A Fearful and Powerless Existence

In this week’s reading for lecture, we learned about the “State of Nature” through Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan. In this book, Hobbes lays out the rules that define our natural motives for sustained existence. Personally, his most provocative point arises as he explains the innate fearful disposition carried by all human beings. His “State of Nature” revolves around both the grounding and inhibiting effects fear brings to all individuals. As he puts it, “there is no such thing as perpetual tranquility of mind we live here; because life itself is but motion, and can never be without desire, nor without fear, no more than without sense.” With this quote, it becomes clear that fear is an essential quality to our every day lives. It is established as a key component in maintaining a balance between sanity and chaos. Power and fear are seemingly dependent on each other, for one cannot exist without the other. Nearly all of our decisions are influenced by a subconscious negotiation with these two concepts; the prevailing quality often determines our ability to achieve progress.

Above, a drawing of Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes was a 17th Century English philosopher known for his book: the Leviathan.
Above, a drawing of Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes was a 17th Century English philosopher known for his book: the Leviathan.

In pondering this theory, I couldn’t help but think of fear within the context of governments other than our own. Hobbes’ notion of fear—as something that is indicative of our potential success—operates in a society where power can ultimately be realized. With this understanding, I’m drawn to the institution of Communism within the context of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea).

As is understood by first world media sources, the functionality of North Korean government revolves around the incessant implementation of fear tactics. Since the end of World War II in 1945, North Korean government has run as a single party Communist state. The descendants of the country’s original “Supreme Leader,” Kim Il-song, have dominated political leadership since 1975. Serving as the nation’s president, this ultimate position of power holds greater responsibilities than just maintaining political order; citizens view the “Supreme Leader” as godly, acting in accordance to divine order. The authoritarian and isolated approach taken on by the North Korean government, in recent years, has implicated the near impossibility for common citizen to achieve legitimate power in society. In December of 2013, the uncle of the current President (Kim Jong-un) was executed for supposedly plotting a military coup. According to a North Korean news agency, “he persistently plotted to spread his evil design into the military, believing that he could overthrow the leadership if he could mobilize the military.” For a nation known for its embodiment of fortitude, the prevalence of fear within the ruling government seems ironic.

Above, a picture of a march taking place in Democratic People Republic of Korea (North Korea). The figures depicted are former "Supreme Leaders" Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.
Above, a picture of a march taking place in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea). The figures depicted are former “Supreme Leaders” Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.

Just last week, it was reported that two American citizens were released from North Korean captivity after months of military detainment. Each was charged with “unruly behavior” against the Communist government. Kenneth Bae, the man held in captive for more than two years, first visited Korea on a Christian Youth Mission. His intent, though, was perceived as linked with a potential religious coup d’état. It was fear that drove the North Korean government to irrationally lock these men up for months.

The resulted anxiety from North Korea’s distrust of the Western World exists within the country’s citizens, as well. Many North Koreans are held captive in labor camps where they are tortured, left to die, or expected to carry out unimaginable tasks. Additionally, a military defended boarded is in place preventing citizens from seeking haven in surrounding free nations.

Both governing officials and many of the country’s nearly 25 million citizens are consumed by an ever-present terror of those more powerful than them. As displayed with the killing of Kim Jong-un’s uncle, even those in positions of power aren’t without reason to be fearful. Much of the culture of fear that exists in North Korean society seems an exaggerated version of Hobbes’ teachings. Though, seemingly, a departure from the state of fear (suggested in the Leviathan) cannot be achieved in such a society.