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[Opinion] “Talk to Each Other” Debates

Posted February. 06, 2005 22:56,   


In the fifth century BC, Pericles, the hero of Athenian democracy, said, “Instead of looking on discussion as a stumbling-block in the way of action, we think of debate as an indispensable preliminary to any wise action.” Afterwards, decision-making through the process of debate became democracy itself. The development of democracy in our case even brought forward the motto, “debate republic.” Nevertheless, we could say that as the process of combining wisdom and negotiation, debates are at the core of democratic politics.

There are two types of debates. In direct democracies such as Athens, debate was a game between thousands of listeners and a few speakers. All citizens have a say, but the debate is actually dominated by a few orators. The speakers compete to persuade the audience, and as a result, a “talk about each other” type of debate takes place. Such debates are fights in which words instead of swords are the weapons. Attacking the opponent’s weaknesses prevails over mutual understanding, and the final verdict is often distorted by the demagogue’s flamboyant rhetoric.

The democracy that was born again 2,000 years after the collapse of Athens was a representative government. The characteristic of political debates has changed, and an assembly has taken place as the center of the debates. Today, debates take the form of minorities “talking to each other.” A representation of local people is required, but basically, representative democracy is a process in which representatives expand and change each other’s thoughts through an exchange of ideas, and recommend legislations and decisions that suit common interests. Of course, representatives who are aware of the elections tend to fall into “talk about each other” debates from time to time.

It has been a week since the opening of February’s extraordinary session of the National Assembly. Many agenda items, including important bills, are awaiting discussion. Representatives should forget the audience outside the National Assembly for the moment and start debates for a “wise mutual agreement.” Moreover, they should not be afraid of a change of ideas occurring in their thoughts during the process of the “talk to each other” debate.

Yoo Hong-lim, Guest Editorial Writer, Professor of Political Science at Seoul National University, honglim@snu.ac.kr