It happened today - July 8, 2015
On July 8 back in 1994 Kim Il-sung died. Sort of. I mean, his body perished. His ideas had long predeceased him. But the Constitution of North Korean declared him “Eternal President” on September 5, 1998. So that’s one less thing.
Or one more, depending how you look at it. It’s one more lunatic touch from a regime that seemed to take positive delight in lunatic things (like Kim Jong-il’s reported 34 in his first-ever round of golf in October 1994 on a 7,700 yard course, including 11 aces, following his February perfect 300 in bowling) that they don’t have to worry about who to appoint president because a dead guy is hogging the job. Or a deity. Kim Il-sung’s birthday is a holiday in North Korea and is known as the “Day of the Sun”. Curious that atheistic materialists would regard their first ruler as a celestial and eternal being.
Like Lenin he was embalmed in that curious, grotesque and pathetic materialist form of immortality where the spirit vanishes and the incorruptible flesh remains. And citizens were apparently persuaded, or at least told, that neither Kim Il-sung nor Kim Jong-il defecated.
It is revealing in a base way that the current head of North Korea is head of the armed forces and First Secretary of the Worker’s Party of Korea. It’s a rather unsubtle reminder that in the absence of any genuine legitimacy, political power sprouts directly from the barrel of a gun. In some sense it’s always true; the political power of the free must come from weapons because only weapons can keep the evil at bay; thus Magna Carta was after all the product of armed citizens not merely elevated sentiments. But where freedom reigns the citizens were armed. North Korean does it differently.
It is even more revealing that the succession in North Korea has been dynastic. Kim Il-Sung himself was put in power by Stalin. But he was succeeded by his sun, I mean son, Kim Jong-il who in turn was succeeded by his son Kim Jong-un. When legitimacy is lacking, the primal reasserts itself because at least you know who his son is and there’s quite literally no other basis on which even to begin discussing the question of who should lead us. (Raul Castro is a less hallucinogenic version of the same rule.)
Now to be fair it’s not straight dynastic, at least in the sense that Kim Jong-il was not succeeded by his eldest son, who preposterously fell from favour after being caught trying to sneak into Japan to visit Tokyo Disneyland. But what an embarrassing method of succession, especially for the ultimate progressive regime, to revert to the most primitive system imaginable. I exempt rule by whoever hits everyone else on the head, which might be more primitive (or not; like the sharks who have two fetuses who fight to the death in the womb at least it tests your basic fitness) but is not really a system.
One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Both seem appropriate. But one must also scratch one’s head. For North Korea is not just instructive for the way its berserk tyranny reverted to dynastic biology. It is also instructive for the way that, once a regime becomes officially insane (and I have not begun to list all the absurd claims made about Kim Il-sung including the miraculous signs at his birth), there seems to be a perverse positive dynamic to get ever crazier rather than a prudent belief that we should keep it from being laugh-out-loud silly. It’s not just that forcing people to swallow patent untruths humiliates and weakens them; it seems that as J. Budziszewski has argued, once your conscience is set to negative polarity it pushes you away from good as firmly as a normal one pushes you away from evil.
Finally, the obvious religious overtones of the whole cult of personality around the “Heavenly Leader” show how dismally official atheism fails to satisfy basic human desires. Even a regime that could portray the portly clumsy Kim Jong-il as a superhuman athlete without normal bodily functions could not just say the boss died, get over it, we have power and you don’t.
In that sense, if no other, Kim Il-sung was the great teacher his state propaganda machine declared him to be.