The phrase “cult of personality” is used more often to describe North Korea's Kim dynasty than the legacy of South Korean dictator Park Chung-hee, father of the recently impeached President Park Geun-hye. And yet Park's legacy has long been mythologized by conservative forces in both Korea and abroad as that of a virtuous and wise political leader. The praise of Park's virtues (especially his “economization of politics,” as one prominent conservative economist puts it) has many uses. During the Cold War, it was used to secure legitimacy for a president who had come to power through a military coup and whose vision of “administrative democracy” invested enormous power into the institution of the presidency itself. More recently, it has been deployed to help rewrite Korea's highly contentious development experience in a manner that praises both the state and oligarchic interests for past achievements. The myth of Park has been circulated through Korea's Official Development Assistance policies to help satisfy the demand for knowledge of Korea's development experience and to secure international prestige for the Korean development “model.” Meanwhile, intellectuals associated with Korea's New Right movement have praised Park's much-vaunted legacy of economic planning and the establishment of a Korean middle class as prefiguring democracy, a narrative that is used to denigrate a history of democratic mobilization deemed dear to the liberal and progressive opposition and their supporters.

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