Anomaly UK on Executions in North Korea

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

A roving bandit pillages. A stationary bandit rules. Thus, Anomaly UK looks on the bright side of the recent executions in North Korea:

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.


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.


  1. etype says:

    The State has always executed those it deems inimical to its interests. I see no comment on Obama’s law giving the state the power to execute American citizens abroad, without trial.

    So why are you surprised? What is this ‘optimism’ which somehow, inexplicably, needs to find succor in of all places North Korea.

    Why the #%*! do you care about North Korea when the Anglo-American syndicate is executing masses of unnamed, innocent individuals because they are collateral to their interests, which is executing people who are not collateral to their interests? Which btw is by international law illegal, thus murder.

    What is North Korea but a piss-pot diversion?

  2. Anomaly UK says:

    Etype — as you say, the mere fact that states kill their enemies is not at all noteworthy. The large quantity of weaponry they tend to collect is a bit of a clue.

    What interests me is how and why states reach the decisions they do, and in particular the effects of hereditary power, about which I have some rather unusual theories. That makes North Korea of disproportionate interest to me.

    Legal technicalities concern me rather less. Does a decision to kill a specific individual in a low-intensity cross-border counter-insurgency environment come under the law governing executions or the law governing military operations? An amusing conundrum, to be sure, rather like the question of whether a Jaffa cake is a cake or a biscuit, but not one I really have anything to contribute to.

    Isegoria — while there are elements of the dichotomy between stationary and roving bandits, a military bureaucracy such as North Korea’s can’t really be said to be “roving”. To my mind the differences in interests between the power groups is more to do with the methods by which they maintain or grow their power than the length of time they can expect to keep it.

  3. Isegoria says:

    I must admit that North Korea’s current regime is hardly roving in the literal sense, but they might see themselves as making the best — for themselves — of a temporary and quite tenuous situation.

  4. etype says:

    Anomaly UK, I find your moral (or lack of) confusion amusing. It’s interesting how ‘Legal technicalities’ concern you ‘rather less’.

    How trivial is rule of law? How uninteresting in the same manner of whatever inedible biscuit you contend with in the UK, without contention.

    So what is your point? Do you have one?

    Or is it mere interest in newspaper dramas and cartoon villains? Is this why you have no time to consider the Jaffa cake question?

    I’m also interested in your definition of ‘bandits’ and the dichotomy between various definitions of bandits — similar to the Jaffa cake.

    So the UK is like a cake and could stand an icing and a sprinkle of candied fruits, while North Korea is a biscuit meriting none of these elaborations?

  5. Isegoria says:

    Roving bandit and stationary bandit are terms coined by Mancur Olson.

  6. Anomaly UK says:

    Etype — I’m generally in favour of the rule of law, but laws have edge cases, loopholes and undefined areas: that’s the nature of the beast. Nobody serious has claimed for half a century, if ever, that it is against the laws of, say, the USA, for the government to send the armed forces overseas to carry out military action in the national interest. The evolution of military action in the direction of highly targeted attacks on specific individuals drags the question towards one of those edge cases, but that’s why there are lawyers.

    (Much is made of the nationality of the targeted individuals, but I don’t see that that is legally relevant. As I understand US law, murder is murder irrespective of the nationality of the victim — if it is illegal for the CIA to target a US citizen in Yemen with a drone strike, it would be equally illegal to target a foreigner. I may be wrong though, which is why I am content to leave the question to the lawyers).

    I have indeed considered the Jaffa Cake question, but at the end of the day, the law is what it is, not what you or I would prefer it to be. That is the whole point of law.

    My point, which I think was moderately clear from the extract which was posted here, is that the benefits of the principle of hereditary rule as compared to scientific bureaucracy, democracy or other grave errors, may yet come to show themselves even in a half-arsed tanistry like North Korea.

  7. etype says:

    I’m reassured, Anomaly UK, that you are sometimes “generally” in favour of rule of law. Yes, laws have edge cases, loopholes and undefined areas, something wealthy murderers and dishonest lawyers are also grateful for. But to say that “nobody serious” has ever claimed extra-judicial and extra national murders are illegal, is [dis]ingenuous.

    Such things are against international law — this means illegal for those new to the novel concept of rule of law. The fact that the law is ignored by the US and Britain does not make it legal.

    And as those states hide under the pretence of edge cases, loop holes and undefined areas… my hunch is that the law will catch up to these peoples, if they don’t implode voluntarily, as they are doing now.

    Thus we engage again the Jaffa Cake question. Here the law applies you say, and that this is the point. But as with the Jaffa Cake mystery, (which you still refuse to render judgement… cake or biscuit?) whatever the pretence of murderers and dishonest lawyers, rule of law is not a question of cake or biscuit. It is one, or it is the other. This is the whole point and promise of rule of law.

    I’m surprised to read the point of the article was concerning the benefits of hereditary rule. Interesting indeed. I would like to tender a request you elaborate on this further, preferably in an article posted here.

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