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The Self-Imposed Isolation of North Korea

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North Korea is one of the most secluded societies in today’s world. Its system of rule is often referred to as an enigma of modern politics. This essay asks what has caused this condition of extreme isolation, highlighting the relentless pursuit of a historically durable charismatic political power. The discussion will include Max Weber’s thoughts on the place of charismatic power in modern politics.

Heonik Kwon is a Senior Research Fellow of Social Anthropology at Trinity College, Cambridge. Author of prize-winning books on the sociocultural history of the Vietnam War, the Korean War and Asia’s postcolonial Cold War more broadly, he previously taught in the London School of Economics and University of Edinburgh. His new book, Spirit Power (2022), approaches Korea’s Cold War experience from a religious historical angle. The present lecture draws upon his earlier co-authored book, North Korea: Beyond Charismatic Power (2012).

This talk is part of the Darwin College Lecture Series series.

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