The Meaning of Pyongyang

In New English Review Dalrymple disputes the thesis of The Cleanest Race: How the North Koreans See Themselves – and Why It Matters by B. R. Myers, namely that the North Korean dictatorship owes more to fascist imperial Japan than Marx. In doing so, he gets into the difficult and murky distinctions between fascism and communism.
There are some countries that, once visited, retain a disproportionate hold on your imagination. Among them, for me at least, are Haiti and Liberia, two small states that are known to the world at large principally for their political, and sometimes for their natural, catastrophes. They are marginal from the point of view of the world economy, I need hardly say, and yet their history has something about it that makes it seem significant beyond itself. No one, I think, can study the early history of either country without being moved by it; and just as the biography of a single person can also be a portrait of an age, so the history of an otherwise insignificant country can tell us something important about the human predicament as a whole, for example our tendency to turn liberation into a new form of servitude.
North Korea is another country that, once visited, is not easily forgotten. Its hold on the imagination, however, has nothing of affection in it, as does that of Haiti or Liberia. This absence of affection is no reflection upon the Korean people, but rather upon the political system that reigns there. Spontaneous contact with Koreans is precisely what the regime attempts at all costs to prevent, and succeeds to an extent unique even for the communist, or formerly communist, world. Compared with North Korea, Hoxha’s Albania was a free country. In short, North Korea has all the fascination of sheer horror.

3 thoughts on “The Meaning of Pyongyang

  1. Henry Reardon

    While I have not read Myers work and don’t feel qualified to judge it solely on the basis of Dalrymple’s remarks, one factor which Dalrymple/Daniels does not consider in this article is that fact that the North Korean regime is apparently a dynasty. That surely has to be one of the factors that argues for North Korea being influenced by Japan.

    I don’t recall ever seeing Marx write specifically on the topic of heriditary monarchies but I would be astonished if it turned out that he’d praised them. The idea of a Marxist state passing its leadership on to the blood descendents of its current leaders would seem to be anathema to someone of Marx’s views, yet somehow Kim Il Sung obviously saw nothing wrong with grooming his son to take his place and now Kim Jung Il is apparently on the road to transferring power to one of his sons….

  2. Jackson

    But, if I’m reading you correctly, is this not the circular problem that constantly orbits most ideas, ideologies?

    Take the ‘Invisible Hand’, or Milton Friedman’s idea of it… much of it sounds compelling, persuasive. Persuasive enough to get the people peddling the idea into power… what they then do with that power may be quite contradictory to their supposed ideals. (the butcher, baker and brewer should not be expected to dwell too much on the fate of Northern Koreans but we should expect their self interest to be in sympathy with the dearest domestic ties, and laws, that make their customers lives viable, even enjoyable)

    It’s true, I presume, that the Nth Korean dynasty wasn’t put in place after acquiring power and was therefore not, I suppose, Marxist from the get go… I just suspect that any supposedly Marxist or communist regime is going to be more prone to the worst of self interest than capitalism.

    Something like that, I obviously didn’t know where this was leading… or coming from even.


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