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  • Print publication year: 2016
  • Online publication date: December 2016

8 - The Legitimacy of Democratic Rule in Korea: From the Perspective of the Mass Citizenry


Scholars and political analysts agree that mass political orientations are crucial to the democratic transformation of authoritarian political systems and the consolidation of nascent democratic systems. On the institutional level, a political system becomes democratic with the adoption of a democratic constitution, competitive elections, and multiple political parties. However, these institutions alone do not make for a well-functioning representative democracy. Nor do they produce a fully liberal democracy.

As Richard Rose and his associates aptly point out, the institutions constitute nothing more than “the hardware” of representative democracy. To operate properly, a democratic political system requires “software” congruent with the various hardware components. Citizen attitudes to democracy and their reactions to its institutions are key components of the software required for democracy to work.

All democracies, both new and old, can perform effectively and thrive long term only with support from a majority of their respective citizenries. More notably, new electoral democracies become fully consolidated liberal democracies only when an overwhelming majority of the mass citizenry embraces democratic rule as “the only game in town.” For this reason, how ordinary citizens view democracy and react to its institutions and processes has recently become a central concern in research and theory on the legitimatization of democratic rule especially in third wave democracies.

This chapter seeks to examine how much progress has been made in building a democratic political culture that is fully compatible with the institutions of representative democracy in South Korea (Korea hereafter), one of five third wave democracies in East Asia. To this end, we first propose a new multidimensional model of democratic legitimization to unravel how individual citizens come to legitimatize democracy-in-practice as the most appropriate system of government for their country. On the basis of this model, we then explore the breadth, depth, types, and patterns of democratic legitimatization unfolding among the Korean people by analyzing the latest 2010 wave of the Korea Democracy Barometer Surveys.

This study proposes a three-dimensional model of democratic legitimacy and legitimatization on the basis of the ACC model (A for affect, C for cognition, and C for conation) that social psychologists have developed to offer a complete account of attitudes.