Dictator’s Modernity Dilemma: Development and Democracy in South Korea, 1961-1987

Soh Jaipil Lecture Series

Black and white photo of signs written in Korean

Dictator’s Modernity Dilemma: Development and Democracy in South Korea, 1961-1987 aims to reconcile the two seemingly contradictory views regarding Korea’s path to modernity and democracy. At first blush, South Korea illustrates the basic premise of modernization theory: economic development leads to democracy. However, under Park Chung Hee (1961-1979) and Chun Doo Hwan (1980-1988), Korea’s political system became increasingly authoritarian alongside the growth of the national economy. These South Korean autocrats sought legitimacy of their coup-born regimes by holding legislative elections and investing in economic development. In this book project, I argue and demonstrate that the structural foundations of modernization (industrial complexes and higher education in particular) had an initial stabilizing effect on authoritarian rule by increasing regime support but also contributed to the development of mobilizing structures for anti-regime protests in the 1970s and 1980s. By highlighting the differential impacts of modernization structures over time, this research shows how socioeconomic development acted as a “double-edged sword” by stabilizing the regimes at first but destabilizing the dictatorship over time.

Speakers

Joan Cho, Wesleyan University

Celeste Arrington, George Washington University