chapter  11
Ideocratic legitimation in North Korea: Its history and challenges
Pages 22

Despite the collapse of Communism in Europe and the Soviet Union, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, also known as North Korea) and the Republic of Korea (ROK, also known as South Korea) present a picture reminiscent of the seemingly deceased Cold War. In light of continuing famine, economic hardships, and the loss of two national leaders, scholars have projected that the DPRK would not be able to survive very long. Some scholars have provided specific scenarios regarding how North Korea would collapse, such as a new dictatorship taking over political and military institutions; an establishment leader acknowledging the failure of the regime; or the Kim regime being challenged without a subsequent leader capable of securing power over the country, causing a collapse of the current government and the end of the political longevity of North Korea.1 Kim Jong-il and his regime, however, proved these predictions premature. Even after his death, his son Kim Jong-un, who physically resembles his grandfather Kim Il-sung more than his father Kim Jong-il did, has succeeded in keeping the regime in power despite all these obstacles and challenges. Scholars have provided explanations for the unusual longevity of North Korea, which has endured a poor economy and the death of both its deified national leader and his successor.2 There are several factors that may account for North Korea’s unusual political resilience; Juche ideology lays the foundation for many of these explanations. Along with the deification of Kim Il-sung and his family, this ideology has permeated all of the country’s social and economic organizations for more than 60 years.3 This chapter shows that, with the support of Juche ideology, Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un have used co-optation and repressive strategies to secure their leadership. Nonetheless, their position has recently been threatened by the spread of negative sentiment towards Kim’s family, continuing economic hardships, and the public’s access to communication technology. This chapter examines how the regime has compensated for these threats to its ideocratic foundation.