Post-democracy and historicism: The hidden origin of the Korea-Japan trade war

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Since Japan's imposition of export controls against Korea in July 2019 and its following countermoves, including the termination of the General Security of Military Information Agreement, the governments of both countries have presented their own narratives of the origin of this trade war, both of which mirror theories of international politics. Nonetheless, these narratives mask several domestic origins. Most importantly, this paper demonstrates that behind the trade war, there has been a preoccupation of the two governments with mutually irreconcilable version forms of historicism. One is Korea's pro-naturalist historicism, seeing Korean history as being preordained by the universal laws of human progress and defining Japan as a historical reactionary. The other is Japan's anti-naturalist historicism, upholding internationalism as a new driving force of history that will transform Japan from a war criminal state into a proper subject in international society while criticizing Korea as being a drag on this transformation. This paper argues that, resulting from decades-long neoliberal politics that have disturbed the state-society balance, the national structure of post-democracy has encouraged each government to push historicism to its limit as an alternative source of political legitimacy in lieu of democratic accountability. Concretely, it shows that postdemocracy has determined (1) the historicist framing of emerging conflicts, (2) the government's legislative struggles to realize historicist policies, and (3) the incontestability of historicist hostility by other ideas in each country.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2150003
JournalIssues and Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2021

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  • Historicism
  • Legitimacy
  • Neoliberalization
  • Post-democracy
  • The korea-Japan trade war


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