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Conservative counterattacks

Aug 28,2019
SHIN KYUNG-JIN
The author is a Beijing correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

“The conservative is concerned with resistance to ideology. He endeavors to restore true political philosophy, insisting that we cannot make a Heaven of earth, though we can certainly make a Hell of it through the utopian fancies of ideology,” American political thinker Russel Kirk (1918-1994) wrote in his 1953 book “The Conservative Mind.”

Recently, I spotted a translation of the book in a bookstore’s new release section in Beijing. Last year, the book was translated and published in Korea and Japan. It’s been 65 years since the first edition was published in the United States. Just in time, as the governments of Korea, China and Japan, captivated by ideologies, are working hard to realize ideals. Korea’s current administration is not going to stop clearing so-called past evils. The Chinese Communist Party advocating Xi Jinping’s thoughts along with the “new era of Chinese-style socialism” is busy publicizing “original mindset” and “mission.” Japan’s right-wing radical nationalists represented by the Nippon Kaigi, or Japan Conference, want to push for constitutional amendment. Silent conservatives are worried.

Translations of Kirk’s classic in Korea, Japan and China can be seen as conservatives’ strike back. I purchased the translations. The titles and prefaces of the three are different. The Chinese edition’s translator Ren Jiantao, a professor at People’s University, wrote that he translated “mind” as “ideology” to explain the development and changes of conservative ideologies and that if he had translated it as “spirit,” it would be closer to Kirk’s intention to spread the conservative ideology. I thought it was a trace of censorship that the purpose of the translation should not be the spread of conservatism. The Japan edition pointed out that the belated translation was due to the “passiveness of the Japanese intellectual society on American researches and studies on conservative ideas.” The Korean edition wrote, “Conservatism is not an ideology representing dictatorship or interests of the conglomerates” and “since there is no way of realizing a paradise or heaven on earth, I think we should do best to make efforts to make a better society.”

Kirk, who is considered the root of American conservatism, proposed six canons of conservatism. First, conservatism believes in personal conscience. Second, conservatism is sure of a transcendental order. Third, conservatism believes that a civilized society requires an order of classes according to their natural differences. Fourth, conservatism is sure that personal property and liberty cannot be violated. Fifth, conservatism believes that human impulse and desire can be controlled by tradition and custom. Sixth, conservatism rejects careless changes.

Shockwaves will spread across Northeast Asia after South Korea scrapped the General Security of Military Information Agreement with Japan. That offers an opportunity for healthy conservatives in Korea, China and Japan to form an alliance. Kirk’s canons can serve as a good compass.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 27, Page 32