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The Rise of Bureaucratic Authoritarianism in South Korea


In this paper, I investigate why a bureaucratic-authoritarian (hereafter BA) regime emerged in South Korea during the early 1970s. The regime transition was the outcome of conflict among key political actors who were constrained, although not in a deterministic way, by the change in the Korean economic structure. It can be understood as the outcome of strategic choices made by key political actors among alternatives that satisfied structural constraints.

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1 A typical example of the thesis is found in Lipset Seymour M., “Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy,” American Political Science Review 53 (March 1959), 69105. Revisionist modernization theorists criticized this thesis of political development. Samuel P. Huntington, for example, argued that, without institutionalization, economic development is not likely to lead to political democratization, but may result in praetorianism. See Huntington , Political Order in Changing Societies (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968).

2 O'Donnell initially offered the BA model in Modernization and Bureaucratic-Authoritarianism: Studies in South American Politics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973).

3 O'Donnell Guillermo, “Corporatism and the Question of the State” in Malloy James M., ed., Authoritarianism and Corporatism in Latin America (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1977), 54.

4 O'Donnell Guillermo, “Reflections on the Patterns of Change in the Bureaucratic-Authoritarian State,” Latin American Research Review 13 (No. 1, 1978), 13.

5 Ibid., 13–15.

6 William L. Canak as well as Douglas C. Bennett and Kenneth E. Sharpe have provided reviews of evaluations and critiques. See Canak , “The Peripheral State Debate: State Capitalist and Bureaucratic-Authoritarian Regimes in Latin America,” Latin American Research Review 19 (No. 1, 1984), 336, and Bennett and Sharpe , “Capitalism, bureaucratic authoritarianism and prospects for democracy in the United States,” International Organization 36 (Summer 1982), 633–50. Fermin D. Adriano and Jonathan Hartlyn, respectively, criticized the BA thesis through case studies of the Philippines and of Colombia. See Adriano , “A Critique of the ‘Bureaucratic Authoritarian State’ Thesis: The Case of the philippines,” Journal of Contemporary Asia 14 (No. 4, 1984), 459–84; Hartlyn , “The Impact of Patterns of Industrialization and of Popular Sector Incorporation on Political Regime Type: A Case Study of Colombia,” Studies in Comparative International Development 19 (Spring 1984), 2960.

7 For the critique of economic determinism in O'Donnell's model, see the articles by Hirschman Albert O., Serra Jose, and Collier David in Collier David, ed., The New Authoritarianism in Latin America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979); Philip George, “Military Authoritarianism in South America: Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, and Argentina,” Political Studies 32 (March 1984), 120; and Adriano (fn. 6).

8 For the discussion of economic restructuring within the framework of a semicompetitive formal democracy in Colombia, see Ruhl J. Mark, “An Alternative to the Bureaucratic-Authoritarian Regime: The Case of Colombian Modernization,” Inter-American Economic Af-fairs 35 (Autumn 1981), 4369, and Hartlyn (fn. 6). For the Venezuelan case, see Karl Terry L., “Petroleum and Political Pacts: The Transition to Democracy in Venezuela,” in O'Donnell Guillermo, Schmitter Philippe C., and Whitehead Laurence, eds., Transitions from Authoritarian Rule: Latin America (Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1986), chap. 9.

9 Colombia's bipartisan National Front regime and Venezuela's Accion Democratica (AD) are good examples of political arrangements of compromise and concession to accommodate conflicts of interests among social classes and groups arising from structural economic change. See Hartlyn (fn. 6), Ruhl (fn. 8), and Karl (fn. 8).

10 Wallerstein Michael, “The Collapse of Democracy in Brazil: Its Economic Determinants,” Latin American Research Review 15 (No. 3, 1980), 12; Albert O. Hirschman, “The Turn to Authoritarianism in Latin America and the Search for its Economic Determinants,” in Collier (fn. 7), 81.

11 José Serra, “Three Mistaken Theses Regarding the Connection between Industrialization and Authoritarian Regimes,” in Collier (fn. 7).

12 I am careful not to read all of O'Donnell too rigidly. In later writings, he tried to redress the theoretical flaws of unctionalism. For example, he used a strategic-choice analysis in “State and Alliances in Argentina, 1956–1976,” Journal of Development Studies 15 (October 1998), 333.

13 Fernando H. Cardoso, “On the Characterization of Authoritarian Regimes in Latin America,” in Collier (fn. 7), 38.

14 For a discussion of people/power bloc contradictions, see Laclau Ernesto, “Towards a Theory of Populism,” in Laclau, Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory (London: New Left Books, 1977).

15 Jessop Bob, “The Political Indeterminacy of Democracy,” in Hunt Alan, ed., Marxism and Democracy (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1980), 63.

16 Robert R. Kaufman, “Industrial Change and Authoritarian Rule in Latin America,” in Collier (fn. 7), 248.

17 Becker David G., “Development, Democracy, and Dependency in Latin America: a postimperialist view,” Third World Quarterly 6 (April 1984), 411–31.

18 Przeworski Adam, “Capitalism, The Last Stage of Imperialism,” paper presented to the Congress of the International Sociological Association (Upsala, Sweden, August 1978), 13.

19 The support of Brazilian industrialists, especially those in the Sao Paulo area, for the abertura (opening) after 1975 is a good example. See Pereira Luiz Bresser, Development and Crisis in Brazil, 1930–1983 (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1984), 190–99.

20 Pereira Luiz Bresser, “Six Interpretations of the Brazilian Social Formation,” Latin American Perspectives 11 (Winter 1984), 6263.

21 For a general theoretical discussion of class compromise in a democracy and its breakdown, see Przeworski Adam, Capitalism and Social Democracy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), chaps. 4–5.

22 Mouzelis Nicos, “Regime Instability and the State in Peripheral Capitalism: A General Theory and a Case Study of Greece,” Working Papers of the Latin American Program, No. 79 (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center, 1980).

23 Przeworski Adam, “Democracy as a Contingent Outcome of Conflicts,” in Elster Jon and Slagstad Rune, eds., Constitutionalism and Democracy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987).

24 For the principal traits of BA regimes characterized by O'Donnell, see O'Donnell (fn. 4), 6, and O'Donnell, “Tensions in the Bureaucratic-Authoritarian State and the Question of Democracy,” in Collier (fn. 7), 291–94.

25 Between 1965 and 1976, the share of lower income groups (bottom 40%) declined from 19.34% to 16.85%, but that of upper income groups (top 20%) increased from 41.81% to 45.34%. See Choo Hak Chung, “Gyecheungbyul sodeugbunpoeui chugyewa byundongyoin” [An estimation of size distribution of income and the cause of change], Hangug Gaebal Yeongu 1 (March 1979), 34.

26 Yet the “bureaucratic” character in the term “bureaucratic authoritarianism” can be disputed. In most cases of Korean as well as Latin American BA regimes, “bureaucratic” can be understood as the increase of power of incumbent technocrats without accountability from civil society rather than as the increase of bureaucratic rationality in the Weberian sense.

27 Sang Jin Han of Seoul National University discussed the specificity in the rise of the Korean BA regime in “Gwanryojeug kwunwijueuiwa hangugsahoe” [Bureaucratic authoritarianism and Korean society], Study Group on Sociology of Seoul National University, eds., Hangugsahoeeui Juntonggwa Byunhwa [Tradition and change in Korean society] (Seoul: Bummunsa, 1983), 261–97.

28 The Korean economy showed a slight downturn from the peak rate of economic growth in 1969 (13.8% GNP growth). GNP growth in 1970,1971,2nd 1972 was 7.6%, 9.4%, and 5.8%, respectively. See Republic of Korea, Economic Planning Board, Social Indicators in Korea, 1981, p. 55. Nevertheless, the slackening of growth should not be interpreted as a crisis in the economy but rather as the stabilization of economic growth. The growth rate in this “recession period” was relatively high compared to the rates of both the advanced industrialized countries and the developing countries.

29 Gupta Jyotirindra Das, “A Season of Caesars: Emergency Regimes and Development Politics in Asia,” Asian Survey 28 (April 1978), 347.

30 Kuznets Paul W., Economic Growth and Structure in the Republic of Korea (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977), 203–05.

31 Duncan Snidal defines the export platform as “a development strategy whereby the production of labor-intensive manufactures for the world market provides the central dynamic for overall economic growth in a country.” See Snidal , “Spring-Board or Plank?: The 'Korean' Model for Export Platform Development,” unpub. (University of Chicago, 1982), 7.

32 Frank Charles R. Jr., et al., Foreign Trade Regimes and Economic Development: South Korea (New York: Columbia University Press, 1975), 7778.

33 Frobel Folker et al., The New International Division of Labor (London: Cambridge University Press, 1980).

34 Snidal (61.31), 14.

35 Lee Eddy, “Egalitarian Peasant Farming and Rural Development: The Case of South Korea,” in Ghai Dharam et al., eds., Agrarian Systems and Rural Development (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1979), 62.

36 Kim Kwan Bong, The Korea-Japan Treaty Crisis and the Instability of the Korean Political System (New York: Praeger, 1971), 7880.

37 Lim Hyun Chin, “Dependent Development in the World System: The Case of South Korea, 1963–1979,” Ph.D. diss. (Harvard University, 1982), chap. 4.

38 Frank et al. (fn. 32), chap. 4.

39 Watanabe Susumu, “Export and Employment: The Case of the Republic of Korea,” International Labor Review 106 (December 1972), 521–22.

40 Leroy P. Jones and II Sakong discuss both “field manipulation” and “command” types of state intervention to implement export platform policies in Jones and Sakong, Government, Business, and Entrepreneurship in Economic Development: The Korean Case (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980), chap. 4.

41 Ibid., chap. 5

42 Frank et al (fn. 32), 1, 11; Kuznetz (fn. 30), 117.

43 Ibid., 51.

44 Chul Hwan Chun, “Suchul-oejajudogaebaleui baljunronjug pyungga” [Developmentalist evaluation of export- and foreign capital-led development], in Yun Hwan Kim et al., Hanguggyungjeeui Jungaegwajung [Development of the Korean economy] (Seoul: Dolbegae), 188.

45 Snidal(fn. 31), 11.

46 Kim Kyung Dong, Man and Society in Korea's Economic Growth (Seoul: Seoul National University Press, 1979), 6770.

47 Bu Wan Hyug, “Jaebulgwa ogaenyungyehoeg” [Jaebul and the five-year economic plan], Sa Sang Gye 14 (August 1966), 4657.

48 Evans Peter, Dependent Development (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979), 4142.

49 Evans Peter, “Transnational Linkages and the Economic Role of the State,” in Evans Peter, Rueschemeyer Dietrich, and Scocpol Theda, eds., Bringing the State Back In (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 205–06.

50 The debt/equity ratio in manufacturing industry rose from 1.2 in 1966 to 3.9 in 1971. Between 1963 and 1974, two-thirds of the total cash flow came from borrowing (53% from domestic banks, 29% from foreign sources, and 19% from private curb markets). See Jones and Sakong (fn. 40), 101–02.

51 Choi Jang Jip, “Interest Conflict and Political Control in South Korea: A Study of the Labor Unions in Manufacturing Industries, 1961–1980,” Ph.D. diss. (University of Chicago, 1983 ). 7479.

52 Economic Planning Board, Korea Statistical Yearbook 12 (1965) and 22 (1975).

53 Sloboda John E., “Off-Farm Migration,” in Ban Sung Hwan et al., Rural Development (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980), 326.

54 Eddy Lee (fn. 35), 31–32.

55 Nevertheless, rural outmigrants who settled as social marginals improved their incomes. In 1968, for example, per capita income of farmers was 63.4% of that of urban social marginals. See Park Hyun Chae, Hangugnongubeui Gusang [A plan for Korean agriculture] (Seoul: Han Gil Sa, 1980, 82.

56 Lim (fn. 37), 180.

57 The concept of the “overdeveloped” state was initially formulated by Hamza Alavi. According to Alavi, the postcolonial state inherited an overdeveloped state apparatus (both bureaucratic-military and economic) in relation to civil society, and therefore was capable of subordinating indigenous classes. See Alavi , “The State in Post-Colonial Societies: Pakistan and Bangladesh,” New Left Review 74 (July-August 1972), 5981. Here I use the term “overdeveloped” in a modified sense. In South Korea, an overdeveloped state apparatus was not inherited from the Japanese colonial state, but was built to carry out American security interests in the cold-war era.

58 Choi (fn. 51), 311–14.

59 Mason Edward S. et al., The Economic and Social Modernization of the Republic of Korea (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980), 185.

60 Cole David C. and Lymann Princeton N., Korean Development: The Interplay of Politics and Economics (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971), 5758.

61 For the concept of the “politicized state,” see Douglas A. Chalmers, “The Politicized State in Latin America,” in Malloy (fn. 3), 23–45.

62 For the discussion of the 1961 coup from the standpoint of internal organizational problems within the military, see Sohn Jae Souk, “Political Dominance and Political Failure: The Role of the Military in the Republic of Korea,” in Bienen Henry, ed., The Military Intervenes (Hartford, CT: Russel Sage Foundation, 1968), 103–10, and Lee Soo Uk, “Dependent Development and the Rise of Authoritarian Regime in South Korea,” unpub. (University of Chicago, 1982), 4050.

63 Fei John C. H. and Ranis Gustav, Development of Labor Surplus Economy: Theory and Policy (Homewood, IL: Richard D. Irwin, 1964).

64 Fei John C. H. and Ranis Gustav, “A Model of Growth and Employment in the Open Dualistic Economy: The Case of Korea and Taiwan,” Journal of Development Studies 11 (January 1975), 46.

65 Ibid., 49–51.

66 Choi (fn. 51), 141.

67 Lee Young Ho, “5.25 Sungueui jungchijug euieui” [The political meaning of the May 25 election], Gughoebo 114 (June 1971), 1011.

68 Kim Chang soo, “Marginalization, Development, and the Korean Worker's Movement,” AMPO: Japan-Asia Quarterly Review 9 (July-November 1977), 3132.

69 Although popular activation increased, the strength of the popular sector and the perception of the popular threat to the ruling power bloc were in every sense moderate to low.

70 This kind of alternative strategy was, indeed, presented by the opposition party candidate, Dae Jung Kim, in the 1971 election. For Kim's strategy, see Kim Dae Jung, Kim Dae Jung tseeui Daejung Gyungje [Mr. Dae Jung Kim's Mass Economy] (Seoul: Bumwoosa, 1971).

71 Alfred stepan formulated a hypothesis that the more substantial the state's ciercive resources are, the greater the chances that an “exclusionary” regime will be installed. See Stepan Alfred, The state and society: peru in Comparative perspective (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978), 8889.

* The first draft of this paper was presented at the 34th annual meeting of the Midwest Conference on Asian Affairs, Miami University (Oxford, Ohio), October 11–13, 1985.1 should like to thank Adam Przeworski, Duncan Snidal, Bernard S. Silberman, and Guillermo O'Donnell for their critical comments, which helped to improve this essay.

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