What TK instead argues that many of Korea’s problems are due in fact to modernity.
Read TK’s post on your own. As TK’s stuff usually is, it’s thought-provoking and not without its points of controversy. Not that I disagree that Korea’s forced-march development didn’t result in serious social problems, but I do have to wonder just how “dehumanizing” modernity has been when you compare Korea’s human development over the last 100 years with its human development over the previous 500. For all modern Korea’s problems, I refuse to believe the average person today leads a less “human” existence that a Joseon Dynasty peasant. I suppose we could say the “essence of modernity is to turn humans into resources,” although I believe proponents of modernity prefer to look at it as “delayed gratification for human progress.” Just as I’m sure the leaders of Joseon Dynasty preferred to see the essence of their society as building and protecting a model society of good morals and wise governance, not as intentionally blocking human progress and development in order to preserve the authority and privilege of a class of landed elites in a highly stratified society.
That said, TK and some of his commenters do demonstrate the pitfalls of using Confucianism as a go-to cause for Korea’s ills (or accomplishments, for that matter). To be sure, it’s a factor in many things, just as our Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman heritages impact many social and cultural phenomena in the West. But it wasn’t long ago that Confucianism was being blamed for Korea’s lack of development. There’s a reason Korea’s “development dictatorships” all but declared war on Korea’s traditional culture, after all—they viewed it as an impediment to development. Fast-forward several decades, and everyone’s praising Confucianism for the educational enthusiasm, social stability, patriotism and willingness to sacrifice that made East Asian economic development possible. Maybe Confucianism played a major role in both Korea’s pre-modern backwardness and its current hyper-modernity, or maybe there are more important factors at play. I’m neither a sociologist nor an expert in Confucianism—for that matter, neither is TK or Tudor—but if I were to offer an uninformed opinion, it’s that what Confucianism is and what role it plays really depends on who, when and where. In that sense, it’s no different from, say, Roman Catholicism, which might be inspiring Franks to slaughter the infidel in the Holy Land one moment and inspiring the oppressed to bring down communism in Poland the next.