Journal of Social Sciences

The Logic of Populist Discourse and its Cultural Frame in Korea: An Analysis of the Former President Roh Moo-Hyun's Reformist Rhetoric

Manwoo Lee

DOI : 10.3844/jssp.2008.178.188

Journal of Social Sciences

Volume 4, Issue 3

Pages 178-188


This study was conducted to explain the discursive logic of populist politics and its cultural background in the former president Roh's Korean Government. It was divided into two parts of research results. In the first part, I articulated a reading of former Korean president Roh's discourses focusing on the populist dimensions of his rhetoric. His discourse was organized according to the binary opposition of antagonism. It distinguished between us (the People as represented by his Government) and them (the Conservatives the majority party in the National Assembly), constructing thus two chains of equivalences at war. In the second part, I explored the socio-historical conditions of emergence of populist discourses by trying to situate the outbreak of current populism within the long history of past social movement in Korea. I confirmed manic dualism as a cultural frame of Korean populism in relation to the crucial cleavage between the conservatives and the progressives that have seemed to dominate contemporary Korean political culture. And coming to a conclusion, I discussed the connection between Korean populism and democracy as a clinical diagnosis of populist discourses. Populism could be conceived as paradoxical experience in which the successive democratization in Korea might have become its underside.


© 2008 Manwoo Lee. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.