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Rewind: A Machiavellian Regime in North Korea?

March 8, 2011

“In other words, one is responsible for one’s own destiny and one has also the capacity for hewing out one’s own destiny.” –Kim Jong Il

Kim Jong Il, the de facto Dictator of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea since 1994, has retained his father’s power through Machiavellian policies. Ruling a hereditary state, Kim Jong Il had to summon Machiavellian concepts to maintain power and respect. By using fear and strict laws, he preserved his power despite overseeing a country with rapid poverty.  Be it breaking nuclear agreements with the United States, or bombing South Korean islands, Kim Jong Il has followed several of the policies extolled in Machiavelli’s “The Prince”.

On July 8, 1994 Kim Jong Il’s father, the ruler of North Korea, died from a heart attack.  Despite being a hereditary state, North Korea did not have a ruler for the following three years.  It took 3 years for Kim Jong-Il to consolidate his power in the Asian nation.  To do so, Kim Jong Il followed his father’s policy of ruthlessness, a tactic that Machiavelli heavily documented. While working to preserve his power and authority in North Korea, Kim Jong Il instituted many interesting policies.

  • In 2004, he had roughly 80 high-ranking officials, including several relatives and his own brother-in-law, rounded up and purged (His government is extremely secretive and brutal to dissidents)
  • He enforces an isolationist policy efficiently.  Internet access is forbidden and irrelevant, since computers and telephones, or even such modern amenities as refrigerators, stoves, and telephones are not available to ordinary citizens.
  • Access to paper — not newspapers, but ordinary writing paper — is strictly restricted.
  • Television is available only to well-connected insiders or in public community centers, and there is no need to change the channel, as North Korea’s one broadcast network is all that is allowed, and of course, all propaganda.
  • In news accounts, the only mention of dissent is when disloyal citizens are arrested and never heard from again.

Machiavelli wrote his dissertation The Prince in 1517.  Despite the large gap in time, the virtues and guidelines extolled in the dissertation are still used and studied.  Kim Jong Il followed these Machiavellian policies while overseeing the throne of North Korea.  One article states, “As Kim has built one of the world’s largest standing armies, aid agencies estimate some 2 million people have died since the mid-1990s as a result of food shortages due in large part to economic mismanagement.”  Following Machiavellian principles has seemingly worked out well for him.  By suppressing his dissenters, general thoughts about him are positive.  People in his country are living in poverty but continue to admire the “great leader” as they refer to him.  Another article suggests, “Kim’s totalitarian regime has been accused of torture, public executions, slave labor, forced abortions and infanticides, and an estimated 200,000 people are held as political prisoners.”  What do you think? Is Kim Jong Il Machiavellian?

For further information, consult the following:,28804,2045407_2045416_2045440,00.html

  1. Ad maiorem Dei gloriam permalink
    March 9, 2011 9:52 AM

    You write that:

    ‘Machiavelli wrote his dissertation The Prince in 1517. Despite the large gap in time, the virtues and guidelines extolled in the dissertation are still used and studied. Kim Jong Il followed these Machiavellian policies while overseeing the throne of North Korea’

    However, I would like to pose you the question: What specific Machiavellian principles did Kim follow while ‘overseeing the throne of North Korea’?

    (I wouldn’t call them policies because I’m not sure if this was an official protocol that leaders’ during Machiavelli’s time followed. Furthermore, I think we have to consider the context in which The Prince was written (refer to lecture slides – he was tortured etc). Finally I don’t think Machiavelli was a ruler, hence it’s hard to say that his treatise was incorporated into a protocol during that time)

  2. lapinsk12 permalink
    March 9, 2011 4:30 PM

    Kim Jong Il is definitely being Machiavellian in his time as ruler of North Korea. He unnecessarily restricts the free will of his people pretty much to show them who’s boss. Kim Jong Il is power mad and I think he does most of these things because he can and he sees his people as servants to the “almighty, all powerful, omniscient” Kim Jong Il. He believes his country is there to serve him and to help him have a comfortable life and he isn’t concerned with the well being of his servants. He has them brainwashed into thinking he’s a great leader because they grew up knowing of nothing else and they assume this is how the world works everywhere else. His people have no access to outside information and this is where Kim Jong Il displays some Machiavellian principles. He had the idea to have children grow up knowing of nothing else but him and how he is doing such a great job ruling the country and they are fortunate to be ruled by such a great man in Kim Jong Il. He has brainwashed his people into thinking that all the atrocities and unethical treatment around them is fine and dandy. Anytime a mass murder or genocide takes place I’m sure Kim Jong Il feeds them some B.S. about how they were plotting something against the country and he took care of the problem to save you. Kim Jong Il is essentially the definition of Machivellianism. He doesn’t care for others and expects them to serve him without batting an eye. He continually displays immoral and unethical behavior in the treatment of his people and the unethical laws they break. OK, I’m done ranting.

    Brendan Lapinski

  3. Ad maiorem Dei gloriam permalink
    March 9, 2011 4:48 PM

    Hi Brendan, thanks for sharing. I think what you’ve done is list the wrongs that Kim Jong Il is culpable of (whether or not they are true stands to be seen). However, I still don’t really see what are the specific Machiavellian principles that the original author has asserted that Kim possesses. For instance, I don’t think Machiavelli said that a leader should block his people’s access to outside information. From what I understand, the ‘means are used to justify the ends’ argument that is often cited has to be studied in context of the whole Treatise. To put it simply, I think Machiavelli’s intention for writing The Prince was that the treatise is meant to be a ‘satire’, a critique of the tyrannical form of government if you will and that he believed that a ruler should have the interests of the people at heart, NOT their repression. Hence, the methods are really a means to an end.

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