jong Il, and now Kim Jung Un is a recurring theme. The homage paid to Kim Il Sung's wife, Kim Jong Suk, is seen as an effort of the regime to present the succession process as natural and necessary. The authors link Kim Il Jong's military-first policy to efforts to cloak himself with his father's charisma and the banner of the continuing revolutionary struggle against imperialism. While the authors acknowledge the regime's success to date, they question how much longer this family state can be sustained by actions of a theater state. They appear to imply that it may be necessary to follow China's course in the 1980s for the regime to survive. This work is highly recommended for scholars of North Korean politics and substantial graduate school collections on Northeast Asia. Summing Up: Highly recommended.