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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

North Korea’s Constitution Makes Me Craugh

A constitution should restrain government’s power; it's clear that North Korea's does not.

Image credit: conan_mizuta on Pixabay

Why does a country have a constitution?

One reason is to spell out the rules for how the country’s government will function—things like how its various branches are to interact, how laws are to come into being, and what qualifications one must satisfy to hold public office. It’s the same reason any organization crafts articles of incorporation or bylaws.

A Proper Constitution

To those who know that government can be either liberty’s best friend or its worst enemy, there’s a far more important reason: to put government in a box.

We should never think of even the best of governments as the source of human rights, but rather as a protector of rights that peaceful individuals have always possessed.

Why? Because historically, governments are responsible for far more torture, mayhem, chaos, property destruction, and premature, unnatural deaths than any other single human institution. Nothing else even comes close—not even all the hurricanes, tornadoes, volcanos, and earthquakes that nature has thrown at us, combined.

A constitution should restrain government’s power. It ought to do that by defining a limited array of duties and leaving the rest of life to those who live under its jurisdiction. It should spell out the rights of individuals that government must not transgress. As I explained in this article, we should never think of even the best of governments as the source of human rights, but rather as a protector of rights that peaceful individuals have always possessed.

That second reason might imply that the world’s vile tyrannies wouldn’t bother with a constitution. If a government reserves to itself the right or the power to do anything to anybody any time, what’s the purpose of a constitution except to provide pretend legitimacy? But, there’s scarcely a country in the world that doesn’t have one (either written or unwritten), including Cuba, Venezuela, and yes, perhaps the vilest of them all—North Korea.

North Korea’s Constitution

With President Trump set to meet again soon with Kim Jong-un, Pyongyang’s “Supreme Leader,” I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the Hermit Kingdom’s constitution. At about 8,200 words, it’s just a few hundred words longer than the US Constitution with all of its 27 amendments, but way shorter than the 376,000 words of the Constitution of the State of Alabama.

Understand that prestigious indexes from both the Fraser Institute and the Heritage Foundation rank North Korea last among nations in economic freedom. Its unfortunate people are, by any measure, the slaves and victims of a corrupt and ruthless regime.

One would assume that a country’s constitution is the supreme law of the land, but North Korea is not exactly a “normal” country. Another document breathtakingly titled “Ten Principles for the Establishment of a Monolithic Ideological System” is at least as important as that country’s constitution. It contains 65 clauses but boils down to these “principles” to which the title alludes and which every North Korean must memorize:

  1. We must give our all in the struggle to unify the entire society with the revolutionary ideology of the Great Leader Kim Il-sung [founder of the communist nation and grandfather of Kim Jong-un].
  2. We must honor the Great Leader comrade Kim Il-sung with all our loyalty.
  3. We must make absolute the authority of the Great Leader comrade Kim Il-sung.
  4. We must make the Great Leader comrade Kim Il-sung’s revolutionary ideology our faith and make his instructions our creed.
  5. We must adhere strictly to the principle of unconditional obedience in carrying out the Great Leader comrade Kim Il-sung’s instructions.
  6. We must strengthen the entire party’s ideology and willpower and revolutionary unity, centering on the Great Leader comrade Kim Il-sung.
  7. We must learn from the Great Leader comrade Kim Il-sung and adopt the communist look, revolutionary work methods, and people-oriented work style.
  8. We must value the political life we were given by the Great Leader comrade Kim Il-sung, and loyally repay his great political trust and thoughtfulness with heightened political awareness and skill.
  9. We must establish strong organizational regulations so that the entire party, nation, and military move as one under the one and only leadership of the Great Leader comrade Kim Il-sung.
  10. We must pass down the great achievement of the revolution by the Great Leader comrade Kim Il-sung from generation to generation, inheriting and completing it to the end.

All that gobbledygook reduces to this: Nothing matters in this country but the nonsensical and self-serving phooey of a bloodthirsty autocrat and his lunatic family. But let’s get back to the main subject.

Lunacy at Its Best

The current North Korean constitution dates to 1972 and contains 166 articles. To anyone who understands what a constitution is supposed to do, it’s downright other-worldly. You can read the whole thing here. In North Korea, they execute anybody who advocates elections. I found it alternately chilling, hilarious, mind-numbing, and, to put it bluntly, unfathomably stupid. Here’s a sample:

It starts out with a glaring falsehood in its very title, Constitution of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. There’s nothing “democratic” about either the document or the country. While we try to prosecute election fraud in the US, in North Korea they execute anybody who advocates elections.

Then we proceed to the preamble, which begins by declaring, “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is a socialist fatherland of Juche which embodies the idea of and guidance by the great leader Comrade Kim II Sung.” What is “Juche”?

As DPRK analyst Michael Malice explained in this 2014 interview with Max Borders, Juche is a combination of nationalism and “whatever you want it to mean” or, more precisely, whatever the dictatorship tells you it means.

It’s All Downhill from Here

The preamble further declares, and I quote verbatim:

Comrade Kim II-sung regarded “believing in the people as in heaven” as his motto, was always with the people, devoted his whole life to them, took care of and guided them with a noble politics of benevolence, and turned the whole society into one big and united family.

No kidding! The temptation to cry and laugh at the same time made me conjure up a new word, craugh. I craughed when I read that line. R. J. Rummel, in his 1994 masterpiece Death by Government: Genocide and Mass Murder Since 1900, estimated that forced labor, executions, and concentration camps slaughtered one million people in Kim Il-sung’s first three decades of power. If that’s “benevolence,” just imagine what he could have done if he had been really nasty or if he hadn’t croaked in 1994!

The killings have continued unabated under the Kim kleptocracy. Starvation resulting directly from the government’s policies has claimed, minimally, at least another million lives in the past 25 years. That’s in spite of the constitution’s Article 2, which asserts that the DPRK strives to achieve “the freedom and well-being of the people.”

Articles 4, 5, and 6 declare the virtues of workers expressing themselves through “representative organs,” “universal suffrage,” and the “secret ballot.” Ballots are so secret in North Korea that nobody has ever actually seen one—at least not a real one of any meaningful consequence.

Article 8 proclaims that “the working people are masters of everything, and everything in society serves the working people.” Did George Orwell write that?

But Wait, There’s More

What do Marxist communists do when there are no more rich people (outside of the government, that is) to declare class war against? Do you suppose they abandon class warfare? Not in North Korea. The constitution is larded with references to class—the vaunted “working class” in particular, which is constantly arrayed against imaginary enemies.

This is a constitution not for the protection of rights but for the promotion of some religious “ism” that is never clearly defined.

Article 12 notes that “The State shall adhere to the class line, strengthen the dictatorship of people’s democracy (whatever that contradiction is) and firmly defend the people’s power and socialist system against all subversive acts of hostile elements at home and abroad.”

Of course, “socialism” makes its appearance so many times I lost count. The constitution says it’s committed to “the complete victory of socialism” and the “building of socialism to the maximum” ad nauseum. This is a constitution not for the protection of rights but for the promotion of some religious “ism” that is never clearly defined.

Article 20 deals with property. Do “the people” as individuals have rights to it? The constitution says that “the means of production are owned only by the State and social cooperative organizations.” So the answer is pretty much no. What exactly “the means of production” are is never spelled out, so they theoretically could include your dinner ingredients. Article 21 declares, “There is no limit to the property which the State can own.”

But wait! Article 24 says, “The State shall protect private property and guarantee its legal inheritance.” That sounds pretty good, but the same article defines said private property as that which meets “the simple and individual aims of the citizen” and which consists of “socialist distributions of the result of labor and additional benefits of the State and society.”

The following article vows that “the State shall provide all working people with every condition for obtaining food, clothing and housing,” except, of course, when the state is engineering massive famines and world-class poverty. North Korean socialism annually produces one of the planet’s lowest standards of living. The “working masses,” declares Article 29 in a stunningly bald-faced lie, “have been freed from exploitation and oppression.”

An Abundance of Promises

The roster of stuff “The State” is to do is stupefying. The constitution provides for it to “enhance the ideological consciousness and the technical and cultural level of the peasants.” The state must “perform all economic activities by giving top priority to solving the problem of technical development.” The state “renders the labor of our working people, who do not worry about unemployment, more joyful and worthwhile so that they willingly work with enthusiasm and creativeness for society.” The state “shall develop a Juche-oriented, revolutionary literature and art, national in form and socialist in content.” The state “shall provide sufficient modern cultural facilities to meet the demands of the people.” The state “shall safeguard our language from all attempts to obliterate it and shall develop it to meet present-day needs.” The state “shall popularize physical culture and make it into a habit of people’s life to make people fully prepared for labor and national defense.”

And yes, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the state “shall consolidate and develop the system of universal free medical service.” In North Korea, if you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan. If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. Because ultimately, you have no choice.

I’m not even one-third of the way through the articles of this pointless tripe cruelly mislabeled a constitution. The rule of law and a functioning judiciary are virtually nonexistent in this totalitarian nightmare. Even the occasional nod to individual rights is overwhelmed by all the concentration of arbitrary power the constitution bestows on a one-party monolith worshipped as if it were God. Maybe the only innocuous or truthful article is the last one, which says simply, “The capital of the DPRK is Pyongyang.”

If the day ever comes when North Koreans rise up and throw off the chains of tyranny, they will take this instrument of their enslavement and give it its due. They will soak it in gas and light a match to it.

  • Lawrence W. Reed is FEE's President Emeritus, having previously served for nearly 11 years as FEE’s president (2008-2019). He is also FEE's Humphreys Family Senior Fellow and Ron Manners Global Ambassador for Liberty. His Facebook page is here and his personal website is