I take this as an encouraging sign
As a supporter of the principle of absolute monarchy, I do not believe that the problem with North Korea is that it has a hereditary ruler. Indeed, now in the third generation, I would expect to see the benefits of hereditary rule to be starting to show themselves.
So far I have been disappointed. North Korea’s government remains terribly bad. As I have written previously, I attribute this to the fact that, while hereditary, the government does not rest on the principle of hereditary right. Its political formula is built on a form of Marxism, and while the extra stability given to it by its ad-hoc monarchism has served to preserve it well beyond the normal lifespan of Marxist states, it doesn’t confer the full advantages of an explicitly hereditary system.
What I am interested in, when it comes to the guessing-game of looking at the politics of North Korea, is whether the Marxist-politburo “scientific” government or the early-modern Monarchical government has the upper hand. The first is bad, the latter good.
The story that has leaked out of North Korea is that Kim Chol has been executed for unfeelingly carrying on with high living during the mourning period for the late King, Kim Jong-Il, and further, that the young King, Kim Jong-Un, was so outraged that he demanded “no trace be left”. Therefore the unhappy vice-minister was stuck out in a field to be blown up with heavy weaponry.
That is seriously badass — we’re talking Tudor. The vital points are that (a) the offence was against the Royal Line, not the state or the politburo. And (b) the punishment was driven by personal anger, not a scientific principle of government. The Soviet Union was famously practical and humane about executing the deviationists, this is the opposite. Finally, it suggests that, if there is still some kind of internal power struggle going on — perhaps a continuation of some struggle over successsion — those with power are determined to win it absolutely. These three elements all point to better government for North Korea going forward.
Does this mean I want future King William V indulging in such Bond-villan escapades, come the Restoration? In extremis, yes. If senior, trusted members of the administration back the wrong side in a civil war, there is much to be said for going 16th-century on their arses. In peacetime, not so much. A good administration is one where the rule of law can be counted on. Once it is established that the King can rule by personal whim, he has little need to, since he will gain more by running a successful state.
Of course, with North Korea, it is not clear that the best thing would be for the government to improve. If the government failed and collapsed, the natural outcome would be a reunification under the South Korean government, which has an enviable track record over the last half century.
However, South Korea’s government has only one way to go, and that’s down. It is not twenty years since the country stepped onto the democratic conveyor belt, and it is not reasonable to expect the quality of governance that the DJP exercised to continue into the future. That doesn’t mean we should expect rapid decline in the quality of life there — One of the major misunderstood patterns of history is that secure autocracy produces peace and prosperity and, enjoying wealth and freedom, the subjects, associating wealth and freedom with the ruling class, expect that as they have the wealth and freedom of the ruling class, they should gain political power as a natural consequence. The autocrat is replaced or shackled, and the momentum of the former peace and prosperity produces a flourishing of improved life that the new regime first unfairly takes credit for, and then gradually proceeds to destroy.
Those who benefit most from their government are least loyal to it.
So, the story coming out of North Korea is consistent with a hereditary ruler cementing his dominance over rival power centres within the régime. That is by no means the only explanation, so any optimism should be very tentative.